1 Chronicles 21 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

1 Chronicles 21
Pulpit Commentary
And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.
Verse 1. - Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. This remarkable sentence takes the place of the statements in the parallel, "And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah." Our own passage seems to confine the temptation and sin to David. David also seems to be spoken of as the object of malignant attack on the part of Satan, though Israel is spoken of as the object of malignant envy and animosity. It is also to be noticed that in ver. 17 David takes all the blame to himself, and speaks of the people as "innocent sheep." A people and whole nation have, indeed, often suffered the smart of one ruler's sin. Yet here the light thrown upon the whole event by the account in the Book of Samuel must be accepted as revealing the fact that there had been previously something amiss on the part of the people - perhaps something of illest significance lurking in their constitution. This alone could "kindle the anger of the Lord against Israel." It is the opposite of this which kindles the anger of Satan - when he witnesses excellence, surpassing excellence, as when he witnesses "the weakest saint," yet in that strongest position," on his knees." The apparent inconsistency in Satan being spoken of as resisting Israel, and the anger of the Lord being spoken of as kindled against Israel, is but apparent and superficial. In the first place, these histories do only purport to state the facts overt. And in this sense either alternative statement gives the prima facie facts. Either is true, and both may be true in different chronological order. And further, that the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel is no disproof that Satan will see and seize his opportunity. It looks the contrary way. There was a time and an occasion in Eden when Satan thought he saw an opportunity, tried it, and found it, when the anger of the Lord was not kindled against Adam and Eve for certain. But much more prompt will be the executive of Satan at another and less doubtful time. The paths in written history are often awhile rugged and broken up; the written history of Scripture is no exception. And in thus being the more in analogy with history itself, those unevennesses and breaks are the better attestation of both the reality of the Scripture history and the veracity of its writers. The word (שָׂטַן) occurs twenty-four times in the Old Testament. On all occasions of its occurrence in the Book of Job and in the prophecies of Zechariah, it shows the prefixed definite article; in all other places it is, with the present passage, unaccompanied by the article. Its translation here might appear strictly as that of a proper name. But this cannot be said of the other instances of its use, when without the article (Numbers 22:22, 32; 1 Samuel 29:4). This constitutes with some the ground of the very opposite opinion and opposite translation. If we regard the name as utterly expressing the personality of Satan, the passage is very noteworthy, and will be most safely regarded as the language of the compiler, and not as copied from the original source. The signification of the word "Satan," as is well known, is "adversary," or "accuser." The sin of David in giving the order of this verse was of a technical and ceremonial character, in the first place, whatever his motives were, and however intensified by other causes of a moral and more individual complexion. We learn (Exodus 30:12-16) the special enactments respecting what was to be observed when "the sum of the children of Israel after their number" was to be taken. However, the same passage does not say, it fails to say, when such a numbering would be legitimate or when not. It is left us, therefore, to deduce this from observation. And we notice, in the first place, that, on the occasion of its undoubted rightness, it is the work of the distinct commandment of God (Numbers 1:1-3; Numbers 26:1-4). Next, we notice the religious contribution, "the ransom," that was required with it (Exodus 30:12-16; Exodus 38:25, 26; Numbers 31:48-54). Again, we notice that the numberings narrated both in the beginning of the Book of Numbers (1.) and toward the close (26.) had specific moral objects as assigned by God - among them the forcible teaching of the loss entailed by the successive rebellions of the people (Numbers 26:64, 65; Deuteronomy 2:14, 15). And though last, not least, all these indications are lighted up by the express and emphatic announcements in God's original promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that their seed should become past numbering, multitudinous as the stars, and as the sands of the seashore. From all which we may conclude that only that numbering was held legitimate which was for God's service in some form, and as against human pride and boastfulness - by God's command as against a human king's fancy - and which was attended by the payment of that solemn "ransom" money, the bekah, or half-shekel (Exodus 30:12). Other numbering had snares about it, and it was no doubt because it had such intrinsically that it was divinely discountenanced, and in this case severely punished. It seems gratuitous with some to tax David with having other motives than those of some sort of vanity now at work, sinister designs of preparing, unaided and unpermitted, some fresh military exploits, or stealing a march on the nation itself in the matter of some new system of taxation. The context offers no corroboration of either of these notions, while several lesser indications point to the simplest explanation (1 Chronicles 27:23).
