The census, and consequent plague. The hallowing of the Temple area. Omitting the magnificent ode which David sang to his deliverer (2 Samuel 22), and the last words of David (2 Samuel 23:1-7), as well as the list of David’s heroes (2 Samuel 23:8-39), which has already been repeated in 1 Chronicles 11, the chronicler resumes the ancient narrative at the point coincident with 2 Samuel 24 (See the notes there.) Though the two accounts obviously had a common basis, the deviations of our text from that of Samuel are much more numerous and noteworthy than is usual. They are generally explicable by reference to the special purpose and tendency of the writer.
In Samuel the narrative of the census comes in as a kind of appendix to the history of David; here it serves to introduce the account of the preparations for building the Temple, and the organisation of its ministry.
(1) And Satan stood up against Israel.—Perhaps, And an adversary (hostile influence) arose against Israel. So in 2 Samuel 19:23 the sons of Zeruiah are called “adversaries” (Heb., a Satan) to David. (Comp. 1 Kings 11:14; 1 Kings 11:25.) When the adversary, the enemy of mankind, is meant, the word takes the article, which it has not here. (Comp. Job 1, 2 and Zechariah 3:1-2.)
And provoked David.—Pricked him on, incited him. 2 Samuel 24 begins: “And again the anger of Jehovah burned against Israel, and He (or it) incited David against them, saying, Go, number Israel and Judah.” It thus appears that the adversary of our text, the influence hostile to Israel, was the wrath of God. The wrath of God is the Scriptural name for that aspect of the Divine nature under which it pursues to destruction whatever is really opposed to its own perfection (Delitzsch); and it is only sin, i.e., breach of the Divine law, which can necessarily direct that aspect towards man. If Divine wrath urged David to number Israel, it can only have been in consequence of evil thoughts of pride and self-sufficiency, which had intruded into a heart hitherto humbly reliant upon its Maker. One evil thought led to another, quite naturally; i.e., by the laws which God has imposed upon human nature. God did not interpose, but allowed David’s corrupt motive to work out its own penal results. (Comp. Romans 1:18; Romans 1:24; Romans 1:26; Romans 1:28.) The true reading in Samuel may well be, “And an adversary incited David,” &c., the word Satan having fallen out of the text. Yet the expression “Jehovah provoked or incited against . . .” occurs (1 Samuel 26:19).
To number Israel—Samuel adds, “and Judah.”
Number.—Enrol, or register (sifrû). A different word (mānāh) is used in 1 Chronicles 21:1, and in the parallel place. Samuel has, “Run over, I pray, all the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba,” using the very word (shût) which, in the prologue of Job (1 Chronicles 1:7; 1 Chronicles 2:2) Satan uses of his own wanderings over the earth.
From Beersheba even to Dan.—As if the party were to proceed from south to north. (See 1 Chronicles 21:4.) The reverse order is usual. (See Judges 20:1; 1 Samuel 3:20.)
The Lord . . . as they be.—Literally, Jehovah add upon his people like them an hundred times, an
abridged form of what is read in Samuel.
But, my lord the king, are they not . . .?—Instead of this, Samuel records another wish, “And may the eyes of my lord the king be seeing,” that is, living (Genesis 16:13).
Why then doth my lord require this thing?—So Samuel, in slightly different terms: “And my lord the king, why desireth he this proposal?”
Why will he be (why should he become) a cause of trespass to Israel?—Not in Samuel. It is an explanatory addition by the chronicler.
And all they of Israel.—And all Israel became (came to). The numbers are different in Samuel, which states them as 800,000 for Israel and 500,000 for Judah. The latter may fairly be regarded as a round number (500,000), our text giving the more exact total (470,000). As to the former, we may assume that the 1,100,000 of our text is an error of transcription, or, more probably, that the traditions respecting this census varied, as may easily have happened, inasmuch as the numbers were not registered in the royal archives (1 Chronicles 27:24). Perhaps, however, our estimate includes the standing army of David, reckoned (1 Chronicles 27:1-15) at a total of 288,000 men (in round numbers, 300,000); thus 800,000 (Sam.) + 300,000 = 1,100.000 (Chron.).
As regards the fact stated, we may observe that the sacerdotal tribe of Levi would naturally be exempted from a census taken for military or political purposes. (Comp. Numbers 1:47; Numbers 1:49.) And 1 Chronicles 27:24 expressly asserts that the census was not completed; a result with which Joab’s disapprobation of the scheme may have had much to do. The order in which the tribes were numbered (2 Samuel 24:4-8; see 1 Chronicles 21:4) makes it likely that Judah and Benjamin were to have been taken last, and that, after numbering Judah, Joab repaired to the capital, where he was ordered by the king to desist from the undertaking. Josephus (Antiq. vii. 13, 1) speaks as if Joab had not had time to include Benjamin in the census. He may have feared to give offence to the tribe of Saul.
