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In this chapter an account is given of David’s numbering of the people, ( 2 Samuel 24:1-9); of the sense he had of his sin, and of his acknowledgment of it; and of the Lord’s displeasure at it, who sent the prophet Gad to him, to propose three things to him, one of which he was to choose as a punishment for it, ( 2 Samuel 24:10-13); when he chose the pestilence, which carried off a great number of the people, ( Samuel 24:14-17); and David was directed to build an altar to the Lord in the threshingfloor of Araunah the Jebusite, with whom he agreed for it, and built one on it, and offered upon it, and so the plague was stayed, ( Samuel 24:18-25).
Ver. 1 . And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel , etc.] It had been kindled, and appeared before in sending a three years’ famine among them for Saul’s ill usage of the Gibeonites, ( 2 Samuel 21:1); and now it broke forth again, either for some secret sins committed, as Kimchi suggests, or for the rebellion of Absalom, and the insurrection of Sheba, in which multitudes of them joined; so Abarbinel; no doubt there was cause for it, though it is not expressed: and he moved David against them ; not the Lord, but Satan, as may be supplied from ( 1 Chronicles 21:1); or “it moved him”; the anger of the Lord, as the last mentioned writer interprets it; or the heart of David, as Ben Gersom; that is, the evil imagination of his heart, as Kimchi; the Lord left him to the corruption of his nature, sometimes called Satan, ( Corinthians 12:7); which wrought powerfully in him, and stirred him up to take a step contrary to the interest of Israel, and what was prejudicial to them, as the event showed: it moved him to say; to Joab and his captains: go, number Israel and Judah : not all the individuals, but such as were fit for war, able to bear arms, (see 2 Samuel 24:9).
Ver. 2 . For the king said to Joab the captain of the host, which [was] with him , etc.] Or who was with him, even Joab, who was now at court, and was a counsellor of David, as well as his general; or which army was with Joab, a standing army he had the command of: go now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba ; from the northern part of the land of Israel to the southern part of it, and this course was accordingly steered, ( 2 Samuel 24:6,7); and number ye the people, that I may know the number of the people ; so that this appears to be done not through any urgent necessity, but merely out of curiosity, and to gratify the pride of his heart, and please himself with the thought of ruling such a numerous people, and brag of their numbers to other nations, and place his confidence therein; and no wonder it was displeasing to the Lord.
Ver. 3 . And Joab said unto the king , etc.] Not so rudely and insolently as he did on account of his mourning for Absalom, but in a more modest, decent, and polite manner: now the Lord thy God add unto the people (how many soever they be) an hundredfold ; he wished his subjects were an hundred times more numerous than they were: and that the eyes of my lord the king may see [it] ; that he might live to see with his own eyes so great an increase: but why doth my lord the king delight in this thing ? he being now old, and therefore it might seem strange to indulge such curiosity, pride, and vanity, and besides quite needless and useless: the numbering of them would not make them more or less; and they were all the king’s servants, who were ready to obey him whenever he needed them, whether numbered or not; and it might be prejudicial to them, and bring down the wrath of God upon them, as well as be a troublesome and expensive business; all which, though not expressed here, is hinted at in ( 1 Chronicles 21:3).
Ver. 4 . Notwithstanding the king’s word prevailed against Joab, and against the captains of the host , etc.] Who it seems were of the same mind with Joab, and were against numbering the people, yet their arguments and remonstrances were of no avail with the king; he was determined it should be done, and laid his commands upon them to do it, which they were obliged to comply with: and Joab and the captains of the host went out from the presence of the king, to number the people of Israel ; seeing him resolute and determined, they submitted, took his orders, and set out to execute them.
