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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Samuel 24

 

 

Introduction

SECTION 10. A Final Summary (21:1-24:25).

This final summary of the Book of Samuel presents a fitting conclusion to the whole book and what it has been all about. Central to the summary, and at its core, is a vivid portrayal of the invisible power of the living God at work, presented in poetic form, which is assumed to have been active during all the incidents described in the book (2 Samuel 22:7-20). Together with this there is a description of His great faithfulness shown towards David in establishing the everlasting kingly rule of his house (2 Samuel 22:1 to 2 Samuel 23:6). Then, on either side of this glorious depiction of YHWH’s heavenly power at work, standing like earthly sentinels appointed to fulfil God’s purposes (the earthly equivalent of the Cherubim) are David’s mighty men, the men who were empowered by YHWH to watch over the purposes of God in David. They were the human instruments by which God’s purposes for David had been brought through to the end, the instruments who had always been there to aid him whenever the going got tough.

Acting as an outer layer to the sandwich are depictions of the failure of both the kings about whom the narratives have been speaking, depictions which bring out the reason for the failure and destiny of each, and which demonstrate what the consequences of such failures were. Saul is seen to have regularly failed because he never took sacred things seriously enough, imagining that he could shape them to suit his purpose or ignore them for his own convenience, and because he knew little of repentance, the consequence was the almost complete destruction of his house. David, in contrast, regularly failed after he had become king because of arrogance and apathy, but in he deepest heart he was concerned to please God, and he always deeply repented when he became aware of his sin. The end result was that he was always delivered from the final consequences of his sins, firstly because of the mercy and purposes of God, secondly as a result of temporary chastisement, and thirdly in consequence of the offering of a substitutionary and atoning offering. In the case cited here it resulted in the plague being stayed, and the consequence of their sin being removed from God’s people

The section also presents us with a brief overall summary of different aspects of David’s reign from its commencement, and it is no accident that the initial incident takes us back to the time of Saul. It thus begins with a description which summarises the sad legacy left by Saul, a legacy for which punishment had to come on Israel, in this case in the form of famine, together with a portrayal of the awful cost to Saul’s family of rectifying that error, something which almost leads to the destruction of his house (2 Samuel 21:1-14; compare 1 Samuel 9:1 to 2 Samuel 1:27). It continues on with a description of how once David was in power David’s mighty men had humiliated the pride of the Philistines (2 Samuel 21:15-22; compare 2 Samuel 5:17-25; 2 Samuel 8:1), and then describes in song YHWH’s continuing faithfulness towards David and towards Israel, which includes a celebration of the fact of His great promises to David (2 Samuel 22:1-51; compare 2 Samuel 7:1-29), calling to mind in the last words of David YHWH’s everlasting covenant with him (2 Samuel 23:1-7; compare 2 Samuel 7:8-17). This is then followed by a listing in detail of the particulars of David’s mighty men, who were from then on continually the backbone of his kingdom (2 Samuel 23:8-19; compare 2 Samuel 2:3 and often), guaranteeing his successes and dealing with any contingencies that arose, and it ends on a sombre note with a reminder that David by his sinfulness could similarly bring judgment on an Israel who had also sinned, here in the form of pestilence, although in his case YHWH would demonstrate His mercy by chastening but stopping short of total judgment. That was the difference between David’s rule and Saul’s. And the result in this case was David’s offering of thanksgiving for YHWH’s mercy, made at YHWH’s command, as a result of the cessation of the plague (2 Samuel 24:1-25; compare 2 Samuel 11:1 to 2 Samuel 20:26).

As will be observed all this follows the usual chiastic form:

Analysis of 21:1-24:25.

a YHWH judges Israel with famine because of the sin of Saul, a judgment which is only removed at the cost of the blood of the house of Saul (2 Samuel 21:1-14).

b David’s mighty men humiliate the pride of the Philistines (2 Samuel 21:15-22).

c The song of David (2 Samuel 22:1-15).

c The last words of David (2 Samuel 23:1-7)

b The list of David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23:8-19).

a YHWH judges Israel with pestilence because of the sin of David, a judgment which is only removed in his case by the cost of the blood of a substitute (2 Samuel 24:1-25).


Verses 1-10

David’s Sinful Purpose To Number Israel And The Carrying Out Of That Purpose (2 Samuel 24:1-10).

As suggested above David’s sin lay in the fact that he was acting in disregard of the fact that he was YHWH’r regent or Nagid, and not Israel’s sole king. His act was thus seen as an act of rebellion, fostered by his own arrogance and pride. It indicated that he was forgetting his status, which was why it had to be severely dealt with.

