1 Chronicles 21
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The Scripture historians do not conceal David's faults. Though they represent him as the man after God's heart, they faithfully record his grievous defections. He was evidently a man in whom the ordinary principles of human nature were unusually vigorous. There was, accordingly, warmth in his piety, and his sins were those peculiar to an ardent and passionate nature. His warlike impulses led him into cruelty, his amatory passions into adultery, his violence into murder, his self-confidence into the act of regal pride which is condemned in this passage. Accustomed as we are to a periodical census, and indeed to statistics of all kinds, it is difficult for us to understand how blamable was David's conduct in numbering the people.

I. Observe AT WHOSE INSTIGATION the king acted. Although in Samuel we are told that the Lord's anger with Israel was the deepest reason for the act and the explanation of all that followed it, our text refers the conduct of David to "an adversary." Whether this enemy was human, or, as is generally supposed, superhuman, diabolical, is not material. A tempter, an adversary, suggested the sinful motive and the disobedient action.

II. Observe THE MOTIVE which led to this act. It was a motive often influential with the prosperous and the powerful. It was vanity, confidence in his own greatness, in the number of his soldiers, in the resources of his subjects. David had been a warrior whose arms had been attended with remarkable success, and, like many such, he doubtless deemed himself invincible.

III. Observe DAVID'S PERSEVERANCE IN SPITE OF WARNING. Many sins are committed heedlessly. Not so this; for Joab, who was by no means a counsellor always to be trusted, warned his master against this act of folly, which he saw was "a cause of trespass to Israel." David was not to be deterred, and perhaps resented, as such characters are wont to do, any resistance to his will. Temptation from without, evil passions from within, are often enough to overcome the calmest and the wisest counsels and admonitions. A lesson this of human frailty. A summons also to penitence and to humility. - T.

Probably there will always remain a measure of mystery about this act of numbering the nation. We shall always be more or less uncertain as to the precise elements of wrong which God saw in it, and which brought down so terrible a condemnation and penalty. There are, however, some features of the whole transaction which are certain and which are instructive. We see -


1. We see by the narrative in 2 Samuel 24. I that God at least permitted it to occur. "He moved David... to say, Go, number," etc.

2. We see (ver. 1) that Satan incited David to the act.

3. The king's own feeling and judgment had most of all to do with it; this was the source of the evil. David persisted in it against better counsel (vers. 3, 4).

4. It may be fairly contended that the condition of the people helped to account for it. We may infer from 2 Samuel 24:1 that God was displeased with Israel, and that his displeasure accounted for the absence of the Divine intervention which would otherwise have held back the king from his folly. Our acts are seldom, if ever, so simple as they seem; usually, if not always, more sources contribute to them than are seen upon the surface. They spring from hidden habits which have long been rooting and growing in the heart; they are the consequence of our own volition at the moment; they are the result of the agency of others who surround and influence us; they are affected by unseen forces which play upon us from below and also from above. We are sure of this, yet we are equally sure -

II. THAT WE ARE ALL RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ACTIONS WE COMMIT. "God was displeased with this thing" (ver. 7). He saw in it that which was sinful and wrong, worthy of Divine condemnation, calling for Divine retribution. Moreover, David owned to himself and confessed to God his personal guiltiness: "I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing," etc. (ver. 8). No analysis of the forces which are at work upon and within us can affect the question of responsibility.

1. God "will not hold us guiltless" if we break his laws, if we wrong our neighbours, if we injure ourselves.

2. Nor shall be able to acquit ourselves. It will be long before sin will so harden us that we shall not suffer keenly from the reproaches of our own conscience, and then it will not be long before that fire within is rekindled by the hand of God, and its terrible flame will burn up all sophistries of the soul.

3. Nor will our fellow-men exonerate us; they will condemn us freely, and we must suffer the sting of their censure.

III. THAT THE RECTITUDE OR WRONGNESS OF AN ACTION DEPENDS MAINLY ON THE MOTIVE by which it is inspired. The act of numbering the people was not intrinsically wrong (see Exodus 30:12, 13). When the census was taken in order to ascertain what was due to the service of Jehovah or of the state, it was positively good and commendable. But on this occasion, when it was done, as we must presume, in a vain-glorious spirit, in order that the king might boast of the increasing number of his subjects, or else in a faithless spirit, that the king might know on what he could rely - forgetting that his confidence was not in the arm of flesh, but in the living God - then it became sinful, condemnable, disastrous. Almost everything is in the motive of our deeds. The fairest actions in the sight of man may be hollow or utterly corrupt in the sight of him who looketh on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). The simplest and smallest actions may be great and noble in the estimate of him who measures with heavenly scales each human thought and deed.

IV. THAT THE GOOD OR EVIL OF A HUMAN ACTION IS NOT DETERMINED BY THE CHARACTER OF THE AGENT OR HIS JUDGES. Usually the good man does the good thing, but not invariably. Usually the man of lower excellence takes the wrong view when he differs from the man of greater worth; but not necessarily. Evidently a Joab may be right when a David is wrong. It was antecedently likely, in a high degree, that if these two men differed in any point, David would take the true and Joab the false view. But here it was otherwise (vers. 3, 4). On this occasion the better man might have learned from his spiritual inferior. We do well to expect good deeds from good men, and, when they seem to be wrong, to suspend our judgment until we have searched everything through. But we must not trust blindly to the reputed worthies of our day, or we may he following a good man when he is in error; or we may he simply putting ourselves into the hands and walking in the steps of scribes and Pharisees. With the help of God's Word and his Spirit we are to "judge of ourselves what is right' (Luke 12:57). - C.

In considering this act of David, our attention must be first directed to the statement in the very first verse of this chapter, in connection with the corresponding passage in 2 Samuel 24:1. In one chapter it is stated that "Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel;" in the latter passage it is said, "Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them." Manifestly there needs some way of reconciling these two statements so apparently conflicting. The latter passage implies that there was some guilt in Israel for God to take this step, and. this may be found in the rebellions of Absalom and Sheba against David's kingdom. The word "again" points back to the judgment of God on Israel recorded in 2 Samuel 21. But although there was guilt on the nation on account of these rebellions, David himself was the instrument by which Israel was to be punished. On the other hand, there was, as Joab's words imply, considerable pride and vanity in David's heart in wishing for this census of the people. As he was about to glory in the number of his people, God reduced that number by seventy thousand, so that he should not have the glory. God's law is to compel wickedness hid in the heart to manifest itself outwardly by furnishing the opportunities for its manifestation. Hence it is perfectly true to say, on the one hand, that God used David's sin to punish Israel for their guilt, and, on the other, that Satan moved David to number them. The latter was but God giving David the opportunity for the evil of his heart to manifest itself, while of course Satan was the source of that evil. God used David's sin to punish Israel; God gave the opportunity to David to number Israel in order to manifest the evil of David's heart outwardly. Thus God punished Israel and humbled David. This may suggest to us the difference in the Bible between trial and temptation. In the Book of Genesis it is said, "God did tempt [or, 'try '] Abraham." In the Epistle of James it is said of God, "Neither tempteth he any man." God tries; Satan tempts. Let us illustrate. Some thousands of pounds are lying on the parlour table when a servant enters the room. This is a trial of the servant's honesty, and thus is from God. Satan says, "Steal some;" this is the temptation. So that every trial from God may at the same time be a temptation from Satan. To return now to the act of David in numbering the people. We have seen the sin of this act in that he was about to glory in the number of his people. "No flesh shall glory in his presence;" and so God reduced the number by seventy thousand. The mention of Satan as the author of this act is intended to show us that David's purpose in it was, from the very first, an ungodly thing. Joab was aware of this, and regarded the act as "abominable." His language in reply to the king indicates its enormity: "Why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?" The word "trespass" here is significant. It means not only a trespass committed, but one which must be atoned for. This shows in what a heinous light he regarded David's act. The king's word prevailed, however, and Joab reluctantly obeyed. Levi and Benjamin were not counted with the number. The tribe of Levi was always exempt in such censuses, and the tribe of Benjamin was not numbered because David, in the mean time, having become conscious of his sin, stopped the census before it was completed. Joab gave the sum of the people to the king. It amounted to one million one hundred thousand men in Israel. This great population in so limited an extent of country is a proof of the fulfilment of the promise (Genesis 15:5). Such great prosperity, however, is too frequently a snare, as it was in this ease. It proved too strong a temptation to David's pride and vanity; and though the Lord used it to discipline David's soul into deeper humility, it led to lamentable consequences. We see how little God can trust his children long with prosperous circumstances. It is for this reason the pressure of God's hand is laid on many of them, and continued, in one form or another, through life; for, were it withdrawn, the heart would soon wander from God, and run the risk of forfeiting its heavenly inheritance, or its future glorious reward. - W.

