David counts the Israelites
v1 Again the *Lord was angry with *Israel. He made David cause trouble for the *Israelites. He said to David, ‘Go and count the people of *Israel and *Judah.’
v2 So King David spoke to Joab who was the leader of his army. David said, ‘Go through all the *tribes of *Israel. Travel from Dan to Beersheba and count all the people. Then I will know how many people there are.’
v3 But Joab replied to the king, ‘The *Lord your God can give you 100 times more people. And I hope that you, my master the king, will see it happen. You should not want to do such a thing.’
v4 However, the king made Joab and the leaders of the army obey the king’s command. So they left the king and they went to count the *Israelites.
v5 Joab and the other leaders crossed the river Jordan and they went to Aroer. They camped in the valley on the south side of the city. They went through the area called Gad and they continued to Jazer.v6 They went to the area called Gilead and to the region called Tahtim Hodshi. Then they went to Dan Jaan and round to the city called Sidon. v7 They went to the city called Tyre, which had strong walls. Then they went to all the towns of the people called Hivites and Canaanites. Finally, they went to the town called Beersheba in the south of *Judah. v8 It took them 9 months and 20 days to go through all the country. Then they returned to Jerusalem.
v9 Joab gave the list of people to the king. In *Israel there were 800 000 men who could fight. In *Judah there were 500 000 men who could fight.
(Verses 1-25 See also 1 Chronicles 21:1-26.)
We do not know when the events of this chapter happened. But it was probably some time after Absalom’s death. We also read about these events in 1 Chronicles 21:1-26. But the two accounts are slightly different. The writers probably just emphasised different parts of the story. (This also happens in the *New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.)
Verse 1 does not say why the *Lord was angry with *Israel. Usually he was angry when the people did not obey him. The *Lord wanted to punish them. In Chronicles, it says that Satan (God’s chief enemy) made David count the people. James 1:13 says that God does not tempt people to do something wrong. But Job chapter 1 shows that God sometimes lets Satan tempt (test) people. So, God may allow something but Satan actually does it. This could explain the two different accounts of this story.
It does not seem wrong for a king to count his people. It may seem sensible for him to know the number of his soldiers. But *Israel was not an ordinary country. The army did not win because it was big. God was the real king of the country. God helped the *Israelite army to defeat its enemies. David should have trusted the *Lord to give him success in his battles. It is a *sin to be proud. And it is a *sin to trust yourself more than you trust the *Lord. Perhaps David was becoming proud about his success. Perhaps the devil tempted him to trust his army more and to trust the *Lord less.
Joab tried to advise the king. Joab was a cruel man (1 Kings 2:5-6) and his advice was not always good. But Joab was right this time. David should have trusted God. God would give David the soldiers that he needed. But David refused to follow Joab’s advice. Joab did not always obey David. But David won the argument that time.
‘From Dan to Beersheba’ is a common phrase. Dan was at the north end of the country called *Israel. Beersheba was at the south end. So, that phrase just refers to the whole country. Joab and his men went to all the *tribes of *Israel except Levi and Benjamin (1 Chronicles 21:6). Sidon, Tyre, and the people called Hivites and Canaanites were not part of *Israel. But David had defeated them. So they had to provide soldiers for the *Israelite army.
It took a long time to record all the people. It was a major task. Verse 9 shows that *Israel was a divided country. *Judah refers to the south of the country and *Israel refers to the north of the country. A ‘thousand’ is the *Hebrew name for a large group of soldiers. It does not mean exactly 1000 people. So we do not know the accurate number of men in the *Israelite army. The numbers are different in 1 Chronicles chapter 21. Perhaps the writers counted the groups in different ways.
v10 David felt very guilty after he had counted the people. So David said to the *Lord, ‘I have done something terrible. It is a great *sin. *Lord, I am your servant. Please forgive me. I have been very foolish.’
v11 Before David got up the next morning, the *Lord had spoken to Gad. Gad was a *prophet and he was David’s seer (*prophet). v12 The *Lord said to Gad, ‘Go and say to David, “This is what the *Lord says: I give you three choices. Choose one of them and I will do it to you.” ’
v13 So Gad went to David and said, ‘Should your crops fail for three years so that you are hungry? Or should your enemies come and chase you for three months? Or should there be three days when the people in your country suffer from a serious disease? Think about this and decide. Then I will tell the *Lord, who sent me.’
