David ordered Joab to take a census of Israel. 1 Chronicles 21:5 gives 1.1 million as the census results but 2 Samuel 24:9 says 1.3 million. Why the discrepancy

  • This resource has a few possible explanations, the most convincing of which for myself are that 1 Chr. could have just rounded to the nearest 100k and 2 Sam. to the nearest 10k, and that the Chronicler did not include in his census numbers the count of the twelve 24k military divisions enumerated in 1 Chr. 27, which is a claim that might seem more plausible as more census information is put seemingly out of place directly after that section (1 Chr. 27:23), and since the census seems to be of men eligible for military service.
    – mwolfe 11
    Nov 20, 2023 at 20:14

2 Answers 2


To find the answer to this puzzle, one has to pay very close attention to the wording in the two accounts and in the rules for conducting the Census.

Exodus 30:11-16 says:

11 Then Jehovah said to Moses: 12 “Whenever you take a census and count the sons of Israel, each one must give a ransom for his life to Jehovah at the time of the census. This is so that no plague may be brought upon them when they are registered. 13 This is what all those who are registered [literally passed over] will give: a half shekel by the standard shekel of the holy place. Twenty geʹrahs equal a shekel. A half shekel is the contribution to Jehovah. 14 Everyone registered who is 20 years old and up will give Jehovah’s contribution. 15 The rich should not give more and the poor should not give less than the half shekel as a contribution to Jehovah to make atonement for your lives. 16 You are to take the silver money of the atonement from the Israelites and give it in behalf of the service of the tent of meeting, that it may serve as a remembrance before Jehovah for the Israelites, to make atonement for your lives

Specifically This Means In Practice:

  • Only Everyone Over 20 Is Counted
  • A Half Shekel per person, or 1 Shekel to two persons is to be collected
  • Money is to be given in behalf of the Tabernacle
  • A Plague (same word as used at Exodus 12:13 for the Passover plague) will come upon those who don't pay the fee. Paying the fee will serve a similar purpose to the sprinkling of the blood on the doorposts during that plague (Exodus 12:13)

There lies in here no provision for numbering those under the age of 20. True, the Levites under 20 were numbered twice in the wilderness (Numbers 3:15, 26:62) but only in the first instance were any Shekels taken, and only those in excess of the firstborn of the twelve tribes Israel that were numbered (Numbers 3:40-51) at a value of five shekels per extra person, this being different to the standard census value. The Levites were registered separately from the Israelites and therefore exempt from the standard counting procedures of Exodus 30 (Numbers 1:47-50)

Now in the first Census, the numbering of the people in the twelve tribes over 20 was 603,550 (Exodus 38:26, Numbers 1:45). Of those under 20, only the firstborns were numbered as a special case (see above). We know that the rest of Israel under 20 were not counted because of the number of shekels gathered. Exodus 38:26 says:

"And the silver of the ones registered of the assembly was 100 talents and 1,775 shekels by the standard shekel of the holy place."

There are 3,000 Shekels in a talent. 3,000x100=300,000 Shekels. 300,000+1,775= 301,775 Shekels total. At 1 shekel for every two persons this confirms that this cost covered 603,550 persons and therefore confirms there were no under 20s included within the Exodus 30 census law.

But why was numbering the under 20s not included? Because the under 20s were Israel's "offspring", and at Genesis 15:5 it says:

"He now brought him outside and said: “Look up, please, to the heavens and count the stars, if you are able to do so.” Then he said to him: “So your offspring will become.”

What does this mean? Well in Genesis 16:10 this same promise was also given to Hagar, but in different words:

"Then Jehovah’s angel said: “I will greatly multiply your offspring, so that they will be too numerous to count.

Abraham's offspring (both through Ishmael and Isaac) were promised to be so numerous, that you would not be able to count them. But what did David try to do?

1 Chronicles 27:23,24 reflects back on the ultimate outcome of David's census when it says

"David did not count those 20 years of age and under, because Jehovah had promised to make Israel as many as the stars of the heavens. 24 Joʹab the son of Ze·ruʹiah had started to take the count [of those under 20], but he did not finish; and God’s anger came against Israel because of this, and the number was not entered into the account of the history of the times of King David."

Square brackets have been added. So now we know why Joab was annoyed with David. David, like all kings of his time, was recording an account of his history and times, and as part of that, he was boasting of his achievements and so he wanted to take stock of ALL Israel, including those under 20 (because he was incited to do so). Joab was annoyed with this because Jehovah had promised to make the offspring of Israel as numerous as the stars of heavens, so numerous that they could not be counted, and here David was attempting to count them. Therefore Joab began to take the count, but stopped when he reached Benjamin (the last of the twelve) because he was about to find out something that he thought ought not be known. Now the source of information for "Chronicles" and "Kings" were these accounts of the history of the times of king [insert name] (2 Kings 1:18, 8:23, 10:34, 12:19, 13:8,12, 14:15,18,28, 15:6,11,15,21,26,31,36, 16:19, 20:20, 21:17, 25, 23:28, 24:5, 2 Chronicles 9:29, 13:22, 20:34, 25:26, 26:22, 27:7, 28:26, 32:32, 33:18, 35:26, 36:8 I could list more but that's enough to make the point). This account of the history of the times of David then, contained the number of those counted, but excluded the number of those under 20 that Joab had begun to count. This is the number presented to us in 1 Chronicles 21. Whereas 2 Samuel 24, records the total number including those under 20.