And 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.
Verse 2. - And to the rulers of the people. So Numbers 1:4, "And with you there shall be a man of every tribe; every one head of the house of his fathers" (see also 1 Chronicles 27:22-24; 2 Samuel 24:4, 5).
And 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?
Verse 3. - But my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? The place of this perfectly intelligible sentence, indicating that Joab discerned the object of David in desiring the numbering of the people, is occupied in the Book of Samuel by the words, "And that the eyes of my lord the king may see it;" which some for no very evident reason prefer. It was, no doubt, a very radical element of David's sin in this matter that he was thinking of the nation too much as his own servants, instead of as the servants of his one Master. The Lord ever knoweth who are his, and numbereth not only them and their names, but their every sigh, tear, prayer. A cause of trespass. This clause may be explained as though trespass was equivalent to the consequences, i.e. the punishment of trespass. This. however, rather tends to explain away than to explain a phrase. More probably the deeper meaning is that, in the fact of the numbering, nation and king would become one in act, and would become involved together in indisputable sin. Though there were no unfeigned assent and consent in the great body of the nation to the numbering, yet they would become participators in the wrong-doing. It would further seem evident, from Joab addressing these words to the king, that it was a thing familiarly known and thoroughly understood that the course David was now bent on following was one virtually, if not actually, prohibited, and not one merely likely to be displeasing to God on account of any individual disposition in David to be boastful or self-confident. Otherwise it would be scarcely within the province of Joab either to express or suppose this of his royal master.
Nevertheless the king's word prevailed against Joab. Wherefore Joab departed, and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem.
Verse 4. - Wherefore Joab departed, and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem. This short verse stands in the place of all the five verses of 2 Samuel 24:4-8, with their interesting contents, giving the route which Joab and his assistants took, and the time occupied (nine months and twenty days) to their return.
And 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.
Verse 5. - The report of the numbers as given in this verse does not tally with that of the parallel place. Here they are three hundred thousand more for Israel, and thirty thousand fewer for Judah, than there. No really satisfactory explanation of these discrepancies has yet appeared. The somewhat ingenious suggestion that the Chronicle-compiler counted in the standing army (two hundred and eighty-eight thousand, 1 Chronicles 27:1-15) for Israel, and omitted from Judah a supposed "thirty thousand," under the head of "the thirty" of our ch. 11; while the writer of the Book of Samuel did exactly the converse, - can scarcely pass muster, although it must be noticed that it would meet in the main the exigencies of the case. A likelier suggestion might be found in a comparison of the statements of our ver. 6 compared with 1 Chronicles 27:22-24. Indeed, the last sentence of this last-quoted verse (1 Chronicles 27:24) may possibly contain the explanation of all (cutup. Numbers 1:47-50; Numbers 2:33). That Joab utterly refused to number Levi, because this was a thing most distinctly prohibited (and further because it was not material to David's presumable objects), was quite to be expected. And though Joab is said in the following verse not to have numbered Benjamin, it is possible enough that he may have known this number (1 Chronicles 7:6-11). Yet see what follows.
But Levi and Benjamin counted he not among them: for the king's word was abominable to Joab.
