THE LOCATION OF GOD’S PRESENCE MEDIATES FORGIVENESS AND MERCY DESPITE OUR SIN AND GOD’S MITIGATING JUDGMENT
Frederick Mabie: Through the reality of David’s sinfulness the Chronicler presents the backdrop to the place that God will choose to cause his name to dwell—a place of atonement, prayer, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Andrew Hill: In retrospect, the purchase of the threshing floor becomes the foundational event for a series of actions by David to make ready for the building of Yahweh’s temple. In the Chronicler’s mind, what better place for God’s permanent sanctuary than the site identified as the prime location for repentant prayer and divine absolution? As Thompson has aptly noted, God has empowered Israel to defeat their human enemies, and now he provides a place of atonement where they can (at least) hold at bay their spiritual enemy—Satan. . .
The story of David’s census-taking consists of three main episodes, to which the Chronicler has appended a conclusion:
(1) David orders Joab to count the Israelites (21:1–7);
(2) God is displeased with David’s census and sends his judgment against Israel (21:8–17);
(3) God stays his wrath against Israel by means of David’s sacrificial offering at the threshing floor of Araunah and his securing of that site for the future temple of Yahweh (21:18–27).
Knoppers: The David of the census story is a person of confession and supplication par excellence, a human sinner who repents, seeks forgiveness, intercedes on behalf of his people, and ultimately secures the site of the future Temple.
Iain Duguid: In the story of his reign as told by the Chronicler, David’s census and what follows provide the transition from David’s victories to preparation for the temple. This involves spiritual forces, human sin, God’s judgment, David’s wholehearted repentant response and intercession, and God’s mercy and his word, all leading to “the house of the Lord God” and the “altar of burnt offering for Israel.” This narrative points the Chronicler’s hearers to the ongoing reality of God’s provision for forgiveness and new beginning: the location of the temple is God’s chosen place for atoning sacrifice. . .
It is easy to summarize the narrative as told, but questions arise as to what is going on and what message is being communicated.
– How is the opening mention of “Satan” to be understood?
– What is David’s motivation, and on what basis does Joab oppose?
– What is David’s sin? And if it is David’s sin, why did so many Israelites suffer?
– What does the whole incident communicate regarding the Lord’s character and purposes?
– How are hearers able to see the connection between David’s era and their own contexts?
These questions are examined as the commentary moves through the passage.
Martin Selman: David’s great sin (v. 8) comes as a considerable shock after the high points of covenant promise (chapter 17) and military victory (chapters 18-20). The central theme, however, is actually God’s forgiving grace (vv. 15-27) rather than David’s sin or the resultant judgment (vv. 9-14), and it is this to which the temple becomes a permanent witness (21:28 – 22:1).
I. (:1-7) SINFUL CENSUS ORDERED BY DAVID AND CONDUCTED BY JOAB
A. (:1) Role of Satan = Inciting David’s Census
“Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.”
Andrew Hill: The fact that the Chronicler attributes the inciting of David’s census to Satan and not to the Lord (as in 2 Sam. 24:1) reveals subtle developments in Old Testament theology from the time of David to that of the Chronicler. As a result of God’s progressive revelation during those intervening centuries, the Hebrews came to understand the agency of Satan in relationship to God and the problem of evil. That is, as sovereign Lord, it is God’s prerogative to use Satan as his agent of testing and/or judgment to accomplish his redemptive purposes in the created order. This fact, however, does not absolve David of his personal guilt in the matter.
