The Lord Sends a Plague against Israel
1 An adversarytn Or “Satan.” The Hebrew word שָׂטָן (satan) can refer to an adversary in general or Satan in particular. There is no article accompanying the term here, which suggests it should be understood generally (cf. NAB “a satan”). opposedtn Heb “stood against.” Israel, inciting David to count how many warriors Israel had.tn Heb “and incited David to count Israel.” As v. 5 indicates, David was not interested in a general census, but in determining how much military strength he had.sn The parallel text in 2 Sam 24:1 says, “The Lord’s anger again raged against Israel and he incited David against them, saying: ‘Go, count Israel and Judah!’“ The version of the incident in the Book of 2 Samuel gives an underlying theological perspective, while the Chronicler simply describes what happened from a human perspective. Many interpreters and translations render the Hebrew שָׂטָן as a proper name here, “Satan” (NEB, NASB, NIV, NRSV). However, the Hebrew term שָׂטָן, which means “adversary,” is used here without the article. Elsewhere when it appears without the article, it refers to a personal or national adversary in the human sphere, the lone exception being Num 22:22, 32, where the angel of the Lord assumes the role of an adversary to Balaam. When referring elsewhere to the spiritual entity known in the NT as Satan, the noun has the article and is used as a title, “the Adversary” (see Job 1:6-9, 12; 2:1-4, 6-7; Zech 3:1-2). In light of usage elsewhere the adversary in 1 Chr 21:1 is likely a human enemy, probably a nearby nation whose hostility against Israel pressured David into numbering the people so he could assess his military strength. For compelling linguistic and literary arguments against taking the noun as a proper name here, see S. Japhet, I & II Chronicles (OTL), 374-75.
2 David told Joab and the leaders of the army,tn Or “people.” “Go, count the number of warriorstn Heb “Go, count Israel.” See the note on “had” in v. 1. from Beer Sheba to Dan. Then bring back a report to me so I may know how many we have.”tn Heb “their number.”
3 Joab replied, “May the Lord make his armytn Or “people.” a hundred times larger! My master, O king, do not all of them serve my master? Why does my master want to do this? Why bring judgment on Israel?”tn Heb “Why should it become guilt for Israel?” David’s decision betrays an underlying trust in his own strength rather than in divine provision. See also 1 Chr 27:23-24.
4 But the king’s edict stood, despite Joab’s objections.tn Heb “and the word of the king was stronger than Joab.” So Joab left and traveled throughout Israel before returning to Jerusalem.map For location see Map5-B1; Map6-F3; Map7-E2; Map8-F2; Map10-B3; JP1-F4; JP2-F4; JP3-F4; JP4-F4.
5 Joab reported to David the number of warriors.tn Heb “and Joab gave to David the number of the numbering of the army [or “people”].” In all Israel there were 1,100,000tn Heb “a thousand thousands and one hundred thousand.” sword-wielding soldiers; Judah alone had 470,000 sword-wielding soldiers.tc The parallel text in 2 Sam 24:9 has variant figures: “In Israel there were eight hundred thousand sword-wielding warriors, and in Judah there were five hundred thousands soldiers.”
6 Now Joabtn Heb “he”; the proper name (“Joab”) has been substituted for the pronoun here for stylistic reasons; the proper name occurs at the end of the verse in the Hebrew text, where it has been replaced by the pronoun (“him”) in the translation. did not number Levi and Benjamin, for the king’s edict disgusted him.
7 God was also offended by it,tn Heb “There was displeasure in the eyes of God concerning this thing.” so he attacked Israel.
8 David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by doing this! Now, please remove the guilt of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly.”
9 The Lord told Gad, David’s prophet,tn Heb “seer.”
10 “Go, tell David, ‘This is what the Lord says: “I am offering you three forms of judgment from which to choose. Pick one of them.”’”tn Heb “Three I am extending to you; choose for yourself one of them and I will do it to you.”
11 Gad went to David and told him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Pick one of these:
12 threetc The parallel text in the MT of 2 Sam 24:13 has “seven,” but LXX has “three” there. years of famine, or three months being chased by your enemies and struck down by their swords,tc Heb “or three months being swept away from before your enemies and the sword of your enemies overtaking.” The Hebrew term נִסְפֶּה (nisppeh, Niphal participle from סָפָה, safah) should probably be emended to נֻסְכָה (nusÿkhah, Qal infinitive from נוּס [nus] with second masculine singular suffix). See 2 Sam 24:13. or three days being struck down by the Lord, during which a plague will invade the land and the Lord’s messenger will destroy throughout Israel’s territory.’tn Heb “or three days of the sword of the Lord and plague in the land, and the messenger [or “angel”] of the Lord destroying in all the territory of Israel.” Now, decide what I should tell the one who sent me.”