Verse 6. - Averse to his task as Joab was, he may have been indebted to the memory of the exemption of Levi from census for the idea of enlarging upon it and omitting Benjamin as well. The important contents of this short verse are not found in Samuel, so that we can borrow no light thence. But Benjamin was "the least of the tribes" (Judges 21:1-23), and Peele has suggested that God would not permit the numbers of either of these tribes to be lessened, as he foresaw that they would be faithful to the throne of David on the division of the kingdom. Others think that the omission of these tribes in the census may have been due to Joab's recall to Jerusalem before the completion of the work, and to the king's repentance in the interim cutting off the necessity of completing it. This little agrees, however, with the resolute tone and assigned reason contained in this verse. Peele's explanation, meantime, explains nothing in respect of the statement that the king's word was abominable to Joab.
And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel.
Verse 7. - Smote Israel. These two words serve simply to summarize in the first instance what the compiler is about to rehearse at greater length. The parallel place shows, "And David's heart smote him after that he had numbered the people." Some better power occasioned that smiting. Reflection brought to David's heart and conscience (1 Samuel 24:5), as often to those of others, restored vitality. The exact circumstances or providences, however, which roused into action the conscience of David are not stated. The second clause of our verse cannot refer to any preliminary smiting, but to the oncoming visitation of pestilence. It is noticeable, if only as a coincidence, that the eleventh verse of the parallel passage (2 Samuel 24:11) opens with a similarly ambiguously placed clause, "For when David was up in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the Prophet Gad," although this is explainable simply as our insufficient Authorized Version rendering. However, failing any external cause, the beginning of ver. 10 in this same parallel place may intimate the adequate account of all in the spontaneous stirring of David's conscience" the bitter thoughts of conscience born." In these two verses we suddenly come upon the name "God" instead of "the Lord," i.e. Jehovah.
And 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.
And the LORD spake unto Gad, David's seer, saying,
Verse 9. - Gad, David's seer. The parallel place says, "The Prophet Gad (הֲנָּבִיא), David's seer" (2 Samuel 24:11). The Hebrew word here used in both passages for "seer," is חֹזֶה, in place of the word of higher import, הָרֹאֶה, the use of which is confined to Samuel, Hanani, and to the person spoken of in Isaiah 30:10. In this last passage our Authorized Version translates "prophet" while in 1 Chronicles 29:29 our Authorized Version translates both Hebrew names in the very same verse by the one English word "seer." Gad was, perhaps, a pupil of David (2 Samuel 22:8), and was the successor of Samuel (1 Chronicles 9:22) in this office.
Go 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.
So Gad came to David, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Choose thee
Either 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.
Verse 12. - Three years' famine. The parallel place has, in our Hebrew text, "seven" instead of "three." But the Septuagint indicates this to be but a corruption of a later text; for it reads" three," as here. The parallel place shows no mention of the destroying angel here spoken cf. The three inflictions of famine, sword, pestilence, are found not unfrequently elsewhere in Scripture (see Deuteronomy 28:21-25; Ezekiel 14:21; Revelation 6:4-8). Now ... advise thyself. The simple text is" Now see," in place of "Now know and see" of the parallel passage.
And 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.
Verse 13. - It is in such answers as these - answers of equal piety and practical wisdom, that the difference is often visible between the man radically bad, and the man good at heart and the child of grace, even when fallen into the deepest depth of sin.
So the LORD sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men.
Verse 14. - So the Lord sent pestilence upon Israel. This sentence is followed in the parallel place by "from the morning even to the time appointed." It has been suggested that "the time appointed" may mean the time of the evening sacrifice, and that God shortened thus the three days to a short one day. There seems nothing sufficient to support the suggestion, unless it might lie in the "repenting" of the Lord, and his "staying" of the angel's hand, in ver. 15. There fell of Israel seventy thousand men. The whole number of Israel, including women, must have reached near to five millions. On this assumption, the sacrifice of life for Israel would be something like 14 per cent., or fourteen in the thousand.
And 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.
