Thursday, June 30, 2016

Bible Commentary - 1 Chronicles 21

In this chapter, David orders a census of all the people and God sends a plague to punish him for it.

The material for this chapter is substantially copied from 2 Samuel 24 with some modifications and a small but important addition at the end.

One change is that the price of the land in v. 25 is increased significantly. My NIV commentary suggests this is because in Chronicles David is specifically purchasing “the site”, i.e. the threshing floor as well as the adjoining land, while in Samuel David is only purchasing the threshing floor which is a smaller and less valuable property. The 50 shekels of silver mentioned in Samuel is probably just the price for the threshing floor, but since Chronicles is chiefly interested in the eventual temple, this story is adjusted to include David’s purchase of the entire temple site and not just the threshing floor.

In both Chronicles and Samuel, Joab resists David’s command and challenges the king, but David prevails. Usually Joab is the cold and calculating assassin and David is the uncompromising moralist. In this case, Joab upholds the will of God and David sins. It’s a striking reversal of their usual roles.

In general, Joab plays a much smaller role in Chronicles than he does in Samuel. Also, all of Joab’s sins are excluded from the Chronicles narrative which presents Joab as a simpler and less controversial figure. He leads Israel into battle and leads her armies, but otherwise does not play much of a role in this book. In Samuel we see Joab murdering his enemies and he has a deeply strained but ultimately faithful relationship with David.

Another change is that in Samuel, it is God who incites David to sin. In Chronicles, it is Satan who does so (v. 1). I think this might show changing attitudes towards disasters but is not necessarily a contradiction. God ultimately has power over human destinies and can restrain Satan when he desires, but in other times God will use Satan to effect judgment upon people who sin against him. In that sense, God is the ultimate judge and punisher of sin, and Satan is a tool or intermediary who is acting on God’s behalf; perhaps unintentionally, perhaps unwillingly, but ultimately God’s will is going to be done.

There are a few other minor additions. Details like v. 16 with the “drawn sword over Jerusalem” are not included in Samuel. Another additional detail is v. 26 which says that the LORD answered David with fire from heaven on the burnt offering. Verse 6 mentions that Joab deliberately excludes Levi and Benjamin from the census because he disagreed with David’s command, and this is not mentioned in Samuel. It doesn’t change the narrative in any substantive way but it makes it more dramatic and colorful.

Probably the most important change is the extra verses at the end of the chapter, verses 27-30 and especially verse 1 of the next chapter. This passage indicates that David wants to build the temple on the threshing floor and the site purchased from Araunah. I think this passage is key to understanding why this material is included in Chronicles.

In Samuel, the material from this chapter is taken from the “appendix”. The last four chapters contain disconnected stories drawn from David’s lifetime that could not otherwise fit in the chronological and organized narrative in the rest of Samuel. These stories were deemed important for whatever reason and were preserved in this appendix.

Now, the book of Chronicles has largely followed a contiguous segment of the Samuel narrative to this point. 1 Chronicles 13 begins with David bringing back the ark (2 Samuel 6), it jumps back a bit to cover 2 Samuel 5, and then rolls through to 2 Samuel 7, 8 and 10. The narrative in Chronicles concludes with the second half of 2 Samuel 12.

Immediately after copying the narrative of 2 Samuel 12, the previous chapter (1 Chronicles 20) concluded with a story taken from 2 Samuel 21 and jumps to here, the story from 2 Samuel 24.

Even though Chronicles leaves out nearly all of 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel 1-4, 11 and 13-20, it largely follows the organization of the book when going through the life of David. We should understand that the Chronicler is including the appendix here because this is where he intends to finish copying from Samuel. Even though we are not at the end of 1 Chronicles, the Chronicler is “done” with Samuel after this point and the rest of the material in this book is not copied from that book.

From this, we can understand two purposes for this chapter. First, as I mentioned, it serves to conclude the Samuel-derived narrative and also largely finishes the Chronicler’s description of David’s reign (though undoubtedly David still figures prominently in the rest of 1 Chronicles). Second, from the passage towards the end we see that the Chronicler wants to use this story as a segue to the rest of the temple narrative. In particular, since David buys the land for “the house of the LORD God is to be here”, Chronicles uses this story as a transition between the Samuel narrative and the rest of the preparations that follow with tremendous detail. This is why the story is placed here.

Other than that, I have a few other observations.

This is the only sin of David mentioned in the book of Chronicles. All of David’s other sins that are in Sameul were excised from this book, but I think the Chronicler wanted to explain why the temple was built on this particular site, and therefore found this particular sin to be indispensable to his purposes.

Lastly, the land is purchased from a Jebusite. Remember that the Jebusites were inhabitants of the promised land before Israel arrived and one of the many nations that Israel fought against during the invasion. Jerusalem itself was a Jebusite city before David captured it, presumably killing or enslaving the majority of its residents. What Jebusites remained would have certainly been discriminated against and hated by the Israelites as national enemies. David could have taken the land from Araunah by force even if Araunah was an Israelite; as a Jebusite, it may well have been considered appropriate by his men for David to take the land without paying for it because of Israel’s mandate to conquer the whole promised land as their inheritance. This makes David’s acquiescence to purchase the site all the more striking because I don’t think David is expected to treat Araunah fairly in the culture they live in.

And with that, David has purchased the land for the future temple. In the next chapter, David assembles workers and materials for building the temple.

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