1 Chronicles 21: David Numbers the People, and Suffers the Consequences


(30 verses; 4:55 to read)

What I am about to READ

  • King David numbers the people and suffers the consequences.


  • 1-6: King David argues with Joab, his general, about having a census. David prevails, and the men of Israel (who can serve as soldiers) are counted.
  • 7-13: This census displeased God, in fact, it “was evil in the eyes of the LORD,” because David was indicating that his trust was in his soldiers rather than the Lord. So the Lord sends the prophet Gad to offer David a choice of three punishments:
    1. Three years of famine
    2. Three months of war
    3. Three days of pestilence
  • David chooses the three days of pestilence, saying, “I am in great distress. Let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man” (21:13)
    • Here’s more on Gad the prophet from Smith’s Bible Dictionary: A prophet who joined David in the “hold,” and at whose advice he quitted it for the forest of Hareth ( 1 Chronicles 29:29 ; 2 Chr 29:25 ; 1 Samuel 22:5 ). Many years after we find mention made of him in connection with the punishment inflicted for numbering the people ( 2 Samuel 24:11-19 ; 1 Chronicles 21:9-19 ). He wrote a book called the “Acts of David” ( 1 Chronicles 29:29 ), and assisted in the arrangements for the musical services of the “house of God” ( 2 Chronicles 29:25 ). He bore the title of “the king’s seer” ( 2 Samuel 24:11 2 Samuel 24:13 ; 1 Chronicles 21:9 ).
  • 14-17, The Lord sends His angel to bring pestilence, and 70,000 men die. This angel stands over Jerusalem (on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite) with its sword drawn, ready to wipe the city out, when the Lord stops his hand. David prays for mercy and the Lord grants it.
  • 18-27, David goes up to the threshing floor of Ornan, sees the Lord’s Angel, purchases the place and builds an altar there to the Lord. This would later be the place where the temple is built.
  • 28-30 gives a summary of the worship situation. There is an altar now in Jerusalem, the tabernacle remained in Gibeon, and David didn’t go to the tabernacle out of fear for the Angel of the Lord’s sword which he had seen.


  • The Lord had not commanded David to take a census. David does this thing without the Lord’s Word of command. He wanted to know how strong the people were while the Lord Himself had promised to be David’s strength. We are constantly faced with the same temptation, to trust in our own strength, to trust in our rulers, to trust in anything but the Lord.
  • David is offered the choice of three punishments. When we see occasions like this in the Scriptures it is fruitful for us to think about what we would have done, what choice we would have made, and if our logic matches up with David. David, in the end, put himself and the people into the hands of God, which was good.
  • Prayer: Lord, grant us repentance. Grant us to trust in You and Your mercy for our salvation. Amen.

Thoughts? Questions? Join the conversation in our facebook group here.

Lord’s Blessings,
Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller
Hope Lutheran Church





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