The passage similar to this in 2 Samuel 24:1 should be compared with it. The word Satan would have been more correctly translated an adversary; and the sentence in Samuel would be correctly rendered, "One moved David against them." The historical fact appears to be that one of the courtiers pressed this evil advice on the king, and the Bible writers properly see in such a man a tempter, an adversary, a Satan; and they recognize in all the consequences that follow the outworking of Divine judgments. The question of the Bible presentation of a chief evil spirit need not be discussed in connection with this passage. It is to one aspect only of the influence of such a being that our attention is directed. The Miltonic figure of Satan should be carefully distinguished from the Biblical; and in the instance before us the" adversary" is treated as a Divine agency used for the testing of God's people by temptation to sin. If we fully accept the idea of the Divine education and training of men, it will be no difficulty to us that times of moral trial should be found, and subjection to evil enticements should form part of the Divine plan. We know that God tries and tests us by things, and it should not be difficult for us to realize that he may try and test us by persons. This is, indeed, our most subtle and most severe form of testing. A man may stand firm under all the various trials of affliction, and fall at last under the temptings and delusions of subtle sin. This is the point in David's case. We should notice the time in his life when this severe temptation came. It was when we might reasonably have assumed that David was confirmed in goodness. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." Interesting comparisons may be made with Abraham, tested late in life by the command to offer his son; and with Job, tried, when fully established in family and property, by the sudden loss of all, and his own extreme bodily suffering. David's trial came when all his enemies were subdued, and his kingdom extended to its widest limits. We cannot suppose that the mere act of taking a census of the people was regarded as wrong. All acts gain their qualities by the spirit in which they are done, and David's wrong was wrong of purpose and of will.

I. SATANIC TEMPTATIONS REGARDED AS HUMAN PERIL. Illustrate from our Lord's words to St. Peter, "Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat." Danger-times occur again and again in a man's life. He must conceive of his spiritual foe as ever on the watch for the weak, unguarded moment. Illustrate the Satanic opportunities found in times of frail health, of success in undertakings, of circumstances having an exciting character, of carnal security, of flattery, or of pride. Especially show that the moments of rebound from success, and exhaustion after victory, put us in extreme peril. Skilfully adjusting temptations to a man's stronger side, Satan has oftentimes succeeded. Every hour is an hour of peril, and we need the hourly prayer, "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe."

II. SATANIC TEMPTATIONS REGARDED AS DIVINE DISCIPLINE. We may not separate any of the things happening to us in life from the Divine purpose and overruling. What we call evil is properly seen as part of the Divine agency for our moral culture. Divine overrulings do not change the character or quality of things, but they directly affect the result of things. All life is probation. We are being moulded in righteousness. So we find that even these strange Satanic temptations serve gracious Divine purposes in the individual man; and when we cannot see this, we may see that they serve gracious Divine purposes in the warning and teaching of others, and that some of us may even, as David, stumble unto falling vicariously. - R.T.

The narrative does not clearly and explicitly state David's intention in thus commanding a census of the people to be made. Probably he desired to know the numbers of the people of his kingdom as it had been extended by successful war; but this he wished rather for his own self-glorying than for national purposes. It was an act of self-will, and it failed from full loyalty to the theocratic idea which had been so well maintained during David's reign. In just this lay its sin and its mischief. Dean Stanley calls the taking of this census "an attempt not unnaturally suggested by the increase of his power, but implying a confidence and pride alien to the spirit inculcated on the kings of the chosen people. The apprehension of a Nemesis on any overweening display of prosperity, if not consistent with the highest revelations of the Divine nature in the gospel, pervades all ancient, especially all Oriental, religions." And Ewald says, "The only satisfactory explanation of this measure is that it was intended as the foundation of an organized and vigorous government, like that of Egypt or Phoenicia, under which the exact number of the houses and inhabitants of every city and village would have to be obtained so as to be able to summon the people for general taxation. But it is well known what a profound aversion and what an instinctive abhorrence certain nations, ancient and modern, harbour against any such design which they dimly suspect, not perhaps without good reason, is likely to result in a dangerous extension of the governing power, and its encroachment on the sanctity of the private home." We may notice what peril often lies in the return of temptation upon a man after he has conquered it. David had warred in loyal dependence on God, but he fell when attempting to gather up the results of his victory. A camp is never so exposed to attack as in the time of exhaustion and over-confidence that immediately succeeds a victory. Illustrate from the power that lies in the backward suck of a broken wave.

I. SELF-GRATULATION ON ACCOUNT OF RESULTS OF LABOUR. Compare Nebuchadnezzar's boasting over great Babylon. Contrast the spirit manifested in St. Paul's boastings. He says, "By the grace of God I am what I am." Show how keen we are for results, both in business and in religious spheres. The miser delights to count up his hoards, and the religious man is in peril of self-satisfaction in reckoning up his converts. Few of us can bear to have the true fruitage of our life-labour shown us yet; and we learn to think it most wise and good of our great Master that he puts off the harvest-day until by-and-by. Then we may venture to come "bringing our sheaves with us." Enough now for us is the joy of workers in their work.

II. SELF-GRATULATION ON ACCOUNT OF SPIRITUAL TRIUMPHS. Illustrate from the peril of the hermit, monk, or nun; persons who devote themselves wholly to spiritual culture. Show that the humility they seek is ever slipping from their grasp, and subtle pride is asserting its place. St. Simeon Stylites on his pillar was probably prouder than any king. And so now exclusive attention to the training of feelings and emotions tends to self-gratulation. Perhaps more men are proud of their goodness than proud of their greatness. Against this subtle and insidious form of evil we all need to watch. And the great Heart-searcher needs to cleanse the very thoughts and heart, finding out for us our secret wicked ways.

III. The SINFULNESS of all self-gratulation is seen in the evil influence of it on others. Some it excites to imitations. Others it impresses with our insincerity, and so with an idea of the worthlessness of all religion. It prevents our exercising a good influence on others. Nothing more certainly shuts up a man's power than the impression he may produce of his pride and self-conceit. Whatever we may win, one law applies - don't boast. - R.T.

Joab was not always a good adviser. More than once he had led David into difficulties. But he was a skilful and bold statesman. He looked rather to the consequences and ultimate influences of political actions than to the maintenance of high political principles. In this case he feared more the penalty that would follow than the sin itself. But his advice was good. We may not say that even good advice is necessarily to be taken. Our judgment concerning it should be exercised, and our decisions upon it should be made. That which is absolutely good, or in a general way good, may not be the best thing at a particular time, or for a particular individual.

I. Good ADVICE MAY BE UNACCEPTABLE IN ITSELF. It may demand hard things or unpleasant things. It may be difficult to discern the grounds on which it is based. It may involve humiliations and confessions of mistake. It may bring heavy responsibilities. It may unduly strain feeling. It may be quite different from the advice we expected. It may seem, to our judgment, anything but good.

II. GOOD ADVICE MAY BE UNACCEPTABLE THROUGH THE PERSON WHO GIVES IT. We estimate the value of advice by the giver. Our confidence in him gives quality to his advice. Probably David was at this time so annoyed with Joab that his eyes were blinded, and he could not see how wise his counsel was. To judge advice by the giver is, as a rule, quite safe; but care is needed lest prejudice should prevent our recognizing the good in the counsel of those we dislike, and lest undue affection should prevent our seeing the error in the advice of those whom we may personally esteem. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend," etc.

III. GOOD ADVICE MAY BE UNACCEPTABLE THROUGH THE STATE OF MIND OF THE PERSON WHO RECEIVES IT. There may be a proud unwillingness to receive advice at all; an over and undue self-reliance. There may be a strong purpose and resolve against which the advice goes, as in David's case. So we learn that to be proper recipients of good advice from our fellow-men, or from God's Word, we need to win and to keep the humble, open heart. - R.T.

