1 Chronicles 21
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 1 Chronicles 21:1-27 (= 2 Samuel 24:1-25)

The Numbering and the Plague

The subject of the present section (David’s numbering of the people and the plague which followed) is a difficult one, but a combination of the details of the narratives of Sam. and Chron. makes the main features clear. (1) Israel (and not David only) had sinned, for the Lord at the beginning was angry against Israel (2 Samuel 24:1). (2) The anger of the Lord, by withdrawing protection from Israel, gave an opportunity to Israel’s enemy (Satan = “adversary”; see note below). (3) This enemy moved David to commit a sin, the consequences of which affected the whole people. Thus the punishment of sin came through the commission of fresh sin. David’s sin consisted (1) in the pride and (possibly) in the designs of further conquest which prompted his act, (2) in trampling on the feelings of his people as expressed by Joab. Notice that the two numberings ordered by God Himself in the wilderness (Numbers 1:1-46; Numbers 3:39; Numbers 26:1-65) afforded no precedent except for a numbering by direct Divine command. Moreover a census was regarded as a cause of tie outbreak of plague, and it was prescribed that, when Moses took a census, every man numbered should pay half a shekel for the service of the tabernacle “as a ransom for his soul, that there be no plague among them.” (Exodus 30:12).

And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.
1. And Satan stood up against Israel] In 2 Sam. “And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel,” a former occasion being at the time of the famine (2 Samuel 21:1). By Satan (“adversary”) is meant some hostile spiritual being, such as is mentioned in Job 1:6 ff.; Zechariah 3:1 ff., the very opposite in fact of a guardian angel such as the Michael of Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:21; Daniel 12:1.

and provoked] R.V. and moved, as 2 Sam., the Heb. word being the same.

to number] (cp. 1 Chronicles 27:23-24) should be like the stars, beyond numbering.

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.
2. to Joab] The object being to number “those who drew sword,” the captain of the host was the most suitable person to entrust with the business.

rulers] R.V. princes.

from Beer-sheba even to Dan] From the extreme south even unto the extreme north of the land.

Dan] The modern Tell-el-Kâdî, about forty minutes distance from Bâniâs (Paneas), north of Lake Huleh (Waters of Merom). Bädeker, p. 264.

that I may know it] Either with a view to imposing a tax or to undertaking some fresh great military expedition.

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?
3. moe] Cp. 1 Chronicles 14:3, note.

are they not all my lord’s servants?] Joab foresees some disaster to the people, and asks why David should destroy his own.

why will he be a cause of guilt to Israel?] Cp. Leviticus 4:3, “if the anointed priest shall sin so as to bring guilt on the people” (R.V.).

Nevertheless the king's word prevailed against Joab. Wherefore Joab departed, and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem.
4. came to Jerusalem] In 2 Samuel 24:4-8 the route is described and the time taken in the numbering is stated, nine months and twenty days.

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.
5. they of Israel] Chron. gives Israel as 1,100,000 and Judah as 470,000; 2 Sam. gives Israel as 800,000 and Judah as 500,000.

that drew sword] All males over twenty years of age would be so described; cp. Numbers 1:20.

But Levi and Benjamin counted he not among them: for the king's word was abominable to Joab.
6. Levi] In Numbers 1:49 it is ordained that Levi is not to be numbered among the children of Israel, i.e. treated as liable to military service. The Levites were, however, numbered separately; Numbers 3:15; Numbers 26:57. in 2 Sam. there is nothing to correspond with this verse.

And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel.
7. he smote Israel] with the plague. David’s confession (1 Chronicles 21:8) was probably wrung from him by the appearance of the pestilence.

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.
8. do away the iniquity] Render perhaps, Remove the punishment; cp. Genesis 4:13, R.V. with marg.

And the LORD spake unto Gad, David's seer, saying,
9. And the Lord spake] The historian now retraces his steps to describe the circumstances which heralded the approach of the plague.

Gad] He is three times mentioned in Chron., each time as a “seer,” viz. 1 Chronicles 21:9 (= 2 Samuel 24:11); 1 Chronicles 29:29; 2 Chronicles 29:25. He was perhaps an older contemporary of Nathan, who bears the more modern title of “prophet” (cp. 1 Samuel 9:9).

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.
10. I offer thee three things] The offer is a test of David’s character, just as God’s different offer in 2 Chronicles 1:7 was a test of Solomon’s.

