1 Chronicles 21
1 Chronicles 21 Kingcomments Bible Studies


The events in this chapter take place around 975 BC. David is now sixty-eight years old. The events of the previous chapter take place around 995 BC. The twenty years in between are filled with the adultery of David, the revolt of Absalom and David’s flee. The Holy Spirit passes all this by here.

In the books of the Chronicles the sins of David are only mentioned when it is necessary to give us insight into the manner in which God fulfills His counsel. As mentioned before, the books of the Chronicles describe the history of God’s people from God’s perspective and not from the perspective of man’s responsibility. The latter happens in the books of the Kings.

The sin of David through the census is told here, because in the atonement of that sin the place is indicated where the temple is to come. It is therefore the fulfillment of God’s purpose, for which He even uses the sin of a member of His people. This fits exactly with the perspective that the chronicler, under the guidance of God’s Spirit, has in mind.

The Sin of the Census

The sin of the census is also found in 2 Samuel 24. There we read that the LORD incites David to count the people (2Sam 24:1). The chronicler says that satan moves David to number. Here we have one of those apparent contradictions that the opponents of the Bible like to use to portray the Bible as unreliable. But 1 Chronicles 21 is not a correction to a previously written account in 2 Samuel 24.

We can learn from Job here. In the book of Job satan brings all the misery over Job. However, Job does not attribute this misery to satan, but to God. The devil acts according to his own evil nature, but is ultimately nothing but an instrument in God’s hand. Paul sometimes attributes something to satan (1Thes 2:18), knowing very well that God rules his life.

It is therefore important to realize that God’s hand is present in what satan wants to do by moving David to number. God is above all that happens on earth and not satan. In 2 Samuel 24 it is a test from the LORD to put David to the test. David fails there in his responsibility as king. God’s king must remain dependent on God alone and not rely on the power of his army of which he wants to know the number of militant men. In 1 Chronicles 21 it is satan who wants to disturb the counsel of God and to do so by overthrowing David.

The impressive thing is that God does not let Himself be disturbed in the execution of His plans and that it is precisely through this sin that He achieves His goal. This never means an apology for sin. Through our failures God glorifies Himself and works out His purposes. We already see this at the fall into sin. Not that God would have wanted the fall. God abhors from sin. Yet He has a greater blessing for man than without the fall. This is the secret of God, which cannot be understood by us, but can only be worshiped by us in faith. To us God’s counsel and our failure are not compatible, but to God they are.

Another question is whether it was sin to number the people. After all, in the wilderness God has numbered His people several times (Num 1:2; Num 26:2), hasn’t He? Here too, we need to look beyond the fact of the census. The censuses He has had done, he has had done in connection with the heave offering to make atonement (Exo 30:12-16). In the New Testament, in rounded numbers, numbers are also sometimes mentioned (Acts 1:15; Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4). However, the number of believers in the churches ‘established’ by Paul is never mentioned.

There are things that are wrong in themselves. These are things that are simply sin, for example because they are clearly forbidden by God in His law. There are also things that are not sin in themselves, but are wrong because of the mind in which something is done. The latter is the case here. David wants to know how great the fighting power of his army is. He forgets that he depends on God for his strength and not on the number of militant men at his disposal. He forgets that all power rests with God alone.

David’s prosperity exposes him to the temptations of the enemy. As head of Israel and conqueror of all enemies, he wishes to know the power of the people, who are his glory. With this he forgets the power of God Who gave him all this and made Israel great. He forgot on which way he won from Goliath and what he said then (1Sam 17:45-46).

The record of the sin of the census begins with the statement that satan stands up against Israel (1Chr 21:1). With satan it is about the destruction of God’s people. In the people there are enough leads for him to attack, but to strike the people in the most effective way he turns to David, the leader of God’s people. If he can tempt the leader to sin, it will have consequences for the people.

Satan seems to be successful. David is receptive to the whisper of satan. He instructs Joab to number Israel “from Beersheba even to Dan”, which is from the extreme south to the extreme north (1Chr 21:2). Joab must therefore number the whole people. If he has done that, he must bring David the result, so that David “knows their number”.

Joab strongly resists this commission (1Chr 21:3). With clear arguments he tries to change David’s thoughts. He acknowledges the kingship of David and reminds him that all his subjects are his servants. So why number? It seems he has a better understanding of the folly of such a census than David. His mind tells him that this matter is not according to the will of God. It will only bring calamity to the people, he says to David.

David, however, is not willing to change his mind. This time his word is too strong for Joab (1Chr 21:4a). Does David make it a prestige case? Does he not want to listen to Joab, who has shown himself to be an unreliable man several times because he doesn’t care about David? In any case, David should have listened this time, but does not do it.