The first effect of David's act was that of incurring God's severe displeasure. David's eyes were opened to see his sin and its greatness. In earnest prayer he besought God to "do away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly." This, however, cannot be. Sin may be forgiven but its sad consequences must be felt. A man who has brought ruin upon himself and family by a sinful life may have all his sin forgiven, but he must suffer the consequences and his family also, it may be, for generations to come. Nothing is more palpable on every side of us than this law in God's moral government - "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;" and "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." In David's sin we see also another law in God's moral government - a man's punishment is always in the same line of his sin. David's pride was in the great number of his people; the punishment lay in the destruction of seventy thousand of that number. There is an unvarying connection between the two, indicating the law of righteous retribution. As a judgment the Lord offered David his choice of three evils, and in David's answer we see the true wisdom of a chastened and humbled child of God. "And David said unto God, 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 a pestilence, and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men." It is the truest wisdom of the soul in every such emergency to fall into the hand of God. Our loving Father does all things well; and while we must reap what we have sown in order to learn by deep experience what a bitter thing sin is, "a Father's hand will never cause his child a needless tear." God hates sin, and he will have us learn what a fearful thing it is that we may hate it too. The hand of God in this outpour of judgment is vividly pictured in this portion of the chapter. "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;" but just as he had begun to destroy, we are told God said, "It is enough, stay now thine hand." How much greater might the destruction have been but for him who in the midst of judgment remembers mercy! Yes, in the midst of all our judgments, our trials, our sufferings, how much greater they might have been, may each one say! We can count our trials, but never our mercies. They are as the sands of the shore or the stars over our heads. The darkest cloud has ever a silver lining. And so it is here. There was another effect of David's sin besides this terrible destruction of Israel, for in its results sin is always hydra-headed. Each one carries with it a fruitful crop. We find this effect in David's own relation to God (ver. 30). "He was afraid." Exactly the same words are used by Adam in the garden, and the slothful servant in the New Testament. Sin produces distance from God. David was as truly behind a tree as Adam in the garden. Peace, communion, freedom, all that sweet interchange of fellowship between God and the soul, have all gone now! O Sin, how terrible art thou in thy consequences! One more thought is suggested by this portion of the chapter. The tabernacle of the Lord and the altar of burnt offering were at this time at Gibeon. Here was the prescribed place of sacrifice and here, according to orthodox ideas, David should have gone to offer his sacrifices. But God can give a man rest anywhere. He can apply his mercy to the soul and accept its sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving as well in Ornan's barn as on Gibeon's high places. David had seen the sheathed sword and the hallowed fire from heaven, not on Gibeon's heights, but in Ornan's barn. Whatever orthodoxy might think of the former, the latter was God's chosen place for the temple. God's experienced mercy, where justice had sheathed its sword and grace had answered prayer, made the ground hallowed. It is so still; and may every member of the Church of Christ never forget it. - W.

In these verses it is noted that God's judgment on sin revealed the sinfulness of his doings to the sinner. "God is known by the judgment that he executeth." Still, it is largely true that men do not see their sin in its proper light until they come under the sufferings which it involves. Illustrate by the licentious man and the drunkard. God's plan is to affix consequences to sin, and make these always to he of an afflictive and distressing and humiliating character, so that by them the character and quality of sin might be shown up. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Illustrations are at hand in Old Testament history, ordinary national histories, and modern life. "Though hand join in hand, the sinner shall not go unpunished." The consequences of sin come in a great variety of forms, but always with precise adaptation to the moral purpose which God holds in view in sending them. If the sin be only that of a man as an individual, the consequences may come wholly on the man's body. If the sin be that of a man as a father, the consequences may be such as will affect the family. And if the sin be that of a man as a king, we may reasonably expect that the consequences will reach to affect the nation. And this is the case of David which is now before us for consideration. An act is right or wrong, according to God's eternal laws, whoever does it; but acts gain some of their precise qualities through the relational or representative character of the persons who do them; and this often affords the true explanations of the particular judgments that attend them.

I. DAVID'S SIN. His act, considered apart from his state of mind and his purpose, cannot be called wrong. We at least are familiar with the idea of taking census, and understand it to be a necessary attendant on orderly government. Two things aid us in recognizing David's sin.

1. The sentiment of Eastern peoples concerning a census; they regarded it as imperilling their liberty, and as a state device for inflicting on them a tyrannous taxation.

2. David was not an independent sovereign; he was Jehovah's prince; and such a work as this should only have been undertaken at the direct command of the true King. In a previous sketch, on ver. 2, the precise character of David's act has been shown. His purpose was vain-glory. He would boast of the great kingdom he had founded; so he utterly failed from the theocratic kingship with which he had been entrusted. And his sin was that of the king; it was part of his government; and, therefore, it affected the people whom he governed, and, the consequences fell on him through them, just as the judgments on parental sin come on parents through their children.

II. ITS CONSEQUENCES IN THE DIVINE ADMINISTRATION. These were apparently special. Gad, God's prophet, announced the impending judgments, bidding David select which of them should fall. Bat this speciality is only in appearance, and it is designed to be illustrative of the ordinary and orderly judgments which are surely wrought out in God's providences. Sometimes God permits us to trace processes, but it is only that we may gain full conviction of the essential connections between sin and suffering. Much is made in our day of the working of law in nature. It would be altogether healthier and better for us to make much of the working of law in morals. No law is so absolute as this one: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die."

III. THE REVEALING POWER OF SUCH CONSEQUENCES. That is, their power to disclose and impress the character of men's sins, as viewed by God. In the narrative before us, the impressions made on the king (ver. 8), on the people, and, through these, upon us, may be illustrated. The mission of all judgments and so-called calamities is here shown. The revelations which they make are

(1) a vindication of God;

(2) a gracious aid to a worthy apprehension of God; and

(3) the only way to secure our due restoration to a right mind and right relations. - R.T.

David was a man who both sinned grievously and repented bitterly. If we have nowhere more striking examples than in his life of human frailty, we have nowhere more than in his recorded experience an example of anguish and of penitence for sin. Witness the state of mind manifested in the fifty-first psalm. We have in this most touching verse -

I. CONFESSION OF SIN. This language may be regarded as a model of sincerely uttered confession.

1. It was offered to God. "David said unto God." So in Psalm 51., "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned." Not against society, not against the state; but against the Searcher of hearts and the Judge of all.

2. It was a taking to himself of the guilt. "1 have sinned." Instead of laying the blame upon another, the king accepted it for himself. It is a sad thing when men take excuses into the presence of God.

3. David had a just sense of the heinousness of his sin. He felt that he had sinned greatly. It was not in his view a light thing of which he had been guilty. How can we, as Christians, regard sin as a light matter, when we remember that sin brought our holy Saviour, the Lord of glory, to the ignominious cross?

4. The folly of sin was very apparent to David's mind when he poured out his soul in contrite confessions before the Lord. "I have done very foolishly."

II. ENTREATY FOR PARDON. It would be a sad case, indeed, if, when the sinner acknowledged his errors and faults, he did so with no hope or expectation of grace and forgiveness. But David knew that God was a God delighting in mercy and ready to forgive. Accordingly he added to his confession this entreaty: "I beseech thee, do away the iniquity of thy servant." What abundant encouragement have we to present a prayer like this! The revelation of God's character, the provision of a Divine Redeemer, the promises of a welcome gospel, all alike induce us to come unto God in the attitude, not only of sinners, but of suppliants, beseeching of him a favourable reception, and the extension to us as sinners of his clemency and grace. T.

We have illustrated here -

I. THE HUMAN APPROACH TO GOD in the hour of penitence. "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," etc. (ver. 8). Here is, what there ever should be,

(1) a deep sense of sin in the soul;

(2) a frank admission of guilt, in word;

(3) a prayer that it may be put away, or forgiven;

(4) an intention to put it away from our own heart and life.

II. THE DIVINE OVERTURE TO MAN. God met the attitude of his penitent servant with forgiveness and a penalty. Thus he met David's penitence before. "David said... I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. Howbeit ... the child shall surely die" (2 Samuel 12:13, 14). On the present occasion God offered David his mercy (not, indeed, expressed, but clearly understood), accompanied by a penalty in respect of which he might exercise his own judgment. In the choice which Jehovah thus offered David there was something exceptional. In his dealing with mankind God does, indeed, give us the one alternative of going on in sin with utter ruin at the end of it, or repentance and forgiveness with some penalty to be paid for past offences; but this is the only option he gives us. If we come to him, like David, penitently and trustfully, owning transgression, and pleading for mercy through Jesus Christ, he will reinstate us in our forfeited position, he will pardon and accept us as his reconciled children, and he will require of us that we suffer the necessary and inevitable consequences of our past misdeeds. If we have wasted our youth in folly, he gives us a regenerated and holy manhood and age, but he condemns us to go forward with a sense that we have lost for ever a large portion of the opportunity of life. If we have injured our health, enfeebled our intellect, and impaired our moral and spiritual force by guilty indulgences, he grants us his mercy and a cleansed and purified future, but he sends us on our way with a lessened manhood and talents reduced that should have been multiplied and enlarged. If we have thrown away the esteem and affection of the wise and holy, he receives us, when penitent, into the embrace of his Divine affection, but he makes us pay the penalty of our folly by climbing slowly up the steeps of regained reputation and of renewed confidence and love. Forgiveness, not unattended with inevitable penalty, - that is the overture of God to the repentant sinner. In the penalty we pay there is no choice allowed us. The moral laws of the universe are simply not inverted or annulled; they do their work upon and within us: only with his pardoning love comes his Divine grace to enable us to endure, and to give us the victory in the strife.

