David became proud during his final days and the nation suffered as a result. David’s arrogance in taking a census in 2 Samuel 24 stands in direct opposition to his confession of the Lord’s covenant mercy to him in 2 Samuel 23. David’s last words included a poetic reflection on his special relationship with the Lord (2 Sam 23:1-7). The Lord’s faithful love operated on the king’s behalf as he sought to expand Israel’s borders and defend God’s people from the marauding Philistines. The author followed David’s song of praise in 2 Samuel 22 by recounting the successes the king’s warriors enjoyed against Israel’s foes (2 Sam 23:8-39).
David’s military census was motivated by the Lord’s anger at David’s desire to look back over his accomplishments and boast in what he had done in Israel (2 Sam 24:1). Once the king learned that he had 800,000 fighting men in Israel and 500,000 in Judah (2 Sam 24:9), “David’s conscience troubled him” (2 Sam 24:10a). David confessed to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I’ve done. Now LORD, because I’ve been very foolish, please take away Your servant’s guilt” (2 Sam 24:10b). David’s guilt would be taken away, but first the Lord punished David for his arrogance (2 Sam 24:11-17). David put himself in the hands of the Lord and the plague upon Israel resulted in the death of 70,000 people (2 Sam 24:15). David said to the Lord, “Look, I am the one who has sinned; I am the one who has done wrong. But these sheep, what have they done? Please, let Your hand be against me and my father’s family” (2 Sam 24:17). The plague finally ceased when David set up an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (2 Sam 24:18-25).
Quantitatively speaking, the deaths of Uriah and David and Bathsheba’s baby can hardly compare with the 70,000 graves that had to be dug for those who died in the plague that followed David’s census. Yet, even after such a great disaster, the Lord’s mercy was not exhausted. Perhaps David wrote Psalm 16 sometime shortly after the plague had ceased, thoughts of the threshing floor of Araunah yet on his mind. There are several linguistic and conceptual connections between 2 Samuel 24 and Psalm 16: David’s need for God’s protection (2 Sam 24:24; Ps 16:1), David’s confession of affection for God’s people (2 Sam 24:17; Ps 16:3), terms common to geographic survey (2 Sam 24:2, 5-7; Ps 16:6), and nighttime conviction of sin (2 Sam 24:10-11; Ps 16:7). Because of the Lord’s covenant with David (2 Samuel 7), the king knew that even though he had committed such an arrogant and costly sin, he would not be damned for his actions. David confessed, “You will not allow Your Faithful One to see the Pit. Your reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures” (Ps 16:9-11).
While these verses may cohere with the episode of 2 Samuel 24, they cast a long shadow down the storyline of Scripture, finding their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. In their first recorded sermons in Acts, both Peter and Paul cited themes of resurrection found in Psalm 16.
(1) On the day of Pentecost, Peter looked back on Ps 16:9-11 and saw in it a reference to Jesus’ resurrection. After quoting these verses to the crowd in Jerusalem (Acts 2:25-28), Peter went on to note that David, the author of Psalm 16, was dead and that David’s tomb was yet known in Israel (Acts 2:29). Peter understood that David had spoken prophetically of Jesus, whom God raised from the dead (Acts 2:32).
(2) In the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch, Paul preached that Jesus was David’s descendant and, through His resurrection, the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel (Acts 13:16-41). In Paul’s logic, Jesus’ resurrection provided forgiveness and justification for everything that one could not be justified for under the law of Moses (Acts 13:37-39). It was this law that had guided Israel from the time of the exodus until God brought Jesus to Israel (Acts 13:17-23). In Paul’s mind, Jesus’ resurrection was the confirmation of Jesus’ status as the Messiah. Paul said, “For David, after serving his own generation in God’s plan, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and decayed”; he adds, “But the One whom God raised up did not decay” (Acts 13:34-37).