Ver. 5 . And they passed over Jordan , etc.] To take the number of the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh first: and pitched in Aroer ; for it seems that Joab and the captains had the army with them, and the several captains under their command, partly to assist in numbering the people, and partly to keep them in awe, lest they should oppose them, not knowing what was the design of all this Aroer was a city given to the tribe of Gad, and rebuilt by them, ( Numbers 32:34); on the right side of the city ; that is, of Aroer, the south side of it, as the Targum, did Joab and his army pitch: that [lieth] in the midst of the river of Gad ; which was the river Arnon, so called now from the tribe of Gad, which possessed it, and so the Targum, in the midst of the river of the tribe of Gad; for in the midst of the river Arnon Aroer lay, (see Joshua 13:9); and toward Jazer ; another city given to the Gadites, ( Numbers 32:3,35); and, according to Bunting f411 , was sixteen miles from Aroer.
Ver. 6 . Then they came to Gilead , etc.] The land of Gilead, half of which was given to the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the other half to the half tribe of Manasseh, ( Deuteronomy 3:12,13); which tribes were numbered, and the first of all: and to the land of Tahtimhodshi ; or the low lands of a new place; it seems to be a country newly possessed and inhabited; the Targum calls it the southern land of Hodshi; Bunting calls it the lower country of Hodshi, near to the city Corazin, in the half tribe of Manasseh, fifty two miles from Jerusalem, and towards the northeast, and signifies a new land: and they came to Danjaan ; the same that is simply called Dan, and formerly Leshem, ( Joshua 19:47); why Juan is added to it is not easy to say; it lay at the northern border of the land of Israel, and was four miles from Paneas as you go to Tyre f413 : and about to Zidon ; from Dan they went round about to Zidon, to the parts adjacent to it; for with Zidon itself they had nothing to do, of which (see Gill on “ Joshua 11:8”).
Ver. 7 . And came to the strong hold of Tyre , etc.] That is, old Tyre, which stood thirty furlongs from new Tyre, the island f414 ; of which (see Gill on “ Isaiah 23:1”); this must be understood of the parts near unto it; for that itself was not within the land of Israel, and so its inhabitants not to be numbered: and to all the cities of the Hivites, and of the Canaanites : which were possessed by them, and from whence they were not driven out by the Israelites; to all places contiguous to them, Joab and his captains came to take the number of them: and they went out to the south of Judah: [even] to Beersheba ; passing through the western part of the land, they came to the southern part of it, even as far as Beersheba, which was the extreme part of the land to the south.
Ver. 8 . So when they had gone through all the land , etc.] Beginning at the east, and from thence to the north, and then going about to the west, came to the south, which finished their circuit: they came to Jerusalem, at the end of nine months and twenty days : they were ten months wanting ten days in numbering the people; in which they seem to have been very expeditious.
Ver. 9 . And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king , etc.] Having collected from the several captains employed in this work their several particular numbers, he put them together, and gave in the sum total to David: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword ; though many of them might be under the age of twenty, yet being robust and tall, and fit to bear arms, though but sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, or nineteen years of age, were mustered, contrary to the law; which, according to Cornelius Bertram was David’s sin, (see Chronicles 27:23,24). In ( 1 Chronicles 21:5), they are said to be a million and an hundred thousand, which is three hundred thousand more than the sum here given; several methods are taken to reconcile this; but what seems to be the best solution of the difficulty is what is observed by a Jew f416 , that here the number of the people in the several parts of the land of Israel was given, which were eight hundred thousand, there along with them, the numbers of the standing army which waited on the king in their courses, which were twenty four thousand every, month, and amounted in the twelve months to 288,000, and reckoning lo thousand officers to them, they make the sum of three hundred thousand wanted, (see 1 Chronicles 27:1,2), etc. and the men of Judah [were] five hundred thousand men . In ( Chronicles 21:5), they are said to be only 470,000, thirty thousand less than here; which may be accounted for by making use of a round number, though something wanting, as is often done; or else the thirty companies, consisting of a thousand each, under the eighty captains mentioned in ( Samuel 23:8-39), are taken into the account here, but left out in the book of Chronicles; or there were so many in the sum total of the men of Judah before the plague, but thirty thousand being consumed thereby, are left out in the latter accounts, so Kimchi; but the other solutions seem best: Levi and Benjamin were not counted; it being abominable to Joab, he did not finish it, and especially being displeasing to God, who smote Israel for it, ( 1 Chronicles 21:6,7).