III. THE HUMAN RECEPTION OF THE DIVINE OFFER. The spirit of David was one of holy submission; he said, "Let me fall now into the hand of the Lord; for very great are his mercies" (ver. 13). In the acceptance of the overture and in the choice which he made, David expressed a devout and obedient disposition. This is to be our spirit also. We are

(1) gratefully to accept the mercy of the Lord;

(2) cheerfully to bear whatever penalty the guilty past may carry on into the near future;

(3) gladly to believe that the further future will free us from all consequences of sin, and hold nothing in its hand but Divine grace and goodness. - C.

The details may be given as explained in the Expository portion of this Commentary. Famine, war, and plague are the three ordinary Divine agencies used for the judgment of nations. Each affects numbers and arouses national feeling. Very seldom, indeed, does God make men the offer of a choice of punishments; and we can fully understand that it would not be consistent with his honour so to do. Then why did he do it in this particular case? Because this was special, and designed to bear mainly on the recovery of a good man's full trust in God. God cannot usually make offers to men, because there is no good and right feeling in them to which his offer may appeal. God could make such offer to David, because bin was only a temporary aberration and failure from the true spirit and full loyalty. Even in the matter of his own judgment, God may take David, the "man after his own heart," into his counsel.

I. THE POINT OF THE THREEFOLD OFFER. It tested David's trust in God. Would he prefer judgment which came very evidently through human agency, or would he prefer judgment which was plainly sent direct from God? We know that pestilence is as truly due to human neglect and error as is famine or war; but, in the sentiment of David's time, plague was the direct visitation of God.


1. He felt that he could better trust the direct Divine agency than man's ministry, which might be toned with ill feeling.

2. There was more hope of the limitations and qualifications of mercy in God's dealings than in man's.

3. The national honour and the integrity of the kingdom and the stability of the throne would not be so seriously affected by a plague, as they would be by the temporary triumph of the national foes. When we are, with David, fully willing to fall into God's hands, then the Divine judgments may be graciously tempered, and even removed. - R.T.

Prove and illustrate the universality of the connection. Illustrations may be found in every age and every sphere. See the idea of a Nemesis; and show that pointing out this connection is the commonplace of the moral and religious teacher.

I. SEE CLEARLY WHAT SIN IS. Give the theories about sin; but apart from theory, or doctrine, endeavour to understand what sin is

(1) in itself;

(2) in its power of growth;

(3) in its subtle and mischievous influences;

(4) in its interference with the Divine order;

(5) in its relations with the Divine Law;

(6) in the sight of God, as intimated in the Scriptures.

When a suitable impression is gained of what sin is, we are prepared to -


(1) it beclouds man's conscience, and judgment alone removes such clouds;

(2) it subverts Divine authority, and such authority judgments alone can vindicate;

(3) it interferes with the Divine plans and purposes, and these judgments alone can rectify. The importance of the relation between sin and suffering, transgression and judgment, is best shown by the effort to realize what would now be the moral sentiments of men if this connection had not been assured, and men could now plead that any one of their number had ever sinned with impunity. So essential, indeed, is the connection, that when God grants forgiveness of the sin he seldom, if ever, interferes with the external consequences of the wrong. They are left to work on their severe but beneficent mission. Judgment, in both the small and the large spheres, is the minister, the angel, of the Divine mercy; and we may bless God for his judgments. Note also that Christ, as man, came, for man, under Divine judgments, because he was the Representative of sinners. - R.T.

There is something very simple and touching in this expression. "The hand of the Lord" is, for the most part, mentioned in Scripture as the emblem of God's protecting, upholding, preserving power. Here it indicates chastisement. How truly submissive and filial was the spirit which was manifested in this petition! Whether God's hand was raised to deliver or to smite, his servant was content - so that it was God's.

I. THE LORD SOMETIMES CHASTENS EVEN REPENTING OFFENDERS. Some unthinking persons may wonder why, if the sinner be penitent and the sin forgiven, there should be any necessity for punishment at all. But facts cannot be explained away. The great Lord and Judge of all does Sometimes, as in the instance before us, permit the sinner to endure temporal consequences of sin, although his anger is turned away from the repentant heart. God thus avenges his own Law, upholds his own authority, shows himself a righteous Sovereign and Ruler.

II. THERE ARE REASONS FOR MEEKLY SUBMITTING TO DIVINE CHASTISEMENT. An alternative of punishment is not God's usual offer to repenting sinners. There is much to commend in the choice which David made when Gad, at the Lord's command, permitted the king to elect one form of penalty rather than another. David referred the matter wholly into "the band" of a wise and merciful God. There are many reasons why we should thus submit when the Lord chastens.

1. God is the All-merciful. For this reason his people may well be content to "fall into his hand." "Very great are his mercies." He is "merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin." His character, his promises, and especially his "unspeakable gift," should encourage us to lay aside all rebellion, murmuring, and fear, and to submit with patience, and "endure chastening." It is, no doubt, in his power to punish with far greater severity than any human enemy is capable of doing. But whilst "the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel," the mercy of God is boundless as his nature.

2. God knows, not only the sin, but the repentance by which it it followed. He reads the heart, and hears the sighs, and marks the tears of every contrite penitent. He sees when a deep impression of the sinfulness of sin has been produced. He knew that though David was a great sinner, he was a sincere, submissive, and lowly penitent. He makes a distinction between the punishment which is a mark of his righteous displeasure with the sin, and that which is needed to bring the offender to a just sense of his ill desert.

3. God tempers his chastisements with Divine consolations and support. He does not desert his children, even in their deserved distresses. He is with them in the furnace. When they are ready to sink beneath their merited sorrows, lo! his everlasting arms are found to be underneath them.

4. God designs, by all his chastening, to secure his people's spiritual good. He afflicts, not for his pleasure, but for our profit. His purpose is that we may "bring forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness." Men may wreak malicious vengeance; God's discipline is that of a holy and compassionate Father. - T.

These are not only -

I. THE LESSER AND THE LARGER TRIALS OF OUR LIFE. Those, on the one hand, which cause temporary inconvenience, or slight annoyance, or little regret; and those, on the other hand, Which upset all our plans, or remove that which nothing can restore, or cut to the quick our lacerated and bleeding hearts, Not only these: as thus regarded, but also -


1. When our troubles come upon us as the consequence of our fidelity and devotion, the source of them is a positive alleviation of our pain of mind.

2. When they arrive as the consequence of forces with which we have nothing to do, our mental pain is neither soothed nor aggravated by their source.

3. When we have to reproach ourselves as the authors of our own miseries, our souls smart with a keenness of suffering which makes us feel that "our punishment is greater than we can bear." But our troubles are divided into the tolerable and the intolerable (or the less tolerable) when, as suggested by the text, we view them as -

III. THOSE WHICH ARE OF DIVINE AND THOSE WHICH ARE OF HUMAN INFLICTION. David uttered a sentiment which is common to every pious heart when he said, "Let me fall now into the hand of the Lord; ... but let me not fall into the hand of men." When the evils which are oppressing us, when the sorrows which are saddening us, are embittered by the feeling that they are due to the heedlessness and heartlessness of men, especially when due to the inconsiderateness of those whose relation to ourselves calls for peculiar thoughtfulness and attention - and still more, when they are inflicted on us by the positive malignity of our fellows, who find a cruel and horrible satisfaction in our losses and griefs, then our trouble is at its very heaviest, and seems to us quite intolerable. But when, as in unaccountable sickness, or in unavoidable loss, or in inevitable bereavement, we can feel that the hand of God is upon us, that we have "fallen into the hand of the Lord, and not into the hand of man," then we are not tempted to add the bitterness of resentment to the heaviness of disappointment or to the poignancy of grief. It is well for us to remember:

1. That even those troubles which seem to be wholly of human origin are yet to be borne as evils permitted of God. If David had chosen defeat in war, that would have had the Divine as well as the human in its origin and infliction. In our very worst distress, in the most cruel aggravations we can experience, we should "be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live." He allows them to come; he would have us be patient and docile under them; he will bring us out from under them; he will overrule them for good in his own time and way.

