2 Samuel 24:15, 16
So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning even to the time appointed…
Pestilence, even more than famine and war, was regarded by David as directly inflicted by the hand of God. How far, in this instance, it occurred in connection with secondary causes is unknown. But doubtless, ordinarily, it depends on such causes; the crowding together of great numbers of people, the accumulation of filth, the state of the atmosphere, the susceptibilities of the persons affected by it. "The peculiar source of the thought that a numbering of the people brought mischief lies probably in the experience that epidemic sicknesses often broke out in such numberings, because therein a great mass of people was crowded together, to facilitate the business, in a proportionally small space" (Thenius). Most of the great plagues that have afflicted mankind appear to have originated in the East, where the climate, the soil, and the social habits of the population afford conditions favourable to their production. In all cases, however, the hand of God must be recognized in the consequences of violating his laws, physical and moral; and in the employment of them "for correction." Consider -
I. ITS MOURNFUL PREVALENCE; as at this time in Israel, so in other ages and nations (Exodus 12:29; Numbers 25:9; 2 Kings 19:35; Jeremiah 27:13).
1. Its sudden appearance.
2. Its rapid diffusion; "from the morning to the [a] time appointed [the time of assembly]." "It burst upon the people with supernatural strength and violence, that it might be seen at once to be a direct judgment from God" (Keil).
3. Its extensive presence; "from Dan to Beersheba."
4. Its dreadful destructiveness; "seventy thousand men" (fourteen in the thousand of the whole population). "Such a pestilence and loss of life as this [at Athens, ] was nowhere remembered to have happened" (Thucydides, 2:47). At Rome (A.D. 80) ten thousand perished daily; in England (1348) more than half the population; in London (1603) over thirty thousand; and again (August 1665) eight thousand persons weekly. These are only a few of the many recorded instances of the awful "visitation of God."
II. ITS MERCIFUL ARREST. "And the angel" (1 Samuel 29:9; 2 Samuel 14:17; 2 Samuel 19:27; Psalm 104:4; Psalm 34:7; Psalm 35:5; Psalm 91:11), who had been "destroying through all the territories of Israel" (1 Chronicles 21:12), "stretched out his hand" (having a drawn sword therein, 1 Chronicles 21:6) "upon Jerusalem to destroy it," etc. The pestilence approached the city, threatening its destruction, and filling all hearts with terror (1 Chronicles 21:16, 20). We can conceive that it might have spread until the whole human race perished. But its destructive force was limited (as it always is):
1. When its purpose was accomplished and the law of retribution satisfied. "It is enough."
2. By the same Divine power as sent it. "Stay now thine hand." God has placed in the human constitution a self-healing power. "Our natures are the physicians of our diseases" (Hippocrates). He provides special remedies for special diseases; alleviates and often cures them in unexpected, extraordinary, and mysterious ways, The Christian religion is a remedial system by which mortality itself is "swallowed up of life." "I am Jehovah thy Physician" (Exodus 15:26; Matthew 8:16; John 3:14, 15; Revelation 22:2).
3. With tender pity toward the afflicted, involving a change of his procedure. "And Jehovah repented him of the evil" (1 Samuel 15:24-31).
4. In connection with the moral condition of men and their altered relation to himself - humiliation (ver. 10), trust (ver. 14), and prayer (ver. 17). "Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces" (1 Chronicles 21:16), their spirit being doubtless shared in by the people, whose representatives they were. God deals with men according to the state of their hearts (ver. 1), and commences doing so even before it is fully expressed in outward actions. Psalm 91. ("by David," LXX.), 'Under the shadow of the Almighty.' "Because he hath set his love upon me. Therefore will I deliver him," etc. (Psalm 91:14.) "Some years ago an eminent physician in St. Petersburg recommended this psalm as the best preservative against cholera" (Perowne).
III. ITS MORAL USES, with respect to those who suffer from it or to mankind generally in.
1. Producing efficient impressions of the majesty of God; his sovereignty, justice, and might.
2. Proving the real condition of the hearts of men; whether they will "keep his commandments or no" (Deuteronomy 8:3).
3. Inducing, in those who are rightly disposed, proper feelings of penitence, humility, dependence, submission; and correcting vanity, pride, and self-win.
4. Inciting a purer and loftier trust in God, and more complete devotion and self-sacrifice. "Plagues to us are not funerals of terror, but exercises of holiness. We understand their meaning. They are messages sent to us by God, to explore our hearts, to sound the depth of our love to him, and to fathom our faith in God" (Cyprian, 'De Mortalitate').
5. Presenting a terrible picture of the evil of sin, by exhibiting, not only the natural consequences thereof, but also its degrading effect on the ignorant and unbelieving, who pass rapidly from the extreme of fear to the opposite extreme of recklessness, licentiousness, and despair (1 Corinthians 15:32). "So they resolved to take their enjoyment quickly, and with a sole view to gratification; regarding their lives and their riches alike as things of a day. And fear of gods or law of men there was none to stop them" (Thucydides).
6. Teaching the solidarity of the race; and, more especially, constraining "the higher and more privileged ranks of mankind to own their oneness of life with the humbler and more degraded or even savage classes" (Bushnell).
7. Promoting, in still other ways, the advancement of mankind in knowledge, virtue, and piety; for it is through the discipline of suffering that the race, like the individual, "learns obedience." "The Lord's dealing herein is not penal, but paternal and medicinal" (Guild). - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men.