David:  Sinner and Saint in Samuel and Chronicles

 

Ralph W. Klein

Christ Seminary-Seminex Professor of Old Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and Editor of Currents in Theology and Mission

 

“Tradition” has been defined as the living faith of the dead, and “traditionalism” as the dead faith of the living.  The biblical authors often told the stories of ancestors who had been dead for centuries but whose words and actions were still central to understanding both the nature of God, Israel, and divine worship and the responsibilities and possibilities of individuals within the believing community.  These words are written to honor the recently retired LSTC Old Testament Professor Wesley J. Fuerst, a lover of the tradition, who has embodied living faith in his many roles in seminary and church.

            It was about 400 years after the death of David that the Deuteronomistic Historian (DTR) penned the words we now call 2 Samuel 24.[1]  Nearly two centuries later the Chronicler retold that story in what we now call 1 Chronicles 21.  The two authors described a David who sinned, but who confessed that sin and threw himself on God’s mercy.  What began as disaster ended up with David’s new obedience that secured the site for the altar that would grace the temple of Solomon.  But an account that had “worked” in 2 Samuel needed changing in 1 Chronicles—new questions had arisen and many details were not so clear on second thought.  In addition, the text of 2 Samuel had changed, slightly but significantly, as scribes studied and copied the texts they held sacred.  Thanks to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and renewed analysis of the Septuagint, we can now partially reconstruct the text of Samuel as it lay before the Chronicler when he started to write.[2]  We call this text his Vorlage.  The first and third columns in the translation below will be a literal translation of the text of Samuel and Chronicles as printed in Hebrew Bibles today.[3]  The middle column will be an attempt to show what the Chronicler’s Vorlage of Samuel might have looked like.  In reviewing the history of these texts, we will try to empathize with the theological concerns and objectives of both DTR and the Chronicler.

 

A Sinful Census

 

2 Samuel Standard Text

 

The Chronicler’s Vorlage

1 Chronicles Standard Text

1. The anger of Yahweh was again kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go number Israel and Judah.”

1. The anger of God was again kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go number Israel and Judah.”

1. An adversary rose up against Israel and incited David to number Israel.

2. And the king said to Joab, commander of the army which was with him, “Travel through all the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba, and number the people so that I may know the number of the people.”

2. And the king said to Joab and to the commanders of the army which were with him, “Travel (pl.) through all Israel and Judah from Dan to Beer-sheba and number the people.  Bring me back a report so that I may know the number of the people.”

2. And David said to Joab and to the commanders of the people, “Go (pl.) number Israel from Beer-sheba to Dan.  Bring me back a report so that I may know their number.

3. Joab said to the king, “May Yahweh your God add to the people a hundred times their number, while the eyes of my lord the king are still watching.  Why does my lord the king want this thing?”

3. Joab said to the king, “May Yahweh their God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, their number, while the eyes of my lord the king are still watching.  Why does my lord the king want this thing?”

3.  Joab said, “May Yahweh add to his people a hundred times as many as they are.  Are all of them not already servants of my lord the king?  Why does my lord seek this?  Why should there be guilt on Israel?”

4. And the word of the king prevailed against Joab and over the commanders of the army.  Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people Israel.

4. And the word of the king prevailed over Joab and over the commanders of the army.  Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people Israel.

4. And the word of the king prevailed over Joab.

 

Joab went out

5. They crossed the Jordan and camped at Aroer south of the city, which is in the middle of the wadi of Gad and near Jazer.

5. They crossed the Jordan and began from Aroer  and from the city, which is in the middle of the wadi of the Gadites near Jazer.

 

6. And they came to Gilead and to the land beneath Hermon[4] to Dan and round about Sidon.

6. And they came to Gilead and to the land beneath Hermon to Dan and encircled Greater Sidon.

 

7. And they came to Fort Tyre and all the Hivite and Canaanite cities, and they went to the Negeb of Judah at Beer-sheba.

7. And they came to Fort Tyre and all the Hivite and Canaanite cities, and they went to the Negeb of Judah at Beer-sheba.

 

8. And they traveled in all the land and came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.

8. And they traveled in all the land and came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.

and went throughout all Israel and came to Jerusalem.

9. And Joab gave the number of the census of the people to the king.  Israel was 800,000 military men who wielded the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000 men.

