2 Samuel 24: Costly grace
As if the end of chapter 23 does not already indicate and maximize the sin of David as the shadow-king of Israel by referring to Uriah as among one of David’s thirty mighty men (murdered by David’s lustful adultery and scheming), once again David’s weakness is the subject of chapter 24.
2Sa 24:1-25 Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” (2) 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.” (3) 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?” (4) 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. (5) 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. (6) 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, (7) 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. (8) So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. (9) 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.
v.4 – “presence of the King”; began from Aroer to Gad to Jazer to Gilead to Kadesh (land of Hittites) to Dan to Sidon to Tyre to Hivites / Canaanites to Negeb of Judah at Beersheba. Why, again, is the “anger of the LORD kindled against Israel” (v.1) (chapter 21:15-20)? There is no explanation in the narrative, but it is apparent that Israel has succumbed to disobeying the LORD. Let us turn to 1 Chronicles which explains how this has happened:
1Ch 21:1-7 Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel… (5) And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to David. In all Israel there were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword, and in Judah 470,000 who drew the sword. (6) But he did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab. (7) But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel.
Note how Satan is the one who stood against Israel; but it is the LORD’s anger which was kindled against the visible church. Neither narrative explains exactly what had caused Satan to be permitted to stand against Israel (c.f. Job 1-2) but one thing is clear. This chapter is a fitting end to the two books of Samuel: while Samuel began with the unexpected election of this young priest over the House of Eli, we move quickly to the unexpected election of the young shepherd David over the House of Saul, and now we move once again to the House of Araunah the Jebusite (v.16) over the House of David. In each instance, we see how God has narrowed down the elected offspring through whom the Christ would come; from the form of priesthood and kingship firstly rejected and then typologically portrayed by its replaced shadow, as a witness to the true fulfillment of the priesthood and kingship by the Angelic Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5-7).
Under this overarching and underlining agenda of the 2 books, it is important that Satan stood against Israel, and that God permitted Satan to do so. Though it is not explicitly explained as to why Satan stood against Israel, what is displayed is the act of sin which David commits by numbering the visible church as incited by Satan. In this act of listening to the enemy, David has identified himself as a type of Christ and not the promised King Himself. It is therefore important to see man’s struggle with Satan since the books of Genesis to 2 Samuel, for no man has struggled successfully against Satan and crushed him definitively. Even David and his mighty men only defeated Satan’s children, be it the great Egyptian, the remnant of the Rephaim, the Goliath, amongst other fear-inducing enemies – but The Enemy could only be bound (Matthew 12:29) by The One Chosen to crush him truly at his head (Genesis 3:15). The victories of David are but shadows of Christ’s victory against the Satan; but they are at most shadows. David is not the Christ Himself, for David must also rely on Christ as His Second LORD and Mediator (Psalm 2; 110 ; c.f. his Christ-centered in chapter 22).
Even Joab, the man who was not mentioned among the David’s mighty men, this schemer and murderer found David’s decree abhorrent (v.6). For how can David puff up his pride in counting the visible church when the LORD has left a true holy remnant in Christ? Such is the reason why Levi and Benjamin are not counted amongst the census – according to the Hebrew of these two tribes’ names, the Levites who are joined to the priesthood are not to be joined to this unholy census, just as the Benjaminites, the children of the right hand should not be equally included. Yet, it is the Benjaminites and the Levites who are among those who receive the most ominous prophecies of Jacob in Genesis 49. Where do they actually stand? Are they really the joy of Christ’s childbirth, or are they truly riddled with warfare and ravenous wolves? It is perhaps likely that focus on the lack of inclusion of these two tribes is to highlight the seeming confusion of the silver lining between the unseen and seen Church – very much the subject of this chapter.
It is then clear in v.10 that David’s heart struck him (or, more viciously, killed him – nakah נכה) after he had numbered the people – that the Holy Spirit grieved (Isaiah 63:10 / Ephesians 4:30), and quite right that he accepted how he had sinned greatly and pursued the LORD to take away David’s iniquity. David did not, nor through a priest, sacrifice an innocent animal according to the Levitical laws for his sin. He knew very well that these animals could not take away people’s sins (Psalm 51; Hebrews 9:23) – only the LORD could take away the iniquity (Mark 2:7).
(10) 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.” (11) And when David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, (12) “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.'” (13) 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.” (14) 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.”
So in verses 10-14 we see the LORD presenting three choices to David – all of whom will be done to David by the LORD Himself: three years of famine, three months of persecution, or three days of pestilence (v.13). Though in the first two options we see the LORD withholding his provision (be that provision of natural resources in the famine; or his protection from external or internal strife), it is only in the third option that the LORD is directly and positively inflicting pestilence on Israel. David would rather “ fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but… not fall into the hand of man”.
