2 Samuel 24 / 1 Chronicles 212 Samuel 24:1 Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He stirred up David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”
1 Chronicles 21:1-4 Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.  So David said to Joab and to the leaders of the people, “Go, number Israel from Beersheba to Dan, and bring the number of them to me that I may know it.” 
And Joab answered, “May the Lord make His people a hundred times more than they are. But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? Why then does my lord require this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt in Israel?”  Nevertheless the king’s word prevailed against Joab. Therefore Joab departed and went throughout all Israel and came to Jerusalem.  Then Joab gave the sum of the number of the people to David. All Israel had one million one hundred thousand men who drew the sword, and Judah had four hundred and seventy thousand men who drew the sword.  But he did not count Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king’s word was abominable to Joab.
2 Samuel 24:10 After David had numbered the troops, his conscience was stricken
1 Chronicles 21:7 And God was displeased with this thing; therefore He struck Israel.  So David said to God, “I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing; but now, I pray, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”  Then the Lord spoke to Gad, David’s seer, saying,  “Go and tell David, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: “I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you.” ’ ”
 So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Choose for yourself,  either three years of famine, or three months to be defeated by your foes with the sword of your enemies overtaking you, or else for three days the sword of the Lord—the plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now consider what answer I should take back to Him who sent me.”
 And David 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.”
 So the Lord sent a plague upon Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell.  And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it. As he was destroying, the Lord looked and relented of the disaster, and said to the angel who was destroying, “It is enough; now restrain your hand.” And the angel of the Lord stood by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.  Then David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, having in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. So David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell on their faces.  And David said to God, “Was it not I who commanded the people to be numbered? I am the one who has sinned and done evil indeed; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, O Lord my God, be against me and my father’s house, but not against Your people that they should be plagued.”
 Therefore, the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David that David should go and erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.  And David built there an altar to the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called on the Lord; and He answered him from heaven by fire on the altar of burnt offering.
 So the Lord commanded the angel, and he returned his sword to its sheath.
2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21 record the same event, with the latter giving a more detailed account. Chronicles expounds that it was Satan who moved David’s heart to take a census of the people, whereas 2 Samuel neglects that detail and reads that there was some fault in the nation of Israel and that God had stirred David up in order to purge Israel.
Both accounts should be accepted at face-value. For we see a similar situation in the following verses:
1 Kings 11:14 And the LORD stirred up an adversary unto Solomon, Hadad the Edomite: he was of the king’s seed in Edom.
2 Samuel 21:1 Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David inquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.
Job 1:9 So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing?  Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.  But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.”
1 Kings 22:19 Then Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by, on His right hand and on His left.  And the Lord said, ‘Who will persuade Ahab to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead?’ So one spoke in this manner, and another spoke in that manner.  Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, and said, ‘I will persuade him.’  The Lord said to him, ‘In what way?’ So he said, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And the Lord said, ‘You shall persuade him, and also prevail. Go out and do so.’
 Therefore look! The Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours, and the Lord has declared disaster against you.”
However, as it is written in Amos 3:7 “Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.”
Before David numbered the people Joab warned him that he would bring guilt unto Israel. David was given truth; Joab counseled the king, but David’s heart was set on the matter and unfortunately no sound wisdom could dissuade him.
A cause of guilt would indicate a need for atonement, which is confirmed later on when God strikes Israel with a plague. Because Joab–David’s number one military commander–and the rulers (or captains) of the people took part in the census, biblical commentators and scholars agree that this was most likely a military census.
The sin of David numbering the people consisted in its being either to gratify his pride to ascertain the number of warriors he could muster for some meditated plan of conquest; or, perhaps, more likely still, to institute a regular and permanent system of taxation, which he deemed necessary to provide an adequate establishment for the monarchy, but which was regarded as a tyrannical and oppressive exaction—an innovation on the liberty of the people—a departure from ancient usage unbecoming a king of Israel.
