2 Samuel 24:17-19
And David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, See, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly…
These sheep, what have they done? etc. (ver. 17). As through one man many suffer, so through one man many are delivered from suffering and greatly benefited. This is especially the case when, like David, he is their head and representative, the shepherd of the flock of God (ver. 17; 2 Samuel 5:2). His numbering the people in a spirit of self-exaltation was the occasion (not the cause, ver. 1) of the pestilence; his intercession for them in a spirit of self-devotion is now the means in connection with which the calamity is limited in its duration (from three days to nine hours) and wholly removed (ver. 25). Already, with an "awful rose of dawn," the agent of destruction goes forth on his mission, and a "great cry" of distress reaches the city (Exodus 12:30). Then the king gathers the elders together (at the tabernacle and before the curtained ark, 2 Samuel 7:2; 2 Samuel 12:20; 2 Samuel 15:25; adjoining the palace in Zion, 2 Samuel 5:7); they are clothed with sackcloth, and overwhelmed with fear and grief (1 Chronicles 21:16; 2 Samuel 12:16; 2 Samuel 15:30); and at length, "about the time of assembly," or evening oblation (Acts 3:1), there appears (beyond the Tyropoean Valley) on Mount Moriah (2 Chronicles 3:1), "by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite" (just outside the city), "the angel of the Lord standing between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem;" and they "fell upon their faces" in humiliation before the Lord. "Significantly, it was as the Divine command of mercy sped to arrest the arm of the angel messenger of the judgment, that he became visible to David and his companions in prayer" (Edersheim). "As in 2 Kings 6:17 the source of seeing the heavenly powers was in Elisha, and by his mediation the eyes of his servant were opened, so here the flight of David's mind communicated itself to the elders of his retinue, whom he collected about him; and, after he had repaired to the place where he saw the vision, was revealed even to the sons of Araunah" (Hengstenberg). "And David said unto God," etc. "And Gad came that day to David," etc. (ver. 18; 1 Chronicles 21:18). Here is -
I. A FEARFUL VISION OF JUDGMENT impending over the people. This judgment may be regarded as representing that to which nations are exposed in this world, and individuals both here and hereafter; real, terrible and imminent; the result and reflection of human sin and guilt, which
"Blackens in the cloud,
Flashes across its mass the jagged fire,
Whirls in the whirlwind and pollutes the air,
Turns all the joyous melodies of earth
To murmurings of doom."
1. Similar judgment has been already executed (ver. 15; Jude 1:7; Romans 5:12; Revelation 2:11; Revelation 21:8). "The wages of sin is death."
2. Solemn warnings of its certain and speedy approach have been repeatedly given (vers. 13, 17; 2 Peter 2:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 3).
3. Only a few persons have any adequate impression thereof; whilst they behold "the wrath to come," the rest are blind and unconcerned, immersed in the pleasures and cares of this life (Luke 21:34; Matthew 7:14).
4. They whose eyes are opened are naturally impelled to seek the salvation of themselves and others, and are under the obligation of doing so (Jude 1:22, 23). "Take a censer," etc.; "and he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed" (Numbers 16:46-68; Joel 2:17).
II. A FERVENT ENTREATY FOR THE PEOPLE, that they may be spared. In his intercession for them (1 Samuel 12:23; 1 Samuel 15:10, 11, 35) David:
1. Takes the burden of their guilt upon himself; whilst he recognizes his responsibility, openly confesses his transgression in "commanding the people to be numbered" (1 Chronicles 21:17), and honours the justice of God in inflicting punishment; he "forgets their sin is his own," regarding them, "not indeed as free from every kind of blame, but only from the sin which God was punishing by pestilence" (Keil). "Many of those sheep were wolves to David. What had they done? They had done that which was the occasion of David's sin and the cause of their own punishment; but that gracious penitent knew his own sin; he knew not theirs" (Hall).
2. Feels a tender compassion for them in their misery and danger. His language "shows the high opinion he had of them, the great affection he had for them, and his sympathy with them in this time of distress" (Gill).
3. Offers himself freely, and his "father's house" (his life and all his most cherished hopes) to the stroke, that it may be averted from his people. "Hitherto David offered not himself to the plague, because, as Chrysostom conjectureth, he still expected and made account of himself to be taken away in the plague, but now seeing that it was God's will to spare him, he doth voluntarily offer himself" (Wilier).
4. Urges an effectual plea on their behalf; not merely that they are blameless (in comparison with himself), and may be righteously spared, but that they are the chosen flock of the Divine Shepherd, whose mercies are great, whose promises to them are numerous and faithful, and whose glory they are designed to promote in the earth (1 Samuel 12:22; Psalm 74:1; Psalm 95:7). "Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?" (Genesis 18:23); "Yet now if thou wilt forgive their sin," etc. (Exodus 32:32; 1 Kings 18:36; Daniel 9:3); "I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ on behalf of my brethren," etc. (Romans 9:3); "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34); "The good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" (John 10:11); "He ever liveth to make intercession" (Hebrews 7:27). "In his hands intercessory prayer is the refuge of the guilty, the hope of the penitent, a mysterious chain fastened to the throne of God, the stay and support of a sinking world."
III. A FAVOURABLE ANSWER FROM THE LORD. Although David sees not the interposition of God, by which the hand of the angel is stayed, yet his prayer "availeth much in its working" (James 5:16). "And the angel of the Lord [now transformed from a minister of wrath into a minister of mercy] commanded Gad [who previously announced the message of judgment] to say," etc. (1 Chronicles 21:18); "And Gad came that day to David, and said unto him, Go up, rear an altar," etc.; "And David went up as the Lord commanded" (vers. 18, 19). The answer is propitious; a sign of Divine reconciliation. But why the command to rear an altar, instead of the direct assurance of forgiveness (2 Samuel 12:13)?
1. To show forth to all the people (who confess by their elders and representatives that they have part in the king's transgression) that forgiveness is possible only in connection with sacrifice, wherein justice and mercy are alike exhibited.
2. To call forth their renewed and open obedience and self-devotion.
3. To give there a public sign of the Divine acceptance and removal of the judgment (1 Chronicles 21:26, 27).
4. To establish a new and permanent centre of Divine worship, in fulfilment of previous promises (2 Samuel 7:13); so overruling the evil for good, and turning the curse into a blessing (1 Chronicles 22:1). This was a turning point in the history of the nation; and henceforth the service of the tabernacle began to be superseded by that of the temple.
CONCLUSION. Let it be remembered, that the intercession of Christ (unlike that of David) is the intercession of the Innocent for the guilty; that he is also himself the Altar, "which sanctifieth the gift," and "the Propitiation for our sins;" and that in dependence upon him, as well as after his example and in his spirit, all our prayers and "spiritual sacrifices" must be presented unto God. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: And David spake unto the LORD when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father's house.
WEB: David spoke to Yahweh when he saw the angel who struck the people, and said, "Behold, I have sinned, and I have done perversely; but these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me, and against my father's house."