It is significant that the book which commences with the unusual birth of the one who would introduce kingship to Israel (1 Samuel 1), and a prophecy of the Coming Anointed King (1 Samuel 2:10), finally ends with an indication of the failure of that king to obey YHWH and the need therefore for chastisement and atonement. It was an indication that the final promised righteous king had not yet come.

Analysis.

a And again the anger of YHWH was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah” (2 Samuel 24:1).

b And the king said to Joab the captain of the host, who was with him, “Go now to and fro through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, and number you the people, that I may know the sum of the people” (2 Samuel 24:2).

c And Joab said to the king, “Now YHWH your God add to the people, however many they may be, a hundredfold, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” (2 Samuel 24:3).

d Notwithstanding, the king’s word prevailed against Joab, and against the captains of the host (2 Samuel 24:4 a).

c And Joab and the captains of the host went out from the presence of the king, to number the people of Israel. And they passed over the Jordan, and encamped in Aroer, on the right side of the city that is in the middle of the valley of Gad, and to Jazer, then they came to Gilead, and to the land of Tahtim-chodshi; and they came to Dan-jaan, and round about to Sidon, and came to the stronghold of Tyre, and to all the cities of the Hivites, and of the Canaanites, and they went out to the south of Judah, at Beer-sheba (2 Samuel 24:4-7).

b So when they had gone to and from through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days . And Joab gave up the sum of the numbering of the people to the king, and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand (or ‘units of’) valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand (or ‘units of’) men (2 Samuel 24:8-9).

a And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said to YHWH, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done, but now, O YHWH, put away, I beg you, the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly” (2 Samuel 24:10).

Note that in ‘a’ David is moved to number Israel, and in the parallel he confesses his sin of having done so. In ‘b’ the numbering is to go on so that David can know the sum of the people, and in the parallel he learns the sum of the people. In ‘c’ speaks of the numberlessness of God’s people, and in the parallel the vastness of the area that they covered in outlined. Centrally in ‘d’ the king’s word prevailed against all advice.

2 Samuel 24:1

And again the anger of YHWH was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” ’

Many have questioned why the people should have had to suffer for David’s sin, but that question is clearly answered here. David’s action and its punishment was not just the result of his own sinfulness, it was as a consequence of the sin of the whole people. ‘The anger of YHWH was kindled against Israel.’ It was Israel as a whole who had sinned. The nature of Israel’s sin is not described, but it can probably be summed up in two words, widespread disobedience to the covenant Law and growing idolatry (compare Judges 2:11-15; Judges 2:17; Judges 2:19; Judges 3:7-8), something that had been brought out by the two rebellions as the people had rebelled against ‘the Anointed of YHWH’. Thus David’s numbering of Israel, and its consequences, were actually originally brought about as a result of the people’s sinfulness and disobedience. Israel would suffer for their own sins.

The writer puts it in terms of YHWH ‘moving David to number Israel’. But this was the viewpoint of someone who saw everything that happened as being the direct result of YHWH’s will. In fact the Chronicler tells us that David was moved to number Israel by an adversary (satanas), or even by Satan, the greatest of man’s adversaries (1 Chronicles 21:1). Joab meanwhile lays the blame squarely on David himself. All three aspects were in fact involved. History results from sinful man’s random actions, is regularly prompted by Satan, but underneath is finally controlled by an omnipotent God. So when David was prompted by Satan, and took his own rational and sinful decision, behind it all could be seen YHWH’s purpose of punishing Israel for its sinfulness. The phrase ‘Dan to Beersheba’ which is regularly used as describing all Israel, indicates (roughly) the northernmost and southernmost cities in Israel, and occurs previously in Judges 20:1; 1 Samuel 3:20; 2 Samuel 3:10; 2 Samuel 17:11.

2 Samuel 24:2

And the king said to Joab the captain of the host, who was with him, “Go now to and fro through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, and number you the people, that I may know the sum of the people.” ’

The result was that the king called in Joab, the commander of the host of Israel, and ordered him to number the whole people (i.e. the adult males over twenty) in all the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba so that he, David, could know the total sum of the people. The assumption that he was making was that they were his people and that he was therefore summing up his possessions. But this, of course, went totally contrary to the teaching of the Law that they were YHWH’s covenant people, and that it was He alone Who determined, or should be interested in, their number.

The point is that it was not the numbering itself that was sinful. Moses had twice numbered the people, the first time with a view to organising the march through the wilderness and the subsequent invasion (which was then aborted for thirty eight years), and the second time with a view to the second invasion and the apportioning of the land (Numbers 26:53-54). But both were at YHWH’s command and for practical purposes. Here David’s only aim was with a view to self-gloating aver what he was seeing as ‘his people’, and so that he could have a ‘global total’.