9. And Joab gave the number of the census of the people to the king.  Israel was 900,000 military men who wielded the sword, and the men of Judah were 400,000 valiant men.

5. And Joab gave the number of the census of the people to David.  All Israel was 1,100,000 men who wielded the sword, and Judah was 470,000 men who wielded the sword.

 

 

6. He did not take a census of Levi and Benjamin in their midst for the command of the king was abhorrent to Joab.

 

 

7. And this matter was also evil in the eyes of God,

 

1.      Samuel begins in v. 1 by linking this account (“again kindled”) to 2 Samuel 21, where similar themes about Yahweh’s anger and the need for expiation are discussed.  No reason is given for God’s current anger and a careful reader may wonder about the fairness of Yahweh in inciting David to sin.  DTR himself seemed to be satisfied that David was accountable for his own actions and raised no questions about Yahweh’s anger.

2.      Joab raised a mild objection to the census in v. 3 and expressed the hope that the people would multiply many times during David’s lifetime without a census.  David’s policy, however, won out.

3.      The map of the census (vv. 5-8) is presented in broad strokes, beginning in Trans-Jordan and moving counter clockwise to the northern end of the holy land before winding up at the traditional southern boundary city of Beer-sheba.  The task took about 200 days.

4.      The census, probably made for either conscription or taxation, came to a total of 1,300,000 (v. 9), with Israel larger than Judah, as it was throughout its history.

5.      The Chronicler does not include 2 Samuel 21 and hence does not mention that the God’s anger was kindled again.  In fact, he dropped out the notion of God’s anger and blamed the temptation on an unidentified adversary who somehow incited David to take a census (v. 1).  Translations traditionally render this by the word Satan although the Chronicler never refers to this figure elsewhere.  “The Satan” does appear as an adversary to humans in Job 1-2 and Zechariah 3.  Whether the text in Chronicles refers to Satan or merely to some unknown human adversary, the Chronicler has exonerated God of any involvement in David’s fall by the changes made in v. 1.[5]

6.      Joab’s objection in Chronicles (v. 3) is far more strenuous than in Samuel and makes clear to the king from the beginning that a census is sinful and unnecessary since the people are already obedient servants of the king.  Census-taking, in Joab’s words would bring guilt on Israel (v. 3) and was abhorrent to him (v. 6).  It is not explicitly stated why census-taking was wrong and the Chronicler elsewhere reports censuses without objection.  Since David had just been successful in battles against neighboring nations according to1 Chronicles 18-20, the Chronicler may have felt that counting the people showed David’s reliance on the size of his army rather than on divine aid.  Verse 7 notes divine disapproval of the census as well.

7.      The Chronicler does not repeat the geographical data from Samuel about the area covered by the census, either because he found it unimportant or, perhaps, because he did not completely understand the itinerary.  The Chronicler gives the extent of the land from Beer-sheba to Dan (v. 3), reversing the order of city names in this common biblical cliché.[6]  The census was made “throughout all Israel.” (v. 4)

8.      Joab did not number Levi and Benjamin (v. 6).  Two passages in Numbers prohibit Levi’s inclusion in military censuses (Num 1:49; 2:33) and justify Joab’s decision.  His reason for excluding Benjamin is no longer clear.  Some scholars have proposed that the location of the tabernacle at the Benjaminite city of Gibeon (see below) was the reason for its exclusion. 

9.      A number of tribal lists count both Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph, to make a total of twelve tribes when Levi is treated as a priestly tribe.  The Chronicler apparently assigned 100,000 people to each tribe and since he did not count Levi and Benjamin the grand total for all eleven Israelite tribes came to 1,100,000 (1,300,000-200,000).

10.  Some time after the Chronicler’s original composition, a reader interpreted “Israel” in v. 5 as a reference to the Northern Kingdom only (cf. DTR) and therefore mistakenly included a number for Judah, 470,000.

11.  The Chronicler’s Vorlage had several readings in vv. 2-4 that provided a rationale for minor changes in the Chronicler’s own text.[7]

 

The Punishment of Israel

 

2 Samuel Standard Text

 

Chronicler’s Vorlage

1 Chronicles Standard Text

10. And the heart of David smote him after he had numbered the people.  David said to Yahweh, “I have sinned exceedingly in what I have done.  And now, Yahweh, cause the iniquity of your servant to pass away for I have acted very foolishly.

