Census Brings Pestilence

Satan [the adversary] stood up against Israel and incited David to [a]count [the population of] Israel. So David said to Joab and the leaders of the people, “Go, count Israel from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me their total, so that I may know it.” Joab said, “May the Lord add to His people a hundred times as many as they are! But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? Why then does my lord require this? Why will he bring guilt on Israel?” But the king’s word prevailed over Joab. So Joab left and went throughout all Israel and came to Jerusalem. Then Joab gave the total of the census of the people to David. And all Israel were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword; and in Judah 470,000 men who drew the sword. But he did not count Levi and Benjamin among them, because the king’s order was detestable to Joab.

Now God was displeased with this act [of arrogance and pride], and He struck Israel. Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly because I have done this thing. But now, I beseech You, take away the wickedness and guilt of Your servant, for I have acted very foolishly.”

And the Lord said to Gad, David’s seer, 10 “Go and tell David, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord, “I offer you three choices; choose for yourself one of them, which I will do to you [as punishment for your sin].”’” 11 So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Choose for yourself 12 either three years of famine, or three months to be swept away before your enemies, while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the Lord and plague in the land, and the angel of the Lord bringing destruction throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now therefore, consider what answer I shall return to Him who sent me.” 13 David said to Gad, “I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for His mercies are very great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”

14 So the Lord sent a plague on Israel, and 70,000 men of Israel fell. 15 God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; and as he was destroying it, the Lord looked, and relented concerning the catastrophe and said to the destroying angel, “It is enough; now remove your hand [of judgment].” And the angel of the Lord was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 16 Then David raised his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, covered in sackcloth, fell on their faces. 17 David said to God, “Is it not I who commanded the people to be counted? I am the one who has sinned and done evil; but as for these sheep [the people of Israel], what have they done? O Lord my God, please let Your hand be against me and my father’s house, but not against Your people that they should be plagued.”

David’s Altar

18 Then the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up and build an altar to the Lord on the [b]threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 19 So David went up at Gad’s word, which he spoke in the name of the Lord. 20 Now Ornan was threshing wheat, and he turned back and saw the angel; and his four sons who were with him hid themselves. 21 As David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw him, and went out from the threshing floor and bowed down before David with his face to the ground. 22 Then David said to Ornan, “Give me the site of this threshing floor, so that I may build an altar on it to the Lord. You shall charge me the full price for it, so that the plague may be averted from the people.” 23 Ornan said to David, “Take it for yourself; and let my lord the king do what is good in his eyes. See, I will give you the oxen also for burnt offerings and the threshing sledges (heavy wooden platforms) for wood and the wheat for the grain offering; I give it all.” 24 But King David said to Ornan, “No, I will certainly pay the full price; for I will not take what is yours for the Lord, nor offer a burnt offering which costs me nothing.” 25 So David gave Ornan 600 shekels of gold by weight for the site.(A) 26 Then David built an altar to the Lord there and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings. And he called on the Lord, and He answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering. 27 Then the Lord commanded the [avenging] angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.

28 At that time, when David saw that the Lord had answered him on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he sacrificed there. 29 For the tabernacle of the Lord, which Moses made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time in the high place at Gibeon. 30 But David could not go before it to inquire of God, for he was terrified by the sword of the angel of the Lord.


  1. 1 Chronicles 21:1 David may have begun to think of himself as a powerful man in command of an invincible nation, rather than a man who relied on God for direction and success in warfare. Joab realized what David was thinking and pleaded with him to change his mind (v 3).
  2. 1 Chronicles 21:18 This threshing floor was on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem, thought also to be the area where Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice. Solomon later built the temple on the site of David’s altar (2 Chr 3:1).

Cross references

  1. 1 Chronicles 21:25 : 2 Chr 3:1