How interesting it is that David still sees the LORD’s mercy in the midst of these three options which will afflict the nation as a result of David’s failed mediation as the righteous king of Israel. David saw ahead that the LORD’s mercy in the three days; but he did not see any comparative benefits from the other two choices which will result in a combination of the LORD’s and men’s wrath. Only in the third choice will we see sin personalized as between the church and the LORD (Psalm 51:4), the breaking of the covenant affecting first and foremost that God-man relationship.
(15) 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. (16) 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. (17) 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.” (18) 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.”
What is interesting is that the LORD’s pestilence has spread from “Dan to Beersheba”, the same geographic spread of people from David’s census in v.2; and it is akin to the pestilence elsewhere in Scripture, be it in the days of Noah by the global flood (Genesis 7); in the days of Abraham by the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24); in the days of Moses by the ten plagues (Exodus 8-12); and this is but another way of sifting the spiritual Israelite from the visible Israelite, the symbolic sweep over the same people who had been counted part of David’s church in the earlier verses of this chapter.
Yet, we must not forget the imagery of what is shown here – and this is the very crux of the consolidated message and thrust of the two books of Samuel. The Angel of the LORD by the threshing floor (quote) of Jerusalem – this place is symbolic not only because it is the Hebrew for the “city of peace”, but that commentators have recognized this place as Moriah, the place where the Christ would be crucified and where Abraham had foresaw that the LORD would provide a lamb for the burnt offering (Genesis 22; 2 Chronicles 3:1):
“This place is supposed to be Mount Moriah: on which, according to the rabbins, Cain and Abel offered their sacrifices; where Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac, and where the temple of Solomon was afterwards built.” – Adam Clarke
(19) So David went up at Gad’s word, as the LORD commanded. (20) 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. (21) 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.” (22) 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. (23) All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the LORD your God accept you.” (24) 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 shekels of silver. (25) 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.
And thus the chapter ends not on David’s victory; not on Israel’s faithfulness; but rather quite an opposite note. The plague, caused by David, and inflicted upon Israel (upon whom the perfect rounded number of 70,000 were taken away from the visible church), could only be propitiated by the burnt offerings and peace offerings given on Moriah on the third day of the pestilence. What a grand gospel picture that has been underlying 1 and 2 Samuel’s message! It isn’t men who inflicted our Christ on the cross; it isn’t Satan who induces the wrath and punishment on David for he is but a tool of the Father in tempting David to sin; it is, in actuality, the Father in heaven who inflicts this wrath on the Son!
It is on this second altar, far away from the legitimized altar of the tabernacle but instead is placed on the exact location of Christ’s crucifixion, that we see the light of the world – the Son of God – break into the dim pestilence and wrath of the Father which would have otherwise continued to wipe out the visible church. Yet, the Father had planned for the Angel to have mercy upon arriving at Jebus (the ancient Jerusalem) for this is where election is displayed for the world to see – the alpha and omega of election in Jesus Christ to be risen on the third day on the cross at Moriah.
The brazen altar which Moses made was at Gibeon (1Ch_21:29), and there all the sacrifices of Israel were offered; but David was so terrified at the sight of the sword of the angel that he could not go thither, 1Ch_21:30. The business required haste, when the plague was begun. Aaron must go quickly, nay, he must run, to make atonement, Num_16:46, Num_16:47. And the case here was no less urgent; so that David had not time to go to Gibeon: nor durst he leave the angel with his sword drawn over Jerusalem, lest the fatal stroke should be given before he came back. And therefore God, in tenderness to him, bade him build an altar in that place, dispensing with his own law concerning one altar because of the present distress, and accepting the sacrifices offered on this new altar, which was not set up in opposition to that, but in concurrence with it. The symbols of unity were not so much insisted on as unity itself. Nay, when the present distress was over (as it should seem), David, as long as he lived, sacrificed there, though the altar at Gibeon was still kept up; for God had owned the sacrifices that were here offered and had testified his acceptance of them, 1Ch_21:28. On those administrations in which we have experienced the tokens of God’s presence, and have found that he is with us of a truth, it is good to continue our attendance. “Here God had graciously met me, and therefore I will still expect to meet with him.” – Matthew Henry
And standing by this cross is not easy. It is not cheap. It is in fact very expensive – Luke 14:27.
“Cheap grace is not the king of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer in “Cost of Discipleship”