Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 24. The numbering of the People and the Plague
=1 Chronicles 21:1-27There is no definite note of time to shew when the events here recorded took place, but several indications point to the later years of David’s reign. (a) The language of 2 Samuel 24:1, “again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel” evidently refers to the famine recorded in ch. 21. and points to a date after that occurrence. (b) It would have been impossible for the commander-in-chief to spend nearly ten months in taking the census, except at a time of permanent peace. (c) David’s preparations for building the Temple, which occupied the last years of his reign, are narrated in Chronicles as the immediate sequel of his purchase of Araunah’s threshing-floor.
The corresponding narrative in Chronicles agrees much less closely than usual with Samuel. Either its writer drew from other sources, or the compiler of Samuel has omitted much of the original account.
For a discussion of the nature of David’s sin see Additional Note v. p. 238.
And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.1–9. The Numbering of the People
1. again] The previous manifestation of God’s anger referred to was the famine (ch. 21). It is possible that the two narratives stood in close juxtaposition in the original document used by the compiler.
and he moved David against them] The subject of the verb is Jehovah. The nation had sinned and incurred His anger, and He instigated David to an act which brought down a sharp punishment on the nation. The statement that God incited David to do what was afterwards condemned and punished as a heinous sin cannot of course mean that He compelled David to sin, but that in order to test and prove his character He allowed the temptation to assault him. Thus while we read that “God himself tempteth no man” (James 1:13), we are taught to pray “Bring us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13). In 1 Chronicles 21:1 we read “Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.” The older record speaks only of God’s permissive action: the latter tells us of the malicious instrumentality of Satan. The case is like that of Job (Job 1:12; Job 2:10).
Go, number] Go, count; a different word from that translated number in the rest of the chapter, for the meaning of which see note on ch. 2 Samuel 18:1.
Israel and Judah] The designation of the people as Israel and Judah seems to have been in use even before the Division of the Kingdoms. In the next verse Israel includes the whole nation. See Introd. p. 13.
For the king said to Joab the captain of the host, which was with him, Go now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba, and number ye the people, that I may know the number of the people.2. For the king said] And the king said: yielding to the temptation to which he was subjected by permission of God through the instrumentality of Satan.
the host] The word for host in 2 Samuel 24:2; 2 Samuel 24:4 is different from that generally used of the Israelite army, and perhaps indicates that this chapter was derived from a different source.
number ye] It is stated in 1 Chronicles 21:2 that the commission was given to “Joab and to the captains (or princes) of the people.” Their cooperation is here implied by the use of the plural, and by 2 Samuel 24:4. They were associated with Joab in the work, just as the princes of the tribes were associated with Moses and Aaron in taking the census (Numbers 1:4 ff.), and this indicates that the census had some military object in view.
And Joab said unto the king, Now the LORD thy God add unto the people, how many soever they be, an hundredfold, and that the eyes of my lord the king may see it: but why doth my lord the king delight in this thing?3. the Lord thy God add, &c.] Cp. Deuteronomy 1:11.
and that the eyes, &c.] That is, may it happen in the king’s life-time.
why doth my lord, &c.] “Why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?” is the further explanation of Joab’s thoughts given in 1 Chronicles 21:3. It is probable that a shrewd practical man like Joab, whose life shews no signs of being influenced by religious motives, opposed the king’s purpose more from the fear of exciting disaffection among the people by a scheme to increase the burdens of military service, than from a sense that the king’s spirit was displeasing to God, though the latter motive may not have been altogether absent.
Notwithstanding the king's word prevailed against Joab, and against the captains of the host. And Joab and the captains of the host went out from the presence of the king, to number the people of Israel.4. against Joab, and against the captains of the host] A council of the officers of the army was held, in which the scheme was discussed.
And they passed over Jordan, and pitched in Aroer, on the right side of the city that lieth in the midst of the river of Gad, and toward Jazer:5. in Aroer] This Aroer is generally thought to be Aroer near Rabbah in the tribe of Gad (Joshua 13:25): but since it is natural to suppose that the census began from the southern boundary of the Trans-Jordanic territory, which was the river Arnon, and since the city that is in the midst of the ravine is repeatedly mentioned in connexion with Aroer upon the Arnon (Deuteronomy 2:36; Joshua 13:9; Joshua 13:16; cp. Joshua 12:2) in describing the southern boundary of the tribe of Reuben, it seems far better to understand Aroer to be the Aroer on the Arnon.
