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1 Chronicles 21


(LXX versing)
Census Brings Pestilence The Census of Israel and Judah The Census, the Plague, and the Acquisition of a Site for the Sanctuary David Takes a Census The Census
21:1-8 21:1-8 21:1-6 21:1-2 21:1-6
21:3-6 The Pestilence. God's Forgiveness
21:7-13 21:7-8 21:7-13
21:9-13 21:9-13 21:9-10
21:14-17 21:14-17 21:14-17 21:14-15 21:14-17
David's Altar 21:16-17 The Altar Is Built
21:18-27 21:18-27 21:18-27 21:18-22 21:18-23
21:24-26 21:24-25
21:28-30 21:28-30 21:28-22:1

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


  1. This chapter is parallel to 2 Samuel 24, but different in many ways. The exact relationship between Samuel and Chronicles is unknown.
    1. textual corruption
    2. different literary purpose
    3. different Hebrew manuscript sources

      Samuel is more like DSS (4QSam).

      Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, is a good example of how modern commentators try to deal with the number differences.

    1. 2 Sam. 24:9 vs 1 Chr. 21:5, pp. 188-189
    2. 2 Sam. 24:13 vs 1 Chr. 21:11-12, pp. 189-190
    3. 2 Sam. 24 vs 1 Chr. 21:25, p. 190

  2. There are two angelic personalities mentioned.
    1. Satan (no ARTICLE; Job 1:6; 2:1 have the ARTICLE, as does Zech. 3:1)
    2. the angel of the Lord who is the means of YHWH's judgment on David and Israel

  3. Chronicles is interested in YHWH's involvement in the site of the temple. This chapter fits into that literary purpose (cf. 1 Chr. 22:1).


1Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. 2So David said to Joab and to the princes of the people, "Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, and bring me word that I may know their number." 3Joab said, "May the Lord add to His people a hundred times as many as they are! But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? Why does my lord seek this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt to Israel?" 4Nevertheless, the king's word prevailed against Joab. Therefore, Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem. 5Joab gave the number of the census of all the people to David. And all Israel were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword; and Judah was 470,000 men who drew the sword. 6But he did not number Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king's command was abhorrent to Joab. 7God was displeased with this thing, so He struck Israel. 8David said to God, "I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly."

21:1 "Satan stood up against Israel and moved David" In the parallel in 2 Sam. 24:1, it says "the anger of the Lord burned against Israel and it incited David."

  1. the personification of YHWH's anger
  2. the parallel with Satan (no ARTICLE)
  3. the repeated appearance of the angel of the Lord in this context

See Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology 2nd ed., pp. 255-258, for a discussion of number problems and inspiration.

The theological mystery is the relationship between these. Satan is a created being who serves God in the OT (see A. B. Davidson, OT Theology, pp. 300-306). The Angel of the Lord is a personal way of showing YHWH's presence and actions, as is "the Spirit" (i.e., Gen. 1:2).

Our planet and all matter in the universe are affected by the spiritual realm (cf. Rom. 8:19-22). Revelation is clear that behind human history stands the sovereign creator, redeemer God. Exactly how His guidance and will are manifested is hidden.

The OT presents God as the first cause and the only cause of all things (cf. 2 Chr. 20:6; Eccl. 7:14; Isa. 14:24-27; 43:13; 45:7; 54:16; Jer. 18:11; Lam. 3:33-38; Amos 3:6a)! It is common in the OT for all causality to be attributed to God as a way to express His sovereignty (i.e., Isa. 45:7; Amos 3:6). But it would be going too far to attribute God as the source of evil, disease, and human tragedy! His world has been affected by sin and rebellion, both angelic and human. This is not the world He intended it to be but His actions are moving to a permanent resolution of the conflict. We are caught up in the midst of the conflict, but He is with and for His own. As a parent, discipline is involved (i.e., Heb. 12:5-13).


SPECIAL TOPIC: THE FALL (Genesis 3 in the NT)

▣ "moved David to number Israel" Apparently David wanted to know the strength of his military, but in so doing, demonstrated a lack of trust in God's promise (i.e., 1 Chr. 17:10) and presence to give victory.

