1 Chronicles
Introduction 1-7 The Sin of the Census 8-13 David Confesses His Sin 14-17 The Sword of the LORD 18-25 David Must Build an Altar 26-30 David Offers and Calls to the LORD
Introduction

The events in this chapter take place around 975 BC. David is now sixty-eight years old. The events of the previous chapter take place around 995 BC. The twenty years in between are filled with the adultery of David, the revolt of Absalom and David’s flee. The Holy Spirit passes all this by here.

In the books of Chronicles the sins of David are only mentioned when it is necessary to give us insight into the manner in which God fulfills His counsel. As mentioned before, the books of Chronicles describe the history of God’s people from God’s perspective and not from the perspective of man’s responsibility. The latter happens in the books of Kings.

The sin of David through the census is told here, because in the atonement of that sin the place is indicated where the temple is to come. It is therefore the fulfillment of God’s purpose, for which He even uses the sin of a member of His people. This fits exactly with the perspective that the chronicler, under the guidance of God’s Spirit, has in mind.


The Sin of the Census

1Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. 2So 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.” 3Joab 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?” 4Nevertheless, the king’s word prevailed against Joab. Therefore, Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem. 5Joab 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. 6But he did not number Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab. 7God was displeased with this thing, so He struck Israel.

The sin of the census is also found in 2 Samuel 24. There we read that the LORD incites David to count the people (2Sam 24:11Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”). The chronicler says that Satan moves David to number. Here we have one of those contradictions that the opponents of the Bible like to use to portray the Bible as unreliable. But 1 Chronicles 21 is not a correction to a previously written account in 2 Samuel 24.

We can learn from Job here. In the book of Job Satan brings all the misery about Job. But Job does not attribute this misery to Satan, but to God. The devil acts according to his own evil nature, but is ultimately nothing but an instrument in God’s hand. Paul sometimes attributes something to Satan (1Thes 2:1818For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and [yet] Satan hindered us.), knowing very well that God rules his life.

It is therefore important to realize that God’s hand is present in what Satan wants to do by moving David to number. God is above all that happens on earth and not Satan. In 2 Samuel 24 it is a test of the LORD to put David to the test. David fails there in his responsibility as king. God’s king must remain dependent on God alone and not rely on the power of his army of which he wants to know the number of militant men. In 1 Chronicles 21 it is Satan who wants to disturb the counsel of God and to do so by overthrowing David.

The impressive thing is that God does not allow Himself to be disturbed in the execution of His plans and that it is precisely through this sin that He achieves His goal. That never means an apology for sin. Through our failures God glorifies Himself and works out His purposes. We already see this at the fall into sin. Not that God would have wanted the fall. God abhors from sin. Yet He has a greater blessing for man than without the fall. This is the secret of God, which cannot be understood by us, but can only be worshipped by us in faith. To us God’s counsel and our failure are not compatible, but to God they are.

Another question is whether it was sin to number the people. After all, in the wilderness God has numbered His people several times (Num 1:22“Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, every male, head by head; 26:22“Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel from twenty years old and upward, by their fathers’ households, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel.”)? Here too, we need to look beyond the fact of the census. The censuses he has had done, he has had done in connection with the heave offering to make atonement (Exo 30:12-1612“When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them.13This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to the LORD.14Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the LORD.15The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the LORD to make atonement for yourselves.16You shall take the atonement money from the sons of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the sons of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves.”). In the New Testament, in rounded numbers, numbers are also sometimes mentioned (Acts 1:1515At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said,; 2:4141So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.; 4:44But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.). However, the number of believers in the churches ‘established’ by Paul is never mentioned.

There are things that are wrong in themselves. These are things that are simply sin, for example because they are clearly forbidden by God in His law. There are also things that are not sin in themselves, but are wrong because of the mind in which something is done. The latter is the case here. David wants to know how great the fighting power of his army is. He forgets that he depends on God for his strength and not on the number of militant men at his disposal. He forgets that all power rests with God alone.

David’s prosperity exposes him to the temptations of the enemy. As head of Israel and conqueror of all enemies, he wishes to know the power of the people, who are his glory. With this he forgets the power of God Who gave him all this and made Israel great. He forgot on which way he won from Goliath and what he said then (1Sam 17:45-4645Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted.46This day the LORD will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel,).

