Lessons Learned at the Threshing Floor of Araunah

In the prison bible study I lead we were going through 2 Samuel, which mainly recounts the reign of King David.

The book of 2 Samuel ends with what many scholars call "appendices," bits of poetry and narrative that are tacked on to the end of the book. These appendices are found in 2 Samuel 21-24.

The last story from the appendices, found in Chapter 24, recounts the census David undertakes and God's judgment upon him for doing so. Explanations vary as to why God was angered by the census. For whatever reason, the census was taken as act of hubris by the king, a usurping of God's prerogatives as the True King of Israel.

David realizes his sin and confesses. God, through the prophet of Gad, gives David a choice of punishments: three years of famine, three years of being chased by enemies, or three years of plague. David chooses the plague. And so the destroying angel begins to work, killing 70,000 people.

But then something interesting happens. As the destroying angel approaches Jerusalem God changes his mind and says "Enough!":
2 Samuel 24.16
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.
David sees the angel stopped at the threshing floor of Araunah and asks for God to stop the plague. David then buys the threshing floor, builds an altar on the spot, and offers sacrifices to God.

But what I find interesting in the narrative is that God already stopped, before David's request and his sacrifices. Various translations of verse 16 read that God "relented," "repented," "changed his mind," and "felt sorry." The destruction stopped because something happened in the heart of God prior to any human appeal or sacrifice.

I think this is interesting because of why this story is included as an appendix to 2 Samuel. Specifically, this story was included in the book to explain why the temple was built where it was built. The threshing floor of Araunah was on Mount Moriah--the Temple Mount--where the temple was built:
2 Chronicles 3.1
Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David. 
I think this is interesting as from this point forward the temple becomes the location of sacrifice in ancient Israel. You would come to the temple to offer sacrifices so that God would forgive your sins.  And because of those rituals you might be lead to believe that God needs or requires these sacrifices in order to show and extend mercy.

And yet, in the primordial account of the threshing floor of Araunah we note that mercy wasn't triggered or effected by sacrifice. Mercy was found in the heart of a God who repents, relents and changes his mind. Mercy was found in a God who says "Enough!" to punishment, without sacrifices or blood.

Lessons learned here? A few I think.

The sacrifices at the temple might lead us to draw the wrong conclusions about God's mercy and the necessity of sacrifice. As seen in 2 Samuel 24, the story of the origins of the temple, God doesn't need sacrifice to show mercy. And God can stop punishment whenever God wants.

Mercy is found in the heart and freedom of God.

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17 thoughts on “Lessons Learned at the Threshing Floor of Araunah”

  1. The other day, I was reading from Exodus chapter 30:

    Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them...The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives...'

    There seems to be a connection in God's mind between counting, impartiality, making payment and making atonement.. And something about including everyone.

    Maybe sometimes even men and women after God's own heart can muscle in on the process of atonement, setting terms and conditions on God's mercy. It doesn't appear to be a practice God approves.

  2. I think it is a game changer. Behind a lot of bad theology is this notion that God requires or needs this or that. And that if this or that (like, say, a blood sacrifice) isn't done then God's hands are tied, God can't forgive or save or whatever. I can't imagine a more idolatrous notion than that, yet the vast majority of Christians believe something just like this when it comes to God.

  3. I appreciate your last sentence very much. But what concerns me is that we can find many Christians in this country who would agree with you, yet, in their thinking, keep the mercy of God in a "religious" context. As long as they can keep the mercy of God as a tool for erasing "sins", while limiting their acceptance of others in matters of race, class, religion, etc, they can still feel overcome by that "old time religion".

    Mercy is genuine when it offers and extends wholeness, when it embraces, not the "pending" Christian, but the entire human being. Indeed, when we embrace another we embrace the mercy that is already there, and the counting ceases.

  4. http://www.thepoachedegg.net/the-poached-egg/2010/09/bono-interview-grace-over-karma.html

    The above link is to the whole interview by Bono. Here is one part:

    “Assayas: What about the God of the Old Testament? He wasn't so "peace and love"?

    Bono: There's nothing hippie about my picture of Christ. The Gospels paint a picture of a very demanding, sometimes divisive love, but love it is. I accept the Old Testament as more of an action movie: blood, car chases, evacuations, a lot of special effects, seas dividing, mass murder, adultery. The children of God are running amok, wayward. Maybe that's why they're so relatable. But the way we would see it, those of us who are trying to figure out our Christian conundrum, is that the God of the Old Testament is like the journey from stern father to friend. When you're a child, you need clear directions and some strict rules. But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross.”

    I’ll be honest, I like Bono OK, and I will let pass his portrayal of Jews as adolescent, psychopathic killers (look up the definition of “amok”). I also respect your point of view here Dr. Beck, but I find both of y’alls explanation about this here OT God a bit...problematic. I really like that ending though, “Mercy is found in the heart and freedom of God,” amen. But those dead 70,000 innocent Hebrews kinda got glossed over a bit too quickly for me to just tack a smiley-face emoticon on the end. Still, part of the fault must be assigned to God. If your going to send killer-angels to murder thousands of innocent children one day, and then lecture folks about ‘loving your enemies’ the next, I reckon some confusion aught to be expected. Obliged.

