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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
1 Chronicles 21

 

 

Verses 1-30

1 Chronicles 21:1-30

And Satan stood up against Israel and provoked David to number Israel.

Under a spell

(Compare 2 Peter 1:21):--

I. All the world seems to be under a spell or charm; inward influences move men as steam moves a ship. There am three spells.

1. One is that of parentage. The spell of a virtuous parentage influences its children’s children, like a good charm, for thousands of generations; but, on the other hand, the wickedness of a parent generally ceases to influence his offspring at, as the Second Commandment says, “the third and fourth generation.”

2. Another spell is the outward influence of our surroundings. Faithful parents, wise teachers, inspiring books, virtuous companions, healthy atmosphere, and suitable food will train up a child in the way God and men would have him go; but many a bright apprentice lad has been cursed by bad example.

3. The third spell is that of inward influences. One of these is said in the Bible to be the movement of the devil, and the other that of the holy God.

4. What can be greater than the spell which moves the human appetite to intoxicating drink? To obtain drink people will sometimes descend to the lowest degradation of meanness. Yes; the evil spell of the appetite for drink upon its victims is great and overpowering. Drink may be no temptation to you and me, but many people find it a spell which moves them as the tide and wind sometimes drives a feeble ship on the rocks. And what stronger spell can there be than the inclination to war between men, and churches, and nations?

5. Again, is there a stronger spell than the desire for money, the greed of gold? See how men under the spell of an insane ambition for wealth sometimes forget honour, and become actual thieves!

II. Now, let us consider the good spell over mankind. One of these is the heaven-born spell of true love; it is a most powerful influence for good. Thus love will reform the prodigal life. There is no stronger spell than true love; God is love. It is by the wisdom of love that He converts mankind. God’s object in winning men to love Him is that they may be prompted to self-denial in themselves and to do good works to others. (W. Birch.)

David’s sin and repentance

I. David’s sin.

1. Its occasion: pride and vainglory--“that I may know it.”

2. Its unseen but real source: Satan (1 Samuel 24:1).

II. The Lord’s displeasure because of his sin (1 Chronicles 21:9-17).

III. The atonement for his sin, made on the site of the Lord’s house (chap. 20:1-2; 1 Kings 6:1-38; 1 Kings 7:1-51; 1 Kings 8:1-66); as the foundation of the spiritual house (2 Corinthians 6:16-17; 1 Peter 2:4-5; Ephesians 2:21-22). The temple therefore rests as it were on--

1. An atonement for sin (Romans 5:11).

2. Sin put away, 1 Chronicles 21:17 (Daniel 9:24).

3. Wrath averted by sacrifice (verse 16:26-27; 2 Samuel 24:16; Isaiah 42:21; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 Peter 2:24; Colossians 1:20; Colossians 2:14-15). (Clergyman’s Magazine.)

David’s self-confidence

I. The sin of David in numbering the people was self-confidence, pride in his own strength, and forgetfulness of the source of all his strength, even of God. It was the greater sin in him because he had had such marvellous, such visible, witnesses of God’s love, and care, and guidance. Past experience might and should have taught him that his strength was not in himself, but in his God.

II. The sins of pride, and self-confidence, and forgetfulness of God are only too common amongst ourselves. When men dwell securely, in full peace and health, they grow careless in religion. God is not much present with them; they seem sufficient of themselves to keep themselves and to make themselves happy. (R. D. B. Rawnsley.)

David numbering Israel

I. Man, through the devil, bringing tremendous evils on the world. “Satan stood up,” etc. The existence and influence of this grand chief of evil agencies are here, and everywhere through the Bible, stated as facts too well authenticated to require argument. He tempted the progenitor of the race; he assailed the Redeemer of the world; and he leads humanity captive by his will. He now had access, by means not stated, to the mind of the monarch of Israel. One might have thought that age, which had cooled in him the fires of life, would also have extinguished all the fires of worldly ambition; but Satan can rekindle the smouldering embers of evil within us: he did so now. The ambitious feeling awakened was not one of those passing waves of emotion that rise from the depths of the soul and break upon the shore and are no more; it took the form of an obstinate purpose.

1. That Satan’s influence on man, however successful, interferes not with man’s personal responsibility. David was held responsible for the crime which the devil suggested to his mind. Great is the might of Satan, and great are the influences which he can bring to bear upon us; albeit he has no power to break down our wills by force, no power to coerce us into the wrong. We feel we are not mere engines in what we do, that our actions, good or bad, are our own.

2. That one man’s sins may entail misery on thousands. It was so now: David’s sin brought death on thousands and agony into the heart of the nation.

3. That the Eternal has agents ever at hand to execute His judgments. (Homilist.)

Sinful counting

It is easy for us to rise in petulant indignation against David, and to declare that he ought not to have counted his men; but let us beware, lest in so doing we provoke the spirit of David to retort that it is possible for us to count our money so as to disclose the very motive and intention which in him we condemn as vicious. Yes there is an atheistical way of counting money. A man may go over coin by coin of his property, and look at it in a way which, being interpreted, signifies, this is my strength, this is my confidence; so long as I have all these coins it is impossible that I can get far wrong, or know much trouble, these will be my answer and defence in the day of accusation and adversity! (J. Parker, D. D.)

