His Grand Reward
2 Samuel 24
We were obliged to omit several points of importance at the close of our last chapter, so we will commence here at the stage where we then left off There we called attention to an essential detailóone which, so far as we can discover, has escaped the notice of all the commentatorsónamely, that Godís judgment upon Israel was twofold, or in two distinct stages; and we would also observe that this corresponded exactly with Davidís sin. First we are told, "The Lord sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men" (1 Chron. 21:14). In Samuelís account it reads, "there died of the plague from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men." How remarkably did the punishment fit the crime, for David had commanded Joab, "Go now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba, and number ye the people" (v. 2). It will be remembered that the account of the census-taking closed by saying, "So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days."
Second, "And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it" (1 Chron. 21:15). Samuel tells us "and when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord repented Him of the evil" (v. 16), and follows with Davidís prayer. But the account in Chronicles evidently observes a closer chronological order, for there we read, "And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the Lord stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. And David said unto God, Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered?" (vv. 16, 17). The dreadful spectacle of the avenging angel, about to fall upon the holy city, deeply affected David. He had previously repented of and confessed his sin, but the calamity which now threatened the capital itself, caused him to pour out his heart afresh unto the Lord, both in humble contrition and earnest supplication.
"And David said unto God, Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered? even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed." What blessed self-abnegation was this. David takes the entire blame unto himself, adding "but as for these sheep, what have they done?" Rightly did Matthew Henry answer the question by saying, "Why, they had done much amiss: it was their sin which had provoked Jehovah to leave David to himself, as He did." "Let Thine hand, I pray Thee, O Lord my God, be on me, and on my fatherís house" (v. 17). How nobly did David here stand in the breach, and that, at his own cost. He not only shouldered the guilt, but was willing to bear the retribution.
As we pointed out in our last chapter, it was as though David said, Smite me, the shepherd, but let the flock be spared. Ah, but that could not be: God would not allow David to suffer in the stead of all Israel. No, none could fill that awful and honorable place of substitution but Davidís Son and Lord. Nevertheless, we see how grandly he, in spirit, foreshadowed the good Shepherd, who, that they might be rich, Himself became poor, and actually took upon Himself the sins of His sheep and died in their room. "But not on Thy people, that they should be plagued" (v. 17). Is it not lovely to behold David here referring to Israel not as "the people," but as "Thy people." In his folly he had regarded them as his people, but in his wisdom he now saw them as the Lordís.
Let us point out just here that the confession and prayer of David on this occasion should be taken to heart by every minister of the Gospel. In his comments, Thomas Scott applied the principle of Davidís heart-exercises to preachers thus, "While ministers mourn over the state of their congregations, they may sometimes profitably enquire whether their own supineness, pride, want of zeal and simplicity, their self-indulgence or conformity to the world, do not bring a secret blight upon their labors, although more open evils do not bring a blot upon their profession? and whether the peopleís souls are not suffering for their correction, and to bring them to deeper humiliation, greater fervency in prayer, and a more spiritual frame of mind and devotedness to God. And surely we should choose to be chastened in our own persons, rather than that the blessing should be withheld from our congregations: for though the Lord is righteous in these dispensations, yet the people have not deserved at our hands, that we should occasion this evil to them. Grace teaches men to condemn themselves rather than others, and to seek the interests of their fellows in many respects before their own: and earnest prayers offered in this temper of mind, by those who unreservedly cast themselves on the mercies of the Lord are very prevalent."
Returning now to the case of David, we may observe that his supplication prevailed with God. Such deep humiliation, such unsparing acknowledgment of his faults, such utter self-abnegation and such tender pleading for the people, touched the heart of Him who is filled with compassion. If the unselfishness of Moses prevailed at another grave crisis in their history, when he asked God to blot him out of His book (Ex. 32:32) rather than that the nation should be destroyed; equally so did the readiness of David for Godís judgment to fall upon himself and his house instead of his subjects, turn the tide; for it was in direct answer to his pleading that God said to the angel stay now thine hand." This gives beautiful completeness to our type, portraying as it does the efficacy of our great High Priestís intercession on behalf of His people.