Therefore 2 Samuel 24:9:

  • Israel (excluding Judah) 800,000
  • Judah 500,000
  • Totalling ALL Israel at 1,300,000

1 Chronicles 21:5:

  • ALL Israel (Including Judah) at 1,100,000
  • Judah 470,000
  • Israel apart from Judah would be 630,000

1,300,000 minus 1,100,000=200,000 Under twenty.

David was trying to inflate the numbers for the record to make himself look better. Maybe he reasoned this was fine since he himself was under 20 when he fought Goliath (1 Samuel 17:33). While he will have gathered the half shekel for those twenty and over, he would not have gathered any for those aged under 20 (because there was no provision for it in the law). However this still brought plague upon the people, since those 200,000 had still been counted. Therefore the 70,000 who fell would have been among the 200,000 under 20's. After the first wave of the Angels striking the people down (2 Samuel 24:17), there would have been 130,000 of this 200,000 remaining.

200,000 minus 70,000=130,000

During this first wave, The angel was heading to Jerusalem to cause destruction there, (2 Samuel 24:16, 1 Chronicles 21:15). But just as with Abraham sacrificing Isaac hundreds of years prior though, this calamity against Jerusalem was stopped at the last moment, ending the first day of the pestilence. David was anguished and wished for the calamity to come against himself (2 Samuel 24:17, 1 Chronicles 21:17). Another solution instead was presented to balance the books. Jehovah knew that David was too afraid to make his way to the tabernacle to consult him (where he could have made a contribution as required-1 Chronicles 21:29,30, Exodus 30:16), so instead a new closer site was chosen for a contribution. The Angel was waiting above Ornan Arunah's threshing floor, and command was given to Gad, to tell David to set up an altar there, an act which would require a cost, this specific site being chosen because the cost to purchase would cover the census cost of the remaining 130,000 under twenties. How so?

  • 1 Chronicles 21:25 tells us that David, for the site paid 600 shekels weight in Gold.
  • 2 Samuel 24:24 tells us that he paid 50 shekels weight in silver for the cattle for the burnt offerings.

This totals 650 shekels in value. Under the Census procedures of Exodus 30, at half a shekel per person (or 2 persons per shekel), this value would cover (650 multiplied by 2 equalling) 1,300 persons aged 20 and over.

  • 650 Shekels divided by 0.5 Shekel Per Person (Exodus 30)= 1,300 Persons Value

This is 100x short of the 130,000 alive after the first day of the plague. However, remember that these 130,000 people are aged under twenty, representing Israel's "offspring" (See also Numbers 14:24, 29-31). At the start of the chapters, 1 Chronicles 21:3 and 2 Samuel 24:3 Joab said before David's disastrous actions:

"May Jehovah Multiply the people 100 times, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it".

By multiplying the people, Joab is talking about the people having offspring. He is therefore saying here in effect, "May 1 person aged 20 and over= 100 people under 20", or may their offspring multiply them by 100.

Subsequently, this means in the outcome of the story:

  • If Each person aged 20 and over= a half shekel per person, then
  • 100 persons under 20, or the "offspring"= a half shekel per hundred persons.

1,300 x 100= 130,000

So, the 650 shekels that David paid toward the future temple site (worth 1,300 people 20 and over) covered the cost of the lives of the remaining 130,000 under twenties who would otherwise have died in the following two days of the Passover type plague.

This is why only after David had done this and offered up sacrifices, 2 Samuel 24:25 says:

25 And David built an altar there to Jehovah and offered up burnt sacrifices and communion sacrifices. Jehovah then responded to the entreaty for the land, and the scourge against Israel was halted.

Finally, as 1 Chronicles 27 again says, David removed the 200,000 under twenties from the count in his account and only counted those aged 20 and over

"because Jehovah had promised to make Israel as many of the stars of the heavens".

So to answer the question, "Why the discrepancy?"

  • 1.3 million is the number of all Israel including the under twenties
  • 1.1 million is the number of all Israel excluding the under twenties.

All I can say is, it's a good thing we have two different aspects included on this account, otherwise this puzzle would have remained a mystery. By having both, we gain perspective.

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    – agarza
    May 24, 2021 at 15:30

“When he numbered them in Bezek, the children of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand.” ‭‭I Samuel‬ ‭11:8‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

2 Samuel 24:9 - 1 Chronicles 21:5

800,000 - 1,100,000 = +300,000

500,000 - 470,000 = -30,000

[Matthew 23:12]

300,000 increase over time (pride)

30,000 decrease over time (humility)

The difference in numbers is the same as the first recorded census before Israel went to war under their first king, Saul. This confirms the previous interpretation that God doesn’t care about the size of an army to win (Psalm 33:16)

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