2. That we have reason to be thankful when the trouble that comes to us is such as we can readily ascribe to the Father's hand. We must all pass through tribulation on our way to the heavenly kingdom: only by the waters of chastisement can we hope to be cleansed from some sins which beset us. It is well for us when the sorrow through which the Divine Father makes us t,o pass is of such a kind that we have no difficulty in referring it to his wisdom and love, and when, feeling that we have "fallen into the hands of God," we can

(1) breathe freely the spirit of resignation,

(2) learn readily the lessons of affliction. - C.

The hand of Divine wrath was stretched out, and dire calamity ensued. "The Lord sent pestilence upon Israel, and there fell... seventy thousand men" (ver. 14). And God sent an angel of destruction to Jerusalem: this terrible messenger stood with drawn sword (ver. 16) over the city of David, and commenced the dread work of death there (ver. 15). But suddenly the hand of God was arrested, the sword of the angel was sheathed, the ravages of the pestilence ceased, Jerusalem was saved. Whence this salvation? It is clear -

I. THAT GOD'S DIRECT DEALINGS WITH ISRAEL HAD NO SMALL PART IN THE MATTER. The king was vastly more responsible than any other individual in the realm for the coming of the visitation, and he was more concerned in its departure than any other. But the people of Israel were not irresponsible for the one, nor were they without a share in the other. It would have been impossible for us to believe that the multitudes of Israel would suffer as they did for this sin of David, absolutely irrespective of their own deservings; that would have been manifestly unjust. And, similarly, we should have found the greatest difficulty in believing that Divine compassion had nothing to do with the cessation of the plague. But the Scriptures sanction the conclusion of our judgment, if they do not suggest or even affirm it - that the coming and the going of the pestilence were partly due to the direct relations of God to Israel, Respecting its coming, we read that, the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David' against' them," etc. (2 Samuel 24:1). . "Respecting its going, we read that "the Lord beheld, and he repented him of the evil, etc. (ver. 15); i.e. the pity of the Lord was stirred, and he stayed his hand. We may learn here the lessons that God has direct dealings with nations, approving their piety anal their purity, condemning their ingratitude and disobedience, rewarding the one and punishing the other.

II. THAT IT WAS LARGELY DUE TO THE KING'S INTERCESSION, (Vers. 16, 17.) Though it is not positively stated that the withdrawal of the angel's hand was owing to the attitude and action of the king and the elders, yet we may safely assume that in large measure it was so (ver. 27). There was everything in David's spiritual posture to draw down a Divine response.

1. He was penetrated with a spirit of penitence; he freely and frankly owned that the sin was his: "It is I that have sinned and done evil."

2. He was filled with a pure compassion for his people: "These sheep, what have they done?... not on thy people," etc. (ver. 17).

3. He was animated by a spirit of noble self-renunciation. No doubt the desire of founding a royal dynasty had grown strong and intense with years of sovereignty, and must have struck very deep root in David's heart; yet he offers to resign all his hopes if the people may be spared. "Let thine hand... be on me and on my father's house." When intercession is thus humble, compassionate, and self-renouncing, it is likely to prevail with God.

III. THAT IT WAS SUITABLY ATTENDED WITH SACRIFICE, (Vers. 18-26.) David was instructed by Gad to "set up an altar unto the Lord in the threshing-floor of Ornan" (ver. 18). After the usual Oriental ceremonies, the king purchased the site and reared the altar: there he offered sacrifices of propitiation, dedication, and gratitude; there he presented burnt offerings and peace offerings (ver. 26); and Jehovah signified his acceptance of the penitential and sacrificial spirit of his servants by "answering from heaven by fire upon the altar" (ver. 26). There are times when we renew our return unto the Lord, and he renews his acceptance of us. Such a time is the hour when we have sinned and have suffered. Then it becomes us to return once again unto the Lord,

(1) in penitence;

(2) in the exercise of faith in the one atoning sacrifice of the Divine Redeemer;

(3) in rededication of ourselves;

(4) in gratitude for his saving mercy. - C.

How often, in the Scriptures, are human emotions attributed to God! The charge of "anthropopathy" has, in consequence, sometimes been brought against what we hold to be Divine revelation. The truth is that objectors do not truly believe in the personality of God. The Bible does teach us to think of God as a Person - a living, conscious Being, with moral attributes and purposes. It even speaks, as in the text, of God's repentance.

I. THIS IS NOT THE REPENTANCE OF ONE WHO HAS DONE WRONG. This is the usual application of the word, but it obviously has no place here. The penalty inflicted upon David was a just and deserved one. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" As a Ruler of inflexible righteousness, the Lord demands our reverence and confidence in all the proceedings of his providence.

II. IT IS THE REPENTANCE OF PITY. We find a satisfaction in attributing to the Lord the emotions of pity, of long-suffering, and of love. The spectacle of the suffering nation, and the humbled, afflicted, contrite king, was one which deeply affected the Divine and fatherly heart. Repentance arose upon the perception that the chastening had now answered its purpose in rousing the sense of sin, in bringing the sinner low before the feet of a justly offended Judge and Lord. When the Lord saw this result, his heart relented and his wrath assuaged.

III. IT IS REPENTANCE ISSUING IN SALVATION. Then "he said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thy hand." Pity may be sincere, but ineffectual. Not so with the Divine King. He utters his fiat, and" in the midst of wrath remembers mercy."


1. Adore and gratefully praise the forbearance and forgiving mercy of God.

2. Consider the gracious terms upon which clemency is offered.

3. Recognize in the gospel of Christ the supreme illustration of the principle exemplified in the incident recorded in the text. - T.

It is noted in these verses that the Divine judgment was executed by an angel, and that God and David both watched him carrying out his fearful commission. The sight produced different effects on the watchers, and these suggest useful thoughts and truths. The Bible idea of an angel seems to be that of an agent, other than man, employed to carry out the Divine purposes in the sphere of creation, and especially in this our world. If we accept this comprehensive conception of an angel, we shall understand how there may be angels of affliction, angels of death, and even angels of temptation, all engaged directly in the Divine service. There may be God's angel of pestilence for the punishment of David, and God's angel of temptation, or testing, for the purifying of Job. It may be shown that destruction by pestilence is on several occasions attributed to the ministry of an angel: e.g. destruction of the firstborn in Egypt and of Sennacherib's army. This is still a familiar poetical figure. Sometimes unseen things have been graciously set within the sphere of the senses, in order to help men to feel the reality of the unseen. Angels are unseen beings; the Divine workings are largely secret and unseen; but it pleases God to set his people sometimes "within the veil;" or, we may say, "behind the scenes;" or down below among the machinery, so that they may gain for themselves, and give to others, fitting impressions of the reality of the Divine working. For a similar reason God, the infinite and spiritual Being, is spoken of under human figures, as though he were a man, doing a man's deeds and feeling a man's feelings. Some explanation of anthropomorphism and anthropopathism may here suitably be given. In the verses now for consideration, we find a double vision and a double repentance. God saw the angel and repented, so did David.

I. A DOUBLE VISION - GOD'S AND MAN'S. It is precisely noticed that as the angel was engaged in his work of destruction, "the Lord beheld." Here is set before us something more than God's perfect knowledge of everything that happens. It impresses upon us his personal interest in his administration of human affairs; his immediate attention to the execution of the judgments he denounces; and his sensitiveness to the effects of his judgments on those who suffer them. So it convinces us of what we may call the paternity of God. We also gain the assurance that suffering, when it comes as penalty, can never get beyond God's inspection and control. This conviction makes us willing, as David was, to "fall into the hands of God." Compare our Lord, in his extreme suffering, commending himself to the "hands of the Father." Further, it reveals to us the fact that God brings his pitying mercies into our very calamities. David also saw the angel, and by the sight was enabled distinctly to recognize the Divine agency in what otherwise he might have called a calamity.