  5. I agree with you Daniel, there's still a whole lot of violence and anger in the God of the OT. That needs to be honestly addressed.

  6. And I return your appreciation of a good last line, 3am Mystic! I think that was where I was going - that we see in the human exercise of census an expression of control and political machination, in the divine exercise of census a foreshadowing of embrace and inclusion.

  7. Daniel, I share your concerns about the wrath, and I'd like to build on your critique of Bono's approach here. The Hebrew Scriptures are constantly signaling to us about grace, even through the stories of wrath. What better summary image of this could there be than God conquering wrath by dying on a Roman cross, which sums up and focuses us on the appropriate aspects of the stories of Isaac and the temple's founding? Still, if we follow the N.T. God (by which I mean N.T. Wright's reading of the gospels), Jesus was certainly a prophet of wrath, and he viewed the destruction of the 2nd temple in 70 AD, which involved the death of countless people, as God's judgment. On one level, this is an even more brutal and troubling story than the plague killing the 70,000. Still,it is infinitely less brutal than the standard theology of hell, as a state of eternal conscious torment, that has become so common among evangelical Christians. So if this unbearable tension between grace and wrath is a problem for the Hebrew Scriptures, I think it is even more of a problem for Christians and the New Testament. If the Church is the new Israel, it is it, warts and all, turned up to 11. After 2000 years, and especially after the Holocaust, I think it is important to be very careful about criticizing the Jewish scriptures as if their depiction of God is wrathful, and as if the NT depiction of God does not have the same enormous tension between wrath and grace. We have a couple of millennia of logs in our eyes that we should start to remove, if we want to see the situation clearly. When we see it clearly, I don't think we criticize the "OT God" for being fundamentally different than the "NT God." Instead, I think we repent and beg for grace and mercy for the Church, and for the whole world, and then become agents of grace and mercy in the world, in practical ways.

  8. Thanks Dan, “begging for grace and mercy” is pretty much where I’m at these days. I don’t think there is any way to reconcile all the conflicting and disparate stories, metaphors, and images of God in the bible, church tradition, and testimonies of believers, and I’m not sure there’s much point in even trying. I recently wrote a bit comparing the experiences of God by Simone Weil, Therese of Lisieux, Padre Pio, Baron von Lehndorff, the Sufi poet hafiz, and the form of christianity practiced by the Robertson family on the reality TV show “Show Dynasty.” Trying to construct some sort of coherent, systematic theology that can encompass all of those variant and even contradictory theologies would only be stitching together some sort of Franken-Jesus (which is pretty much what we have here in the USA as it is). Perhaps it’s best to just weep with those who weep and surrender to the the ‘play of differences‘ among what are called believers. Blessings and obliged.

  9. It's funny you should choose this particular passage of the OT. I'm of the view that God, through the faith of Christ, as forgiven all people, even those who don't believe or have not repented or are living in open rebellion. I was debating a pastor friend in Facebook and pointing out scriptures where Jesus heals and forgives people who have NOT repented in any traditional sense. This scripture sort of reinforces my view that it even has precedent in the OT. Sacrifice was never required as a mechanism for forgiveness or mercy from God.

  10. My response is probably universalistic, pluralistic, and heretical. But . . . without getting into historocity, or the not always contiguous narrative of the the Old Testament, I see the overriding theme of "Israel" as "one who struggles/wrestles with God." The narrative being not so much about God as separate from people, but God as perceived by people. People who mostly don't understand God. People who see God as brutal, punishing, and requiring of violent sacrifice. This is why I find a fundamental problem with the Bible as "inerrant." Because it asserts that the people writing down the stories have to capability to be free of error. And that's obviously not the case.

    So with all of this in mind, God has no other option but to appear in human form. And say, "Whoever has ears better listen!" And so God as man explains to the people that there sins are forgiven. And God as man gives the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, and two simple commandments. And a whole bunch of people are transformed. But a whole bunch of other people are not. Because this is not the God they expected.

    And I still think that's the case. The Jesus of the Gospels is still not God as expected. Otherwise, people wouldn't be arguing for public displays of the Ten Commandments; they'd be arguing for public displays of the Sermon on the Mount. And people wouldn't be giving millions of dollars to Joel Osteen; they'd be standing street corners listening to Daniel Berrigan.

    “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.” - Meister Eckhart

  11. I'm not so sure stopping His wrath and forgiveness of all Sin is the same thing. I think of the verse without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. God often forgave sins but still kept the consequence ex David/ Bathsheba or I'm sure He could not forgive the sin but stop the judgement. Jesus dying on the cross did much more than stop a judgement for sin upon us but made us New creatures in Christ, the temple of the living God, to see the kingdom of Heaven one must be born again John 3:3. Not just sins dealt with but our sin nature our propensity to sin changes. Anyway just my take, God bless!~

  12. "Sacrifice and burnt offering, I did not desire"

    Dude you are right on. I agree with you. Christ came to redeem all of creation.... those that believe in him and those that do not.

  13. I really like your take on this. I have been considering writing a blog on this passage and Solomon's choice of temple site too so was interested to read what had already been written. I can't gloss over the 70000, I do like one of the commenters reference to the price that was supposed to be paid for a census as atonement. I hadn't twigged this was the same place as Isaac's near sacrifice so again thanks for that. Lots to study and ponder!

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