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Bible Commentaries
1 Chronicles 21

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary



The census, and consequent plague. The hallowing of the Temple area. Omitting the magnificent ode which David sang to his deliverer (2 Samuel 22:0), 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 11:0, the chronicler resumes the ancient narrative at the point coincident with 2 Samuel 24:0 (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.

Verse 1

(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 24:0 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.”

Verses 1-6

(1-6) The Census.

Verse 2

(2) And to the rulers (captains) of the people.—Omitted in Samuel, which reads, “Joab, the captain of the host, who was with him.” The “captains of the host” are, however, associated in the work of the census with Joab (2 Samuel 24:4). The fact that Joab and his staff were deputed to take the census seems to prove that it was of a military character.


Number.Enrol, or register (sifrû). A different word (mânâh) 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.)

Verse 3

(3) Answered.—Hebrew, said.

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.

Verse 4

(4) Wherefore Joab departed.—“Went out” scil, from the king’s presence (Samuel). The chronicler omits the account of the route of Joab and his party, as described in 2 Samuel 24:4-8. They crossed Jordan, and went to Aroer, Jazer, Gilead, and Dan; then round to Zidon, “the fortress of Tyre, and all the cities of the Hivite and Canaanite, and came out at the nageb of Judah, to Beersheba.” The business occupied nine months and twenty days; and the fact that the generalissimo of David’s forces and his chief officers found leisure for the undertaking indicates a time of settled peace. The census, therefore, belongs to the later years of the reign.

Verse 5

(5) The number.Muster, or census (miphqăd). The first clause is identical with Samuel, but has “David” for “the king,” as elsewhere.

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.).

Verse 6

(6) But Levi . . .—This verse is wanting in Samuel, but it probably existed in the original source. There is nothing in the style to suggest a later hand; while the word “counted” (pâqad), which has not been used before in this chapter, occurs twice in the parallel passage (2 Samuel 24:2; 2 Samuel 24:4). It is noticeable also that the chronicler writes “the king” (not “David”) here, as in Samuel.

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.

Verse 7

(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 21:0 for the same unusual construction).

Verses 7-13

(7-13) The Divine wrath, declared by Gad the seer.

Verse 8

(8) And David said.—This verse is verbatim the same with its parallel, save that it makes the characteristic substitution of “God” for “Jehovah,” and adds the explanatory phrase “this thing” in the first half, and in the second omits the Divine Name altogether.

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.)

Verse 9

(9) And the Lord (Jehovah) spake unto Gad.—Samuel, “And David arose in the morning. Now a word of Jehovah had come to Gad the prophet, a seer of David, saying—“ This appears to be more original than our text.

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.

Verse 10

(10) This verse, again, nearly coincides with the parallel in Samuel. The variations look like corrections and explanatory or paraphrastic substitutions. Thus the word “go is here imperative, instead of the less usual infinitive; “saving” is added by way of clearness; the easier phrase, “I offer thee” (spread or lay before thee), is given in place of the curious “I lift up” (i.e., impose) “on thee” (nôteh for nôtçl: a change such as is common in the Targum); and, lastly, the pronoun of them, which is masculine in Samuel, is more correctly feminine here.

Verse 11

(11) And said unto him.—Samuel has the pleonastic, “And told him, and said,” &c.

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).

Verse 12

(12) Three years’ famine.—This appears correct, as harmonising with the three months and three days of the other visitations. Samuel has the reading “seven,” which perhaps originated in some scribe’s memory of the famine described in Genesis 41:30, sqq.

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.”

Verse 13

(13) And David said.—Almost identical with Samuel. “Let me fall” looks like an improvement of Samuel, “Let us fall.” The word “very” (not in Sam.) is perhaps an accidental repetition from the Hebrew of I am in a great strait.

Let me not fall.—Samuel has a precative form of the same verb (’eppôlâh; here ’eppôl).

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.

Verse 14

(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.

Verses 14-17

(14-17) The Pestilence.

Verse 15

(15) And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it.—The reading of Samuel is probably right, “And the angel stretched out his hand towards Jerusalem, to destroy it.” The verb is the same word in each, and the word “God” in our text is substituted for “Jehovah,” which, again, is a misreading of part of the Hebrew of Samuel (yâdô ha), the first word meaning his hand, and the second being the definite article belonging to “angel.”

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.”

Verse 16

(16) This verse is not read in Samuel, which, however, mentions the essential fact that David “saw the angel that smote the people” (2 Samuel 24:17). There is nothing in the style to suggest suspicion of a later hand; and it is as likely that the compiler of Samuel has abridged the original account as that the chronicler has embellished it.

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.

Verse 17

(17) And David said unto God.—Sam., “Jehovah.” Samuel adds, “when he saw the angel that smote the people” (see our 1 Chronicles 21:16); “and he said.”

