David, far from being exempt from these potential judgments, is going to experience them right along with the people. This gives great weight to the idea that David’s numbering of the army was David’s idolatry, and that the command to number the people was God’s pretext that would enable David to come to terms with the fact of his own idolatrous ways, before God delivered and executed His promised judgments on the whole of His people for their pursuit of idolatrous activities. David’s response reflected his earlier admission of guilt for his great sin, as he says, “I am very upset! I prefer that we be attacked by the Lord, for His mercy is great; I do not want to be attacked by men” (2 Samuel 24:14).
Interestingly, in the midst of being given the responsibility of choosing which curse is going to come upon Israel, due to his and their idolatry, David comments on the Lord’s mercy. He knows, based on his presumed depth of acquaintance with Israel’s history and their God’s dealings with them, that He will ultimately bring exodus to bear against this temporary form of the experience of exile. We will also notice, with his statement, that David does not make a choice. His most recent decision (the numbering of the army rather than the numbering of the people as directed) was quite faulty, so here he leaves the decision in God’s hand, asking to “be attacked by the Lord.” So the curse of judgment is either going to be the seven years of famine or the three days of plague. Indeed, the Lord exhibits the previously mentioned mercy, and chooses to deliver the three days of plague, as “the Lord sent a plague through Israel from the morning until the completion of the appointed time. Seventy thousand men died from Dan to Beer Sheba” (24:15).
This plague is said to have been carried out by an angel, as we go on to read that “When the angel extended his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented from His judgment. He told the angel who was killing the people, ‘That’s enough! Stop now!’” (24:16a) Naturally, this would serve as a reminder of the angel of the Passover and the angel of death, and of the plagues of Egypt, and of God’s merciful, covenant-based sparing of His people. Such a reminder fits nicely with the plague-inducing remembrances of God’s commandments against idolatry that were offered in association with potential curses of judgment, seeing as how, as we saw in our most recent look at Leviticus, that the warnings against idolatry are immediately followed by a reminder to keep the Lord’s Sabbaths. There was, of course, no greater Sabbath for Israel than that of Passover, which as was said, would be called to mind by this angel of death that was visiting a plague upon Israel.
Further on, attention is returned to David. “When he saw the angel who was destroying the people, David said to the Lord, ‘Look, it is I who have sinned and done this evil thing! As for these sheep---what have they done? Attack me and my family.’” (24:17) This further confession of sin, with reference to it as “evil,” lends even greater weight to the consideration that David was steeped in idolatry, with this in connection to the power represented by his military might and conquests, for it is idolatry (which serves as the root of a rejection of the weight of glory that attends rightly bearing the divine image and leads to inhuman behavior) that is regularly presented in Scripture as man’s great evil. Along with this, David’s plea calls attention to the fact that, as king, he represents the people of Israel before God, thereby taking responsibility for the judgment that has fallen, and falling further into the merciful arms of the God of the exodus, in his desire for rescue for himself and his people, from this subjugating power that was sweeping the land as God was being “forced” to act in a way that was foreign to His desires and intentions for this people, this land, and this king.
In response to this, “Gad went to David that day and told him, ‘Go up and build an altar for the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.’” (24:18). David readily acceded to this directive, proceeding to purchase the threshing floor, so as to build an altar and to make an offering, so that the plague would be removed from the people (24:21). In addition, from this man David purchased oxen for the sacrifice and items that could be used for burning. The ground, the animals, and the implements for offering were offered to David free of charge, but David replied that he would “not offer to the Lord my God burnt sacrifices that cost me nothing” (24:24a). “Then,” we read, “David built an altar for the Lord there and offered burnt sacrifices and peace offerings. And the Lord accepted prayers for the land, and the plague was removed from Israel” (24:25b).
The removal of the plague, of course, is equivalent to an exodus, as the exile-oriented punishments are brought to an end. In addition to this, we know that the piece of land that was purchased by David would eventually become the place where Solomon would construct the Lord’s Temple. Thus, in all of this, as idolatry has been recognized, and as there has been a reminder of the Lord’s Sabbaths, there is also something akin to the reverencing of the sanctuary, so that the people can once again experience the Lord’s blessing.