William Kelly Major Works Commentary
And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.1 Chronicles Chapter 21
But the next chapter (1 Chronicles 21) shows us the effort of Satan, too successful, to entice David into what was a grievous sin, particularly in him - reckoning up the strength of Israel. Was he a Gentile then? Could David allow the thought that it was his own prowess, or his people's, that had wrought these great victories? Was it not God? No doubt He had employed David and his servants. He had put honour upon them all. But it was God. Hence, therefore, David's wishing to number Israel was a very grievous evil in the eyes of a worldly politician like Joab. It was not that Joab would trouble much about a sin, provided he could see any good result of it; but he could not understand how a man like David should compromise himself so deeply without the smallest change; for, after all, the numbering of the people would not bring one more man. Why, therefore, take so much trouble and run the risk of a sin, without any practical fruit? This was Joab's reasoning. But the king's word prevailed against Joab, and Joab goes on his mission and gives the sum of the number of the people. It was not completed, but he brought the sum.
"And Joab gave the sum of the number of the people unto David. And all they of Israel were a thousand thousand and an hundred thousand men that drew the sword; and Judah was four hundred threescore and ten thousand men that drew sword. But Levi and Benjamin counted he not among them." The plans of men do not succeed, more particularly among God's people. "The king's word was abominable to Joab. And God was displeased with this thing; therefore He smote Israel." This seems extraordinary at first sight - why God should smite Israel - but God was wise. It was Israel that became a snare and a boast to the king. Did he not number them? They roust be decimated now. God would reduce the number, and would make David feel that, instead of being a blessing to His people, he was a curse through his folly and his pride. David, therefore, was obliged to own to God, "I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing: but now, I beseech Thee, do away the iniquity of Thy servant; for I have done very foolishly."
But no! Confession does not always hinder the chastening of God. The mind of Jehovah was made up. "I offer thee three things," said He: "choose one of them - either three years' famine, or three months to be destroyed before the foe, or three days of the sword of Jehovah" - not of the enemy - "even the pestilence in the land." David owns the great strait and perplexity of his soul, but he chooses the last; and he was right. "Let me fall into the hand of Jehovah, for very great are His mercies. Let me not fall into the hand of man." David preferred - and justly in my opinion - the direct hand of Jehovah. What was secondary. he felt repulsive - the famine. He could not bear that God should appear to be starving His people and condemning them to this slow death; or, on the other hand, that the foe should exalt themselves over Israel. This was abominable to his soul. But that there should be an evident chastening inflicted by God's hand, by the destroying angel - this he chose. "So Jehovah sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men." In the course of it "God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, Jehovah beheld, and He repented Him of the evil and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough; stay now thine hand."
This occurred by the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite, for the Jebusite was in the land. The Canaanites still dwelt in the land. It will be so till Jesus comes and reigns, and then the Canaanite will be no longer in the land. And, what is more, God marks His grace; for all is in grace here. It was there He stopped - the last place where one would have expected it - at the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite. Why there? Because there God meant to mark sovereign grace. "And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of Jehovah stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem." God gave him to see this. "Then David and the elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. And David said unto God, Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered? even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed; but as for these sheep, what have they done? Let Thine hand, I pray Thee, O Jehovah my God, be on me, and on my father's house; but not on Thy people, that they should be plagued."
Thus he takes the consequence of the sin upon himself. This was beautiful in David; we may say that it was natural; it was right. It was far, immeasurably, inferior to the Lord Jesus. There there was no sin, and yet He took all the sin upon Himself - suffered for sins "just for unjust, that He might bring us to God." But here it was the king that had been unjust, that had brought this scourge upon the people. Nevertheless, new at least, he is used by the grace of God. Now he presents himself for the blow, but sovereign grace must reign. "Then the angel of Jehovah commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up, and set up an altar unto Jehovah in the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite." The place where mercy rejoiced against judgment becomes the locality of the altar. This shows where the temple was afterward to be built - where the plague was stayed by divine mercy. "David went up at the saying of Gad."
We find an interesting scene between David and Ornan who was willing that all should be given; but no; it must be David's gift, not a Jebusite's. "And king David said to Ornan, Nay; but I will verily buy it for the full price: for I will not take that which is thine for Jehovah, nor offer burnt offerings without cost. So David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred shekels of gold by weight. And David built there an altar unto Jehovah, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings." How striking! The man that had brought all the trouble - the guilty king, but the type of the Holy One of Israel - the type of Him that gave up His life a ransom for many.
And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it.
And Joab answered, The LORD make his people an hundred times so many more as they be: but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? why then doth my lord require this thing? why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?
Nevertheless the king's word prevailed against Joab. Wherefore Joab departed, and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem.
And Joab gave the sum of the number of the people unto David. And all they of Israel were a thousand thousand and an hundred thousand men that drew sword: and Judah was four hundred threescore and ten thousand men that drew sword.
But Levi and Benjamin counted he not among them: for the king's word was abominable to Joab.
And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel.
And David said unto God, I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing: but now, I beseech thee, do away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.
And the LORD spake unto Gad, David's seer, saying,
Go and tell David, saying, Thus saith the LORD, I offer thee three things: choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee.
So Gad came to David, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Choose thee
Either three years' famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee; or else three days the sword of the LORD, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel. Now therefore advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sent me.
And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let me fall now into the hand of the LORD; for very great are his mercies: but let me not fall into the hand of man.
So the LORD sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men.
And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the LORD beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.
And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the LORD stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces.
And David said unto God, Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered? even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed; but as for these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, O LORD my God, be on me, and on my father's house; but not on thy people, that they should be plagued.
Then the angel of the LORD commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up, and set up an altar unto the LORD in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.
And David went up at the saying of Gad, which he spake in the name of the LORD.
And Ornan turned back, and saw the angel; and his four sons with him hid themselves. Now Ornan was threshing wheat.
And as David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David, and went out of the threshingfloor, and bowed himself to David with his face to the ground.
Then David said to Ornan, Grant me the place of this threshingfloor, that I may build an altar therein unto the LORD: thou shalt grant it me for the full price: that the plague may be stayed from the people.
And Ornan said unto David, Take it to thee, and let my lord the king do that which is good in his eyes: lo, I give thee the oxen also for burnt offerings, and the threshing instruments for wood, and the wheat for the meat offering; I give it all.
And king David said to Ornan, Nay; but I will verily buy it for the full price: for I will not take that which is thine for the LORD, nor offer burnt offerings without cost.
So David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred shekels of gold by weight.
And David built there an altar unto the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called upon the LORD; and he answered him from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt offering.
And the LORD commanded the angel; and he put up his sword again into the sheath thereof.
At that time when David saw that the LORD had answered him in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite, then he sacrificed there.
For the tabernacle of the LORD, which Moses made in the wilderness, and the altar of the burnt offering, were at that season in the high place at Gibeon.
But David could not go before it to inquire of God: for he was afraid because of the sword of the angel of the LORD.