10. And the heart of David smote him after this for he had numbered the people.  David said to Yahweh, “I have sinned exceedingly in this thing which I have done. And now, Yahweh, cause the iniquity of your servant to pass away for I have acted very foolishly.

7. (continued) and he smote Israel.

 

8. David said to God, “I have sinned exceedingly in this thing which I have done.  And now, cause the iniquity of your servant to pass away for I have acted very foolishly.

11. David got up in the morning, and the word of Yahweh came to Gad the prophet, the seer of David, saying,

11. David got up in the morning, and the word of Yahweh came to Gad the seer of David, saying,

9. Yahweh spoke to Gad the seer of David, saying,

12. Go and speak to David, “Thus says Yahweh.  Three things I offer to you.  Choose for yourself one of them and I will do it.”

12. Go and speak to David, saying, “Thus says Yahweh.  Three things I offer to you.  Choose for yourself one of them and I will do it.”

10. Go and speak to David, saying, “Thus says Yahweh.  Three things I offer to you.  Choose for yourself one of them and I will do it.”

13. Gad came to David and told him and he said to him, “Will there come to you seven years of famine in your land, or three months of your fleeing before your enemies with them pursuing you, or will there be three days of pestilence in your land?”

 

 

 

 

 

Now know and see what answer I should respond to the one who sent me.’

13. Gad came to David and told him and he said to him, “Choose for yourself one of them and I will do it.  Will there come to you three  years of famine in your land, or three months of your fleeing before your enemies with them pursuing you, or will there be three days of pestilence in the land?”

 

 

 

And now know and see what answer I should respond to the one who sent me.’”

11. Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says Yahweh, ‘Take what you will.  12. Will there be three years of famine, or three months of your fleeing (emendation) before your enemies with the sword of your enemies overtaking you, or will there be three days of the sword of Yahweh, pestilence in the land, and the angel of Yahweh destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.  And now see what answer I should respond to the one who sent me.’”

14. And David said to Gad, “It is exceedingly distressing to me.  Let us fall by the hand of Yahweh for his mercies are manifold.  Let me not fall by the hand of human beings.”

14. And David said to Gad, “Even these three things are exceedingly distressing to me.  Only let me fall by the hand of Yahweh for his mercies are exceedingly manifold.  Let me not fall by the hand of human beings.”  So David chose for himself the plague, and in the days of the wheat harvest

13. And David said to Gad, “It is exceedingly distressing to me.  Let me fall by the hand of Yahweh for his mercies are exceedingly manifold.  Let me not fall by the hand of human beings.”

15. And Yahweh brought a pestilence against Israel from morning until the appointed time, and there died from the people, from Dan to Beer-sheba, 70,000 people.

15. Yahweh brought a pestilence against Israel from morning until dinnertime, and the scourge caused sickness among the people.  And there died from the people, from Dan to Beer-sheba, 70,000 people.

14. And Yahweh brought a pestilence against Israel, and there fell from Israel 70,000 people.

 

1.      The reasons in Samuel (v. 10) for David’s feelings of guilt and remorse are unexplained.  Note that Yahweh was involved in leading him to number the people (v. 1) and that Joab objected to it only mildly (v. 3).  David admitted his faults and prayed for the iniquity to be removed.

2.      God’s word came to Gad the prophet (vv. 11-13).[8]  The choice between seven (or three) years of famine, three months of flight from enemies or three days of pestilence is a bitter one with the primary distinction being in the duration of the punishment.  All of these punishments are to affect the people as a whole.

3.      David resolved the dilemma posed by Gad by selecting none of his options, but throwing himself instead on the manifold mercies of God (v. 14).  He stated that he would rather fall by Yahweh’s hand—because of his reputation for mercy—than take his chances on natural or human disasters. David concluded that his only resort was to choose the potentially worst punishment, that is, punishment that came directly from God.

4.      Yahweh’s means of destruction was pestilence (v. 15), that caused 70,000 casualties in less than one day. 

5.      The Chronicler explained David’s sudden change of heart by having Yahweh smite Israel immediately after the census (v. 7).  Such punishment brought David to his senses (cf. the response of the officers and the king to the invasion of Shishak in 2 Chr 12:6 and the response of Manasseh to his exile in 2 Chr 35:12).