One wonders how this census was considered to be sin. Josephus (Antiq. 7.13.1) relates it to Exod. 30:11-16 (i.e., failure to give the ransom offering).

▣ "Israel" 2 Samuel 24:1 has "Israel and Judah." The Chronicler, living in the post-exilic period, removes the vocabulary of the Divided Kingdom period, though under Saul, David, and Solomon there was just Israel. This is true again in the post-exilic period.

21:2 "Joab" This was David's nephew and loyal military commander. He is often depicted as being overbearing or jealous (i.e., his actions against Abner, cf. 2 Samuel 3), but in Chronicles, he demonstrates great loyalty and spiritual insight (cf. the 2 Sam. 12:26-29 parallel to 1 Chr. 18:1 and in this context, 1 Chr. 21:3,6).

NASB, Peshitta  "the princes of the people"
NKJV  "the leaders of the people"
NRSV, JPSOA, LXX  "the commanders of the army"
TEV  "other officers"
NJB  "the people's princes"
REB  "the officers of the army"

The MT word (BDB 978) has several options.

  1. chieftain, leader
  2. vassal, noble, official
  3. military captain
  4. religious leaders
  5. tribal leaders (this is BDB suggestion, cf. 1 Chr. 27:22; 29:6), similar to "elders"

▣ "Go, number. . .bring me" David gives Joab three commands and one COHORTATIVE.

  1. go ‒ BDB 229, KB 246, Qal IMPERATIVE
  2. number ‒ BDB 707, KB 765, Qal IMPERATIVE
  3. bring ‒ BDB 97, KB 112, Hiphil IMPERATIVE
  4. that I may know ‒ BDB 393, KB 390, Qal COHORTATIVE

▣ "from Beersheba even to Dan" These two cities, one in the south and one in the north, became the idiomatic way of referring to "all Israel" (cf. 2 Sam. 3:10; 17:11; 24:2,15). However, here they are listed in a non-typical order. Possibly it denotes the census began in the south (i.e., Judah).

21:3 Joab clearly recognized the spiritual problem in David numbering the people of Israel.

  1. total number of Israel, 1 Chr. 21:5
  2. men of fighting age (i.e., 20-50 years), 1 Chr. 21:5

In context Joab's prayer for multiplication refers to Israel's army. Possibly David wanted to lower or raise the age of soldiers. The reason why David's census is sin is unstated, as is the exact purpose of Joab's prayer.

21:6 This detail is not mentioned in 2 Samuel 24. It might

  1. show the reason Jerusalem was spared destruction
  2. show the Chronicler's special interest in Jerusalem and the temple (i.e., Levi)
  3. account for the different numbers between 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chr. 21:5.
  4. Josephus (Antiq. 7.13.1) says that the reason for not numbering Benjamin and Levi was that David repented before they could be numbered

▣ "number" The word is literally "muster" (BDB 823, KB 955, Qal PERFECT), which adds to the interpretation that the census was for military purposes (cf. Exod. 30:12), not taxation or organization.

21:7 As Joab was displeased with David's command/motive, so too, was YHWH. There are consequences for lack of faith (i.e., 1 Chr. 17:10; 18:6,13).

21:8 David recognized his sin and asked YHWH to forgive him (cf. 2 Sam. 24:10). However, there are corporate consequences which affect the whole (cf. Joshua 7; Isaiah 53; Rom. 5:12-21). Sin can be forgiven but the consequences move through time and affect others!

▣ "please take away the iniquity" This is an IMPERATIVE OF REQUEST to God (BDB 716, KB 778, Hiphil IMPERATIVE).

▣ "Your servant" See SPECIAL TOPIC: MY SERVANT.

▣ "foolishly" See SPECIAL TOPIC: FOOLISH PEOPLE (terms).

9The Lord spoke to Gad, David's seer, saying, 10"Go and speak to David, saying, 'Thus says the Lord, "I offer you three things; choose for yourself one of them, which I will do to you."'" 11So Gad came to David and said to him, "Thus says the Lord, 'Take for yourself 12either three years of famine, or three months to be swept away before your foes, while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the Lord, even pestilence in the land, and the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.' Now, therefore, consider what answer I shall return to Him who sent me." 13David said to Gad, "I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are very great. But do not let me fall into the hand of man."

