As a result of David’s failure in this area, with his idolatry having been revealed to himself, the prophet Gad goes to speak to David. It is in the content of what it is that is spoken to David that we find the reason why God was angry with Israel. Gad was instructed, by the Lord, to say to David, “This is what the Lord says: I am offering you three forms of judgment. Pick one of them and I will carry it out against you” (2 Samuel 24:12). What follows, in the choice of judgments given, will direct us to the basis for God’s anger. In this, we will realize that God was not only angry with Israel, but that He was also angry with David as well.
“Gad went to David and told him, ‘Shall seven years of famine come upon your land? Or shall you flee for three months from your enemy with him in hot pursuit? Or shall there be three days of plague in your land? Now decide what I should tell the One Who sent me.’” (24:13) Are these judgments random? Of course not. These are a portion of the prescribed exilic curses. These three potential judgments force us to look to the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy (though possibly post-David compilations, though the thoughts therein contained, in conjunction with Leviticus, would reflect the general tradition and operational mindset of the covenant people throughout their history), and to the understanding of their covenant and of the nature of their covenant God within which Israel operated. In the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy we find all of these judgments, both implicitly and explicitly.
Through Moses, the Lord speaks of His people being “cursed in the field,” with “basket and… mixing bowl cursed… as well as the produce of your soil” (28:16b,17,18b). In addition, “The sky above your heads will be bronze and the earth beneath you iron. The Lord will make the rain of your land powder and dust” (28:23-24a). Taken together, these things point implicitly to the curse of famine. We here find that “The Lord will allow you to be struck down before your enemies; you will attack them from one direction but flee from them in seven directions” (28:25a). This points to the optional judgment of Israel being forced to flee from their enemies. Explicitly, we find that “The Lord will plague you with deadly diseases… He will afflict you with weakness, fever, inflammation, infection, sword, blight, and mildew; these will attack you until you perish” (28:21-22). Quite obviously, this correlates with the “three days of plague in your land.” So no, these are not random selections on God’s behalf, but rather, they are overt and direct reminders of His covenant, of the covenant responsibilities of His people, and of the personal and perpetual covenant that God had made with the king that is now being forced to make a choice. These are reminders of the curses that will come upon the people, and indeed, have come upon the people in various ways and at various times, for their falling into idolatry.
Deuteronomy informs the people that curses will fall upon them if they “ignore the Lord your God and are not careful to keep all His commandments and statutes” (28:15). However, the initial presentation of the curses, to be found in the twenty-sixth chapter of Leviticus, is far more direct in speaking to that which will bring these curses that are wrapped up together with the ultimate judgment of exile. There, we find a greater degree of specificity in expectation, as we read “You must not make for yourselves idols, so you must not set up for yourselves a carved image or a pillar, and you must not place a sculpted stone in your land to bow down before it” (26:1). To that is quickly added, by way of rounding out the primary things that God is requiring from His covenant people, “You must keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary” (26:2). Clearly, there is a greater weight of judgment attached to idolatry, which makes perfect sense, especially considering that it was essentially the idolatry of the original humans that brought about the fall of man and of creation, for which Israel has been raised up as a part of God’s corrective measures for His divine image bearers and His once-good world.
If we take in the grand, cosmic picture, then we will see that the judgments that God is offering to David and Israel here in the twenty-fourth chapter of second Samuel, are, in reality, nothing more than localized manifestations of the curses that came upon mankind and the world at the fall. Indeed, the curses outlined and presented to Israel in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy, are actually rather detailed expansions on the initial curses that were spelled out to Adam and Eve---cursed ground, pain, and death. As it relates to this story, are these not to be equated with famine, to being afflicted with plague, and to being pursued by an enemy? This presents itself as grand evidence of a consistent and faithful God, as well as evidence that Israel was very much looked upon by the Lord as a second Adam, charged with bearing His image into the world and of reminding the whole of the created order of their Creator God. It is this fact that informs us as to why Israel’s God looked upon and reacted so harshly against the idolatry on display, while opening our eyes to the deep-rooted redemptive plan that underlies the goings-on of this particular chapter of the story of Israel and of David.