Shmuel 2-Chapter 24: Counting the Jewish people

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Chapter 24: Counting the Jewish people

1. The counting of the Jewish people:

  • Hashem instructs Dovid to count the Jewish people: G-d continued to be angry with the Jewish people, and he instructed Dovid telling him to go count the Jewish people.
  • Dovid instructs Yoav to count the Jewish people and he pushes back: So, Dovid instructed Yoav his general to travel amongst all the Jewish people, throughout all the tribes, from Dan until Bear Sheva, and go count the nation so I know their number. Yoav replied to the king saying, “May Hashem your G-d add to the nation more and more and increase their population double and triple to its size, up to 100 times, and may the king see this happen in his days. Now, my master, why do you desire me to do this [it is better to leave the Jewish people uncounted, is a blessing only resides on something that is hidden from the eye[1]]?” However, Dovid would have nothing of it and continued to pressure Yoav and the other generals to go count the Jewish people.
  • The counting takes place: So, Yoav and the generals of the Army left the king’s presence to go count the Jewish people. They crossed the Jordan and encamped by Aroer which was to the right of the city [and from there they began the census count] by the tribe of Gad, near the river, and from there they went to the city of Yazor. They traveled to Gilad and to the land of Tachti’im, [which was a new settlement with very few inhabitants[2]]. They arrived to Ya’an, which was a city in the land of Dan, and from there they traveled to Tzidon. They arrived at the mountain city of Tzur, and to all the lands of the Hivites and Cananites. They then traveled towards the south, to the city of Beer Sheva which is found in the land of Judah. They traveled throughout the entire land and arrived after nine months and 20 days back to Jerusalem.
  • The census: Yoav gave the census numbers to the king, and the total numbers of the Jewish population at that time was, 800,000 foot soldiers harnessed with swords, and 500,000 men of Judah.

2. Dovid’s regret and rebuke for having done the census:

  • Dovid regrets having the census done and asks G-d for forgiveness: Dovid pounded his heart after the nation was counted, and he beseeched G-d say, “I have done a great sin [by asking for the census to be taken] now please G-d, remove this iniquity from your servant, as I’ve done something very foolish [by having them counted without giving something for atonement on their behalf, as counting the Jewish people can bring a plague onto them, as seen from Scripture[3]].”
  • Dovid meets the prophet Gad: Dovid woke up in the morning and went to receive a prophecy that G-d had told Gad the prophet, who was the prophet of Dovid. G-d told Gad to tell Dovid as follows:
  • Dovid is given a choice of punishment: G-d told Gad the prophet saying, “go speak with Dovid and so you shall tell him.” “So says G-d, I am giving you three options [of evil decrees for your sin of having counted the Jewish people without an atonement] from which you are to choose one of them, and I will then do that for you.” So, Gad arrived to Dovid and informed him, “Do you want to there to be seven years of famine in your land, or do you want there to be three months of war in which you will be chased by your enemies, and you will flee from before them, or do you want there to be three days of plague in your land? Now let me know so I can go back and inform the one who sent me [i.e. G-d].” Dovid replied to Gad saying, “I am very distressed by any of these options, but I choose to fall by the hand of G-d, as his mercy is great, and I do not wish to fall by the hand of man.” [Thus, Dovid chose the option of the plague.]

3. The plague:

  • Hashem placed a plague upon the Jewish people from the morning until midday, and a total of 70,000 men died from Dan until Bear Sheva. The angel sent his hand against [the people of] Jerusalem to destroy it, however G-d changed His mind about doing so, and told the angel of destruction to withhold from doing so as he already has enough blood in his hands. At that time, the angel of destruction was standing near the granary of a Jebusite.
  • Dovid prays to G-d that the punishment should be against him personally and not the nation: Dovid said to Hashem when he saw the angel smiting the nation, “I am the one who has sinned and I’m the one who has done this iniquity, however these sheep what have they done? Let your hand be against me and the house my father.”

4. Dovid is instructed to build an altar for G-d:

  • Gad came to Dovid on that day and told him that he should go and erect an altar for G-d, in the granary of Arvana the Yevusite. So Dovid did as Gad instructed him, as he in turn was instructed by G-d.
  • Dovid purchases the plot of land from Arvana to build the altar: Arvana looked, and he saw the king and his servants passing before him, so he came out and prostrated himself on the ground before the king. He asked the king, “why has my master the king come to his servant?” Dovid replied that he came to purchase from him the granary in order to build an altar for G-d and to stop the plague from the people. Arvana replied to Dovid that he may do as he wishes and he may take cattle to offer as a sacrifice, and he may use the wood eating utensils for fire to burn the offering. Arvana, who himself was a king and aristocrat over the Jebusites, gave all these items to the king, and said to the king, “May Hashem, your G-d, be appeased by this.” The king replied to Arvana, “No, I will not accept it from you as a present but rather I will pay for it it’s full price, as I do not want to bring to Hashem, my G-d, offerings that cost me nothing.” So Dovid purchased the granary and the cattle for 50 silver coins.
  • Dovid then built the altar for G-d and offered upon it sacrifices of Olos and Shelamim, and G-d answered the prayers of the people and ceased the plague from upon Israel.


[1] Metzudos Dovid 24:3

[2] Rashi 24:5

[3] See Metzudos Dovid 24:10

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