The impotence of numbers

Palestine fills a large place in history, but a very insignificant one on the map. David’s enemies were on every side, and they were all mighty in war. He had the sea to his west but did not command the coast. That (with its harbours of Tyre and Sidon) belonged to the Phoenicians, who overlapped him also on the north. To the east were the barriers of Moab; to the south the plains, cities, and hosts of the Philistines. We do not wonder that he wished to know upon what swords he had to depend. And yet we are told that it was an ungodly thing for him to number Israel.

I. What made this deed ungodly? The answer is that it was a departure from the place he held in the kingdom of God. He was losing the heart which could make him say, “I am small and of no reputation, yet do I not forget Thy commandments.” Such a mood, such a ranging of himself with neighbouring powers, was a grievous departure from David’s position as king of a chosen race. Think for a moment how unique that race was. Nothing is so wonderful in history as the survival of the Jews. They were set in the midst of mighty nations which far outnumbered them, but which all lost their place and power in the world while the Jews remained. And yet in the early days of this race they were in danger of being spoilt, and really degraded, by an attempt to set themselves on the level of the nations around. David’s act was a forgetfulness of, a departure from, God’s purpose. In seeking to realise his material resources, and count the swords which he could draw, he so far gave up that unseen vital force, which distinguished his people the most, and descended to the meaner level on which those around him took their stand.

II. What is the lesson to be learnt from this incident? That in the conduct of society and of our lives, dependence on mere numbers may prove disastrous.

1. In national economy. The consent and unanimity of a thousand fools does not render the folly of one man harmless; it may arm it with the power to do a thousand-fold more harm. We should be specially cautious in finding our course by that weathercock public opinion.

2. On a small as well as a large social scale. A prominent tendency to-day is to uphold the value of company and co-operation. In many respects this is well. Union is strength. But along with this may grow up a new tyranny. In passing from a selfish individualism to the recognition of a righteous socialism, we are in danger of having our personal convictions overridden. In presence of all the associations, societies, and committees in the world, we must not forget that some of the greatest things the world owns and cherishes, have taken their beginning and drawn their power from solitary source, some halfhidden spring which the crowd would pass by or trample down. The Bible would point to Noah, Daniel, and Job, and above all to the “lonely cross.”

3. In the religious life. No persuasion may be taken as true because it is accepted even by all. There was a time when the whole world believed that the sun moved round the earth. The great convictions and changes in history are irrespective of numbers. They come like little seeds which spread until they cover the land. Faith in numbers is a slavery worse than Egyptian, which shows itself in the discharge of our business and the profession of our faith. It is the deadly hindrance to which David exposed himself and his people. It is the temptation which besets us in the formation of our opinions and the doing of our work. We are all tempted to number the people. It is of the first importance that we should be true to the voice of our Father in heaven, who never leaves His children to walk alone if they will only take His hand. (Harry Jones.)

Census reflections

I. References to and reflections on two official numberings of the children of Israel (Numbers 1:26.).

II. Some general reflections on our national census.

1. The number of inhabitants of England and Wales at this moment is definite.

2. The number of the living inhabitants at this moment on the earth is definite.

3. The number of individuals who compose the whole human race is definite.

4. The number of the elect, or of those who shall ultimately be saved is definite.

Application: I would address--

1. Those who were numbered at the last census.

2. I would call to your remembrance those who have appeared and again disappeared during this interval.

3. The object of numbering suggests consolation. “The very hairs of your head are all numbered,” this is one of the sweetest pledges of our heavenly Father’s personal care over us.

4. It also suggests warning. “Lord, let me know mine end and the number of my days.” For what purpose? “That I may know how frail I am.” (W. Bramley Moore, M. A.)

Man, through God, arresting the great evils that have come upon the world

1. Profound contrition for sin. “And David said unto God, I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing; but now, I beseech Thee, do away with the iniquity of Thy servant, for I have done very foolishly.” In Samuel it is said, “David’s heart smote him.” His conscience was aroused to a sense of his crime and became his chastiser. It allowed him to make no excuse; it prevented him from charging the crime even on the devil who tempted him. “I have sinned greatly,” “I have done this thing,” “Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered?” “Even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed.” Conscience, the deepest power within us, ever vindicates our personality, our freedom, our responsibility. An awakened conscience detaches us from the universe, from all, and places us as guilty personalities in conscious contact with Him who is the Eternal Judge of right and wrong. The first step to true prayer is this.

2. Unbounded trust in God. When Jehovah, through Gad, David’s seer, proposed to the monarch the choice of one of three judgments--famine, war, or pestilence--what was David’s reply? “I am in a great strait: let me fall into the hand of the Lord; for very great are His mercies: but let me not fall into the hand of man.” His sin had consisted in some measure in placing trust in men; why else did he require a census? Was it not because he thought that numbers were power for defence and conquest? That confidence is gone now, and God appears to him as the only object of trust. Wonderful trust is this. When all things go well and fortune smiles, when providence showers its blessings upon our path, skirting our way with verdure and flowers, we may feel some trust in Him; but when all is dreary, dark, and tempestuous, when we see, as David saw, in the black heavens the destroying angel with a sword drawn in his hands about to smite us, then to trust Him is to have a trust of the highest sort.

3. An atoning self-sacrificing benevolence.

1. The solemnity of man’s existence on this earth. Man here is the subject and organ of spiritual and invisible agents. The same man, as in the case of David, might be the organ of the devil and the organ of God. Under the influence of the devil, David became proud and rebellious, incurring the displeasure of his Maker and bringing ruin on his country; under the influence of God, he became profoundly contrite, trustful, and most benevolently prayerful; arresting the progress of evil and securing again for his country the mercy of Heaven. How terribly solemn is our life!