There is one other point of deep practical importance to be noted here. "God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, (or as 2 Sam. 24:16 puts it, "when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it"), the Lord beheld, and He repented Him of the evil" (1 Chron. 21:15). And what was it that He now "beheld"? Why, David and his servants, "clothed in sackcloth," fallen "upon their faces" (v. 16)! It was not simply that He "saw," but "beheld"ówith concentrated attention. And then follows immediately Davidís supplication. Here, then, is the final lesson: it is the one clothed with sackcloth, on his face in the dust, whose intercession prevails with God! In other words, it is the one who is thoroughly humbled, who is brought to the place of self-loathing, and who takes upon his own spirit the afflictions of others, who alone is qualified to plead on their behalf.
Were we asked whose prayers we would rather have on our behalf, we should unhesitatingly reply, Not those who are in raptures on the mountain top, but those who are mourning before God over their own sins and the sufferings of others. Personally, we appreciate far more highly the supplications of those who are (spiritually speaking) clothed in sackcloth, than those arrayed in their wedding garments. It is the absence of the "sackcloth" which renders ineffectual the prayers of so many today. Here, then, is holy encouragement for those of Gods people who are bowed in the dust before Him: if we have repented of and confessed our sins, and are truly humbled before Him, then is the very time to intercede for other tried souls. Finally, observe the prompt compliance of the angel to the Lords order "stay thine band": if celestial creatures are so obedient to their Makerís word, how promptly should we respond to His revealed will.
"And Gad came that day to David, and said unto him, Go up, rear an altar unto the Lord in the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite" (2 Sam. 24: 18). If we compare at this point the supplementary account we learn that, then the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up, and set up an altar unto the Lord" (1 Chron. 21:18). The relief, then, for David in this dark hour was announced (through Gad) by the avenging angel, and thus we may say once more that the eater himself yielded meat, the strong one sweetness (Judges 14:14). Most blessed was this, for an "altar" calls for an accepted worshiper, and the Lord would not have given directions for the one, if He had not provided the other. Thus it was with the very first worshiper: "And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering" (Gen. 4:4)óhis person was first accepted and then his sacrifice; and here the Lordís readiness to accept an offering at the hands of David was proof that David himself had been received.
This divine direction for David now to erect an altar, denoted, first, that God was thoroughly reconciled to him, and therefore might he infer with Manoahís wife, "If the Lord were pleased to kill us, He would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands" (Judges 13:23), Secondly, that peace between God and guilty sinners is effected by sacrifice, and not otherwise than by Christ, the great Propitiation. Thus, while Godís mercy rejoiced against judgment on this solemn occasion, yet He made it abundantly clear that His grace reigns through righteousness (Rom. 5:21) and not at the expense of it. It is the blood which maketh an atonement for the soul (Lev. 17:11), because it is the blood which placates the retributive justice of God. Third, that when Gods judgments are graciously stayed, we ought to acknowledge it with thankfulness to His praise: "I will praise Thee: though Thou wast angry with me" (Isa. 12:1).
It will be remembered 2 Samuel 24:16 informed us that when the angel of the Lord stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, he was "by the threshingfloor of Araunah." The peaceful occupation of this Gentile (for he was a Jebusite), quietly continuing to thresh his wheat on the floor of his own isolated garner (1 Chron. 21:20) without the walls of Jerusalem, stands out in marked contrast from the troubled scene within the city, where David and the elders of Israel clothed in sackcloth, fell on their laces. Nevertheless, Araunah too was threatened, for the avenging angel drew nigh to and stood over the peaceful threshingfloor itself, and as 1 Chronicles 21 tells us, "Oman (Araunah) turned back, and saw the angel; and his four sons with him hid themselves" (v. 20). But the angel smote them not: telling us most blessedly, in figure, that Gentiles as well as Jews are delivered from judgment on the ground of the Antitypical Sacrifice.
The tranquil plot of ground of Araunah was not to be the scene of judgment, but was ordained to be the place of grace, forgiveness and peace. And where was that threshingfloor situated? Most significantly, on Mount Moriah. We are not left in any doubt upon this point, though the information is supplied neither in 2 Samuel 24 nor 1 Chronicles 21ónot for lazy people is the Bible written! "Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord at Jerusalem in mount Moriah, where the Lord appeared unto David his father, in the place that David had prepared in the threshingfloor of Araunah the Jebusite" (2 Chron. 3:1). And Moriah, as its name intimates, was the very place where Jehovah appeared as "Jehovah-jireh" to Abraham and whereótrue to His covenant nameóHe appeared to meet and provide for the need of David. How remarkable and inexpressibly blessed: Moriah was and continued to be the place of sovereign grace!
