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DAVID’S SIN IN NUMBERING THE PEOPLE AND ITS PUNISHMENT, 2 Samuel 24:1-25.
Three times in the days of Moses (see Exodus 30:12-16; Exodus 38:25-26; Numbers 1:2; Numbers 26:2) was the census of Israel taken by divine commandment; what particular sin was there, then, in David’s numbering of the people? Evidently none in the mere fact of his taking a census, but his sin was in the motives which prompted him to do it. His motives seem to have been well understood among his chief officers, and were condemned even by such a man as Joab; but they have not been recorded, and we are at a loss to conjecture exactly what they were. They probably originated in feelings of vanity and self-exaltation over the supposed numbers and power of his nation, and possibly he was meditating unworthy schemes of foreign conquest. By a deadly pestilence Jehovah smote his pride and vainglory, and brought him into deep humiliation under his mighty hand. But it must not be overlooked that David’s sin was only the immediate occasion of the plague, while the great cause lay back of this in the numerous sins of the nation; and in the opening verse we are told that the Lord’s anger was kindled against Israel even before David was moved to number the people. The king had, doubtless, been a chief sinner among his people; but many offences against God and the national honour, committed during the insurrections of Absalom and Sheba, and before, had gone unnoticed and unpunished, and had thereby kindled the anger of Jehovah. Compare the parallel history in 1 Chronicles 21:0.
1. Again After the penal famine described in 2 Samuel 21:1.
He moved David against them By permitting Satan to insinuate unholy thoughts and purposes into his heart. Compare 1 Chronicles 21:1. In the same sense did the Lord bid Shimei curse David. 2 Samuel 16:10, where see note. David’s own sins were many, and called for punishment; and the Lord, in executing his penal judgments upon him, first delivered him over for a while into the hands of Satan. Compare note on 1 Samuel 26:19.
3. The Lord thy God add unto the people As much as to say, I delight in the numbers of Israel as much as thou, and pray God to add to them even in thy days a hundred fold.
Why… delight in this thing Joab knew the king’s motives and opposed his designs, for he clearly saw that they were of evil omen to the nation.
5. Pitched in Aroer Encamped and fixed their headquarters at this place. Aroer was a little east of the Jordan, and not far from Rabbah, probably at the modern Ayra. See on Joshua 13:25.
River of Gad Probably the wady Nimrin.
Jazer See on Numbers 21:32.
6. Gilead The mountainous district north of Aroer.
Tahtim-hodshi Some section of country east or northeast of the sea of Galilee, but now unknown.
Danjaan The same as Dan, the northern city of Palestine. See note on Genesis 14:14.
Zidon On the seacoast, some thirty miles northwest of Dan.
7. Tyre On the same seacoast, twenty miles south of Zidon. See on Joshua 19:29.
Hivites That dwelt in the north. Judges 3:3.
Canaanites Various tribes that dwelt between Tyre and Beer-sheba.
9. Eight hundred thousand… five hundred thousand 1 Chronicles 21:5, has one million one hundred thousand and four hundred and seventy thousand. Which of the two texts is the correct one it is impossible to decide. “They are only approximate statements in round numbers; and the difference in the 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.” Keil.
10. David’s heart smote him The sinfulness of his pride and self-exaltation became deeply impressed upon his conscience. He saw and confessed that he had acted very foolishly.
11. When David was up From his bed, where probably all night he had watered his couch with his tears. See Psalms 6:6, which was, perhaps, composed on this sad occasion.
Gad Who had been with him in his early wanderings. 1 Samuel 22:5.
Seer See note on 1 Samuel 9:9.
14. Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord Wise and noble choice, and the utterance of a “high prophetic truth which finds a response in the nobler souls of every age. Better any external calamity than those which are embittered by human violence and weakness.” Stanley.
15. A pestilence Some deadly plague scattered through all the land by the destroying angel, so that at the end of three days it might be said of all the homes in Israel, as it was once in Egypt, there was scarcely a house where there was not one dead. David was vainglorious over the multitude of his warriors, but this one stroke almost decimates them.
To the time appointed The end of the third day. This is the only natural sense of the words here, and there is no evidence that the pestilence was removed before the third day.
16. The Lord repented him He saw the penitence and humiliation of David and his people, and in his sympathetic relation to them his divine emotionality changed. See the note on 1 Samuel 15:11.
The angel that destroyed It is clearly a doctrine of Holy Scripture that God uses angels as ministers and messengers of his will. Not only do they minister for the heirs of salvation, (Hebrews 1:14; Matthew 18:10; Acts 12:7-10,) but also, under God, execute the divine judgments upon the wicked. 2 Kings 19:35; Acts 12:23.
It is enough This certainly does not mean, as some assume, that the plague was stayed before the third day, but only that it fell not on Jerusalem.