Ver. 10 . And David’s heart smote him, after that had numbered the people , etc.] For nine or ten months his conscience lay asleep, but now the thing was done, it is awakened, and accuses him for it, and he repents of it; now he began to see the pride and haughtiness of his heart; his vanity and confidence in the creature, which led him to it; aggravated by doing it without seeking to know the mind of God, and without giving him his due, the half shekel, according to the law, ( Exodus 30:12,13); intent only upon increasing his own revenue, as some think, intending to impose a poll tax upon the people when he had numbered them; and attempting to number a people who were not to be numbered; and numbering those who were under the age of twenty, and therefore the plague began before it was finished, ( 1 Chronicles 27:23,24); and David said unto the Lord, I have sinned greatly in that I have done ; he saw and owned his sin to be exceeding sinful, attended with very aggravating circumstances: and now I beseech thee, Lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant ; the guilt of it from his conscience, which lay heavy there, and suffer not the punishment it deserves to take place on him, but grant an application of pardon to him: for I have done very foolishly ; all sin is folly, and some sins are exceeding foolish, and so this appeared to David; or, “though I have done very foolishly” f417 , yet forgive my sin, (see Psalm 38:5).
Ver. 11 . For when David was up in the morning , etc.] Which it is probable was very early, he not being able to sleep through the distress of mind he was in; for the words should be rendered, “and David arose in the morning” f418 , for, as we render them, they seem to imply as if he had no sense of his sin before the prophet came to him next mentioned; whereas it was in the night he had been under the conviction of it, and had acknowledged it, and prayed for the pardon of it; upon which the prophet was sent to acquaint him what was the will of God concerning him: the word of the Lord came unto the prophet Gad, David’s seer ; with whom he had used to advise about the will of God on various occasions, though in this he had neglected to consult him; the Targum calls it the word of prophecy from the Lord: saying ; as follows.
Ver. 12 . Go, and say unto David , etc.] Not my servant David, as Nathan was bid to say to him when it was in his heart to build an house for him, ( 2 Samuel 7:5); but now he had sinned and displeased the Lord, and therefore it is only plain David: thus saith the Lord, I offer thee three [things] ; or lay them before thee to consider of which thou wouldest have done; the Targum is, “one of three things I cast upon thee,” as a burden to bear; one of the three I will certainly inflict upon thee by way of chastisement: choose thee one of them, that I may [do it] unto thee ; here is mercy mixed with judgment; the Lord is angry, yet shows great condescension and goodness; a sovereign Being, who could have imposed what punishment he pleased, and even all the three after mentioned, yet resolves but on one, and leaves that to the option of David.
Ver. 13 . So Gad came to David, and told him , etc.] Said nothing to him about his sin, but correction for it; which confirms it that David was made sensible of his sin before he came to him: and said unto him, shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land ? in ( 1 Chronicles 21:12), only “three years” are mentioned, and so the Septuagint version here; but Josephus f419 , the Targum, the Syriac and Arabic versions, have the number “seven”; three seems to be more agreeable to the numbers after mentioned, and no more as to come were designed, though seven are here expressed; for the reconciling of which let it be observed, that there had been three years of famine already on account of the sin of Saul, ( 2 Samuel 21:1); and in the current year, through the rains not falling in the proper time, the land was barren and unfruitful; or through the penury of the preceding years the famine would be continued at least until the harvest; and then three years more now proposed made seven years; or, if these three years would have immediately followed the other three, the following in course would be a sabbatical year, in which were no ploughing, sowing, nor reaping, or the current year was such an one: and the sense is, shall there be a continuance of seven years of famine, that is, three more added to what had been? which must be most dreadful to think of; but a learned writer thinks it a mistake of the copier, writing z , “seven”, for g , “three”: or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee ? be in such a condition as not to be able to face or fight his enemies, or, if he did, would not be able to stand his ground, but be forced to flee before them, and be pursued by them three months running; during which time a prodigious number might well be thought to be slain, sad devastations made in the land, and great shame and disgrace endured, and what a man of David’s spirit could not bear the thoughts of: or that there be three days’ pestilence in thy land ? which in ( Chronicles 21:12) is called “the sword of the Lord”, in distinction from the sword of man, it coming immediately from him, and the destroying angel, in all the coasts of the land; being inflicted by means of one: now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me ; that is, consult with himself, or with his friends, or both, what answer the prophet must return to the Lord that sent him; for him he means.
