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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

2 Samuel 24

Verse 1

2 Samuel 24:1. He moved David against them, to say, Go, number This verse may be rendered thus, And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel; for he moved David, or, David was moved against them, to say, Go, number, &c. active verbs in the third person being frequently to be rendered as impersonals, and not to be referred to the nouns immediately foregoing: and thus the text will be fully reconcileable with that in Chronicles, which says, that Satan moved him to number the people. Gen 16:13-14 is exactly parallel with this; where it is said of Hagar, "She called the name of the Lord, who spake to her, Thou, God, seest me; for she said, Have I here looked after him? therefore he called the well, the well Lahai-roi." Who called it so? Not that God who saw her; and therefore the words must be rendered, as in our version, the well was called. But there is another way of rendering and understanding this passage, viz. For he moved David, or, David was moved against them, not as in our version, to say, but by saying, Go, number; which last will then be, not David's words to his officers, which follow in the next verse, but his who counselled David to this action: and thus David's numbering the people will be neither by the inspiration of God, nor immediately by the instigation of Satan, as that word means the Devil. See the parallel passage, 1 Chronicles 21:1. And yet somebody actually said to him, Go, number the people; and this person seems to have been one of his courtiers, or attendants; one who, to give David a higher notion of his grandeur, and of the number and strength of his forces, put it into his head, and persuaded him to take the account of them; and in Chronicles is therefore called Satan, or an adversary, either designedly or consequentially both to David and his people. And this will exactly agree with what the author of the book of Chronicles says, An adversary stood up against Israel, and provoked, or, as the word is rendered here, moved him against them. The word שׂטן, Satan, properly signifies an adversary, whether to a bad or a good cause. In the former sense it is used Num 22:23 where the angel of the Lord is said to stand in the way לו לשׂטן lesatan lo, as an adversary, a Satan, to Balaam. In a bad sense it is used ch. 2Sa 19:22 where David calls the sons of Zeruiah his Satan or adversary; and thus in the place before us: "An adversary to the peace of David and Israel, stood up and excited him to number the people; ויסת vaiiaset, excited him by his persuasion and advice; actually saying to him, Go, number, &c." Thus "Jezebel, הסתה hesattah, stirred up her husband Ahab to work wickedness;" was continually soliciting and urging him to it. 1 Kings 21:25. See also Job 2:3.Deuteronomy 13:6; Deuteronomy 13:6. Houbigant is of opinion, that this passage is to be supplied from the Chronicles, and accordingly he translates it the same as in that place.

Verse 3

2 Samuel 24:3. Joab said unto the king It is evident, that this action of David was thought a very wrong step, even by Joab himself, who remonstrated against it, as apprehensive of the bad consequences which might attend it: and therefore Joab counted not Levi and Benjamin, 1Ch 21:6 because the king's word was abominable to him. Probably, we do not understand all the circumstances of this affair; but Joab's sense of it, who was no scrupulous man, shews that David's conduct in it was extremely imprudent, and might subject his people to very bad consequences.

Verse 9

2 Samuel 24:9. In Israel eight hundred thousand—of Judah five hundred thousand There are two returns left us of this numbering; the present, and that in 1Ch 21:5 which differ considerably from each other, especially in relation to the men of Israel, who, in the first, are returned but 800,000, but in the last 1,100,000; but, I think, a careful attention to both the texts, and to the nature of the thing, will easily reconcile them. The matter appears to me thus: Joab, who resolved from the beginning not to number the people, but who at the same time wished to shew his own tribe in the best light, and make their number as considerable as he could, numbered every man among them, from twenty years old and upwards, and so returned them to be 500,000. But in Israel he only made a return of such men as were exercised and proved in arms; and therefore the number of persons above twenty years old is less in his return here than in Chronicles. In a word, in the present text the whole of Judah is returned, and only the men of approved valour in Israel. In Chronicles, the whole of Israel is expressly returned; but the particle all is not prefixed to those of Judah; probably, therefore, the men of tried valour in that tribe only are included in that return; and if so, the returns must of necessity be very different. Mr.