21:9-12 The is the only place in the Bible where God gives someone options on punishment. Because of David's lack of trust, publically demonstrated

  1. Israel as a whole can have three years of famine (2 Sam. 24:13 has "seven" years, but LXX of it has "three," as here)
  2. Israel can be defeated by her enemies militarily for three months
  3. Israel can be struck with a pestilence for three days

Josephus (Antiq. 7.13.3) describes the pestilence and its effect in great detail, but his source for this must be tradition or speculation.

21:9 "Gad" There were two court prophets active in David's life.

  1. Nathan, the prophet ‒ 2 Sam. 7:2,3,4,14; 12:1,5,7,13,15,25; 1 Kgs. 1:8, 10, 11, 22, 23, 24, 32, 33, 44, 45; 1 Chr. 17:1,2,3,15; 9:29; 29:25
  2. Gad, the seer ‒ 1 Sam. 22:5; 2 Sam. 24:11,13,14,15,19; 1 Chr. 21:9,11,13,18,19; 29:29; 2 Chr. 29:25

Prophets replaced the High Priest as the way to know God's will (i.e., Urim and Thummim).

Surprisingly Josephus (Antiq. 7.13.2) says it was Nathan, not Gad, who informed David of the three punishment options. The Tyndale OT Commentaries, vol. 10, pp. 209-210, try to show the similarities (6) between this account and David's sin with Bathsheba/Uriah in 2 Samuel 11. It was Nathan who confronted David over this sin (cf. 2 Samuel 12).


21:12 "the angel of the Lord" This angel is mentioned several times.

  1. here, in 1 Chr. 21:12,15,18,30
  2. "an angel," 1 Chr. 21:15
  3. "the destroying angel," 1 Chr. 21:15
  4. "the angel," 1 Chr. 21:20,27

I assume this is not the pre-incarnate Christ, but a servant angel, much like the angel of the tenth plague in Exodus 11 (although Exodus does not mention the angel, only YHWH, cf. Exod. 11:4).


21:13 David's answer involved great pain and fear. He threw himself on YHWH's mercy. He specifically expressed his fear of option #2.

▣ "for His mercies are very great" The term "mercies" (BDB 933) is also translated "compassion."

David knew this aspect of YHWH well, see Ps. 51:1, a Psalm related to David's sin with Bathsheba and premeditated murder of Uriah (cf. Psalm 32).


▣ "But do not let me fall into the hand of man" The term "hand" refers to power. The phrase relates to God's second option of punishment in 1 Chr. 21:12.


14So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel; 70,000 men of Israel fell. 15And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but as he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw and was sorry over the calamity, and said to the destroying angel, "It is enough; now relax your hand." And the angel of the Lord was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 16Then David lifted up his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, with his drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, covered with sackcloth, fell on their faces. 17David said to God, "Is it not I who commanded to count the people? Indeed, I am the one who has sinned and done very wickedly, but these sheep, what have they done? O Lord my God, please let Your hand be against me and my father's household, but not against Your people that they should be plagued."

21:14 Wow! What a large number of fellow covenant brothers dying and suffering for David's sin. This corporate aspect of judgment really bothers modern believers. A really helpful book for me related to evil, suffering, and the unfairness of lies is John W. Wenham, The Goodness of God. I commend it to you!

Obviously, from 1 Chr. 21:15 (i.e., "the Lord saw and was sorry over the calamity"), it affected God also! Some scholars use phrases such as this (i.e., Gen. 3:9; 22:12) to assert that God does not know the future, or the results of His choices (i.e., this is called "Open Theism"). I must reject this line of thinking. The ANE worldview was supernatural with personified natural forces. Israel used this imagery to describe God (see G. B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible, chapter 13, The Language of Myth, pp. 219-242).


▣ "70,000" It is possible to reduce this number by seeing "thousand" as referring to military units (cf. Exod. 18:21,25; Deut. 1:15). Remember, it was the military aspect of David's census that showed his lack of trust.


21:15 "the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite" This will become the future site of the temple.


For "an angel" See note at 1 Chr. 21:12.

