God is angry at the people, and His reaction was to tell David to count the people. I’m not quite sure why one is a result of the other, but it’s clear throughout Tanakh that numbering the people is a huge deal for some reason. Regardless of the provocation, David complies, and sends Joab to take a census of the people. “And Joab said to the king, ‘May the Lord your God add to the people a hundredfold of whatsoever they may be, and the eyes of my lord, the king may see it; but my lord the king, why does he desire such a thing (Samuel II 24:3)?'” Joab, like me, clearly doesn’t get why he’s been given this task. But he goes along with it, and goes out to count the people.
We hear about Joab’s travels for a while. It takes him months to complete his task. “And Joab presented the sum of the number of the people to the king; And Israel consisted of eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men (Samuel II 24:9).” These are formidable numbers, showing that the Israelites were a strong fighting force. They were clearly a power within the region under the reign of David.
Things don’t go well though. David deeply regrets numbering the people, and says that he sinned before God in doing so. Again, I don’t know why. Is numbering hubris? Is it something that people aren’t supposed to know? Honestly, it just seems like a practical measure to take, so I have no idea why it’s so upsetting. David is freaking out though, and he goes to a prophet to intercede with God. David is given three choices. He can choose a famine, a pestilence, or war. He decides to take the punishment of three days of pestilence in the land. “So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning until the appointed time; And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba seventy thousand men (Samuel II 24:15).” I guess the census is no longer relevant, because the people have definitely fallen in number since Joab’s count.
The angel that has brought the pestilence gets a little overzealous. He goes to destroy Jerusalem, but God regrets it. In order to end the chaos, David is instructed to build a new altar to God in Jerusalem – specifically, in the threshing floor of Aravnah the Jebusite. So David goes to this guy Aravnah, and he gives him his property. Well, he tries, but David insists on paying for it, so that no one will be able to say that he built his altar on a place that he got for nothing. So David builds an altar, and the plague leaves Israel.
With this, the books of Samuel are over. It’s always exciting to start a new part of Tanakh, and I have to savor these small achievements, because in a few months the books will each get super long and they won’t come along as regularly. I’m excited to get up to the stories of Solomon, and to see how they measure up to the versions that I learned growing up. Other than that, I’m not sure what exactly awaits in the two books of Kings, but I’m eager to find out. 642 chapters to go!