2. The ruinous and restorative dispositions in man. Selfish pride and self-sacrificing prayerfulness are the two grand dispositions which David displays in this portion of his history; the former was at once the product and instrument of the devil, bringing ruin upon his country; the latter was the product and instrument of God, counteracting the evils. (Homilist.)


Verses 1-30

1 Chronicles 21:1-30

And Satan stood up against Israel and provoked David to number Israel.

Under a spell

(Compare 2 Peter 1:21):--

I. All the world seems to be under a spell or charm; inward influences move men as steam moves a ship. There am three spells.

1. One is that of parentage. The spell of a virtuous parentage influences its children’s children, like a good charm, for thousands of generations; but, on the other hand, the wickedness of a parent generally ceases to influence his offspring at, as the Second Commandment says, “the third and fourth generation.”

2. Another spell is the outward influence of our surroundings. Faithful parents, wise teachers, inspiring books, virtuous companions, healthy atmosphere, and suitable food will train up a child in the way God and men would have him go; but many a bright apprentice lad has been cursed by bad example.

3. The third spell is that of inward influences. One of these is said in the Bible to be the movement of the devil, and the other that of the holy God.

4. What can be greater than the spell which moves the human appetite to intoxicating drink? To obtain drink people will sometimes descend to the lowest degradation of meanness. Yes; the evil spell of the appetite for drink upon its victims is great and overpowering. Drink may be no temptation to you and me, but many people find it a spell which moves them as the tide and wind sometimes drives a feeble ship on the rocks. And what stronger spell can there be than the inclination to war between men, and churches, and nations?

5. Again, is there a stronger spell than the desire for money, the greed of gold? See how men under the spell of an insane ambition for wealth sometimes forget honour, and become actual thieves!

II. Now, let us consider the good spell over mankind. One of these is the heaven-born spell of true love; it is a most powerful influence for good. Thus love will reform the prodigal life. There is no stronger spell than true love; God is love. It is by the wisdom of love that He converts mankind. God’s object in winning men to love Him is that they may be prompted to self-denial in themselves and to do good works to others. (W. Birch.)

David’s sin and repentance

I. David’s sin.

1. Its occasion: pride and vainglory--“that I may know it.”

2. Its unseen but real source: Satan (1 Samuel 24:1).

II. The Lord’s displeasure because of his sin (1 Chronicles 21:9-17).

III. The atonement for his sin, made on the site of the Lord’s house (chap. 20:1-2; 1 Kings 6:1-38; 1 Kings 7:1-51; 1 Kings 8:1-66); as the foundation of the spiritual house (2 Corinthians 6:16-17; 1 Peter 2:4-5; Ephesians 2:21-22). The temple therefore rests as it were on--

1. An atonement for sin (Romans 5:11).

2. Sin put away, 1 Chronicles 21:17 (Daniel 9:24).

3. Wrath averted by sacrifice (verse 16:26-27; 2 Samuel 24:16; Isaiah 42:21; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 Peter 2:24; Colossians 1:20; Colossians 2:14-15). (Clergyman’s Magazine.)

David’s self-confidence

I. The sin of David in numbering the people was self-confidence, pride in his own strength, and forgetfulness of the source of all his strength, even of God. It was the greater sin in him because he had had such marvellous, such visible, witnesses of God’s love, and care, and guidance. Past experience might and should have taught him that his strength was not in himself, but in his God.

II. The sins of pride, and self-confidence, and forgetfulness of God are only too common amongst ourselves. When men dwell securely, in full peace and health, they grow careless in religion. God is not much present with them; they seem sufficient of themselves to keep themselves and to make themselves happy. (R. D. B. Rawnsley.)

David numbering Israel

I. Man, through the devil, bringing tremendous evils on the world. “Satan stood up,” etc. The existence and influence of this grand chief of evil agencies are here, and everywhere through the Bible, stated as facts too well authenticated to require argument. He tempted the progenitor of the race; he assailed the Redeemer of the world; and he leads humanity captive by his will. He now had access, by means not stated, to the mind of the monarch of Israel. One might have thought that age, which had cooled in him the fires of life, would also have extinguished all the fires of worldly ambition; but Satan can rekindle the smouldering embers of evil within us: he did so now. The ambitious feeling awakened was not one of those passing waves of emotion that rise from the depths of the soul and break upon the shore and are no more; it took the form of an obstinate purpose.

1. That Satan’s influence on man, however successful, interferes not with man’s personal responsibility. David was held responsible for the crime which the devil suggested to his mind. Great is the might of Satan, and great are the influences which he can bring to bear upon us; albeit he has no power to break down our wills by force, no power to coerce us into the wrong. We feel we are not mere engines in what we do, that our actions, good or bad, are our own.

2. That one man’s sins may entail misery on thousands. It was so now: David’s sin brought death on thousands and agony into the heart of the nation.