6.      The three options for punishment in Chronicles (v. 12) are similar to those in Samuel, but the third is presented in a series of appositions that foreshadow the punishment itself: the sword of Yahweh, pestilence in the land, and the angel of Yahweh destroying.  The angel with the sword is prominent in the rest of the Chronicler’s account.  The Chronicler also makes it clear that the third punishment will be brought directly by Yahweh.  Thus David’s decision to fall into—or by—the hand of Yahweh is provided with a better rationale.

7.      Throughout these verses there are small changes in the Chronicler’s Vorlage that explain some of his differences from the standard text of Samuel.  The Chronicler’s use of the adverb “exceedingly” in v. 13, while theologically important, was probably found by him in his Vorlage.  Gad is given two titles in 2 Sam 24:11.  “David’s seer” is preserved in the Chronicler’s Vorlage and in Chronicles (cf. 1 Chr 29:22; 2 Chr 29:25); there was probably once a text of Samuel that called Gad only a prophet.  The two titles have now been conflated in the standard text of Samuel.

Divine Pause and David’s Confession

 

Samuel Standard Text

 

Chronicler’s Vorlage

Chronicles Standard Text

16. And the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, but Yahweh repented of the calamity.  He said to the angel who was wreaking damage among the people, “It is enough now; stay your hand.”  And the angel of Yahweh was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

16. And the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, but Yahweh repented about the calamity.  He said to the angel who was wreaking damage among the people, “It is enough now; stay your hand.”  And the angel of Yahweh (4Qsama; God LXX L) was standing by the threshing floor of Orna the Jebusite.

15. And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it.  And when he was about to destroy it, Yahweh saw and repented about the calamity.  He said to the angel who was wreaking damage, “It is enough now; stay your hand.”  And the angel of Yahweh was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

 

And David lifted up his eyes and saw the angel of Yahweh standing between earth and between heaven.  And there was a drawn sword in his hand stretched out against Jerusalem.  And David and the elders fell down on their faces, covering themselves in sackcloth.

16. And David lifted up his eyes and saw the angel of Yahweh standing between earth and between heaven.  And there was a drawn sword in his hand stretched out against Jerusalem.  And David and the elders, covering themselves in sackcloth, fell down on their faces.

17. And David said to Yahweh, when he saw the angel slaying the people, and he said, “Behold, I have sinned and I have acted perversely, but these sheep, what have they done?  Let your hand be against me and against the house of my father.

17. And David said to Yahweh, when he saw the angel slaying the people, and he said, “Behold, I have sinned and I the shepherd have done wrong, but these sheep, what have they done?  Let your hand be against me and against the house of my father.

17.  And David said to God, “Have not I given orders to number the people?  I am the one who has sinned and I indeed have done wrong, but these sheep, what have they done?  Yahweh my God, let your hand be against me and against the house of my father; but let not the plague be against your own people.

 

1.      The angel’s appearance in Samuel (v. 16) is abrupt and without preparation.  As the punishment moved from the people as a whole toward Jerusalem, Yahweh changed his mind about the catastrophe, thus vindicating David’s reliance on his many mercies.

2.      At this stage, the angel’s presence by the threshing floor of Araunah (v. 16) seems incidental to the story.

3.      David repeats his confession of sin in v. 17 (cf. v. 10) and contrasts his behavior with that of the innocent people who have been punished for his sin.  He asks for God’s hand to limit itself to himself and his wider family.

4.      The Chronicler has God send the angel (v. 15) rather than allowing the angel to act on its own initiative.  This change also makes the appearance of the angel less abrupt.

5.      The paradoxical and merciful behavior of God is highlighted in Chronicles (v. 15).  The very one who sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem called a halt to that punishment.

6.      Verse 16 in Chronicles, however, is not an addition by the Chronicler, but a text he found in his Vorlage as we now know since the discovery of 4QSama.  It is likely that this paragraph was lost in the standard text of Samuel when a scribe’s eyes skipped from “and David lifted up” to “and David said” in the next verse. 

