FTER the death of Absalom, David ruled in peace over Israel for many years. His kingdom stretched from the river Euphrates to the border of Egypt, and from the Great Sea on the west to the great desert on the east. But again David did that which was very displeasing to God. He gave orders to Joab, who was the commander of his army, to send officers throughout all the tribes of Israel, and to count all the men who could go forth to battle.
It may be that David's purpose was to gather a great army for some new war. Even Joab, the general, knew that it was not right to do this; and he said to David, "May the Lord God make his people an hundred times as great as they are; but are they not all the servants of my lord the king? Why does the king command this to be done? Surely it will bring sin upon the king and upon the people."
But David was firm in his purpose, and Joab obeyed him, but not willingly. He sent men through all the twelve tribes to take the number of those in every city and town who were fit for war. They went throughout the land, until they had written down the number of eight hundred thousand men in ten of the tribes, and of nearly five hundred thousand men in the tribe of Judah, who could be called out for war. The tribe of Levi was not counted, because all its members were priests and Levites in the service of the Tabernacle; and Benjamin, on the border of which stood the city of Jerusalem, was not counted, because the numbering was never finished.
It was left unfinished because God was angry with David and with the people on account of this sin. David saw that he had done wickedly, in ordering the count of the people. He prayed to the Lord, and said, "O Lord, I have sinned greatly in doing this. Now, O Lord, forgive this sin, for I have done very foolishly."
Then the Lord sent to David, a prophet, a man who heard God's voice and spoke as God's messenger. His name was Gad. Gad came to David, and said to him, "Thus saith the Lord, You have sinned in this thing, and now you and your land must suffer for your sin. I will give you the choice of three troubles to come upon the land. Shall I send seven years of famine, in which there shall be no harvest? Or shall your enemies overcome you, and win victories over you for three months? Or shall there be three days when pestilence shall fall upon the land, and the people shall die everywhere?"
And David said to the prophet Gad, "This is a hard choice of evils to come upon the land; but let me fall into the hand of the Lord, and not into the hands of men; for God's mercies are great and many. If we must suffer, let the three days of pestilence come upon the land."
Then the Lord's angel of death passed through the land, and in three days seventy thousand men died. And when the angel of the Lord stretched out his hand over the city of Jerusalem, the Lord had pity upon the people, and the Lord said to him, "It is enough; now hold back your hand, and cause no more of the people to die."
Then the Lord opened David's eyes, and he saw the angel standing on Mount Moriah, with a drawn sword in his hand, held out toward the city. Then David prayed to the Lord, and he said:
"O Lord, I alone have sinned, and have done this wickedness before thee. These people are like sheep; they have done nothing. Lord, let thy hand fall on me, and not on these poor people."
Then the Lord sent the prophet Gad to David, and Gad said to him, "Go, and build an altar to the Lord upon the place where the angel was standing."
Then David and the men of his court went out from Mount Zion, where the city was standing, and walked up the side of Mount Moriah. They found the man who owned the rock on the top of the mountain threshing wheat upon it, with his sons; for the smooth rock was used as a threshing-floor, upon which oxen walked over the heads of grain, beating out the kernels with their feet. This man was not an Israelite, but a foreigner, of the race that had lived on those mountains before the Israelites came. His name was Araunah.
When Araunah saw David and his nobles coming toward him, he bowed down with his face toward the ground, and said, "For what purpose does my lord the king come to his servant?"
David gets the threshing-floor
"I have come," said David, "to buy your threshing-floor, and to build upon it an altar to the Lord, that I may pray to God to stop the plague which is destroying the people."
And Araunah said to David, "Let my lord the king take it freely as a gift, and with it these oxen for a burnt-offering, and the threshing-tools and the yokes of the oxen for the wood on the altar. All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king."
"No," said King David; "I cannot take it as a gift; but I will pay you the price for it. For I will not make an offering to the Lord my God of that which costs me nothing."
So David gave to Araunah the full price for the land, and for the oxen, and for the wood. And there, on the rock, he built an altar to the Lord God, and on it he offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings. The Lord heard David's prayer and took away the plague from the land.
And on that rock afterward stood the altar of the temple of the Lord on Mount Moriah. The rock is standing even to this day, and over it a building called "The Dome of the Rock." Those who visit the place can look upon the very spot where David built his altar and called upon the Lord.