Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The Numbering of the People, the Pestilence, and the Determination of the Site for the Temple - 1 Chronicles 21-22:1
The motive which influenced the king, in causing a census of the men capable of bearing arms throughout the kingdom to be taken in the last year of his reign, has already been discussed in the remarks on 2 Sam, where we have also pointed out what it was which was so sinful and displeasing to God in the undertaking. We have, too, in the same place commented upon the various stages of its progress, taking not of the differences which exist between the numbers given in Sa2 24:9, Sa2 24:13, Sa2 24:24, and those in our record, Ch1 21:5, Ch1 21:12, Ch1 21:25; so that here we need only compare the two accounts somewhat more minutely. They correspond not merely in the main points of their narrative of the event, but in many places make use of the same terms, which shows that they have both been derived from the same source; but, as the same time, very considerable divergences are found in the conception and representation of the matter. In the very first verse, David's purpose is said in 2nd Samuel to be the effect of the divine anger; in the Chronicle it is the result of the influence of Satan on David. Then, in Sa2 24:4-9, the numbering of the people is narrated at length, while in the Chronicle, Ch1 21:4-6, only the results are recorded, with the remark that Joab did not complete the numbering, Levi and Benjamin not being included, because the king's command was an abomination to him. On the other hand, the Chronicle, in Ch1 21:19-27, narrates the purchase of Araunah's threshing-floor for a place of sacrifice, and gives not merely a more circumstantial account of David's offering than we find in Samuel (Sa2 24:19-25), but also states, in conclusion (vv. 28-30), the circumstances which induced David to offer sacrifice even afterwards, on the altar which he had built at the divine command, on the threshing-floor bought of Araunah. The purpose which the author of the Chronicle had in view in making this concluding remark is manifest from Ch1 22:1, which should properly be connected with 1 Chron 21: "And David said, Here is the house of Jahve God, and here the altar for the burnt-offering of Israel." Only in this verse, as Bertheau has correctly remarked, do we find the proper conclusion of the account of the numbering of the people, the pestilence, and the appearance of the angel, and yet it is omitted in the book of Samuel; "although it is manifest from the while connection, and the way in which the history of David and Solomon is presented in the books of Samuel and Kings, that the account is given there also only to point out the holiness of the place where Solomon built the temple even in the time of David, and to answer the question why that particular place was chosen for the site of the sanctuary." This remark is perfectly just, if it be not understood to mean that the author of our book of Samuel has given a hint of this purpose in his narrative; for the conclusion of Sa2 24:25, "And Jahve was entreated for the land, and the plague was stayed," is irreconcilable with any such idea. This concluding sentence, and the omission of any reference to the temple, or to the appointment of the altar built on the threshing-floor of Araunah to be a place of sacrifice for Israel, and of the introductory words of the narrative, "And again the wrath of Jahve was kindled against Israel, and moved David against them," (Sa2 24:1), plainly show that the author of the book of Samuel regarded, and has here narrated, the event as a chastisement of the people of Israel for their rebellion against the divinely chosen king, in the revolts of Absalom and Sheba (cf. the remarks on Sa2 24:1). The author of the Chronicle, again, has without doubt informed us of the numbering of the people, and the pestilence, with its results, with the design of showing how God Himself had chosen and consecrated this spot to be the future place of worship for Israel, by the appearance of the angel, the command given to David through the prophet Gad to build an altar where the angel had appeared, and to sacrifice thereon, and by the gracious acceptance of this offering, fire having come down from heaven to devour it. For this purpose he did not require to give any lengthened account of the numbering of the people, since it was of importance to him only as being the occasion of David's humiliation.
1 Chronicles 21:1
"And Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to number Israel." The mention of Satan as the seducer of David is not to be explained merely by the fact that the Israelites in later times traced up everything contrary to God's will to this evil spirit, but in the present case arises from the author's design to characterize David's purpose from the very beginning as an ungodly thing.
