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The Lord Sends a Plague against Israel

21 An adversary[a] opposed[b] Israel, inciting David to count how many warriors Israel had.[c] David told Joab and the leaders of the army,[d] “Go, count the number of warriors[e] from Beer Sheba to Dan. Then bring back a report to me so I may know how many we have.”[f] Joab replied, “May the Lord make his army[g] a hundred times larger! My master, O king, do not all of them serve my master? Why does my master want to do this? Why bring judgment on Israel?”[h]

But the king’s edict stood, despite Joab’s objections.[i] So Joab left and traveled throughout Israel before returning to Jerusalem. Joab reported to David the number of warriors.[j] In all Israel there were 1,100,000 sword-wielding[k] soldiers; Judah alone had 470,000 sword-wielding soldiers.[l] Now Joab[m] did not number Levi and Benjamin, for the king’s edict disgusted him. God was also offended by it,[n] so he attacked Israel.

David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by doing this! Now, please remove the guilt of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly.” The Lord told Gad, David’s prophet,[o] 10 “Go, tell David, ‘This is what the Lord says: “I am offering you three forms of judgment from which to choose. Pick one of them.”’”[p] 11 Gad went to David and told him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Pick one of these: 12 three[q] years of famine, or three months being chased by your enemies and struck down by their swords,[r] or three days being struck down by the Lord, during which a plague will invade the land and the angel of the Lord will destroy throughout Israel’s territory.’[s] Now, decide what I should tell the one who sent me.” 13 David said to Gad, “I am very upset! I prefer to be attacked by the Lord, for his mercy is very great; I do not want to be attacked by men!”[t] 14 So the Lord sent a plague through Israel, and 70,000 Israelite men died.

15 God sent an angel[u] to ravage[v] Jerusalem. As he was doing so,[w] the Lord watched[x] and relented from[y] his judgment.[z] He told the angel who was destroying, “That’s enough![aa] Stop now!”[ab]

Now the angel of the Lord was standing near the threshing floor of Ornan[ac] the Jebusite. 16 David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between the earth and sky with his sword drawn and in his hand, stretched out over Jerusalem. David and the leaders, covered with sackcloth, threw themselves down with their faces to the ground.[ad] 17 David said to God, “Was I not the one who decided to number the army? I am the one who sinned and committed this awful deed![ae] As for these sheep—what have they done? O Lord my God, attack me and my family,[af] but remove the plague from your people!”[ag]

18 So the angel of the Lord told Gad to instruct David to go up and build[ah] an altar for the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 19 So David went up as Gad instructed him to do in the name of the Lord.[ai]