II. A DOUBLE REPENTANCE. Give explanations of the Old Testament and New Testament uses of the term. Distinguish metanoia from metameleia. Begin with general idea of repentance as change of mind; reconsideration with a view to a new course of conduct. Show in what senses the term can be applied to God, and not to man; to man, and not to God. Especially show that m God's changes of action, or relation, there is adaptation to new conditions, without any regret, conviction of mistake, or sense of wrong. In the case before us God repents, in the sense of recognizing a sufficient fulfilment of his purpose in the judgment, and so the possibility of relieving Israel of the plague. David repents in a wholly different sense. He is aroused to full conviction of his sin, and humbles himself before God in solemn confessions. David now sees the connection between suffering and sin; the relation of one man's sin to many men's sufferings; and above all, the exceeding sinfulness of his own sin. - R.T.

It is a most pathetic scene. The angel of the Lord, who had smitten with his destroying sword "throughout all the coasts of Israel," was passing by the threshing-floor of the Jebusite. His drawn sword was stretched out over Jerusalem; yet it fell not, for he was bidden to "stay his hand." The king and his princes and counsellors, clad in sackcloth, were prostrate in penitence and supplication before the vision - before the Lord. And David was taking the sin to himself, and invoking the penalty upon himself, as he bowed low before the righteous Judge and Avenger. We observe in David's language -


1. A disposition to shift the sin upon others.

2. Or of a willingness that others should bear the penalty of the sin,

3. Or of a tendency to extenuate the guile of sinful action. We observe -


1. An acknowledgment of his own offence.

2. A submission to the Divine wisdom and justice. He is willing that the hand of God, that is, the chastening and afflicting hand, should fall upon him and inflict the strokes which he is well aware he merits.

III. COMPASSION AND INTERCESSION FOR THE UNOFFENDING SUFFERERS. How truly is this David's language! Under the influence of deep emotion he speaks, as men are wont to do in such circumstances, the language of his youth. His poor subjects are, to his view, like guileless, helpless sheep, scattered and smitten. He implores that in compassion it may please the Lord to save them.

IV. THE RECOGNITION BY THE LORD OF THIS SPIRIT AND LANGUAGE. David's attitude was pleasing to the Lord. Reconciliation ensued. An altar was built, and sacrifices offered and accepted. And the angel of the Lord "put up his sword again into the sheath thereof." - T.

For the particular character of David's sin reference may be made to the sketch given on ver. 2. And for the kind of conviction which David cherished when acts of sin were brought home to him, illustration may be taken from Psalm 51. His sin might have been the sin of David the man; as was his sin in the matter of Bathsheba. Or it might have been the sin of David the king; and so God regarded it, adjusting his judgments accordingly. When convicted, it is a point of exceeding nobility in David that he seeks to bring the whole responsibility upon himself, asking God to treat the sin as that of the man, not of the king. We may fix attention upon this point. In this instance David stood for and acted for the nation, without the nation's consent. It is a most solemn thing for parents, masters, magistrates, etc., that they cannot always separate the official character from their acts; and they are responsible for the well-being of the children, the servants, or the citizens, whom they represent. Placed in such relations, men may act in ways that do not carry the feeling or wish of those for whom they stand; and so they may be the means of bringing upon them undeserved Divine judgments. The case of Jonah may be compared. The sailors' lives were imperilled by his act, though in it they had taken no share.

I. MAN MAY BE OFFICIALLY - Or even by his temporary relations - THE CAUSE OF THE INNOCENT SUFFERING,

II. SUCH CASES MUST ALWAYS BE REGARDED AS EXCEEDINGLY PERPLEXING AND PAINFUL. See Asaph's psalms, and the discussions in the Book of Job. Ill. THE RIGHT-HEARTED MAN WILL EARNESTLY SEEK TO HAVE THE SUFFERING LIMITED TO HIMSELF, and to this end will be ready fully to acknowledge his personal guilt. Impress that our relationships give the overwhelmingly painful character to our sins. - R.T.

1 Chronicles 21:18-27, ch. 1 Chronicles 22:1
It was in the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite that the angel of the Lord sheathed his sword and where the voice of the Lord was heard, "It is enough, stay now thine hand." There, by Divine command, the altar was to be reared. The Lord's altar in a barn! Well, what matters it? The altar hallows the barn. Christ is the true sacrificial Altar, and whatever or whoever he touches becomes the "temple of the Holy Ghost." Ornan was probably the Hebrew or Jewish name of the owner of this threshing-floor; Araunah his Jebusite or Canaanitish name. We see in the twenty-third verse the noble generosity of this man in offering to present David with the threshing-floor, oxen, instruments, and wheat, free of cost. It is true that in some cases (see Genesis 23.) this apparent generosity, accompanied with so much Eastern courtesy and politeness, is only a thin guise to cover larger expectations from those to whom it is made. This Abraham well knew when he so resolutely declined the offer of the sons of Herb. This was not the case with Ornan. His was the offspring from the noble and generous heart of one who loved and served God. The inspired penman gives us the true interpretation of Ornan's offer when he says (2 Samuel 24:23), "All these things did Araunah, as a king, give unto the king." But however kingly Araunah's conduct was here, David felt be could not accept it. God must not be put off with that which costs us nothing. "Thou hast offered me no sweet cane with money," was God's charge of old against Israel "Ye offer the blind and the lame for sacrifice. Is it not evil?" said Malachi. It is the law of life. That which costs us nothing is not worth having; how much less when offered to God! The widow's two mites are of more value than all the gifts of gold in the temple chest. So David would only have the threshing-floor for the Lord's temple at the" full price." And mark the typical character of this threshing-floor. It was there the sword of vengeance was sheathed. It was there God's voice was heard," Stay now thine hand, it is enough." It was there the hallowed fire descended in token of God's acceptance of the victim on the altar; and there consequently the future temple was to be erected which exceeded in glory all that Israel had ever seen. So, centuries after, the cross of Christ was the substance of which all this was only the shadow. In that cross we see the sword of God's wrath against sin for ever sheathed. We hear God's voice saying, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!" In the midnight darkness, the earthquake, the rent rocks, the opened graves, and the rent veil, we hear God's voice again from heaven, testifying to the majesty of that Sacrifice, and drawing from the lilts of even heathen bystanders, "Surely this was the Son of God." And on that Sacrifice, that one Offering once offered, we see built the great spiritual temple of Christ's body, the Church. "Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, Christ Jesus." May we take up David's language and say," This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of the burnt offering for Israel." - W.

It is a scene of historical and of sacred interest. Upon the threshing-floor of the old Jebusite chieftain, the son of Jesse, by his repentance and prayer, secured the cessation of the pestilence which was desolating the land. The Divine command enjoins that on this spot where the plague was stayed, an altar shall be reared to Jehovah in acknowledgment of sparing mercy. The site is the property of Ornan, who with his four sons is threshing wheat. When David approaches, the Jebusite bows before him with reverence. The representatives of "the old order" and "the new" meet together. The scene is truly Oriental. The king asks for the site; the chief offers it as a gift; the king refuses to accept it upon such terms; and an agreement is entered into that the site shall become David's in exchange for six hundred shekels of gold. Thus is acquired the land upon which an altar is built, and which is to become hereafter the site of the splendid temple of Solomon. David's conduct and language convey a general principle of universal validity, viz. that it does not become man to offer, and that God will not accept, a gift or sacrifice which costs the giver nothing.

I. OUR GOD HAS A RIGHT AND CLAIM TO ALL THAT WE CALL OURS. We call it ours, but our possession is derived from and is subordinate to his creative bounty, his providential goodness. What have we that we did not receive from him? Our property, and our powers of body and of mind, we have from him and owe to him. That we cannot enrich him by our giving, this is certain. But we can please him and can advantage ourselves by giving to his people and to his cause.

II. GIFTS AND SACRIFICES THAT COST US NOTHING ARE CONTEMNED AND REJECTED BY GOD. David felt this, and expressed it in noble and memorable language, when he said, "I will not take that which is thine for the Lord, nor offer burnt offerings without cost." Every sincerely religious mind must sympathize with the spirit here displayed. We are reminded that the widow's mite was approved and accepted by our Lord Jesus. It is not the magnitude of the gift, but the proportion of the gift to the giver's means, and, above all, the spirit of self-denial displayed in the act of giving, which meets with the approbation of the Searcher of hearts.

III. THERE IS PLEASURE AND PROFIT IN SELF-SACRIFICE FOR THE CAUSE OF GOD, The King of Israel found this to be so in his own experience, and the experience of all who in this have followed his example coincides with David's. Our Lord has said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." - T.

