The book ends seriously, but also beautifully. It ends first with a serious sin, but then follows an altar and a sacrifice and a mountain. Through this history God makes clear where the temple will be once, but that is more the side that is highlighted in the books of 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles.
1 - 9 The Registration of the People
1 Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” 2 The king said to Joab the commander of the army who was with him, “Go about now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and register the people, that I may know the number of the people.” 3 But Joab said to the king, “Now may the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king [still] see; but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” 4 Nevertheless, the king’s word prevailed against Joab and against the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to register the people of Israel. 5 They crossed the Jordan and camped in Aroer, on the right side of the city that is in the middle of the valley of Gad and toward Jazer. 6 Then they came to Gilead and to the land of Tahtim-hodshi, and they came to Dan-jaan and around to Sidon, 7 and came to the fortress of Tyre and to all the cities of the Hivites and of the Canaanites, and they went out to the south of Judah, [to] Beersheba. 8 So when they had gone about through the whole land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. 9 And Joab gave the number of the registration of the people to the king; and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.
Israel has done something that raised the anger of the LORD (verse 1). What it is, is not mentioned. It is about the LORD’s reaction to this. He holds David as the leader of His people responsible for this. Therefore He sets up David against the people. From 1 Chronicles we know that He uses Satan for this (1Chr 21:1). The books of 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles describe the history of God’s people as God loves to remember it. God wants to indicate the place where He wants to be served according to His counsel, and Satan wants to prevent this. We see there that God does reach His goal not despite, but through the sin of David. This is also the case with the Fall, which is used by God for the execution of His counsels. We cannot understand that, but it is so.
Here it is about the side of man. Satan cannot do anything without the permission or will of God. The temple is not mentioned here. It is more about God’s actions with David. It is about his responsibility. David’s heart is filled with the desire to know how great his army is. God is not the origin of sin, but desire in the heart of man (Jam 1:13-14). Sin is already in David’s heart and that is what God sees. God brings that sin to light, that David may judge it.
With his desire to know the power of his army, he takes the place of God. What he actually says with his command to register them is that he regards the land of God as his own land and sees his army as his own means of keeping it in possession. He has lost his dependence on God. He commits in principle the sin of the people when they said they wanted a king, just like the people around them (1Sam 8:19-20). Now the king wants to know the strength of his army, just like the kings of the nations around him.
Why is it wrong to count the people? Surely God has done so several times (Num 1:2-3; 26:1-4)? We must think that with David it is about knowing the power of his army (verse 9). He wants to know how strong he is and that depends on the number of soldiers he has. That is his mistake. He forgets that he depends on God’s power. It is serious if we start thinking in numbers to measure our strength. We can think for example of the number of those we meet with and the number of gifts. In the history of Gideon we see how God thinks about numbers (Jdg 7:2). God always wants to prevent the flesh from praising itself (cf. 1Cor 1:27-29).
With Nebuchadnezzar we see something similar when he pats himself on the back about “the Babylon the great”, of which he says: “Which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty” (Dan 4:28-33). He is judged for this. With Herod we see the same thing. He moderates himself the honor to which only God is entitled and is killed for that (Acts 12:21-23). God’s government is equal for everyone. He can never give His honor to another (Isa 42:8; 48:11). If the Lord wants to use us for the benefit of His people, let it be so that we are always aware that it is His people.
David commands Joab to register the people. Joab, however, objects to this. It seems that Joab here has a better assessment of this plan than David. He foresees that this command is not according to the will of the LORD. This is not because he wants to do the will of the LORD, but because he fears the anger of the LORD. He also speaks to David about “the LORD your God”. The LORD is the God of Da-vid. He himself has no relationship with Him.
This time David does not allow himself to be told by Joab and perseveres his will. We can ask ourselves whether we will be warned if we intend to do something about which other people are expressing their objections. Do we want to reconsider our plan for the Lord, even if those who warn us may have their own interests in mind? Despite the objections of Joab and the other army superiors, the country is counted. After “nine months and twenty days” David gets the result. All this time God has been patient with the sin David commits. However, David’s conscience does not awaken until after evil has been done.
If David gets the outcome, at least he knows on what he can trust. What is not described here, is that Joab did not get around completely (1Chr 21:6). He has not registered all the people. Remarkable is that in verse 9 the distinction between Israel and Judah comes to the fore. Here again we see the reference to the division of the empire that is already present subcutaneously.
10 - 15 The Punishment for Sin
10 Now David’s heart troubled him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have acted very foolishly.” 11 When David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, 12 “Go and speak to David, ‘Thus the LORD says, “I am offering you three things; choose for yourself one of them, which I will do to you.”‘“ 13 So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider and see what answer I shall return to Him who sent me.” 14 Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the LORD for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.” 15 So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning until the appointed time, and seventy thousand men of the people from Dan to Beersheba died.
Immediately after David has the result of the registration, he gets remorse and confesses his sin. The troubling of his heart means that his conscience speaks. He says he “sinned greatly”. It is a great sin for a leader of God’s people to rely on something or someone other than God alone. When we start calculating whether we have all the means to function properly, both earthly and spiritually, and therefore act independently of God, we are doing the same thing.
