2 Samuel

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2 Samuel 24 – Skeptic's Annotated Bible answered

A response and reply to the notes on 2 Samuel 24 in the Skeptic's Annotated Bible (SAB).

King James Version

SAB comment

My comment

1 And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.

God tempts David to take census, though  1 Chr.21:1 says that Satan tempted David, and Jas.1:13 says that God never tempts anyone. Why did God or Satan tempt David to take the census? And what the heck is wrong with a census anyway?

Who tempted David?
Has God ever tempted anyone?
The Lord does not have to convince Satan to do evil. Satan delights in it. The words “moved against them” should therefore be understood in the sense mentioned in 1 Chr. 21:1, namely that the Lord allowed Satan to proceed to provoke David. The Lord withdraw his protection, because of the continuing sins of Israel.
And it is not the issue of the census that was wrong, but as John Gill says:

so that this appears to be done not through any urgent necessity, but merely out of curiosity, and to gratify the pride of his heart, and please himself with the thought of ruling such a numerous people, and brag of their numbers to other nations, and place his confidence therein; and no wonder it was displeasing to the Lord.

2 For the king said to Joab the captain of the host, which was with him, Go now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, and number ye the people, that I may know the number of the people.

3 And Joab said unto the king, Now the LORD thy God add unto the people, how many soever they be, an hundredfold, and that the eyes of my lord the king may see it: but why doth my lord the king delight in this thing?

4 Notwithstanding the king’s word prevailed against Joab, and against the captains of the host. And Joab and the captains of the host went out from the presence of the king, to number the people of Israel.

5 And they passed over Jordan, and pitched in Aroer, on the right side of the city that lieth in the midst of the river 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 about to Zidon,

7 And came to the strong hold of Tyre, and to all the cities of the Hivites, and of the Canaanites: and they went out to the south of Judah, even to Beer-sheba.

8 So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.

9 And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.

How many soldiers did Israel have? This verse says that Judah and Israel had a total of 1,300,000 fighting men (1 Chr.21:5 says 1,570,000) in this battle. Of course, this is a ridiculously high number for a battle between two tribal armies in 1000 BCE. (The United States had about 1.37 million active duty soldiers in 2001.)
The number mentioned here differs from the number mentioned in 1 Chr. 21:5. The difference is some 300,000 man. Some say that the number mentioned here does not include the standing army which waited on the king in their courses. According to 1 Chr. 27:1 twenty four thousand of those came and left every month. Twelve months times twenty four thousand makes 288,000. Add 12,000 officers and you have the 300,000 difference between the two numbers.
The difference between the number of man in Judah is probably a simple rounding issue.
The author of the SAB also mentions that the number of man seemed to be ridiculously high compared to the army of the United States. But you should never compare apples to oranges. Israel didn't have conscripts in those time. Clearly this number indicates all the man in Israel, probably from twenty upwards, and perhaps only counting the able-bodied. According to Flavius Josephus it was not until 130 BC that Israel got its first army of mercenaries. It was assembled by Hyrcanus who robbed David's grave to pay for it.

10 And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the LORD, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.

David sinned in numbering the people. But 1 Kg.15:5 says that David never sinned, except for in the matter of Uriah.
Did David sin?
David has sinned here and he laments about his sins in the psalms he wrote many times. But the cause of this sin was God withdrawing his grace, letting David fall prey to his own pride. And God withdraw his grace, because Israel had sinned and would be punished in this manner. It is something to think about: a nation can sin and the punishment is delivered through the actions of its ruler.
In the case of Uriah, the cause was David himself and his sinful desire. See also 1 Kg. 15:5.

11 For when David was up in the morning, the word of the LORD came unto the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying,

12 Go and say unto David, Thus saith the LORD, I offer thee three things; choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee.

13 So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days’ pestilence in thy land? now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me.

God offers David a choice of punishments for having conducted the census: 1) seven years of famine (1 Chr.21:1 says three years), 2) three months fleeing from enemies, or 3) three days of pestilence. David can't decide, so God chooses for him and sends a pestilence, killing 70,000 men (and probably around 200,000 women and children).
How many years of famine?
In 1 Chr. 21:12 three years are mentioned. Seeing the three months or three days mentioned in this verse, it is probable that the prophet is speaking about three coming years of famine. Add the past three years of famine, see chapter 21:1, and the current year, and that makes up the number of a total of seven years of famine.

14 And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let us fall now into the hand of the LORD; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man.

After God threatens to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people for a census that he inspired, David says, "let us fall now into the hand of the LORD; for his mercies are great."
Is God merciful?
Isn't it strange that two of the three punishments involve the people and not David? Perhaps David became aware of this and sees that God is not only angry because of his sins, but because of the sins of his people as well. It is therefore by God's grace that David here asks God to choose. And again the author of the SAB does not seem to think that sin deserves punishment. But that is a central theme in the Bible.

15 So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beer-sheba seventy thousand men.

16 And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD was by the threshingplace of Araunah the Jebusite.

Finally, when the angel is about to destroy Jerusalem, "the Lord repented." That's nice, but several Bible verses say that God cannot repent. Does God repent?
See about the phrase “God repented” Gen. 6:6.

17 And David spake unto the LORD when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father’s house.

Even David can see the injustice of God's punishment (killing hundreds of thousands of people because David took a census). He pleads with God saying, "I have sinned ... but these sheep, what have they done?"
From this verse it is clear that David didn't know the cause of the punishment that God inflicted upon Israel. It is only later that we, the readers of this book, can see the hidden hand of God in all this when the inspired author of this book explains the reasons for these inflictions upon Israel.

18 And Gad came that day to David, and said unto him, Go up, rear an altar unto the LORD in the threshingfloor of Araunah the Jebusite.

19 And David, according to the saying of Gad, went up as the LORD commanded.

20 And Araunah looked, and saw the king and his servants coming on toward him: and Araunah went out, and bowed himself before the king on his face upon the ground.

21 And Araunah said, Wherefore is my lord the king come to his servant? And David said, To buy the threshingfloor of thee, to build an altar unto the LORD, that the plague may be stayed from the people.

22 And Araunah said unto David, Let my lord the king take and offer up what seemeth good unto him: behold, here be oxen for burnt sacrifice, and threshing instruments and other instruments of the oxen for wood.

23 All these things did Araunah, as a king, give unto the king. And Araunah said unto the king, The LORD thy God accept thee.

24 And the king said unto Araunah, Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which doth cost me nothing. So David bought the threshingfloor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.

David bought the threshing floor for 50 shekels of silver. But 1 Chr.21:25 says he bought it for 600 shekels of gold.
For how much did David buy the threshing floor?
This verse doesn't tell how much David paid for the threshing floor. Only what he paid for the oxen. In 1 Chr. 21:25 we find what David paid for the threshing floor.

25 And David built there an altar unto the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD was intreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel.