Labor Pains: The Relationship between David’s Census and Corvée Labor -- By: Kyle R. Greenwood

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 20:4 (NA 2010)
Article: Labor Pains: The Relationship between David’s Census and Corvée Labor
Author: Kyle R. Greenwood

Labor Pains: The Relationship between David’s Census and Corvée Labor

Kyle R. Greenwood

Colorado Christian University

Numerous reasons have been given for the cause of the plague that resulted from David’s census in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21: (1) David’s pride in military strength; (2) David’s neglect to secure the half-shekel kōper, as prescribed in Exodus 30; (3) the ancient Near Eastern notion that head-counting was taboo; (4) the process of gathering the census resulted in a health epidemic; and (5) David’s failure to capture Mount Moriah, the future home of Israel’s temple. This article presents another interpretive option for the basis of the plague that resulted from David’s census. Here, I attempt to demonstrate that the essence of David’s sin was premature planning and preparation for the construction of the temple, a task that had been divinely reserved for his son and successor, Solomon.

Key Words: David, census, plague, temple


One of the more peculiar narratives in the OT is the account of David and his misguided census. The narrative is first reported in 2 Samuel 24 and recounted in 1 Chronicles 21. In the Deuteronomistic account, David has been incited by the Lord to “go, number Israel and Judah.” Despite Joab’s protests, David ordered him to take the census. On the completion of the census, David is struck with remorse and is left to ponder the fate of his people, electing punishment by the hand of God rather than from the hand of humans. The impending plague delivered by an angel of Yahweh strikes 70,000 men. Mercifully, Yahweh intervenes at the brink of Jerusalem’s gates.

There are several fascinating exegetical questions surrounding this narrative, but as interesting and entertaining as they might be to investigate, they are not the nature or scope of this paper.1 Rather, the focus of this

study concentrates on one simple question: Why did David’s census result in a devastating plague? In David’s confession, he merely states מאד חטאתי “I have sinned egregiously” (2 Sam 24:10), leaving open the question regarding the precise nature of his sin.

A Survey Of Approaches

The typical answer to that question from within evangelical Christiani...

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