7.      The motif of an angel with a terrifying drawn sword has biblical antecedents in the story of Balaam’s ass (Num 22:23, 31) and in the story of Joshua’s meeting with a man with a sword, identified as a leader in Yahweh’s army (Josh 5:13-15).  From this point on and up to v. 27 the Chronicler pictured an angel with a drawn sword hovering over Jerusalem.

8.      The Chronicler added a clause to v. 17 in which David asks explicitly that the plague not affect the people. 

9.      The best reading in v. 17 may be the bold type in the Chronicler’s Vorlage in which David admitted he had done wrong as the royal shepherd, and therefore the punishment of the innocent people/sheep is inappropriate. 

10.  The participle “standing” in 1 Chr 21:15 and in its Vorlage in Samuel is an interesting place where the Lucianic Septuagint agrees with 4QSama against the Standard Text.  Araunah is a Hittite or Hurrian name; its spelling in 4Qsama, the Septuagint, and Chronicles represents a later development.

Erection of an Altar

 

2 Samuel Standard Text

 

Chronicler’s Vorlage

1 Chronicles Standard Text

 

18. And Gad came to David on that day and said to him, “Go up, rear for Yahweh an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”

 

18. And Gad came to David on that day and said, “Go up, rear an altar for Yahweh on the threshing floor of Orna the Jebusite.”

18. And the angel of Yahweh said to Gad to say to David that David should go up to rear an altar for Yahweh on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

19. And David went up according to the word of Gad, just as Yahweh had commanded him.

19. And David went up according to the word of Gad, the prophet, as Yahweh had commanded him.

19. And David went up in the word of Gad, as he had commanded in the name of Yahweh.

20. And Araunah looked down and saw the king and his servants passing by him, and Araunah went out and bowed down to the king, with his nose to the ground.

20. And Orna looked down and saw the king and his servants passing by him, and Ornan went out and bowed down to the king, with his nose to the ground.

4Q Sama

And [Orna] looked down [and saw the king and his servants coming to him, hiding themselves, and covering themselves] with sackcloth, and Orna was threshing wheat.  [And David came to Orna and Orna looked and saw David and his servants, cove]ring themselves with sackcloth, com[ing to him….][9]

20. And Ornan turned and saw the angel (LXX:  king) and his four sons with him, hiding themselves, and Ornan was threshing wheat.

21. And Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?”  And David said, “To acquire from you the threshing floor to build an altar for Yahweh so that the scourge can be averted from the people.

21. And Orna said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?”  And David said to him, “To acquire from you the threshing floor to build an altar for Yahweh so that the scourge can be averted from the people.

 

 

22. And David said to Ornan, “Give me the place of the threshing flour, and I will build on it an altar for Yahweh.  For the full price, give it to me.

22. And Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up that which is good in his eyes.  Look, the ox will do for the burnt offering, and the threshing sledges and the harnesses for the wood.

22. And Orna said to David, “Take (it) and let my lord the king do for Yahweh that which is good in his eyes.  Look, the ox will do for the burnt offering, and the threshing sledges and the harnesses for the wood.

23. And  Ornan said to David, “Take (it) for yourself and let my lord the king do that which is good in his eyes.  Look I have given the ox for the burnt offerings and the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for a cereal offering. 

23. Everything Araunah the king gave to the king.  And Araunah said to the king, “May Yahweh your God respond favorably to you.”

23. Everything Orna gave to the king.  And Orna said to the king, “May Yahweh your God respond favorably to you.”

I have given everything.”

24. And the king said to Araunah, “No, for I will surely acquire it from you for a price.  I will not offer to Yahweh my God burnt offerings that cost nothing.” 

24. And the king said to Orna, “No, for I will surely acquire it from you for a price.  I will not offer to Yahweh my God burnt offerings that cost nothing.”

24.  And king David said to Ornan, “No, for I will surely acquire it for the full price.  For I will not lift up to Yahweh that which belongs to you nor offer burnt offerings that cost nothing.

 

So David acquired the threshing floor and the ox for fifty silver shekels.

So David acquired the threshing floor for a price and the ox for fifty silver shekels.

25. So David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred golden shekels by weight.

25. David built there an altar to Yahweh and he offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings. Then Yahweh accepted supplication for the land, and the scourge was averted from Israel.

25. David built there an altar to Yahweh and he offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings.  Solomon added to the altar later, for it was small at first. Then Yahweh pardoned the land, and the scourge was averted from Israel.