3. That the Eternal has agents ever at hand to execute His judgments. (Homilist.)

Sinful counting

It is easy for us to rise in petulant indignation against David, and to declare that he ought not to have counted his men; but let us beware, lest in so doing we provoke the spirit of David to retort that it is possible for us to count our money so as to disclose the very motive and intention which in him we condemn as vicious. Yes there is an atheistical way of counting money. A man may go over coin by coin of his property, and look at it in a way which, being interpreted, signifies, this is my strength, this is my confidence; so long as I have all these coins it is impossible that I can get far wrong, or know much trouble, these will be my answer and defence in the day of accusation and adversity! (J. Parker, D. D.)

The impotence of numbers

Palestine fills a large place in history, but a very insignificant one on the map. David’s enemies were on every side, and they were all mighty in war. He had the sea to his west but did not command the coast. That (with its harbours of Tyre and Sidon) belonged to the Phoenicians, who overlapped him also on the north. To the east were the barriers of Moab; to the south the plains, cities, and hosts of the Philistines. We do not wonder that he wished to know upon what swords he had to depend. And yet we are told that it was an ungodly thing for him to number Israel.

I. What made this deed ungodly? The answer is that it was a departure from the place he held in the kingdom of God. He was losing the heart which could make him say, “I am small and of no reputation, yet do I not forget Thy commandments.” Such a mood, such a ranging of himself with neighbouring powers, was a grievous departure from David’s position as king of a chosen race. Think for a moment how unique that race was. Nothing is so wonderful in history as the survival of the Jews. They were set in the midst of mighty nations which far outnumbered them, but which all lost their place and power in the world while the Jews remained. And yet in the early days of this race they were in danger of being spoilt, and really degraded, by an attempt to set themselves on the level of the nations around. David’s act was a forgetfulness of, a departure from, God’s purpose. In seeking to realise his material resources, and count the swords which he could draw, he so far gave up that unseen vital force, which distinguished his people the most, and descended to the meaner level on which those around him took their stand.

II. What is the lesson to be learnt from this incident? That in the conduct of society and of our lives, dependence on mere numbers may prove disastrous.

1. In national economy. The consent and unanimity of a thousand fools does not render the folly of one man harmless; it may arm it with the power to do a thousand-fold more harm. We should be specially cautious in finding our course by that weathercock public opinion.

2. On a small as well as a large social scale. A prominent tendency to-day is to uphold the value of company and co-operation. In many respects this is well. Union is strength. But along with this may grow up a new tyranny. In passing from a selfish individualism to the recognition of a righteous socialism, we are in danger of having our personal convictions overridden. In presence of all the associations, societies, and committees in the world, we must not forget that some of the greatest things the world owns and cherishes, have taken their beginning and drawn their power from solitary source, some halfhidden spring which the crowd would pass by or trample down. The Bible would point to Noah, Daniel, and Job, and above all to the “lonely cross.”

3. In the religious life. No persuasion may be taken as true because it is accepted even by all. There was a time when the whole world believed that the sun moved round the earth. The great convictions and changes in history are irrespective of numbers. They come like little seeds which spread until they cover the land. Faith in numbers is a slavery worse than Egyptian, which shows itself in the discharge of our business and the profession of our faith. It is the deadly hindrance to which David exposed himself and his people. It is the temptation which besets us in the formation of our opinions and the doing of our work. We are all tempted to number the people. It is of the first importance that we should be true to the voice of our Father in heaven, who never leaves His children to walk alone if they will only take His hand. (Harry Jones.)

Census reflections

I. References to and reflections on two official numberings of the children of Israel (Numbers 1:26.).

II. Some general reflections on our national census.

1. The number of inhabitants of England and Wales at this moment is definite.

2. The number of the living inhabitants at this moment on the earth is definite.

3. The number of individuals who compose the whole human race is definite.

4. The number of the elect, or of those who shall ultimately be saved is definite.

Application: I would address--

1. Those who were numbered at the last census.

2. I would call to your remembrance those who have appeared and again disappeared during this interval.

3. The object of numbering suggests consolation. “The very hairs of your head are all numbered,” this is one of the sweetest pledges of our heavenly Father’s personal care over us.

4. It also suggests warning. “Lord, let me know mine end and the number of my days.” For what purpose? “That I may know how frail I am.” (W. Bramley Moore, M. A.)

Man, through God, arresting the great evils that have come upon the world

1. Profound contrition for sin. “And David said unto God, I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing; but now, I beseech Thee, do away with the iniquity of Thy servant, for I have done very foolishly.” In Samuel it is said, “David’s heart smote him.” His conscience was aroused to a sense of his crime and became his chastiser. It allowed him to make no excuse; it prevented him from charging the crime even on the devil who tempted him. “I have sinned greatly,” “I have done this thing,” “Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered?” “Even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed.” Conscience, the deepest power within us, ever vindicates our personality, our freedom, our responsibility. An awakened conscience detaches us from the universe, from all, and places us as guilty personalities in conscious contact with Him who is the Eternal Judge of right and wrong. The first step to true prayer is this.

2. Unbounded trust in God. When Jehovah, through Gad, David’s seer, proposed to the monarch the choice of one of three judgments--famine, war, or pestilence--what was David’s reply? “I am in a great strait: let me fall into the hand of the Lord; for very great are His mercies: but let me not fall into the hand of man.” His sin had consisted in some measure in placing trust in men; why else did he require a census? Was it not because he thought that numbers were power for defence and conquest? That confidence is gone now, and God appears to him as the only object of trust. Wonderful trust is this. When all things go well and fortune smiles, when providence showers its blessings upon our path, skirting our way with verdure and flowers, we may feel some trust in Him; but when all is dreary, dark, and tempestuous, when we see, as David saw, in the black heavens the destroying angel with a sword drawn in his hands about to smite us, then to trust Him is to have a trust of the highest sort.