Verse 15. - And God sent an angel. It is at this point first that any mention of an angel is found in the parallel place, but then not in the present form, but in a sentence which would seem to presuppose the knowledge of the agency of an angel on the occasion: "And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord repented him of the evil" (2 Samuel 24:16). Stood by the threshing-floor of Ornan. The verb "stood" is employed here quite generically. It does not imply that the angel stood on the ground; for see next verse, in which it is said that he "stood between the earth and the heaven," the Hebrew verb being exactly the same. Ornan is the uniform form and spelling of the name in Chronicles. In Samuel, however, the name appears as אֲרַנְוָה (2 Samuel 24:20), or Araunah. Yet in ver. 16, of the same chapter the Kethiv inverts the order of the resh and vau, prefixing the article, or what looks like it, and again in ver. 18 the Kethiv shows the form אֲרַנְיָה. Ornan, then, or Arauuah, was a descendant of the old Jebusite race to whom the fort of Zion once belonged. And the present narrative finds him living on the Hill of Moriah (Conder's' Bible Handbook,' 2nd edit., 236 [6]). The threshing-floor. The primitive threshing-floors of the Israelites still essentially obtain. They were level spots of stamped and well-trodden earth, about fifty feet in diameter, and selected in positions most exposed to the wind, in order to take the advantage of its help in the separating of the grain from the chaff. On these circular spots of hard earth the sheaves of grain, of whatever kind, were distributed in all sorts of disorder. Oxen and other cattle trod them. And sometimes these beasts were driven round and round five abreast. The stalk of the grain was, of course, much bruised and crushed, and the method is described still as of a very rough and wasteful kind. Instruments were also employed, as the "flail" (Ruth 2:17; Isaiah 28:27, 28); the "sledge," to which possibly reference is made in Judges 8:7, 16, under the name barkanim (Authorized Version, "briers"). These sledges were of two kinds:

(1) the morag (2 Samuel 24:22; 1 Chronicles 21:23; Isaiah 41:15), made of fiat planks joined together, and furnished with rough studs on the under surface; and

(2) agalah, rendered Authorized Version, "cart-wheel" (Isaiah 28:27), made of wooden rollers, or rollers of iron or stone, and dragged by cattle over the sheaves. Egypt and Syria, as well as Palestine, still show these instruments (see Robinson's 'Bibl. Res.,' 1:550; and Thomson's 'Land and the Book,' pp. 538-541).
And 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.
Verses 16, 17. - These verses offer instances, especially the former, of the shorter narratives not being with Chronicles, but with Samuel And the longer narrative being with Chronicles is found uniformly in the cases in which reference is had, whether more or less directly, to the ecclesiastical or permanent institution of the Israelites.
And 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.
Then 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.
Verse 18. - The angel. The Hebrew shows no article (see Numbers 22:34, 35; 1 Kings 13:18; 1 Kings 19:5; Zechariah 1:9). The place where the altar was now about to be erected was that made famous by the sacrifice of Abraham (Genesis 22:2, 9), and, though less certainly, that known to the priesthood of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:17-20).
And David went up at the saying of Gad, which he spake in the name of the LORD.
And Ornan turned back, and saw the angel; and his four sons with him hid themselves. Now Ornan was threshing wheat.
Verse 20. - This verse is not found in the parallel place. The Septuagint reading of "king" in this verse, in place of "angel," is no doubt an error. The drift of this and the following verse is plain and continuous. Ornan and his sons had hidden themselves on the apparition of the angel, but came out on the advent of David, to welcome him.
And 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.
Then 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.
Verse 22. - The place of this threshing-floor; i.e. the place on which the threshing-floor was made. It was the level summit of the middle elevated ground of the eastern ridge on which Jerusalem was situate (1 Chronicles 11:4-7).
And 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.
