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2 Samuel 24:1. “Again,” Evidently referring to the famine mentioned in 2 Samuel 21:1-14. “Israel.” Some special national guilt not specified must be here referred to. If, as most writers suppose, this occurred in the closing years of David’s life it may be the rebellion under Absalom. “He.” Attempts have been made to translate here impersonally, David was moved, etc.; and in Chronicles the instigation is attributed to Satan. But the grammatical construction will not admit of any other rendering, and the expression has parallels in other parts of Scripture, and must be read in the light of what is revealed to us of the Divine character. (See 1 Samuel 26:19, 2 Samuel 16:10.) On these passages Kiel says: “They show that God only instigates those who have sinned against Him to evil deeds; and therefore that the instigation consists in the fact that God compels sinners to manifest the wickedness of their hearts in deeds, or furnishes the opportunity and occasion for the unfolding and practical manifestation of the evil desires of his heart, that the sinner may either be brought to the knowledge of his more evil ways and also to repentance, through the evil deed and its consequences, or if the heart should be hardened still more by the evil deed, that it may become ripe for the judgment of death. Erdmann remarks that “the conception that God incites to sin in the Old Testament belongs to the same circle of thought as the idea, carried over by Paul into the New Testament, of man’s hardening in sin as a Divine act. The hardening pertains only to the inner being, to heart and disposition (which becomes insusceptible to the influences of the Divine word and spirit), to the will, which persistently sets itself against God’s holy will, to the ethical habits of the whole personality, etc.… The Divine incitement to evil on the other hand refers to individual acts, and consists not in God’s producing evil, which would be inconsistent with his holiness (comp. James 1:19), but in his occasioning the evil to break forth from the hidden depths of the heart and realise itself in deed, though this need neither pre-suppose nor induce hardening, but is rather intended to be the mean and avenue to the salvation and bettering of the sinner.” Hengstenberg’s comments on Psalms 41:6 apply well to this subject. “Sin pertains, indeed, to man. He may always free himself from it by penitence. But if he does not repent, then the forms in which sin exhibits itself are no longer under his control, but under God’s dispensation,” etc. But it is perhaps safer to leave this very difficult subject by saying, in the words of the American translator of Lange’s Commentary, that “there is here involved the whole subject of the co-relation of Divine and human action, about which we can only insist on the two unhar-monisable facts of the absolute efficient control of God, and the complete independence of man.” (See also Hengstenberg on 2 Samuel 24:3.)
2 Samuel 24:2. “Number,” or muster. From 2 Samuel 24:9 it appears that this numbering was of a military character, and the aim of David was, most likely, to ascertain the fighting power of the people.
2 Samuel 24:3. “How many soever,” literally, as it is. Joab’s words show that this census was quite different from that taken by Moses at the command of God. (Exodus 30:12; Numbers 1:26). He evidently regarded it at least as impolitic. Several views are held as to the nature of David’s sin in the act, but, as Erdmann remarks, Joab’s remonstrance “indicates David’s purpose to be to please himself with the exhibition of the imposing military strength of the people; and the ungodly feature, therefore, was its motive, David’s haughty estimation of himself and his people. His sin was one both of the lust of the eyes and pride.… Doubtless he who had led Israel to so lofty a height, forgetting himself before the Lord, had a proud desire to exhibit the splendid array of his people’s military strength, as a pledge of the further advance of his house and people, and of the further development of the promise in Deuteronomy 33:29.” “The nature of David’s sin is declared by the sacred writer, saying that it was prompted by Satan, the author of pride and unbelief;.