Maundrell observes, that "in travelling from Kane-leban to Beer, the country presented nothing to the view, in most places, but naked rocks, mountains, and precipices; at sight of which pilgrims are apt to be much astonished and baulked in their expectations, finding that country in such an inhospitable condition, concerning whose pleasantness and plenty they had before formed in their minds such high ideas, from the description given of it in the word of God; insomuch that it almost startles their faith, when they reflect how it could be possible for a land like this to supply food for so prodigious a number of inhabitants as are here said to have been polled in the twelve tribes at one time; the sum given in by Joab amounting to no less than 1,300,000 fighting men, besides women and children. But it is certain, that any man, who is not a little biassed to infidelity before, may see, as he passes along, arguments enough to support his faith against such scruples. For it is easy for any one to observe, that these rocks and hills must have been anciently covered with earth, and cultivated, and made to contribute to the maintenance of the inhabitants no less than if the country had been all plain; nay, perhaps, much more: forasmuch as such a mountainous and uneven surface affords a larger space of ground for cultivation than this country would amount to, if it were all reduced to a perfect level. For the husbanding of these mountains, their manner was, to gather up the stones, and place them in several lines along the sides of the hills, in form of a wall. By such borders they supported the mould from tumbling or being washed down, and formed many beds of excellent soil, rising gradually one above another, from the bottom to the top of the mountains. Of this form of culture you see evident footsteps wherever you go in all the mountains of Palestine. Thus the very rocks were made fruitful: and, perhaps, there is no spot of ground in this whole land which was not formerly improved, to the production of something or other, ministering to the sustenance of human life. For, than the plain countries nothing can be more fruitful, whether for the production of corn or cattle, and consequently of milk. The hills, though improper for all cattle except goats, yet being disposed into such beds as are afore-described, served very well to bear corn, melons, gourds, cucumbers, and such like garden-stuff, which makes the principal food of these countries for several months in the year. The most rocky parts of all, which could not well be adjusted in that manner for the production of corn, might yet serve for the plantation of vines and olive trees; which delight to extract, the one their fatness, the other their sprightly juice, chiefly out of such dry and flinty places: and the great plain adjoining to the Dead Sea, which, by reason of its saltness, might be thought unserviceable both for cattle, corn, olives, and vines, hath yet its proper usefulness for the nourishment of bees, and for the fabrick of honey; of which Josephus gives us his testimony, De Bell. Jud. l. v. c. 4 and I have reason to believe it, because when I was there, I perceived in many places a smell of honey and wax as strong as if one had been in an apiary. Why, then, might not this country very well maintain the vast number of its inhabitants, being in every part so productive of either milk, corn, wine, oil, or honey, which are the principal food of those eastern nations? The constitution of their bodies, and the nature of their clime, inclining them to a more abstemious diet than we use in England, and other colder regions." Journey from Aleppo, p. 65. See a curious Dissertation of Professor Michaelis on this subject: in which, not to mention his judicious observations upon the abundance which commerce procured to Palestine, in this respect pretty similar to Holland, and upon the causes which concurred to render hot countries more proper than ours to feed and clothe innumerable multitudes of inhabitants, the celebrated author shews, that by virtue of the conquests of David, and even long before, the Israelites had obtained a right of feeding their flocks freely, after the manner of the Nomades, throughout all Arabia, as far as the banks of the Euphrates.

Verse 10

2 Samuel 24:10. David said,—I have sinned The specific nature of his sin may be easily determined and understood, though it has embarrassed many of the commentators; for, among other commands which were given by Moses, was that recorded Exo 30:12-13 to which the reader is referred. David, either not thinking of this command, or thinking himself, as king of Israel, exempt from it, ordered the people to be numbered without exacting the ransom from each of them. This was one of the highest stretches of power, assuming a prerogative which God reserved to himself, and a violation of one of the standing laws of the kingdom. But God, to support the dignity of his own constitution, and to put David in mind, that, though king, he was still to limit the exercise of his power by the precepts of the law, gives him by the prophet the option of three punishments, of which David chose the plague, recollecting probably, at last, that this was the very punishment threatened by God for the violation of this statute concerning the numbering of the people, as well as for the reason he himself alleged; 2 Samuel 24:14. Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord, for his mercies are great. Dr. Delaney observes, that had he chosen either war or famine, his wealth and his power had easily secured himself and family from any imminent danger of either. But in this consisted his heroism [and, may I add, his piety], that he chose that evil which he himself risked in common with his meanest subject.