The confession of his sin does not mean that God no longer punishes his sin. His sin becomes a cause of great need for all the people. When David has confessed his sin before the LORD, the LORD sends his prophet to him. The prophet Gad needs not go to him to reveal his sin to him. Nor does he have to tell him that his sin is forgiven. What Gad must do is tell David how God wants to act. He tells David three punishments from which he may choose.
The prophet says: “Consider and see what answer I shall return to Him who sent me.” This is an important word. When making decisions, it is always important that we take time and give time to others to consider in God’s presence what needs to be done, especially if a decision also has consequences for others.
The consideration shows that David’s heart trusts God again. The choice he makes shows that he is the man of faith we know. He would rather fall into the hand of the LORD than into that of man. David knows what is in man. That is why he fears falling into his hands. This is not only true when fleeing from the enemy. It can also apply to famine, because it could also come from enemy invasions. In return he knows the mercy of the LORD. He chooses to do so, without pronouncing himself in favor of any of the three punishments. With this he leaves the choice to the LORD.
The punishment must correspond to sin. David was proud of the great number of his people. Therefore, the judgment with which he is chastened for that sin must be of such a nature as to reduce their number. It is righteousness in God to take away from us what stimulates our pride. Many people die of the plague (verse 15).
After all, it was also the sin of the people by which the anger of the LORD burned and by which David came to his sin. The plague reduces both the number of inhabitants and the warpower he wanted to know. What is left of a people if God extends His hand against it? What remains of the great numbers and numbers of churches when God’s hand extends against them?
16 - 17 It Is Enough
16 When the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who destroyed the people, “It is enough! Now relax your hand!” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. 17 Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking down the people, and said, “Behold, it is I who have sinned, and it is I who have done wrong; but these sheep, what have they done? Please let Your hand be against me and against my father’s house.”
When the angel is ready to strike Jerusalem, it is enough. The angel must let his hand relax. The LORD relents from of the calamity He had to let come. He has a reason to do so, and that is the intercession of David. He sees in David’s heart what he also says: his love for “these sheep” of whom he says: “What have they done?” David asks if God will punish him instead of the people (verse 17). He takes full responsibility for the guilt and is therefore a mediator for the people and resembles the Lord Jesus. Here he speaks not only as a sinner, but also as someone who excuses the people by saying that they are innocent sheep. He calls himself the only culprit.
The relenting of the LORD (cf. 1Sam 15:29,35; Gen 6:6) never has to do with regrets about an act of Himself, but always with the actions of man. Here with David we see that God in His holiness and righteousness must judge, while at the same time He also has salvation for a remnant. This salvation is based on the prayer and sacrifice of His Son.
18 - 25 The Altar
18 So Gad came to David that day and said to him, “Go up, erect an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” 19 David went up according to the word of Gad, just as the LORD had commanded. 20 Araunah looked down and saw the king and his servants crossing over toward him; and Araunah went out and bowed his face to the ground before the king. 21 Then Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” And David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be held back from the people.” 22 Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what is good in his sight. Look, the oxen for the burnt offering, the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. 23 Everything, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the LORD your God accept you.” 24 However, the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will surely buy [it] from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. 25 David built there an altar to the LORD and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. Thus the LORD was moved by prayer for the land, and the plague was held back from Israel.
On the threshing floor of Araunah judgment comes to a standstill. This threshing floor is located on the mountain Moriah. It is the same place where Abraham sacrificed Isaac (Gen 22:2). It is also the place where Solomon will build the temple (1Chr 22:1; 2Chr 3:1). The LORD commands David to go up and build an altar on that hill. In this way up we see the way that is taken after humiliation under the powerful hand of God.
The angel stands by the threshing floor of a heathen. The altar that comes there stands in a place where there is nothing of the people. David understands that he must buy the threshing floor for the LORD. If Araunah wants to give him the threshing floor (cf. Gen 23:6,11), David refuses. He wants to buy him for a price, “for”, as he says, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing”. This is an important rule: an offering must cost something, otherwise it is not an offering.
When the altar is built and the burnt offerings and the peace offerings are brought, the LORD “was moved by prayer for the land, and the plague was held back from Israel.” This is a wonderful reference to the only foundation on which God still allows Himself to be prayed and the plague that is raging among the people to stop. That foundation is the Lord Jesus in His work on the cross to God’s honor and glorification – what is reflected by the burnt offerings. This work on the cross is also the basis for our fellowship with God and with each other – which is reflected in the peace offerings.
At the end of this book David has an altar. The last thing that is mentioned of him here is that he brings the LORD offerings. Whoever comes to God on the basis of the offering of His Son will experience that God answers prayers because the work of His Son is so precious. It is beautiful to see that this book ends with the atoning sacrifice that by grace averts the anger of God over His people. This sacrifice will be the foundation of the place where God and Israel can meet and the people will worship.
In this chapter we have the sin of man, the judgment of God and also His relenting from it and therefore also salvation, but salvation through an offer. Here we have in short the whole plan of salvation that Scripture shows us.