… it was the sin of lack of faith in God, and in His protection; it was the sin of self confidence, vain glory, and reliance on an arm of flesh.” (Wordsworth). “Warlike thoughts certainly stand in the back-ground; if we fail to see this, we lose the key to the whole transaction. David feeds his heart on the great numbers, on the thought of what his successors on the throne would be able to attain with such power. From its first origin Israel was called to the supremacy of the world. Already this assurance was given (Deuteronomy 33:29). David now thought he could rise, step by step, to such elevation without the help of God, who had provided for the beginning. The records should bear witness to all time that he had laid a solid foundation for this great work of the future. Had his perception been clear, he would not have disregarded the special hint contained in the law respecting the danger connected with the numbering of the people. In Exodus 30:11, it is ordained that on the numbering of the people every Israelite should bring a ransom, “that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them.” By this they would be released, as it were, from the death incurred by their proud arrogance. It reminded them of the danger of forgetting human weakness, so imminent where an individual feels himself the member of a large whole.… With this feeling even the Romans presented offerings of atonement at their census.… In Psalms 30:0, which has reference to this event, David himself describes the state of his mind, which offered a point of contact for the temptation According to this, confidence was the melancholy root of sin, both in David and the nation. Soft indolence, says Calvin, had taken possession of his mind, so that he had no inclination for prayer, nor any dependence on the mercy of God, but trusted too much to his past fortune. Where this corrupt disposition is found in the soul, God’s influence making use of Satan as its instrument, leads the corrupt germ to its development, rousing to action that which slumbers in the soul in order to bring about the retributive judgment in which man, if otherwise well intentioned, learns fully to recognise his sinful condition, and is moved to repentance. The question is not one of simple permission on the part of God, but of a real action, and that of a nature which each one may still perceive in his own tendencies. Whoever once yields to his sinful disposition is infallibly involved in the sinful deed which leads to retributive judgment, however much he may strive against it.” (Hengstenberg.)
2 Samuel 24:5. “Pitched,” i.e., encamped in the open country because of the great numbers who would assemble. “Aroer … river of Gad.” Rather, the “brook-valley,” etc. There was another Aroer in Reuben, and one mentioned only in 1 Samuel 30:28. This town is generally considered to be identical with the one near Rabbah mentioned in Numbers 32:34 and Joshua 13:33. Some travellers identify it with the modern Ayra, but there is much uncertainty about its precise position. “Jazer.” Mentioned several times in Joshua and in Numbers, and sometimes spelt Ja-azer. “It was known to Eusebius and Jerome, and its position is laid down with minuteness in the Onanasticon as ten Roman miles west of Philadelphi and fifteen from Heshbon.” (Biblical Dictionary.) Modern travellers are divided as to its exact site.
2 Samuel 24:6. “Gilead.” The mountainous district on both sides of the Jabbok. “Tahtim-Hodsht.” This word is very obscure, and neither ancient nor modern translators can discern any meaning in it, either as a proper name or as a descriptive phrase. It is generally agreed that the text is incorrect. “Dan-Jaan.” “There seems no reason to doubt that the well-known Dan is intended. We have no record of any other Dan in the north, and even if this were not the case, Dan, as the accepted northern limit of the nation, was too important a place to escape mention in such a list as that in the text.” (Biblical Dictionary.) The Vulgate reads Dan-jaar, which Gesenius translates Dan in the wood. This description agrees with the character of the country.
2 Samuel 24:7. “Tyre,” etc. That is, in the region afterwards called Galilee, in which it appears the heathen nations were not exterminated but tributary. (So Keil and others.) “The division into Hivites and Canaanites is remarkable; perhaps these were the most prominent of the surviving native races.” (Translator of Lange’s Commentary).
2 Samuel 24:8. Gone through, etc. “According to 1 Chronicles 21:6, the census was not extended into Benjamin and Levi, “because the king’s word was an abomination to Joab,” and according to 1 Chronicles 27:24, Joab did not finish his task because the plague broke out before he had finished.