1 Chronicles 21:2
The naming of the העם שׂרי along with Joab is in accordance with the circumstances, for we learn from Sa2 24:4 that Joab did not carry out the numbering of the people alone, but was assisted by the captains of the host. The object of אלי והביאוּ, which is not expressed, the result of the numbering, may be supplied from the context. No objection need be taken to the simple כּהם of Ch1 21:3, instead of the double וכהם כּהם in Samuel. The repetition of the same word, "there are so and so many of them," is a peculiarity of the author of the book of Samuel (cf. Sa2 12:8), while the expression in the Chronicle corresponds to that in Deu 1:11. With the words וגו אדני הלא, "Are they not, my lord king, all my lord's servants," i.e., subject to him? Joab allays the suspicion that he grudged the king the joy of reigning over a very numerous people. In Sa2 24:3 the thought takes another turn; and the last clause, "Why should it (the thing or the numbering) become a trespass for Israel?" is wanting. אשׁמה denotes here a trespass which must be atoned for, not one which one commits. The meaning is therefore, Why should Israel expiate thy sin, in seeking thy glory in the power and greatness of thy kingdom? On the numbers, Ch1 21:5, see on Sa2 24:9. In commenting on Ch1 21:6, which is not to be found in Samuel, Berth. defends the statement that Joab did not make any muster of the tribes Levi and Benjamin, against the objections of de Wette and Gramberg, as it is done in my apologet. Versuche, Sa. 349ff., by showing that the tribe of Levi was by law (cf. Num 1:47-54) exempted from the censuses of the people taken for political purposes; and the tribe of Benjamin was not numbered, because David, having become conscious of his sin, stopped the numbering before it was completed (cf. also the remarks on Sa2 24:9). The reason given, "for the king's word was an abomination unto Joab," is certainly the subjective opinion of the historian, but is shown to be well founded by the circumstances, for Joab disapproved of the king's design from the beginning; (cf. Sa2 24:3 and Ch1 21:3). - In Ch1 21:7, the author of the Chronicle, instead of ascribing the confession of sin on David's part which follows to the purely subjective motive stated in the words, "and David's heart smote him," i.e., his conscience (Sa2 24:10), has ascribed the turn matters took to objective causes: the thing displeased God; and anticipating the course of events, he remarks straightway, "and He (God) smote Israel." This, however, is no reason for thinking, with Berth., that the words have arisen out of a misinterpretation or alteration of Sa2 24:10; for such anticipatory remarks, embracing the contents of the succeeding verses, not unfrequently occur in the historical books (cf. e.g., Kg1 6:14; Kg1 7:2). - In reference to Ch1 21:8-10, see on Sa2 24:10-16. - In Ch1 21:12, נספּה has not come into the text by mistake or by misreading נסך (Sa2 24:13), but is original, the author of the Chronicle describing the two latter evils more at length than Samuel does. The word is not a participle, but a noun formed from the participle, with the signification "perishing" (the being snatched away). The second parallel clause, "the sword of thine enemies to attaining" (so that it reach thee), serves to intensify. So also in reference to the third evil, the יהוה חרב which precedes בּארץ דּבר, and the parallel clause added to both: "and the angel of the Lord destroying in the whole domain of Israel."
1 Chronicles 21:15
ליר מלאך האלהים ויּשׁלח, "And God sent an angel towards Jerusalem," gives no suitable sense. Not because of the improbability that God sent the angel with the commission to destroy Jerusalem, and at the same moment gives the contrary command, "Stay now," etc. (Berth.); for the reason of this change is given in the intermediate clause, "and at the time of the destroying the Lord repented it," and command and prohibition are not given "at the same moment;" but the difficulty lies in the indefinite מלאך (without the article). For since the angel of Jahve is mentioned in Ch1 21:12 as the bringer of the pestilence, in our verse, if it treats of the sending of this angel to execute the judgment spoken of, המּלאך must necessarily be used, or המּלאך את המּלא, as in Ch1 21:16; the indefinite מלאך can by no means be used for it. In Sa2 24:16 we read, instead of the words in question, יר המּלאך ידו ויּשׁלח, "and the angel stretched out his hand towards Jerusalem;" and Bertheau thinks that the reading האלהים (in the Chron.) has arisen out of that, by the letters ידו ה being