David apprehended that the value of a gift greatly depends on the self-denial for which it finds expression. Compare the very interesting scene of Abraham negotiating with the sons of Heth for the purchase of the field and cave of Machpelah. There, considerations of personal dignity prevented his taking the property; and he felt that he could not lay his beloved partner down, save in a place which was his by purchase. Here, in the case of David, the feeling is a different one, yet it is in full harmony with the sentiment of the elder patriarch; right religious feeling, the sense of what was due to God, prevented David from offering what was not really his by right of purchase. Personal dignity, and sensitiveness to what is befitting, both in social intercourse and in matters of religion, have their appropriate place; and their due cultivation is a part of Christian duty. Some account of the symbolical significance of the burnt offering may fitly explain why David chose this form of sacrifice as appropriate to this occasion. Its central and characteristic meaning may be thus expressed in the words of Ewald: "In this, man's share in the consumption of the offering altogether vanished. The sacrificer consecrated to the Deity alone the enjoyment of the whole, and this not to punish himself, or because he was punished, on account of a special consciousness of guilt by deprivation of sensuous participation, but rather from free resolve and purest self-denial. Kurtz says, The burning by fire was the chief point in this class of offering, and marked it as an expression of perpetual obligation to complete, sanctified, self-surrender to Jehovah." The sacrifice was a solemn declaration that the offerer belonged wholly to God, and that he dedicated himself, soul and body, to him, and placed his life at his disposal. We treat David's burnt offering as a typical religious service, and consider -

I. THAT THE VALUE OF ALL RELIGIOUS SERVICE LIES IN THE SPIRIT OF HIM WHO BENDERS IT. A burnt offering is in itself a valueless and unacceptable thing; and so is every act of formal worship. Therefore in the unspiritual days of later Judaism, the prophets, as Isaiah, went so far as to say that God "hated the mere formalities of religion, and found them a weariness to him. All a man's gifts and acts must, like his words, carry a feeling, and express a desire and purpose. A man must utter himself in his words, or his words will be worthless. And so a man must utter himself in his offerings, sacrifices, and services, or God will say he cannot away with them." This point may be searchingly applied to our spiritual fitness for present-day services. Still it is true that our feeling must be the life of our worship.

II. THE BEST THING WE CAN EXPRESS TO GOD IS OUR SELF-DEVOTEMENT. This is the main idea of the burnt offering. This is the proper feeling cherished by David, and expressed in his sacrifice. It may be shown as the ultimate and comprehensive demand of St. Paul, in Romans 12:1, "I beseech you... that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice.

III. Such SELF-DEVOTEMENT CAN BE BEST EXPRESSED BY SELF-DENIAL. This David felt, and it led him to refuse to offer to God some one else's self-denial. He would have it to be his own sacrifice, the act of his own self-denial. Show that what is given to God should be a man's own, and all the better if it is a man's own by conscious effort, and if to set it aside for God involves some severe self-mastery. Such self-denials carry into expression the soul-feeling which alone is acceptable to God. This subject lends itself to careful applications connected with modern religious worship and duty. It would be the dawn of a glorious day for the Church if every man felt as David did that he must utter his soul to God in gifts and offerings, and that these must come out of his own proper good," and carry a noble burden of self-denials. - R.T.

The site of Ornan's threshing-floor, once secured, was without delay consecrated to the appointed purpose. The altar was reared, the priests were summoned, the victims were prepared, the prayers were offered; and then the favour of the Most High was manifested, and the nation was spared.

I. THE OFFERINGS. Those which were presented on this occasion were of two kinds. The burnt offerings were typical of the consecration of the worshipper, body, soul, and spirit, to the God of Israel. The peace offerings were expressive of reconciliation and fellowship with Heaven. The appropriateness of both in the case before us is manifest.

II. THE OFFERER. In David's offering we remark as characteristic of himself:

1. His obedience. As appears from ver. 18, he was acting in literal and immediate compliance with the direction he had received from the Lord through the angel. He had learned from Samuel the seer that "to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." In this case the sacrifice and the obedience were one.

2. His prayer. David called upon the Lord. He was emphatically a man of prayer, and it was in answer to his prayer that the plague was stayed. We learn that his sacrifice was not merely a ceremonial act, but that it was accompanied with spiritual desires and acknowledgments.

3. His humility and submission. The king clothed himself in sackcloth and fell upon his face; and the man who in such a spirit sought to avert the Lord's anger would certainly accompany his offering with contrition and submission.

III. THE ACCEPTANCE. This was apparent in two ways.

1. God answered him from heaven by fire, thus showing that the sacrifice and the worshipper were not rejected.

2. "The Lord commanded the angel, and he put up his sword again into the sheath thereof." His wrath was laid aside, his mercy was manifested, the people were spared.


1. The spirit of David is an example to every suppliant sinner who deprecates the wrath, and would be delivered from the condemnation, of the righteous Judge.

2. The offerings of David are a symbol of the one Offering, Christ Jesus, provided by God himself.

3. The acceptance of David is an encouragement to every true penitent to approach the Lord with confidence, coming in God's own appointed way, and in the spirit God approves. - T.

On a subject of so much complexity, it is hardly fitting to raise a full discussion from a merely incidental illustration, especially in view of the fact that this incident is in harmony with the Old Testament conceptions of propitiation, and fuller and clear doctrinal light has since come in the teachings of the apostles. Here we note that David offered himself to God by a sacrifice, as a man convicted, penitent, and recovered to a right mind, and cherishing a spirit of full consecration. This offering God was pleased to accept by a symbol of fire, and to make a ground on which he could be propitiated. With the distinct understanding that we do but touch one side or aspect of a profound and mysterious subject, and that to deal with a part fully recognizes the importance of the other parts which go to make up the whole, we suggest the consideration of the following points: -

I. JUDGMENT IS THE DIVINE RECOGNITION OF A MAN'S WRONG STATE. Carefully distinguish between a man's wrong state of mind and will, and a wrong act. Both must be evil in the sight of God, but he must consider the wrong state as more serious than the wrong act. Judgment, coming as it must in the human and earthly spheres, will always seem to us to be the recognition of wrong acts; but when we come to see the deeper truth, we find it is Divine revelation of man's state, and due punishment of it. This David found out. The plague seemed to be judgment on his wrong act, in ordering the "census." When he came to his right mind, he found that it was Divine recognition of the wilfulness and self-glorying out of which the foolish command to take the census had come. Show that precisely the convictions which God's judgments aim to produce are convictions of inner wrong, heart-evil, sin of will.

II. PROPITIATION IS THE OFFERING TO GOD OF A MAN'S STATE RECOVERED TO RIGHT. This is the essence, but, as may be seen in David's example, it may properly find outward expression in fitting acts. And this view helps us most materially in our apprehension of the propitiation made by the Lord Jesus Christ. In the light of his spotlessness and sinless obedience, we can see that, standing for man, as man's Representative and Head, he presented to God man recovered to right.

III. UPON THE RECOGNITION OF MAN'S RIGHT STATE, JUDGMENT CAN BE REMOVED AND THE SENSE OF ACCEPTANCE GRANTED. Because the end of judgment is evidently reached (for we can only conceive of Divine judgments as revelational and corrective) and mercy may have its free, unhindered path. And it therefore appears that all the humiliations and all the persuasions of the gospel have this for their supreme aim, to bring us men into a right state so that we may actually be represented by the infinitely acceptable Son of God and Son of man. For what Christ pledges on our behalf we are bound actually to be. But this further truth needs to be here stated, that Christ is now working in us, by his Spirit, that right state of mind and heart which he has, in his great sacrifice, pledged us to win. - R.T.

In the concluding verses of one chapter and the opening verses of the other, we learn some lessons as to the way in which Divine wisdom made the past, which was one of error, prepare for the future, which was one of honour and even of glory. We also learn two things respecting human service. We see -

I. HOW GOD CAN CONSTRAIN AN EVIL TO FURNISH INCIDENTAL GOOD. The sin of David led to the pestilence; the pestilence spread to Jerusalem. At Jerusalem David and the elders came forth to intercede with God; and, so doing, they sacrificed on the threshing-floor of Ornan. The fear of the angel of destruction impelled David to begin and (probably) to continue to sacrifice there (ver. 30). At any rate, the offering on this one occasion led naturally, if not necessarily, to the continuance of the act in the same place. This led to the determination to choose the spot as the site for the future temple; and this to the king's energetic and successful preparation for the erection of that noble edifice. Thus from evil came incidental good; and thus, continually, human error, faultiness, and transgression are made, under the far-reaching and overruling hand of the Supreme, to contribute in some way to good. Thus he "maketh the wrath of man to praise him" (see Acts 8:3, 4; Philippians 1:12).


