By Horatius Bonar
1 Chronicles 21:1-30
WE have taken up some general aspects of this narrative, chiefly in connection with the temple and Moriah; let us look at it from another point of view. Let us see the different characters or persons in it. Each comes out in a peculiar way.
I. Satan. He is very explicitly spoken of here, as in Job and elsewhere, as a person, a true being, not an influence. He is connected with earth; not with its heathen kingdoms only, but with Judea. He is not only in Babylon, but in Jerusalem; he has access not only to Nebuchadnezzar, or Herod, or Nero, but to David. He is watchful; he lies in wait for opportunities. He hated man at first in Paradise. He hates David; he hates Israel; he hates God. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." Be sober, be vigilant, for your adversary the devil walketh about. He is powerful, cunning, subtle. He is that old serpent, the dragon, the devil, Satan. He will go on with his wiles and malice till the Lord comes to bind him.
II. David. He is a man of God, yet of like passion; with others; exposed to Satan. Mark--(1.) his sin: pride, ambition, selfaggrandising,--like Nebuchadnezzar, "Is not this great Babylon?" (2.) His repentance (ver. 8): his conscience is touched; he cries out of his "iniquity" and "foolishness," even before the message of judgment came. (3.) His chastisement and humiliation: he is smitten in the very point of his pride-- Israel's numbers; he clothes himself with sackcloth, and falls down before God. (4.) His alarm (ver. 30): he knows not what to do,--the tabernacle is in Gibeon, with the altar of burnt- offering; what is he to do? The sword is between him and it; and besides, it is busy at work, he has no time to go to Gibeon. (5.) His forgiveness (ver. 26); he cannot go to God, but God comes to him--to the spot where he is. He answers his sacrifice by fire; this is forgiveness and acceptance. All is well; the light of God's countenance has returned; the blood of the burnt-offering has done its reconciling work; and on that spot where the blood was shed and the fire came down, Israel's daily propitiation was to be offered up in all days to come.
III. Joab. He is a rough warrior, often rude in speech and stern in deed. But he is a man of faith. He knows the law of the Lord, and he trembles at his word. He knows that, for certain ends, it was a right thing to number Israel; but here he sees this turned into evil, and used to cherish pride. He remonstrates. His conscience is sensitive in this matter. He sees the sin and the danger. He is bold also, not fearing the wrath of the king; but he is obedient also. We have here the bright side of Joab's character, and learn to think well of him, not only as one of David's mighty men, but as a man of faith and conscience.
Gad. He and Nathan were David's seers,--his divine counsellors,--two of his statesmen. It does not appear that David consulted Gad about this numbering; or, if he did, he heeded not his advice any more than that of Joab. But now Gad is sent from God to the king. He was, no doubt, a man in communion with God, and was waiting to know the divine will in secret. God comes to him, and gives him his message. It is a twofold one. (1.) Judgment (ver. 10): offering the king his choice of woes. (2.) Of mercy (ver. 18): commanding the altar to be built, a symbol of divine pacification,--forgiveness for David and for Israel through the blood.
The Elders (ver. 16). They acknowledge the stroke and the sin: "It is the Lord." They clothe themselves in sackcloth, they fall upon their faces. So far as we know, they had not shared David's sin, yet they at once place themselves by his side in confession and humiliation. David had sinned (ver. 8), Israel had sinned (2 Samuel 24:1). They identify themselves with both. It is thus that we should take up a rulers sin, or a brother's sin, or a nation's sin; not blazoning it abroad in private gossip, or in the newspapers, but taking it on ourselves, and carrying it to God.
VI. Oman. A Gentile, a Jebusite, a king (2 Samuel 24:23), owner of Moriah. He is quietly working with his sons, apparently ignorant of what was going on, till he is alarmed by the angel (ver. 20), and astonished by David's visit. He was a believing man, acknowledging not the gods of the Jebusites, but the Lord God of Israel; a generous man, handing over to David freely his own ancestral possessions. He is honoured by God; his land is honoured. He loses his property in the land, but for a marvellous honour. The history of his thrashing-floor is interesting; probably it is the great rock, to this day, under the great mosque. In the temple, in the altar, in the rock, Oman is held in everlasting remembrance.
VII. The Angel. There are specially three destroying angels mentioned in the Old Testament: he who was sent to Egypt to inflict the plagues; he who was sent to the Assyrian host to slay its myriads; he who was sent to Israel to slay the 70,000. He is the messenger of wrath and vengeance; he comes directly from God; he is like one of those seven spoken of in the Revelation, that sound the trumpets, or of those who pour out the vials; or like him who launched the symbolic millstone against Babylon the great. Yet, in the case before us, he utters mercy as well as inflicts judgment. He is terrible in his might; yet he bears the message of forgiveness,--the forgiveness of Him who is able to save and to destroy.
VIII. Jehovah himself. He shews himself as the hater of sin, and its avenger, even in his saints. He has a watchful eye over all his people, to bless and to chasten. He has Satan in control, and uses him at pleasure. He has angels in command, and sends them on errands of judgment and mercy. He is holy and righteous, yet pitiful and gracious, not only to Jerusalem, but even to Nineveh. He smites, yet he spares. He chastises, yet he blesses. His tender mercies are over all his works. He has no pleasure in the death of the sinner. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.