The Jewish people have a more than 3,500 year-long history connected to the Temple Mount. Did you know the Bible actually itemizes the purchase transaction for the property?
“So David paid Araunah six hundred shekels of gold for the site. 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.” (1 Chr. 21:25-26, NIV).
Theologians and Bible scholars have long been baffled by the circumstances leading to David’s purchase of the land. Without the benefit of the broader context, the introductory statement at the beginning of the twenty-first chapter of 1 Chronicles can be puzzling.
“Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel” (1 Chr. 21:1).
Most Bible translations highlight David’s determination to number the people of Israel in the associated chapter heading. The census of Israel and Judah, however, was merely the catalyst for what ultimately unfolded in God’s plan and purpose.
Here’s what you need to know
There was nothing inherently wrong with David’s desire to conduct a census. There are other accounts of numbering the people recorded in Scripture:
- following the Exodus from Egypt (Ex. 38:24-26 cf Num. 1)
- prior to entering the land of Canaan (Num. 26)
- David’s numbering of the people of Israel and Judah (2 Sam. 24:1-9)
- Solomon’s numbering of the proselytes (2 Chr. 2:17-18)
- following the Babylonian captivity (Ezra 2:64)
God provided specifications with regard to census taking and established the consequences for noncompliance (Ex. 30:11-16). The payment of one half shekel of silver for each person counted over the age of 20 was required. Failure to comply would result in a plague.
In this case, Scripture does not mention the collection of the half-shekel as required by law. It is possible that David either chose to forego the ransom since Joab voiced objections or may have neglected proper protocol (Num. 31:48-54).
You may remember that there was a previous breach in protocol when David attempted to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem on a cart.
Don’t miss the big picture
In a parallel passage, the account begins with the statement, “Again the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel and He moved David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah’” (2 Sam. 24:1). Examining previous incidents in Israel’s history subsequent to the establishment of the monarchy is critical to understanding why God prompted David to take the census.
A three-year famine had plagued Israel earlier in the reign of King David as a consequence of Saul’s feigned zeal to destroy the Gibeonites to whom Joshua pledged protection during the conquest of Canaan (2 Sam. 21 cf Josh. 9:15).
“Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David inquired of the Lord. And the Lord answered, “It is because of Saul and his bloodthirsty house, because he killed the Gibeonites” (21:1).
Why was the anger of the Lord aroused against Israel again? Though not stated specifically, the preceding chapters provide a reasonable answer.
Over a span of less than 5 years, two rebellions threatened the throne of David when Absalom raised an insurrection that drove the king into temporary exile and when Sheba incited the 10 northern tribes to reject their monarch (2 Sam. 15-18; 20:1-26).
Whether he neglected protocol or may have used the census to boast military strength, we are told,
“David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O Lord, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly’” (2 Sam. 24:10).
The three options through which God determined to chasten Israel demonstrate the severity of the consequences for rebellion against the Lord’s anointed king (v. 24). It is wrong to assume that the people of Israel were punished for David’s mistake.
“Now when David arose in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, ‘Go and tell David, Thus says the Lord: “I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you.’”
So Gad came to David and told him; and he said to him, ‘Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or shall you flee three months before your enemies, while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days plague in your land? Now consider and see what answer I should take back to Him who sent me.’” (vv. 11-13).
David’s answer demonstrates his strength of character and depth of understanding of God’s mercy and grace.
“I am in great distress. Please let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man” (2 Sam. 24:14).
David assumed full responsibility for his actions and interceded on behalf of his people. It was God who ultimately chose the method of chastening.
Acknowledge sin quickly – Ask for God’s mercy
Rather than a seven-year famine or three months of military conflict, God sent a three-day plague. As the devastation caused by the angel of the Lord approached Jerusalem, David cried out for a second time:
“Surely I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father’s house” (v. 17).
God’s response was immediate. He sent the prophet Gad to David with instructions “. . . go and erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan [Araunah] the Jebusite,” to bring an end to the plague. (1 Chr. 21:18).
David didn’t hesitate. As he hiked up to threshing floor, Scripture notes, “Ornan turned and saw the angel; and his four sons who were with him hid themselves, but Ornan continued threshing wheat (v. 20).
Araunah’s sons running to hide from the approaching angel of the Lord seems more than reasonable. Why Araunah continued to thresh wheat in view of the approaching danger is a mystery.
David, on the other hand, quickly offered to buy the property, implements and livestock. When Araunah objected, the king insisted, “I will not take what is yours for the Lord, nor offer burnt offerings with that which costs me nothing” (vv. 24-25).
