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Monday, May 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 24

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-25

Census and Its Consequences (24:1-25)

This passage gives us an insight into the nature of early Hebrew religion and also into the early history of the Temple site at Jerusalem. The Lord is described as angry with Israel, for no stated reason. Since in those days all events, good and evil, were traced back to the divine will and little account was taken of secondary causes, all calamity was ascribed directly to the divine wrath. Natural causes and human intentions were discounted in comparison with the all-prevailing activity of God himself. There is a deep truth in this, for ultimately all the universe is within God’s providential care. Yet the revelation of the Cross means that God grants a degree of freedom to his creation, the consequences of which are borne by him in suffering and redeeming love. That his wrath is operative, none would deny, but it is not irrational as this passage seems to suggest; and always, as we have said earlier, it is motivated by, and is indeed the underside of, his redeeming love. This passage must thus be read with caution, for it seems to suggest that God was irrationally angry with his people and sought an excuse to punish them. He is described as inciting David to take a census. The Chronicler, rewriting the story later in Jewish history, was so disturbed at this that he replaced the name of the Lord by that of Satan and described Satan as inciting David (1 Chronicles 21:1).

David proceeded to commit the terrible "sin" of numbering the people. Joab objected to the whole plan but was overruled by the king. When, however, the census had been completed, David’s conscience was stricken, and he consulted Gad, his prophet. Why taking a census was sinful is by no means clear; probably this was a relic of superstition, although there are suggestions that it betokened pride in military strength and that it might signify reliance on that power rather than on the Lord. Gad came to David with an oracle from the Lord, offering the king three alternatives-seven years of famine, three months of devastation and war, or three days of plague, and David chose the last, preferring to fall into the hands of God through plague rather than into the hands of men in war.

The account personifies the plague as the "angel" of death. The ravages of the plague were so terrible that the divine wrath was satisfied, and God intervened at the point where the pestilence was about to reach into Jerusalem. David’s penitence at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite marked the end of the plague. He was instructed by the prophet Gad to secure this site and consecrate it to the worship of the Lord. Araunah met the request to purchase by freely offering the floor as a gift. David refused, however, on the ground that he would not offer burnt offerings to God which had cost him nothing. This conviction underlies all true sacrifice (and all real piety); it found full expression later in the Book of Psalms. A religion which costs nothing is no true religion at all. The site thus purchased was eventually included in the area of Solomon’s Temple.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 2 Samuel 24". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/2-samuel-24.html.
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