However, the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will surely buy [it] from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.
2 Samuel 24:24
This chapter is an account of God sending a disciplinary action on the Israelites after David has the fighting men numbered. There was nothing inherently wrong with numbering the fighting men, The Law includes a provision for taking a census and prescribes how often it should be done and God had, on occasion, commanded various leaders to number the people at their disposal. The wrong in the situation was that this census did not fall under either of those. A plague comes on the Israelites for three days and David makes a sacrifice on the threshing floor of a certain Jebusite to put an end to it. This account is paralleled in 1 Chronicles 21 with a few differences.
Difference #1: Who or What prompts David to number the fighting men. In Samuel, it says that the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them, but in Chronicles it says that Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. Some speculate that the difference is one of perspective: one account is looking from the earthly perspective and the other from the Heavenly. And this may very well be, but I think that the two are simply complementary. Satan stood up against Israel to make an accusation — probably a true one, since the Israelites (like most of us) regularly waffled between obedience and rebellion. The nation was at peace, so it is entirely possible that the people were getting lackadaisical about their relationship with God. It happens to a lot of us. God saw this and the anger of the LORD burned against Israel. This is seen often enough in the Old Testament that everything jives so far. But was is Satan or the anger of the LORD that moved or incited David to number the people? I do not know. It may be that one got the ball rolling (God’s anger) and the other took it too far (Satan). It may be some other thing that does not occur to me.
Difference #2: The numbers. Samuel gives the numbers of 800,000 and 500,000 for fighting men in Israel and Judah respectively. Chronicles gives these numbers as 1.1 million and 470,000. Both accounts agree on the number of people who died in the plague (70,000). But the accounts differ on the price paid for the threshing floor — 50 shekels of silver for the threshing floor and oxen (Samuel) or 600 shekels of gold by weight for the place (Chronicles). The difference in price might be as simple a matter as how much of the property is included in the price named. It is possible that David bought much more of the property than just the threshing floor and paid the 600 shekels of gold for the whole place while the price of the threshing floor and oxen specifically was 50 shekels of silver. Where the numbers of the people are concerned, I do not know why they are different.
Difference #3: The name of the Jebusite. In Samuel, the man is named Araunah and in Chronicles he is named Ornan. This is hardly a difficulty at all, as so many figures in The Bible have more than one name. The most obvious examples are Paul (formerly Saul) and Peter (formerly Simon) and Israel (formerly Jacob), though the preceding chapter of Samuel included a list of David’s Mighty Men and the list began with Josheb-basshebeth a Tahchemonite, chief of the captains, he was [called] Adino the Eznite.
Having pointed out the differences, they can more or less be ignored. And this is why: the message of this chapter is unchanged. It does not matter whether it was Satan or God’s anger that prompted David to number the people, it was David who did it — just as it does not matter whether I am tempted by Satan or my own lusts, to give in to either is still to transgression. Regardless of the exact numbers of fighting men, 70,000 people died. It does not matter whether the army is 1 million strong or 20 million strong, they were not able to stop the plague. Regardless of the exact price paid and for what or to whom, David’s statement that a sacrifice must cost him something is still the core of that portion of the account. The core message of a man doing something wrong, suffering consequence, and making things right with God is the same no matter which account I read or how I reconcile the differences between the two accounts.
This account is an echo to the story of redemption. Adam had dominion over the Earth and made a decision that spread out and affected everyone just as David had rule over Israel and decided to number the people. But my King, Jesus, the second Adam came along and paid a price; made a sacrifice that cost Him dearly and took away the sentence of death that was hanging over us all just as David bought the site and what was necessary to make the sacrifice that would stop the plague.
By way of personal application, I will do things that are wrong. I am not perfect. And I have authority over certain things (my life, my property, my body etc.). My choices and actions — wrong and right — will have consequences. Sometimes, those choices and actions will have consequences that affect more than me. And I need to repent and do whatever God instructs to set things right so that my relationship with God can be restored. More, I need to have the same heart that David had: Behold, it is I who have sinned, and it is I who have done wrong; but these sheep, what have they done? Please let Your hand be against me. That last request is also the heart of Jesus. Please let Your hand be against me. He took my punishment and paid my price because I could not. This sheep, what could I do?
Father, I must confess with David that it is I who have done wrong. Please let the consequence of my wrongs fall on me and me alone. Please shelter those who might be impacted by those consequences. They have done nothing when I transgress. When I do wrong and discipline or consequence comes, Please let Your hand be against me.