3. An atoning self-sacrificing benevolence.

1. The solemnity of man’s existence on this earth. Man here is the subject and organ of spiritual and invisible agents. The same man, as in the case of David, might be the organ of the devil and the organ of God. Under the influence of the devil, David became proud and rebellious, incurring the displeasure of his Maker and bringing ruin on his country; under the influence of God, he became profoundly contrite, trustful, and most benevolently prayerful; arresting the progress of evil and securing again for his country the mercy of Heaven. How terribly solemn is our life!

2. The ruinous and restorative dispositions in man. Selfish pride and self-sacrificing prayerfulness are the two grand dispositions which David displays in this portion of his history; the former was at once the product and instrument of the devil, bringing ruin upon his country; the latter was the product and instrument of God, counteracting the evils. (Homilist.)


Verses 11-15

1 Chronicles 21:11-15

Thus saith the Lord, choose thee.

The awful judgments

I. Judgments entailed by one man’s sin.

II. Judgments easily prepared for execution.

III. Judgments sent according to human preference.

IV. Judgments arrested by earnest prayer.

David’s choice

I. As the result of an awakened conscience.

II. As the revelation of a principle of Christian life. He left himself confidently with God.

III. As a picture of future doom to all. (J. Wolfendale.)

David’s choice of chastisements

David’s preference justified when we Consider--

1. The harsh judgments which men pronounce on each other.

2. The harsh treatment of the guilty who are in men’s power.

3. The absence of sympathetic kindness in human warfare.

4. That when God punishes He does so in righteousness.

5. That in the treatment of the guilty God always shows mercy.

Lessons:

1. Submission to God,

2. Hopeful trust. (J. Wolfendale.)

God an emblem of the true minister

Let us look at God as representing every true minister of Jesus Christ.

I. God’s message was Divine. The gospel is a message from God. This is attested--

1. By the facts of history,

2. By its congruity with the spiritual constitution of men.

3. By the experience of thousands of every age who have felt it to be the power of God unto salvation.

II. God’s message was an appeal to choice. “Advise thyself.” Deliberate, choose for thyself. The gospel message is submitted to your choice.

1. You can accept it.

2. You can reject it.

III. God’s message was to be accounted for.

1. He was responsible for its delivery. So with every gospel minister, and woe be to him if he declares not the whole counsel of God.

2. David was responsible for its results. So are also the hearers of the gospel. (Homilist.)

Religious lessons of pestilence

I. Pestilences are striking witnesses to the majesty of God’s law.

II. Pestilences are striking illustrations of the moral connection between men. Epidemics run rapidly from one to another. No man can live alone to himself. Every one who comes near us is the better or the worse for our influence upon them.

III. Pestilences may be the agency for executing Divine judgments. Nowadays men hesitate to believe that there can be any connection between a nation’s sin and a nation’s suffering. With eye fixed upon the natural and physical laws and conditions out of which disease comes, men fail to see Him who overrules all physical conditions, and controls all laws. What, then, is the attitude which Christians should take in relation to epidemic disease 7

Alternative judgments

The whole story is mysterious. We feel at each step that much is kept back from us.

1. The fault of the king is mysterious. It is not enough to say that there was pride and vainglory in his heart. If this were all, it might have made the act sinful in the sight of God, but it would not account for the view taken of the act either by the minister or by the historian. There are many things in Scripture, as there are many things in life, which we must leave in the hands of God.

2. The mode of his punishment is full of mystery. A choice of punishments is offered him; but the punishments are all national. “Rulers sin and peoples suffer” has passed into a proverb. Scripture and Providence are at one in this matter. On a king’s edict of passion or foolishness may hang a nation’s misery or a nation’s dishonour. A king’s caprice or a king’s miscalculation may hand over a nation to a bloody and ruinous war of which it may be the occupation of a century to bear or repair the consequences.

3. The peculiarity of David’s penalty is the choice offered him. The day of Divine alternatives is not ended. Every example of a sin brought face to face with its suffering presents an aspect of choice as well as of compulsion. The mere question of confession or denial, with the consequences of either, is such an alternative in the case of individual wrongdoing. The adoption of this expedient rather than that, in the way of avoidance or mitigation of consequences, is an alternative. The way of bearing punishment, the language of regret or of hardness, the tone of submission or of defiance, most of all the spirit of repentance or of impenitence, is an alternative for the individual transgressor. The question of stopping or continuing a hopeless struggle, of accepting a defeat, of submitting to abduction, of “desiring conditions of peace,” or on the contrary, of persisting in warfare for the chance of a turn of fortune--the question of renewing a struggle, years or generations afterwards, on the plea of a hereditary title or a popular invitation--is an alternative, real or responsible, on the stage of kings and nations.