Ver. 14 . And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait , etc.] Not knowing well which to choose, each of them being so grievous, and an answer being to be returned immediately; but by his next words, and by the event, it seems he chose the pestilence, though that is not expressly said: let us fall now into the hand of the Lord ; the Targum in ( 1 Chronicles 21:13), is “into the hand of the Word of the Lord:” (for his mercies [are] great), and let me not fall into the hand of men ; indeed all the three judgments mentioned are by the hand of the Lord whenever they come; but in the pestilence the hand of the Lord is more visible, it coming immediately from his hand, as especially this was to do, and did; it did not arise from second causes, a noxious air, etc. but by means of an angel of God: David chose this, because he and his people would have nothing to do with men, as in famine they must have gone into other countries for food, and in war flee before their enemies, and lie at their mercy, and either of them more disgraceful than this; and which he might the rather choose on his own account, that his people might not be able to say he sought himself and his own interest; for had he chosen famine, as his people had been lately distressed that way already, they might, besides urging that, say, that he could lay up stores for himself and family; or had he chosen war, they might observe he had fortified places to flee to, one after another, and shelter himself; but for the arrows of the pestilence he was as likely a mark as the meanest of his subjects: but what seems to have moved him chiefly to make this choice is, that it would not only be the soonest over, but that it wholly depended on the pleasure of God what use he would make of it in that time; and chiefly because he knew God was gracious and merciful, and it was upon his great mercy he cast himself and his people.
Ver. 15 . So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel , etc.] Upon the land of Israel, the people of the land, directly employing an angel to go through the coasts of it, and empowering him to inflict a pestilential disease: from the morning even to the time appointed : from the morning the prophet Gad came to David with a message from the Lord; that very morning the plague began, and lasted to the time set for it, the three days, or at least unto the beginning of the third, when reaching Jerusalem, the Lord repented of it, and stayed his hand; though many think a much shorter time is intended; some think it lasted no more than half a day, if so much; some say but three hours f421 ; the Septuagint version, until dinnertime; and the Syriac and Arabic versions, until the sixth hour of the day, which was noon; and so Kimchi says, some of their Rabbins interpret it of the half or middle of the day; the Targum is, “from the time the daily sacrifice was slain until it was burnt;” and it is the sense of several learned men that it was only from the morning until the time of the evening sacrifice, or evening prayer, about three o’clock in the afternoon, and so lasted about nine hours: and there died of the people, from Dan even to Beersheba, seventy thousand men ; so that there was a great diminution of the people in all places where they were numbered; and David’s sin may be read in the punishment of it; his heart was lifted up by the numbers of his people, and now it must be humbled by the lessening of them.
Ver. 16 . And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it , etc.] Which, as it was perhaps the last place where the people were numbered, it was the last to which the plague came: this angel appeared in an human form, standing “between the earth and the heaven”; in the midst of the heaven, in the air, right over Jerusalem: “having a drawn sword in his hand stretched over the city”; as is said in ( 1 Chronicles 21:16); which was done as a menace, and to inject terror into David and the inhabitants of the city, and to give them notice of what they must expect: the Lord repented him of the evil ; he was inflicting, and now threatened Jerusalem with; having compassion on the place where the ark, the symbol of his presence, was, where a temple was to be built to the honour of his name, and where he should be worshipped; and therefore stopped proceeding; as men, when they repent of anything done by them, cease from it, so did the Lord now; otherwise repentance, properly speaking, falls not on him, and so it is next explained: and said to the angel that destroyed the people ; not the angel of death, the devil, but a good angel, who had a commission from God for this business: it is enough: stay now thine hand : there is a sufficient number slay no more: and the angel of the Lord was by the threshing place of Araunah the Jebusite ; that is, he was in the air, right over the spot, or near it, where was this man’s threshingfloor; and was seen by Araunah and his four sons, who upon it hid themselves, perhaps among the sheaves they were threshing, ( 1 Chronicles 21:20); and this threshingfloor was on Mount Moriah, ( 2 Chronicles 3:1); as threshingfloors commonly were on mountains for the sake of winnowing the corn when threshed; (see Gill on “ Ruth 3:2”); who, according to Ben Gersom, though he was by birth a Jebusite, was proselyted to the Jewish religion.