2 Samuel 24:3

And Joab said to the king, “Now YHWH your God add to the people, however many they may be, a hundredfold, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” ’

The fact that Joab was appalled at the suggestion indicates that he clearly saw that the number of the people of Israel was neither his nor David’s concern. It was YHWH Who determined the number of people in Israel. He it was who could add to them a hundredfold as He had promised, something in which David could delight, but it was not for David to regulate the number of people. That was YHWH’s prerogative for the people were His ‘portion’ (consider Deuteronomy 32:8-9). The fact that they could not be numbered was an indication that they were God’s people (Numbers 23:10). Why then was David concerning himself to do so? He was taking such matters out of God’s hands. Was he then seeking to take over YHWH’s portion and inheritance?

(For David to number the people would be like the church counting up its converts so that it could rule them and pride itself in its achievements. It was a sad day when it began to do so. It was an indication that the church saw themselves as ‘possessing’ those souls and as having authority over them, and a sign that they were failing to recognise that they themselves were only the servants of God in winning men to Christ and building them up, and not the masters of the church. Such numbers have to left to God, for it is He Who alone can determine their number).

2 Samuel 24:4

Notwithstanding, the king’s word prevailed against Joab, and against the captains of the host. And Joab and the captains of the host went out from the presence of the king, to number the people of Israel.’

Despite Joab’s protest, seemingly also backed up by David’s principle military officers, the count was to go on, for the king ordered it and his word necessarily prevailed. Joab and David’s principle officers therefore went out from his presence to number the men of Israel.

2 Samuel 24:5-7

And they passed over the Jordan, and encamped in Aroer, on the right side of the city that is in the middle of the valley of Gad, and to Jazer, then they came to Gilead, and to the land of Tahtim-chodshi, and they came to Dan-jaan, and round about to Sidon, and came to the stronghold of Tyre, and to all the cities of the Hivites, and of the Canaanites, and they went out to the south of Judah, at Beer-sheba.’

It would appear that what happened as they reached each area was that they encamped and then summoned to them all the adult males of Israel in order to carry out the count. It would be a huge task. They commenced in Transjordan, at Aroer, encamping in the valley of Gad (which was to the south), then moving to Jazer, which had been a city of Sihon, the Amorite king captured by Moses (Numbers 21:32), which was more central, after which they came to Gilead in the north, to the land of Tahtim-chodshi. The census in Transjordan having been completed they then moved over to Dan-jaan, west of the Jordan, a site which is unidentified, although distinguished from Dan to the far north. If all the census points are mentioned (but this is unlikely. The writer probably mentions the Canaanite cities specifically in order to bring out why YHWH was angry at Israel) then from Dan-jaan the call went out to most of Israel west of the Jordan. They then followed this up by going up to an area around Sidon on the west coast, which, while Canaanite (Phoenician), was seemingly fairly heavily populated with Israelites, after which they moved down to the stronghold of Tyre. They then covered all the cities of the Hivites and of the Canaanites which had not been conquered or divested of their inhabitants by the Israelites, and in which seemingly many Israelites dwelt (it was this contact with Canaanites and their ways which may help to explain YHWH’s anger against Israel). This would cover large parts of northern Israel, including Asher, Naphtali, Zebulun and Issachar. They then moved south to the Negev of Judah and to Beersheba, which was in the Negev, finally completing the task there.

2 Samuel 24:8

So when they had gone to and fro through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.’

Having covered the whole land, moving too and fro, they returned to Jerusalem. Their journeying had taken nine moon periods and twenty days. It had been a long and arduous process.

2 Samuel 24:9

And Joab gave up the sum of the numbering of the people to the king, and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand (or ‘units of’) valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand (or ‘units of’) men.’

And at the end of it all Joab was able to give the totals that they had arrived at to the king. Note that it is not said that they were accurate or true, only that that was the figure that Joab had arrived at. They would, in fact, inevitably not have been strictly accurate (even if Joab had not fiddled the figures - 1 Chronicles 21:6; 1 Chronicles 27:24), for many who should have been included may well not have been available in their areas at the time that their censuses were taken, but they probably did present a fairly accurate and comprehensive picture, even if only roughly. The total came to eight hundred eleph (military units/families/tent groups) for Israel, and five hundred eleph (military units/families/tent groups) for Judah. The word translated ‘thousand’ (eleph) has varying meanings, e.g. ‘a thousand, a military unit, a family unit, a clan’.

The Chronicler in fact has differing figures, giving one thousand one hundred military units/familes/tent groups for Israel and four hundred and seventy military units/families/tent groups for Judah. But we have to take into account the probability that the statistics gathered produced a number of totals, e.g. those of ‘true’ Israelites, and then those of Canaanites and Israelites combined, and so on. Furthermore the Chronicler tells us specifically that because Joab was unhappy at the situation he was fiddling the figures, leaving out Levi and Benjamin (1 Chronicles 21:6). So Joab was not intent on providing accurate figures.