26.  David built there an altar to Yahweh and he offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings.  He prayed to Yahweh, and Yahweh answered him in fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering.

 

 

27. Yahweh commanded the angel and he put back his sword into its sheath.

 

 

28. At that time, when David saw that Yahweh had answered him at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he offered sacrifices there.

 

 

29. But the tabernacle of Yahweh, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time at the high place in Gibeon.

 

 

30. David had not been able to go before it to seek God for he was terrified because of the sword of the angel of Yahweh.

 

 

22:1 David said, “This will be the house of Yahweh God, and this will be the altar for burnt offering for Israel.”

 

1.      In Samuel (v. 18) Gad delivered a second message to David in response to his second confession (cf. v. 10), instructing him to build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah. 

2.      Bowing down and prostrating himself (v. 20), Araunah showed proper respect for the king as he went out to begin negotiations with him.  David’s carrying out of Gad’s order is a necessary prerequisite for averting the angel’s punishment which had only been temporarily interrupted in 2 Sam 24:15.  As David recounted his instructions in v. 21, he mentioned explicitly the need to acquire the threshing floor in addition to building the altar.

3.      Araunah generously supplied David with an ox for the burnt offering and with parts of farm equipment as firewood for the sacrifice, and he offered best wishes for divine approval (2 Sam 24:22-23).[10]

4.      David declined Araunah’s offers and insisted that he pay for the threshing floor and the sacrifices (v. 24).  The price was fifty silver shekels.

5.      David offered burnt and peace offerings, and Yahweh accepted his entreaty for the land.  The scourge (divine blow) was averted for the people (v. 25).

6.      The Chronicler makes clear that Gad was speaking by divine authority (“the angel of Yahweh said to Gad”) and not merely offering a human suggestion (v. 18).  This understanding is implicit in 2 Sam 24:19//1 Chr 21:19.

7.      Verse 20 in Chronicles is puzzling.  If the standard text is chosen, it is unclear whose four sons are being referred to.  If LXX is chosen, the sons are clearly David’s.  Some scholars have proposed that since Solomon is identified as David’s fourth son in 1 Chr 14:3-7, Solomon, the temple builder, was present when the altar’s land was purchased.  The whole verse is difficult, however, and I suspect that the words “four sons” result from a misreading of the words “and his servants” from the Vorlage.

8.      In v. 22 the Chronicler omitted Araunah’s question from 2 Sam 24:21, perhaps thinking that the king rather than his subordinate should begin the conversation.  The reference to a “full price” in vv. 22 and 24 is an allusion to Gen 23:9 and Abraham’s purchase of the Cave of Machpelah for the full price. 

9.      Chronicles adds to Ornan’s offer in v. 23 “wheat for a cereal offering” in order to conform to apropriate sacrificial laws (Exod 29:38-41; Num 15:1-4).

10.  David’s purchase price in v. 25 is enormous, twelve times the amount in 2 Sam 24:24 (50 shekels for each of the 12 tribes?).[11]  The shekels are also of gold which is more valuable than silver. 

11.  Instead of the supplication referred to in 2 Sam 24:25 (perhaps referring to v. 17), the Chronicler mentions a new prayer (v. 26), which brought an answer in the form of fire from heaven.  Fire here and elsewhere indicates God’s approval of an altar or a sacrifice (Lev 9:24; Judg 6:21; 1 Kgs 18:37-38; 2 Chr 7:1).

12.  In v. 27 the Chronicler finally has the angel put the sword back into its sheath, erasing the tension that has existed since the mention of the angel with the drawn sword in v. 16.  The sacrifice freed the rest of the land from the pestilence.

13.  The next three verses (vv. 28-30) explain why David sacrificed at the threshing floor of Ornan while the national sacrificial cult was being carried on at Gibeon where the tabernacle and the altar from the wilderness period lent authenticity to this site until Solomon’s erection of the temple (1 Chr 16:39; 2 Chr 1:3; 5:5).  David had been intimidated from going to Gibeon by the drawn sword of the angel, but Solomon later did go there (2 Chr 1:3-6).

