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After having sinned David is given three options from which to choose

1 Chronicles 21:12 NLT

You may choose three years of famine, three months of destruction by your enemies, or three days of severe plague as the angel of the Lord brings devastation throughout the land of Israel. Think this over and let me know what answer to give the Lord."

David chooses to fall into the hands of the Lord which somehow translates to a pestilence which wipes out seventy thousand people

1 Chronicles 21:13 NLT

"This is a desperate situation!" David replied to Gad. "But let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great. Do not let me fall into human hands."

It's not clearly whether David chose this option which brough this pestilence seeing the other option of famine also does fall under the category of falling into the hands of the Lord

There are several texts which also allude to famine as divine judgement or falling into the hands of the Lord

2 Samuel 21:1 NLT

There was a famine during David's reign that lasted for three years, so David asked the Lord about it. And the Lord said, "The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites."

Psalms 105:16 NLT

He called for a famine on the land of Canaan, cutting off its food supply.

Ezekiel 14:13 NLT

"Son of man, suppose the people of a country were to sin against me, and I lifted my fist to crush them, cutting off their food supply and sending a famine to destroy both people and animals alike.

Did David actually choose the pestilence that wiped out seventy thousand people?

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  • That is what the text says in this instance. Why might make you doubt it?
    – Dottard
    Mar 18, 2023 at 8:11
  • @Dottard, The text does not categorical say David chose the pestilence but to fall into the hands of the Lord which somehow may also rope in the famine Mar 18, 2023 at 8:34
  • Look at 1 Chron 21:13 and 2 Sam 24:14 - both say David wanted to fall into the hands of the LORD; meaning that he want, of the three options, three days of the "sword of the LORD". David chose wisely.
    – Dottard
    Mar 18, 2023 at 9:20
  • @Dottard,not sure whether falling into the hands of the Lord means three days of pestilence only,seeing there is another option of the famine Mar 18, 2023 at 9:44

2 Answers 2

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There may be an important clue in the Exodus law about census (Exodus ch30 vv11-16).

The first key point is that the census must be accompanied by the payment of a "ransom", at a fixed rate of half a shekel, to be appointed "for the service of the tent of meeting". I suggest that this is telling us what was sinful about David's census.In his version, nobody was offering or being asked to pay a ransom. Or if any payment was made, it wasn't going to the tent of meeting.

The exact instruction in v11 is that "each shall give a ransom of himself to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them" (RSV). In other words, "plague among the people" has been pre-announced as the penalty for non-payment of the ransom.

On the face of it, then, the decision to "let the Lord choose" has the effect of choosing plague as the "usual penalty". The Lord can offer alternatives first because he is not controlled by his own laws.

It occurs to me also that David's request for the "most merciful" option could have the indirect effect of choosing plague. David himself points out that human agents of judgment would be less merciful. That is exactly the prophetic complaint against Assyria and Babylon, that the Lord sent them as agents of his judgement and they got over-enthusiastic for reasons of their own and exceeded their commission (e.g. Isaiah ch10 vv12-19). While famine necessarily affects the entire population, and plague may be more selective.

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Yes, David chose the pestilence--the only one of the three options that had been specified as being "of the Lord." Look carefully at the options.

  • Either three years' famine; or
  • three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee; or else
  • three days the sword of the LORD, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel.

    Now therefore advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sent me. (1 Chronicles 21:12, KJV)

The famine is not presented among those options as being "of the LORD."

It may be helpful at this juncture to recall that in Hebrew, the word "of" does not exist. In order to have a "genitive" relationship between nouns like this, they are placed together in a special grammatical form called a construct chain. In this form, the first word in the chain will be in construct state, showing that it is packaged with the noun(s) following, e.g. "house of Israel" or "chest of wood." In this case, the word translated as "sword" is "חֶ֣רֶב", which is in construct state, immediately followed by Yahweh, God's name (translated as "the LORD" in the KJV following Jewish tradition not to pronounce God's name; there is no "the" here in the Hebrew).

So in the Hebrew, God's name is attached to this, and only to this, option of the three days' pestilence. When David asked to fall into the hands of the LORD, he was choosing this option for "the sword of the LORD" which was to be administered by "the angel of the LORD."

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