The ‘one thousand one hundred eleph in Israel’ in Chronicles may therefore have been a figure which included Canaanites, for we must see it as very probable that a number of different sets of figures would be presented to David which conveyed different statistics. The eight hundred in Samuel would then refer to true Israelites. Furthermore in his usual way Joab deliberately sabotaged what he disagreed with, so that we are specifically told in 1 Chronicles 21:6; 1 Chronicles 27:24 that in fact not everyone was counted, that the counting was thus incomplete, and that no actual numbers were put in the official records, so that the whole result was clearly inaccurate anyway. It did not point to reliable figures having been obtained. The four hundred and seventy military units of Judah (where there would have been few Canaanites) may have been a more specific figure, of which the five hundred was simply a round number, or the four hundred and seventy units may have omitted the Benjaminites, with the five hundred units including an estimate of them (at least one of the captains would have a good idea of Benjamin’s military strength as he would have commanded them).

We do, also have to bear in mind the huge problems of taking an accurate census and take into account the fact that a number of the captains may have kept their own count as a kind of counter-check on each other, coming up with differing figures, with two or even more sets of numbers being presented to the king. (The writer in Samuel was not interested in the details of the census results). Thus David may have received two or more versions of what had been assessed which according to the Chronicler included a certain amount of guesswork due to the incomplete nature of the census.

If David found himself being drowned in differing figures which presented him with different pictures, it may well explain why his conscience was then stirred by the recognition that God’s people were indeed numberless, and that he had just been foolish.

2 Samuel 24:10

And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said to YHWH, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done, but now, O YHWH, put away, I beg you, the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”

For once David received the numbers he realised what a fool he had been. He was faced up with the fact that these were not his men but YHWH’s, and that they were as numberless as the stars in Heaven (1 Chronicles 27:23). His conscience being thus smitten, he cried to YHWH and sought His forgiveness, declaring that he had sinned greatly through his arrogant attitude, and asking Him to put away his iniquity. And no doubt YHWH would have done so more easily had He not also had a controversy with the people as a whole (verse 1).


Verses 1-25

David Sins By Numbering Israel Resulting In Pestilence From YHWH And A Final Act Of Atonement (2 Samuel 24:1-25).

The act of numbering the men of Israel would appear to have been seen as an act of rebellion against YHWH. According to 1 Chronicles 27:23-24 YHWH had promised that the number of the children of Israel would be as the stars of the heavens. They were thus not to be numbered arbitrarily (it was permitted in a general way for organisational purposes when mustering to battle but not otherwise - 2 Samuel 18:1) nor have any limit put on them. For in the end they were YHWH’s people, not David’s. To number them was thus an act of human arrogance and self-exaltation. It was to see them as David’s own people and at his disposal, rather than as YHWH’s people to be preserved by Him as He willed. David is seen as once more having got above himself. It was a similar act of arrogance to that of Moses smiting the rock in Numbers 20:10-12, something which also had painful consequences.

Both Joab (2 Samuel 24:3) and David (2 Samuel 24:10) in the end recognised what a sinful act David’s was. It was thus not an unconscious or unrecognised sin. The situation was that David had slipped into being simply ‘a king like all the nations’ instead of the unique Nagid (prince, war-leader) of YHWH. He had thus thrust YHWH into the background in his thinking, and that was why he had to be jolted out of it. The sad thing was that the people had to suffer for it because it was necessary to nullify the census by diminishing their numbers, but it should be noted that it is made quite clear that they suffered for their own sins and not for David’s (verse 1). They were thus not just being punished for what he did. For David it would mean a diminishing of the people over whom he ruled.

Other alternative suggestions have been made as to why the numbering was sinful, although they are nowhere specifically supported by the text. The following are examples:

· David was numbering his people in order to commence a period of external aggression which YHWH disapproved of.

· David was numbering Israel for military purposes because of the threats of an aggressor (satanas - 1 Chronicles 21:1). This would, however, have been allowable.

· David’s aim was to levy widespread taxation on God’s people over and above the tithe (compare 1 Kings 9:15).

· David’s aim was in order to prepare for dividing the people up for the purposes of compulsory levies for building programmes (compare 1 Kings 5:13; 1 Kings 9:21).

· David had neglected the paying of the atonement money (Exodus 30:12).

All these suggestion fail, however, on the basis that had they been correct the reason would surely have been mentioned by the writer.

The passage divides into three sections;

· The description of David’s sinful purpose to number Israel and the carrying out of that purpose (2 Samuel 24:1-10).