14.  David designated this site as the future house of Yahweh and the future altar of burnt offering for Israel.  While the text of 2 Samuel 24 is sometimes understood in a similar way, there is actually no explicit connection made between the altar at Araunah’s threshing floor and Solomon’s temple (cf. 1 Kgs 5:15 [EVV 1]-9:9).[12] Chronicles gives Davidic authorization to this site, which is also connected with Moriah, the site of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac in 2 Chr 3:1.  Here as elsewhere in Chronicles the temple is the central focus of the people’s religious life.

Conclusion

We have seen how the tradition of David’s sin in numbering the people led to his confession of sin and his carrying out of the consequent obligations God laid upon him.  The Chronicler interpreted an old text for a new situation by addressing a number of issues that were troubling to him, some of which were probably problematic to readers from the beginning.

      It is often said that the Chronicler idealizes David, leaving out his questionable rise to power, his adultery with Bathsheba, and the rebellion of Absalom.  The same could be said of Solomon since the Chronicler’s account leaves out all of 1 Kings 11 and its discussion of Solomon’s wives and the apostasy they introduced.  But the Chronicler’s picture of David the saint is more robust than many propose.  After all he also erred in his first attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem, when Uzzah touched it and was struck dead.  It was only many years later, and with priests and Levites properly installed by David, that the king was able to bring the ark to its final resting place in Jerusalem.

      In 1 Chronicles 21, it is not that David is sinless that makes him a model, but rather that this great sinner, who trusted in the exceedingly great mercies of God, confessed his sins and followed through on divinely prescribed repentance obligations.  The Chronicler’s fallen but repentant David is a model for his own time—and our time.[13]



[1] Contemporary scholars disagree on whether DTR wrote near the end of the 7th or in the middle of the 6th century BCE.  The present shape of the Deuteronomist History, all agree, was not achieved until the middle of the 6th century.

[2] The Dead Sea Scroll in question is a fragmentary, first century BCE document called 4QSama.  For the Septuagint we follow the Lucianic recension (LXXL).  Though it was edited in the 4th century CE, it contains many ancient readings, some of which are confirmed by 4QSama.  What we call the Chronicler’s Vorlage in this article is primarily a translation of the Lucianic recension of 2 Samuel 24.  When its readings agree with Chronicles, we print both texts in bold.  When we cite 4QSama alone we print it in italics.  When these readings show up in Chronicles, they are also printed in italics there.  Readings printed in bold italics in Chronicles are supported by both the Lucianic Recension and 4QSama.

[3] This is identified in this paper as the Standard Text.  In scholarly circles this is called the Masoretic Text or MT.

[4] For this reconstruction, see P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., II Samuel, AB 9 (Garden City, NY:  Doubleday, 1984) 502.

[5] The Targum to Chronicles partially reverses Yahweh’s exoneration:  “And Yahweh let the Satan stand up against Israel.”

[6] Cf. 1 Chr 13:5; 2 Chr 19:4; 30:5.

[7] We do not know why the numbers in the first two columns for 2 Sam 24:9 differ from each other.  Perhaps the Chronicler knew the numbers in the second column, calculated that 70,000 would be later killed, and therefore created an original number of 470,000 for Judah.  The commentaries are full of other conjectures.

[8] The complete divine message must be compiled from God’s word to Gad in v. 12, and Gad’s speaking to David in v. 13.

[9] Reconstruction from McCarter, II Samuel, p. 507.  It seems to me that this text conflates two slightly varying sentences.

[10] The standard text of v. 23 makes it appear that Araunah is a king, but this is a result of early textual corruption (See McCarter, II Samuel, p. 508).  Note the humble acts of Araunah in v. 22 and the fact that he is merely threshing wheat and not carrying out royal tasks in 1 Chr 21:20 and its Samuel Vorlage.

[11] The Chronicler’s Vorlage may have prepared for this change.  Note that the fifty skekels are only for the ox while the threshing floor itself is sold for an unspecified price.

[12] But note the underlined addition in v. 25 of the Chronicler’s Vorlage.

[13] For a full discussion of David as repentant sinner in 1 Chronicles 21, see Gary N. Knoppers, “Images of David in Early Judaism: David as Repentant Sinner in Chronicles,” Bib 76 (1995):449-470.  Contrast John W. Wright, “The Innocence of David in I Chronicles 21,” JSOT 60 (1993):87-105.