This morning we come to the final chapter in the story of the Samuels, and as we come to the end I’d remind you of the beginning. On Sunday morning, August 4, 2019 I said the following to you, “Today we begin 2 Samuel. While we saw David struggling in 1 Samuel because of the sins of others, we will now see David struggling because of his own sins.” And that is indeed what we’ve seen these past year in 2 Samuel. It truly has been a ‘Tale of Two Kings.’ David the mighty champion of chapters 1-10 becomes into David the sinner in chapters 11-20. But this didn’t leave us in despair did it? By no means. Despite his failures God keeps covenant with him. And more so, time and time again we’ve seen David remind us, as great as he is, he isn’t ultimately the King God’s people need. A greater David, a greater King must be on the horizon. In this way 2 Samuel has given us glorious previews and foreshadows of who Jesus Christ will be, and what Jesus Christ will come to do. No surprise, we’ll see much of that again this morning.

But before we begin, for the last time I’d ask you to remember where we are. We’re in the final section of the Samuels that function as a poetic conclusion to the entire 1-2 Samuel story. We’ve spoken of the poetic structure of a chiasm before, often used to highlight a central point, and here we find another one:

A1 – A Three year Famine (21:1-14)

            B1 – Valiant Warriors, part 1 (21:15-22)

                        C – David’s Songs (22:1 – 23:7)

            B2 – Valiant Warriors, part 2 (23:8-39)

A2 – A Three day Plague (24)

Again, this matters because it’s a map, and as such it tells us about the seas we’re sailing.[1] This map reminds us of a great truth: king David was great. But the greatness of David had everything to do with David knowing and David loving the greatness of God. That is the theme we’ve seen over and over in this final section of the Samuels. And we’ll see it again today as we finish out the book in chapter 24, where we find a three day plague.

Now, this map doesn’t just tell us our passage is the final section of 2 Samuel, it tells us it’s the sister passage to the first passage in chapter 21. Both here and there we see similar things: before the issue was a three year famine, here the issue is a three day plague. Both passages begin with the sin of a king, both show God respond to that sin in wrath and judgment, both show David making restitution, and both end with God in great mercy granting relief to the people and lifting the curse off the land. Saul was the sinful king back in chapter 21 and he never turned away from his sin. But here in chapter 24 David is the sinful king, but he does repent, and ends up paving the way for the future temple to come.[2] So while 1 Samuel begins looking for a kingdom to come, 2 Samuel ends with a kingdom being established by costly sacrifice, and a kingdom led to the worship of God.

I’ve divided this chapter into four portions for us:

The Counting of David (v1-9)

Let’s begin with v1, “Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and He incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”

This opening verse of chapter 24 raises all kinds of questions. Here’s what we know. We know Israel has sinned against the Lord. We know the Lord grew angry with His people for it. And we know the Lord incited David to act against Israel because of it. Here’s what we don’t know. We don’t know when this occurred, only that it isn’t the first time this happened (“again”). And we don’t know what exactly Israel did to make the Lord angry. There is no explanation for their sin or for the Lord’s anger here, which assumes that we do not need to know why He is angry.[3] If God wanted us to know why He would’ve told us. We trust that. We could from all of this go in the wrong direction and assume God to be an unpredictable or impulsive God who unleashes His fury on His people for no reason.[4] Some go there, sadly. I don’t go there, and I don’t think you should go there. Or we could from all of this go in the right direction and remember who God is. He is the Judge of all the earth, He always does what is right. Which means His anger is only roused for just and righteous reasons.

This same event is recorded in 1 Chronicles 21:1 but there it says, “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” Which of course, raises more questions. Is this a contradiction? Who did the inciting work? Was it God or was it Satan? Putting both texts together I think we can say this: Israel sinned, and God used Satan as His pawn with David to bring His anger onto His people.[5] Is this hard for you? Some have trouble with this because they think it means God is the One causing sin or God is the One bringing to sin to pass. But wait, this isn’t the only passage where things are put like this. In Genesis 50:20 we read, “As for you (Joseph’s brothers), you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” In other words, Joseph’s brothers meant great evil in selling him into slavery. But, God used, and even meant, those evil actions of Joseph’s brothers to bring Joseph to Egypt and to save people from a famine. Another place to go is Acts 2:23 which says, “…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan of God…you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Here, just as in Genesis, we see man held responsible for his deeds and God as sovereign over man’s actions. You see, God’s sovereignty never lessens man’s responsibility, and man’s responsibility never lessens God’s sovereignty. So here in our text, we must see both of those. God was sovereign over these events and truly wanted to bring His anger onto His people for their sin. But David, being stirred up by Satan (who’s being used as a pawn by God), really did want to number the people for his own sinful reasons.

