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Bible Commentaries
1 Chronicles 21

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

Verses 1-30




2 Samuel 13:1-39; 2 Samuel 14:1-33; 2 Samuel 15:1-6; 2 Samuel 21:1-11; 2 Samuel 24:1-25; 1 Chronicles 21:1-30

On page 138 of the Harmony preserved in both 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles, is an account of another great affliction from God, and this affliction took the form of a pestilence in which 70,000 people perished. In one account it is said that the Lord moved David to number Israel, in the other that Satan instigated it. God is sometimes said to do things that he permits. There was a spirit of sinfulness in both the nation and king, on account of the great prosperity of the nation. Some preachers holding protracted meetings, and some pastors in giving their church roll, manifest a great desire to put stress upon numbers. So David ordered a census taken of the people. We search both these accounts in vain to find the law of the census carried out, that whenever a census was taken a certain sum of money from each one whose census was taken was to be put into the sanctuary. It was not wrong to take a census, because God himself ordered a census in Numbers. The sin was in the motive which prompted David to number Israel on this occasion. Satan was at his old trick of trying to turn the people against God, that God might smite the people. Oftentimes when we do things, the devil is back of the motive which prompts us to do them. It is a strange thing that the spirit of man can receive direct impact from another spirit.

It is also a strange thing that a man so secular-minded as Joab, understood the evil of this thing better than David. Joab worked at taking this census for nearly ten months, but did not complete it; be did not take the census of Levi or Benjamin. 1 Chronicles gives the result in round numbers, which does not exactly harmonize with 2 Samuel, one attempting to give only round numbers. Both show a great increase in population. After the thing was done, David’s conscience smote him, he felt that here were both error and sin; and he prayed about it, and when he prayed, God sent him a message, making this proposition: "I offer thee three things" [try and put yourself in David’s place and see which of these three things you would have accepted.] (1) "Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land?" He had just passed through three years of famine, and did not want to see another, especially one twice as long as the other. (2) "Or wilt thou flee three months before thy foes, while they pursue thee?" He rejected that because it put him at the mercy of man. (3) The last alternative was, "Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in thy land?" And David made a remarkable answer: "Let us fall now into the hands of the Lord, for his mercies are great; and let me not fall into the hands of man." I would myself always prefer that God be the one to smite me rather than man. "Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless millions mourn." It is astonishing how cruel man can be to man and woman to woman, especially woman to woman. Always prefer God’s punishment; he loves you better than anyone else, and will not put on you more than is just; but when the human gets into the judgment seat, there is no telling what may happen. Before this three days’ pestilence had ended 70,000 people had died. The pestilence was now moving upon the capital, and David was going to offer a sacrifice to God and implore his mercy. When he saw the angel of death with his drawn sword, about to swoop down upon Jerusalem, then comes out the magnanimity of David: "Lo, I have sinned and I have done perversely; but these sheep, what have they done?" Who greater than David used similar language in order to protect his flock? Our Lord in Gethsemane. Thereupon God ordered a sacrifice to be made, its object being to placate God, to stay the plague, a glorious type of the ultimate atonement.

When I was a student at Independence, the convention met there, and Dr. Bayless, then pastor of the First Baptist Church at Waco, took this text: "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha." He commenced: "When the flaming sword of divine justice was flashing in the sunbeams of heaven, and whistling in its fiery wrath, Jesus interposed and bared his breast, saying, ’Smite me instead.’ " Bayless was a very eloquent preacher. But though our Lord interposed, yet on him, crushed with imputed sin, that sword was about to fall. His shrinking humanity prayed, "Save me from the sword!" But the Father answered, "Awake, O Sword, smite the shepherd and let the flock be scattered." And here we find the type.

The threshing floor of Araunah became the site of Solomon’s Temple. It was the place where Abraham brought his son, and bound him on an altar, and lifted up the knife when the voice of God called: "Abraham, stay thy hand, God himself hath provided a sacrifice." There Abraham started to offer Isaac; there the Temple was afterward built, and the brazen altar erected on which these sacrificial types were slain. I ask you not only to notice David’s vicarious expiation, but also the spirit of David as set forth in 2 Samuel 24:24, page 141; "Neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God, which cost me nothing." That old Canaanite man was a generous fellow, and offered to give him that place for such a purpose and to furnish the oxen for the sacrifice, but David refused to make an offering that cost him nothing. Brother Truett preaches a great sermon on that subject: "God forbid that I should offer an offering unto the Lord that costs me nothing." When he wants to get a really sacrificial collection; wants people to give until it hurts, he takes that text and preaches his sermon. We must not select for God that which costs us nothing. I will not say tens or hundreds, but I wills ay thousands of times in my life I have made such offerings where it cost me something – where it really hurt.