2 Samuel 24:9. Eight hundred thousand.… five hundred thousand. These numbers do not agree with those given in Chronicles where a higher number is given for Israel and a lower for Judah (1,100,000 and 470,000). Some think there were two countings, one according to the private lists in the cities and villages, the other from the public registers, or that Chronicles includes the non-Israelites among the people. “The numbers are given in thousands, and therefore are only approximate statements in round numbers; and the difference in two texts arose chiefly from the fact, that the statements were merely founded upon oral tradition, since, according to 1 Chronicles 27:24, the result of the census was not inserted in the annals of the kingdom. There is no ground, however, for regarding the numbers as exaggerated, if we only bear in mind that the entire population of a land amounts to about four times the number of those who are fit for military service, and, therefore, 1,300,000, or even a million and a half, would only represent a total population of five or six millions—a number which could undoubtedly have been sustained in Palestine, according to thoroughly reliable testimony as to its unusual fertility.” (Keil). “In this muster of Israel it is probable the standing army of David (1 Chronicles 27:0), which had before been numbered, is not reckoned, but it is inserted in the Chronicles. This standing army consisted of 12×24,000 = 288,000 men, who, with their chiliarchs and twelve generals, will make 300,000; and if these are added to the 800,000 mentioned here, the numbers in both places would coincide.” (Wordsworth). With regard to the difference in the number allotted to the tribes of Judah, Wordsworth suggests that “perhaps David had 30,000 stationed with him at Jerusalem, and the other 470,000 were mustered by Joab.”
2 Samuel 24:11. “For,” rather, and. It is not intended that God’s visit produced the conviction in David’s mind.
2 Samuel 24:13. “Seven years.” In Chronicles the number is three., which some expositors prefer as agreeing better with the connection, viz., three evils to choose from, and each lasting through three divisions of time. But, as Keil remarks: “This agreement favours the seven rather than the three, which is open to the suspicion of being intentionally made to conform to the rest.” Some suggest that in the Chronicles three successive years to come were offered; and that the seven here include the three former vears of famine, which, with the year then in course, would make seven.
2 Samuel 24:14. “The hand of men.” “It is not easy to see how this applies to famine; probably inasmuch as it tends more or less to create dependence upon those who are still in possession of the means of life.” (Keil.) “War and famine would not have hurt David’s own person. With noble disinterestedness he chose pestilence, in which he himself would be exposed to death no less than his subjects.” (Theoderet.)
2 Samuel 24:15. “The time appointed.” A doubtful rendering, and some translate “to the time of the evening sacrifice,” objecting that the pestilence did not last three days. But the phrase “time appointed” may even then be taken to refer to the appointed hour of evening sacrifice, or it may be as Erdmann suggests that “the narrator combining and, in the Hebrew fashion, anticipating what follows, means by this expression to say that God in His mercy permitted the pestilence to go on only to a determined point of time within the three days.” “Seventy thousand.” If the pestilence only lasted part of a day its violence was greater than any on record. It is recorded by Diodorus that in the siege of Syracuse 100,000 soldiers in the Carthaginian army died within a short time.
2 Samuel 24:16. “The angel.” 2 Samuel 24:17 affirms that David saw the angel. This then is no poetic figure, but a statement of a supernatural event, which removes the pestilence from the region of ordinary visitations of a similar nature. “Jerusalem.” “The pestilence seems to have broken out at opposite extremities of the country, and to have advanced with gigantic strides until it was ready to concentrate its violence upon Jerusalem.” (Jamieson.) “Lord repented.” (See on 1 Samuel 15:10.) “Threshing-place.” These places were in the open air, and usually outside the town or city, and on an eminence, if possible, in order to catch the wind, which was utilised to winnow the corn. “Araunah the Jebusite.” Called Oornan in the Chronicles, one of the old inhabitants of the land, who, having apparently become a worshipper of Jehovah, retained his possessions in the city.
2 Samuel 24:17. “And David.” According to Chronicles, the elders also clothed in sackcloth were with David at the time. “I have sinned.” “The punishment was sent for the people’s own sin, though David’s sin was the immediate occasion of its execution.” (Von Gerlach.)
2 Samuel 24:23. “As a king.” The readings here differ somewhat. If we take it as translated in the English version, we must understand that Araunah belonged to the royal family of the Jebusites, an important fact which, as Thenius remarks, “would not have been stated in a single word.” Another reading is: “All this gives Araunah, the servant of my lord the king, to the king.” Keil asserts that the noun is a vocative: All this giveth Araunah, O king, to the king.