Threshing-place See on Ruth 3:2.
Araunah Called Ornan in Chronicles. Josephus says of him: “He was a wealthy man among the Jebusites, but was not slain by David in the siege of Jerusalem because of the good will he bore to the Hebrews, and a particular benignity and affection which he had to the king himself.”
17. Saw the angel His vision was so spiritualized, and his inner sense so enlarged, that he was permitted to behold “the angel of the Lord stand between the earth and heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem.” Compare Chronicles 2 Samuel 21:16; Numbers 22:31; Joshua 5:13. The elders who were with him in penitential garb seem to have seen the angel also. Such angelic personages are often around us in their ministrations of judgment or of love, but rarely have they been allowed to manifest themselves to human vision.
I have sinned I, only I, am the guilty cause of all this woe! It is ever a characteristic of the subdued and heartbroken penitent to take all possible blame upon himself. He who in professedly deep contrition throws any blame on others, or seeks to involve others in his guilt, is not so much a penitent as a disappointed schemer.
18. Go up, rear an altar This would be a most fitting memorial of Jehovah’s compassion on him and his people, and also of his own humiliation and penitence. It would also serve the purpose of a new consecration of himself and his people unto God.
20. Araunah looked, and saw the king According to Chronicles he, too, had seen the angel, and in their terror himself and his four sons had hid themselves.
22. Instruments of the oxen The yoke, and, perhaps, other parts of the harness of oxen. These instruments could never be put to nobler use. Compare 1 Samuel 6:14; 1 Kings 19:21.
23. All these things did Araunah, as a king, give unto the king Literally, the whole gave Araunah, the king, to the king. Keil proposes to take the king as a vocative, and regard the sentence as a continuation, from 2 Samuel 24:22, of Araunah’s words All this giveth Araunah, O king, to the king. But this makes the next words, and Araunah said, etc., superfluous.
It is better to suppose that Araunah had formerly been a king or sheik of the Jebusites, and was still occasionally spoken of as such. The supposition is favoured by the statement of Josephus that he was a very wealthy man, and it is no contradiction, as Keil affirms, to the fact that David bought all these things to say also that Araunah gave them, for he plainly did give them, but the king afterwards refused to accept them without price.
24. Neither will I offer Would to God all worshippers acted upon this principle of David! Holy services and privileges that cost a man nothing are worth to him about as much as they cost.
Fifty shekels of silver Chronicles has six hundred shekels of gold. which is probably the more correct reading; for if Abraham gave four hundred shekels of silver for the cave of Machpelah, (Genesis 23:16,) it would seem that the king of Israel should pay much more than fifty shekels for this threshingfloor by the royal city.
25. David built there an altar This he seems to have done without the least delay. The destroying angel still hovered near, and the plague had scarcely yet abated. “It was the meeting of two ages. Araunah, as he yields that spot, is the last of the Canaanites, the last of that stern old race that we discern in any individual form and character. David, as he raises that altar, is the close harbinger of the reign of Solomon, the founder of a new institution which another was to complete.” Stanley.
Offered burnt offerings As a type and symbol of his entire consecration, body and soul, to Jehovah.
Peace offerings Expressive of his realization of peace and friendship with God, and his thankful homage for the divine favour. Chronicles adds that he called on the Lord and was answered by fire from heaven upon his offerings. This spot became the site of the temple. 2 Chronicles 3:1.
The Lord was entreated… and the plague was stayed Thus these records of David’s life close with a picture of Divine mercy vouchsafed in answer to the pious offerings of a contrite heart; and there is left upon the reader’s mind, as he lays down the volume, a precious image of gracious pardon for offences past, and the pledge of a greater salvation to come.
As this book records quite fully the history of David, and even records his last words, but closes without any account of his death and burial, we may with some reason suppose that it was in substance written before the decease of the great king.
No character in Old Testament history is so many-sided, no genius so versatile, as that of David the red-haired shepherd boy, the youthful hero, the passionate lover and romantic friend, the chivalrous chieftain, the mighty warrior, the greatest of kings, the wise statesman, the sacred poet, the tender father. In him were wonderfully combined all the qualities needful to make him perfect master in every thing to which he put his hand. In him we recognise, says Ewald, “the glorious originality of a creative spiritual power, such as rarely shows itself in any people.”
We already discover the elements of a conquering warrior in the young shepherd who slays the lion and the bear. The conqueror of Goliath could be no ordinary hero. The feats of valour and the constant victories that attend him while in Saul’s service disclose at every step the growing conqueror. Whilst an outlaw and captain of his brave six hundred, he out-generals the armies of Israel under Saul; and after he attains the throne, and with all the forces of the nation at his command, he rapidly completes the conquest of the nations spared by the sword of Joshua.