Census-taking wasn’t forbidden, but God establishes the rules for which: Exodus 30:11 Then the LORD said to Moses,  “When you take a census of the Israelites to number them, each man must pay the LORD a ransom for his life when he is counted. Then no plague will come upon them when they are numbered. Everyone who crosses over to those counted must pay a half shekel, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. This half shekel is an offering to the LORD.
Note: a 1/2 shekel would have been the equivalent of 8 grams of silver, which would be roughly $6-8 in modern times.
The law in Exodus is in regards to men of war. And was done as a reminder that the Lord, Himself, goes before Israel in battle and by His strength their enemies are delivered into their hand.
If a man did not feel his need of “ransom,” and gladly pay the small sum at which the ransom was fixed, he would show himself so proud and presumptuous that he might well provoke a Divine “plague,” or punishment.If a man did not feel his need of “ransom,” and gladly pay the small sum at which the ransom was fixed, he would show himself so proud and presumptuous that he might well provoke a Divine “plague,” or punishment.
– Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers
David’s numbering of the people, though sinful, might have been atoned for had he taken a ransom from all men, according to the law. However, we must call the motivation for the census into question when even Joab, the military commander, found it abominable. And Joab wasn’t exactly the purest of people in David’s circle.
Without facing external threats, what reason is there to count the military?
- Vanity / Vainglory
- Being Self-Willed
Pride will surely be a recurring sin in this study. But analyzing David’s pride, it was in regards to how much might he could muster. Bring the number of them to me that I may know it. David had no practical use for this information.
Mary from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, opines: “Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”
Surely this number wouldn’t have been kept quietly, but would have been used as a tool for boasting against other nations. Such knowledge and the use of that knowledge is a display of belligerence: the idea being, I have a mighty army so don’t cross me. It would be used as a tool of intimidation. But as Christ said Blessed are the peacekeepers. Such war-like behavior is not in line with Christian values.
And Joab answered, “May the Lord make His people a hundred times more than they are.”
Joab understood that the children of Israel belonged to God. It was not David’s right to count them. He overstepped boundaries and usurped God’s position. Once again, this is a sin of pride for exalting himself above the Lord, when he–as well as all of us–are servants. And would even be robbery: to take for himself, that which is the Lord’s.
2 Timothy 2:19 Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”
In counting the army, David also misplaced his trust. Instead of relying on God to deliver Israel out of the hands of their enemies, David put his trust in numbers and in men, and–more than that–trusted in himself, being the king and commander-in-chief of the army.
Jeremiah 17:5 Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm, and whose heart departs from the LORD.
David had become self-willed, fulfilling his own will; his own wants, over the will of God.
Upon hearing the number, David’s conscience struck him and he confessed his sin; however not without atonement. And God offered him three things: three years of famine; three months of war; or three days of plague.
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.
The plague struck Israel and 70,000 men fell. David acknowledged his sin, but these sheep, what have they done? Though David sinned grievously, the guilt was upon Israel. After three days, David witnessed the Destroying Angel in Jerusalem; purchases the threshing-floor of Ornan; builds and altar and makes a burnt offering.
Our own actions can directly and indirectly cause other people harm through natural cause and effect. Our own illnesses may not be because of a particular sin which we, ourselves, have committed, but sins that leaders or others have committed. In modern day, our leaders have performed nuclear bomb tests; manufacturing plants have carelessly disposed of toxic chemical waste, known as the Love Canal Disaster; there was the Chernobyl Disaster; Seveso Disaster; and the list goes on.
John 9:1-3 “Now as Jesus was passing by, He saw a man blind from birth,  and His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God would be displayed in him.
While we may never understand fully the deaths of the 70,000, we can conclude one thing: that everything works out according to the will of God for His glory. Because the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite would become the future site of the Temple which Solomon would build.
In overcoming, let us ever be mindful that our actions are not a cause of harm to others. That we do not behave prideful or faithlessly as David had. That we do not exalt ourselves above God; rob God of what is His. And that we accept that our trial of illness may also be for the furthering of the glory of God. For it is better that we fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are very great.