exchanged for יהוה, and אלהים being substituted for this divine name, as is often the case in the Chronicle; while Movers, S. 91, on the contrary, considers the reading of the Chronicle to be original, and would read יהוה ישׁלח in Samuel. But in that way Movers leaves the omission of the article before מלאך in the Chronicle unexplained; and Bertheau's conjecture is opposed by the improbability of such a misunderstanding of a phrase so frequent and so unmistakeable as ידו ישׁלח, as would lead to the exchange supposed, ever occurring. But besides that, in Samuel the simple המּלאך is strange, for the angel has not been spoken of there at all before, and the lxx have consequently explained the somewhat obscure המּלאך by ὁ ἄγγελος τοῦ Θεοῦ. This explanation suggests the way in which the reading of our text arose. The author of the Chronicle, although he had already made mention of the יהוה מלאך in Ch1 21:12, wrote in Ch1 21:15 האלהים מלאך האלהי ויּשׁלח, "the angel of God stretched (his hand) out towards Jerusalem," using האלהים instead of יהוה, - as, for example, in Jdg 6:20, Jdg 6:22; Jdg 13:6, Jdg 13:9, and Jdg 13:13, Jdg 13:15, Jdg 13:17. האלהים מלאך alternates with יהוה מלאך, and omitting ידו with ישׁלח, as is often done, e.g., Sa2 6:6; Psa 18:17, etc. By a copyist מלאך and האלהים have been transposed, and מלאך was then taken by the Masoretes for an accusative, and pointed accordingly. The expression is made clearer by וּכהשׁחית, "And as he destroyed, Jahve saw, and it repented Him of the evil." The idea is: Just as the angel had begun to destroy Jerusalem, it repented God. רב, adverb, "enough," as in Kg1 19:4, etc., with a dativ commodi, Deu 1:6, etc. Bertheau has incorrectly denied this meaning of the word, connecting רב with בּעם in Sa2 24:16, and desiring to alter our text to make it conform to that. In 2nd Samuel also רב is an adverb, as Thenius also acknowledges.
1 Chronicles 21:16
The account of David's repentant beseeching of the Lord to turn away the primitive judgment, and the word of the Lord proclaimed to him by the prophet, commanding him to build an altar to the Lord in the place where the destroying angel visibly appeared, together with the carrying out of this divine command by the purchase of Araunah's threshing-floor, the erection of an altar, and the offering of burnt-offering, is given more at length in the Chronicle than in Sa2 24:17-25, where only David's negotiation with Araunah is more circumstantially narrated than in the Chronicle. In substance both accounts perfectly correspond, except that in the Chronicle several subordinate circumstances are preserved, which, as being minor points, are passed over in Samuel. In Ch1 21:16, the description of the angel's appearance, that he had a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem, and the statement that David and the elders, clad in sackcloth (garments indicating repentance), fell down before the Lord; in Ch1 21:20, the mention of Ornan's (Araunah's) sons, who hid themselves on beholding the angel, and of the fact that Ornan was engaged in threshing wheat when David came to him; and the statement in Ch1 21:26, that fire came down from heaven upon the altar-are examples of such minor points. We have already commented on this section in our remarks on Sa2 24:17-25, and the account in the Chronicle is throughout correct and easily understood. Notwithstanding this, however, Bertheau, following Thenius and Bttcher, conjectures that the text is in several verses corrupt, and wishes to correct them by 2nd Samuel. But these critics are misled by the erroneous presumption with which they entered upon the interpretation of the Chronicle, that the author of it used as his authority, and revised, our Masoretic text of the second book of Samuel. Under the influence of this prejudice, emendations are proposed which are stamped with their own unlikelihood, and rest in part even on misunderstandings of the narrative in the book of Samuel. Of this one or two illustrations will be sufficient. Any one who compares Sa2 24:17 (Sam.) with Ch1 21:16 and Ch1 21:17 of the Chronicle, without any pre-formed opinions, will see that what is there (Sam.) concisely expressed is more clearly narrated in the Chronicle. The beginning of Ch1 21:17, "And David spake unto Jahve," is entirely without connection, as the thought which forms the transition from Ch1 21:16 to Ch1 21:17, viz., that David was moved by the sight of the destroying angel to pray to God that the destruction might be turned away, is only brought in afterwards in the subordinate clause, "on seeing the angel." This