The site of Aroer on the Arnon is marked by the ruins of Ara’ar on the northern edge of the Wady Mojeb. This deep gorge in the level plateau is the ravine (E. V. river) of the Arnon. The latest explorer of Moab says: “Above the Roman bridge are some faint remains of early buildings; perhaps ‘the city that is in the midst of the river.’ At least it is scarcely possible that such exuberant vegetation, with perennial moisture, should have remained unappropriated in the time of Israel’s greatness; and whether the place so vaguely spoken of were above or below the fords;—‘cities’ or villages there were sure to be in the midst of the ‘river’ or wady.” Tristram’s Land of Moab, p. 128.
on the right side] On the south, for the Hebrews reckoned the points of the compass facing the east.
of Gad] If the view taken above with regard to Aroer is correct, of Gad must be separated from the river, and rendered towards Gad. Probably some such words as and they came have dropped out, as the preposition towards before Jazer requires a verb of motion. Indeed there are good reasons for supposing that the Heb. text is corrupt, and that we should read with some MSS. of the Sept.: “And they began from Aroer, and from the city which is in the midst of the ravine; and they came to Gad and towards Jazer.”
Jazer] Or Jaazer, a city captured by Israel from the Amorites (Numbers 21:32), rebuilt by the tribe of Gad (Numbers 32:35; Joshua 13:25), allotted to the Levites (Joshua 21:39), subsequently Moabite (Isaiah 16:8-9), and recaptured by Judas Maccabaeus from the Ammonites (1Ma 5:6). Its site is probably to be placed at es Szîr, 7 miles W.S.W. of Ammân (Rabbah) and 9 miles N. of Heshbon.
Then they came to Gilead, and to the land of Tahtimhodshi; and they came to Danjaan, and about to Zidon,6. Gilead] The mountainous district partly to the north and partly to the south of the River Jabbok.
the land of Tahtim-hodshi] No such district is known, and the form of the words also makes it probable that the text is corrupt. Some conjecture that we should read (with some MSS. of the Sept.) to the land of the Hittites to Kedesh, the famous Hittite capital on the Orontes, but this seems too far north; others conjecture the regions below mount Hermon; and so forth. All that can be said is that some district, apparently east of the Jordan and north of Gilead, is meant.
Dan-jaan] Perhaps the well known Dan, but if so, it is strange that it should here and nowhere else be distinguished as Dan-jaan. The meaning of jaan is uncertain, and perhaps we should follow the Sept. (A) and Vulg. in reading Dan-jaar, i.e. Dan in the forest.
and about to Zidon] Shaping their course westward to the famous city of Zidon, the extreme north-western limit of the kingdom, on the border of Asher (Joshua 19:28), but never occupied by that tribe (Jdg 1:31). Zidon was anciently the most important city of Phoenicia, and hence the Phoenicians are generally called Zidonians in the O. T. (Joshua 13:6; Jdg 18:7; 1 Kings 5:6); but at this time it was inferior and probably subject to Tyre.
And came to the strong hold of Tyre, and to all the cities of the Hivites, and of the Canaanites: and they went out to the south of Judah, even to Beersheba.7. the strong hold of Tyre] The same term—generally rendered fenced city in the E. V.—is applied to Tyre in Joshua 19:29, where Tyre is named among the places on the border of Asher. Like Zidon it was never occupied by the Israelites, and we must suppose either that the region traversed by the enumerators is defined as reaching up to though not including Tyre and Zidon, or that these cities were actually visited in order to take a census of Israelites resident in them.
the cities of the Hivites, and of the Canaanites] The old inhabitants were never exterminated from the northern part of Palestine, but made tributary, and apparently allowed to dwell in communities of their own. The district round Kedesh-Naphtali in particular was called the region of the nations or Galilee of the Gentiles (Joshua 20:7; 1 Kings 9:11; Isaiah 9:1). The Hivites dwelt principally in this northern region (Joshua 11:3; Jdg 3:3), and also round Gibeon (Joshua 11:19), and are probably specified as the tribe of which most survived: the Canaanites would include all the other native tribes in general.
