II Samuel 24:15-25
15 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.16 When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented concerning the disaster 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. 17 When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord, “I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep.What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.” 18 On that day Gad went to David and said to him, “Go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” 19 So David went up, as the Lord had commanded through Gad. 20 When Araunah looked and saw the king and his officials coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground. 21 Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” “To buy your threshing floor,” David answered, “so I can build an altar to the Lord, that the plague on the people may be stopped.” 22 Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take whatever he wishes and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. 23 Your Majesty, Araunah gives all this to the king.” Araunah also said to him, “May the Lord your God accept you.” 24 But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them. 25 David built an altar to the Lord there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the Lord answered his prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.
An altar is where we meet with God. Abraham had built one on this site and in obedience planned to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, on it. God accepted the offering of His own only Son who was sacrificed on this site. Anyone who believes in Him will enjoy everlasting life. David, in this lesson, will purchase this property on which to build an altar and sacrifice burnt and fellowship offerings. Today this is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where thousands of people pray every year in anticipation of the coming to this place of Yeshua the Messiah. This is a real site on which occurred an authentic historical event which we will examine in this lesson.
1. The Plague Occurs, but is Graciously Stopped. 15-17
So a pestilence covered the land from Dan to Beer-Sheba, from one end of the kingdom to the other, which effectively demonstrated that it came immediately from God’s hand and not from any natural causes. David had his choice; he suffered by a miracle, and not by ordinary means, 70,000 men that were all well, then sick, and then dead, in a few hours. What a great cry, may we suppose, there was now throughout all the land of Israel, as in Egypt when the first-born were slain! But that was at midnight, this happened in the daytime. Ps. 91:6 says we need not fear “. . . the plague that destroys at midday.” (Incidentally, notice the power of the angels, when God gives them a commission, either to save or to destroy.) See how easily God can bring down the proudest sinners, and how much we owe daily to the divine patience. David’s adultery was punished only with the death of one infant, his pride and desire to trust in numbers rather than in God, however, with the death of all those thousands. Does this show us how much God hates pride and misplaced trust? Surely there were many factors involved in this matter. The number slain,70,000, amounted about one in twenty. God said, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” and the angel stopped.
As the pestilence neared Jerusalem and the angel stretched out his hand on that city, the Lord repented and called the plague to a halt. See how ready God is to forgive and how little pleasure He takes in punishing. Let it encourage us to repent quickly. This event occurred on Mount Moriah, where Abraham was told not to kill Isaac, and Jesus was to be crucified. At this place the angel was stopped from destroying Jerusalem.
David saw something as God opened his eyes. Verse 17 says, “When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep.What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.’” When David saw the angel and his sword stretched toward Jerusalem, a flaming sword, ready for further action and then stopped by God’s voice, he was greatly moved by God’s compassion and mercy. He spoke to God and said, “These are but sheep.What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.”
True penitents, the more they perceive God’s sparing and pardoning mercy, the more humbled they are for sin and the more resolved they are against it. Mine is the crime, so on me be the cross. I am the sinner, let me be the sufferer. So David interceded for the people, whose bitter lamentations over the loss of their loved ones made his heart also ache and grieve. “These are but sheep. What have they done?”
They had done much amiss; it was their sin that provoked God in the first place. Nevertheless, David is harsh with himself and lenient with his people. Some leaders look for someone to blame and charge others with being the cause of trouble, but not David. David’s penitent and public spirit was the opposite. This could well remind us of the grace of our Lord Jesus, who took on himself our sins and was willing that God’s hand should be against himself, so that we might escape. The Shepherd was smitten that the sheep might be spared. This is the noble attitude to be followed and replicated by good Christian leaders everywhere.
2. David Instructed to Build an Altar 18-19
David was given a command to erect an altar at the place he saw the angel. Verse 18 says, “On that day Gad went to David and said to him, ‘Go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.’” This would have been a comfort to David, though it was indirect. Now David could know that upon his repeated confession, submission and humiliation, God had forgiven him. How so? Samson’s father feared that when they made a sacrifice of a goat, that having seen the angel of the Lord, he and his wife would now die. He was wrong as this brief part of that story indicates. Judges 13: 22-23 say, “‘We are doomed to die!’ he said to his wife. ‘We have seen God!’ But his wife answered, ‘If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this.’”