Iain Duguid: In favor of understanding this as a heavenly adversary is how these actions are similar to those in Zechariah 3:1, where the heavenly adversary “stood against,” and Job 2:3, where he “incited.” More significant may be the several literary parallels with Numbers 22:22–35, where God’s “anger” against Balaam resulted in “the angel of the Lord” appearing as Balaam’s “adversary” (satan, without the definite article). This passage may be behind the Chronicler’s substitution of satan for Samuel’s “the Lord.” In the rest of 1 Chronicles 21 an increased prominence is given to “the angel of the Lord” (vv. 12, 15–20, 27, 30; cf. 2 Sam. 24:16–17). This “angel” is clearly separate from God, who “sends” him with the drawn sword; as a “messenger” (the meaning of malʼak and the equivalent Gk. angelos) he also communicates God’s word to the seer, Gad. As in Numbers 22 and elsewhere, the weight of evidence supports the long tradition that here satan without the article is used as a name of a heavenly being, Satan, who acts against the interest of humans.
B. (:2) Response of David = Issuing Directive to Joab
“So David said to Joab and to the princes of the people,
‘Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan,
and bring me word that I may know their number.’”
C. (:3) Response of Joab = Cautioning David Not to Sin
“And Joab said, ‘May the LORD add to His people a hundred times as many as they are! But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? Why does my lord seek this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt to Israel?’”
Andrew Hill: Joab’s strenuous objection to the king’s request suggests that David orders the census as a tribute to his own strength and power rather than a testimony to God as the true warrior of Israel and the builder of Israel’s army (21:3).
Iain Duguid: Thus Satan’s “inciting” diverts David from focusing on temple building, as it is a census with no collection for the tabernacle; Joab speaks of “cause of guilt,” using a word seen elsewhere commonly in cultic settings (e.g., Lev. 4:3; 6:7; 22:16; 2 Chron. 24:18); and a census without each person’s paying the tax would indeed be “cause of guilt for Israel,” not just for David. The result is that God “struck Israel” (1 Chron. 21:7), with this striking described as a “pestilence” (vv. 12, 14).
John Schultz: The reason for which David’s idea to have a count was considered sinful, may have been that the people were not required to pay the amount prescribed in the law, or that David wanted to experience a sense of glory in knowing exactly how large the group was over which he was ruling. David’s pride may have been the main issue.
D. (:4-6) Resolve of David Forces Joab to Execute the Census
1. (:4) Forcing Joab’s Compliance
“Nevertheless, the king’s word prevailed against Joab. Therefore, Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem.”
2. (:5) Finalizing the Numbers and Reporting back to David
“And Joab gave the number of the census of all the people to David.
And all Israel were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword;
and Judah was 470,000 men who drew the sword.”
3. (:6) Failing to Number Tribes of Levi and Benjamin
“But he did not number Levi and Benjamin among them,
for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab.”
J.A. Thompson: The exclusion of Levi is explained because they were excluded from military service (Num 1:49; 2:33). Benjamin’s exclusion may have been because the tabernacle rested at Gibeon (1 Chr 21:29).
E. (:7) Reaction of God
“And God was displeased with this thing,
so He struck Israel.”
II. (:8-17) SORROWFUL CONFESSION AND MITIGATING JUDGMENT
Frederick Mabie: In the aftermath of his census, David realizes his actions and motives are “evil in the sight of God” (v.7) and he repents deeply. However, despite his earnest grief and repentance, divine judgment follows in the form of a divinely delivered plague (“the sword of the LORD,” per the choice of David). The prophet (“seer”) Gad mediates this choice of judgment (vv.9–13), and he will also mediate the path to God’s grace and reconciliation (cf. vv.18–27). The outworking of God’s judgment is especially difficult for David as he realizes that the consequences of his sin spill over onto his “sheep” (vv.14, 17). In the midst of David’s vision of the destroying angel executing God’s judgment (v.16), David gathers the elders to seek God and appeal for his grace and mercy (cf. “in wrath remember mercy,” Hab 3:2). This said, God had already exercised mercy and grace even before David prayed (cf. v.15).
A. (:8) Sorrowful Confession
“And David said to God, ‘I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of Thy servant,
for I have done very foolishly.’”