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  1. 1 Chronicles 21:1 tn Or “Satan.” The Hebrew word שָׂטָן (satan) refers to an adversary, typically used without the article to refer to anyone in an adversarial role. Used with the article in Job 1-2 and Zech 3:1-2, it refers to “The Satan,” the demonic opponent. Of the heavenly accuser in those passages NIDOTTE (IV, 1231) says that “it is improbable that a specific demonic being is referred to (a possible exception may be 1 Chr 21:1).” TLOT (p. 1269) believes that 1 Chr 21:1 represents the first use of “satan” without the article as a personal name. But see the study note at the end of the verse.
  2. 1 Chronicles 21:1 tn Heb “stood against.”
  3. 1 Chronicles 21:1 tn Heb “and incited David to count Israel.” As v. 5 indicates, David was not interested in a general census, but in determining how much military strength he The parallel text in 2 Sam 24:1 says, “The Lord’s anger again raged against Israel and he incited David against them, saying: ‘Go, count Israel and Judah!’” The version of the incident in the Book of 2 Samuel gives an underlying theological perspective, while the Chronicler simply describes what happened from a human perspective. Many interpreters and translations render the Hebrew שָׂטָן as a proper name here, “Satan” (NEB, NASB, NIV, NRSV). However, the Hebrew term שָׂטָן, which means “adversary,” is used here without the article. Elsewhere when it appears without the article, it refers to a personal or national adversary in the human sphere, the lone exception being Num 22:22, 32, where the angel of the Lord assumes the role of an adversary to Balaam. When referring elsewhere to the spiritual entity known in the NT as Satan, the noun has the article and is used as a title, “the Adversary” (see Job 1:6-9, 12; 2:1-4, 6-7; Zech 3:1-2). In light of usage elsewhere the adversary in 1 Chr 21:1 is likely a human enemy, probably a nearby nation whose hostility against Israel pressured David into numbering the people so he could assess his military strength. For compelling linguistic and literary arguments against taking the noun as a proper name here, see S. Japhet, I & II Chronicles (OTL), 374-75.
  4. 1 Chronicles 21:2 tn Or “people.”
  5. 1 Chronicles 21:2 tn Heb “Go, count Israel.” See the note on “had” in v. 1.
  6. 1 Chronicles 21:2 tn Heb “their number.”
  7. 1 Chronicles 21:3 tn Or “people.”
  8. 1 Chronicles 21:3 tn Heb “Why should it become guilt for Israel?” David’s decision betrays an underlying trust in his own strength rather than in divine provision. See also 1 Chr 27:23-24.
  9. 1 Chronicles 21:4 tn Heb “and the word of the king was stronger than Joab.”
  10. 1 Chronicles 21:5 tn Heb “and Joab gave to David the number of the numbering of the army [or “people”].”
  11. 1 Chronicles 21:5 tn Heb “a thousand thousands and 100,000.”
  12. 1 Chronicles 21:5 tc The parallel text in 2 Sam 24:9 has variant figures: “In Israel there were 800,000 sword-wielding warriors, and in Judah there were 500,000 soldiers.”
  13. 1 Chronicles 21:6 tn Heb “he”; the proper name (“Joab”) has been substituted for the pronoun here for stylistic reasons; the proper name occurs at the end of the verse in the Hebrew text, where it has been replaced by the pronoun (“him”) in the translation.
  14. 1 Chronicles 21:7 tn Heb “There was displeasure in the eyes of God concerning this thing.”
  15. 1 Chronicles 21:9 tn Heb “seer.”
  16. 1 Chronicles 21:10 tn Heb “Three I am extending to you; choose for yourself one of them and I will do it to you.”
  17. 1 Chronicles 21:12 tc The parallel text in the MT of 2 Sam 24:13 has “seven,” but LXX has “three” there.
  18. 1 Chronicles 21:12 tc Heb “or three months being swept away from before your enemies and the sword of your enemies overtaking.” The Hebrew term נִסְפֶּה (nispeh, Niphal participle from סָפָה, safah) should probably be emended to נֻסְכָה (nusekhah, Qal infinitive from נוּס [nus] with second masculine singular suffix). See 2 Sam 24:13.
  19. 1 Chronicles 21:12 tn Heb “or three days of the sword of the Lord and plague in the land, and the angel of the Lord destroying in all the territory of Israel.”
  20. 1 Chronicles 21:13 tn Heb “There is great distress to me; let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great, but into the hand of men let me not fall.”
  21. 1 Chronicles 21:15 tn The parallel text of 2 Sam 24:15 reports that God sent a plague, while 24:16-17 attributes this to the instrumentality of an angel.
  22. 1 Chronicles 21:15 tn Or “destroy.”
  23. 1 Chronicles 21:15 tn Heb “while he was destroying.”
  24. 1 Chronicles 21:15 tn Or “saw.”
  25. 1 Chronicles 21:15 tn Or “was grieved because of.”
  26. 1 Chronicles 21:15 tn Heb “concerning the calamity.”
  27. 1 Chronicles 21:15 tn For this nuance of the Hebrew word רַב (rav), see BDB 913 s.v. 1.f.
  28. 1 Chronicles 21:15 tn Heb “Now, drop your hand.”
  29. 1 Chronicles 21:15 tn In the parallel text in 2 Sam 24:16 this individual is called אֲרַוְנָא (ʾaravnaʾ, “Aravna”), traditionally “Araunah.” The form of the name found here also occurs in vv. 18-28.
  30. 1 Chronicles 21:16 tn Heb “and David and the elders, covered with sackcloth, fell on their faces.”
  31. 1 Chronicles 21:17 tn “and doing evil I did evil.” The infinitive absolute precedes the finite form of the verb for emphasis.
  32. 1 Chronicles 21:17 tn Heb “let your hand be on me and on the house of my father.”
  33. 1 Chronicles 21:17 tn Heb “but on your people not for a plague.”
  34. 1 Chronicles 21:18 tn Heb “that he should go up to raise up.”
  35. 1 Chronicles 21:19 tn Heb “and David went up by the word of Gad which he spoke in the name of the Lord.”