Joab goes throughout all Israel and returns to Jerusalem with the result of the census (1Chr 21:4b-5). David, however, gets an incorrect number. Out of abhorrence for the command, Joab did not number two tribes. The abhorrence of Joab is justified as a fact and is underlined by what is said in 1Chr 21:7 about God’s displeasure with this matter. The census was evil in the eyes of God.

David brings guilt upon the people by his action. It brings God’s judgment on Israel. God’s wrath ignites against His people because there is also a spirit of pride in the people about the position they have obtained (2Sam 24:1). Does not the judgment of God play into the hands of satan? In 1Chr 21:1 it says that satan stands up against Israel and now we read that God stands up against Israel in judgment.

Superficially, it may seem so. But if we look deeper, we see that this is not the case. It has to do with the complete difference in intentions that satan has and God’s purpose. Satan seeks the destruction of God’s people and God seeks the restoration of His people. In the rest of this history we hear nothing more of satan. He has fulfilled his role and is no longer needed; he doesn’t matter anymore. God has taken the matter into His hands and is working toward the goal He has set Himself.

David Confesses His Sin

As soon as the anger of God comes upon His people, David confesses his sin (1Chr 21:8; cf. 2Sam 12:13). This confession is necessary, because only through it does forgiveness come (1Jn 1:9). David’s iniquity is removed. However, the consequences of his sin are not removed (Gal 6:7). God has forgiven sin. However, because it is a public sin, it must also be publicly punished.

The LORD sends “Gad, David’s seer” to him to present to him three punishments from which he may choose one. Each of the punishments, when exercised, means a considerable reduction in the number of people he wanted to number to know how strong he was. God strikes him in his arrogant desire to know his strength.

When Gad has finished speaking, he expects an answer from David to bring it “to Him who sent me”. Gad must bring only the message of the LORD to David and the answer of David to the LORD. He has no influence whatsoever on the word he must speak in the Name of the LORD, and he has no influence whatsoever on David’s answer which he must bring to the LORD.

As the messenger of the LORD, Gad places the man whom he must address in the light of the LORD. He does nothing else and nothing more than that. This is the task of everyone who is sent to others with a message from the Lord. The word of the Lord must bring the hearts into the presence of God, and the reaction to that word must be brought back to the Lord.

The three punishments which Gad present to David are
1. a natural disaster,
2. the sword, which is a punishment performed by humans or
3. pestilence, a punishment exercised by an angel.

The punishments all come from the hand of the LORD. Yet there is a difference. The hand of the LORD is seen more indirectly in the first two punishments, while in the plague His hand is more directly perceptible. There is another difference. A famine that comes over all will certainly cost victims, but the rich can survive longer anyway. The sword of the enemy will also make casualties, but still mainly hit the soldiers. However, the plague will be able to affect every human being without regard to the person.

The duration of the disasters is
1. three years in the case of natural disasters,
2. three months in the case of a disaster by men; and
3. three days in the case of a disaster by an angel.

When Christ took our place on the cross, it was a disaster of three hours of darkness. He went through it because of God’s judgment on our sins. This has become the basis for the increase of His people.

David chooses to fall into the LORD’s hand, “for His mercies are very great” (1Chr 21:13; Hab 3:2).

The Sword of the LORD

David, with his words to fall in the hand of the LORD, has put his choice in the hand of the LORD (1Chr 21:13). Then the LORD gives an outbreak of the pestilence (1Chr 21:14a). David did want to know the number of the members of his people of war. Now he is told how many members of his people he has lost (1Chr 21:14b). If God is for us, we do not need to count. If He is against us, we will see what we have lost.

Pestilence is a disease, but God sends it through an angel. An angel with a message of peace already causes terror and trembling (Lk 1:12; Lk 2:9-10), how much more an angel with a drawn sword, sent to judge (1Chr 21:16).

At the height of the plague, when 70,000 men have already fallen, Jerusalem is reached (1Chr 21:15). When destruction begins there, God says it is enough. He is moved over that city with compassion. He “was sorry over the calamity”. When God is sorry over something, it is not because of something wrong that He has to return to – He does not do wrong things – but because He sees the outcome of certain developments and stops that development. In other words, God’s sorry has to do with the suffering and sorrow He must cause and what reveals His compassion about it.

At the moment when God stops the judgment, the angel stands by a threshing floor. A threshing floor speaks of judgment, but it is a judgment in which the wrong, the chaff, is separated from the good, the wheat. At the threshing floor it is all about the good, the wheat. The place of judgment is therefore the place of blessing. We see this also here, because here will be the altar of David and later the temple of Solomon.

At the place where judgment has been stopped, the altar must be placed, on which the daily burnt offerings will form a reminder of His purpose and mercies. He is going to show mercy. Only then, in the following verses, the confession of David comes. Here God’s actions stand alone. He finds reason in Himself for this action. God stops judging because He looks ahead, ultimately to the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.

