Day 31: 1 Chronicles 24 – 2 Chronicles 7 Davidic Census: The Plot Thickens

Derek Ouellette —  February 15, 2011

You’ll recall that back during our reading through 2 Samuel 24 we came across a conundrum. It is the story where David is incited by the Lord (according to 2 Samuel) to take a census of Israel so that the Lord could have reason to be more angry with Israel (or David) and thus punish them. (I explored this nightmare here).

Then we came to 1 Chronicles 21 and received a different perspective on this story. It is not “the Lord” who incited David to take the census, but “Satan” (a personal name at this point in Israel’s history).

Today this mysterious plot thickens:

David did not take the number of the men twenty years old or less, because the Lord had promised to make Israel as numerous as the stars in the sky. Joab son of Zeruiah began to count the men but did not finish. Wrath came on Israel on account of this numbering, and the number was not entered in the book of the annals of King David. – 1 Chronicles 27:23-24

Let’s try and work this through.

First, according to Samuel, the Lord instructs David to take a census of Israel. David commands Joab to take a census of only the fighting men of Israel. Is this what causes the Lord to get angry? That David only requested a census of the fighting men, and not the whole nation?

The passage I just quoted seems to suggest that by not taking a census of any man under twenty years of age David is actually showing faith towards God’s promise to Abraham, “the Lord had promised to make Israel as numerous as the stars in the sky”.

So Joab takes the census. According to Samuel, Joab took a census “through the entire land”, seeming to mean of all the fighting men. But according to today’s text, Joab did not in fact complete the census. Is this what caused the Lord to be angry? The text back in Samuel tells us that Joab was opposed to David’s command to take the census. Was it Joab’s failure to carry out the Lords will through David that caused God’s Wrath to fall?

If so then why is David conscious stricken as soon as the count is submitted: “I have sinned greatly in what I have done”?

This story which seems insignificant keeps raising its ugly head. The writers of Samuel-Kings and Chronicles seem to think it is an important story and one thing we should desire to know is why.

Today’s reading might also hint at this. In 2 Chronicles 3:1 we read this:

Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David.

The Temple in Israel-Judea was the central image of Israel’s national religion. It was the most important structure and place in all the land. In it was the Most Holy Place. And yet the site was chosen as a result of the census David took on the Lord’s command which – for reasons we are trying to work out – resulted in the Lord’s wrath being poured out.

If you recall, David was instructed by the seer Gad to go and build an “altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite” (2 Samuel 24:18). I remember pointing out the significance of David’s response when Araunah wanted to give the land to David:

I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing. – 2 Samuel 24:24

I marveled at this the first time I came to it and made it into a spiritual application. But now I marvel all the more, for on this very site God would choose to have the Most Holy Place built! To me, the symbolism in this is powerful, and the irony is not missed by the writer of Chronicles when he writes that Solomon began to build the Temple on the place “where the Lord appeared to his father David… the place provided by David”.

There is much to tease out here and I would challenge you to take some of these connections I’ve uncovered and have some fun. I myself will return to this sometime in the summer (hopefully) when I have finished my 90 Day Challenge (through the bible in 90 days not including the weekends).


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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.