It is often assumed that the plague in Israel due to census was because of the sin of David. However, comparing the events mentioned in Samuel and Chronicles with the census law, it is evident that the plague was due to God’s anger on Israel, not because of any sin of David.
Samuel vs Chronicles
|2 Samuel 24||1 Chronicles 21|
|God was angry with Israel (v1)||Satan stood up against Israel (v1)|
|All tribes are counted (v2)||Levi and Benjamin not counted (v6)|
|Israel: 800000, Judah: 500000 (v9)||Israel: 1100000, Judah: 470000 (v5)|
|David condemned himself. God moved David to take census because of His anger with Israel (v10,1)||God was displeased with this thing; therefore He struck Israel (v7)|
|7 years of famine was an option (v13)||3 years of famine was an option (v12)|
|Bought threshing floor of Ornan for 50 shekels of silver (v25)||Bought threshing floor of Ornan for 600 shekels of gold (v25)|
The census event by David mentioned in 2nd Samuel is also mentioned in 1 Chronicles 21 but contradicts many details. While many try to harmonize both, it is worth noting the book of Chronicles is not of law, psalms or prophets to be a part of Scripture as per Jesus (Luke 24:44-45). Hence, the book of Samuel is more authoritative over the book of Chronicles which was written much later after the Babylonian exile.
Anger on Israel, not David’s sin
Again the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” … So the LORD sent a plague upon Israel from the morning till the appointed time. From Dan to Beersheba seventy thousand men of the people died. … Then Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” And David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, to build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be withdrawn from the people.” … And David built there an altar to the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD heeded the prayers for the land, and the plague was withdrawn from Israel.2 Sam 24:1,15,21,25
It is often misunderstood that it was David’s sin that caused the plague. While David condemns himself and asks for forgiveness (2Sam 24:17), God never punishes David. As the first verse clearly suggests, the anger of the LORD was not on David but on Israel as a nation.
because David did [what was] right in the eyes of the LORD, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.1Kgs 15:5
According to 1st Kings, David did everything right in the eyes of the LORD except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. It seems as though the scribes of 1st Kings were unaware of sin in David’s census.
Law of census plague
When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number, then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, that there may be no plague among them when [you] number them. This is what everyone among those who are numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (a shekel [is] twenty gerahs). The half-shekel [shall be] an offering to the LORD. Everyone included among those who are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the LORD.Exod 30:12-14
While it is not wrong for David to take a census – either including or excluding any tribe, it is wrong for the people to not give a ransom to the LORD. The responsibility is on the people, not David. When David offered burnt and peace offerings, God heeded the prayers for the land and the plague was withdrawn.
The census of David was because of the anger of God upon Israel. However, the reason for God’s anger is not mentioned. It was this anger of God caused the plague and not David’s sin.