abrupt form of expression is got rid of in the Chronicle by the clause: "And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel ... and fell ... upon his face; and David spake to God." That which in Samuel is crushed away into an infinitive clause subordinate to the principle sentence, precedes in the Chronicle, and is circumstantially narrated. Under these circumstances, of course, the author of the Chronicle could not afterwards in Ch1 21:17 make use of the clause, "on seeing the angel who smote the people," without tautology. Berth., on the contrary, maintains that Ch1 21:16 is an interpolation of the chronicler, and proposes then to cull out from the words and letters בעם המכה המלאך את בראתו (Sam.), the words בעם למנותי אמרתי בראתו (Ch1 21:17), great use being made in the process of the ever ready auxiliaries, mistakes, and a text which has become obscure. This is one example out of many. Ch1 21:16 of the Chronicle is not an addition which the Chronicle has interpolated between Sa2 24:16-17 of Samuel, but a more detailed representation of the historical course of things. No mention is made in 2nd Samuel of the drawn sword in the angel's hand, because there the whole story is very concisely narrated. This detail need not have been borrowed from Num 22:23, for the drawn sword is a sensible sign that the angle's mission is punitive; and the angel, who is said to have visibly appeared in 2nd Samuel also, could be recognised as the bearer of the judicial pestilence only by this emblem, such recognition being plainly the object of his appearance. The mention of the elders along with David as falling on their faces in prayer, clad in sackcloth, will not surprise any reader or critic who considers that in the case of so fearful a pestilence the king would not be alone in praying God to turn away the judgment. Besides, from the mention of the עבדים of the king who went with David to Ornan (Sa2 24:20), we learn that the king did not by himself take steps to turn away the plague, but did so along with his servants. In the narrative in 2nd Samuel, which confines itself to the main point, the elders are not mentioned, because only of David was it recorded that his confession of sin brought about the removal of the plague. Just as little can we be surprised that David calls his command to number the people the delictum by which he had brought the judgment of the plague upon himself. - To alter בּדבר, Ch1 21:19, into כּדבר, as Berth. wishes, would show little intelligence. בּדבר, at Gad's word David went up, is proved by Num 31:16 to be good Hebrew, and is perfectly suitable.
1 Chronicles 21:20
ארנן ויּשׁב, "and Ornan turned him about," is translated by Berth. incorrectly, "then Ornan turned back," who then builds on this erroneous interpretation, which is contrary to the context, a whole nest of conjectures. ויּשׁב is said to have arisen out of ויּשׁקף, the succeeding המּלאך out of המּלך, עמּו בּניו ערבּעת out of עליו עברים עבדיו (Sa2 24:20), "by mistake and further alteration." In saying this, however, he himself has not perceived that Sa2 24:20 (Sam.) does not correspond to the Ch1 21:20 of the Chronicle at all, but to the Ch1 21:21, where the words, "and Araunah looked out (ישׁקף) and saw the king," as parallel to the words, "and Ornan looked (יבּט) and saw David." The Ch1 21:20 of the Chronicle contains a statement which is not found in Samuel, that Ornan (Araunah), while threshing with his four sons, turned and saw the angel, and being terrified at the sight, hid himself with his sons. After that, David with his train came from Zion to the threshing-floor in Mouth Moriah, and Araunah looking out saw the king, and came out of the threshing-floor to meet him, with deep obeisance. This narrative contains nothing improbable, nothing to justify us in having recourse to critical conjecture.
1 Chronicles 21:24
The infinitive העלות is very frequently used in Hebrew as the continuation of the verb. fin., and is found in all the books of the Old Testament (cf. the collection of passages illustrative of this peculiar form of brief expression, which We. gives, 351, c), and that not only with regard to the infin. absol., but the infin. constr. also. David's answer to Ornan's offer to give him the place for the altar, and the cattle, plough, and wheat for the burnt-offering, was therefore: "no, I will buy it for full price; I will not take what belongs to thee for Jahve, and bring burnt-offerings without cost," i.e., without having paid the price for them.
1 Chronicles 21:25
As to the different statements of the price, cf. on Sa2 24:24.