So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.8. through all the land] Joab however omitted the Levites, in accordance with the direction given to Moses (Numbers 1:47 ff.), because they were exempt from military service; and the Benjamites, possibly in order to avoid exciting disaffection in a tribe specially ready to take offence.
And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.9. eight hundred thousand … five hundred thousand] In 1 Chronicles 21:5 the numbers are given as 1,100,000 for Israel, and 470,000 for Judah. This discrepancy may be due to textual corruption, but more probably arises from a difference in the original estimates, or in the oral tradition with respect to them, since the result of the census was not authoritatively registered in the state records (1 Chronicles 27:24). The conjecture that the standing army of 288,000 men (1 Chronicles 27:1-15) is here deducted from Israel, and some body of 30,000 troops added to Judah, is ingenious, but rendered improbable by the fact that it is necessary to add to the one and subtract from the other to make the totals equal to those of 1 Chron.
The numbers have been attacked as exaggerated, and far exceeding the possible capacity of the country. The numbers given imply a total population of five or six millions at least, and the area of the country is estimated at about 11,000 square miles. This gives (making allowance for the excepted tribes) between 500 and 600 to the square mile, a high but not impossible rate of population when the extreme fertility of the country in ancient times is taken into consideration. The ruins with which Palestine is covered in every direction prove that the population was exceptionally dense. See Smith’s Dict. of the Bible, Art. Census.
And David's heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the LORD, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.10–14. The choice of punishments
10. David’s heart smote him] Conscience accused him, and he became aware of his guilt. He recognised the sinfulness of the proud and vainglorious spirit of self-confidence and desire for worldly aggrandisement which had induced him to take the census. See Additional Note v. p. 238.
I have done very foolishly] Cp. 1 Samuel 13:13; 2 Chronicles 16:9. In both these cases, as in effect here, the folly was sin springing from distrust of God.
For when David was up in the morning, the word of the LORD came unto the prophet Gad, David's seer, saying,11. For when David was up in the morning] And David arose in the morning, and, &c.: after the recognition and confession of his sin. The E. V. gives the false impression that the conviction of his sin was the result of Gad’s visit, which is not the meaning of the passage. Gad was not sent until after his confession and prayer for pardon.
the prophet Gad, David’s seer] Gad has not been mentioned since he was with David in his wanderings (1 Samuel 22:5), but no doubt had been acting as his confidential counsellor throughout. The word for “seer” is chôzeh, literally “gazer,” a term first used here in place of the older word “seer,” rôeh. See note on 1 Samuel 9:9. The narrative before us was not improbably written by Gad himself (1 Chronicles 29:29).
Go and say unto David, 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 told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days' pestilence in thy land? now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me.13. seven years of famine] The reading of the Sept. and Chron. is three years, and this is unquestionably to be preferred, as required by the symmetry of the statement. Famine, war, and pestilence are three of Jehovah’s four sore judgments (Ezekiel 14:21). Two of them David had already experienced. Note the expanded form in which Gad’s speech is given in 1 Chronicles 21:12, especially the representation of the pestilence as “the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel.”
advise] Lit. know or consider. Advise, like advise thyself in 1 Chronicles 21:12 means reflect or consider So Milton, Par. Lost, II. 376:
Advise, if this be worth
And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let us fall now into the hand of the LORD; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man.14. his mercies are great] Cp. Psalm 51:1; and the reference to this passage in Sir 2:17-18 : “They that fear the Lord will prepare their hearts, and humble their souls in his sight, saying, We will fall into the hands of the Lord, and not into the hands of men: for as his majesty is, so is his mercy.”
The Sept. adds at the close of the verse: “And David chose him the pestilence (lit. death). And it was the days of wheat harvest.” War would place the nation at the mercy of its enemies: famine would make it dependent on corn-merchants, who might greatly aggravate the miseries of scarcity: only in the pestilence—some form of plague sudden and mysterious in its attack, and baffling the medical knowledge of the time—would the punishment come directly from God, and depend immediately upon His Will.