Now there is true mystery here, and that’s ok. God doesn’t always have to explain everything to us. If you’re not ok with this, I think you’re really saying to God that He must always explain Himself to you, and worse, that you don’t trust Him to be good and just at all times. Such a posture comes before His throne with a strut of arrogance rather than a humbled worship. We need to be alright with mystery, and trust that God is who He says He is.[6]

Now onto v2-9, “So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people.” But Joab said to the king, “May the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” But the king’s word prevailed against Joab and the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people of Israel. They crossed the Jordan and began from Aroer, and from the city that is in the middle of the valley, toward Gad and on to Jazer. Then they came to Gilead, and to Kadesh in the land of the Hittites; and they came to Dan, and from Dan they went around to Sidon, and came to the fortress of Tyre and to all the cities of the Hivites and Canaanites; and they went out to the Negeb of Judah at Beersheba. So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to the king: in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000.”

In v2 David makes his desires known ‘Number the people, take a census.’ He makes this request to Joab the commander of the army. That’s curious…did David ask Joab to do this because military force was needed to enforce this command?[7] But then as he’s done many times before, Joab thinks his own ideas are better than David’s as he questions David’s desire.[8] But looking at Joab’s response in v3 seems to clue us in that David certainly has less than upright motivations in this census. What are those intentions? We don’t know for sure, and we’re not really sure why Joab opposed this idea. But as the text moves ahead it seems David was thinking of the kingdom in terms of his own might and wanted to measure it to show his own glory rather than God’s.[9] Well, something we haven’t seen much of before now happens as David’s word prevails over Joab’s. They go out in v4-9 and come back after 9 months with the numbers, 800,000 valiant warriors in Israel, and 500,000 in Judah. Taking this as just able bodied, of age, fighting men being counted and not women and children, the total population of David’s kingdom would’ve easily been in the few millions.[10]

That’s the counting of David, now see…

The Confession of David (v10-14)

“But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” And when David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, “Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the LORD, Three things I offer you. Choose one of them, that I may do it to you.’” So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to Him who sent me.” Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.”

In v10 our passage shifts. How? David has, quite literally, had a change of heart. This time no prophet comes to him and tells him a tall tale to convince him of his guilt, no. During the ten months of counting David’s just waiting for the full number to come in, seemingly eager to know the results.[11] Whether the full number was what he expected or not we don’t know, but when the number comes in v10 tells us David’s heart struck him, or as the KJV says, “And David’s heart smote him.” What’s this? David isn’t having a heart attack. This is the conviction of sin weighing down on David, and in response he cries out in confession. Yes David has sinned, but this sinner has matured. Last time David greatly sinned he would’ve remained in his sin unless Nathan confronted him about it. Now though, it seems David is more aware his own spiritual health or spiritual sickness. Church, it is a very good thing to have a heart that smites us when we sin.[12] It’s a sign of health, of sensitivity to God and His ways that you have wandered from and must return to. Indeed, the conviction of the Holy Spirit after sinning is a sign of true awareness of sin committed, true grief over having committed it, true repentance occurring, that leads to true confession and true change. Now as healthy as this is, the opposite is also true. 

A sign of deep spiritual sickness and hardness to God and His ways is when you can succeed in sinning to your heart’s desire and not feel struck or ‘smote’ within.[13] Sin, whatever it may be, should always be a stranger to us rather than something we grow used to or comfortable with.

We should be grateful to see David’s growth here in v10. But then in v11-14 we should be reminded that sin always has consequences. God sends the prophet Gad, not with a message of blessing, but with a message of judgment. And interestingly enough David is asked to choose what punishment he’ll receive. The options are awful: three years of famine, three months of running from enemies, or three days of plague. David’s response in v14 is beautiful. “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.” David admits his distress is great, he admits his sins are many, but he also knows God’s mercy is great! David is gutsy in his guilt here. In the midst of his guilt he knows there’s no better place to be than in the hands of the Lord. Do you? Or in the thick of sin, do you run to other comforts adding sin onto sin? Church, may you trust the Lord like this, and know Him to be your home even when you’ve run away.

We’ve seen David count, we’ve seen him confess, now see…

The Wrath of God & The Mercy of God (v15-17)

“So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba 70,000 men. And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, “Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father’s house.”