Ver. 17 . And David spake unto the Lord , etc.] In prayer; he and the elders of Israel being clothed in sackcloth, and fallen on their faces, he prayed, not unto the angel, but to Jehovah that sent him; (see 1 Chronicles 21:16,17); when he saw the angel that smote the people ; in the air over Jerusalem, with a drawn sword in his hand, which made him appear terrible: and said, lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly ; in numbering the people: but these sheep, what have they done ? he looked upon himself as the only transgressor, and his people as innocent, and as harmless as sheep; he thought of no sins but his own; these were uppermost in his mind, and lay heavy on his conscience; and it grieved him extremely the his people should suffer on his account: but they were not so innocent as he thought and suggests; and it was not only for his, but their sins, this evil came; he was suffered to do what he did, to bring upon them deserved punishment for their rebellion against him, and other sins; however, this shows the high opinion he had of them, the great affection he had for them, and his sympathy with them in this time of distress: let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father’s house ; let me and mine die, and not they; a type of Christ, the good Shepherd, willing to lay down his life for the sheep, and suffer in their stead, that they might go free.
Ver. 18 . And Gad came that day to David , etc.] Ordered and directed by the angel of the Lord, ( 1 Chronicles 21:18); and said unto him, go up, rear an altar unto the Lord in the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite : it was too far to go to Gibeon, where the tabernacle was, at such a time of extremity, when the sword of the angel was stretched out over Jerusalem, ( 1 Chronicles 21:29,30); and this was the most proper place, as it was the very spot over and nearest to which the angel was; and was on Mount Moriah, where the Jews say Abraham offered up Isaac; and where the temple was afterwards built, as Kimchi and Ben Gersom observe; and Eupolemus, an Heathen writer f422 , says, that when David desired to build a temple for God, and that he would show him the place of the altar, an angel appeared to him, standing over the place where the altar at Jerusalem was to be built.
Ver. 19 . And David, according to the saying of Gad, went up as the Lord commanded .] From the place where he was in a lower part of the city to Mount Moriah, on which was the threshing floor, a place fit for winnowing corn when threshed.
Ver. 20 . And Araunah looked , etc.] Peeped up out of the place in which he had hid himself with his four sons, for fear of the angel, and which they saw, ( 1 Chronicles 21:20); and saw the king and his servants coming towards him ; he perceived, by the course they steered, that they were coming to him: and Araunah went out ; of the threshingfloor, out of the place where he had hid himself, for he had been threshing wheat, ( 1 Chronicles 21:20); nor was it thought below great personages in those times to be employed in such work; so Gideon was threshing, when the angel of the Lord appeared to him, ( Judges 6:11,12); Boaz winnowed barley in his threshingfloor, ( Ruth 3:2); and bowed himself before the king with his face to the ground ; in reverence of the king.
Ver. 21 . And Araunah said, wherefore is my lord the king come to his servant ? etc.] Which both implies admiration in him, that so great a person should visit him in his threshingfloor; that a king should come to a subject his servant, who should rather have come to him, and would upon the least intimation; it was a piece of condescension he marvelled at; and it expresses a desire to know his pleasure with him, supposing it must be something very urgent and important, that the king should come himself upon it: and to this David made answer, and David said , what he was come for: to buy the threshingfloor of thee, to build an altar to the Lord, that the plague may be stayed from the people ; for though David had acknowledged his sin, and God had repented of the evil he inflicted for it, and given orders for stopping it; yet he would have an altar built, and sacrifices offered, to show that the only way to have peace, and pardon, and safety from ruin and destruction, deserved by sin, is through the expiatory sacrifice of Christ, of which fill sacrifices were typical, and were designed to lead the faith of the Lord’s people to that.