History of Absalom. – In the last discussion it was shown that there had been a number of antecedent sins in connection with Absalom: (1) It was a sin that the Geshurites had been left in the land. (2) It was a sin that David had married & Geshurite. (3) That he had married for State reasons. (4) That he had multiplied wives. (5) That he did not instruct and discipline Absalom. Absalom stands among the most remarkable characters of the Old Testament. He was the handsomest man in his day, according to the record. He was perfect in physical symmetry and body. That counts a good deal with many people, but here it is not a case of "pretty is that pretty does." He had outside beauties to a marvelous degree. In that poem of N. P. Willis, he assumes that Absalom’s body is before David in the shroud, and says that as the shroud settled upon the body it revealed in outline the matchless symmetry of Absalom. Absalom had remarkable courage; there is nothing in the history to indicate that he was ever afraid of anything or anybody. Again, he had great decision of character; he knew exactly what he wanted; he was utterly unscrupulous as to the means to secure it. However, he was a man of most remarkable patience; he had passions and hate, and yet he could hold his peace and wait years to strike. That shows that he was not impulsive; that he could keep his passions under the most rigid control. The idea of a young man like Absalom under such an indignity waiting two years and then carefully planning and bringing his victims under his hand and smiting them without mercy! That is malice aforethought. He alone could make Joab bend to him; he sent for Joab, but Joab did not come; then he sent to his servant saying, "Set fire to Joab’s barley field." That brought him! Spurgeon has a sermon on that. You know that a terrapin will not crawl when you are looking at him unless you put a coal of fire on his back. Absalom put a coal of fire on Joab’s back. Then, to show the character of the man, he could get up early in the morning and go to the gate of the city and listen to every grievance in the nation, pat each fellow on the back and whisper in his ear, "Oh, if I were judge in Israel your wrong would be righted!" There is your politician. Now for a man to keep that up for years indicates a fixedness of purpose, absolute control over his manner. Whoever supposes Absalom to have been a weak-minded man is mistaken. Whoever supposes him to have been a religious man is mistaken. He had not a spark of religion.

David’s oldest son, Amnon, commits the awful offense set forth in the first paragraph of this section. Words cannot describe the villainy of it, and if Absalom under the hot indignation of the moment had smitten Amnon, he would have been acquitted by any jury. But that was not Absalom’s method. He intended to hit and hit to kill, but he was going to take his time, and let it be as sudden as death itself when it came. David refrains from punishing Amnon. Under the Jewish law he could have been put to death at once, and he ought to have been, but David could not administer the law; seeing his own guilt in a similar case, stripped him of the moral power to execute the law.

You will find that whenever you do wrong, it will make you more silent in your condemnation of wrong in others.

We now come to a subject that has been the theme of my own preaching a good deal: "Now Joab, the son of Zeruiah, perceived that the king’s heart was toward Absalom," but he also perceived that that affection was taking no steps to bring about a reconciliation, so he falls upon a plan. He sent a wise woman of Tekoa to find David, feigning a grievance as set forth here, who among other things said, "We must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again," i.e., from one against whom our anger is extended, but in behalf of whom we are interceding. The fact that God had not killed him was proof that he was soaring him that he might repent. "But God deviseth means whereby his banished shall not be perpetually expelled." The application intended is this: "Now David, you are doing just the other way. You have only a short time to live, and when you die your opportunities of reconciliation are gone forever. Imitate God; devise means to bring your banished one home." David acted on this advice and sent Joab after Absalom, but he did not imitate God fully; he had Absalom brought to Jerusalem, but would not see him. Absalom waited there under a cloud for three years, and when he could stand it no longer, by burning Joab’s barley field he forced him to bring about a reconciliation. Absalom’s object in bringing about this reconciliation was to put him in position to rebel. He knew that the tenth son, Solomon, wag announced as the successor to David, and he was the older son, and under the ordinary laws of primogeniture entitled to the kingdom. So he determines to be king.

David at this time, as we learn from Psalm 41, was laboring under an awful and loathsome sickness – a sickness that separated him from his family, from his children, and from his friends. This caused him to be forgotten to a great extent. It was a case of "when you drop out of sight, you drop out of mind." While the people saw nothing of David, they were seeing much of Absalom; he had his chariot and followers, and paraded the streets every day, and his admirers would say, "There is a king for you! We want a king that is somebody!" David in retirement, Absalom conspicuous, making promises, and being the oldest son, captured the hearts of the people. Among these was Ahithophel. Then Absalom sent spies out all over the country and said, "When you hear the trumpet blow, you may know that Absalom is reigning." He went down to Hebron and announced himself as king. When the word is brought to David that the people have gone from him, there seems to be no thought in his mind of resistance; he prepares to leave the city, leave the ark of God and the house of God. Leaving his concubines and taking his wives and children with him) he sets out, and upon reaching Mount Olivet, looks back upon the abandoned city, and weeps. A great number of the psalms were composed to commemorate his feelings during this flight. Both priests, Abiathar and Zadok, wanted to take the ark with them, but David sent them back, saying he wanted some there to watch for him and send him word. Never in the annals of time do we find a more lively historic portraiture of men and events than here. Each lives before us as we read: "Ittai, Abiathar, Zadok, Hushai, Ziba, Shirnei, and Abishai."


1. How do you harmonize 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1?

2. What was the sin of this numbering of Israel?

3. What was the lessons to preachers?

4. What was David’s course?

5. What was God’s proposition to David?

6. What was David’s answer, and reason for his choice?

7. How was the plague finally stayed?

8. What type here, and the New Testament fulfilment?

9. What was the site of Solomon’s Temple?

10. What historic events connected are with this place?

11. What great text for a sermon here, and who has preached a noted sermon from it?

12. Rehearse here the antecedent sins in connection with Absalom?

13. What was his physical appearance?

14. Analyze his character.

15. What was the lesson to preachers from the sin of Amnon and David’s attitude toward it?

16. What was the lesson for David from the woman of Tekoa?

17. How did David receive it?

18. To what expedient did Absalom resort, and why?

19. What was David’s disadvantage and Absalom’s advantage here?

20. What was David’s course when he saw that the hearts of the people had turned toward Absalom?

21. What was the nature of this part of the history?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Chronicles 21". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/1-chronicles-21.html.
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