FOR OUR WORSHIP TO BE ACCEPTABLE WE CANNOT COMPROMISE DEPENDENCE ON THE LORD BY TRUSTING IN THE FLESH
One has to ask why this disappointing episode where David once again angers the Lord is placed here at the conclusion of 2 Samuel. One would think that by this point the ruler of Israel would have learned the lesson that “some trust in horses and some in chariots, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” But we find David reacting to some type of national trial (where the Lord had cause to be angry against His people – verse 1) by turning to the arm of the flesh (calling for a census to determine the number of fighting men available) rather than humbling himself before the Lord.
This sad tale of sin and discipline and propitiation and sacrifice paves the way for acquiring the land upon which Solomon will ultimately build the temple. God seeks genuine worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. This incident cannot be studied apart from a focus on the centrality of worship in God’s program for His people.
I. (:1-9) PRIDEFUL CENSUS — DAVID CHOOSES THE PATH OF PRIDE RATHER THAN THE PATH OF HUMILITY AND COMPLETE DEPENDENCE ON THE LORD
A. (:1-4) Choice to Rely on the Arm of the Flesh
1. (:1a) Context: Israel in Trouble
“Now again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel”
Text does not specify what sin is involved here. But when God sends the plague as discipline upon the nation it is not only David’s sin that is in view.
2. (:1b) Character Flaw: Pride of David Causes Him to Respond in Anger
a. Schemes of Satan (1 Chron. 21:1) – Satan has a Plan for Your Life
“Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.”
b. Sovereignty of God coupled with Sin of David
“and it incited David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’”
3. (:2) Command of David – Take the Census of Fighting Men
“And the king said to Joab the commander of the army who was with him, ‘Go about now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and register the people, that I may know the number of the people.’”
Key issue here is the motivation of David.
4. (:3) Counsel of Joab
“But Joab said to the king, ‘Now may the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see; but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?’”
Blaikie: It is indeed strange that Joab should have had scruples where David had none. We have been accustomed to find Joab so seldom in the right that it is hard to believe that he was in the right now. But perhaps we do Joab injustice. He was a man that could be profoundly stirred when his own interests were at stake, or his passions roused, and that seemed equally regardless of God and man in what he did on such occasions. But otherwise Joab commonly acted with prudence and moderation. . . he seems to have had a certain amount of regard to the will of God and the theocratic constitution of the kingdom, for he was loyal to David from the very beginning, up to the contest between Solomon and Adonijah.
5. (:4) Coercion of Authority
“Nevertheless, the king’s word prevailed against Joab and against the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king, to register the people of Israel.”
Wiersbe: Sometimes God’s greatest judgment is simply to let us have our own way.
B. (:5-9) Campaign to Compile the Census
1. (:5-8) Geographic Coverage – from Aroer back to Jerusalem
“So when they had gone about through the whole land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.”
David had plenty of time to repent of his decision.
2. (:9) Grand Total
“And Joab gave the number of the registration of the people to the king; and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.”
Ryrie: (Note on 1 Chron. 21:5) The 800,000 from Israel in 2 Sam. 24:9 may not have included the 300,000 listed in 1 Chron. 27, which would make the total (as here) 1,100,000. The 470,000 in Judah may not have included the 30,000 of 2 Sam. 6:1, which would bring the total (as here) to 500,000. Or perhaps the Chronicles figure represents a round number.
II. (:10-17) PAINFUL PLAGUE — GOD HUMBLES DAVID WITH STRONG DISCIPLINE MITIGATED BY TENDER MERCY
A. (:10) Conscience Kicks In
1. Troubled Heart
“Now David’s heart troubled him after he had numbered the people.”
2. Confession of Sin
“So David said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done.”
Wiersbe: At least six times in Scripture we find David confessing “I have sinned” (2 Sam. 12:13; 24:10, 17; Ps. 41:4 and 51:4; 1 Chron. 21:8).
3. Petition for Forgiveness
“But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of Thy servant,”
4. Acknowledgment of Foolishness
“for I have acted very foolishly.”
B. (:11-14) Consequences Cannot Be Avoided – Choice of Discipline
1. (:11-12a) Confronting the Sinner
“When David arose in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, ‘Go and speak to David.’”
2. (:12b-13) Presenting the Options
“Thus the Lord says, ‘I am offering you three things; choose for yourself one of them, which I may do to you.’ So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him”
b. Three Choices
1) Seven Years of Famine – Slow Death
“Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land?”
2) Three Months of Fleeing – Fear and Brutality
“Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you?”
3) Three Days of Plague – Quick Death
“Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land?”
c. Call for Response
“Now consider and see what answer I shall return to Him who sent me.”
3. (:14) Casting Himself On the Mercy of God
“Then David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the Lord for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of men.’”
Gordon: David expresses the conviction that in wrath Yahweh will remember mercy (cf. Hab. 3:2), that his judgment on his people – his strange work (Is. 28:21) – is moderated by compassion.
C. (:15-17) Calamity Runs Its Appointed Course (Abbreviated by God’s Mercy)
1. (:15) 70,000 Die From Land of Israel
“So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning until the appointed time; and seventy thousand men of the people from Dan to Beersheba died.”
2. (:16) Remnant of Jerusalem Spared
“When the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the calamity, and said to the angel who destroyed the people, ‘It is enough! Now relax your hand!’ And the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”
3. (:17) David Assumes Personal Responsibility
“Then David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking down the people, and said, ‘Behold, it is I who have sinned, and it is I who have done wrong; but these sheep, what have they done? Please let Thy hand be against me and against my father’s house.’”
Gordon: There is by now a familiar realism about the presentation of David as saint and as sinner in these final scenes in 2 Samuel. He offends Yahweh, it is true, and his subjects suffer for his unwisdom. And yet . . . this final episode is noteworthy for the way in which it traces David’s advance from despotic self-interest to the solicitude of the shepherd-king who is truly fitted to rule God’s people. He is even willing to suffer (die?) for the sake of the sheep (v. 17)!
III. (:18-25) PLEASING WORSHIP — DAVID REPENTS — OFFERING WORSHIP AND SACRIFICE IN OBEDIENCE TO THE LORD’S COMAND
A. (:18-19) Obeying God’s Worship Instructions
“So Gad came to David that day and said to him, ‘Go up, erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.’ And David went up according to the word of God, just as the Lord had commanded.”
B. (:20-24) Paying for the Opportunity to Sacrifice
1. (:20-21) David Approaches Araunah
2. (:22-23) Araunah Offers the Land for Free
3. (:24) David Insists on Paying Fair Price
“However, the king said to Araunah, ‘No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing.’ So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.”
C. (:25) Offering Sacrifices
“And David built there an altar to the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. Thus the Lord was moved by entreaty for the land, and the plague was held back from Israel.”
Ryrie: The threshing floor was on Mount Moriah, a hill in the region of Moriah, where Abraham offered Isaac . . . and where Solomon later built the Temple (2 Chron. 3:1).