Verse 23. - Ornan's offer to David of the threshing-floor and all its belongings, as a gift, reminds of Ephron's offer to Abraham (Genesis 23:11). Ornan's prompt offer of gift was, perhaps, all the prompter from the desire to render every assistance to the staying of the plague. For burnt offerings ... for the meat offering. The whole code of regulations for offerings - sin offering, trespass offering, peace offering, burnt offering, meat and drink offering - is to be found in Leviticus 1-7. As regards the burnt offering, see Leviticus 1; Leviticus 6:8-13. It was called עֹלָה, from its "ascending" accepted to heaven, or else from its being put up or raised up (Hiph. conjugation) on the altar; and sometimes כָּלִיל, from being "wholly" consumed. The sin and trespass offerings were for special sins, but this was of a more comprehensive kind and of much greater dignity, as standing for the "purging of the conscience." The entire consuming of the sacrifice signified the unqualified self-surrender of him who brought the sacrifice. It was a voluntary offering, the offerer laid his hand on the head of the victim, and the blood of the victim was sprinkled round about the altar. The meat offering (מִנְחָה) is fully described in Leviticus it.; Leviticus 6:14-23. It was an offering without blood, and therefore was an accompaniment of an offering of blood. It was composed of flour or cakes, prepared with salt, oil, and frank-incense - the salt emblematic of non-decay; the oil, of spiritual grace; and the frankincense, of acceptable fragrance. A portion of this offering was to be burnt, and a portion eaten by the priests in the court, unless it was for a priest himself, when all must be burnt. Meantime a drink offering of wine was, in fact, a part of the meat offering itself (Exodus 29:40, 41; Leviticus 23:13; Numbers 15:4-7, 9, 10). The material of the meat offering might be the green or fresh-gathered ears of corn. The Septuagint translates δῶρον; Luther, speis-opfer; and it need scarcely be said that our Authorized Version meat offering exhibits only the generic employment of the word "meat" for food.
And 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.
So David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred shekels of gold by weight.
Verse 25. - Six hundred shekels of gold by weight. The only way to reconcile this statement with that of the parallel place, which (2 Samuel 24:24)speaks of "fifty shekels of silver" (i.e. taking the shekel at 2s. 8d., equal to about £6 13s. 4d.) as the price of "the threshing-floor and the oxen," is to suppose that the fifty shekels speak of the purchase money of the oxen indeed, but not of the floor itself, which was valuable, not only for size and situation, but also for its prepared construction; or again, keeping to the literal language of Samuel, that "the floor and the oxen" are intended, while our expression, "the place," may designate the whole hill. The value of gold as compared with silver was as sixteen to one. If this be the solution, we should have again an instance of the compiler of this book seizing for perpetuation the point of greatest and most permanent interest, i.e. the purchase of the whole place.
And 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.
Verse 26. - He answered him from heaven by fire. There is no doubt significance in the fact that the compiler of Chronicles records this answer by fire, unmentioned in the Book of Samuel. He would give prominence to this great token, as determining, or going a great way towards determining, the site of the temple. The answer by fire was given on critical and special occasions (Leviticus 9:24; 1 Kings 18:24, 38).
And the LORD commanded the angel; and he put up his sword again into the sheath thereof.
At that time when David saw that the LORD had answered him in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite, then he sacrificed there.
Verse 28. - David saw that the Lord had answered him in the threshing-floor. David "saw "this by the fire on the altar, and by the fact that God, at the voice of the angel (ver. 18), had not misdirected him, but had guided him aright. He sacrificed there. This means to say that he thenceforward "sacrificed there;" and established there the service of sacrifices. David was so impressed "at that time," by the answer given in fire from heaven, that he began systematically to sacrifice on the site of this threshing-floor, instead of going to the high place at Gibeon, where the altar of burnt offering still stood. To have attempted to go thither would not only have meant a long and wasteful delay, but would also have meant the neglecting of the august omen of the angel present. An awful sanction is thus given to" this place," Moriah, and it becomes" the house of the Lord God," and the place of lawful and established sacrifice.

For 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.
But David could not go before it to inquire of God: for he was afraid because of the sword of the angel of the LORD.
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