Leaving absolutely no doubt that he now owned the land, David paid the full market value of 600 gold shekels for the land and 50 silver shekels for the oxen and equipment (2 Sam. 24:24; 1 Chr. 21:25). (1)
With fire falling from heaven, King David witnessed an awesome display of God’s power. It was a supernatural confirmation of God’s acceptance of David’s offering. Scripture mentions only four times when fire fell from heaven on a sacrifice.
- the consecration of the Aaronic priesthood—the Cohanim (Lev. 9:24)
- God’s response to David’s sacrifice (1 Chr.21:26)
- Solomon’s dedication of the temple (2 Chr. 7:1)
- Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Ki. 18:38)
It didn’t take long for David to grasp the significance of what had happened. Not only had God heard his prayer of intersession for the people, the fire from heaven confirmed the site for the Temple of Jehovah in Jerusalem (1 Chr. 22).
With the validation of the future temple site, David intensified efforts to gather materials. He also collaborated with his son Solomon about the plans for the temple (1 Chr. 22:5-19; 28:11-13).
Expect the Messianic Temple on the Temple Mount
It is no coincidence that almost a millennia earlier, it was to this very place God called Abraham to the ultimate test. Here on Mount Moriah, God provided a ram as a substitutionary sacrifice on behalf of his son, Isaac (Gen. 22:1-13). Before leaving, Abraham marked the significance by renaming the place Jehovah-Jireh (The-Lord-Will-Provide). The text elaborates, “as it is said to this day, ‘In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided’” (Gen. 22:14).
Abraham prophesied the temple’s location some 900 years before construction began (v. 14). David legally purchased the property from Araunah, the Jebusite. And, God supernaturally identified the Temple Mount by sending fire from heaven to consume David’s offering.
Was it a coincidence that God used David’s less than perfect census to secure the place where He would officially accept sacrifices and offerings on behalf of the nation? The take away is that God uses people in real-time circumstances to accomplish His will in spite of our propensity to sin.
In God’s sovereign plan and purpose, David’s flawed census facilitated the establishment of the site for the future temple. In so doing, David set a precedent that has spanned three millennia into the 21st century. The site is still recognizable today perched on Mount Moriah across a shallow valley north of the City of David in Jerusalem.
David’s purchase of the threshing floor of Araunah on Mount Moriah—where both Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples once stood—establishes the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. God’s purpose for the temple in Jerusalem, however, did not end with ancient history.
During the Messianic Kingdom, the Temple Mount, the very site David purchased from Araunah, will be the center of worship for the whole world. Isaiah prophesied about that day.
Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the Lord’s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And all nations shall flow to it.
Many people shall come and say,
“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
What can Christians learn from David’s experience?
Because human beings are mortal and confined to the constraints of time, it is impossible for us to know the potential implications of our choices. This one instance alone in the life of David should cause us to stop and ponder how far-reaching our decisions can be.
God always offers opportunity for forgiveness and blessing using less than perfect people to accomplish His purposes. God’s ability to use our choices not only demonstrates His power in a way that is humanly inconceivable, but confirms His sovereignty in the affairs of men. (Rom. 8:28).
1) The concept of peaceful co-existence with other people groups in Israel is not a new concept for the Jewish people. The details about the purchase of land by David from Araunah the Jebusite highlight the uniqueness of the Jewish worldview. While Jebusites were not permitted to enter the stronghold of the city of David, the fact that David purchased the threshing floor of Araunah provides strong evidence that the Jebusite people not only lived in the area, but owned property (1 Chr. 21:23-25, NIV, for clarity.) Here, the Bible reveals a 3,000 year old precedent that persists to the present day.
1) King David Purchasing the Threshing Floor of Araunah the Jebusite, 2 Samuel 24: 24-25. (By William Brassey Hole [Public domain]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
2) The Sacred Rock, Where the Altar in Solomon’s Temple Stood. (Photo credit: By OSU Special Collections & Archives/Commons/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
3) Aerial View of the Temple Mount, Jerusalem. (Photo credit: By Andrew Shiva/Wikipedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
4) God always offers forgiveness and blessing using less than perfect people to accomplish His purposes. Quote by Charles E. McCracken (Photo credit: background image, Pixabay/Digital composition, MKM Portfolios)
Copyright © 2016 Charles E. McCracken, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Charles E. McCracken is an international Bible teacher, long-time friend of Israel and advocate for the Jewish people. Rev. McCracken authentically communicates biblical truth making his presentations relevant for those seeking to understand the significance of Israel and the church in Bible prophecy. He staunchly supports the nation of Israel and the Jewish people’s right to exist and live in peace.