David’s Census; the Plague. 1a A satan* rose up against Israel, and he incited David to take a census of Israel.b 2David therefore said to Joab and to the other generals of the army, “Go, number the Israelites from Beer-sheba to Dan, and report back to me that I may know their number.” 3But Joab replied: “May the LORD increase his people a hundredfold! My lord king, are not all of them my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord seek to do this thing? Why should he bring guilt upon Israel?” 4However, the king’s command prevailed over Joab, who departed and traversed all of Israel, and then returned to Jerusalem. 5Joab reported the census figures to David: of men capable of wielding a sword, there were in all Israel one million one hundred thousand, and in Judah four hundred and seventy thousand. 6Levi and Benjamin, however, he did not include in the census, for the king’s command was repugnant to Joab.c 7This command was evil in the sight of God, and he struck Israel. 8Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly in doing this thing. Take away your servant’s guilt, for I have acted very foolishly.”
9Then the LORD spoke to Gad, David’s seer, in these words:d 10Go, tell David: Thus says the LORD: I am laying out three options; choose one of them, and I will inflict it on you. 11Accordingly, Gad went to David and said to him: “Thus says the LORD: Decide now— 12will it be three years of famine; or three months of fleeing your enemies, with the sword of your foes ever at your back; or three days of the LORD’s own sword, a plague in the land, with the LORD’s destroying angel in every part of Israel? Now consider: What answer am I to give him who sent me?” 13Then David said to Gad: “I am in serious trouble. But let me fall into the hand of the LORD, whose mercy is very great, rather than into hands of men.”
14Therefore the LORD sent a plague upon Israel, and seventy thousand Israelites died. 15God also sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but as the angel was on the point of destroying it, the LORD saw and changed his mind about the calamity, and said to the destroying angel, “Enough now! Stay your hand!”e
Ornan’s Threshing Floor. The angel of the LORD was then standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 16When David raised his eyes, he saw the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, drawn sword in hand stretched out against Jerusalem.f David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell face down, 17and David prayed to God: “Was it not I who ordered the census of the people? I am the one who sinned, I did this wicked thing. But these sheep, what have they done? O LORD, my God, strike me and my father’s family, but do not afflict your people with this plague!”
18Then the angel of the LORD commanded Gad to tell David to go up and set up an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.g 19David went up at the word of Gad, which he spoke in the name of the LORD. 20Ornan turned around and saw the king; his four sons who were with him hid themselves, but Ornan kept on threshing wheat. 21But as David came toward Ornan, he looked up and saw that it was David, and left the threshing floor and bowed down before David, his face to the ground. 22David said to Ornan: “Sell me the site of this threshing floor, that I may build on it an altar to the LORD. Sell it to me at its full price, that the plague may be withdrawn from the people.” 23But Ornan said to David: “Take it as your own, and let my lord the king do what is good in his sight. See, I also give you the oxen for the burnt offerings, the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for the grain offering. I give it all to you.” 24But King David replied to Ornan: “No! I will buy it from you properly, at its full price. I will not take what is yours for the LORD, nor bring burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” 25So David paid Ornan six hundred shekels of gold* for the place.
Altar for Burnt Offerings. 26David then built an altar there to the LORD, and sacrificed burnt offerings and communion offerings. He called upon the LORD, who answered him by sending down fire from heaven upon the altar for burnt offerings.h 27Then the LORD gave orders to the angel to return his sword to its sheath.
28Once David saw that the LORD had answered him at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he continued to offer sacrifices there. 29The tabernacle of the LORD, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar for burnt offerings were at that time on the high place at Gibeon.i 30But David could not go into his presence to inquire of God, for he was fearful of the sword of the angel of the LORD.
* [21:1] A satan: in the parallel passage (2 Sm 24:1) David is led astray because of the Lord’s anger. The Chronicler’s modification reflects the changed theological outlook of postexilic Israel, when evil was no longer attributed directly to God. At an earlier period the Hebrew word satan (“adversary,” or, especially in a court of law, “accuser”) designated both human beings (1 Kgs 11:14) and a “son of God” who accused people before God (Jb 1:6–12; 2:1–7; Zec 3:1–2). In later Judaism (cf. Wis 2:24) and in the New Testament, satan, or the “devil” (from diablos, the Greek translation of the Hebrew word), designates an evil spirit who tempts people to do wrong.
* [21:25] Six hundred shekels of gold: according to 2 Sm 24:24, David paid only fifty shekels of silver for Ornan’s threshing floor; the Chronicler’s higher figure reflects the value the site of the future Temple had in his eyes.
c. [21:6] 1 Chr 27:24; Nm 1:49.
d. [21:9] 1 Chr 29:29; 1 Sm 9:9; 2 Chr 29:25.
e. [21:15] Gn 6:6; Ex 32:14; 2 Sm 24:16; Jon 3:10.
h. [21:26] Lv 9:24; Jgs 6:21; 1 Kgs 18:38; 2 Chr 7:1; 2 Mc 2:10–12.
i. [21:29] 1 Chr 16:39; 1 Kgs 8:4; 2 Chr 1:3.