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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 24

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-9

1. David’s sin of numbering the people 24:1-9

David probably ordered this census about 975 B.C.

"After the revolutions of both Absalom and Sheba it would have been reasonable for David to reassess his military situation against the possibility of similar uprisings or other emergencies." [Note: Merrill, Kingdom of . . ., p. 272.]

In support of this hypothesis is the fact that Joab and the army commanders were able to take over nine months to gather the population statistics (2 Samuel 24:8). This suggests a very peaceful condition in Israel that characterized David’s later reign but not his earlier reign.

The writer of Chronicles wrote that Satan (perhaps an adversarial neighbor nation since the Heb. word satan means "adversary") moved David to take the census (1 Chronicles 21:1). Yet in 2 Samuel 24:1 the writer of Samuel said God was responsible. Both were true; God used an adversary to bring judgment on the objects of His anger (cf. Job 1-2; Acts 2:23). [Note: See Robert B. Chisholm Jr., "Does God Deceive?" Bibliotheca Sacra 155:617 (January-March 1998):11-12, 21-23.]

". . . paradoxically, a divinely-sent affliction can be called a ’messenger of Satan’ (2 Corinthians 12:7 . . .)." [Note: Youngblood, p. 1096.]

We can identify perhaps four levels of causality in 2 Samuel 24:1. God was the final cause, the primary instrumental cause was Satan, the secondary instrumental cause was some hostile human enemy, and David was the efficient cause. The Lord was angry with Israel for some reason. He evidently allowed Satan to stir up hostile enemy forces to threaten David and Israel (cf. Job 1-2). In response to this military threat, David chose to number the people. David’s choice was not his only option; he chose to number the people. He sinned because he failed to trust God. The Lord did not force David to sin.

Quite clearly David took the census to determine his military strength. Taking a census did not constitute sin (cf. Exodus 30:11-12; Numbers 1:1-2). David’s sin was apparently placing confidence in the number of his soldiers rather than in the Lord.

"For the Chronicler in particular [cf. 1 Chronicles 27:23-24], . . . the arena of David’s transgression appears to be that taking a census impugns the faithfulness of God in the keeping of His promises-a kind of walking by sight instead of by faith." [Note: Raymond B. Dillard, "David’s Census: Perspectives on 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21," in Through Christ’s Word: A Festschrift for Dr. Philip E. Hughes, p. 105.]

"Register" (2 Samuel 24:2; 2 Samuel 24:4) literally means to "muster" in preparation for battle. Joab proceeded in a counterclockwise direction around Israel. [Note: See Patrick W. Skehan, "Joab’s Census: How Far North (2 Samuel 24, 6)?" Catholic Biblical Quarterly 31:1 (January 1969):42-49, for a detailed study of his route. Rasmussen, p. 119, provided a map of Joab’s route.] The territory described included, but did not extend as far as, all the territory that God had promised to Abraham. There appear to have been 800,000 veterans in Israel plus 300,000 recruits (cf. 1 Chronicles 21:5). In Judah there was a total of 500,000. The figure of 470,000 in 1 Chronicles 21 probably omitted the Benjamites (cf. 1 Chronicles 21:6). The Hebrew word eleph can mean either "thousand" or "military unit." Here it could very well mean military unit. [Note: Cf. Baldwin, p. 296; Gordon, p. 319; Anderson, p. 285; McCarter, II Samuel, p. 510.] The parallel account in 1 Chronicles 21 says that Joab did not number the men of Levi and Benjamin because David’s command was abhorrent to Joab (1 Chronicles 21:6).

Joab wisely warned David of his folly (2 Samuel 24:3). Even such a man as Joab could see that what David planned to do was wrong. Nevertheless David chose to ignore his counsel (2 Samuel 24:4). He behaved as one who refuses to be accountable to anyone, which was easy for David to do since he was the king. The thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and He struck Israel (1 Chronicles 21:7).