August Konkel: This census is for military purposes; David is relying on strength in numbers rather than on God. In Chronicles, divine punishment is immediate, as might be expected, given the stern warnings of Joab. The nature of the manifestation of judgment is not specified, but David immediately recognizes it as punishment for his sin. It is then that he asks for forgiveness and is given the choice of the consequences.
John Schultz: David comes under conviction of sin, even before the prophet Gad announces God’s punishment. David recognized the enormity of his sin. The Hebrew text reads literally: “I have sinned greatly,” and “I have done foolishly.” David asks for forgiveness, using the Hebrew verb `abar, which can mean “to cover.” It is the verb found in the context of the original Passover in Egypt where we read: “When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.”
B. (:9-12) Mitigating Judgment
“And the LORD spoke to Gad, David’s seer, saying, 10 ‘Go and speak to David, saying, Thus says the LORD,
I offer you three things; choose for yourself one of them, that I may do it to you.’
So Gad came to David and said to him, ‘Thus says the LORD,
Take for yourself 12 either three years of famine, or three months to be swept away before your foes, while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the LORD, even pestilence in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the territory of Israel. Now, therefore, consider what answer I shall return to Him who sent me.’”
“Take for yourself…”
OPTION #1: 3 years of famine
OPTION #2: 3 months of military defeat
OPTION #3: 3 days of the sword of the Lord
C. (:13) Appeal to God’s Mercy
“And David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress;
please let me fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are very great.
But do not let me fall into the hand of man.’”
D. (:14-17) Extent of Divine Judgment
1. (:14-15) Forbearance of the Lord
“So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel; 70,000 men of Israel fell. 15 And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but as he was about to destroy it, the LORD saw and was sorry over the calamity, and said to the destroying angel, ‘It is enough; now relax your hand.’ And the angel of the LORD was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.”
2. (:16-17) Intercession of David for the Nation Based on His Own Culpability
“Then David lifted up his eyes and saw the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, with his drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, covered with sackcloth, fell on their faces. 17 And David said to God, ‘Is it not I who commanded to count the people? Indeed, I am the one who has sinned and done very wickedly, but these sheep, what have they done? O LORD my God, please let Thy hand be against me and my father’s household, but not against Thy people that they should be plagued.’”
III. (:18-27) PURCHASE OF THRESHING SITE
A. (:18-19) Divine Directive Regarding Location for the New Altar
1. (:18) Command of the Lord
“Then the angel of the LORD commanded Gad to say to David,
that David should go up and build an altar to the LORD
on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.”
2. (:19) Obedience of David
“So David went up at the word of Gad,
which he spoke in the name of the LORD.”
B. (:20-25) Process of Procurement of the Location for the New Altar
1. (:20-21) Arrival at the Threshing Floor of Ornan
“Now Ornan turned back and saw the angel, and his four sons who were with him hid themselves. And Ornan was threshing wheat. 21 And as David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David, and went out from the threshing floor, and prostrated himself before David with his face to the ground.”
John Schultz: Araunah is called a Jebusite, which suggests that he was one of the original inhabitants of Canaan, living in Jebus before it fused with Salem into the city of Jerusalem. His dwelling place was on Mount Moriah, the place where Abraham had brought the aborted sacrifice of Isaac. According to Second Chronicles, it was the place where ultimately the temple was built. We read: “Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David.” David arrived at the threshing floor of Araunah while the angel in charge of the plague was still standing there. Araunah came out of his hiding when he saw the king. He greeted David, as a subject was supposed to greet a king, prostrating himself, bowing down with his face to the ground.
Whether Araunah was actually willing to give up his threshing floor without any charge is doubtful. He may merely have given the king the polite answer that was expected according to the culture of that time. But it could also be that Araunah, having seen the angel of death, was willing to give up everything for free in exchange for his life and the lives of his sons.
