2 Samuel 24 – “David’s Census and its Repercussions”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
David takes a census of the people. God is enraged and kills 70,000 Israelites with a plague. David propitiates God with burnt sacrifices.

II. Photo
David counts the people: “The king said to Joab, his army commander, ‘Make the rounds of all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beer-sheba, and take a census of the people, so that I may know the size of the population.’” (v. 2)

III. Important Verses
1-4:  The anger of the LORD again flared up against Israel; and He incited David against them, saying, “Go and number Israel and Judah.” The king said to Joab, his army commander, “Make the rounds of all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beer-sheba, and take a census of the people, so that I may know the size of the population.” Joab answered the king, “May the LORD your God increase the number of the people a hundredfold, while your own eyes see it! But why should my lord king want this?” However, the king’s command to Joab and to the officers of the army remained firm; and Joab and the officers of the army set out, at the instance of the king, to take a census of the people of Israel.
9: Joab reported to the king the number of the people that had been recorded: in Israel there were 800,000 soldiers ready to draw the sword, and the men of Judah numbered 500,000.
10: But afterward David reproached himself for having numbered the people. And David said to the LORD, “I have sinned grievously in what I have done. Please, O LORD, remit the guilt of Your servant, for I have acted foolishly.”
11-14: When David rose in the morning, the word of the LORD had come to the prophet Gad, David’s seer:  “Go and tell David, ‘Thus said the LORD: I hold three things over you; choose one of them, and I will bring it upon you.’” Gad came to David and told him; he asked, “Shall a seven-year famine come upon you in the land, or shall you be in flight from your adversaries for three months while they pursue you, or shall there be three days of pestilence in your land? Now consider carefully what reply I shall take back to Him who sent me.” David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for His compassion is great; and let me not fall into the hands of men.”
15: The LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from morning until the set time; and 70,000 of the people died, from Dan to Beer-sheba.
25: And David built there an altar to the LORD and sacrificed burnt offerings and offerings of well-being. The LORD responded to the plea for the land, and the plague against Israel was checked.

IV. Outline
1-4. David orders Joab to take a census
5-9. The census is taken
10. David’s remorse
11-13. God gives David a choice of punishment
14. David’s choice
15. 70,000 people die of pestilence
16-25. David halts the plague

V. Comment
This chapter, which is the final chapter in the book of Samuel, relates how David takes a census of the people, is punished for taking that census, and manages to appease God nevertheless. The chapter also serves an etiological purpose by justifying the location of Solomon’s temple. The Temple will be built upon the threshing floor that David buys from Araunah the Jebusite. This is the place that David’s prayer is answered, and other biblical passages take note of this fact. For instance, 2 Chronicles 3:1 says, “Then Solomon began to build the House of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where [the LORD] had appeared to his father David, at the place which David had designated, at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.” Similarly, 1 Chronicles 22:1 says, “David said, “Here will be the House of the LORD and here the altar of burnt offerings for Israel.”” Yet, it is important to note that our chapter merely sets the stage for future events; it makes no mention of Solomon’s temple.

Due to the fact that the David-narrative is coming to a close, Collins categorizes David’s portrayal in the book of Samuel. He writes: “Even if we suspect that much of the portrayal of David in the books of Samuel originated as political propoganda, the character of David as depicted is exceptionally appealing. No other character in the Hebrew Bible is so well rounded. Here we have a fully human figure, who is no saint by later standards. He is a hot-blooded individual who is guilty of murder, adultery, and sundry forms of extortion and exploitation. But he is also an emotional figure, whose grief for his friend Jonathan or for his son Absalom is moving. Even if the biblical authors tried to excuse and justify his actions, they nonetheless portrayed him as a man who was very fallible, and even sinful. Later tradition enhanced the legend of David by crediting him with prophecy and the composition of psalms. In the process, it often depicts him as more pious than he appears in the books of Samuel… The charm of the biblical character, however, is precisely his human fallibility. It is this appreciation of the imperfection of human nature that marks the story of David as one of the finest pieces of literature to come down to us from antiquity.” (243)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Anderson, A. A. “2 Samuel” Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 11 (Waco Texas: Wordbooks, 1989).
Campbell, Antony F. “2 Samuel” The Forms of the Old Testament Literature, vol 8 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eedrdmans, 2005).
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
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