13 David said to Gad, “I am very upset! I prefer to be attacked by the Lord, for his mercy is very great; I do not want to be attacked by men!”tn Heb “There is great distress to me; let me fall into the hand of the Lord for his mercy is very great, but into the hand of men let me not fall.”
14 So the Lord sent a plague through Israel, and 70,000 Israelite men died.
15 God sent an angeltn The parallel text of 2 Sam 24:15 reports that God sent a plague, while 24:16-17 attributes this to the instrumentality of an angel. to ravagetn Or “destroy.” Jerusalem. As he was doing so,tn Heb “while he was destroying.” the Lord watchedtn Or “saw.” and relented fromtn Or “was grieved because of.” his judgment.tn Heb “concerning the calamity.” He told the angel who was destroying, “That’s enough!tn For this nuance of the Hebrew word רַב (rav), see BDB 913 s.v. 1.f. Stop now!”tn Heb “Now, drop your hand.”
Now the Lord’s angel was standing near the threshing floor of Ornantn In the parallel text in 2 Sam 24:16 this individual is called אֲרַוְנָא (’aravna’, “Aravna”), traditionally “Araunah.” The form of the name found here also occurs in vv. 18-28. the Jebusite.
16 David looked up and saw the Lord’s messenger standing between the earth and sky with his sword drawn and in his hand, stretched out over Jerusalem. David and the leaders, covered with sackcloth, threw themselves down with their faces to the ground.tn Heb “and David and the elders, covered with sackcloth, fell on their faces.”
17 David said to God, “Was I not the one who decided to number the army? I am the one who sinned and committed this awful deed!tn “and doing evil I did evil.” The infinitive absolute precedes the finite form of the verb for emphasis. As for these sheep – what have they done? O Lord my God, attack me and my family,tn Heb “let your hand be on me and on the house of my father.” but remove the plague from your people!”tn Heb “but on your people not for a plague.”
18 So the Lord’s messenger told Gad to instruct David to go up and buildtn Heb “that he should go up to raise up.” an altar for the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.
19 So David went up as Gad instructed him to do in the name of the Lord.tn Heb “and David went up by the word of Gad which he spoke in the name of the Lord.”
20 While Ornan was threshing wheat, he turned and saw the messenger, and he and his four sons hid themselves.
21 When David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David; he came out from the threshing floor and bowed to David with his facetn Heb “nostrils.” to the ground.
22 David said to Ornan, “Sell me the threshing floortn Heb “the place of the threshing floor.” so I can buildtn Following the imperative, the prefixed verbal form with vav (ו) conjunctive here indicates the immediate purpose/result: “so I can build.” on it an altar for the Lord – I’ll pay top pricetn Heb “For full silver sell to me.” – so that the plague may be removedtn Following the imperative and first person prefixed verbal form with vav (ו) conjunctive, this third person prefixed verbal form with vav conjunctive introduces the ultimate purpose/result: “so the plague may be removed.” Another option is subordinate this form to the preceding imperative, but the latter may be taken as a parenthetical expansion of the initial request. from the people.”
23 Ornan told David, “You can have it!tn Heb “take for yourself.” My master, the king, may do what he wants.tn Heb “what is good in his eyes.” Look, I am giving you the oxen for burnt sacrifices, the threshing sledges for wood, and the wheat for an offering. I give it all to you.”
24 King David replied to Ornan, “No, I insist on buying it for top price.tn Heb “No, for buying I will buy for full silver.” The infinitive absolute precedes the finite verb for emphasis. I will not offer to the Lord what belongs to you or offer a burnt sacrificetc The parallel text in 2 Sam 24:24 has the plural “burnt sacrifices.” that cost me nothing.tn Or “without [paying] compensation.”
25 So David bought the place from Ornan for 600 pieces of gold.tc The parallel text of 2 Sam 24:24 says David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for “fifty pieces of silver.” This would have been about 20 ounces (568 grams) of silver by weight.tn Heb “six hundred shekels of gold.” This would have been about 15 lbs. (6.8 kg) of gold by weight.
26 David built there an altar to the Lord and offered burnt sacrifices and peace offerings.tn Or “tokens of peace.” He called out to the Lord, and the Lordtn Heb “he”; the referent (the Lord) has been specified in the translation for clarity. responded by sending fire from the sky and consuming the burnt sacrifice on the altar.
27 The Lord ordered the messengertn Heb “spoke to the messenger.” to put his sword back into its sheath.
28 At that time, when David saw that the Lord responded to him at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he sacrificed there.
29 Now the Lord’s tabernacle (which Moses had made in the wilderness) and the altar for burnt sacrifices were at that time at the worship centertn Or “high place.” in Gibeon.
30 But David could not go before it to seek God’s will, for he was afraid of the sword of the Lord’s messenger.