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1 Chronicles 21:1-17

Context
The Lord Sends a Plague against Israel

21:1 An adversary 1  opposed 2  Israel, inciting David to count how many warriors Israel had. 3  21:2 David told Joab and the leaders of the army, 4  “Go, count the number of warriors 5  from Beer Sheba to Dan. Then bring back a report to me so I may know how many we have.” 6  21:3 Joab replied, “May the Lord make his army 7  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?” 8 

21:4 But the king’s edict stood, despite Joab’s objections. 9  So Joab left and traveled throughout Israel before returning to Jerusalem. 10  21:5 Joab reported to David the number of warriors. 11  In all Israel there were 1,100,000 12  sword-wielding soldiers; Judah alone had 470,000 sword-wielding soldiers. 13  21:6 Now Joab 14  did not number Levi and Benjamin, for the king’s edict disgusted him. 21:7 God was also offended by it, 15  so he attacked Israel.

21:8 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.” 21:9 The Lord told Gad, David’s prophet, 16  21:10 “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.”’” 17  21:11 Gad went to David and told him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Pick one of these: 21:12 three 18  years of famine, or three months being chased by your enemies and struck down by their swords, 19  or three days being struck down by the Lord, during which a plague will invade the land and the Lord’s messenger will destroy throughout Israel’s territory.’ 20  Now, decide what I should tell the one who sent me.” 21:13 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!” 21  21:14 So the Lord sent a plague through Israel, and 70,000 Israelite men died.

21:15 God sent an angel 22  to ravage 23  Jerusalem. As he was doing so, 24  the Lord watched 25  and relented from 26  his judgment. 27  He told the angel who was destroying, “That’s enough! 28  Stop now!” 29 

Now the Lord’s angel was standing near the threshing floor of Ornan 30  the Jebusite. 21:16 David looked up and saw the Lord’s messenger 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. 31  21:17 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! 32  As for these sheep – what have they done? O Lord my God, attack me and my family, 33  but remove the plague from your people!” 34 

1 tn Or “Satan.” The Hebrew word שָׂטָן (satan) can refer to an adversary in general or Satan in particular. There is no article accompanying the term here, which suggests it should be understood generally (cf. NAB “a satan”).

2 tn Heb “stood against.”

3 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 had.

sn 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 tn Or “people.”

5 tn Heb “Go, count Israel.” See the note on “had” in v. 1.

6 tn Heb “their number.”

7 tn Or “people.”

8 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 tn Heb “and the word of the king was stronger than Joab.”

10 map For location see Map5 B1; Map6 F3; Map7 E2; Map8 F2; Map10 B3; JP1 F4; JP2 F4; JP3 F4; JP4 F4.

11 tn Heb “and Joab gave to David the number of the numbering of the army [or “people”].”

12 tn Heb “a thousand thousands and one hundred thousand.”

13 tc The parallel text in 2 Sam 24:9 has variant figures: “In Israel there were eight hundred thousand sword-wielding warriors, and in Judah there were five hundred thousands soldiers.”

14 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.

15 tn Heb “There was displeasure in the eyes of God concerning this thing.”

16 tn Heb “seer.”

17 tn Heb “Three I am extending to you; choose for yourself one of them and I will do it to you.”

18 tc The parallel text in the MT of 2 Sam 24:13 has “seven,” but LXX has “three” there.

19 tc Heb “or three months being swept away from before your enemies and the sword of your enemies overtaking.” The Hebrew term נִסְפֶּה (nisppeh, Niphal participle from סָפָה, safah) should probably be emended to נֻסְכָה (nusÿkhah, Qal infinitive from נוּס [nus] with second masculine singular suffix). See 2 Sam 24:13.

20 tn Heb “or three days of the sword of the Lord and plague in the land, and the messenger [or “angel”] of the Lord destroying in all the territory of Israel.”

21 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.”

22 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.

23 tn Or “destroy.”

24 tn Heb “while he was destroying.”

25 tn Or “saw.”

26 tn Or “was grieved because of.”

27 tn Heb “concerning the calamity.”

28 tn For this nuance of the Hebrew word רַב (rav), see BDB 913 s.v. 1.f.

29 tn Heb “Now, drop your hand.”

30 tn In the parallel text in 2 Sam 24:16 this individual is called אֲרַוְנָא (’aravna’, “Aravna”), traditionally “Araunah.” The form of the name found here also occurs in vv. 18-28.

31 tn Heb “and David and the elders, covered with sackcloth, fell on their faces.”

32 tn “and doing evil I did evil.” The infinitive absolute precedes the finite form of the verb for emphasis.

33 tn Heb “let your hand be on me and on the house of my father.”

34 tn Heb “but on your people not for a plague.”



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