▣ "It is enough" This ADJECTIVE (BDB 912) has a wide semantic field but it is used in the sense of "enough" in Gen. 45:28; Exod. 9:28; Deut. 3:26; 2 Sam. 24:10 (parallel); 1 Kgs. 19:4.

▣ "relax your hand" This is a command (BDB 951, KB 1276, Hiphil IMPERATIVE) from YWHH to the angel who was about to destroy Jerusalem.

21:16 "standing between earth and heaven" This would denote just above the earth's surface. This is similar to the powerful angelic visions of Daniel.

1 Chronicles 21:16 has no parallel in 2 Samuel 24, but a DSS manuscript of Samuel does contain it.

▣ "elders" This is possibly to whom "the princes of the people" in 1 Chr. 21:2 refers.


▣ "covered with sackcloth, fell on their faces" See SPECIAL TOPIC: GRIEVING RITES and SPECIAL TOPIC: WORSHIP.

21:17 This is David's second recorded repentant statement (cf. 1 Chr. 21:8). He takes full responsibility for the pestilence and requests that God hold him alone responsible. This is a heartfelt, repentant prayer. See David's prayers in Psalm 32 and 51.

Even though the OT affirms the consequences of corporate sin, here it highlights the seeming unfairness of it. David throws himself on God's character, as in 1 Chr. 21:13. The corporate aspect is retained in the fact that David's sin will affect his own family.

The problem is that this royal family is YHWH's means of accomplishing His larger redemptive purpose (see 1 Chr. 17:10).




▣ "very wickedly" This is an INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and PERFECT VERB of the same root (BDB 949, KB 1269), which denoted emphasis.

▣ "these sheep" This is a reference to God as "shepherd" (i.e., an ANE royal title, cf. Ps. 23:1; 78:52). God's representative kings (1 Chr. 11:2) were viewed as "under-shepherds." It became a Messianic title (cf. Zechariah 11; John 10:10; 1 Peter 2:25).


18Then the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 19So David went up at the word of Gad, which he spoke in the name of the Lord. 20Now Ornan turned back and saw the angel, and his four sons who were with him hid themselves. And Ornan was threshing wheat. 21As David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David, and went out from the threshing floor and prostrated himself before David with his face to the ground. 22Then David said to Ornan, "Give me the site of this threshing floor, that I may build on it an altar to the Lord; for the full price you shall give it to me, that the plague may be restrained from the people." 23Ornan said to David, "Take it for yourself; and let my lord the king do what is good in his sight. See, I will give the oxen for burnt offerings and the threshing sledges for wood and the wheat for the grain offering; I will give it all." 24But King David said to Ornan, "No, but I will surely buy it for the full price; for I will not take what is yours for the Lord, or offer a burnt offering which costs me nothing." 25So David gave Ornan 600 shekels of gold by weight for the site. 26Then David built an altar to the Lord there and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. And he called to the Lord and He answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering. 27The Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back in its sheath.

21:18 Notice how YHWH and the Angel are identified as one (cf. Exod. 3:2,4). In some respects the angel, like the Spirit, in the OT was a personal extension of God Himself.

Also note the personification does not remove the separateness of the Divine persons.



▣ "build an altar to the Lord" This is the only time YHWH calls for the construction of an altar to Himself (cf. Exod. 20:22-26). This site became "the place which the Lord God shall choose" of Deut. 12:5,11,14,18,21,26; 14:23-25; 15:20; 16:2,6,11,15; 17:8,10; 18:5; 26:2; 31:11. This site will later become the site of Solomon's temple on Mt. Moriah. This special place is here illustrated as the place of forgiveness and atonement (i.e., the sacrificial system of Israel).

1 Chronicles 21:26-27 shows YHWH's acceptance of the place and the sacrifice.

  1. fire from heaven
  2. sword returned to sheath

1 Chronicles 22:1 is the concluding remark of chapter 21 and the literary purpose (i.e., place of the temple).



21:19 "in the name of the Lord" See SPECIAL TOPIC: "THE NAME" OF YHWH (OT).

