David numbers the people. (1-9) He chooses the pestilence. (10-15) The staying the pestilence. (16,17) David's sacrifice, The plague removed. (18-25)
Verses 1-9 For the people's sin David was left to act wrong, and in his chastisement they received punishment. This example throws light upon God's government of the world, and furnishes a useful lesson. The pride of David's heart, was his sin in numbering of the people. He thought thereby to appear the more formidable, trusting in an arm of flesh more than he should have done, and though he had written so much of trusting in God only. God judges not of sin as we do. What appears to us harmless, or, at least, but a small offence, may be a great sin in the eye of God, who discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart. Even ungodly men can discern evil tempers and wrong conduct in believers, of which they themselves often remain unconscious. But God seldom allows those whom he loves the pleasures they sinfully covet.
Verses 10-15 It is well, when a man has sinned, if he has a heart within to smite him for it. If we confess our sins, we may pray in faith that God would forgive them, and take away, by pardoning mercy, that sin which we cast away by sincere repentance. What we make the matter of our pride, it is just in God to take from us, or make bitter to us, and make it our punishment. This must be such a punishment as the people have a large share in, for though it was David's sin that opened the sluice, the sins of the people all contributed to the flood. In this difficulty, David chose a judgment which came immediately from God, whose mercies he knew to be very great, rather than from men, who would have triumphed in the miseries of Israel, and have been thereby hardened in their idolatry. He chose the pestilence; he and his family would be as much exposed to it as the poorest Israelite; and he would continue for a shorter time under the Divine rebuke, however severe it was. The rapid destruction by the pestilence shows how easily God can bring down the proudest sinners, and how much we owe daily to the Divine patience.
Verses 16-17 Perhaps there was more wickedness, especially more pride, and that was the sin now chastised, in Jerusalem than elsewhere, therefore the hand of the destroyer is stretched out upon that city; but the Lord repented him of the evil, changed not his mind, but his way. In the very place where Abraham was stayed from slaying his son, this angel, by a like countermand, was stayed from destroying Jerusalem. It is for the sake of the great Sacrifice, that our forfeited lives are preserved from the destroying angel. And in David is the spirit of a true shepherd of the people, offering himself as a sacrifice to God, for the salvation of his subjects.
Verses 18-25 God's encouraging us to offer to him spiritual sacrifices, is an evidence of his reconciling us to himself. David purchased the ground to build the altar. God hates robbery for burnt-offering. Those know not what religion is, who chiefly care to make it cheap and easy to themselves, and who are best pleased with that which costs them least pains or money. For what have we our substance, but to honour God with it; and how can it be better bestowed? See the building of the altar, and the offering proper sacrifices upon it. Burnt-offerings to the glory of God's justice; peace-offerings to the glory of his mercy. Christ is our Altar, our Sacrifice; in him alone we may expect to escape his wrath, and to find favour with God. Death is destroying all around, in so many forms, and so suddenly, that it is madness not to expect and prepare for the close of life.
2 Samuel 24:1-9 . DAVID NUMBERS THE PEOPLE.
1-4. again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah--"Again" carries us back to the former tokens of His wrath in the three years' famine [ 2 Samuel 21:1 ]. God, though He cannot tempt any man ( James 1:13 ), is frequently described in Scripture as doing what He merely permits to be done; and so, in this case, He permitted Satan to tempt David. Satan was the active mover, while God only withdrew His supporting grace, and the great tempter prevailed against the king. (See Exodus 7:13 , 1 Samuel 26:19 , 2 Samuel 16:10 , Psalms 105:25 , Isaiah 7:17 , &c.). The order was given to Joab, who, though not generally restrained by religious scruples, did not fail to present, in strong terms every argument to dissuade the king from his purpose. The sacred history has not mentioned the objections which he and other distinguished officers urged against it in the council of David. But it expressly states that they were all overruled by the inflexible resolution of the king.
5. they passed over Jordan--This census was taken first in the eastern parts of the Hebrew kingdom; and it would seem that Joab was accompanied by a military force, either to aid in this troublesome work, or to overawe the people who might display reluctance or opposition.
the river of Gad--"Wady" would be a better term. It extends over a course estimated at about sixty miles, which, though in summer almost constantly dry, exhibits very evident traces of being swept over by an impetuous torrent in winter (see Deuteronomy 2:36 ).
6. the land of Tahtim-hodshi--that is, the land lately acquired; namely, that of the Hagarites conquered by Saul ( 1 Chronicles 5:10 ). The progress was northward. Thence they crossed the country, and, proceeding along the western coast to the southern extremities of the country, they at length arrived in Jerusalem, having completed the enumeration of the whole kingdom in the space of nine months and twenty days.
9. Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king--The amount here stated, compared with 1 Chronicles 21:5 , gives a difference of three hundred thousand. The discrepancy is only apparent, and admits of an easy reconciliation; thus (see 1 Chronicles 27:1-15 ), there were twelve divisions of generals, who commanded monthly, and whose duty was to keep guard on the royal person, each having a body of troops consisting of twenty-four thousand men, which, together, formed an army of two hundred eighty-eight thousand; and as a separate detachment of twelve thousand was attendant on the twelve princes of the twelve tribes mentioned in the same chapter, so both are equal to three hundred thousand. These were not reckoned in this book, because they were in the actual service of the king as a regular militia. But 1 Chronicles 21:5 joins them to the rest, saying, "all those of Israel were one million, one hundred thousand"; whereas the author of Samuel, who reckons only the eight hundred thousand, does not say, "all those of Israel," but barely "and Israel were," &c. It must also be observed that, exclusive of the troops before mentioned, there was an army of observation on the frontiers of the Philistines' country, composed of thirty thousand men, as appears from 2 Samuel 6:1 ; which, it seems, were included in the number of five hundred thousand of the people of Judah by the author of Samuel. But the author of Chronicles, who mentions only four hundred seventy thousand, gives the number of that tribe exclusive of those thirty thousand men, because they were not all of the tribe of Judah, and therefore he does not say, "all those of Judah," as he had said, "all those of Israel," but only, "and those of Judah." Thus both accounts may be reconciled [DAVIDSON].
2 Samuel 24:10-14 . HE, HAVING THREE PLAGUES PROPOUNDED BY GAD, REPENTS, AND CHOOSES THREE DAYS' PESTILENCE.
10-13. David's heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the Lord, I have sinned--The act of numbering the people was not in itself sinful; for Moses did it by the express authority of God. But David acted not only independently of such order of sanction, but from motives unworthy of the delegated king of Israel; from pride and vainglory; from self-confidence and distrust of God; and, above all, from ambitious designs of conquest, in furtherance of which he was determined to force the people into military service, and to ascertain whether he could muster an army sufficient for the magnitude of the enterprises he contemplated. It was a breach of the constitution, an infringement of the liberties of the people, and opposed to that divine policy which required that Israel should continue a separate people. His eyes were not opened to the heinousness of his sin till God had spoken unto him by His commissioned prophet.
13. Shall seven years of famine come unto thee--that is, in addition to the three that had been already, with the current year included
14. David said, . . . Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord--His overwhelming sense of his sin led him to acquiesce in the punishment denounced, notwithstanding its apparent excess of severity. He proceeded on a good principle in choosing the pestilence. In pestilence he was equally exposed, as it was just and right he should be, to danger as his people, whereas, in war and famine, he possessed means of protection superior to them. Besides, he thereby showed his trust, founded on long experience, in the divine goodness.
2 Samuel 24:15-25 . HIS INTERCESSION TO GOD; THE PLAGUE CEASES.
15. from the morning--rather that morning when Gad came [ 2 Samuel 24:18 ], till the end of the three days.
there died of the people . . . seventy thousand men--Thus was the pride of the vainglorious monarch, confiding in the number of his population, deeply humbled.
16. the Lord repented him of the evil--God is often described in Scripture as repenting when He ceased to pursue a course He had begun.
17. David . . . said--or, "had said,"
I have sinned . . . but these sheep, what have they done?--The guilt of numbering the people lay exclusively with David. But in the body politic as well as natural, when the head suffers, all the members suffer along with it; and, besides, although David's sin was the immediate cause, the great increase of national offenses at this time had ( 2 Samuel 24:1 ) kindled the anger of the Lord.
18. Araunah--or Ornan ( 1 Chronicles 21:18 ), the Jebusite, one of the ancient inhabitants, who, having become a convert to the true religion, retained his house and possessions. He resided on Mount Moriah, the spot on which the temple was afterwards built ( 2 Chronicles 3:1 ); but that mount was not then enclosed in the town.
21. to build an altar unto the Lord, that the plague may be stayed--It is evident that the plague was not stayed till after the altar was built, and the sacrifice offered, so that what is related ( 2 Samuel 24:16 ) was by anticipation. Previous to the offering of this sacrifice, he had seen the destroying angel as well as offered the intercessory prayer ( 2 Samuel 24:17 ). This was a sacrifice of expiation; and the reason why he was allowed to offer it on Mount Moriah was partly in gracious consideration to his fear of repairing to Gibeon ( 1 Chronicles 21:29 1 Chronicles 21:30 ), and partly in anticipation of the removal of the tabernacle and the erection of the temple there ( 2 Chronicles 3:1 ).
23. All these things did Araunah, as a king, give--Indicating, as the sense is, that this man had been anciently a heathen king or chief, but was now a proselyte who still retained great property and influence in Jerusalem, and whose piety was evinced by the liberality of his offers. The words, "as a king," are taken by some to signify simply, "he gave with royal munificence."
24. Nay; . . . I will . . . buy it of thee at a price--The sum mentioned here, about fifty dollars, was paid for the floor, oxen and wood instruments only, whereas the large sum ( 1 Chronicles 21:25 ) was paid afterwards for the whole hill, on which David made preparations for building the temple.
25. David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings--There seem to have been two sacrifices; the first expiatory, the second a thanksgiving for the cessation of the pestilence