His lofty genius and creative originality early identified him with the glorious songs of Israel, (note, chap. xxiii, 1,) and his immortal psalms will ever linger in the heart of the Church universal. “He is the first great poet of Israel,” says Stanley. “Although before his time there had been occasional bursts of Hebrew poetry, yet David is the first who gave it its fixed place in the Israelitish worship. There is no room for it in the Mosaic ritual. Its absence there may be counted as a proof of the antiquity of that ritual in all its substantial features. For so mighty an innovation no less than a David was needed. That strange musical world of the East with its gongs and horns, and pipes and harps with its wild dances and wilder contortions with its songs of question and answer, of strophe and antistrophe, awakening or soothing, to a degree inconceivable in our tamer West, the emotions of the hearer, were seized by the shepherd minstrel when he mounted the throne, and were formed as his own peculiar province into a great ecclesiastical institution. His harp or, as it was called by the Greek translators, his psaltery, or psalter, or guitar was to him what the wonder-working staff was to Moses, the spear to Joshua, or the sword to Gideon. It was with him in his early youth. It was at hand in the most moving escapes of his middle life. In his last words he seemed to be himself the instrument over which the Divine breath passed. Singing men and singing women were recognised accompaniments of his court. He was an inventor of musical instruments. Amos 6:5. ‘With his whole heart he sung songs, and loved Him that made him.’” David, more than Saul, was the real founder of the Israelitish monarchy.
His wise statesmanship led him, as soon as he attained the throne, to secure a strong national capital, and bring the ark there, and thus take effective measures to centralize the whole national power. In thus securing the unity of all Israel for the first time since the days of Joshua he truly fulfilled the dying prophecy of Jacob, (Genesis 49:8,) and also in its deeper sense obeyed, though late, the divine command to Judah to lead the tribes to the complete conquest of the Land of Promise. Compare note on Judges 1:2. He thus became Joshua’s true successor, and accomplished that which all judges and rulers in Israel had so far failed to do a failure which had been to the nation the source of countless woes.
David, enthroned on Zion, the great conqueror-king, the man after God’s own heart, the light of Israel, the star of former prophecies, has ever been regarded as a type of the Messiah. The germ of the Messianic prophecies from David onward is found in Jehovah’s revelation to the king by Nathan, (2 Samuel 7:12:) “I will set up thy seed after thee, and I will establish his kingdom; he shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” Hence the conviction started and ever after deepened in Israel, that David’s dynasty should never end. In the darkest hour of Jewish misfortune and exile the Messianic hope rose high; and when at last the earthly throne had perished, and Israel was about to be scattered, and Jerusalem trodden down of the Gentiles for long ages, there was born in the city of David and of the seed of David, One who fulfilled the law and the prophecies, and set up a spiritual kingdom, and manifested himself to all the world as “the Root and Offspring of David, the bright and morning Star.”
David is thus ever to be associated with the Messiah, and such expressions as “The seed of David,” “The house of David,” “The sure mercies of David,” point to his indissoluble connexion with the great Prince and Saviour who was born at Bethlehem of Judah, but “whose goings forth were from of old, from everlasting.” Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:5.
But David, with all his greatness and glory, was not without sins. Dissimulation, falsehood, polygamy, adultery, and even murder, as in the case of Uriah, may be charged upon him. Is this, asks the sneering unbeliever, is this the style of the man after God’s own heart? But in depicting these sins of David’s life the stern veracity of the sacred historian moves measureless lengths above where the scorner revels in his own folly, and, thus revelling, fails to appreciate the profound spiritual struggles in which his sins involved the hapless king. Beautifully says Irving, “The hearts of a hundred men strove and struggled together within the narrow continent of his single heart; and will the scornful men have no sympathy for one so conditioned, but scorn him because he ruled not with constant quietness the unruly host of divers natures which dwelt within his single soul? With the defence of his backslidings, which he hath more keenly scrutinized, more clearly discerned against, and more bitterly lamented, than any of his censors, we do not charge ourselves, because they were, in a manner, necessary, that he might be the full-orbed man which was needed to utter every form of spiritual feeling.” Not his sins, but his profound struggle and aim never to be untrue to Jehovah, made him the man after God’s heart. His sins were sudden and erratic, occasioned by trying circumstances or peculiar temptations. His zeal and loyalty to Jehovah were steadiest and persistent; and such was his strength of character, and the profound humility with which he struggled to recover from his fall, that his greatest sins were speedily overlooked by the masses of his people, and he was reverenced by all.
He never forgot his humble origin, but called himself in his last song the son of Jesse and the man who had been exalted on high. 2 Samuel 23:1. And, altogether, by his early deeds of valour; by his wars and his consummate statesmanship; by his truly royal reign, and his imperishable psalms, he has obtained a hold upon the heart and memory of the Church and the World that must remain fixed forever.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 24". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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