2 Samuel 24:24. Fifty shekels. In Chronicles the sum is six hundred shekels of gold. No attempts that have been made to reconcile these statements are satisfactory, and it seems better to suppose a corruption of the text in one of the records. “Apparently the statement in Chronicles is the more correct of the two; for if we consider that Abraham paid four hundred shekels of silver for the site of a family burial-place, at a time when the land was very thinly populated, and therefore land must have been much cheaper than it was in David’s time, the sum of fifty shekels of silver (about £6) appears too low a price.” (Keil). “But it should be remembered that the field for which Abraham gave four hundred shekels was of considerable size, comprising the cave at one end, and also timber, perhaps several acres in all, whereas the threshing floor was probably not one hundred feet in diameter. The explanation given by Bochart (which is far the best) may possibly be true, that the fifty shekels here mentioned were gold shekels, each worth twelve silver shekels, so that the fifty gold shekels are equal to the six hundred silver; and that our text should be rendered, David bought the threshing-floor and the oxen for money, viz., fifty shekels, and that the passage in Chronicles should be rendered, gold shekels of the value (or weight) of six hundred shekels.
2 Samuel 24:25. “There.” As we learn from 2 Chronicles 3:1, on Mount Moriah, afterwards the site of Solomon’s temple. (See Critical Notes on 2 Samuel 5:7.)
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE CHAPTER
THE NUMBERING OF THE PEOPLE
I. The motive and spirit of a deed determine its moral character. From the human standpoint the act of David appears quite harmless, even if inexpedient or impolitic. It belongs to quite a different class from his adultery and murder, because those deeds at once shock the moral sense of everyone who has any spark of moral sensitiveness within him, while this arouses no such emotion. Yet God here convicts His servant of a great wrong, and David acknowledges the justice of the sentence. We must, therefore, look behind the outward action to the inward state of mind which prompted it, and find there the iniquity of which David confesses himself guilty. But this is in accordance with all the teachings of Holy Writ from the days of the fall to those of Christ. The deed which first brought death into the world and all our woe was one which in itself was trivial, and under other circumstances would have been innocent. But as an act of disobedience to a plain command it was a great transgression, heavily weighted with terrible, yet justly-merited, retribution. Looking on the bright side of this doctrine, how small a thing it is to give a thirsty fellow creature a cup of cold water, and how often it may be done without having any moral significance. But Our Lord tells us there is a spirit and a motive which make this ordinary and simple act of great moral value and worthy of His notice and reward. So His anointing by Mary of Bethany. The deed itself was not so very remarkable, it was not to human eyes a very great act of devotion, But the acceptance which it met with from Him who read the heart of the doer seals it as one of no ordinary spiritual worth. In this, as in many other points, the religion of the Bible differs from and transcends all other systems. It enters into a man’s soul and takes cognizance of what passes there, and condemns or justifies accordingly.
II. Very godly men are sometimes strangely inconsistent with themselves. Notwithstanding his deep spiritual experience and his ardent spiritual desires and emotions, David, had very strong tendencies to obey the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. It seems almost impossible that the man who penned the 23rd Psalm could have ever been an adulterer and a murderer. It is, perhaps, more surprising at first sight that he who wrote the 51st Psalm could afterwards, in apostolic language, have fallen into such a “snare of the devil” as that in which we here find him. Yet every godly man who searches his own spirit knows how much there is still within him ready to respond to the suggestions of the evil one, and every Christian’s life unites with that of David in testifying to the universality of the experience of Paul—I delight in the law of God after the inward man; but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (Romans 7:22-23).
III. A man’s attitude after sin settles the question of character, and his position in relation to God. A child’s character can be better estimated by the way in which he behaves under his father’s just displeasure than by counting the actual number of his transgressions. So is it with God’s children. The godly flee to God when they have sinned; the ungodly flee from Him (Psalms 33:1-8; 2 John 1:1-8). (On this thought see also on 2 Samuel 14:25-33, page 360. On the remonstrance of Joab see on chap 2 Samuel 19:1-15, page 384. On David’s chastisement see on 2 Samuel 12:14-25, page 346).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
2 Samuel 24:1. The Scripture is most careful that we should feel the reality of Divine intimations, that we should refer them to their true source, and yet that we should understand how possible it is for a man to pervert them and found wrong inferences upon them, if his own mind is not in a thoroughly pure and healthy condition. The thought that it was a blessing to be the head of a growing and thriving people—this was Divine. The thought that it was well for a ruler to be acquainted with the condition and resources of his people—this was Divine.… But the determination, just then, to send forth officers for the sake of ascertaining the armed forces of the land—this was the thought of a self-exalted man.… I do not know anything so instructive to us if we use them as we ought, as these passages in the Bible, which teach us that all good thoughts, counsels, just works, come from the Spirit of God, and at the same time that we are in most imminent peril every moment of turning the Divine suggestions into sin, by allowing our selfish and impure conceits and rash generalizations to mix with them.—Maurice.