21:20 This is an eyewitness detail but it does not occur in the 2 Samuel 24 parallel. The OT is true history from the ANE perspective, not legend or myth (see G. B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible, pp. 219-242).

2 Samuel 24 does not have "Ornan" but "Aravnah." This is one of many differences.



21:22-24 This account shows David's sensitivity about who owns the site and who provides the sacrifice. Ornan surely has a good heart but more is involved!

21:24 "I will surely buy" This is an INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and IMPERFECT VERB of the same root (BDB 888, KB 1111) used for emphasis.

21:25 "shekels" The amount and type of precious metals differ from 2 Samuel 24.

  1. 2 Sam. 24:24 ‒ "fifty shekels of silver"
  2. here ‒ "600 shekels of gold"

Why there is a difference is uncertain. One only assumes different sources.


21:26 This is similar to Lev. 9:24; Jdgs. 6:21; 2 Kgs. 18:38; and 2 Chr. 7:1. It was a visible way of showing divine acceptance.

▣ "on the altar of burnt offering" The AB, p. 145, adds a phrase from the LXX, "omitted from the MT by haplography." The added phrase is "and consumed the burnt offerings."

21:27 This is ANE Holy War imagery. See G. B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible. The Bible is a literary work affected by its cultural setting.

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE BIBLE (it's uniqueness and inspiration)

28At that time, when David saw that the Lord had answered him on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he offered sacrifice there. 29For the tabernacle of the Lord, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were in the high place at Gibeon at that time. 30But David could not go before it to inquire of God, for he was terrified by the sword of the angel of the Lord.

21:28-22:1 This paragraph does not appear in 2 Samuel 24. It does highlight the Chronicler's special interest in the temple.

21:29 "the tabernacle" See SPECIAL TOPIC: CHART OF THE TABERNACLE.

▣ "the altar of burnt offerings" See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE ALTAR OF SACRIFICE.

▣ "at Gibeon" The tabernacle was constructed in the wilderness and carried with the Israelites during the wilderness wandering period.

  1. It first was set up at Gilgal after the crossing of Jordan, Joshua 4.
  2. It was moved to Shiloh, Joshua 18:1; 1 Samuel 1:3.
  3. It was moved to Gibeon, 1 Chr. 13:39; 1 Kgs. 3:4; 2 Chr. 1:3.
  4. David moved it to Jerusalem, 2 Sam. 6:17; 1 Chr. 15:1; 2 Chr. 1:4.

Solomon's temple takes the place of the portable tent (cf. 1 Kings 8). What happened to the tabernacle itself is never disclosed.

21:30 Sin causes a disfellowship between God and man. David's sin and his vision of the angel terrified (BDB 129, KB 147, Niphal PERFECT) him. This VERB in the Niphal stem is found only three times.

  1. David's fear of the angel, here
  2. Haman's fear of the King, Esther 7:6
  3. Daniel's fear of Gabriel, the messenger angel, Dan. 8:17

The Piel is used of

  1. Job ‒ Job 3:5; 7:14; 9:34; 13:21
  2. Saul ‒ 1 Sam. 16:14-15
  3. David's fear of death by Saul ‒ 2 Sam. 22:5 (Ps. 18:5)

▣ "to inquire of God" This implies a revelation from a priest (cf. 1 Chr. 21:29, i.e., using the Urim and Thummim of the High Priest). This is somewhat surprising since David usually received divine revelation from prophets (i.e., Gad and Nathan).

This verse may simply refer to David's visit to the tabernacle at Gibeon where Solomon later prayed (cf. 1 Kings 8).

Special Topic: Urim and Thummim


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. Why do 1 Chr. 21:1 and 2 Sam. 24:1 differ in who caused David to number Israel?
  2. Is Satan an enemy of God or a servant of God?
  3. Why was the census a sin?
  4. Why was Joab abhorred by it?
  5. Why are the numbers of 2 Sam. 24:9 different from those in 1 Chr. 21:5?
  6. Why did David's sin affect all Israel?
  7. How is the angel identified
    1. with YHWH
    2. apart from YHWH
  8. What is the ultimate theological purpose of 1 Chronicles 21?
  9. Why could David not inquire of God in 1 Chr. 21:30?

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