2. (:22-24) Negotiations for the Procurement
a. (:22) Initial Request of David – Explaining His Objective
“Then David said to Ornan, ‘Give me the site of this threshing floor, that I may build on it an altar to the LORD; for the full price you shall give it to me, that the plague may be restrained from the people.’”
b. (:23) Initial Response of Ornan – Take Whatever You Need
“And Ornan said to David, ‘Take it for yourself; and let my lord the king do what is good in his sight. See, I will give the oxen for burnt offerings and the threshing sledges for wood and the wheat for the grain offering; I will give it all.’”
c. (:24) Intention of David to Pay Full Price
“But King David said to Ornan, ‘No, but I will surely buy it for the full price; for I will not take what is yours for the LORD, or offer a burnt offering which costs me nothing.’”
3. (:25) Purchase of the Site
“So David gave Ornan 600 shekels of gold by weight for the site.”
August Konkel: The negotiations with Araunah play on the word “give.” David asks Araunah to give him the place of the threshing floor and insists that he should give it at full price. Araunah counters with the offer that David should take the place, and he in turn will give the oxen, the wood, and the grain for the offering. The king counters with the insistence that he will pay for it at full price and would not offer to the Lord anything that he did not purchase. David then gives Araunah six hundred shekels of gold for the place. There is an emphasis on the place (AT), which echoes “the place that the LORD your God will choose” for all the people to worship (Deut 12:5‐7). The price that David pays is multiple times that in Samuel, both in the amount (six hundred shekels as opposed to fifty) and the metal (gold instead of silver). The purchase described in Chronicles is the entire area, not just the threshing floor itself. Six hundred shekels amounts to fifty shekels per tribe, which may be an indication that this is on behalf of all Israel.
C. (:26-27) Initial Offerings Confirmed by God’s Acceptance
1. (:26a) Initial Offerings
“Then David built an altar to the LORD there,
and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.
And he called to the LORD”
2. (:26b) Confirmation of God’s Acceptance of David’s Sacrifice
“and He answered him with fire from heaven
on the altar of burnt offering.”
August Konkel: The Chronicler’s conclusion to the choice of the temple site establishes the theological points of critical importance. God answers David’s prayer for mercy in two ways. First, fire from heaven consumes the offerings upon the altar. Second, God commands the divine agent to restore his sword to its sheath. There is more to these events than just ending the plague (cf. 2 Sam 24:25), which is decisively terminated following the earlier suspension (1 Chron 21:15‐16). The function of the altar is divinely approved in the same way as the altar of the tabernacle in the wilderness (Lev 9:24). For the Chronicler, this sign from heaven provides continuity between the Mosaic tabernacle and the future temple. The consumption of the sacrifices by fire from heaven is the divine approval of this altar for the temple that is to be built (1 Chron 21:26). . .
The association between the mountain of Abraham and the Temple Mount is explicit. The Lord had appeared to David as he had to Abraham. Continuity of worship is established at this site; temple worship is linked to the promises of the past. While David initiates worship at a new location with unprecedented features, it stands in continuity with not only the tabernacle but also the worship of the patriarchs before that.
J.A. Thompson: vv. 22-26 — There was an urgent need to build an altar to the Lord so that the plague on the people might be stopped. David paid a fairly high price for the land in spite of Araunah’s offer and showed himself to be above the selfish conniving that seeks to avoid personal payment or loss (cf. Mal 1:8–14). We are reminded of Abraham’s purchase of the cave of Machpelah for Sarah’s burial in spite of Ephron’s generous response (Gen 23). The text does not indicate whether David personally made the sacrifice or whether a priest was present to officiate, although on superficial reading it appears that David himself made the sacrifice. This seems surprising in light of the Chronicler’s concern with ritual purity (contrast 1 Sam 13:1–15). In any case, the consumption of the sacrifice by fire from heaven served to confirm God’s acceptance of David’s sacrifice (see 1 Kgs 18:36–40) and pointed forward to the successful completion and dedication of the temple (cf. 2 Chr 7:1).
3. (21:27) Cease and Desist Order
“And the LORD commanded the angel,
and he put his sword back in its sheath.”