v14 David said to Gad, ‘I am in a desperate situation. I want the *Lord to punish us because he is very kind. I do not want other people to punish me.’
v15 So the *Lord sent a serious disease to the people in *Israel. It began that morning. It lasted until the end of the time that God chose. And 70 000 people from Dan to Beersheba died. v16 The *angel stretched out his arm towards Jerusalem. He was going to destroy it. But the *Lord was very sorry about the terrible troubles. He said to the *angel, ‘That is enough. Put your arm down.’ The *angel was by a place that belonged to Araunah. (Araunah belonged to the people called Jebusites.) At that place, Araunah used to beat his corn to get out the grains.
v17 David saw the *angel who had killed the people. David said to the *Lord, ‘I am the person who has *sinned. I did the wrong thing. These people are like innocent sheep. They have not done anything wrong. Please punish me and my family.’
David knew that he had *sinned. He did not need a *prophet to tell him that time. (Compare this with 12:1-13.) A *prophet hears what God says. A *prophet sometimes has dreams or visions (dreams when he is awake). So the Bible sometimes calls a *prophet ‘a seer’. He sees special things that God shows only to him. Gad the *prophet had helped David before he became king (1 Samuel 22:5). David asked the *Lord to forgive him. But the *Lord still punished *Israel (verse 1). David had to choose the punishment. Whatever David chose, many people in *Israel would die. Many of the people that Joab had counted would die. The people would die slowly if they did not have enough food. They would die quickly with a bad disease. David did not want his enemies to punish him. They hated him and they would not be kind. They might ruin the whole country. But David knew that the *Lord was kind. He trusted the *Lord but he did not trust other people.
God sent an *angel to kill the people. The *angel brought the serious disease to people in all parts of the country. Jerusalem was the capital city of *Israel. King David lived there with his family and his servants. The *Lord was very sad that he had to punish the *Israelites. He decided to be kind to the people in Jerusalem. So, even during the punishment, the *Lord was kind, as David said in verse 14. Araunah’s land was outside the walls of the city. The old name for Jerusalem was Jebus. Araunah owned land there before David made it his capital city. David could see Araunah’s land. David could also see the *angel with a sword in his hand (1 Chronicles 21:16). David was probably very afraid. He knew that he had *sinned. So, he was very humble. David used to look after sheep when he was young. The *Lord had told David to be like a *shepherd to the *Israelites (5:2; 7:7). David thought that the people were innocent. He did not know that the *Lord had been angry with them. David wanted the *Lord to punish him and his family. David did not want the *Lord to punish the people.
At last, in verse 17, David was really humble. Before this, in verses 10 and 14, his conscience felt bad. But it seems that he was still not humble enough to ask God to save his people. (Compare this with Abraham in Genesis 18:20-32 and Moses in Exodus 32:30-32.) Instead, David agreed to the punishment. But then David saw the punishment. And he saw the *angel. David knew that he could not save his people. Only the *Lord could stop the punishment. And David then realised that a big army could not protect *Israel. Only the *Lord could protect *Israel.
David builds an *altar to the *Lord
v18 That day, Gad came to David and said, ‘Go up to the place where Araunah beats his corn. (Araunah belonged to the people called Jebusites.) Build an *altar to the *Lord on that place.’ v19 So David went to do what the *Lord had told him by Gad. v20 Araunah looked. He saw the king and his servants who were coming towards him. Araunah went out. He bent down in front of the king in order to show honour to the king. Araunah bent down until his face touched the ground. v21 He said, ‘Why has my master the king come to me, his servant?’
David said, ‘I have come to buy the land where you beat your corn. I will build an *altar to the *Lord. Then this bad disease will stop.’
v22 Araunah said to David, ‘My master and king. You may take anything that you want for a *sacrifice. Here are the *oxen for the *burnt offering. Here are the boards and wooden collars that you can burn as wood. v23 My king, I give everything to you.’ Araunah also said, ‘I pray that the *Lord your God will accept you.’
v24 But King David replied to Araunah, ‘No, I must pay you for all this. I will not give the *Lord my God *burnt offerings that cost me nothing.’
So, David bought the place where Araunah beat his corn. And David bought the *oxen. He paid 50 pieces of silver (which weighed about half a kilo or one and a quarter pounds). v25 David built an *altar to the *Lord there. David *sacrificed *burnt offerings and friendship *offerings. Then the *Lord answered what David had prayed for the country. And the bad disease in *Israel stopped.
