The Chronicler noted that two themes dominated David’s life, his desire to build the temple and his great military success. In 1 Chronicles 19-22, the author catalogued David’s conquests, including David’s arrogant military census. Yet, ever concerned for the temple, the Chronicler connected David’s sin at the census with his preparations for temple construction.
David was victorious against the Ammonites and Arameans, Israel’s opponents on the far side of the Jordan River and the northern area of Palestine (1 Chron 19:1-20:3). This battle began with David’s kindness to Hanun, the new king of Ammon. After Hanun’s father, a friend of David, died, David tried to console Hanun. But the new Ammonite king severely misunderstood David’s act of kindness (1 Chron 19:1-19). Hanun embarrassed David’s emissaries and sent them home. David organized Israel for battle and then went out against the Ammonites, who had enlisted the northern country of Aram for support against the Israelite forces. When David and his troops prevailed over the Arameans, “they made peace with David and became his subjects. After this, the Arameans were never willing to help the Ammonites again” (1 Chron 19:19, reflecting the psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 140). When the battle ensued against the Ammonites, Joab led the forces against them and captured their capital city of Rabbah (1 Chron 20:1-3). David took the crown of the Ammonite king; it weighed 75 pounds (1 Chron 20:2). The plunder of the city, which now belonged to David, would be used to build the temple. In addition, David again defeated the Philistines (1 Chron 20:4-8; Ps 108:9).
But David became a victim of his own achievements. He commanded Joab, “Go and count Israel from Beer-sheba to Dan and bring a report to me so I can know their number” (1 Chron 21:2). The census recorded in 1 Chronicles 21 may be David’s greatest failure. Joab objected to David’s request to know the breadth of his dominion so when Joab was counting the Israelites, he “did not include Levi and Benjamin in the count because the king’s command was detestable to him,” (1 Chron 21:6). The Chronicler noted, “This command was also evil in God’s sight” (1 Chron 21:7). David’s conscience soon got the best of him and he said, “I have sinned greatly because I have done this thing. Now, because I’ve been very foolish, please take away Your servant’s guilt” (1 Chron 21:8). The Lord did take away David’s guilt, but first the king had to endure the consequences; he watched the plague reduce the census total by 70,000 (1 Chron 21:9-17).
On the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, David offered a sacrifice for his sin. As a result, “the LORD spoke to the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath” (1 Chron 21:27). The account of David’s census is the final chapter of 2 Samuel, but the Chronicler connected the sacrifice of David on the threshing floor of Ornan with the construction of the temple. Since David’s sacrifice appeased God’s wrath, David proposed that all future sacrifice should take place there as well. David exclaimed, “This is the house of the LORD God, and this is the altar of burnt offering for Israel’” (1 Chron 21:29-22:1; Ps 20:2-3).
David’s proclamation that the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite would be the place of the Lord’s temple anticipates the atoning work of Jesus in the storyline of Scripture. David’s sacrifice to atone for his sin in Jerusalem established a framework that would be repeated in Solomon’s temple. But the blood of bulls and goats offered there did not take away sin—as evidenced by the disobedience and idolatry that the Chronicler catalogued in 2 Chronicles. The author of Hebrews wrote, “Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb 10:11-12). In Jesus’ death and resurrection, His followers have access to the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12:22).