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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
David is tempted by Satan to take the numbers of the people of Israel and Judah, 1 Chronicles 21:1, 1 Chronicles 21:2. Joab remonstrates, but the king is determined, and Joab pleads in vain, 1 Chronicles 21:3, 1 Chronicles 21:4. He returns, and delivers in the number to the king, but reckons not Levi and Benjamin, 1 Chronicles 21:5. The Lord is displeased, and sends Gad to offer David his choice of three great national calamities; famine, war, or pestilence, 1 Chronicles 21:6-12. David submits himself to God, and a pestilence is sent, which destroys seventy thousand, 1 Chronicles 21:13, 1 Chronicles 21:14. At David's intercession the destroying angel is restrained at the threshing-floor of Ornan, 1 Chronicles 21:15-17. He buys the piece of ground, builds an altar to the Lord and offers sacrifices, and the plague is stayed, 1 Chronicles 21:18-30.
1And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.
And Satan stood up against Israel - See the notes on the parallel place, 2 Samuel 24:1 (note), etc.
2And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it.
3And Joab answered, The LORD make his people an hundred times so many more as they be: but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? why then doth my lord require this thing? why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?
4Nevertheless the king's word prevailed against Joab. Wherefore Joab departed, and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem.
5And Joab gave the sum of the number of the people unto David. And all they of Israel were a thousand thousand and an hundred thousand men that drew sword: and Judah was four hundred threescore and ten thousand men that drew sword.
All they of Israel were a thousand thousand - Judah was four hundred threescore and ten thousand - In the parallel place, 2 Samuel 24:9 (note), the men of Israel are reckoned eight hundred thousand, and the men of Judah five hundred thousand.
6But Levi and Benjamin counted he not among them: for the king's word was abominable to Joab.
Levi and Benjamin counted he not - The rabbins give the following reason for this: Joab, seeing that this would bring down destruction upon the people, purposed to save two tribes. Should David ask, Why have you not numbered the Levites? Joab purposed to say, Because the Levites are not reckoned among the children of Israel. Should he ask, Why have you not numbered Benjamin? he would answer, Benjamin has been already sufficiently punished, on account of the treatment of the woman at Gibeah: if, therefore, this tribe were to be again punished, who would remain?
7And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel.
8And David said unto God, I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing: but now, I beseech thee, do away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.
9And the LORD spake unto Gad, David's seer, saying,
10Go and tell David, saying, Thus saith the LORD, I offer thee three things: choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee.
11So Gad came to David, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Choose thee
12Either three years' famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee; or else three days the sword of the LORD, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel. Now therefore advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sent me.
Three days - the pestilence in the land - In 2 Samuel 24:13 (note), seven years of famine are mentioned.
13And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let me fall now into the hand of the LORD; for very great are his mercies: but let me not fall into the hand of man.
David said - I am in a great strait - The Targum reasons thus:
"And David said to Gad, If I choose famine, the Israelites may say, The granaries of David are full of corn; neither doth he care should the people of Israel die with hunger. And if I choose war, and fly before an enemy, the Israelites may say, David is a strong and warlike man, and he cares not though the people of Israel should fall by the sword. I am brought into a great strait; I will deliver myself now into the Hand of the Word of the Lord, ביד מימרא דיי beyad meymera dayai, for his mercies are many; but into the hands of the children of men I will not deliver myself."
14So the LORD sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men.
15And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the LORD beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.
And God sent an angel - Thus the Targum: "And the Word of the Lord sent the angel of death against Jerusalem to destroy it; and he beheld the ashes of the binding of Isaac at the foot of the altar, and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, which he made in the Mount of Worship; and the house of the upper sanctuary, where are the souls of the righteous, and the image of Jacob fixed on the throne of glory; and he turned in his Word from the evil which he designed to do unto them; and he said to the destroying angel, Cease; take Abishai their chief from among them, and cease from smiting the rest of the people. And the angel which was sent from the presence of the Lord stood at the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
16And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the LORD stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces.
17And David said unto God, Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered? even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed; but as for these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, O LORD my God, be on me, and on my father's house; but not on thy people, that they should be plagued.
18Then the angel of the LORD commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up, and set up an altar unto the LORD in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.
19And David went up at the saying of Gad, which he spake in the name of the LORD.
20And Ornan turned back, and saw the angel; and his four sons with him hid themselves. Now Ornan was threshing wheat.
Ornan turned back, and saw the angel - The Septuagint say, And Orna turned, και ειδε τον βασιλεα, and saw the King. The Syriac and Arabic say, David saw the angel; and do not mention Ornan in this place. Houbigant translates the same reading המלך hammalech, the king, for המלעך hammalach, the angel, and vindicates his version from the parallel place, 2 Samuel 24:20, where it is said, he saw David: but there is no word of his seeing the angel. But the seeing David is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 21:21; though Houbigant supposes that the 20th verse refers to his seeing the king while he was at a distance; the 21st, to his seeing him when he came into the threshing-floor. In the first instance he and his sons were afraid when they saw the king coming, and this caused them to hide themselves; but when he came into the threshing-floor, they were obliged to appear before him. One of Kennicott's MSS. has המלך the king, instead of המלאך the angel. Some learned men contend for the former reading.
21And as David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David, and went out of the threshingfloor, and bowed himself to David with his face to the ground.
22Then David said to Ornan, Grant me the place of this threshingfloor, that I may build an altar therein unto the LORD: thou shalt grant it me for the full price: that the plague may be stayed from the people.
23And Ornan said unto David, Take it to thee, and let my lord the king do that which is good in his eyes: lo, I give thee the oxen also for burnt offerings, and the threshing instruments for wood, and the wheat for the meat offering; I give it all.
24And king David said to Ornan, Nay; but I will verily buy it for the full price: for I will not take that which is thine for the LORD, nor offer burnt offerings without cost.
For the full price - That is, six hundred shekels full weight of pure gold.
25So David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred shekels of gold by weight.
26And David built there an altar unto the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called upon the LORD; and he answered him from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt offering.
He answered him - by fire - In answer to David's prayers, God, to show that he had accepted him, and was now pacified towards him and the people, sent fire from heaven and consumed the offerings.
27And the LORD commanded the angel; and he put up his sword again into the sheath thereof.
28At that time when David saw that the LORD had answered him in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite, then he sacrificed there.
29For the tabernacle of the LORD, which Moses made in the wilderness, and the altar of the burnt offering, were at that season in the high place at Gibeon.
30But David could not go before it to inquire of God: for he was afraid because of the sword of the angel of the LORD.
Because of the sword of the angel - This is given as a reason why David built an altar in the threshing-floor of Ornan: he was afraid to go to Gibeon, because of the sword of the destroying angel, or he was afraid of delaying the offerings so long as his going thither would require, lest the destroying angel should in the mean while exterminate the people; therefore he hastily built an altar in that place, and on it made the requisite offerings, and by the fire from heaven God showed that he had accepted his act and his devotion. Such interventions as these must necessarily maintain in the minds of the people a full persuasion of the truth and Divine origin of their religion.
For a more circumstantial account of these transactions, see the notes on 2 Samuel 24:1, Ac., in which several difficulties of the text are removed.