Ver. 22 . And Araunah said unto David, let my lord the king take and offer up what [seemeth] good unto him , etc.] Build an altar, offer sacrifices of whatsoever he found upon the premises fit for the same, and make use of whatever came to hand proper to perform such service with, as follows: behold, [here be] oxen for burnt sacrifice : which were employed in treading the corn, hence the law in ( Deuteronomy 25:4); and threshing instruments ; not flails, such as are used by us, but wooden sledges, drays or carts drawn on wheels, which were filled with stones, and the bottom of them stuck with iron teeth, and were drawn by oxen to and fro over the sheaves of corn; (see Isaiah 28:27); and [other] instruments of the oxen for wood ; as their yokes; these Araunah gave leave to take to burn the sacrifice with; and in ( Chronicles 21:23), it is added, “and the wheat for the meat offering”, which was upon the threshingfloor; and there always went a meat offering with a burnt offering.
Ver. 23 . All these [things] did Araunah, [as] a king, give unto the king , etc.] The note of similitude as is not in the text; from whence some have thought he was king of the Jebusites before Jerusalem was taken out of their hands, or however was of the royal race, perhaps the son and heir of the then king at that time; or he has this title given him, because of his great liberality, having the spirit of a prince in him, even of a king; so Ulysses addressed Antinous, saying, thou art like a king, and therefore should give more largely than others f423 : and Araunah said unto the king, the Lord thy God accept thee ; thine offering with a good will; with pleasure and delight, as the Targum; that so the plague might be removed, and which no doubt made him the more ready to part with the above things, and all that he had; so dreadful did the calamity appear to him, and especially after he saw the angel with his drawn sword just over him.
Ver. 24 . And the king said unto Araunah, nay, but I will surely buy [it] of thee at a price , etc.] And a full price too, ( 1 Chronicles 21:24); that is, give him as much for it as it was worth: neither will I offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing ; which shows an ingenuous spirit, and contrary to the temper of many, who like to serve the Lord in the cheapest manner, or with little cost to themselves: so David bought the threshingfloor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver ; which, reckoning a shekel at two shillings and sixpence, made but just six pounds five shillings of our money; though its value is but about two shillings and four pence farthing, which reduces the sum; in ( Chronicles 21:25), David is said to give six hundred shekels of gold by weight; two ways are proposed by the Jews for the reconciling of the difficulty; the one is, that fifty shekels were collected out of every tribe, and twelve times fifty make six hundred shekels, and these were of the value or weight of gold; but this seems not likely, that it should be collected out of all the tribes, and since it appears plainly to be the king’s purchase, and with his money: the other is, that there were two purchases, the first was of the threshingfloor, oxen, and instruments, which were bought for fifty shekels of silver, as here, and the other was a purchase of the place, as it is called in the book of Chronicles; that large space of ground on which afterwards the temple, and all the courts adjoining to it, were built, and which was now Araunah’s farm, and on which were his dwelling house, and other buildings; and for all this David gave him six hundred shekels of gold, which made three hundred ounces and reckoning gold as twelve times the value of silver, according to Brerewood f426 , it amounted to four hundred fifty pounds of our money; and learned men have not been able to give a better solution of this difficulty; and with this Montanus agrees. Bochart and Noldius have taken another way, but not so clear and satisfactory; the Septuagint of ( 1 Chronicles 21:25) has fifty shekels, as here.
Ver. 25 . And David built there an altar unto the Lord , etc.] After he had made the purchase: and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings ; the one to expiate the sin or sins committed, the other to give thanks for the intimation given, that the plague would be stayed upon this: so the Lord was entreated for the land ; was pacified and prevailed upon to remove the pestilence from it; which was signified by fire descending upon the altar of burnt offering, which showed the sacrifice was accepted, and by the angel being ordered to put his sword into its sheath, ( 1 Chronicles 21:26,27); and the Targum is, “and the Lord received the prayer of the inhabitants of the land:” and the plague was stayed from Israel ; no more died of the pestilence, either at Jerusalem, or in any other part of the land Israel.