4. How shall we read the words, “Let me now fall into the hand of the Lord”? Is it a choice made? or is it a choice referred back to the offerer? Is it, I choose pestilence? or is it, Let God choose? “So the Lord sent the pestilence upon Israel” indicates perhaps on the part of our translators a preference of the former. I choose that punishment which has no human inflicter. But, whatever the application, the principle stands steadfast. In everything let me be in God’s hands. Anything which God inflicts is preferable to any suffering which comes through man. But if this be the force of David’s words considered as a choice, there is at least an equal interest in them regarded as a refusal to choose. Yes, let us love to live these lives absolutely under God’s direction. War, famine, pestilence--if He sees any one necessary, leave Him to choose. Let us not fall into the hands of man--our own, or any other’s. We are ill judges--worst of all for ourselves. Our mercies to ourselves are not God’s mercies. We are self-sparers as well as self-excusers. If we had our choice, no nerve would ever throb, no hair would ever turn grey. We should grow up, we should go to the grave, we should wake from the dust of the earth spoilt children--with all the irregularities, and all the selfishness, and all the unhappiness, which cling to and cluster round that name. What are we to one another? How does selfishness warp our judgments--selfish love first, then selfish fear. (Dean Vaughan.)

The choice of troubles

Who is there that has not wished that God would give him the choice of the evils which he had to suffer; and who is there that would not have been seriously embarrassed if that wish had been fulfilled? But, it may be said, the text does not support that view. Does it not?

1. David was very much troubled when the time for decision came: he was “in a great strait.”

2. His choice was more devout in form than in substance; for, had he chosen defeat in war, he would still have been “in the hand of God.”

3. It is highly probable that, after the choice was made, David was doubtful of its wisdom. We may consider--

I. The element of choice in the evils of life.

Two things are open to us here.

1. One relates to the measure of trouble we experience. By healthy habits, by obedience to the laws of our spiritual and our physical nature, by keeping within the lines of wisdom and virtue, by commending ourselves to the approval of man and also of God, we may materially reduce the measure of evil which otherwise we should endure.

2. The other relates to the kind of trouble we are called to face. It is often left to our choice to decide whether we will meet the dangers, the difficulties, the temptations, the trials of our condition in life, or those of the opposite condition--whether those of ignorance or of learning, of loneliness or of society, of obscurity or of conspicuousness and responsibility. It may be timidity or cowardice that inclines us to the one, and high-minded courage that incites us to the other; or it may be modesty and wisdom that urge us to the one, and nothing better than an unhallowed ambition, or even an exaggerated sense of importance, that allures to the other. Ii; behoves us, as we stand in front of the future, with our path in life before us, very earnestly to seek the guidance of God, that we may choose that course, the perils of which we may face with hope, the evils of which we shall endure with calmness and fortitude.

II. The working of the Divine hand in them. The measure and the nature of our troubles is uncertain. That they will come is as certain as anything can be. No “good fortune,” no sagacity, no caution will exclude them from the experience of life.

1. Our preference in regard to their form. Like David, we prefer to feel ourselves in the hand of God rather than in the hand of men. We feel that our burden is heavier when it is due to human carelessness, and heavier still when due to human heartlessness and malignity. The severest aggravation of trouble is where the evil that has been wrought is the work of some near relative or some familiar friend, or some old colleague from whom we had a right to expect quite opposite treatment (see Psalms 55:12-14). We feel that if we are to have suffering or sorrow we should much prefer the unaccountable sickness, or the unavoidable loss, or the inevitable bereavement which we can refer at once to the ordinary will of God.

2. The truth we recognise when we consider it. As we think on this subject we realise that all trouble is ultimately of God.

3. The attitude we should assume toward it. Even when we have to reproach ourselves, or even when we are obliged to condemn our neighbours or our ancestors as the immediate authors of our trouble, we may and we should accept it as that which comes in the providence of God.

Let me fall now into the hand of the Lord.--

Falling into the hand of the Lord

The doctrine is, that as sinners, as sinners before God, and as sinners towards each other, our highest hope is not in the incomplete and perverted mercy of men, but in the infinite mercy which is founded upon the infinite righteousness of God. We may perhaps help ourselves to a clearer understanding of this doctrine by first considering that it is better to fall into the hands of the highest class of men than into the hands of the lowest.

1. Take a legal case. In the first instance it may be brought before the local magistracy; but very possibly the result may be considered unsatisfactory by one party or the other, hence the case may be moved to the court above; there again dissatisfaction may be the result, and an appeal may be carried to the highest court in the land. The result even then may not be satisfactory; still by so much as the case has been carried to the highest tribunal and pronounced upon by the highest wisdom, there is strong ground to rest upon. Not only so, but there is a point beyond this; for by so much as a man wishes that there were yet another superior court to which an appeal might be made does he show how deeply graven upon the heart is the law that it is better to fall into the hands of the highest than into the hands of the lowest; that it is better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of men.

2. What is true in the law is equally true in all criticism.

3. Take the case of the young speaker. It will be for the advantage of such a man to be judged by the greatest orators which the country can supply. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Why is it better that the sinner should fall into the hand of God rather than into the hands of men

Good use might be made of the many pleasing considerations which arise in connection with God’s wisdom, God’s righteousness, and God’s perfect knowledge of facts; but we shall include all these in a higher answer, viz., because in His whole treatment of human sin God is constantly seeking not the destruction, but the salvation of the sinner. (J. Parker, D. D.)

David falling into the hand of God

We shall look at David’s exclamation here in three aspects.

I. As indicating what is a. Natural tendency in all souls. There is a strong propensity in all men to “fall into the hand” of others, giving up their judgment, freedom, individuality to others. This shows itself in the exercise of unbounded trust. Man is essentially dependent. Hence his existence is one of trust in others. This trust is the very base and bond of social life. Trusting others within certain limits is right and necessary, but when the principle carries us to the entire subjection of ourselves to our fellow-men, we have gone wrongly and ruinously.

