Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.10. The Numbering of the People and the Punishment
1. David’s failure in numbering the people (1Chronicles 21:1-7)
2. David’s confession and the message of God (1Chronicles 21:8-12)
3. David’s answer and the punishment (1Chronicles 21:13-17)
4. The altar in the threshing floor of Ornan (1Chronicles 21:18-30)
On the alleged discrepancy between the statement in 2Samuel 24:1 “And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and He moved (literal: He suffered him to be moved) David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah,” and 1Chronicles 21:1 “And Satan stood up against Israel and provoked David to number Israel”; see annotations on 2 Sam. 24. Israel had committed some sin and deserved punishment. This is clear from the statement in 2Samuel 24:1. The direct cause of the visitation, however, was David’s pride, and may have been connected with the desire of constituting his kingdom as a great military power. He wanted to know the strength of the nation and glory in it, and the king forgot that the Lord had increased Israel and all he was and had was of God. What a difference between David here and David sitting in the presence of the Lord after hearing Nathan’s message! (17:16). Nothing humbles so as being in the presence of the Lord. The lust of the flesh in self-indulgence had led to his awful sin with Bathsheba, and now the lust of the eyes and the pride of life had entangled him. Satan stood behind it all and the sin committed, pride and self-exaltation, was according to Satan’s character. Then David confessed (verse 8) and the Lord sent the prophet Gad to him announcing the modes of punishment from which he was to make his choice. The recovery of David, his real knowledge of God and the working of His grace in his heart are manifested by the fact that he committed himself to God, choosing rather to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of his enemies. The Lord sent the pestilence. David saw the angel of the Lord. Then David and the elders clothed in sack cloth were on their faces. At the sight of the angel with his drawn sword stretched over Jerusalem, David confessed again, but his prayer becomes an intercession; he takes the sin upon himself and prays “let Thine hand, be on me, and on my father’s house; but not on Thy people that they should be plagued.” This prayer was speedily followed by mercy. The site of the future house of the Lord was then acquired. (See comment on 2 Sam. 24.) Ornan and his four sons had also seen the angel and they were afraid (verse 20). And the Jebusite was willing to give the threshing-floor and all within it. And when the site had been acquired by purchase and the altar was built, burnt-offerings and peace-offerings were brought. Heaven answered by fire. “And the LORD commanded the angel; and he put up his sword again into the sheath thereof.” All is blessedly typical of Him who is the true burnt-offering, as well as the peace-offering.
It is interesting to see the order unfolded here in the establishment of the sovereign grace: first of all, the heart of God and His sovereign grace in election, suspending the execution of the deserved and pronounced judgment (verse 15); next, the revelation of this judgment, a revelation which produces humiliation before God and a full confession of sin before His face. David, and the elders of Israel, clothed in sackcloth, fall upon their faces, and David presents himself as the guilty one. Then, instruction comes from God, as to that which must be done to cause the pestilence judicially and definitively to cease, namely, the sacrifice in Ornan’s threshing-floor. God accepts the sacrifice, sending fire to consume it, and then He commands the angel to sheathe his sword. And sovereign grace, thus carried out in righteousness through sacrifice, becomes the means of Israel’s approach to their God, and establishes the place of their access to Him.