In v15 it isn’t David who picks the punishment, it’s God.[14] And in His all-knowing wisdom He chooses option three, plague will be the price for David counting the people. What we have here is a summary statement in v15, and then more explanation of this event in v16-17. It’s all terrible to read. David sinned in numbering the people and for an appointed time God brought a plague onto Israel resulting great numbers of deaths all over the nation.[15] We learn God brought this to them through an angel and when that angel approached the city of Jerusalem God, in great mercy, relented and stayed the angel’s hand saying “It is enough.” A detail is then given. When God stayed His wrath the angel was “…by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” This will become important later on.

For now, look to David’s next confession in v17. David sees this angel, prays to God, and confesses his sin once again. He confessed how foolish he was back in v10, now he confesses how wicked his action was. Not only so, he pleads with God that the people haven’t done anything wrong, which isn’t technically right. Remember v1? All of this occurred because the people had sinned and angered the Lord. David though, is feeling a thick responsibility for all this mess and as king, feels deeply for his people, like a shepherd with his sheep. And not knowing God had stayed His hand already David asks that all this disaster be turned on him and him alone. Honorable request for sure. A request, though, God denies. But a day would soon come when God would answer this request when a Descendant of David, who is also God’s very Son will give His life for His people to save them from God’s wrath. Of course this Descendant is Christ the true King, who also called Himself the Good Shepherd who in laying down His life for His sheep would save His sheep forever! And in such a moment, in a way never imagined or invented by man, the wrath of God would be satisfied and mercy of God would be glorified.

After seeing the wrath and mercy of God note that 2 Samuel concludes with…

The Worship of God (v18-25)

“And Gad came that day to David and said to him, “Go up, raise an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” So David went up at Gad’s word, as the LORD commanded. And when Araunah looked down, he saw the king and his servants coming on toward him. And Araunah went out and paid homage to the king with his face to the ground. And Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be averted from the people.” Then Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the LORD your God accept you.” But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels7 of silver. And David built there an altar to the LORD and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD responded to the plea for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel.”

The small detail in v16 about the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite now comes back into view. God tells David to go there to build an altar, so up he goes. Araunah sees David coming toward him, goes to meet him, learns why David has come, and wants to give the threshing floor to David at no cost to him. Gracious offer indeed, but David won’t accept it saying, “No…I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.” Instead he paid a high price for it, made his offerings, and the Lord responded with mercy.

Conclusion:

My oh my…so much to see here. Two things specifically for us:

First, see the cross.

In this final episode of the Samuels king David sins, confesses, faces consequences, and makes a costly offering at a site that will eventually become the temple, the place where God will be worshipped. In this we see in shadowy form a great preview. One day another King would come, David’s Son and David’s Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ. Who, for sins not his own, would make the most costly sacrifice offering Himself as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice turning away God’s wrath from God’s people forever. Now, because of this, God’s wrathful hand is stayed towards all sinners that look in faith to Jesus. Also, because of this, Jesus (like David) would secure worship to God.[16] But no longer will such worship be founded on a place, no. Instead true worship is now founded on His Person, so that any who come to Christ will find themselves worshipping God through Him. Church, here at the end of 2 Samuel, see the cross.

Second, see what kind of life the cross creates.[17]

While David refused to offer anything to the Lord that costs him nothing, Jesus Christ in a similar but greater way also made an offering that cost Him everything, His very life. Now, all those who come to Christ are to reflect this as well because faithfully following Christ in a fallen world is costly. I could ask: what has it cost you to follow Jesus? I think I’d rather ask this: is there anything in your walk with Christ you’re avoiding because of the cost? Church, a Savior who made the costliest of sacrifices for us, creates a people willing to bear high cost and make costly sacrifices for Him.

This is the kind of life the cross creates.


[1] Nearly every commentator points out the chiasm present in this section, though most differ on the nature of chapter 21-24.

[2] John L. Mackay and J. Gary Millar, ESV Expository Commentary: 1 Samuel-2 Chronicles, ed. Iain M. Duguid, Hamilton Jr James M., and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2019), 482.

[3] John Woodhouse, 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 538.

[4] Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (New York ; London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018), 420.

[5] Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 539.

[6] Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Revised edition (Fearn, Ross-Shire Scotland: Christian Focus, 2013), 318.

[7] Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 540.

[8] Woodhouse, 540.

[9] David Toshio Tsumura, The Second Book of Samuel (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2019), 341.

[10] Richard D. Phillips, 2 Samuel (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2018), 441.

[11] Mackay and Millar, ESV Expository Commentary, 485.

[12] Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 (Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 446.

[13] Phillips, 2 Samuel, 441.

[14] Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 545.

[15] Phillips, 2 Samuel, 448.

[16] Peter J. Leithart, A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003), 321.

[17] Bibles by Reformation Heritage Books, Reformation Heritage Bible, ed. by Joel Beeke (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage, 2014), 466.

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