People used to beat their corn on a high piece of land because of the strong winds. A farmer harvested his corn. He put the corn stems on the ground in the special place. He put a wooden collar on his *oxen. Then he made the *oxen pull a very heavy board across the corn. This separated the grains of corn from the stems. The farmer then threw the stems up into the air. The wind blew away the stems and the dust. The heavy grains fell onto the ground. Then the farmer collected them together.
David had to build an *altar and to give *sacrifices to the *Lord. Araunah gave honour to David. He wanted to give everything to David. Araunah referred to ‘the *Lord your God’. He did not *worship the God of *Israel. But Araunah was afraid of the bad disease too. He wanted David’s *sacrifice to be successful.
David would not accept Araunah’s land and animals as a free gift. David paid for all of it. We can see again that David’s attitudes had changed. He was not still the proud king who wanted to count his army. Instead, he was humble enough to want to give a large gift to the *Lord. In the Chronicles account, David paid a lot more money. He probably paid the price for all of Araunah’s land. In verse 24, David bought just the small piece of land and the animals. He wanted to make his *sacrifices quickly so that the disease would stop. The *sacrifices were like those in 6:17-18 (see the notes on those verses). The place was called *Mount Moriah (2 Chronicles 3:1). Many centuries earlier, Abraham had gone to *sacrifice Isaac on *Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:1-18).
Later, Solomon built the *temple on this piece of land. In chapter 7, the *Lord told David that he would not allow David to build the *temple. But the *Lord did allow David to prepare for the construction of the *temple. And the *Lord even allowed David to buy the land. David chose Araunah’s land. This was the same place where David saw the *angel. It was the place where the *Lord stopped the punishment. Here, the *Lord saved Jerusalem. So here was the right place for the *Israelites to make their *sacrifices to the *Lord. They would pray here, and the *Lord would forgive them. So the *Lord would show his kindness to them in this place.
In 1 Chronicles 21:26-27, the *Lord spoke to the *angel after David had given *sacrifices to the *Lord. The *Lord forgave David’s *sin and *Israel’s *sin. The *Lord did not continue to punish them. The last verse in this book shows that the *Lord cares about his people. And the *Lord answers prayer.
The story of David ends in 1 Kings 2:11 after he made his son Solomon the king. But the *Lord continued to *bless David’s family. Luke chapter 3 shows that Jesus Christ came from the family of David.
adultery ~ when a married person has sex with someone who is not their own husband or wife.
altar ~ a table, (usually stone) where the priests burned animals and gave other gifts as a *sacrifice to God or to an *idol.
Amalekite ~ a person who came from the family of Amalek. Amalek was the grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:12, 16). The Amalekites lived in the land between southern *Israel and the country of Egypt. They were one of *Israel’s enemies.
Ammonite ~ a person who came from the family of Ammon, who was the grandson of Lot (Genesis 19:36-38). The country of Ammon was on the east side of *Israel.
angel ~ a servant of God who brings messages from heaven; angels love God and they help God’s people. Sometimes the Bible also speaks about evil angels, who serve the devil.
anoint ~ to put oil on someone’s head. This shows that God has chosen the person for a special task.
Aramean ~ the Arameans were people who lived in the country north of *Israel.
ark of the *Lord or ark of God or ark ~ the Bible also calls it the ark of the Covenant (or agreement). It was a wooden box with gold all over the outside and inside. It had two gold cherubim (*angels) on the top (see Exodus 25:10-22). The *Israelites kept the ark in the *house of the *Lord and only the priest could see it. Sometimes God appeared above the ark and then he spoke to the priest.
Arkite ~ Arkite refers to the family or place that Hushai came from.
bless ~ to say or do good things to a person; to call something holy; to ask God for good things to happen; to guard and keep from evil things.
bronze ~ a type of brown metal. Bronze is not as strong as iron.
burnt offering ~ an animal that the priests killed and burned; this is how they gave an animal to God; an *Israelite’s gift to God.
chariot ~ a kind of cart that soldiers used in a battle. Soldiers stood in it and horses pulled it.
concubine ~ a woman who was like a wife, but the man did not marry her. She did not have as many rights as a wife.
donkey ~ an animal like a small horse. Donkeys can carry heavy loads on their backs. People also ride on donkeys.
ephod ~ a special coat that the main priest wore when he served God (Exodus chapter 28). Other priests wore a plain *linen ephod.