2 Samuel 24:12. The chastisement was not sent while he was in a state of insensibility to his sin, but after he awoke to a sense of it. It is not while the child is in a state of proud and hardened impenitence that the rod may be applied with most hope of success, but when conscience has begun to speak out, and soft relentings to appear. Dealing with conscience and appeals to the heart must ordinarily precede the infliction of punishment.—Blaikie.
2 Samuel 24:14. Whatever correction is necessary to God’s creatures, it is their request that He may be the immediate dispenser of it.
1. Because He is the fountain of mercy, and limits the punishment to the necessity.
2. He chastises to reclaim and not to revenge.
3. What comes from the hand of the Lord melts the heart and humbles the soul, as the rod in the hand of man can never do.
We do well believe thee, O David, that thou wert in a wonderful strait; this very liberty is no other than fetters; thou needest not have famine; thou needest not have the sword; thou needest not have pestilence; one of them thou must have; there is misery in all; there is misery in any; thou and thy people can die but once, and once they must die, either by famine, war, or pestilence. O God, how vainly do we hope to pass over our sins with impunity, when all the favour that David and Israel can receive is to choose their bane!—Bishop Hall.
2 Samuel 24:10. “See then, David, thou hast gained thy purpose. What a power is this that is placed at thy disposal! A population of six millions, the inhabitants of the little tribes of Levi and Benjamin not being reckoned. What great things mayest thou now undertake! Who may dare raise his head so loftily as thou mayest, and who is there that may sit on his throne so free from care and so securely as thou dost?” So many in spirit might perhaps say to him. But what happens? Instead of glorying, the king bends his head, descends in silence from his seat, and withdraws into one of his more remote chambers; and now listen!—“I have sinned greatly in that I have done,” he cries out with deep emotion of heart: “and now, I beseech thee, O Lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant, for I have done very foolishly!” Wonderful! That very thing from which David promised to himself kingly joy, now brings him only bitter sorrow, and that which ought to have added to his dignity, suddenly humbles him in deepest debasement. But this does not surprise us. As the sun always breaks through the clouds which encompass it, so the conscience, when once it is awakened and enlightened by the Spirit of God, always comes forth again victoriously out of every eclipse, and frees itself from every entanglement, and asserts anew its authority as a judge. Yea, in believers it constantly increases in tenderness, and becomes more and more like the apple of the eye, to which the smallest more gives annoyance; nor can there be any rest obtained till it is removed. The world cannot comprehend how so many things which it thinks unimportant and small fill the children of God with such deep shame and make them so sad. “What is there so serious,” it is perhaps said to them, “in examining thy treasures, or in seeking the favour of this or that influential man, or taking a lottery-ticket? Where is there a Divine command which thou hast thereby transgressed?” And, indeed, those who thus speak are not conscious where such a Divine precept is. But they know it well who have transgressed it. Their heart has forsaken the Lord and distrusted his power and love.—Krummacher.
What then, was David’s sin? He will needs have Israel and Judah numbered. Surely there is no malignity in numbers; neither is it unfit for a prince to know his own strength. This is not the first time that Israel had gone under a reckoning. The act offends not, but the misaffection; the same thing had been commendably done out of a princely providence, which now, through the curiosity, pride, misconfidence of the doer, proves heinously vicious. Those actions, which are in themselves indifferent, receive either their life or their bane from the intentions of the agent. Moses numbereth the people with thanks, David with displeasure. Those sins which carry the smoothest foreheads and have the most honest appearances, may more provoke the wrath of God than those which bear the most abomination in their faces. How many thousand wickednesses passed through the hands of Israel, which we men would rather have branded out for judgment than this of David’s! The righteous judge of the world censures sins, not by their ill looks, but by their foul hearts.—Bishop Hall.
