2 Samuel 24


David’s Census

      • Again Yahweh was angry with Israel, and He stirred up David against them, saying, “Go count the people of Israel and Judah.” The king told Joab, who was the army commander, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan all the way to Beersheba, and count the people so that I can know how many there are.”

        • ***Time out*** Welcome to one of the most famous and troublesome alleged Bible contradictions! Who incited David to take the census? God or Satan?

          • Let’s start by reading the parallel passage in 1 Chr 21:1. We’ll use the ESV: “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.”

        • At the outset, let’s establish that, theological implications aside, it is not actually a contradiction for the author of Samuel to say that Yahweh incited David to take a census and for the author of Chronicles to say that Satan did. True contradictory statements must be mutually exclusive, and these are not. Andrew Wilson explains this clearly in his article over at Think Theology UK, “The Census ‘Contradiction.’” I’ll sum up his argument and conclusion for those who want the cliff notes version:

            • The only way these two statements could be contradictory is if we are operating from the assumption that “If Satan incited David, then God did not incite David.” This assumption is demonstrably false since we have Biblical examples of both being true at the same time. He argues generally that, “…as we all know, multiple agents may be at work in a process, each with their own agenda.” Wilson then gets specific by providing the following examples which fit the context at hand:

          • 1. God orchestrated the betrayal of Christ (Acts 4:24-28).
            2. Satan orchestrated the betrayal of Christ (Luke 22:3-6).”

        • In his article, “Who Incited David,” Tim Challies makes a couple of interesting observations. The first echoes our first point, while the second opens up the discussion to a thought provoking alternative explanation.

          • First, Challies cites Geisler’s and Howe’s corroboratory explanation of this scenario in their book, “When Critics Ask”:

            • Both statements are true. Although it was Satan who immediately incited David, ultimately it was God who permitted Satan to carry out this provocation. Although it was Satan’s design to destroy David and the people of God, it was God’s purpose to humble David and the people and teach them a valuable spiritual lesson. This situation is quite similar to the first two chapters of Job in which both God and Satan are involved in the suffering of Job. Similarly, both God and Satan are involved in the crucifixion. Satan’s purpose was to destroy the Son of God (John 13:2; 1 Cor 2:8). God’s purpose was to redeem humankind by the death of His Son (Acts 2:14-39).”

          • Next, Challies touches on a very interesting alternative textual possibility that changes the issue considerably. He notes that the NET Bible translators indicate: “that the Hebrew word satan in 1 Chronicles 21:1 is best rendered ‘an adversary’ instead of ‘Satan.’”

            • NET Bible’s study notes for the parallel passage in 1 Ch explains:

              • Many interpreters and translations render the Hebrew as a proper name here, ‘Satan’ (NEB, NASB, NIV, NRSV). However, the Hebrew term…which means ‘adversary,’ is used here without the article. Elsewhere when it appears without the article, it refers to a personal or national adversary in the human sphere, the lone exception being Num 22:22, 32, where the angel of the Lord assumes the role of an adversary to Balaam. When referring elsewhere to the spiritual entity known in the NT as Satan, the noun has the article and is used as a title, ‘the Adversary’ (see Job 1:6-9, 12; 2:1-4, 6-7; Zech 3:1-2). In light of usage elsewhere the adversary in 1 Chr 21:1 is likely a human enemy, probably a nearby nation whose hostility against Israel pressured David into numbering the people so he could assess his military strength. For compelling linguistic and literary arguments against taking the noun as a proper name here, see S. Japhet, I & II Chronicles (OTL), 374-75.”

            • Challies articulates the difference this textual alternative makes with respect to how we would then understand 1 Ch 21, “The adversary in 1 Chr 21:1 is likely a human enemy, probably a nearby nation whose hostility against Israel pressured David into numbering the people so he could assess his military strength.”

            • However, Heiser offers a variant understanding of the identity of the “adversary.” While the NET Bible translators postulate that the adversary is a nearby nation, Heiser suggests this adversary is none other than the Angel of the Lord. The interested reader can refer to Heiser’s linked article above for a complete explanation. Essentially, Heiser cites as his basis the Balaam incident from Numbers 22 (mentioned above) and the fact that the OT frequently identifies God and the Angel of Yahweh with each other.

