1 Chronicles 21

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Read 1 Chronicles 21

David Counts the Fighting Men

21 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, “Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are.”

But Joab replied, “May the Lord multiply his troops a hundred times over.My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?”

The king’s word, however, overruled Joab; so Joab left and went throughout Israel and then came back to Jerusalem. Joab reported the number of the fighting men to David: In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who could handle a sword, including four hundred and seventy thousand in Judah.

But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king’s command was repulsive to him. This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.

Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.”

The Lord said to Gad, David’s seer, 10 “Go and tell David, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.’”

11 So Gad went to David and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Take your choice: 12 three years of famine, three months of being swept awaybefore your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the Lord—days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lordravaging every part of Israel.’ Now then, decide how I should answer the one who sent me.”

13 David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands.”

14 So the Lord sent a plague on Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead. 15 And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But as the angel was doing so, the Lord saw it and relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

16 David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell facedown.

17 David said to God, “Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I, the shepherd, have sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Lord my God, let your hand fall on me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people.”

David Builds an Altar

18 Then the angel of the Lord ordered Gad to tell David to go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. 19 So David went up in obedience to the word that Gad had spoken in the name of the Lord.

20 While Araunah was threshing wheat, he turned and saw the angel; his four sons who were with him hid themselves. 21 Then David approached, and when Araunah looked and saw him, he left the threshing floor and bowed down before David with his face to the ground.

22 David said to him, “Let me have the site of your threshing floor so I can build an altar to the Lord, that the plague on the people may be stopped. Sell it to me at the full price.”

23 Araunah said to David, “Take it! Let my lord the king do whatever pleases him. Look, I will give the oxen for the burnt offerings, the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for the grain offering. I will give all this.”

24 But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”

25 So David paid Araunah six hundred shekels of gold for the site. 26 David built an altar to the Lord there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. He called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering.

27 Then the Lord spoke to the 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 Araunah the Jebusite, he offered sacrifices there.29 The tabernacle of the Lord, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time on the high place at Gibeon. 30 But David could not go before it to inquire of God, because he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the Lord.

Go Deeper

Satan hit a weak spot in David. David was a leader of God’s army, he wanted to fight for the Lord…and win. Satan knew that. He tempted David in a way that he knew would get him. It seems David was trying to figure out where he stood–looking to find security (or pride) in the size of his army. Now, let’s remember: Satan is not creative, but he has been around longer than any of us and has learned what makes humans tick. He knows how easily pride or insecurity can take us out.  

We read as David acts on Satan’s prompting, he even loops Joab into his sin (even though Joab tries to convince him otherwise and reminds him of God’s power). After Joab followed through on the king’s command, David felt great remorse.  

In 2 Samuel 24:10, we read: 

David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.”  

God is gracious, but just. David deserved a consequence, but God let him pick what would be done to him. David knew his God. He knew that all of the choices were terrible, but he knew his Lord cared for him, so he chose whatever the Lord would dish out. 

In 1 Chronicles 21:13 we see that David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” We need a reverent fear of God, but we can also know he is always the safest choice. Our God has our best interest in mind! He is our father, although he disciplines us, he does it for our good–not just for fun. Our Lord loves us more than an earthly father can and loves a repentant heart. 

Today, let’s remember the truths laid out in Hebrews 12:9-10: 

“Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.”


  1. Do you believe God has your best interest in mind? Why or why not?
  2. How have you experienced God’s mercy? 
  3. Do you have a friend or Life Group member you can text to encourage them in how you’ve seen God’s mercy and ask them where they have seen it? Do it!

Pray This

Thank you for how you love and discipline me. Remind me of your love! Even if it’s through discipline in this season. Help me to identify Satan’s promptings and bring others into the fight with me. Give me ears to listen to wise counsel. Destroy my pride and conform me more into the image of your son.

Thank you, Lord! Thank you for salvation and the opportunity to turn from my wicked ways and repent!

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4 thoughts on “1 Chronicles 21”

  1. Ella Snodgrass

    Today’s chapter pairs well with JP’s message yesterday at HC relating to Awe of God. Even the one referred to as “a man after God’s own heart” allowed pride to creep in as he trusted in his own military power rather than God who had led him victoriously. Notice Joab even questioned David’s motives, “Why must you cause Israel to sin?” Yet, David arrogantly insists the census be taken. How I can relate, as I’ve seen the dangerous pairing of pride and arrogance in my own life. What’s noteworthy is David’s response to his sin as he took full responsibility, admitted he was wrong and asked God to forgive him. Even though David received forgiveness, the consequences of his sin cost 70,000 people their lives. I find it ironic that the thing David gloried in was greatly diminished as a result of his sin. My greatest takeaway is anything that I allow to take God’s rightful place in my heart can have disastrous consequences on me and those around me. “If you scheme to get away with something, you don’t understand the fear of God, and it’s possible you do not know him.” (JP)

    1. Diane Frances Rogers

      Yes, yesterday’s message will be on replay for me. Although God has redeemed me through the blood of Jesus, I pray sincerely that I never live life on autopilot, less I slip into pride or self-serving. So called “white lies” are still lies. Let us not deceive ourselves and cause others to stumble. I pray that in all ways I honor our sovereign God.

  2. The fear of the Lord, my mind is swirling. I love God this I know. Do I fear Him? Not in as being afraid like something evil, I know, but as in respect of the power He is? An oven is hot when you use it to make good things, but out of “respect” or “fear” I do not touch it without hot mits, unless I want to get burned because I already know the consequences of my actions without protection. God has set laws that must be followed, there are consequences for disobedience of not following said laws. Jesus came to fulfil the Law of the Old Testament, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17-18), BUT GOD sent Jesus, His only begotten Son to take the place of the Lamb so that the Law of old was fulfilled. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. (Galatians 3:13). We have grace but that grace includes us not doing what was given as Law before. If we love God we are going to do the 10 commandments without even thinking about them because we love.
    2 Timothy 3:16-17 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

    God thank You for being a loving, righteous, gracious God. Thank You for when I fall short that You are ready willing and right there waiting with open arms. God I want to fear You respectfully. I want to understand better about that fear. God give me wisdom and understanding as this journey progresses in Jesus name amen

  3. If I were standing on the edge of a thousand foot cliff with rocks crumbling beneath my feet, I would be terrified and full of fear. In this case, fear would be my friend, not my enemy. Fear would be crying out: “step back or you’ll fall to your death!” Fear would be there to spare my life.

    In the same way, a healthy fear of God is a clear understanding of who He is and even clearer understanding of who we are.

    Why does God hate pride so much? Because it alienates and separates us from him. It demonstrates a lack of understanding the contrast of who He is and even more a lack of understanding of who we are in our fallen nature. Pride dangles us by our heals over a cliff without the slightest emotion or concern.

    God hates pride and as a father who loves his children, He’ll discipline it out of our lives (Hebrews 12:3-11). Praise God for being our loving father who disciplines us out of a spirit of love.

    David is a perfect example in today’s passage.

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