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.
12. three years’ famine] 2 Sam., seven years of famine (LXX. however three, as Chron.).

three months to be destroyed] R.V. three months to be consumed (Heb. nispeh). Some scholars would correct the text of Chron. into agreement with 2 Samuel 24:13, or wilt thou flee three months?

the angel of the Lord] Cp. 2 Kings 19:35; Acts 12:23.

throughout all the coasts] Render, in every border, i.e. through the whole extent.

advise thyself] R.V. consider.

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.
13. into the hand of the Lord] David deprecates war, and prefers famine or pestilence.

So the LORD sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men.
14. there fell of Israel] 2 Sam. adds, from Dan even to Beer-sheba. The pestilence was throughout the whole land.

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.
15. unto Jerusalem] The plague arrived in Jerusalem after making ravages elsewhere.

as he was destroying] R.V. as he was about to destroy, agreeing with 2 Sam., when the angel stretched forth his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it.

It is enough] The sudden cessation of this pestilence has numerous parallels in the history of epidemics.

the threshingfloor of Ornan] The Chronicler makes this threshing-floor the site of the Temple. The author of Sam. is silent on the point. Cp. 1 Chronicles 21:25; 1 Chronicles 21:28, notes.

Ornan] This is the form of the name throughout this chapter, but in 2 Samuel 24 the K’rî gives everywhere Araunah, The C’thîb of Sam. however offers various forms, one of which (to be read Ornah, 1 Chronicles 21:16) approximates to the form given in Chron. Variation in reproducing foreign names is common; see note on 1 Chronicles 18:5 (Damascus), and on 2 Chronicles 36:6 (Nebuchadnezzar).

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.
16. lift up] The old form of the past changed in modern editions to lifted up; cp. Genesis 22:4, etc.

saw the angel] The full description of the vision is peculiar to Chron.; cp. 2 Samuel 24:17.

and the elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth] The words supplied in A.V. are unnecessary, and are omitted in R.V. The wearing of sackcloth was doubtless accompanied with fasting; cp. Jonah 3:5.

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.
17. let thine hand … be on me] Cp. Moses’ intercession in Exodus 32:32; but Moses was innocent, David guilty.

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.
18. go up, and set up] R.V. go up, and rear; cp. 2 Samuel 24:18.

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.
21. was threshing wheat] By driving oxen over it; cp. 1 Chronicles 21:23.

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.
22. the place of this threshing floor] The expression implies perhaps that David bought more than the mere area of the threshingfloor.

for the full price] Genesis 23:9 (R.V.).

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.
23. the meat offering] R.V. the meal offering; cp. Leviticus 2:1-16.

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.
25. gave … for the place six hundred shekels of gold by weight] In 2 Samuel 24:24, bought the threshing floor and the oxen for money, even fifty shekels (so to be rendered).

A large discrepancy appears here between Chron. and 2 Sam. The former seems to say that 600 shekels were paid for the threshing floor alone, the latter that only 50 shekels were paid for the floor and oxen taken together. But the text of 2 Sam. is probably corrupt and should perhaps run, bought the threshing floor for money, even six hundred shekels, and the oxen for money, even fifty shekels. The “threshing floor” seems to have included the Temple Mount (1 Chronicles 22:1), and we may compare the 600 shekels paid for it with the 400 paid by Abraham for the cave and field of Machpelah (Genesis 23:15-17). In describing the 600 shekels as shekels of gold the Chronicler perhaps goes beyond his authority, for the sum then becomes improbably large.

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.
26. peace offerings] See 1 Chronicles 16:1, note. At the end of the verse LXX. (cp. Pesh.) adds, and consumed the burnt offering. Cp. 1 Kings 18:38. The fire is not mentioned in 2 Sam.

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.
Ch. 1 Chronicles 21:28–Ch. 1 Chronicles 22:1. The Selection of the Site of the Temple

28. At that time &c.] The construction of this section must be carefully noted. Ch. 1 Chronicles 21:28 is a protasis to which ch. 1 Chronicles 22:1 is the apodosis, 1 Chronicles 21:29-30 of ch. 21 being a parenthesis. The division of chapters here is unfortunate.

At that time] The phrase is taken up by “Then” of 1 Chronicles 22:1. The Chronicler wishes us to note that David regarded the success of his intercession at the floor of Ornan as an indication that this floor was God’s approved site for the Temple.

then he sacrificed there] Render, and [David had] sacrificed there, (the full stop is wrong, for the sense is continued in 1 Chronicles 22:1).

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.
29. For] The beginning of a parenthesis.

the tabernacle of the Lord] See the prefatory note to ch. 23; also cp. 1 Chronicles 16:1; 1 Chronicles 16:39, and 2 Chronicles 1:3.

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.
30. he was afraid] Or, he was terrified. The Heb. word is unusual.

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