God kills 70,000 because of David’s census

2 Samuel 24:1-17 Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”

So the king said to Joab and the army commanders with him, “Go throughout the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba and enroll the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are.” But Joab replied to the king, “May the LORD your God multiply the troops a hundred times over, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king want to do such a thing?”

The king’s word, however, overruled Joab and the army commanders; so they left the presence of the king to enroll the fighting men of Israel.

After crossing the Jordan, they camped near Aroer, south of the town in the gorge, and then went through Gad and on to Jazer. They went to Gilead and the region of Tahtim Hodshi, and on to Dan Jaan and around toward Sidon. Then they went toward the fortress of Tyre and all the towns of the Hivites and Canaanites. Finally, they went on to Beersheba in the Negev of Judah.

After they had gone through the entire land, they came back to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. Joab reported the number of the fighting men to the king: In Israel there were eight hundred thousand able-bodied men who could handle a sword, and in Judah five hundred thousand.

David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.”

Before David got up the next morning, the word of the LORD had come to Gad the prophet, David’s seer: “Go and tell David, ‘This is what the LORD says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.’ “

So Gad went to David and said to him, “Shall there come upon you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.”

David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.”

So the LORD sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the LORD was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the LORD was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the LORD, “I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall upon me and my family.”


1. God was angry at Israel so he incited David to take a census
2. David decides to take a census of the fighting men
3. God punishes David by sending a plague on Israel killing 70,000 of the people
4. This was accomplished by an “angel who was afflicting the people”
5. When this angel was about to destroy Jerusalem, God decides to cease the killing

I need some help in grasping this one. Was God just looking for an excuse to kill the people because he was angry with them so he incited David to take a census? What was so wrong with taking a census? Did David disobey God by only counting the “fighting men.”? Why are there angels killing people?

8 responses to “God kills 70,000 because of David’s census

  • Roopster

    If you read the parallel version of this story in 1 Chronicles 21, it states

    1 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

    Who incited David to take the census, God or Satan?

    Also, the NIV says 3 years of famine in verse 13, however, other versions say 7 years of famine. Which is correct? Did modern translations use 3 to parallel the 1 Chronicles 21 story which says 3?

  • Roopster

    BTW, here’s the explanation on the 7 vs. 3:

    Seven follows the Masoretic Text, Syriac, Targum, and Vulgate; Septuagint reads three

  • Roopster

    For those of you who do not know, the “The Septuagint (IPA: [‘sɛptuədʒɪnt]), or simply “LXX”, is the name commonly given in the West to the ancient, Koine Greek version of the Old Testament translated in stages between the 3rd to 1st century BCE in Alexandria. It is the oldest of several ancient translations of the Hebrew Bible into Greek.” (Wikipedia)

    In other words it’s a translation where the correction from 7 to 3 was made… not in the original text.

  • tiny tim

    God and Satan are the same. David is Satan in 1 Samuel 29:4. The sons of Zeruiah are Satan in 2 Samuel 19:22. Hadad the Edomite is Satan in 1 Kings 11:14. Rezon is Satan in 1 Kings 11:23.

    Satan is the Hebrew word for “adversary”. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • tiny tim

    About the three vs. seven years of famine, here’s a solid possibility:

    In 2 Samuel 21:1, we’re told there was a “famine in the days of David three years, year after year…”. By the time 2 Samuel 24 rolls around, Israel was in its 4th year of famine. Add another possible three years of famine in 24:13 and we’ve got a grand total of seven years of famine.

    Hence the so-called “discrepency”. 1 Samuel 24:13 is a sum of all the years of famine (E.g. “Do you want there to be a famine in the land for a total of seven years instead of only four?”), while 1 Chronicles 21 focuses only on the duration of the latest famine.

    Either that or “three” and “seven” are copy errors. 🙂

  • Roopster


    So you’re saying that since God was being adversarial here, his “role” was referred to as Satan.

    In other words, Christianity has personified a “role” that can be played by several individuals into an entity “Satan”…. However, this entity does not really exist.


    Interesting concept…..

  • tiny tim

    Exactly. Christianity has perverted and personified the Bible concept of “adversary” in the same way they’ve perverted and personified the identity of Lucifer.

    There should be no doubt whatsoever that mortal, normal people in Scripture are described as being “satan”. When looking at the two accounts in 1 Chr 21 and 2 Sam 23, God was David’s adversary by “stirring him up, therefore fulfilling the “satan” role.

  • Jason

    Reagrding the last question on your original comment, angels killing people, or in the proper sense, specifically doing the will of God, is done a few times elsewhere. For example, an angel killed all firstborn in Egypt during the last plague. An angel killed 185,000 warriors in one night in 2 Kings 19:35. A pair of angels brought the destruction on Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:13. Then there all the references to angels wiping people out in Revelation.

    It’d actually be an interesting study to see if this kind of thing was done more often.

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