Gibeonites ~ a small group that remained from the people called Amorites. The Gibeonites made a peace agreement with the *Israelites.
glory ~ everything that makes God beautiful and great; the power and great importance of God; like a great king; like a bright light from God or Jesus.
Hebrew ~ the language that the *Israelites spoke.
Hittite ~ from a nation of people who came from a man called Heth. They were not *Israelites.
house of the *Lord ~ a special place where the *Israelites *worshipped God. The *ark of the *Lord was there.
idol ~ an object that people *worship instead of the real God. People make idols from wood, stone or metal. An idol was usually an image of a person, animal or object. Idols are false gods.
Israel ~ the name of all the people from the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the group of people that God chose; the name of the country that God gave to these people; the name of the north part of the land of Israel.
Israelite ~ the people from the nation of *Israel; the people who speak the *Hebrew language; a *Jewish person.
Jew ~ see *Israelite.
Jewish ~ a word that describes a *Jew (*Israelite) or anything that belongs to a *Jew.
Judah ~ one of the *tribes of *Israel; the name of the south part of the land of *Israel.
keep ~ to do the things that you promised to do.
kingdom ~ the people and country that a king rules.
lame ~ cannot walk easily or cannot walk at all.
Levite ~ a person from the *tribe of Levi. They worked in the *house of the *Lord and they helped the priests.
linen ~ a type of material that is like cotton. Linen is a very good quality material.
Lord ~ a name for God. The original language of the *Old Testament is called Hebrew. In the Hebrew language, there are two words that we translate as ‘Lord’. The Hebrew word ‘ADONAI’ means that God rules. God is our master. He has authority and he is the ruler of everything. The Hebrew word ‘YHWH’ means that God never changes. God is always God.
mercy ~ God’s love and goodness.
mount ~ a short word for mountain; small mountain.
mule ~ an animal like a small horse.
New Testament ~ the last part of the Bible, which the writers wrote after the life of Jesus. It contains 27 books about the life of Jesus and the Christian message.
offering ~ a gift for God from the priest and people.
Old Testament ~ the first part of the Bible, which the writers wrote before Jesus was born.
olive ~ a tree with small fruits that the people used to make oil. They burned the oil to give them light. They used it in other ways too.
ox, oxen ~ a strong farm animal. Oxen is the plural. An ox looks like a cow, but an ox can pull a plough.
Philistine ~ the *Israelites’ main enemies at that time. They lived on the west side of the country of *Israel.
prophecy ~ a message from God.
prophesy ~ to speak on God’s behalf; to tell God’s message to other people.
prophet ~ a person who hears God’s words and tells God’s messages to other people; a person whom God sends to speak for him. Sometimes they speak about things that will happen in the future.
pure ~ fit to take part in *worship or society.
rape ~ when a man forces a woman to have sex with him.
sacrifice ~ to give something to God, usually an animal, grain or wine. Sometimes this was to thank God for something. Sometimes it was to ask God to forgive *sins when the priest killed an animal. This sacrifice was a special animal that the priests killed. Then the priests burned it on the *altar.
shepherd ~ a person who looks after sheep.
shield ~ something that a soldier holds in front of his body to protect him in a battle. People made shields from metal, wood or from hard leather with a wooden edge.
sin ~ when people do things against God or other people; when people do not obey the commands of God; the things that people do that are wrong or evil.
spear ~ a long, thin pole with a sharp metal point at one end. It was like a large arrow. Soldiers threw it in battles.
stronghold ~ a safe place to hide; somewhere that an enemy could not attack very easily. It may refer to a cave in the hills, or to a city with strong walls round it.
temple ~ the building that Solomon built in the city of Jerusalem. The *Israelites went to this temple to *worship the real God.
tribe ~ a family that began with only one man; a large group of people from the same family. The first *Israelites were the 12 sons of Jacob. The family of each son became a tribe.
trumpet ~ an instrument to make music or to sound an alarm.
weapon ~ weapons are arms; objects that people use in a battle to hurt or kill their enemies. These include bows and arrows, swords, *spears and even stones.
worship ~ to thank God and give him honour; to praise, thank and respect God. Often, people pray and sing as they worship God. Sometimes people worship *idols instead of the real God.