(7) And God was displeased.—This verse also is not read in Samuel, which has instead, “And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people.” The peculiarities of expression in Samuel suggest textual corruption. The chronicler’s verse is a sort of general heading, or anticipative summary, to the following narrative. The margin rightly renders the first clause (see Genesis 21 for the same unusual construction).
Do away.—Cause to pass over, and so away. David’s conscience misgave him in the night, before his interview with Gad. (See 2 Samuel 24:10-11.)
David’s seer.—Better, a seer of David’s, for the same title is applied to Heman (1 Chronicles 25:5). For Gad, see 1 Samuel 22:5, and 1 Chronicles 29:29. From the latter passage it has been inferred that it was Gad who wrote the original record of the census.
The following curse from the Annals of Tiglath Pileser I. (circ. 1120 B.C.) well illustrates the three penalties proposed by God to David: “May Assur and Anum, the great gods my lords, mightily rebuke him and curse him with grievous curse . . . The overthrow of his army may they work! In presence of his foes may they make him dwell altogether! May Rimaron with evil pestilence his land cut off! Want of crops, famine, corpses, to his country may be cast!”
Thus saith the Lord, Choose thee.—Not in Samuel, which has instead a direct question: “Shall there come to thee seven years’ famine in thy land?” Our “choose” (take) is a word of later use in Hebrew. The Syriac gives the same term (qabbél).
To be destroyed.—Samuel has, “thy flying,” and so LXX. and Vulg. here. This is doubtless right, as the word in our Hebrew text might easily be a corrupt form of that in Samuel.
While that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee.—Literally, and the sword of thy foes at overtaking. The word “overtaking” (massègeth) only occurs besides in Leviticus 14:21. Samuel has simply, “and he pursuing thee.” Perhaps the right text is, and he pursue thee to overtaking. (Comp. the Syriac here: “Three months thou shalt be subdued before thy enemy, and he shall be pursuing thee, and he shall be mastering thee.”)
Or else three days the sword of the Lord . . . coasts of Israel.—Samuel has the brief, “Or that there be three days’ pestilence in thy land.” Our text appears to be an exegetical expansion of the older statement. Others suppose it to be the original, of which Samuel is an epitome, alleging that otherwise “the angel” is introduced in 2 Samuel 24:16 quite suddenly and abruptly. But we must remember that in the thought of those times pestilence and “the sword,” or “angel of the Lord,” would be suggestive of each other. (Comp. 2 Kings 19:35; and for the three judgments, Ezekiel 5:17; Ezekiel 14:13-19; Ezekiel 14:21; Leviticus 26:25-26.)
Throughout all the coasts.—In every border.
Now therefore advise thyself.—And now see. Samuel, “Now know and see.”
Let me not fall.—Samuel has a precative form of the same verb (’eppōlāh; here ’eppōl).
David confesses inability to choose. So much only is clear to him, that it is better to be dependent on the compassion of God than of man; and thus, by implication he decides against the second alternative, leaving the rest to God. Famine, sword, and pestilence were each regarded as Divine visitations, but the last especially so, because of the apparent suddenness of its outbreak and the mysterious nature of its operation.
(14) So the Lord sent pestilence upon Israel.—So Samuel. The rest of our verse is abridged. From Samuel we learn that the plague raged throughout the land from dawn to the time of the evening sacrifice.
To destroy.—A different voice of the same verb as in Samuel.
And as he was destroying, the Lord beheld. Not in Samuel. The words “soften the harshness of the transition from the command to the countermand” (Bertheau).
As he was destroying.—About (at the time of) the destroying; when the angel was on the point of beginning the work of death. It does not appear that Jerusalem was touched. (Comp. 2 Samuel 24:16.)
That destroyed.—Samuel adds, “Among the people.” The addition is needless, because the Hebrew implies “the destroying angel.” (Comp. Exodus 12:23.
It is enough, stay now.—According to the Hebrew accentuation, Enough now (jam satis), stay (drop) thine hand.
Stood.—Was standing. Samuel, “had come to be.”
Ornan.—So the name is spelt throughout this chapter. Samuel has the less Hebrew-looking forms ha-’ôrnah (text; comp. the LXX. ǒpva) or ha-Arawnah, margin) here, and in 1 Chronicles 21:18 Aranyah (text), elsewhere Arawnah. Such differences are natural in spelling foreign names. The LXX. have “Orna,” the Syriac and Arabic “Aran.”
Having a drawn sword in his hand.—Comp. Numbers 22:23, where the same phrase occurs. Literally, and his sword drawn in his hand.
Stretched out.—See Isaiah 5:25; Isaiah 9:12, &c., for this term so used of the menace of Divine wrath.
Then David and the elders.—Literally, and David fell, and the elders, covered with the sackcloth. on their faces. The elders have not been mentioned before, but wherever the king went he would naturally be accompanied by a retinue of nobles, and their presence on this occasion agrees with the statement of 2 Samuel 24:20, that Araunah saw the king and his servants coming towards him. (See 1 Chronicles 21:21, below.)
Fell upon their faces.—See Numbers 22:31; Joshua 5:14; Judges 13:20.