1 Chronicles 21:26
In Sa2 24:25 the conclusion of this event is shortly narrated thus: David offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, and Jahve was entreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel. In the Chronicle we have a fuller statement of the יהוה יעתר in Ch1 21:26. David called upon Jahve, and He answered with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt-offering (Ch1 21:27); and Jahve spake to the angel, and he returned the sword into its sheath. The returning of the sword into its sheath is a figurative expression for the stopping of the pestilence; and the fire which came down from heaven upon the altar of burnt-offering was the visible sign by which the Lord assured the king that his prayer had been heard, and his offering graciously accepted. The reality of this sign of the gracious acceptance of an offering is placed beyond doubt by the analogous cases, Lev 9:24; Kg1 18:24, Kg1 18:38, and Ch2 7:1. It was only by this sign of the divine complacence that David learnt that the altar built upon the threshing-floor of Araunah had been chosen by the Lord as the place where Israel should always thereafter offer their burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as is further recorded in Ch1 21:28-30. and in Ch1 22:1. From the cessation of the pestilence in consequence of his prayer and sacrifice, David could only draw the conclusion that God had forgiven him his transgression, but could not have known that God had chosen the place where he had built the altar for the offering demanded by God as a permanent place of sacrifice. This certainly he obtained only by the divine answer, and this answer was the fire which came down upon the altar of burnt-offering and devoured the sacrifice. This Ch1 21:28 states: "At the time when he saw that Jahve had answered him at the threshing-floor of Ornan, he offered sacrifice there," i.e., from that time forward; so that we may with Berth. translate שׁם ויּזבּח, "then he was wont to offer sacrifice there." In Ch1 21:29 and Ch1 21:30 we have still further reasons given for David's continuing to offer sacrifices at the threshing-floor of Ornan. The legally sanctioned place of sacrifice for Israel was still at that time the tabernacle, the Mosaic sanctuary with its altar of burnt-offering, which then stood on the high place at Gibeon (cf. Ch1 16:39). Now David had indeed brought the ark of the covenant, which had been separated from the tabernacle from the time of Samuel, to Zion, and had there not only erected a tent for it, but had also built an altar and established a settled worship there (1 Chron 17), yet without having received any express command of God regarding it; so that this place of worship was merely provisional, intended to continue only until the Lord Himself should make known His will in the matter in some definite way. When therefore David, after the conquest of his enemies, had obtained rest round about, he had formed the resolution to make an end of this provisional separation of the ark from the tabernacle, and the existence of two sacrificial altars, by building a temple; but the Lord had declared to him by the prophet Nathan, that not he, but his son and successor on the throne, should build Him a temple. The altar by the ark in Zion, therefore, continued to co-exist along with the altar of burnt-offering at the tabernacle in Gibeon, without being sanctioned by God as the place of sacrifice for the congregation of Israel. Then when David, by ordering the numbering of the people, had brought guilt upon the nation, which the Lord so heavily avenged upon them by the pestilence, he should properly, as king, have offered a sin-offering and a burnt-offering in the national sanctuary at Gibeon, and there have sought the divine favour for himself and for the whole people. But the Lord said unto him by the prophet Gad, that he should bring his offering neither in Gibeon, nor before the ark on Zion, but in the threshing-floor of Ornan (Araunah), on the altar which he was there to erect. This command, however, did not settle the place where he was afterwards to sacrifice. But David - so it runs, Ch1 21:29. - sacrificed thenceforward in the threshing-floor of Ornan, not at Gibeon in the still existent national sanctuary, because he (according to Ch1 21:30) "could not go before it (לפניו) to seek God, for he was terrified before the sword of the angel of Jahve." This statement does not, however, mean, ex terrore visionis angelicae infirmitatem corporis contraxerat (J. H. Mich.), nor yet, "because he, being struck and overwhelmed by the appearance of the angel, did not venture to offer sacrifices elsewhere" (Berth.), nor, "because the journey to Gibeon was too long for him" (O. v. Gerl.). None of these interpretations suit either the words or the context. חרב מפּני נבעת, terrified before the sword, does indeed signify that the sword of the angel, or the angel with the sword, hindered him from going to Gibeon, but not during the pestilence, when the angel stood between heaven and earth by the threshing-floor of Araunah with the drawn sword, but - according to the context - afterwards, when the angelophany had ceased, as it doubtless did simultaneously with the pestilence. The words וגו נבעת כּי can therefore have no other meaning, than that David's terror before the sword of the angel caused him to determine to sacrifice thereafter, not at Gibeon, but at the threshing-floor of Araunah; or that, since during the pestilence the angel's sword had prevented him from going to Gibeon, he did not venture ever afterwards to go. But the fear before the sword of the angel is in substance the terror of the pestilence; and the pestilence had hindered him from sacrificing at Gibeon, because Gibeon, notwithstanding the presence of the sanctuary there, with the Mosaic altar, had not been spared by the pestilence. David considered this circumstance as normative ever for the future, and he always afterwards offered his sacrifices in the place pointed out to him, and said, as we further read in Ch1 22:1, "Here (הוּא זה, properly this, mas. or neut.) is the house of Jahve God, and here is the altar for the burnt-offering of Israel." He calls the site of the altar in the threshing-floor of Araunah יהוה בּית, because there Jahve had manifested to him His gracious presence; cf. Gen 28:17.