So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men.15–17. The Plague
15. even to the time appointed] The meaning of these words, which are not found in Chron., is very doubtful. (1) The E. V. follows the Vulg. usque ad tempus constitutum. This would naturally mean until the end of the third day; but the duration of the plague seems to have been mercifully shortened (2 Samuel 24:16). Perhaps a time appointed (there is no definite article) might mean a time determined in the counsel of God, before the expiration of the period originally named. (2) Most commentators render until the time of assembly, i.e. the hour for offering the evening sacrifice, about three o’clock in the afternoon. Cp. 1 Kings 18:29; 1 Kings 18:36; Daniel 9:21; Acts 3:1. This is supported by the explanation given in the Targum: “from the time of the slaying of the perpetual sacrifice until it is burned;” and by Jerome (Quaest. Hebr. in libros Regum): “By the time appointed is meant that at which the evening sacrifice was offered.” (3) The Sept. rendering, until the time of breakfast, i.e. noon, is improbable.
And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD was by the threshingplace of Araunah the Jebusite.16. the angel] Angels are God’s ministers in temporal judgment now, as well as in the final judgment hereafter. Cp. Exodus 12:23; Psalm 78:49; 2 Kings 19:35; Acts 12:23; Matthew 13:41.
the Lord repented him of the evil] Cp. Exodus 32:14; Jeremiah 26:13; Jeremiah 26:19; Jonah 3:10. On the one hand Scripture teaches us that “God is not a man that he should repent” (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29); on the other hand it does not shrink from saying that God repents (a) when, as here, upon man’s penitence He withdraws or mitigates a punishment: (b) when, upon man’s faithlessness or disobedience, He cancels a promise or revokes a blessing which He had given. God’s repentance does not mean that He who foreknows all things regrets His action, nor is it a sign of mutability. Scripture boldly states the two apparently contradictory truths, and leaves conscience to harmonize them. See notes on 1 Samuel 15:11; 1 Samuel 15:29.
the threshingplace of Araunah the Jebusite] The threshingfloor: precisely the same word as in 2 Samuel 24:18; 2 Samuel 24:21; 2 Samuel 24:24. Threshingfloors were constructed on eminences, to catch the wind for winnowing the grain. Araunah’s threshingfloor was on Mount Moriah, the hill to the eastward of Jerusalem, and was the site upon which the Temple was afterwards built (2 Chronicles 3:1). See Additional Note VI. p. 240. This Mount Moriah was identified by Jewish tradition (e.g. Josephus Ant. VII. 13. 4) with the mountain in the land of Moriah which was the scene of the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:2 ff.), but the identification has been questioned. See Sinai and Pal. p. 251.
It has been supposed by some that the sacred rock of the Moslems, which is the highest point of the Temple hill, and is now covered by the Kubbet es Sakhrah or “Dome of the Rock,” marks the actual site of Araunah’s threshing-floor. See Sinai and Pal. p. 178 ff.
Araunah] The name is variously spelt Aravnah (2 Samuel 24:16 Qrî), Avarnah (2 Samuel 24:16 Kthîbh), Aranyah (2 Samuel 24:18 Kthîbh); in Chron. it is written Ornan; and in the Sept. in both books “Ὄρνα (Orna). This variety of form is probably due to different attempts to represent a non-Hebraic name. There is no ground for the popular belief (based on a misunderstanding of 2 Samuel 24:23) that Araunah was the old king of Jebus before its conquest by David, and had been permitted by David to reside on his estate just outside Jerusalem. But his presence there is an evidence that the old inhabitants had been allowed to remain, and even to retain their property. Cp. 1 Kings 9:20.
And David spake unto the LORD when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father's house.17. when he saw the angel] The writer of Chronicles, dwelling upon the details of the miraculous circumstances which attended the designation of the site of the Temple, records that “David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the Lord standing between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. And David and the elders, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces” (2 Samuel 21:16).
I have sinned, and I have done wickedly] It is I that have sinned and I that have done perversely. The pronoun is twice emphatically expressed. Sin is doubly described as missing an aim, coming short of the mark of duty; and as crooked or perverse action, following the leadings of self-will instead of the straightforward path of right. Cp. 1 Kings 8:47; Psalm 32:1-2.
these sheep, what have they done] Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 7:8; Psalm 74:1; Psalm 95:7. David takes all the blame upon himself, for his offence had been the immediate cause of the plague, and it is characteristic of true penitence to dwell exclusively on its own sin, without respect to the complicity of others. But it is clear from 2 Samuel 24:1 that the sin was the sin of the people as well as of David. See Additional Note v. p. 238.