      • But Joab said to the king, “May Yahweh your God multiply the troops 100 times more than they are right before the eyes of my lord the king! But why does my lord the king want to this?

        • Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers notes, “Chronicles adds to Joab’s words, ‘Why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?’ The strong objection of Joab shows that there was something obviously wrong in the action of David.”

        • What exactly was sinful about David’s taking a census? HCSB remarks, “It was not wrong for David to take a census as such; the law of Moses explicitly permitted this (Ex 30:12). Censuses had been taken among the Israelites on two occasions in the days of Moses (Nm 1:2; 4:2, 22; 26:2) with no adverse consequences. The problem with David’s census lay either in his motivation for it or the manner in which it was conducted. If the former, David’s purpose was to build his nationalistic ego; he would number his troops in order to boast of his nations military might, instead of trusting in God. If the latter, David failed to direct his officials to use the proper procedure. The law required every person counted to pay half a shekel (about one-fifth of an ounce) of silver to the sanctuary treasury (Ex 30:13), but perhaps this was not done. According to the law, failure to collect the money would result in an outbreak of plague, which is exactly what happened in this case.”

      • However, the king’s order prevailed despite the objections of Joab and the commanders of the army. So Joab and the army commanders left to go count the people of Israel.

        • Guzik points out, “It wasn’t only Joab who tried to tell David not to do this – the captains of the army also warned David not to count the soldiers in Israel. But David did so anyway.”

      • They crossed over the Jordan and camped at Aroer, which is south of the city in the middle of the valley, then went toward Gad and on to Jazer. Then they went to Gilead and to the region of Tahtim Hodshi, proceeding on to Dan Jaan and around toward Sidon. Then they went to the fortress of Tyre and all the cities of the Hivites and Canaanites. Then they went on to the Negev of Judah as far as Beersheba. When they had gone through the entire land they returned to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and 20 days.

        • Those comparing translations will notice we have some difficulties with the text in verse 6.

          • On Tahtim Hodshi Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges explains, “No such district is known, and the form of the words also makes it probable that the text is corrupt. Some conjecture that we should read (with some MSS. of the Sept.) to the land of the Hittites to Kedesh, the famous Hittite capital on the Orontes, but this seems too far north; others conjecture the regions below mount Hermon; and so forth. All that can be said is that some district, apparently east of the Jordan and north of Gilead, is meant.”

          • On Dan Jaan the same sources writes, “Perhaps the well known Dan, but if so, it is strange that it should here and nowhere else be distinguished as Dan-jaan. The meaning of jaan is uncertain, and perhaps we should follow the Sept. (A) and Vulg. in reading Dan-jaar, i.e. Dan in the forest.”

      • ESV Archaeology Study Bible summarizes, “The details of the census trip are not certain, but it seems that the men began at Aroer, a city on the Arnon River on the border with Moab, went north through Gilead and Bashan, and then went north-northwest to Dan. From there they went to the coast, then south to Beersheba, and then back to Jerusalem.”

Image from ESV Archaeology Study Bible p. 460

      • Joab reported the number of people to the king: In Israel there were 800,000 sword- wielding men, and there were 500,000 men in Judah.

        • No matter how you slice it, these numbers do not align with the numbers given in the parallel passage in Chronicles 21:5. Guzik cites two quotes from Clarke that accurately assess the situation, “In the parallel place, 1 Chronicles 21:5, the sums are widely different: in Israel one million one hundred thousand, in Judah four hundred and seventy thousand. Neither of these sums is too great, but they cannot be both correct; and which is the true number is difficult to say.” and “To attempt to reconcile them in every part is lost labour; better at once acknowledge what cannot be successfully denied, that although the original writers of the Old Testament wrote under the influence of the Divine Spirit, yet we are not told that the same influence descended on all copiers of their words, so as absolutely to prevent them from making mistakes.”

        • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges writes, “This discrepancy may be due to textual corruption, but more probably arises from a difference in the original estimates, or in the oral tradition with respect to them, since the result of the census was not authoritatively registered in the state records (1 Chronicles 27:24). The conjecture that the standing army of 288,000 men (1 Chronicles 27:1-15) is here deducted from Israel, and some body of 30,000 troops added to Judah, is ingenious, but rendered improbable by the fact that it is necessary to add to the one and subtract from the other to make the totals equal to those of 1 Chron.”

        • HCSB mentions that there may even be a third textual tradition, “The ancient Jewish historian Josephus recorded 900,000 Israelite soldiers and 400,000 Judahites, perhaps following another textual tradition.”

        • The numbers are also criticized as being far too large to be believable. However, the same source explains that this argument isn’t a valid one, “The numbers have been attacked as exaggerated, and far exceeding the possible capacity of the country. The numbers given imply a total population of five or six millions at least, and the area of the country is estimated at about 11,000 square miles. This gives (making allowance for the excepted tribes) between 500 and 600 to the square mile, a high but not impossible rate of population when the extreme fertility of the country in ancient times is taken into consideration. The ruins with which Palestine is covered in every direction prove that the population was exceptionally dense.”

Judgment for David’s Sin

      • But after he had counted the people David’s conscience bothered him and he said to Yahweh, “I have sinned greatly by doing this. But now, O Yahweh, please remove Your servant’s guilt because I have acted very foolishly.”

      • When David got up the next morning, a revelation from Yahweh had come to the prophet Gad, who was David’s seer, saying, “Go tell David: ‘This is what Yahweh says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them and I will do it to you.’”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible says, “Gad…David’s seer appears only here and in 1 Sam 22:5. Seer is an early name for a prophet (1 Sam 9:9, 19). Unlike pagan magicians or sorcerers, biblical seers had divinely inspired visions (see also 2 Kgs 17:13; Isa 29:10; 30:9-10; Amos 7:12; Mic 3:7) and functioned as God’s messengers.”

      • So Gad went to David and told him, “Will you choose three years of famine to come upon your land, three months of running from your enemies as they pursue you, or three days of plague in your land? Think it over and decide what answer I should tell the One who sent me.” Then David said to Gad, “I am very upset! I prefer we fall into Yahweh’s hands because His mercy is great, but don’t let me fall into human hands.”

        • The Masoretic text says that David’s first option was 7 years of famine. However, Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges notes, “The reading of the Sept. and Chron. is three years, and this is unquestionably to be preferred, as required by the symmetry of the statement.”

        • Guzik writes, “This meant that David chose the three days of plague. In the other two options, Israel would either be at the mercy of neighbors (as in the famine) or attacked by enemies. David knew that God was far more merciful and gracious than man.” He then cites Clarke, “Had he chosen war, his own personal safety was in no danger, because there was already an ordinance preventing him from going to battle. Had he chosen famine, his own wealth would have secured his and his own family’s support. But he showed the greatness of his mind in choosing the pestilence, to the ravages of which himself and his household were exposed equally with the meanest of his subjects.”

      • So Yahweh sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the completion of the appointed time, and from Dan all the way to Beersheba 70,000 people died. When the angel extended his hand to destroy Jerusalem, Yahweh repented concerning the disaster, and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “It is enough. Stop now.” The angel of Yahweh was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

        • On God “repenting,” “Cp. Exodus 32:14; Jeremiah 26:13; Jeremiah 26:19; Jonah 3:10. On the one hand Scripture teaches us that ‘God is not a man that he should repent’ (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29); on the other hand it does not shrink from saying that God repents (a) when, as here, upon man’s penitence He withdraws or mitigates a punishment: (b) when, upon man’s faithlessness or disobedience, He cancels a promise or revokes a blessing which He had given. God’s repentance does not mean that He who foreknows all things regrets His action, nor is it a sign of mutability.”

          • On this point, Guzik adds, ““This justified David’s wisdom in leaving himself in God’s hands. He could not trust man to relent from destruction.”