Verse 11

2 Samuel 24:11. For when David There is an error here in our translation, which gives us to apprehend that David's penitence was the effect of Gad's threat: for, says the text, when David was up, whereas the word which is translated for, should be rendered and; it being not a casual, but a connective particle. Houbigant renders it deinde, afterwards.

Verse 13

2 Samuel 24:13. Seven years of famine In 1Ch 21:12 it is three years, which is the reading of the LXX; a reading, says Houbigant, which I prefer in this place, because the three years answer to the three months and the three days.

Verse 15

2 Samuel 24:15. Even to the time appointed There seems nothing difficult in this passage, as some have supposed: the plain meaning appears to be, that the pestilence, commencing in the morning, continued even to the time appointed; i.e. even to the third day; when God, moved with the repentance of the king and his subjects, commanded the angel, 2 Samuel 24:16 to stay his hand, without continuing to destroy till the evening.

Verse 16

2 Samuel 24:16. The threshing place of Araunah the Jebusite This was on mount Moriah, where the temple of Solomon was afterwards built.

Verse 17

2 Samuel 24:17. But these sheep, what have they done? To those who object to the people's being involved in David's punishment as inconsistent with the divine justice, we reply, that the reader ought to be put in mind, that kings may be punished in their regal capacities, for the errors of their administration, by public calamities; by famine, pestilence, foreign wars, domestic convulsions, or some other like distresses, which affect their people: and if it be right at all for God to animadvert on the conduct of princes, as such, or to shew his displeasure against them for the public errors of their administration, it must be right and fit for him to afflict their people; indeed, this is nothing more than what continually happens in the common course of Providence. And if this be a difficulty, it affects natural religion as well as revealed; and the same considerations which will obviate the difficulty in one case, will solve it also in the other. Besides, in this case the people were themselves very culpable, as they knew, or might have known, that upon being numbered they were to pay the prescribed ransom, which yet they neglected or refused to do; and therefore, as partners in the offence, they justly shared in the penalty inflicted. David, indeed, takes the guilt upon himself, and declares his people innocent of it: These sheep, what have they done? And it is true, that the order to number the people was David's, of which his people were wholly innocent: but they should have remonstrated against it to the king, or voluntarily have paid the capitation tax required of them; and as they did neither, they could not plead innocence as a reason for their exemption from punishment. Even supposing that they were free from all blame in this affair, can we conceive that they were so entirely free from all other transgressions, as that it was injustice in God to visit them with a pestilence? Were not many of them concerned in the rebellion of Absalom? Is it not expressly said in the first verse, that the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel? And can we suppose, that the righteous Lord, whose mercy is over all his works, could be angry with the people if innocent?—If not, God did them no injustice by sending the pestilence; and therefore none by sending it at that time, and as an immediate punishment of David's sin. God, by virtue of his supreme authority over mankind, may resume life whenever he pleases. If there be no sin, the immediate resumption of life will be no punishment; if there be, a resumption of life will not be unjust, though the immediate reason of that resumption may be for the punishment of another; especially as all such instances have a real tendency to promote the public good, and to preserve alive, in the minds both of princes and people, that reverence for the Deity, without which neither public nor private virtue can subsist, nor the prosperity of kingdoms ever be secured and established upon solid and lasting foundations. Chandler. We would just add to what this learned writer has observed, that it is very plain from the first verse, that the men of Israel and Judah were punished, not so much because David numbered the people, as because they had offended the Lord, and called down by their vices this punishment upon them: nor can we, upon a review of what is past, want proofs of their criminality. Can we conceive any thing more shameful and sinful, than the rebellions which we have read of in the preceding chapter; rebellions against a good and pious king, established over them by the immediate choice of God himself. Doubtless, such conduct well merited chastisement from the hand of God; and it may, perhaps, be thought not unworthy of observation, that other nations, after rebellions against their lawful monarchs, have suffered the like punishment with the Israelites in the present case. The latter clause of this verse, let thine hand—be against me, &c. is a noble instance of David's generous concern for the welfare of his people. The language is tender and pathetic; it is the real language and spirit of a genuine, a true shepherd of the people, devoting himself and family as a sacrifice to God for the preservation of his subjects. See Dr. Waterland's Scripture Vindicated, part 2: p. 108 and Dr. Leland's answer to "Christianity as old as the Creation," vol. 2: p. 425.