· YHWH’s choice of punishment is offered to David by Gad and is carried out (2 Samuel 24:11-15).

· YHWH’s chastisement is limited by His mercy as He shows compassion on Jerusalem. This is followed by David’s offering of atonement offerings (2 Samuel 24:16-25) (2 Samuel 24:16-25).


Verses 11-15

YHWH Offers David Three Alternative Chastisements: Famine, War Or Punishment (2 Samuel 24:11-15).

In response to David’s prayer YHWH offers him a choice from three alternative chastisements, seven years of famine, three months of defeat by an enemy or three days of pestilence. David rejects the central one because he would rather that Israel were in God’s hands rather than man’s, but seemingly leaves YHWH to choose between the other two, and the result was that YHWH sent a three day pestilence from which seventy clans/families died.

Analysis.

a And when David rose up in the morning, the word of YHWH came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, “Go and speak to David, ‘Thus says YHWH, I offer you three things, choose for yourself one of them, that I may do it to you’.” (2 Samuel 24:11-12).

b So Gad came to David, and told him, and said to him, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your enemies while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land?” (2 Samuel 24:13 a).

c “Now obtain yourself advice and consider what answer I shall return to him who sent me” (2 Samuel 24:13 b).

b And David said to Gad, “I am in a great strait. Let us fall now into the hand of YHWH, for his mercies are great, and let me not fall into the hand of man” (2 Samuel 24:14).

a So YHWH sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning even to the time of assembly, and there died of the people from Dan even to Beer-sheba seventy thousand (or ‘family units of’) men (2 Samuel 24:15).

Note that in ‘a’ YHWH offers a choice of three alternative chastisements, and in the parallel a three day pestilence came on Israel from which seventy thousand/family units died. In ‘b’ the details of the offer are made and in the parallel David declares that his preferred choice is to fall into the hand of God rather than into the hand of men. Centrally in ‘c’ he is called on to provide the answer that Gad is to give to YHWH Who sent him.

2 Samuel 24:11

And when David rose up in the morning, the word of YHWH came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying,’

David having made his confession to YHWH, the next morning, when David woke up, YHWH was giving His prophetic word to Gad. It would be a severe one.

2 Samuel 24:12

Go and speak to David, ‘Thus says YHWH, I offer you three things, choose for yourself one of them, that I may do it to you’.”

YHWH told Gad that David was to have a choice of three alternatives of which he would have to choose one, which would then fall on him. Notice that YHWH speaks as though it is David himself will suffer (‘that I may do it to YOU’), for he will truly suffer when his people suffer. But as we already know the chastisement is not just because of his sin, but for the sins of the whole of Israel (2 Samuel 24:1). What the choices involve we learn in the next verse.

2 Samuel 24:13

So Gad came to David, and told him, and said to him, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your enemies while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now obtain yourself advice and consider what answer I shall return to him who sent me.”

So Gad came to David and offered him the three choices. He could choose between his people suffering seven years of famine, three months of continual defeat from an enemy, or three days of pestilence. The threefoldness of the offer emphasises the completeness of the chastisement. The numbers seven and three both indicate completeness, with seven adding an extra emphasis on the divine aspect of that completeness (the Chronicler actually changes the seven to three in order to make three threes (1 Chronicles 21:12), but he would not have seen himself as in any way altering the sense of the passage for such numbers were used adjectivally in order to indicate, in this case, completeness, not in order to be taken literally. Compare the use of seven and three in Genesis for ‘a longer’ and ‘a shorter’ journey. Numbers in ancient days were used much more freely in order to express ideas, rather than being used mathematically as we would use them). The first choice would take time to settle in and become noticeable, but once the stores of food were low it would begin to bite and would result in prolonged suffering and many dying, and leave the people in the hands of unscrupulous corn merchants. It would be far worse than the three years famine of 2 Samuel 21:1. The second would involve three months of war with all the problems that went along with it such as the destruction of crops as well as the death, rape and misery of a good number of Israelites. The third would be sharp but short and would be very much more in the hands of YHWH. David was therefore to take advice from his counsellors and then give to Gad the answer that he could convey to the One Who had sent him. (It must again be stressed that this chastisement was not just the result of David’s sin, but of the sins of the whole of Israel).

2 Samuel 24:14

And David said to Gad, “I am in a great strait. Let us fall now into the hand of YHWH, for his mercies are great, and let me not fall into the hand of man.”