        • On the threshing floor, “The threshing floor: precisely the same word as in 2 Samuel 24:18; 2 Samuel 24:21; 2 Samuel 24:24. Threshing floors were constructed on eminences, to catch the wind for winnowing the grain. Araunah’s threshing floor was on Mount Moriah, the hill to the eastward of Jerusalem, and was the site upon which the Temple was afterwards built (2 Chronicles 3:1).”

          • Guzik adds, “The threshing floor of Araunah had both a rich history and a rich future. 2 Chronicles 3:1 tells us that the threshing floor of Araunah was on Mount Moriah; the same hill where Abraham offered Isaac (Genesis 22:2), and the same set of hills where Jesus died on the cross (Genesis 22:14).”

        • It has been supposed by some that the sacred rock of the Moslems, which is the highest point of the Temple hill, and is now covered by the Kubbet es Sakhrah or “Dome of the Rock,” marks the actual site of Araunah’s threshing-floor. See Sinai and Pal. p. 178 ff.”

        • And finally, on Araunah, “The name is variously spelt Aravnah (2 Samuel 24:16 Qrî), Avarnah (2 Samuel 24:16 Kthîbh), Aranyah (2 Samuel 24:18 Kthîbh); in Chron. it is written Ornan; and in the Sept. in both books…Orna. This variety of form is probably due to different attempts to represent a non-Hebraic name. There is no ground for the popular belief (based on a misunderstanding of 2 Samuel 24:23) that Araunah was the old king of Jebus before its conquest by David, and had been permitted by David to reside on his estate just outside Jerusalem. But his presence there is an evidence that the old inhabitants had been allowed to remain, and even to retain their property. Cp. 1 Kings 9:20.”

      • When David saw the angel who was destroying people, he said to Yahweh, “Look, I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. But what have these sheep done? Let Your hand be against me and my family.”

        • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges points out, “The writer of Chronicles, dwelling upon the details of the miraculous circumstances…records that ‘David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the Lord standing between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. And David and the elders, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces.’” (1 Chr 21:16)

David Builds an Altar

      • That day Gad went to David and told him, “Go up and build an altar to Yahweh on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” So David went and obeyed what Gad had told him to do, as Yahweh had commanded.

      • When Araunah looked and saw the king and his servants approaching him, Araunah went and bowed down with his face to the ground in homage to the king. Araunah asked, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” David answered, “To buy the threshing floor from you so that I can build an altar to Yahweh so that the plague on the people will be stopped.” Araunah replied, “My lord the king may take and offer up whatever seems good to him. Here are oxen for a burnt offering, and threshing sledges and oxen yokes for wood. I, the servant of my lord the king, give all of this to the king. May Yahweh your God accept you.” But the king answered Araunah, “No. I insist on paying you for it. I will not offer burnt offerings to Yahweh my God which cost me nothing.”

      • So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for 20 ounces of silver. He built an altar to Yahweh there and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. Then Yahweh responded to his prayer for the land and the plague on Israel was stopped.

        • There is a huge discrepancy in the amount David paid in this account and the parallel in 1 Chr. 21:25, which states that he paid 600 gold shekels as opposed to the 50 silver shekels reported in this text. Research reveals that the most common attempt to reconcile the two is pointing out that the 2 Sam text says that David paid 50 shekels for “the threshing floor and the oxen,” while 1 Chr says that David paid 600 gold shekels for “the place.” It is argued that the 1 Ch passage is referencing a much larger area of land than just the threshing floor of 2 Sam. So the texts refer to two separate purchases/events.

          • a comparison of the two narratives seems to identify the things purchased—“the place” (1Chronicles 21:25) is “the place of the threshingfloor” (1Chronicles 21:22); and in both cases Samuel has “the threshingfloor.”

        • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges offers a different possibility, “the text of 2 Sam. is probably corrupt and should perhaps run, bought the threshing floor for money, even six hundred shekels, and the oxen for money, even fifty shekels.”

        • Barnes Notes offers another possibility, “It may also be conjectured that we should read ‘six’ for ‘six hundred’ here; since, according to the later Jewish system, six gold shekels were nearly equal in value to fifty silver ones.”