II. As revealing the true spirit of life. David’s tendency to trust took the right direction.

1. His preference was right.

2. This preference is expedient. It is far better to fall into the hand of God than man.

III. As foreshadowing the inevitable doom of all. In one of two ways every man must fall into the hand of God.

1. Voluntarily, by the influence of His grace.

2. Compulsorily, by the force of justice. (Homilist.)

The hand of God and the hands of men

I. David’s strait.

II. The grounds of his choice.

III. Divine punishment and human punishment. Human punishment is necessarily to a great extent for self-protection, and therefore selfish. When the laws of society punish the crime of murder or of theft, it is primarily with the object of preventing the committal of more murders and more thefts. God’s laws have penalties attached to them, but when God punishes He seeks not the destruction of the sinner, but his healing and reformation. While man’s punishments are in principle revengeful, or at best for the defence of society, God’s punishments are remedial and reformatory; and therefore it is better to fall into the hand of God than into the hands of men. Application:

1. God in human redemption.

2. Human legislation directed to the repression of wrong incomplete, because it can only reach the outward action. God’s laws deal with motives, and are therefore complete and perfect (1 Samuel 16:7; Hebrews 4:12). (Literary Churchman.)

Man’s inhumanity

There is more mercy in the fang of a rattlesnake and in the tooth of a wolf than in the heart of men and women for a poor soul who has gone astray; and if she try to swim ashore and finally come up to the rock and get the tips of her fingers on the rock and try to climb up, then you will come out and with your hard heels smash the tips of her fingers until she falls off. (H. W. Beecher.)


Verse 15

1 Chronicles 21:15

And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it.

The destroying angel

Lessons:

I. That idleness is the parent of sin. It was when David was living as king in ease at Jerusalem that he was tempted of Satan.

II. That one of the best remedies for woe is work. The angel of destruction stayed his steps at the threshing-floor of Ornan, even as the angel of salvation visited Gideon as he was threshing wheat.

III. That prayer, even at the eleventh hour, may be by God’s grace efficacious. When the sword was actually drawn in the hand of the destroyer it was kept from further execution when David and the elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces.

IV. That our gifts to God, as to men, should be bestowed in a generous spirit.

V. That we should not offer to God what costs us nothing.

VI. That God sanctifies efforts, however weak they may be, if they be sincerely made; accepts gifts, however humble they may be, if bestowed from the heart.

VII. That the best proof that we can have that our offering is accepted by God is not that we experience a sense of inflated importance or self-satisfaction, but that we are filled with an abiding sense of peace.

VIII. That though we may worship God anywhere and everywhere, yet that in His duly consecrated sanctuary, it is fittest to do Him reverence. (R. Young, M. A.)

Man, through the devil, bringing tremendous evils on the world

That men suffer for the sins of others is a fact written in every page of history, obvious in every circle of life, and recognised as a principle in the government of God. “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” That this principle is both just and beneficent, consider--

1. That no man is made to suffer more than he deserves on account of his own personal sins.

2. The men of Israel now for their own sins deserved this stroke of justice.

3. That the evil which descends to us from others is not to be compared to that which we produce ourselves.

4. The sufferings that come to us from others can give us no remorse, which is the very sting of the judgment--our own sins do this.

5. That the knowledge that we can injure society by our own conduct has a strong tendency to restrain vice and stimulate virtue. (Homilist.)

David and Israel

I. The progressive course of sin.

1. Temptation. Satan the black fountain of all transgression.

2. Transgression (1 Chronicles 21:2). In face of warning (1 Chronicles 21:3). Its desperate folly seen by others (1 Chronicles 21:6). The deadening, hardening power of any lust.

3. Punishment (1 Chronicles 21:10-12). As soon will the magnet escape the influence of the pole, the sea the influence of the moon, an atom the binding force of gravitation, as the sinner escape punishment. “Be sure your sin,” etc.

II. The progressive course of reconciliation with God.

1. The messenger, God’s afflictive stroke (1 Chronicles 21:7). The prophet, Gad (1 Chronicles 21:9). Every person or circumstance that reproves is God’s messenger.

2. Conviction. (1 Chronicles 21:8). The true convict, always confesses, never excuses. Not only owns the sin, but acknowledges its greatness.

3. Penitence (1 Chronicles 21:16).

4. Acceptance.

5. Grateful acknowledgment (1 Chronicles 21:24).

III. Underlying truths.

1. Though man be tempted, sin is his own act.

2. Our sins affect others. How many widows and orphans!

3. Though sin be pardoned, it leaves terrible scars behind. In David’s memory. Gaps in the families and homes of the people. Avoidance of sin is infinitely better than pardon. Christ the only sin-healer. (R. Berry.)

The sin of one may involve the suffering of others

When the father of the house goes down in character he carries down with him, to a considerable extent, the character of his innocent children. The bad man is laying up a bad fortune for those whom he has brought into the world; long years afterwards they may be told how bad a man their father was, and because of his iniquity they may be made to suffer loss and pain. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Suffering through others

Our sin affects others as well as ourselves. A man whose garden was injured by a troublesome weed said it was due to a neighbour’s neglect. He had let his garden run wild, and when the seeds of this particular weed were ripe, the wind blew them over the fence. So one sin may make many innocent people suffer.