David naturally found the choice a great burden. None of the alternatives were palatable, and they all tore him apart. But in the end he chose rather to fall into the hand of a YHWH Whose mercies were great, than into the hand of men who would show no mercy. In this he was emphasising his trust in the grace and mercy of God. Famine would leave the people in the hands of the corn chandlers, with himself mainly untouched. War would leave people at the mercy or otherwise of their enemies. Pestilence, however, put all on an equality and could strike from the highest to the lowest

2 Samuel 24:15

So YHWH sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning even to the time of assembly (or ‘an appointed time’), and there died of the people from Dan even to Beer-sheba seventy thousand men.’

YHWH responded by sending what was to be a three day pestilence on Israel through the Angel of YHWH (2 Samuel 24:16). It was, through the mercy of God, cut short. It commenced in the morning and went on ‘to the time of assembly’ or ‘to an appointed time’. And the result of the pestilence was that there were a great many deaths in seventy clans/wider families of Israel, with clans from one end of the country to the other being affected. Israel was being given a short, sharp warning of what would happen if they continued to ignore God’s requirements for their lives.

“To the time of assembly” or ‘to an appointed time’ raises problems for us (although probably not to the first readers) as to what exactly is meant. With the article the word for assembly could have referred to a set time (‘the appointed time’), but here there is no article which takes away the definiteness of the statement and leaves it more open. It may therefore be deliberately vague and mean ‘an appointed time’ i.e. whichever time that YHWH would appoint and choose. Or it may mean that it would continue until the assembly of Israel had been called together in order to weigh up and deal with the emergency, which would take two or three days, at which point they could appeal to YHWH (the problem with that is that it did not happen as far as we know). Or it may have in mind David’s assembling of his courtiers at the threshing-floor of Araunah. Or it may refer to a feast that was about to take place (compare the usage in Hosea 9:5; Hosea 12:9), or possibly even to the time for assembling at evening prayers on the third day.


Verses 16-25

YHWH’s Chastisement Is Limited As A Result Of His Mercy As He Shows Compassion On Jerusalem. This Is Followed By David’s Offering Of Atonement Offerings (2 Samuel 24:16-25).

The Book of Samuel now comes to an end with a description of YHWH’s mercy shown to Israel, and David’s resultant offering of atonement offerings and sacrifices on behalf of Israel. The chastisement of Israel described here will be the pattern of the next few hundred years as they lurch continually from one crisis to another, but the promise here is that always there will be available to them the possibility of YHWH’s compassion and mercy if they seek Him in repentance as David did, and offer atonement. It was in the end their failure to do this that finally led to the destruction, first of Samaria, and then of Jerusalem, and then to all that followed, until a King came Who would offer Himself as an atonement for His people.

The passage is also a fitting reminder that whatever the promises made to David they could not finally be fulfilled in him because he was too sinful. The hope of Israel therefore lay in the mercy of God, and the rise of a better king than David. To begin with Solomon must have looked as though he might be the fulfilment of their hopes, but as the original promise had already indicated he too would sin and require chastisement (2 Samuel 7:14-15). Thus the fulfilment of the promise of the everlasting kingdom still lay some way ahead. But what had been laid was the foundation through David which had brought him to this place, and the expectation of hope for the future, with the promise given here that when Israel did sin there would always be the possibility of atonement from a merciful YHWH.

Analysis.

a And when the angel stretched out his hand towards Jerusalem to destroy it, YHWH repented him of the evil, and said to the angel who destroyed the people, “It is enough, now stay your hand.” And the Angel of YHWH was by the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite (2 Samuel 24:16).

b And David spoke to YHWH when he saw the angel who smote the people, and said, “Lo, I have sinned, and I have done perversely, but these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray you, be against me, and against my father’s house” (2 Samuel 24:17).

c And Gad came that day to David, and said to him, “Go up, rear an altar to YHWH in the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite” (2 Samuel 24:18).

d And David went up according to the saying of Gad, as YHWH commanded. And Araunah looked forth, and saw the king and his servants coming on toward him, and Araunah went out, and bowed himself before the king with his face to the ground (2 Samuel 24:19-20).

e And Araunah said, Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” And David said, “To buy the threshing-floor from you, to build an altar to YHWH, that the plague may be stayed from the people” (2 Samuel 24:21).

d And Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Behold, the oxen for the burnt-offering, and the threshing instruments and the yokes of the oxen for the wood, all this, O king, does Araunah give to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “YHWH your God accept you” (2 Samuel 24:22-23).

c And the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will truly buy it from you at a price. Nor will I offer burnt-offerings to YHWH my God which cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing-floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver (2 Samuel 24:24).

b And David built there an altar to YHWH, and offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings (2 Samuel 24:25 a).

a So YHWH was entreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel (2 Samuel 24:25 b).