David sees “the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven”. He stands there “with his drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem”. The invisible world is opened up to the human eye here (cf. Num 22:31; Jos 5:13; Jdg 6:11). The effect of this impressive view on David and the elders is that they fall on their faces.

In this attitude David addresses the word to God, a word for the benefit of God’s people. In this he resembles the Lord Jesus, Who always makes intercession by God for His people (Heb 7:25). David’s responsibility is in stark contrast to that of the Lord Jesus. He knows that he is a sinner and pleads for God’s grace, that others should not bear the consequences of his sins.

Yet he is also a type of the Lord Jesus. We see this when he offers himself as a substitute for the people. He says, as it were: “Punish me, the true culprit, and release the innocent.” This is in contrast to the Lord Jesus, for He is the true innocent One Who is punished for the guilty. There is also a parallel, because the Lord Jesus becomes the guilty One, He takes the guilt on Himself and declares His people innocent.

David Must Build an Altar

Gad receives from the angel of the LORD – that is from the Lord Jesus, Who often appears in the Old Testament as ‘the Angel of the LORD’ – the instruction to go back to David. He must go and tell him to build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. An altar serves to bring a sacrifice on it. To bring a sacrifice David cannot go to Gibeon, because the sacrifice has to be brought quickly (cf. Num 16:47-48). Therefore God points this place out to him on the threshing floor of Ornan, the Jebusite, to build an altar there.

David obeys “the word of Gad, which he spoke in the name of the LORD”. He goes “up”. The threshing floor is high. The altar and later the temple are built on a high place. David comes to Ornan when he is threshing wheat. The four sons of Ornan hid at the sight of the angel. When Ornan sees David, he comes down from the threshing floor and bows down respectfully before him.

David asks Ornan to give him the threshing floor and also tells him what he intends to do with it. He does not want to negotiate about the price. He wants to pay the full price, for it is about nothing less than stopping the plague that has come upon the people. Ornan wants to give David everything. If David had accepted that, it would not have been his altar and his sacrifice, but that of Ornan. That is why he wants to pay the full price.

David says it this way: “For I will not take what is yours for the LORD, or offer a burnt offering which costs me nothing” (1Chr 21:24). This beautiful word contains an important spiritual lesson for us. The lesson is that we can only offer God something of value to Him and to us if what we offer Him has cost us something. We can think of spending our time reflecting on the Word of God, reading it, and discovering Who the Lord Jesus is. What we have discovered, we can offer to God in thanks and worship.

We can also think of the use of sound Bible study literature. Reading what others have written and said about a particular section is an important help in getting to know God’s thoughts. However, if we only parrot this in our thanksgiving, it is the bringing of a sacrifice that costs us nothing. It is about making what we may learn from others our own, by considering the section concerning God’s Word in our hearts, and then thanking God for it in our own words.

David pays Ornan the impressive sum of 600 shekels of gold (1Chr 21:25). The height of the amount is striking when we realize that for a field in Anathoth seventeen shekels of silver (Jer 32:9) and for the grave of Abraham four hundred shekels of silver (Gen 23:15) has been paid. This makes it clear that this place is worth a huge amount to David.

David Offers and Calls to the LORD

David builds an altar on the threshing floor he just bought and brings offerings on it as the king-priest. The LORD accepts all his offerings. In response to the call to the LORD He sends fire from heaven to the altar of burnt offering (cf. Lev 9:24; Jdg 6:21; 1Kgs 18:37-38). The fire burns the offering, and lets it ascend in smoke unto the LORD. Then the LORD speaks to the angel that he can put his sword back in its sheath. The repentance of David and the offering cause that the angel’s task is over.

What we see here is the beginning of a new worship service. It is a worship at the basis of a judgment brought to a halt by the burnt offering and the peace offering. These offerings speak of the Lord Jesus. The burnt offering speaks of the sacrifice of Christ as fully brought to God. The peace offering speaks of the sacrifice of Christ as a fellowship offering, through which there can be fellowship of the people with God and between the members of God’s people. God has fully accepted the sacrifice of His Son, and on that basis is able to forgive sins and accept sinners as His children.

The place where the plague is stopped is Mount Moriah. This is the mountain where Abraham sacrificed Isaac (Gen 22:1-2) and where Solomon builds the temple (2Chr 3:1). This new place of worship replaces “the tabernacle of the LORD, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering”. The place where they stand at that time is the high place at Gibeon. There still sacrifices are offered, but from that moment on no longer by David. Fear of the sword prevented him from going there, for a sacrifice had to be made with great haste to stop the plague. That sacrifice was made on God’s instruction on this new altar at Mount Moriah.

© 2023 Author G. de Koning

All rights reserved. No part of the publications may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.

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