1 Chronicles 21.
It is blessed to know that when Satan stands up against Israel, against Job, or against anyone else, he will certainly end by defeating his own object, and by causing the grace of God to abound through His blessed intervention. Such was the case in 1 Chronicles 21, where the arch-enemy instigated David to number the people, and thus to commit the gross sin of independent action, of counting upon physical strength rather than upon the Lord.
We have sometimes seen analogous presumption, attended always by fatal consequences, when the number and apparent flourishing state of Christians have been boasted of. Even Joab (who was a shrewd man, and could apprehend clearly the outward interests of Israel) endeavoured to dissuade David from this step; but, alas! a worse person than Joab had got possession of David's mind for the moment, and the numbering took place.
The king, however, acted rightly in falling into the hand of Jehovah; and the prompt judgment that fell on the people was checked by the Lord's mercy. We seem to see David in his anxiety, and the terrible form of the angel with the sword stretched out over Jerusalem. There was a pause in the progress of God's wrath, and the king seemed at once to understand that the moment had come for supplication. With all his failures, David had the heart of a shepherd of Israel, and his prayer is very touching: let the sword's point be turned towards him and his father's house, but averted from the poor sheep of the holy city.
And now comes the wonderful part of the narrative. The true confession is accepted, and the command given to go up and erect an altar to Jehovah in the threshing-floor of Ornan, the Jebusite.
This altar now forms our subject, and we should study its place and import. It became the very site of the centre of God's house; for Solomon, when he built the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, began there, where the Lord had appeared to David, his father, in the threshing-floor of Ornan, the Jebusite.
The ground had to be bought at full price; and I have no doubt that the great sum mentioned in Chronicles, instead of clashing with the account given in 2 Samuel, is a beautiful figure of that grace which could give all. The ground was given, indeed, by Ornan, but may we not see, in the immense price paid for the standing ground of the altar, a shadow of the infinite price paid that justice might be satisfied, and an immutable basis be established for worship and blessing? The first grand act of the returned remnant from Babylon, was to get the altar upon its bases. (Ezra 3:3.) Six hundred shekels of gold may seem a heavy price; but burnt offerings are not to be offered for nothing. What a question, too, might we ask in passing: "How much did it cost to get our altar into its right place before God?"
Then come two immense facts. First of all, the burnt-offerings and peace-offerings are fully accepted by Jehovah, who answers by fire from heaven; and secondly, the sword of the minister of justice is sheathed. (Verses 26, 27.)
Surely now we are come unto Mount Zion. We can stand with sure feet upon the threshing-floor of Ornan, which is now become a solid platform of grace. Approving fire from heaven consumes the offerings, and all judicial terrors are at an end. The terrible symbolic sword has disappeared, put up into its sheath, and all is joy and happy worship on the threshing-floor of Ornan. What a change from the 20th verse, where those who were on that very floor hid themselves in fear before the messenger of death
But this is not all; David sacrificed there. (verse 28.) It is in this very spot that relationship is renewed between Jehovah and Israel. The house of the Lord should be built there; that house that should be "exceeding magnifical," of fame and glory throughout all countries. Sovereign grace had acted, had chosen Mount Zion (see Psalm 78), but this grace had been made good through righteousness, through the full satisfaction of all God's dues; and in the very spot where the enemy would have delighted to see the carnage of God's people, the terrible glaive was sheathed, and access opened to Jehovah, in His own courts, in perfect blessing.
The high place in Gibeon, where the tabernacle of the Lord was, must now disappear. Fear was still connected with the tabernacle (see verses 29, 30); and may we not see here the passing away of that which was a legal institution, to make way for that full grace which should establish the altar of burnt-offering on a divine and permanent basis? David says (1 Chronicles 22:1): "This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of the burnt offering for Israel."
It becomes the very centre of the work for the construction of Jehovah's house (see the following verses); and here we may stop, only to praise Him, who could reveal Himself in the magnificence of grace.
Happy are they who have known the true value of the threshing-floor of Ornan, the Jebusite! E. L. Bevir.