Note that in ‘a’ YHWH stayed the hand of the angel from bringing the pestilence on Jerusalem and in the parallel the plague was stayed from Israel. In ‘b’ David admits to his sin and prays for the pestilence to be diverted from the people, and in the parallel David offers multiple offerings of dedication and atonement both for himself and the people. In ‘c’ David is told to raise an altar on the threshing-floor of Araunah, and in the parallel he buys the threshing-floor in order to offer burnt offerings upon it. In ‘d’ Araunah saw the king and his courtiers coming and went out and greeted him with his face to the ground, and in the parallel Araunah offers all that he has to the king so that he can carry out the offerings, and expresses his hope that the offerings will be successful. Centrally in ‘e’ David declares his purpose to buy the threshing-floor, and to build an altar to YHWH in order that the plague might be stayed from the people.

2 Samuel 24:16

And when the angel stretched out his hand towards Jerusalem to destroy it, YHWH repented him of the evil, and said to the angel who destroyed the people, “It is enough, now stay your hand.” And the angel of YHWH was by the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite.’

The widespread pestilence was now approaching Jerusalem with its relatively large population, being controlled by the Angel of YHWH. But it was then that YHWH in His mercy and compassion called a halt to the misery. He recognised that the people had suffered enough to have learned their lesson, and called on the destroying angel to ‘stay his hand’. Justice was to be tempered by mercy.

This picture of the Angel of YHWH directing the pestilence is a reminder to us that, whatever men may think, in the end all things are controlled from Heaven, and even disease is subject to His control. For Israel the consequence of this was that the pestilence did not spread beyond the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite. It did not take possession of Jerusalem.

The Angel of YHWH is a mysterious figure in the Old Testament. He both represents YHWH in visible form and yet is YHWH. See Genesis 16:7-13; Genesis 21:7-19; Genesis 22:15-18; Judges 2:1-5; Judges 13:2-23). He intercommunicates with YHWH (Zechariah 1:12). He is a reminder that while being One, YHWH is a composite figure.

2 Samuel 24:17

And David spoke to YHWH when he saw the angel who smote the people, and said, “Lo, I have sinned, and I have done perversely, but these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray you, be against me, and against my father’s house.” ’

David was one of the few who were permitted to see the heavenly being who was responsible for what was happening on earth (Arauna also saw him, and possibly his sons - 1 Chronicles 21:20), and it brought home to him the depths of his sin. He had sinned sufficiently for this awesome judgment to have come upon Israel. He was being made to realise that he had been looking at things from a wholly earthly point of view, as though men decided their own destinies and controlled world affairs. That was why he had decided to ‘number Israel’ over which he saw himself as having total control. Now he was being made to recognise that there were unseen forces at work that made such an idea ridiculous. But he was not at this time aware that his sin had merely been a reflection of the sins of the whole of Israel and so he prayed that YHWH would not continue to punish the sheep for what the shepherd had done. Let YHWH rather bring the punishment on the one to whom it belonged, to him and his house. (In a way it indicates that he still had too much of a sense of his own importance). We do not know whether David’s prayer came before or after the Angel had been told to stay His hand, and in a way it does not matter, for God often anticipates our prayers.

2 Samuel 24:18

And Gad came that day to David, and said to him, “Go up, rear an altar to YHWH in the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” ’

But what God did want David to appreciate was that His forgiveness could not be obtained without cost. Substitutionary and atoning sacrifices were necessary if David and Israel were to be spared further chastisement, for sin could not just be simply ignored. And so He commanded him to go and build ‘an altar to YHWH’ on the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite, where He had stayed the Angel’s hand. The threshing-floor would be a large, flat, exposed area where the grain could be gathered, and tossed into the air with a winnowing fork so that the prevailing wind could remove the chaff. It was a fitting picture of the need for the removal of all that was unsuitable.

Araunah was the Canaanite name of the owner of the threshing-floor. His Hebrew name was Ornan (1 Chronicles 21:18). The fact that the threshing-floor was in Canaanite hands may well have been one reason for choosing it. By being purchased it would become one more official part of YHWH’s inheritance, pointing to the continual advance of God’s kingdom on earth. Perhaps there was also in this a pointer to the fact that YHWH’s anger was directed at Israel largely because of their accommodation with Canaanite ideas. Thus a Canaanite site for the offerings would be poetic justice.

2 Samuel 24:19

And David went up according to the saying of Gad, as YHWH commanded.’

David, brought back into the way of obedience, did according to all that YHWH had commanded through Gad, and went up to the threshing-floor with his courtiers. 1 Chronicles indicates that they were clothed in mourning garb because of the pestilence (1 Chronicles 21:16).

2 Samuel 24:20

And Araunah looked forth, and saw the king and his servants coming on toward him, and Araunah went out, and bowed himself before the king with his face to the ground.’