Moriah was the mount to which Abraham went when commanded to offer up Isaac. In Genesis 22:14 we read, "And Abraham called the name of the place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen," i.e. seen as the Provider, or as Gesenius, the celebrated Hebraist, renders it "in the mount of Jehovah it shall be provided." B. W. Newton tells us that Moriah is "a name derived from the same root, and signifies the place of appearing, i.e. of the appearance of Jehovah as the Provider. It should be observed that all the thoughts connected with Moriah and the provision there made, are to be traced back to the words of Abraham, Ďmy son, God will provideí (Heb. "for" Himself a lamb for a burnt-offeringó Gen. 22:8)."
But now observe the contrast. Confiding implicitly in God, even when he understood not the reason of His commands, Abraham went to Moriah to give full proof of his faith and obedience. Far otherwise was it with poor David. He went there as one whose disobedience had encompassed him with sorrow, judgment and death. He came clothed with sackcloth, bowed down by anguish. He came because he saw the sword of the avenging angel drawn against him and his people. He came as the "troubled one," as one who needed to be delivered from "going down to the pit" (Ps. 30:3). True, Abraham was afflicted, yet how different was the sorrow of the consciously-obedient Abraham from the consciously-disobedient David! Nevertheless, David found on Moriah the same God that there met Abraham. In the very place where Abraham by a countermand from heaven was stayed from slaying his son, the angel by a like countermand was stayed from destroying Jerusalem!
"And Gad came that day to David, and said unto him, Go up, rear an altar unto the Lord in the threshingfloor of Araunah the Jebusite" (v. 18). It is to be duly noted that the "altar" was Godís thought and not Davidís. This is blessed, telling us that the initiative is ever with God in all salvation matters. God is the great Provider: our privilege is to accept His gracious provision. Christóto whom the altar pointedówas the gift of God and not the product of man. We love Him because He first loved us. And how gracious He was not to keep David in suspense a whole day, nor even hour. No sooner had he sought unto God, than He immediately responded. The ark was then at Mount Zion and the tabernacle at Gibeon (2 Chron. 1), but David was bidden to go neither to the one nor the other.
"And David, according to the saying of Gad, went up as the Lord commanded" (v. 19). What beautiful completeness this gives to all that has been before us. The penitent, prudent, submissive and supplicating one, is now seen as the obedient one. How could it be otherwise? He who is, spiritually speaking, clothed with sackcloth, does not follow a course of self-will and self-pleasing. David made no demur against being told to see unto this Gentile and ask a favor at his hands. A truly meek heart neither reasons about nor objects to the divine demands, but complies promptly. Here, then, is the final mark of the prevailing intercessor: he who has the power with God in prayer (after his recovery from folly) is one that now treads the path of obedience. If God is to respond to our petitions, we must respond to His precepts.
In closing, let us call attention to one other point of analogy between the experiences of Abraham and David on this memorable mount, the one which is most pertinent of all to our present subjectóDavidís grand reward. God called the patriarch to Moriah not only that he might there give proof of his faith and obedience, but more especially that this trial of Abraham might be the occasion of unfolding to him (and through him, to us) a fuller revelation of His own ways in grace: for as we now know, the touching drama there enacted provided a striking adumbration of the Father Himself not sparing His own beloved Son, but freely delivering Him up for all His people. In like manner, God not only provided a substitute for David on Moriah, but He there vouchsafed him a revelation of the counsels of His grace. Moriah was not only the place where David obtained forgiveness for his sins, but it was also made to him the place of honor and blessing.
Upon the altar he there erected, David "offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings" (1 Chron. 21:26). Nor did he do so in vain: the Lord "answered him from heaven by fire"óin token of His approval and acceptance. But more: this was the time when he and the place where he received commission to prepare for the building of Godís House. "Then David said, This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of the burnt-offering for Israel" (1 Chron, 22:1).
Now it was that David learned where was the sacred spot which Jehovah had chosen for the site of the Temple. This, then, was Davidís grand reward: unto him, and not to any of the prophets, nor even to the high priest, was given the holy privilege of entering into Gods mind concerning His House and to make provision for the same! How true it is, dear reader, that God ever honors those that honor Himóeven though it be by appearing before Him in sackcloth: though He does not always make His approbation so evident to our senses as He did here to Davidís.