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.

Verse 18

(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.)

Verses 18-27

(18-27) The purchase of Ornan’s threshingfloor as a place of sacrifice.

Verse 19

(19) At the saying.—Samuel, “according to.” The difference is only that of the “one tittle,” or small projection, of a letter, mentioned in Matthew 5:18.

Which he spake in the name of the Lord.—Samuel reads, “as the Lord commanded.” The variation is merely verbal.

Verse 20

(20) And Ornan turned back (returned), and saw the angel; and his four sons with him hid themselves (were hiding). There can be little doubt that this is corrupt, and that the text of Samuel is right, “And Araunah looked up, and saw the king and his servants passing by him.” The LXX. here has “Ornan turned, and saw the king;” the Vulg., “when Ornan had looked up” The Hebrew words for “returned” and “looked up,” “angel” and “king,” are similar enough to be easily confused in an ill-written or failed MS.

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.”

Verse 21

(21) And as David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David.—This is wanting in Samuel. The corruption of the previous verse made some such statement necessary here. The rest of the verse nearly corresponds with 2 Samuel 24:20.

Verse 22

(22) Then (and) David said to Oman, Grant me the place of this threshingfloor, that I may build.—Literally, Pray give me the place of the threshingfloor. Samuel, “And Araunah said Why is my lord the king come to his servant? And David said, To purchase from thee the threshingfloor, to build,” &c.

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.

Verse 23

(23) Take it to thee.—Comp. Genesis 23:11.

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.”

Verse 24

(24) For the full price.—Samuel simply, “At a price” (different word). The next clause does not appear in Samuel, but may well be original.

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).

Verse 25

(25) So David gave to Oman for the place six hundred shekels of gold by weight.—Literally, shekels of golda weight of six hundred. Samuel has, “And David purchased the threshingfloor and the oxen for silver, fifty shekels.” The two estimates are obviously discordant. We have no means of calculating what would have been a fair price, for we know neither the extent of the purchase nor the value of the sums mentioned. But comparing Genesis 23:16, where four hundred shekels of silver are paid for the field and cave of Machpelah, fifty shekels of silver would seem to be too little. On the other hand, six hundred shekels of gold appears to be far too high a price for the threshingfloor. Perhaps for “gold” we should read “silver.” It has, indeed, been suggested that “the authors were writing of two different things,” and that Samuel assigns only the price of the threshingfloor and oxen; whereas the chronicler, when he speaks of “the place,” means the entire Mount of the Temple (Moriah), on which the floor was situate. But a comparison of the two narratives seems to identify the things purchased—“the place” (1 Chronicles 21:25) is “the place of the threshingfloor” (1 Chronicles 21:22); and in both cases Samuel has “the threshingfloor.” Tradition may have varied on the subject; and as “there is no positive mention of the use of gold money among the Hebrews” apart from this passage (Madden), ours is probably the later form of the story. However this may be, the chronicler has doubtless preserved for us what he found in his original. It is interesting to compare with this sale some of those the records of which are preserved in the Babylonian Contract Tablets. One of these relates how Dân-sum-iddin sold a house and grounds in Borsippa for eleven and a-half minæ of silver, i.e., 690 shekels. This was in the second year of Nabonidus the last king of Babylon.

Verse 26

(26) And David built . . . peace offerings.—Word for word as in Samuel.

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.

Verse 27

(27) He put up . . .—It seems hardly fair to call this verse a “figurative or poetical expression for the cessation of the plague.” In 1 Chronicles 21:16 David sees the angel with drawn sword; and the older text (2 Samuel 24:16-17) equally makes the angel a “real concrete being,” and not a “personification,” as Reuss will have it.

Sheath (nâdân).—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).

Verse 28

(28) At that time when David saw . . .—The use of Ornan’s threshingfloor as a place of sacrifice was continued from the time of the cessation of the pestilence. The words “then he sacrificed there” refer to this fact. The answer by fire from heaven (1 Chronicles 21:26) was an unmistakable intimation of the Divine will that it should be so. (Comp. also Joshua 5:15.)

Verse 29

(29) For the tabernacle.Now the dwelling-place of Jehovah: in contrast with Oman’s threshingfloor, the new sanctuary.

Verses 29-30

(29, 30) A parenthesis, relating why it was that David did not rather resort to the ancient Tabernacle, which then stood at Gibeon. (Comp. 1 Chronicles 16:39-40.)

Verse 30

(30) But (and) David could not go before iti.e., the Tabernacle at Gibeon and the altar of burnt offering (1 Chronicles 16:4; 1 Chronicles 16:37; 1 Chronicles 16:39).

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.)

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Chronicles 21". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/1-chronicles-21.html. 1905.
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