Andrew Hill: The NIV follows the MT in breaking the paragraph at 21:26, although most biblical commentators understand the report of the destroying angel sheathing his sword (21:27) as the logical conclusion of the episode addressing the staying of divine judgment against Israel.
Mark Boda: God’s great mercy is manifested at the moment the death angel was hovering with sword drawn over Jerusalem. That God’s compassion wells up at this very moment points to the preciousness of Jerusalem to the Lord. This may be linked to the Ark of his presence now being housed in this city or that the king after his own heart was enthroned there. In either case, it is indicative of an enduring tradition of Jerusalem’s special status before the Lord (Zech 1:12-17; 2:12; 3:2). This is important to the theology of the Chronicler, who was addressing a community whose key unifying symbol was Jerusalem and its Temple.
(21:28 – 22:1) EPILOGUE – WORSHIP TRANSITION FROM GIBEON TO JERUSALEM
Andrew Hill: The Chronicler adds a conclusion to this story to demonstrate the God-ordained continuity between worship centered in the Mosaic tabernacle (located in Gibeon) and the future temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem. The answer to David’s prayer for God’s mercy by the sign of fire sent from heaven upon the altar is presented as divine confirmation of this shift in the location for Israel’s worship center (21:26). The theological addendum also explains why the Israelite sanctuary is transferred from Gibeon to Jerusalem, since David is unable to go to Gibeon to inquire of the Lord because of the “destroying angel” (cf. 21:16).
Iain Duguid: Not only is “the plague . . . averted from Israel” (2 Sam. 24:25), but, more importantly for the Chronicler’s hearers, the Lord has clearly chosen this place and accepted sacrifices offered on the altar. So David is simply the first of all succeeding generations who “sacrificed there.” There remains the matter that the “tabernacle of the Lord” and “altar of burnt offering” are still at Gibeon (1 Chron. 16:39–42), yet the experience of the “sword of the Lord” and the Lord’s command to “raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite” (21:18) means that the temple now must be “here.” David does not dare risk a return of judgment. He is a faithful observer of Mosaic law, but he also introduces new cultic arrangements in response to the Lord’s action. So it is that the rest of David’s reign is given over to preparations for temple building. The final phrase, “the altar of burnt offering for Israel,” serves as an answer to the opening “then Satan stood against Israel” (21:1). Spiritual forces may seek to bring harm to Israel, and Israel may succumb and suffer, but God has provided an answer in the provision of the atoning sacrifices on the altar at his chosen place.
Mark Boda: First Chronicles 21:28 – 22:1 is a key segue in the Chronicler’s work. It functions both as a postscript to the census debacle as well as an introduction to the material that will consume the rest of 1 Chronicles. The Chronicler acknowledges the extraordinary nature of David’s offering sacrifices away from the altar of burnt offering at the Tabernacle at Gibeon. This sacrifice was necessary because of the events that unfolded in chapter 21. It was this exceptional action of sacrifice that was key to the identification of the site for Temple building.
A. (21:28-30) Transition away from Gibeon
“At that time, when David saw that the LORD had answered him on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he offered sacrifice there. 29 For the tabernacle of the LORD, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were in the high place at Gibeon at that time. 30 But David could not go before it to inquire of God, for he was terrified by the sword of the angel of the LORD.”
B. (22:1) Transition to Jerusalem for the New House of the Lord
“Then David said, ‘This is the house of the LORD God,
and this is the altar of burnt offering for Israel.’”
Frederick Mabie: The location at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite (spelled “Araunah” in 2Sa 24:18) is described as chosen by God to be the place of sacrifice and atonement for David’s sin (note God’s choice via Gad [v.18]; cf. 2Ch 7:12, a divine choice anticipated by Moses [Dt 12:5–7]). Thus David’s decision (1Ch 22:1) regarding this location for the future Jerusalem temple is simply following God’s previously announced choice.