And Gad came that day to David, and said unto him, Go up, rear an altar unto the LORD in the threshingfloor of Araunah the Jebusite.18–25. Purchase of Araunah’s threshingfloor and erection of an altar there
18. Gad came] By direction of the angel, according to 1 Chronicles 21:18. Gad’s message was the answer to David’s prayer, the announcement to him of the purpose of mercy described in 2 Samuel 24:16. David was still in Jerusalem, praying perhaps at the tent in which the Ark was, when he saw the appearance of the angel hovering above the neighbouring hill, and apparently about to strike the city.
And David, according to the saying of Gad, went up as the LORD commanded.
And Araunah looked, and saw the king and his servants coming on toward him: and Araunah went out, and bowed himself before the king on his face upon the ground.20. saw the king] In Chron. saw the angel, but the words angel and king in Heb. are very similar, and probably king is the true reading there also.
went out] From the threshingfloor where he was at work threshing wheat.
And Araunah said, Wherefore is my lord the king come to his servant? And David said, To buy the threshingfloor of thee, to build an altar unto the LORD, that the plague may be stayed from the people.
And Araunah said unto David, Let my lord the king take and offer up what seemeth good unto him: behold, here be oxen for burnt sacrifice, and threshing instruments and other instruments of the oxen for wood.22. threshing instruments] The threshing sledges, drawn by the oxen which Araunah offers for sacrifice. For a description of this implement see note on ch. 2 Samuel 12:31. The word there is different, and that used here is found only in 1 Chronicles 21:23 and Isaiah 41:15. Corn was either trampled out by oxen (Deuteronomy 25:4), or beaten out by these machines. See Smith’s Dict. of Bible, Art. Agriculture.
other instruments of the oxen] Omit other. The instruments of the oxen were the wooden yokes. Cp. 1 Kings 19:21; 1 Samuel 6:14. Chron. adds, “and the wheat for the meat offering.”
All these things did Araunah, as a king, give unto the king. And Araunah said unto the king, The LORD thy God accept thee.23. All these things, &c.] Render, The whole doth Araunah, O king, give unto the king. The words are a continuation of Araunah’s speech in 2 Samuel 24:22. Cp. 1 Chronicles 21:23. Although the rendering, “the whole did king Araunah give unto the king,” is grammatically possible, it is inconceivable that so important a fact as that Araunah was the former king of Jebus should be only mentioned in so incidental a way, and the striking picture drawn by Dean Stanley (Lect. II. 111) of the meeting of the two princes—“the fallen king of the ancient fortress, the new king of the restored capital, each moved alike by the misfortune of a city which in different senses belonged to each”—must be given up as destitute of historical foundation. But the word O king is not found in the Sept. or Vulg., and should probably be omitted. In this case the words will be the narrator’s summary of Araunah’s offer: “the whole did Araunah give unto the king:” give, as in the strikingly similar offer of Ephron to Abraham, meaning offer. See Genesis 23:11.
accept thee] The same word is used of God’s acceptance of prayer and sacrifice in Job 33:26 (E. V. be favourable); Ezekiel 20:40-41; Ezekiel 43:27, &c.
And the king said unto Araunah, Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which doth cost me nothing. So David bought the threshingfloor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.24. neither will I offer … of that which doth cost me nothing] For that would contradict the essential idea of sacrifice. “It is an heartless piety of those base-minded Christians that care only to serve God good cheap.” Bp. Hall. Cp. Malachi 1:13-14.
David bought the threshingfloor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver] The corresponding statement in 1 Chronicles 21:25 is that “David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred shekels of gold by weight.” If this refers to the same purchase, we can only suppose that the numbers in one or both of the passages are corrupt: but it is possible that the immediate purchase of the threshingfloor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver was a distinct transaction from the subsequent purchase of “the place,” that is, the whole area upon which the Temple was erected, for six hundred shekels of gold.
And David built there an altar unto the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD was intreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel.25. burnt offerings and peace offerings] The Sept. adds; “And Solomon added to the altar afterwards, for it was small at the first:” and this, whether merely a gloss or part of the original text, agrees with the statement in Chronicles, that David chose the spot for the site of the Temple. See 1 Chronicles 22:1; 2 Chronicles 3:1.
So the Lord was intreated for the land] See note on ch. 2 Samuel 21:14.