The account of the sin of the census begins with the statement that Satan stands up against Israel (verse 11Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.). Satan is concerned with the destruction of God’s people. In the people there are enough leads for him to attack, but to strike the people in the most effective way he turns to David, the leader of God’s people. If he can tempt the leader to sin, it will have consequences for the people.

Satan seems to be successful. David is receptive to the whisper of Satan. He instructs Joab to number Israel “from Beersheba even to Dan”, which is from the extreme south to the extreme north (verse 22So 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.”). Joab must therefore number the whole people. If he has done that, he must bring David the result, so David “knows their number”.

Joab strongly resists this commission (verse 33Joab 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?”). With clear arguments he tries to change David’s thoughts. He acknowledges the kingship of David and reminds him that all his subjects are his servants. So why number? It seems he has a better understanding of the folly of such a census than David. His mind tells him that this matter is not according to the will of God. It will only bring calamity to the people, he says to David.

David, however, is not willing to change his mind. This time his word is too strong for Joab (verse 4a4Nevertheless, the king’s word prevailed against Joab. Therefore, Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem.). Does David make it a prestige case? Does he not want to listen to Joab, who has shown himself to be an unreliable man several times because he doesn’t care about David? In any case, David should have listened this time, but does not do it.

Joab goes throughout all Israel and returns to Jerusalem with the result of the census (verses 4b-54Nevertheless, the king’s word prevailed against Joab. Therefore, Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem.5Joab 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.). David, however, gets an incorrect number. Out of abhorrence for the command, Joab did not number two tribes. The abhorrence of Joab is justified as a fact and is underlined by what is said in verse 77God was displeased with this thing, so He struck Israel. about God’s displeasure with this matter. The census was evil in the eyes of God.

David brings guilt upon the people by his action. It brings God’s judgment over Israel. God’s wrath ignites against His people because there is also a spirit of pride in the people about the position they have obtained (2Sam 24:11Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”). Does not the judgment of God play into the hands of Satan? In verse 11Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. it says that Satan stands up against Israel and now we read that God stands up against Israel in judgment.

Superficially, it may seem so. But if we look deeper, we see that this is not the case. It has to do with the complete difference in intentions that Satan has and that God has. Satan seeks the destruction of God’s people and God seeks the restoration of His people. In the rest of this history we hear nothing more of Satan. He has fulfilled his role and is finished talking; he doesn’t matter anymore. God has taken the matter into His hands and is working towards the goal He has set himself.


David Confesses His Sin

8David said to God, “I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” 9The 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, which I will do to you.”‘“ 11So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Take for yourself 12either 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.” 13David 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.”

As soon as the anger of God comes upon his people, David confesses his sin (verse 88David said to God, “I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”; cf. 2Sam 12:1313Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.). This confession is necessary, because only because of it comes forgiveness (1Jn 1:99If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.). David’s iniquity is removed. However, the consequences of his sin are not removed (Gal 6:77Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.). God has forgiven sin. However, because it is a public sin, it must also be publicly punished.

The LORD sends “Gad, David’s seer” to him to present to him three punishments from which he may choose one. Each of the punishments, when exercised, means a considerable reduction in the number of people he wanted to number to know how strong he was. God strikes him in his arrogant desire to know his strength.

When Gad has finished speaking, he expects an answer from David to bring it “to Him who sent me”. Gad must bring only the message of the LORD to David and the answer of David to the LORD. He has no influence whatsoever on the word He must speak in the name of the LORD, and he has no influence whatsoever on David’s answer which he must bring to the LORD.

As the messenger of the LORD, Gad places the man whom he must address in the light of the LORD. He does nothing else and nothing more than that. This is the task of every one who is sent to others with a message from the Lord. The word of the Lord must bring the hearts into the presence of God, and the reaction to that word must be brought back to the Lord.

The three punishments which Gad present to David are
1. a natural disaster,
2. the sword, which is a punishment performed by humans or
3. pestilence, a punishment exercised by an angel.

The punishments all come from the hand of the LORD. Yet there is a difference. The hand of the LORD is seen more indirectly in the first two punishments, while in the plague His hand is more directly perceptible. There is another difference. A famine that comes over all will certainly cost victims, but the rich can survive longer anyway. The sword of the enemy will also make casualties, but still mainly hit the soldiers. However, the plague will be able to affect every human being without regard to the person.