Clothed in sackcloth.—The garb of mourners and penitents.
Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered?—Literally, to number the people. In Samuel these words are wanting. They may have been added by the chronicler for the sake of clearness. “though they may also have formed part of the original narrative.
Even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed.—Samuel reads, “Lo, I” (different pronoun) “have sinned, and I have dealt crookedly.” Our text here may be paraphrastic, but hardly a corruption of the older one.
But as for these sheep, what . . . father’s house.—Verbatim as in Samuel, save that the appeal, “O Lord my God,” is wanting there. (Literally, But these, the sheep. The king was the shepherd.)
But not on thy people, that they should be plagued.—Literally, and on thy people, not for a plague. The strangeness of this order makes it likely that these words comprise two marginal notes, or glosses, which have crept into the text. They are not read in Samuel.
(18) Then the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David.—Rather, Now the angel had told Gad to tell David. In Samuel, the mediation of the angel is not mentioned. There we read, “And Gad came that day to David, and said unto him, Go up,” &c. No doubt it is only in the later prophetical books of the Canon that angels are introduced as the medium of communication between God and His prophets. (See Daniel 8:16, ix, 21; Zechariah 1:9; Zechariah 1:12, &c.; but comp. Judges 6:11; Judges 6:14; Judges 6:16, &c., and Genesis 18:1-2; Genesis 18:13; Genesis 32:24; Genesis 32:30.)
Which he spake in the name of the Lord.—Samuel reads, “as the Lord commanded.” The variation is merely verbal.
Now Ornan was threshing wheat.—This clause does not harmonise with the preceding statement, but its genuineness is made probable by the fact that Ornan was in his threshingfloor at the time. Moreover, the LXX. adds to 2 Samuel 24:15, “And David chose for himself the death; and it was the days of wheat harvest.”
Grant it me for the full price.—Literally, At a full price give it me. These words are not in Samuel. (Comp. Genesis 23:9—Abraham’s purchase of the Cave of Machpelah.) The recollection of that narrative may have caused the modification of the present. The last clause is word for word as in Samuel.
Let my lord the king do.—Samuel, “offer.” In the Hebrew only one letter is different; and the word “do” may have the meaning “offer,” as in Greek (Comp. Exodus 29:38.)
I give thee.—Not in Samuel; an exegetical addition.
For burnt offerings.—For the burnt offerings. Samuel has the singular.
The threshing instruments, or drags. 1 Chronicles 20:3 a different word. See Isaiah 41:15 and 2 Samuel 24:22, the only other places where this word (môraq) occurs. Samuel adds, “And the instruments (yokes) of the oxen.”
For wood.—For the wood (Genesis 22:7).
And the wheat for the meat offering.—Not in Samuel, but probably part of the oldest text of this narrative.
I give it all.—The whole I have given. Samuel (Heb.), “The whole hath Araunah given, O king to the king.” The rest of 2 Samuel 24:23 is here omitted; “And Araunah said unto the king, The Lord thy God accept thee.”
Nor offer burnt offerings without cost.—So Samuel: “Nor will I offer to the Lord my God burnt offerings without cost.” It was of the essence of sacrifice to surrender something valued in order to win from God a greater good (Ewald).
And called upon the Lord.—Not in Samuel, where the narrative ends with the words, “And the Lord was entreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel.”
From heaven by fire (with the fire from the heavens).—The Divine inauguration of the new altar and place of sacrifice. (See Leviticus 9:24; 1 Kings 18:24; 1 Kings 18:38—Elijah’s sacrifice; 2 Chronicles 7:1.) Also a sign that David’s prayer was heard.
Sheath (nādān).—A word only found here. A very similar term is applied to the body as the sheath of the soul in Daniel 7:15; viz., the Aramaic, nidneh, which should, perhaps, be read here.
1 Chronicles 21:28 to 1 Chronicles 22:1. These concluding remarks are not read in Samuel, but the writer, no doubt, found some basis for them in his special source. They tell us how it was that Oman’s threshingfloor became recognised as a permanent sanctuary, and the site ordained for the future Temple. They thus form a transition to the account of David’s preparations for the building (1 Chronicles 22:2-19).
(29) For the tabernacle.—Now the dwelling-place of Jehovah: in contrast with Oman’s threshingfloor, the new sanctuary.
To enquire of God.—To seek Him, that is, to seek His favour by sacrifice and prayer. (But comp. 1 Chronicles 13:3; 1 Chronicles 15:13.)
For he was afraid because of the sword.—“David could not go to Gibeon,” says Keil, “because of the sword of the angel of Jehovah: i.e., on account of the pestilence which raged at Gibeon.” Others have thought that the awful vision of the angel had stricken him with some bodily weakness. A more natural explanation is that the menacing aspect of the apparition overawed the king, so that he durst not follow the usual course in the present instance. It made, as we should say, an indelible impression upon his mind as to the sanctity of the place where it appeared. (Comp. Genesis 28:17; Exodus 3:5; Joshua 5:15; Judges 6:21; Judges 6:26.)