We are left to imagine the thoughts of Araunah when he looked up and saw a large number of Israel’s most important officials, including the king himself, approaching his threshing-floor. It would certainly have been startling, and might even have aroused fear in his heart. He was a Jebusite, one of the old original inhabitants of Jerusalem, and he would not have been in favour with many Israelites. He would be one of the first to be blamed when calamities came on Israel. So he may well have gone out to meet the approaching grandees fairly apprehensively. And it would be somewhat fearfully that he fell on his face to the ground before David.

2 Samuel 24:21

And Araunah said, Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” And David said, “To buy the threshing-floor from you, to build an altar to YHWH, that the plague may be stayed from the people.” ’

And crouched there on his face before the king he put the question that must have been stabbing at his heart. What was it that David wanted with him, who was but a humble servant of the king? What had he done? He must have been greatly relieved when he heard the answer. It was in order to buy his threshing-floor so that there they could build an altar to YHWH so that the plague might be stayed from the people.

2 Samuel 24:22-23 a

‘And Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Behold, the oxen for the burnt-offering, and the threshing instruments and the yokes of the oxen for the wood, all this, O king, does Araunah give to the king.”

Hugely relieved Araunah informed the king that he could have whatever he liked. Not only the threshing-floor, but also the oxen for sacrifices, and the wood of his instruments for firewood. All this he would give to the king. However, in typical oriental fashion there may have been a hint here that, while he would not withhold it from David, all this would not be without cost to Araunah.

2 Samuel 24:23 b

‘And Araunah said to the king, “YHWH your God accept you.” ’

Araunah then expressed his pious wish that YHWH would accept David and his offering. It was possibly just an expression of polite hope, but pestilence affected all, both Israelite and Jebusite, and showed no favours. It would thus be for everyone’s benefit if it could be stayed. So his wish may have been heart felt.

2 Samuel 24:24

And the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will truly buy it from you at a price. Nor will I offer burnt-offerings to YHWH my God which cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing-floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.’

But the king was not out to take advantage of his loyal subjects, and assured him that he would give him the full price. Nor would he offer burnt offerings to YHWH which had cost him nothing. He wanted his offering to be true and from the heart. And the result was that David bought the threshing-floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.

The Chronicler gives the price as six hundred shekels of gold, which at first sight seems incompatible with the price mentioned here, but the reason for that was probably that the Chronicler had in mind the full price later paid for the wider area with a view to the building of the Temple. Fifty shekels of silver would only have bought a very small piece of ground, which, while it would be sufficient for the building of an altar, could otherwise have been of very little use. The Chronicler had the grand scale of the coming Temple in mind (2 Chronicles 3:1).

2 Samuel 24:25

And David built there an altar to YHWH, and offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings. So YHWH was entreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel.’

And there on that threshing-floor David built an altar to YHWH, and offered burnt offerings (dedicatory/atoning offerings) and peace offerings (propitiatory/atoning offerings). And so YHWH was entreated for the land (compare 2 Samuel 21:14), and the plague was stayed from Israel. This last statement ‘YHWH was entreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel’ looks back to all that has gone before not just to the final offering. It was not simply the offering that stayed the hand of YHWH (which had already been stayed). David’s repentance undoubtedly played a hugely important part in it.

This ending to the book is of vital importance. It brought home the lesson to Israel of the need for dedication, atonement, propitiation and thanksgiving in their dealings with YHWH. These alone could provide the grounds for their acceptance by Him, and it was on this basis they could approach a merciful God. In context it also brought home the fact that YHWH would not require human blood (as might at first appear from 2 Samuel 21:1-14) but would be satisfied with a substitutionary and atoning offering brought to Him from a genuinely repentant heart. This was to be the basis of the kingdom until the King came Whose right it was to reign (Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:17; 1 Samuel 2:10; 2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16; 2 Samuel 23:3-4).

We should note that while it is true that the threshing-floor of Araunah would later be connected with the building of the Temple (1 Chronicles 22:1; 2 Chronicles 3:1) there is no suggestion that that is in the mind of the writer here, otherwise he would have said so. He was more concerned with the theological lesson that was being taught.

We may close by pointing out that from the point of view of salvation history the Book of Samuel is a vital one. It began with Israel seen as a loose confederation of tribes, overseen by weak leaders, and very much suffering under a continually threatening and growing Philistine menace, although looking forward to a king who would one day arise to establish them as a people (1 Samuel 2:10), and goes on to outline the traumas that led up to a stable and strong Israel/Judah, an Israel/Judah surrounded by vassal states and under a strong king, who had been promised that his dynasty would last through the ages, until the king came who would establish the everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 24:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-samuel-24.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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