The duration of the disasters is
1. three years in the case of natural disasters,
2. a disaster of three months by men; and
3.a disaster of three days by an angel.

When Christ took our place on the cross, it was a disaster of three hours of darkness. He went through it because of God’s judgment over our sins. This has become the basis for the increase of His people.

David chooses to fall into the LORD’s hand, “for His mercies are very great” (verse 1313David 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.”; Hab 3:22LORD, I have heard the report about You [and] I fear.
O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years,
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy.
). He wanted to know the number of the members of his people of war. Now he is told how many members of his people he has lost (verse 1414So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel; 70,000 men of Israel fell.). If God is for us, we do not need to count. If He is against us, we will see what we have lost.


The Sword of the LORD

14So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel; 70,000 men of Israel fell. 15And 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. 16Then 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. 17David 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 Your hand be against me and my father’s household, but not against Your people that they should be plagued.”

David, with his words to fall in the hand of the LORD, has put his choice in the hand of the LORD (verse 1313David 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.”). Then the LORD gives an outbreak of the pestilence (verse 1414So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel; 70,000 men of Israel fell.). Pestilence is a disease, but God sends it through an angel. An angel with a message of peace already causes terror and trembling (Lk 1:1212Zacharias was troubled when he saw [the angel], and fear gripped him.; 2:9-109And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;), how much more an angel with a drawn sword, sent to judge (verse 1616Then 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.).

At the height of the plague, when seventy thousand men have already fallen, Jerusalem is reached (verse 1515And 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.). When destruction begins there, God says it is enough. He is moved over that city with compassion. He “is sorry over the calamity”. When God repents of something, it is not because of something wrong that He has to return to – He does not do wrong things – but because He sees the outcome of certain developments and stops that development. In other words, God’s sorry has to do with the suffering and sorrow He must cause and what reveals His compassion about it.

At the moment when God stops the judgment, the angel stands by a threshing floor. A threshing floor speaks of judgment, but then a judgment in which the wrong, the chaff, is separated from the good, the corn. At the threshing floor it is all about the good, the corn. The place of judgment is therefore the place of blessing. We see that also here, because here will be the altar of David and later the temple of Solomon.

At the place where judgment has been stopped, the altar must be placed, on which the daily burnt offerings will form a reminder of His purpose and mercies. He is going to show mercy. Only then, in the following verses, will come the confession of David. Here God’s actions stand alone. He finds reason in Himself for this action. God stops judging because He looks ahead, ultimately to the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.

David sees “the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven”. He stands there “with his drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem”. The invisible world is opened up to the human eye here (cf. Num 22:3131Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground.; Jos 5:1313Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?”; Jdg 6:1111Then the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save [it] from the Midianites.). The effect of this impressive view on David and the elders is that they fall on their faces.

In this attitude David addresses the word to God, a word for the benefit of God’s people. In this he resembles the Lord Jesus, who always make intercession by God for his people (Heb 7:2525Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.). David’s responsibility is in stark contrast to that of the Lord Jesus. He knows that he is a sinner and pleads for God’s grace, that others should not bear the consequences of his sins.

Yet he is also a type of the Lord Jesus. We see this when he offers himself as a substitute for the people. He says, as it were: ‘Punish me, the true culprit, and release the innocent.’ This is in contrast to the Lord Jesus, for He is the true innocent One Who is punished for the guilty. There is also a parallel, because the Lord Jesus becomes the guilty One, He takes the guilt on Himself and declares His people innocent.


David Must Build an Altar

18Then 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. 19So David went up at the word of Gad, which he spoke in the name of the LORD. 20Now Ornan turned back and saw the angel, and his four sons [who were] with him hid themselves. And Ornan was threshing wheat. 21As 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. 22Then 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.” 23Ornan 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.” 24But 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.” 25So David gave Ornan 600 shekels of gold by weight for the site.

Gad receives from the angel of the LORD – that is from the Lord Jesus, who often appears in the Old Testament as ‘the Angel of the LORD’ – the instruction to go back to David. He must go and tell him to build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. An altar serves to bring a sacrifice on it. To bring a sacrifice David cannot go to Gibeon, because the sacrifice has to be brought quickly (cf. Num 16:47-4847Then Aaron took [it] as Moses had spoken, and ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people. So he put [on] the incense and made atonement for the people.48He took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked.). Therefore God points this place out to him on the threshing floor of Ornan, the Jebusite, to build an altar there.