Verses 22-24

1 Chronicles 21:22-24

Then David said to Ornan.

The cost and self-sacrifice of religion

Contemplate this subject--

I. In reference to the spiritual expansion of the intellectual powers. We may be Christians without much knowledge, but our honour, glory, and felicity to abound in knowledge--

1. Of God.

2. Of Christ.

3. Of theology generally. The cost must be paid in the attainment.

II. Apply the subject to the spiritual cultivation of the moral nature. The soul before conversion like a barren heath or desert. It must be cultivated. Much labour needful. Evil habits to be abandoned. Holy habits to be formed.

III. To the influence of self-denial in adorning the Christian profession. Self-denial not merely the abandonment of sin. It involves the surrendering even of what might be lawfully retained. Our will must be sacrificed, that God’s may be done.

IV. To the importance of usefulness in the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ.

1. The heart must be given to Christ.

2. Then life, talents, influence, time, wealth.

3. To pay this cost grace is both necessary and provided. (J. Burns, D. D.)

A cheap religion no religion at all

This incident teaches us--

I. That true religion is spirituality in contradistinction to formalism. The spirit of love which now inspired David was something distinct from all outward service, something that could not be expressed by the most valuable of offerings that cost him nothing. Personal sacrifice was required. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.” “Circumcision or uncircumcision availeth nothing.”

II. That true religion is enthusiasm in contradistinction to prudence. David rejected the offer of Ornan. He repudiated the securing of the higher interests of the soul without any detraction from secular resources. It is ever so where love reigns--all personal interests are in the background; God is the one all-commanding, all-absorbing object of thought.

III. That true religion is nobility in contradistinction to meanness.

IV. That true religion is progress in contradistinction to stationariness. The man inspired with this spirit would never rest with present attainments.

1. There will be a delight in studying truth. The creed of a true religious man has cost him something.

2. There will be a delight in doing all that is commanded.

V. That true religion is reality in contradistinction to falseness. That the spirit of David is the only true spirit of religion will appear if you consider--

1. What God is.

2. What He has done for us.

3. That all we have and are are His. (Homilist.)

Sin and mercy as grounds of gratitude

Observe the laudable strife of two noble minds.

I. Ornan’s conduct. Ornan, a Jebusite, and so by birth a heathen, but by choice a proselyte (see his prayer, 2 Samuel 24:23). A pledge of the Gentiles coming in: the very site of the temple belonged to one. Thankful for his privileges, and therefore liberal in his gifts.

II. David’s conduct.

1. His sense of sin (1 Timothy 1:12-15).

2. His sense of mercy. God’s direction about the altar was an indication of forgiveness. David looked beyond this to the Redeemer. All he had was too little to express his gratitude. “Much forgiven, loving much.” If religion be real it will be self-denying. Does your religion cost you anything? Has it led you to give up your own will; to sacrifice your own inclinations? to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts? What do you give to God of your time, your influence, your means? (W. Pakenham Welsh, D. D.)

The threshing-floor of Ornan

I. That externally there is nothing in any place why God should there meet with men. Why was the threshing-floor of Ornan to be the meeting-place of David with his God, and the spot where prayer was to be heard?

1. Certainly it was a very simple, unadorned place. Yet when the temple, with all its glory, crowned the spot, God was never more conspicuously present than on that bare, ungarnished threshing-floor. A tasteful building may be a way of showing your pious regard for the Lord, but take care that you do not regard it as essential, or even important, or you will make an idol of it.

2. It was a place of ordinary toil.

3. It was, also, in possession of a Jebusite. The Jebusites were among the nations doomed for their iniquities. Herein the Lord showeth that He is no respecter of persons. The Jews wrapped themselves up within themselves, and said, “The temple of the Lord; the temple of the Lord are we”; but the Lord seemed to rebuke their national pride by saying, “And your temple is built upon the threshing-floor of a Jebusite.” If you happen to have been born of parents who did not train you in the fear of the Lord, yet do not despond; but say to thy soul, “The Lord shall have a dwelling within my heart, Jebusite though I be.”

4. Before it could be used it had to be bought with money. In connection with all true worship of God in the olden time there was always the offertory.

II. Spiritually this threshing-floor of Ornan was an admirable type of how God meets with men.

1. Its extreme simplicity enters into the essence of the type.

2. The threshing-floor is the exact type of affliction. The temple of glory is built on the threshing-floor of affliction.

3. This was the place where justice was most clearly manifest. Above this place, in mid-air, stood a dreadful apparition. Conviction of sin, wrought by the Spirit or God, is more powerful than argument. It some men had more fully felt that they were sinners, they would have made better saints.

4. It was the place where sin was confessed.

5. It was the place where sacrifice was offered and accepted.

6. It was where David beheld the sign of peace.

III. I close by heartily exhorting you to use this place. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The altar built and the plague stayed:--Observe--

I. A fearful evil.

II. The divine remedy.

III. A generous proposal.

IV. A noble and self-sacrificing spirit. (J. Burns, D. D.)

The propitiation

The altar and sacrifice as means of propitiation illustrates the atonement of Christ.

I. The moral condition which it is designed to meet.

II. The provision made for this condition.

III. The results which it accomplished. (J. Wolfendale.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Chronicles 21:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/1-chronicles-21.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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