2 Samuel 24:24. The principle that comes out in these words is one that will sweep the whole circle of worship, and work, and gifts, and personal religious life. I. Worship. For in our buildings, in our service of praise and prayer, preaching and hearing, we are to give our best in effort, in intelligence, in all things, facing and resisting every temptation to the contrary, with the words, “Shall I offer,” etc. II. Work. Not to schemes only that are pleasant, and in times that are convenient, and by proxies that are easily obtainable will the true worker of God devote himself. III. Gifts. Not with careless gifts, almost covertly given, or the smallest coin dealt out niggardly, can he give who says, “Shall I offer?” etc. IV. Personal religion. There is meanness and ingratitude in the spirit that relegates all religious care to the leisure of Sunday, or of the sick-room, or of the infirmities of old age. Why should we not offer to God that which costs us nothing? Three questions may throw light upon it.
1. How far what costs you nothing is any benefit to yourself’? Such may be of some benefit. But only what “costs something” call out,
(1) highest motives and employs
(2) all faculties.
2. How far what costs you nothing has much influence upon the world? Sacrifice is the subtle and tremendous element needed in all great influence. In the home, in the Church, in the state, they only climb true thrones, and wear real crowns, who have the spirit of sacrifice. The Saviour Himself relied upon that—“I, if I be lifted up, will draw,” etc.” So does the Eternal Father of men, for He has made “Christ,” who is incarnate sacrifice, “the power of God.”
3. How far what costs you nothing is acceptable to God? Christ’s praise of the poor widow’s gift, God’s acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ—sufficiently indicate the Divine estimate of self-denial. And since that service which costs us something has the pulses of reality, the glow of love, and the reflection of Christ—it surely is acceptable to God.—U. R. Thomas.
2 Samuel 24:24-25. An altar must be built in the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite; lo, in that very hill, where the angel held the sword of Abraham from killing his son, doth God now hold the sword of the angel from killing his people! Upon this very ground shall the temple after stand: here shall be the holy altar, which shall send up the acceptable oblations of God’s people in succeeding generations.
O God, what was the threshing-floor of a Jebusite to thee above all other soils? what virtue, what merit was in this earth? As in places, so in persons, it is not to be heeded what they are, but what thou wilt; that is worthiest, which thou pleasest to accept.—Bp. Hall.
It is very remarkable that before the outward foundations of the temple were laid, God’s forgiving mercy was by God factually declared to be its spiritual foundation.—Hengstenberg.
2 Samuel 24:1-25. Whom does the Lord smite for his sins? Him who—
1. Lets his heart be smitten by God’s earnestness and goodness, and takes to heart the greatness of his sin in contrast to God’s loving kindness.
2. Recognises his sin, in the light of God’s word, as a transgression of His Holy will, and—
3. Maintains in his sinning and in spite of it the fundamental direction of his heart towards the living God, and has been preserved from falling away into complete unbelief.—Erdmann.
True and hearty repentance is preserved in the life of God’s children.
1. In the penitent confession of their sin and guilt before the judgment seat of God.
2. In fleeing for refuge to the forgiving grace of God.
3. In humbly bowing under the punitive justice of God.
4. In a confidence which even amid Divine judgments does not waver in the delivering mercy of God.—Erdmann.
The gradual succession in the inner life of a penitent sinner under the chastening of God’s love.
1. Reproving conscience.
2. Penitent conscience.
3. Hearty prayer for forgiveness.
4. Humble bowing beneath, the punishment imposed.
5. Unreserved submission to the Divine mercy.—Erdmann.
This history leads us to notice—I. The severity of God in punishing sin. The sin which David committed was exceeding great. It was manifest even to so wicked a man as Joab. His punishment was proportionately severe. What shall we therefore think of sin? Is it so light a matter as men generally imagine? II. The goodness of God in pardoning sin. David evinced true contrition by pleading that the punishment might fall on him the guilty one, and not on his innocent people. Instantly did God command the angel to stay his hand.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 24". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18