II Samuel 23:8-24 David’s Mighty Men And Judgment.
The writer tells of three mighty men who were with David and their exploits (vv. 8-17), and then of another three, Abishai (the brother of Joab), Benaiah, and Asahel (another brother of Joab). What is significant with respect to these six is that Joab is not mentioned among them. There then follows a long list of others who were with David (vv. 18-39). “By concluding the list of David’s mighty men with Uriah, the victim of David’s great sin in ch. 11, the chapter ends with a poignant reminder that David was, like all men, a sinner and in need of God’s forgiveness (ch. 12). This theme is continued in the next chapter.” (NGSB. 464) We then read that “the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah” (24:1).
Previously the nation suffered from a drought for 3 years because Saul, as the nation’s covenantal head, broke the covenant that had been made with the Gibeonites through Joshua (Ch. 9). The drought was a part of the covenantal curse they had brought on themselves (21:1-2). The cataloguing of the mighty men of war may have been the cause of the LORD’s anger (I Chron. 27:23-24)* In effect the LORD decided to give David up to his own folly, and as indicated at I Chronicles 21:1, he would do so through the instrumentality of Satan.** Joab acknowledges that it is a blessing to have many people, and even for the king to see them, but he asks David why he wanted to number them. However, it does not appear that he told Joab why, and David did not change his mind (v. 3-4a).
Joab and the captains proceeded to do as David had requested (v. 4b-7). Joab may have simply not wanted such a menial task, one which took nine months and twenty days (v. 8). Israel had 800,000 valiant men, and Judah 500,000 (v. 9). Upon hearing the report “David’s heart condemned him, and he asks for the LORD’s forgiveness (v. 10). It would appear that David was forgiven, but as in the case of his sin with Bathsheba, there would be consequences. Rather than a long protracted 7 years of famine, or to be humiliated by an enemy (v. 14), David chose 3 days of a plague, as the punishment choice which the LORD had given him through his Seer Gad (vv. 11-13). David also knew that the LORD was rich in mercy. As it turns out, the LORD did eventually restrain the angel (vv. 15-17).
David, seeing the angel striking the people, actually asked the LORD to punish him and his house instead (v. 15). It is worth noting that the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor, and it is to the threshing floor that the LORD directs David to go to in order to erect an altar to the LORD (v. 18). “So David, according to the word of Gad, went up as the LORD commanded” (v. 19). David decided he wanted to buy the plot of land on which was the threshing floor, from one Araunah (vv. 20-21). Aranuah offered David whatever he needed, including the animals for the sacrifice (vv. 22-23). However, David insisted on buying the plot, and animals for a burnt offering, since he would not offer anything that did not cost him something (vv. 24-25a). The LORD answered prayer and the plague ended (v. 25b).
*“Taking a census does not appear to have been wrong in itself (Nu. 1:1, 2; 4:1, 2; 26:1-4), but see Ex. 30:11, 12. This act of census may have pointed to a lack of trust in David’s heart, or even a desire to gain control of God’s sovereignty by making an inventory of his apparent resources. That the report (v. 9) emphasizes military strength may suggest that David wanted to take more territory than what the Lord (sic) had granted him.” (NGSB. 464)
An alternative reason may be that posited by S. G. DeGraaf in his ‘Promise And Deliverance’. “The Lord (sic) brought this about because His anger was directed against the people on account of their misdeeds, for which they had not yet been punished. Hadn’t the people rejected David for Absalom and then for Sheba? They had rejected the head of the covenant – and thereby the Lord’s (sic) covenant itself. For this the Lord (sic) now intended to punish them.” (188)
**“The Scripture is clear that God is not the author of evil (James 1:13-15), but it also teaches that the wicked acts of men and of Satan do not fall outside God’s sovereign determination (Ex. 4:21; I Sam. 2:25; 1 Kin. 22:20-23; Job 1:12; Ezek. 14:9; Acts 4:27, 28).” (NGSB. 464)