David obeys “the word of Gad, which he spoke in the name of the LORD”. He goes “up”. The threshing floor is high. The altar and later the temple are built on a high place. David comes to Ornan when he is threshing wheat. The four sons of Ornan hid at the sight of the angel. When Ornan sees David, he comes down from the threshing floor and bows down respectfully before him.

David asks Ornan to give him the threshing floor and also tells him what he intends to do with it. He does not want to negotiate about the price. He wants to pay the full price, for it is about nothing less than stopping the plague that has come upon the people. Ornan wants to give David everything. If David had accepted that, it would not have been his altar and his sacrifice, but that of Ornan. That is why he wants to pay the full price.

David says it like this: “For I will not take what is yours for the LORD, or offer a burnt offering which costs me nothing” (verse 2424But 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.”). This beautiful word contains is an important spiritual lesson for us. That lesson is that we can only offer God something of value to Him and to us if what we offer Him has cost us something. We can think of spending our time reflecting on the Word of God, reading it and discovering Who the Lord Jesus is. What we have discovered, we can offer to God in thanks and worship.

We can also think of the use of sound Bible study literature. Reading what others have written and said about a particular section is an important help in getting to know God’s thoughts. However, if we only parrot this in our thanksgiving, it is the bringing of a sacrifice that costs us nothing. It is about making what we may learn from others our own by considering the section concerned of God’s Word in our hearts and then thanking God for it in our own words.

David pays Ornan the impressive sum of 600 shekels of gold (verse 2525So David gave Ornan 600 shekels of gold by weight for the site.). The height of the amount is striking when we realize that for a field in Anathoth seventeen shekels of silver (Jer 32:99“I bought the field which was at Anathoth from Hanamel my uncle’s son, and I weighed out the silver for him, seventeen shekels of silver.) and for the grave of Abraham four hundred shekels of silver (Gen 23:1515“My LORD, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? So bury your dead.”) has been paid. This makes it clear that this place is worth a huge amount to David.


David Offers and Calls to the LORD

26Then David built an altar to the LORD there and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. And he called to the LORD and He answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering. 27The LORD commanded the angel, and he put his sword back in its sheath. 28At that time, when David saw that the LORD had answered him on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he offered sacrifice there. 29For 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. 30But David could not go before it to inquire of God, for he was terrified by the sword of the angel of the LORD.

David builds an altar on the threshing floor he just bought and brings offerings on it as the king-priest. The LORD accepts all his offerings. In response to the call to the LORD He sends fire from heaven to the altar of burnt offering (cf. Lk 9:2424For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.; Jdg 6:2121Then the angel of the LORD put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the angel of the LORD vanished from his sight.; 1Kgs 18:37-3837Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and [that] You have turned their heart back again.”38Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.). The fire kindles the offering, and let it ascend in smoke unto the LORD. Then the LORD speaks to the angel that he can put his sword back in its sheath. The repentance of David and the offering cause that the angel’s task is over.

What we see here is the beginning of a new worship service. It is a worship at the basis of a judgement brought to a halt by the burnt offering and the peace offering. These offerings speak of the Lord Jesus. The burnt offering speaks of the sacrifice of Christ as fully brought to God. The peace offering speaks of the sacrifice of Christ as a fellowship offering, through which there can be fellowship of the people with God and between the members of God’s people. God has fully accepted the sacrifice of His Son, and on that basis is able to forgive sins and accept sinners as His children.

The place where the plague is stopped is Mount Moriah. This is the mountain where Abraham sacrificed Isaac (Gen 22:1-21Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”2He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”) and where Solomon builds the temple (2Chr 3:11Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where [the LORD] had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.). This new place of worship replaces “the tabernacle of the LORD, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering”. The place where they stand at that time is the high place at Gibeon. There is still sacrificed, but from that moment on no longer by David. Fear of the sword prevented him from going there, for a sacrifice had to be made with great haste to stop the plague. That sacrifice was made on God’s instruction on this new altar at Mount Moria.


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