Based on that logic, David knew he would not be instructed to build an alter if God did not plan to receive its sacrifice. God’s encouraging us to offer to him spiritual sacrifices of praise is a comforting indication of his reconciling us to himself. This scene is typical of how God works with us; for peace is made between God and sinners by sacrifice, and not otherwise, even by Christ the great Sacrifice, of whom all the other sacrifices were only types. It is for David’s sake that the destroying angel is told, “Enough! Withdraw your hand” We know that when the judging hand of God is withdrawn we can rejoice as David certainly did. Is. 12:1 says, “In that day you will say: ‘I will praise you, Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me.”
David purchased land to build an altar from Araunah. Araunah was a Jebusite, but judging from his character, he was probably proselyted to the Jewish religion; we surmise this because, though by birth a Gentile, he was allowed to dwell among the Israelites and have a property of his own in a city. Lev 25:29-30 says, “Anyone who sells a house in a walled city retains the right of redemption a full year after its sale. During that time the seller may redeem it. If it is not redeemed before a full year has passed, the house in the walled city shall belong permanently to the buyer and the buyer’s descendants. It is not to be returned in the Jubilee.” Araunah evidently had no intention of redeeming the land for it remained in David’s possession and eventually Solomon built the temple there. It was a threshing floor, a place of labor. It was soon to become a place of worship and eventually the Jewish center for worship. David went personally to meet the owner and strike a deal. “So David went up, as the Lord had commanded through Gad” (19).
3. The Conversation Between Araunah and David 20-24
Verse 20 says, “When Araunah looked and saw the king and his officials coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground.” David’s sense of justice is seen in that, though the owner was a foreigner and he himself a king, and though he had specific instructions from God to build an altar, he would not until he had purchased and paid for it. David was just behaving as he normally did, honorably, nobly and fairly, but in his action we can see his humility, that though a king, he knew he was now a penitent on his way to make confession of sin. He would not call Araunah to come to himself nor would he send someone else on the errand, but he himself went up to the land. And for this humble overture, David lost no honor. Verses 20-21 say, “When Araunah looked and saw the king and his officials coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground. Araunah said, ‘Why has my lord the king come to his servant?’” Great men are not respected less for their humility, but more.
When Araunah understood David’s intent, he generously offered him, not only the ground on which to build his altar, but oxen and other supplies. Verses 22-23 say, “Araunah said to David, ‘Let my lord the king take whatever he wishes and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. Your Majesty, Araunah gives all this to the king.’ Araunah also said to him, ‘May the Lord your God accept you.’” Here was offered to David everything he would need to do what the Lord had told him to do, plus a nice neighborly prayer thrown in for good measure, “May the Lord your God accept you.” This narrative tells us several important even fascinating things about Araunah. (1) He had a generous spirit with a great estate. He was an ordinary subject in David’s kingdom, but he behaved like a prince; he had the spirit of a prince. (2) In fact, he was a Jebusite king. In Hebrew this verse says it quite differently than the translation of it:
הַכֹּ֗ל נָתַ֛ן אֲרַ֥וְנָה הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ לַמֶּ֑לֶךְ ס וַיֹּ֚אמֶר אֲרַ֙וְנָה֙ אֶל־הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ יִרְצֶֽךָ:
which contains the phrase “the king to the king.” Literally this means: “‘all of this, gives Araunah the king to the king’ and said Araunah to the king, ‘and Jehovah your God receive you.’” (My awkward and literal translation) (3) This “the king gave to the king” indicates that Araunah himself was also a king. Possibly he had been king of the Jebusites in that place, or was descended from their royal family. (4) Furthermore, even though David was his conqueror, because he apparently highly esteemed David, simply on the merits of David’s own noble behavior and manner, he was eager to do for him whatever he could. (5) He had an affection for Israel, and earnestly desired that the plague might be stopped and the honor of its being stopped at his threshing-floor would be worth more than money could buy. “‘All of this, gives Araunah the king to the king’ and said Araunah to the king, ‘and Jehovah your God receive you.’” (My translation)
In spite of all of that, David resolved to pay and did pay its full value, “But the king replied to Araunah, ‘No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.’ So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them” (24). Here were two generous souls well met. Araunah is very willing to give and David is determined to buy. Both had understandable, generous and noble reasons. Araunah, recognized and revered Yehovah and wanted to do something for Him; David would not offer Yehovah something which costs him nothing. David would not take advantage of the generous Jebusite’s overture. He undoubtedly thanked him for his kind proposition and gave him the fifty shelkles of silver to meet the immediate need. Later he also gave him 600 shekels of gold for the adjacent ground on which to build the temple.