Verses 10-14

2. David’s confession of his guilt 24:10-14

Apparently the census was complete, as complete as Joab took it, before David acknowledged that he had sinned. Finally guilt for his pride penetrated his conscience, and he confessed his sin and asked God for forgiveness (2 Samuel 24:10). This response shows David at his best, as "the man after God’s own heart." God graciously gave the king some choice about how He would punish the nation (2 Samuel 24:13). This may be the only instance in Scripture where God gave someone the choice of choosing between several punishment options. Because David was the head of the nation, his actions affected all Israel, as well as himself. David’s choice was whether he wanted a long, mild punishment or a short, intense one. He chose to leave the punishment in God’s hands because he had learned that God is merciful (2 Samuel 24:14).

"War would place the nation at the mercy of its enemies: famine would make it dependent on corn-merchants, who might greatly aggravate the misery of scarcity: only in the pestilence-some form of plague sudden and mysterious in its attack, and baffling the medical knowledge of the time-would the punishment come directly from God, and depend immediately upon His Will." [Note: Kirkpatrick, p. 228.]

"Sinners in the hands of an angry God have more reason for hope than does offending man in the clutches of an offended society." [Note: Young, pp. 304-5.]

The rabbis assumed that David’s reasoning was as follows.

"If I choose famine the people will say that I chose something which will affect them and not me, for I shall be well supplied with food; if I choose war, they will say that the king is well protected; let me choose pestilence, before which all are equal." [Note: Goldman, p. 345.]

Verses 15-17

3. David’s punishment 24:15-17

An angelic messenger from God again brought death to many people throughout all Israel (cf. Exodus 12:23). The Angel of the Lord may have been the preincarnate Christ, but he could have simply been an angelic messenger whom God sent. [Note: See Youngblood, p. 1100-1.] Evidently God gave David the ability to see the angel who was killing the people as the angel entered Jerusalem prepared to kill more innocent victims of David’s sin there (2 Samuel 24:17; cf. 2 Kings 6:17). David asked God to have mercy on the people since he was the sinner responsible for the punishment. He had failed to appreciate the extent of the effects of his act when he ordered the census. Note David’s shepherd heart in his reference to his people as "sheep" (2 Samuel 24:17).

"He is even willing to suffer (die?) for the sake of the sheep (2 Samuel 24:17)!" [Note: Gordon, p. 322.]

"Wanting more land and more people to rule, David finds himself with 70,000 fewer subjects." [Note: Dillard, p. 106.]

The 70,000 who died may have been 70 military units of soldiers. [Note: See Youngblood, p. 1100.]

"Sin is really a selfish act. It’s all about bringing ourselves pleasure caring little about the toll it will take on someone else." [Note: Swindoll, p. 282.]

Verses 18-25

4. David’s repentance 24:18-25

David proceeded to offer sacrifices in response to the prophet Gad’s instructions (2 Samuel 24:18). David needed to commit himself again to God (the burnt offering) and to renew his fellowship with God (the peace offering, 2 Samuel 24:25). God instructed him to present these sacrifices at the place where He had shown mercy (2 Samuel 24:16). David willingly obeyed (2 Samuel 24:19).

Araunah (Ornan, 1 Chronicles 21) was a native Jebusite, so probably his land had never been sanctified (set apart) to Yahweh as other Israelite land had (cf. 2 Samuel 24:23; note "Yahweh your God," though Araunah may simply have been speaking politely). David purchased the threshing floor for one and one-quarter pounds of silver. He insisted on purchasing the threshing floor because a sacrifice that costs nothing is no sacrifice at all (cf. Mark 12:43-44). The incident recalls Abraham’s purchase of the cave of Machpelah from Ephron the Hittite (Genesis 23:3-15), and it anticipates King Omri’s purchase of a hill on which he built another capital, Samaria (1 Kings 16:23-24). The situations involving Abraham and David were both desperate. Araunah’s threshing floor was to become the site of Solomon’s temple.