REFLECTIONS.—During nine months David waited for the gratification of his pride; and now he no sooner receives the return, than conviction of his sin dashes the sweet draught that he was lifting to his lips. So often are the pleasures of sin turned into the poison of asps!

1. His heart smites him: reflecting in the evening on what he had done, the good Spirit opens his eyes to a sense of his guilt, and awakens his conscience to a sensibility of his danger. Instantly his penitent confessions speak his contrite spirit, and he begs earnestly the forgiveness of his great sin and folly. Note; (1.) Though we have played the fool, and sinned exceedingly, yet, if our heart smite us, and we are brought to our tears and our knees, there is yet hope. (2.) A sense of guilt upon the conscience, will put an edge on the importunity of our prayers; and the groan-ings which cannot be uttered, God can hear. (3.) It is the greatest folly, to incur, for a momentary pleasure, never-ending pain.

2. When David arose in the morning, expecting from the bitter night he had past to meet no glad tidings, Gad the seer is sent to him with his sentence: three things are proposed to his choice; famine, pestilence, or war. He shall rue his folly, and the people suffer for their sins. Note; (1.) God often severely chastises, when he does not mean utterly to destroy. (2.) All his judgments are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to abase, by smiting their idol, or laying their honour in the dust.

3. David is in a dreadful strait: yet, since it must be so, he chooses rather to fall into the hands of God than of man; and to stand on a level with the meanest subject, as the mark of the devouring pestilence: knowing the greatness of the mercies of God, he casts himself upon them, hoping that the stroke in his hand would be lightened, or the time of suffering shortened. Note; Those mercies which we must for ever despair of obtaining from men whom we have highly offended, we may hope (though so much more aggravated our guilt) to find with God, for he is God, and not man.

4. Instantly as the choice is made, the sword is drawn; and Israel's land, (so changed is the scene!) instead of peace and joy, resounds with the shrieks of the mourners, and the groans of the dying. Seventy thousand fell before the destroying angel; such dreadful havock can these glorious spirits make when sent to execute God's judgments! The time was short, but the slaughter was prodigious. Then God repented of his fierce anger; he looked upon their desolations, and remembered the ark of his covenant; he therefore bids the angel sheath the sword; it is enough. Note; (1.) God mingles mercy still with judgment, else would the sons of Jacob be utterly consumed. (2.) While we tremble at his visitations, let us fear to provoke them by our sins.

5. David's eyes were now opened, to behold this mighty angel, as he stood with the sword of vengeance yet unsheathed. Then David fell down before the angel, and, directing his prayer to God, confessed his guilt, and opened his bosom to receive the stroke that he had provoked, begging that he might bleed, as the author of the judgment; and that his people, whom as a good shepherd he loved, might escape, though at the expence of his own blood. His prayer is accepted, and himself also spared. Note; (1.) Thus the son of David not only offered, but actually laid down his life for his sheep. (2.) Real penitents cannot bear that others should smart for their sins; and care not what themselves suffer, so they may go free.

Verse 23

2 Samuel 24:23. All these things did Araunah, as a king, give unto the king, &c.— All these things did Araunah give to the king. Houbigant; who observes, that the words as a king are not read in many of the ancient versions.

Verse 24

2 Samuel 24:24. So David bought the threshing-floor, and the oxen, &c.— Much difficulty has been raised upon the articles of this sale, in a case (to me) sufficiently plain. The author here tells us, that David bought the threshing-floor, but does not say for what; and then immediately adds, and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. Now it is but supposing such a stop placed after the word floor, as shews it to be a sentence distinct from what follows, or supposing the following clause to be included in a parenthesis, (a construction which must be supposed in all other writings in a thousand instances,) and the matter is clear of all difficulty. And that one or both of these must be the case is sufficiently evident to me, from 1Ch 21:25 where the price paid for the place is expressly set down to be six hundred shekels of gold, without mentioning any price paid for the oxen. Delaney remarks, that the 91st Psalm seems evidently to have been written by David in commemoration of his deliverance from this public calamity. Note; (1.) But for the blood of Jesus, the destroying angel would utterly consume this guilt world. (2.) The sacrifice of praise is the bounden duty of the pardoned sinner. (3.) They who desire to serve God without expence, have little of David's spirit. (4.) Christ, the living altar, and the acceptable sacrifice, having once offered himself for a propitiation, we may rejoice in the returning favour of a reconciled God, and fear no more either danger or death.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 24". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.