If we want things always to be cheap and easy, and are never willing to pay a high price or make a sacrificial effort, or deny ourselves to accomplish a goal that is bigger and more valuable than we ourselves are, then we are living too much for ourselves and not totally sold out and dedicated to God, His Kingdom and His cause. Pity the poor person who has nothing more to live for than themselves. What use do we have for our substance, but to honor God with it? And how could it ever be better spent than for Him?
4. David built an Altar 25
Having received the direction, made the decisions, purchased the needed property and material elements for the sacrifice, the building of the altar and the offering of the proper sacrifices upon it were pretty much a mere matter of course. “David built an altar to the Lord there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the Lord answered his prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.” Wonderful sight, stimulating fragrance, crackling fire, sizzling of the fat of the sacrifice and the usual other noises that go with such an occasion, probably these all attended the sacrifice of burnt-offerings to the glory of God’s justice in the fulfillment of all that had been done. Also, present was the element of the peace-offerings made to the glory of his mercy that stopped that process. In justice the plague came and in mercy it stopped. God’s program had run its course. What a fitting event for that place on which the Lamb of God would be slain—indicating that God’s justice was satisfied and His mercy toward all of us was openly displayed.
5. The Metaphor of Altar and Throne
This is a metaphor of spiritual cardiology, a study of the spiritual heart in which we find two chambers. One chamber contains a throne; it is the throne room. The other room is a place for presenting sacrifices; what is on the altar there belongs to the Lord to whom it was presented. It is in the altar room.
There is only one throne in the throne room; it is the center of decision and authority. If you are on the throne, you make the decisions. You decide and you act accordingly. God is not on the throne because you are. Only when God is on the throne does He make the decisions and has all authority.
If, however, you are on the alter (not the throne) you have given yourself as an offering to the Lord and He is on the throne. Then He makes the decisions and gives the directives and you obey. You are not on the throne; you are on the altar; God is King and you are the sacrifice. You are on the altar because you have given yourself to God as a living sacrifice. Rom 12:1 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
You can take everything you have with you when you place yourself on the altar; that is to say you can not only give Him yourself, but also your time, talent, money, skills, resources, heart, dreams, visions, hopes, desires and affection—everything! David built an altar for the Lord at the threshing floor he had purchased from Araunah. You and I need to either build an altar too or place ourselves on the altar that is already in our hearts.
Let’s remember where we are when we talk to the Lord. If we are on the altar, we say things like, “Yes, Lord” and “Okay, Jesus I will do that, go there, pray this or that and do this or that according to what you say.” At the altar in our hearts, we and Jesus can speak to each other—sharing our deepest feelings—but we must remember where we are. We are not on the throne; we are on the alter. And the more of ourselves and what we think is ours that we place there, the happier and better Christian leaders we will be. As a child I remember often singing “Is Your all on the Altar?” by Elisha A Hoffman:
You have longed for sweet peace, And for faith to increase,
And have earnestly, fervently prayed;
But you cannot have rest, Or be perfectly blest, Until all on the altar is laid.
Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid? Your heart does the Spirit control?
You can only be blest, And have peace and sweet rest,
As you yield Him your body and soul.
Would you walk with the Lord, In the light of His Word,
And have peace and contentment alway?
You must do His sweet will, To be free from all ill, On the altar your all you must lay.
Oh, we never can know What the Lord will bestow
Of the blessings for which we have prayed,
Till our body and soul He does fully control, And our all on the altar is laid.
Who can tell all the love He will send from above,
And how happy our hearts will be made;
Of the fellowship sweet We shall share at His feet, When our all on the altar is laid.
Friend, you may be a leader, even a good leader, but you will never reach your potential of becoming the best possible leader for you to ever become unless, in your heart, Jesus is on the throne and you are on the altar.