"At the same site where Abraham once held a knife over his son (Genesis 22:1-19), David sees the angel of the Lord with sword ready to plunge into Jerusalem. In both cases death is averted by sacrifice. The temple is established there as the place where Israel was perpetually reminded that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin (Hebrews 9:22). Death for Isaac and for David’s Jerusalem was averted because the sword of divine justice would ultimately find its mark in the Son of God (John 19:33)." [Note: Dillard, p. 107.]

"Small wonder, then, that the NT should begin with ’a record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham. . .’" [Note: Youngblood, p. 1104.]

The writer probably recorded this incident, not only because it accounts for the origin of the site of Solomon’s temple, but because it illustrates a basic theological truth taught throughout the book. Whenever someone whom God has chosen for special blessing sins, he or she becomes the target of God’s discipline, and he or she also becomes a channel of judgment to others. Only repentance will turn the situation around. When David agreed to obey God’s will revealed through Gad, he began at once to become a source of blessing again.

"No one need aspire to leadership in the work of God who is not prepared to pay a price greater than his contemporaries and colleagues are willing to pay. True leadership always exacts a heavy toll on the whole man, and the more effective the leadership is, the higher the price to be paid." [Note: J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, p. 169.]

Much blessing came to Israel through the land David bought from Araunah the Jebusite. The fact that it was a threshing floor is interesting, too, since people threshed the blessing of fertility. Many early Jewish readers of 1 and 2 Samuel would have viewed the purchase of the site of Solomon’s temple as the climax of the book. The building of this temple is the focus of the first part of the Book of 1 Kings. Solomon’s temple became the centerpiece of Israel for hundreds of years. It was the place where God met with His people and they worshipped Him corporately, the center of their spiritual and national life. Therefore the mention of the purchase of Araunah’s threshing floor was the first step in the building of the temple, the source of incalculable blessing to come (cf. Genesis 23:3-16).

As mentioned previously, the writer composed this last major section of Samuel (chs. 21-24) in a chiastic structure. Here is a similar diagram of it.

A Famine from Saul’s sin 2 Samuel 21:1-4 (narrative)

B Military heroes and victories 2 Samuel 21:15-22 (list)

C David’s psalm praise of God ch. 22 (poem)

C’ David’s tribute in praise of God 2 Samuel 23:1-7 (poem)

B’ Military heroes and victories 2 Samuel 23:8-39 (list)

A’ Pestilence from David’s sin ch. 24 (narrative)

Hebrew writers often used this chiastic literary structure to unify several different parts around one central concept. Here the center is quite clearly Yahweh. Praise of God reflects a right relationship to Him. This relationship results in blessing (strength, victories, etc.). When one is unfaithful to God, the result is judgment, famine, and pestilence.

Within each of these six final sections there is also a conflict. Saul and his sons conflict with David and Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 21:1-14). The Philistine giants conflict with David’s warriors (2 Samuel 21:15-22). Evil and arrogant enemies of God conflict with righteous covenant-keepers (ch. 22). The blessed conflict with the worthless (2 Samuel 23:1-7). Israel’s enemies conflict with David’s men (2 Samuel 23:8-39) and, finally, David conflicts with Joab and Araunah (ch. 24).

All of Saul’s sons perished, but Mephibosheth, who was faithful Jonathan’s son, was in covenant relationship to David, a covenant-keeping son of Yahweh. The Philistine giants perished because God was with David. David’s psalm recalls Hannah’s psalm (1 Samuel 2:1-10). In both of these prayers the contrast between the arrogant and the humble before God stands out. David received the Davidic Covenant because of God’s sovereign choice and David’s typical obedience. God raised up and empowered many mighty men because David walked before God submissively. The nation suffered when David got away from God but prospered when he got right with God. In fact, the prosperity that grew out of David’s purchase of Araunah’s threshing floor highlights the super-abounding grace of God.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 24". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/2-samuel-24.html. 2012.
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