David’s Census – 2 Samuel 24

Read the Passage: 2 Samuel 24

Command of David (24:1–9)

Since a large part of the book of 2 Samuel details David’s shortcomings, perhaps we’d expect the book of 2 Samuel to end on a positive note. Yet, this book concludes with a narrative of divine wrath against Israel, as well as detailing the sin of David in engineering a national census. Observe that conducting a census was not evil in itself, for such national surveys were even commanded by God, at times (cf. Ex. 30:11–16; 38:26; Num. 1–2, 26:1–4). David’s sin, then, seems related to his motivation, not solely his actions. The parallel account of David’s census, which is recorded in 1 Chron. 21:1–30, indicates that this census was not the last event in David’s reign. The narrative may be included here in 2 Samuel to emphasize the fact that while David was a type of Christ, he was not the promised Messiah. Further, concluding this book with a discouraging narrative may be intended to remind readers not to trust in their political rulers for salvation.

This passage begins, “Again the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, ‘Go number Israel and Judah’” (2 Sam. 24:1). This is an interesting passage for it reveals that God, who does not tempt anyone to sin (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13; Jas. 1:13), moved David to sin as a means of judgment upon Israel. This passage is intriguing, for the parallel account says, “Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel” (1 Chron. 1:21). While there seems to be a tension here, this can be resolved by observing that in this passage God sovereignly accomplishes His own divine purposes–via concurrence–by allowing Satan to tempt David, who freely chose to sin. Indeed, God can use our sins to accomplish His own purposes. With this observation we are distinguishing between primary (or ultimate) causality and secondary (or proximate) causality.

Discipline from God (24:10–17)

It is somewhat ironic that Joab, the persistent anti-hero in the book of 2 Samuel, is the one who tries to persuade David not to take a census (cf. 2 Sam. 24:3). Nevertheless, the King’s word prevailed, which resulted in Joab and the army spending nearly 10 months conducting a national census. After the survey was nearly complete, resulting in over one million citizens having been numbered, “David’s heart condemned him” (2 Sam. 24:10). It seems that David’s census was motivated by pride, ambition, and reliance upon man, rather than on God. 1 Chron. 21:7 notes that David was convicted after God struck Israel in an unspecified manner. Upon his repentance, the Lord sent the prophet Gad to confront David and to give him several options by way of divine discipline: three years of famine, three months of enemy attacks, or three days of divine plague (cf. 2 Sam. 24:11–13).

Upon hearing the options for divine discipline, David’s response was to choose three days of plague, with the exclamation, “Please let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men” (2 Sam. 24:14). The plague then, which consisted of “the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel” (1 Chron. 21:12), began and lasted for three days, until the Lord relented as He was by the threshing floor Araunah the Jebusite, who is called “Ornan” in 1 Chron. 21:15. Additionally, David repented further, even begging God to inflict him and his family instead of the people. Each of the forms of discipline here were designed to affect that which David had turned to for strength in the place of God—that is, the people of the nation. Note that all three forms of discipline would likely have had the same numerical effect.

Offerings for Sin (24:18–25)

One piece of information not mentioned in either 2 Samuel 24 or 1 Chronicles 21 is that the property that David purchased from Araunah the Jebusite is Mount Moriah, the piece of land upon which Abraham was willing to offer Isaac (cf. Gen. 22; 2 Chron. 3:1). This land would become part of Jerusalem and is the place upon which Solomon later constructed the Temple. As the narrative continues in 2 Sam. 24:18–25 it is reported that God instructed David to build an altar to God on the threshing floor of Araunah, who was likely one of the ancient inhabitants of Jerusalem. Since David was the King, and he had a divine command to sacrifice on Mt. Moriah, he likely could have seized Araunah’s land. It appears Araunah realized this, as he willfully offered his possessions to David (cf. 2 Sam. 24:22–23). David, however, refused to accept the threshing floor and paid the full price for it.

Application Questions:

  1. As our study of 2 Samuel draws to a close, what teachings from this book have been particularly helpful to you and/or aided your Christian walk?
  2. Why do you think the book of 2 Samuel concludes with a narrative of God’s anger against Israel, including details about David’s sin of taking a census?
  3. Who or what caused David to sin in this passage: God’s sovereign decree, Satan’s temptation, or David’s free will (cf. 1 Chron. 1:21)?
  4. Why did God discipline David, as well as the entire nation, after David had repented (cf. 2 Sam. 24:10)? Do all sins have consequences?
  5. If you were David, which form of divine disciple would you have chosen? Does it seem just that God inflicted the people when David initiated the census?