2 Samuel 24 • David’s Census


Not everything that can be defined as “sin” is specifically and exclusively listed in the Ten Commandments or even in that style. Just because something is not “written in stone” does not mean it has a sin-exempt status. How we handle and implement even “good” or “harmless” things can become sin simply because the real problem is our attitude—our pride—in our motivation. Is it for God or really for us? There are many censuses taken throughout the Bible so we know that, in and of their self, a census is not necessarily evil. But why one does it, and the purpose for which the information will be used—THESE can become sin. Pride can change the nature of even the most neutral of objects.

Read verses 1-9

Q: In verse 1, who is the Lord angry at and why?

A: This chapter is loaded with unknowns. No one is quite sure why the Lord is angry at Israel, and whether Israel refers to the whole of Israel, (Judah and the northern tribes) or just the northern tribes. There had been a 3-year famine as recorded in chapter 21, and David, after inquiring of the Lord, discovered that the famine was the result of Saul’s sin against the Gibeonites. But here the reason is some “unspecified sins,” according to most commentators. Personally, I believe that “Israel” refers to the whole nation, but that the Lord was angry specifically at the northern tribes for not being more loyal to David (see 2 Samuel 19:40-43 and subsequently Sheba’s revolt.) The northern tribes tend to buck God’s choices regarding the monarchy.

Q: Re-read verse one, then read 1 Chronicles 21:1. Who incited David?

Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.

― 1 Chronicles 21:1

A: The writer of Chronicles states that Satan moved David to number Israel. Samuel states that it was God. This is not a discrepancy. Satan incited David to take this census, and the Lord sovereignly and permissively used Satan to accomplish His will. Herein may lay the crux of the problem. The issue may be David’s heart. Unlike the God-sanctioned censuses in Numbers, David is not taking the census at the command of the Lord. One of two things might be going on.

First, the issue may be pride (1 Tim. 3:6). He may be counting up to see what a great army he has, which also becomes an issue of trust; trusting in the size of his army rather than in the Lord.

The second possibility is that David is taking a census to compare Judah’s strength with Israel (the northern ten tribes). [This is hinted at in the way the final tally is given in v.9, all of Israel versus Judah alone.] This would be blatantly divisive in nature.

In regard to who’s moving David, the resolution is this: David has either pride or rebellion in his heart. God allows Satan to put the thought of taking a census in David’s mind through that avenue. God will use Satan to exact discipline on the nation.

Q: In verse 3, what is Joab’s reaction, and why?

A: Joab voices his objection to the census, and seems to understand (better than we) that it would be a violation of the Lord’s will because it was David calling for the census, not the Lord.

Q: What was David’s response in verse 4?

A: He failed to listen. This is uncharacteristic of David, as on so many occasions before he had been willing to listen to the counsel of others (e.g., 2 Samuel 14:21, 19:7-8).

Read verses 10-14

Q: In verse 10, there is a growth point for David. How does his response in this situation compare with his response to the sin with Bathsheba?

A: Here, he comes to his senses (no pun intended) without first being confronted by a prophet. He repents before the prophet gets there.

Q: Why did David choose option three in verse 13?

A: He knew that God’s mercy would be greater than man’s.

Read verses 15-17

Q: In verse 15, what was the punishment to David, and to Israel?

A: He lost 70,000 of his troops! This is a double punishment. Both David and Israel are being reproved.

Q: At what point did the pestilence end?

A: When it reached Jerusalem, by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. This passage seems to indicate that the pestilence (plague) was widespread, as it occurred from Dan to Beersheba; that is, the length of the nation, from the northern to the southern ends. Araunah is one of the Jebusites left over after David had taken the rest of Jebus (Jerusalem). Araunah was living outside the fortified city at the northern end of the hill. He had been allowed to stay and work the land for the benefit of the Israelites.

Q: But who initiated the end of the pestilence? What part does David play?

A: God. It’s an illustration of His grace in that although we are deserving of judgment for our sin, He relents. God’s use of punishment is for discipline in order to make us better, obedient children. God’s judgment accomplished what He intended when David truly repented.

Read verses 18-25

Q: What is God’s instruction to David? How did Araunah respond? And how did David respond to Araunah’s offer?

A: To erect an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah. Araunah wants to give David the land, but David refuses to accept the offer because to offer service that costs him nothing is not sacrifice at all. Sacrifice is an essential part of worship and service to God.

Q: What can we infer from Araunah’s statement in v.23, “May the Lord your God accept you”?

A: It indicates that Araunah’s offer to give David everything for free actually came with a price, the price of Araunah being able to say in the future that he was the one that supplied David’s need. It’s a kind of picture of a false priest attempting to both supply the sacrifice and provide a blessing falsely.

Application: Repentance is an individual act that requires a personal price.

Q: What will eventually be located at this site?

A: At this time, the altar associated with the tabernacle of Moses was located at Gideon (we know this from 1 Chronicles). David was instructed by Gad to build another altar to the Lord at this place which would eventually become the site of Solomon’s temple.

Q: What came first—repentance or sacrifices? Why is this significant?

A: David recognized his sin, prayed/repented, THEN he offered sacrifices. This is significant because this teaches us the true intent of the Old Testament sacrifices. They were the END of the process, not the beginning. They were meant to celebrate and confirm one’s change of heart, not merely be a ritual that allowed one to live however they wanted as long as sacrifices were given.

Q: What other event of significance occurred at this location?

A: [See Genesis 22:1-9.] This is the same location where Abraham offered up Isaac, Mount Moriah.

Make the Following Applications:

  1. What can get us in trouble with the Lord (e.g., Acts 5:1-6)?
  2. What is the importance of listening to the wise counsel of others?
  3. Do you think David’s punishment would have been more severe if he had not repented?
  4. Apply the statement, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing.”
  5. Apply the issue of the sovereign will of God (the location of the sacrifice from Abraham to Araunah) to God’s working in your own life, and the life of your children and descendants. What is the key ingredient? (Faith.)