1. Taken from a Canaanite, it suggested and predicted the ultimate triumph of the truth of God over all human error. The kingdom of God would rise and stand in every heathen land, as the temple of Jehovah rose and stood on Gentile soil.

2. It was suitable that a threshing-floor should become the base of a temple. Where God gives to us all nourishment for our necessities, there we, in glad response, may well give back to him all worship of the soul, all thanksgiving of heart and tongue, all offerings of the treasury.

III. How GODLY ZEAL WILL FIND A REASON AND A SPHERE FOR ITS ACTIVITY. David's desire to build the temple had been positively disallowed. Any man in his position who had not that work very much at heart would have abandoned all further concern on the subject, and left the matter to his successor. But David's heart was so full of holy zeal for the "house of the Lord," that he caught with eagerness at the idea of making preparation for it, though he was not permitted to erect it. "This is the house of the Lord God," etc. (ver. 1), and forthwith he pressed into the service masons to hew stones (ver. 2), and prepared abundance of iron and brass, and of cedar (vers. 2-4). Thus his zeal discovered a sphere of activity; nor was he wanting in the discernment of a reason for action. He might have argued that while his advancing age would excuse inaction on his part, the youth of Solomon would ensure and demand the utmost activity. That is the light in which lukewarmness would have viewed it. Not so the king. He argued that, as Solomon his son was young and tender, and the house was to be magnificent, etc. (see ver. 5), he had better bring his experience to the work, that it might be as complete as possible. If we are really in earnest in the work of the Lord, we shall not see the reasons which might be found for our abstention or delay; we shall readily observe strong grounds for immediate and strenuous exertion. What is seen, in this as well as in other spheres, depends far more upon the eye than upon the object.

IV. HOW MUCH ROOM THERE IS IN THE FIELD OF HOLY USEFULNESS FOR THE EXPERIENCE OF LATER YEARS. There is good reason why all the work of the Lord should not be left to those who are "young and feeder." By all means let maturity bring its solid strength; and let age, also, bring its varied experience, its gathered and garnered wisdom to the chamber of consultation and the field of labour. "Old age hath yet its honour and its toil," its witness to bear, its counsel to give, its work to finish. - C.

It is noted that David felt the threshing-floor to have become a sacred place, precisely because there he had gained the answer to his prayer. A similar feeling is illustrated in the case of the patriarchs. Abraham erected his altars where the signs of the Divine favour came to him; and Jacob raised his pillow-stone as a pillar, and consecrated his place of vision, Bethel, the house of God. We may recognize instances of the same kind in our own religious experiences. Certain places are, to our feeling, peculiarly sacred, and we know that they have gained their sacredness out of prayer-times, wrestling scenes, and gracious Divine responses. It appears that David had received answer to his prayer under two symbols.

(1) By the descending of heavenly fire for the consuming of his sacrifice, and

(2) by the sight of the angel reverently and obediently putting the great plague-sword back into its scabbard (vers. 26, 27). These outward signs did but assure the fact of God's gracious answer, and should not be thought of as necessary to the answer, or we may find difficulty in realizing that nowadays God answers our prayers, and gives us of the answer an inward witness and not an outward sign.

I. THE FREEDOM OF SPIRITUAL WORSHIP FROM ALL LIMITATIONS OF PLACE. Every place is holy ground. God's temple-dome is the "arch of yon unmeasured sky;" God's temple-area is the floor of the whole earth. This point may be illustrated from the large variety of places which the holy men of Scripture made prayer-places: e.g. the inside of an ark, a cave in a mountain, the belly of a fish, etc. Or from the striking language of the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 66:1): "The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?" Or from the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, in John 4:21-23: "The hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father... The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth," This point being well established and efficiently illustrated, there may be shown -

II. THE HELPFULNESS THAT MAY LIE IN LOCAL ASSOCIATIONS OF WORSHIP. There is a right and reasonable attachment to particular churches, places, and ordinances. Buildings and rooms gain a sacredness by their devotement to prayer and religious uses. And this feeling is to be encouraged, though we need to be reminded how easily it may become mere sentiment and superstition. The house of God where our fathers worshipped should be sacred to us. The sanctuary where the truth of God's saving love first came home to our hearts must seem sacred to us. And it should be easier to win reverence, worship, and power of prayer in such consecrated places.

III. THIS APPLIES TO A MAN'S PERSONAL RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCES IN HIS PRIVATE RELIGIOUS LIFE. Illustrate from such instances as may be typified by an instance in the life of Luther. That spot in the forest where Alexis was struck down by the lightning, and he himself spared, must have been ever after a sacred spot to him. Or take a case of prayer under some particular pressure, as when a beloved one, in sickness, seemed to be passing away. The place where prayer was offered and answered seems never to lose the hallowing associations. Our lives, indeed, ought to be fall of consecrated spots, where we have raised, again and again, our pillars, inscribing thereon our Ebenezer, "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." Impress that if our religion is to be, in any real and vigorous sense, personal, we must have made our own sacred place. The sanctuaries set apart for worship are most precious and most helpful, and the true hearts in all the ages have said, "Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house." But more is needed. Each man wants a temple of his own, raised in response to Divine goodness personally apprehended - a sacred place where, with the fullest emotion, he may offer his sacrifice of love and praise, even as David did. - R.T.

Some have supposed that the terror which David had felt at the sight of the destroying angel (ver. 16) produced a bodily infirmity which made it physically impossible for him to go to Gibeon; but probably no more than a moral impediment is meant. David, knowing that by sacrifice on this altar he had caused the angel to stay his band, was afraid to transfer his offerings elsewhere, lest the angel should resume his task, and pestilence again break out. David seemed ever after to see that sword before the tabernacle. It may be said that all Divine dealings have an immediate, and also a remote and permanent design. We are often dwelling on the immediate lessons that are impressed, but probably the best lessons are those which are learned by-and-by, after a while, when the excitement of the incidents has passed, and the whole is taken into quiet and serious review. Things seem so different when they are calmly looked back upon; aspects and relations come into view which we had not previously suspected. We know how true this is of our review of the lives of those whom we have known and loved; but it is equally true of the events and incidents of our own lives.

I. A MAN'S SINS AND FAILINGS LEAVE THEIR TRACES ON CHARACTER AND FEELING. Even when they are forgiven, and a man is fully recovered from their influence, he cannot be rid of them altogether. There is a new reverence, or a fear of self, or a perilous openness to particular temptation, or a strange shyness left behind, of which the man will never be rid. Illustrative cases from Scripture and modern life may be given. A good Scripture instance, in which there was a humbling experience, but one free from the bitterness of personal sin, is that of King Hezekiah (see Isaiah 38:15, "I shall go softly all my [spared] years in the bitterness of my soul").

II. SUCH CONTINUED FEELING INSENSIBLY GUIDES FUTURE CONDUCT. This is seen in the case of David. Perhaps he hardly admitted to himself what it really was that kept him from going to inquire of God at Gibeon. And so we find in our fellow-men and in ourselves singular hesitations; we feel difficulties and shrink back, when there seems no real occasion. We cannot tell others, we hardly like to admit to ourselves, that it is the relic of some great stumble, or even fall and sin and shame; the very real ghost of our former ill. Compare the man who, late in life, said, remembering his riotous youth-time, "I would give my right arm if I could be quit of the evils left in thought from my youthful sins."

III. SUCH CONTINUED FEELING INDICATES A CONTINUED SANCTIFYING WORK, For God graciously uses, not merely things themselves, but their after-effects. No influence has its bare limits. The after-effects may differ greatly in different dispositions, but some of God's best work in our hearts and lives is done by means of them. This may be illustrated by the after-influence exerted on the Apostle St. Peter by his sad and shameful fall. And David expresses this continuous sanctifying influence of remembered humblings when he says, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now will I keep thy Word." Apply especially to that great work of sanctifying, the producing of the humility of the true dependence. Show that it is most perfectly wrought in the fallen and forgiven, who ever live in the solemn shadow of the great experience. - R.T.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission. BibleSoft.com

Bible Hub
1 Chronicles 20
Top of Page
Top of Page