Search Term Friday: The Threshing Floor of Araunah

Every week I get people coming to the blog searching for "the threshing floor of araunah."

That's a pretty obscure topic, but it links to a post I wrote last year about a bible lesson I taught out at the prison.

Those reflections are of theological interest as it's an example of using unexpected resources from the Old Testament to address issues regarding God's nature, specifically how God's nature is described and used in doctrines like penal substitutionary atonement or hell being eternal conscious torment: 

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 an 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. A destroying angel bringing the plague then begins to move through Israel.

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 eventually erected:
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 come 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 brought about by sacrifice. Mercy was found in the heart of a God who repents and relents. Mercy was found in a God who says "Enough!" to punishment, without sacrifices or blood.

Lessons learned here? A few I think.

The sacrifices associated with 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.

To be sure, sacrifice is important. But the importance of sacrifice is symbolic rather than causal. That's the point too many Christians have missed. Sacrifice is symbolic rather than causal.

Sacrifice has no casual potency in the economy of God. Sacrifices bring about absolutely nothing.

Mercy is not caused or produced by sacrifice.

Mercy is only found in the heart and freedom of God.

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11 thoughts on “Search Term Friday: The Threshing Floor of Araunah ”

  1. I'm thinking this may be a way to read Hebrews 9? The idea that "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" is not that bloodshed somehow causes a mechanism of forgiveness to get set in motion, but that we don't perceive the forgiveness that's already taken place without the symbolic act of bloodshed.


  2. Good thoughts on Hebrews 9. Could that also be what "Forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us", means? Acts of "forgiveness", those that truly cost us our pride and ego, are sacrificial acts. They move self out of the way so that the mercy and forgiveness of God has room to live and be experienced. By the way, I appreciate how Richard's post, as I read it, sends the message that though the "symbolic" procures nothing, it is still a divine power for and within God's children.

  3. Amen. There are many biblical passages where this is made clear, but I hadn't noticed this one before. Thankyou for highlighting it!

  4. Interesting that this should be a popular search term for you. Apart from direct searches for my name or blog, 'threshing floor' is one of the two search expressions that most commonly leads to my blog (to this post in particular).

  5. That's interesting. I wonder why that is? It's likely not a popular search term, but so narrow and nichey that posts on the subject get identified by Google.

  6. That's my suspicion. I doubt that many people know what a threshing floor is, but they appear on several occasions in Scripture.

  7. True that! Then again, there are a lot of folks who are NOT willing to let the bible be difficult in that way. I think this might open up a door for them that might otherwise be closed.

  8. It never made sense to me that God gets credit for being merciful for stopping mayhem that HE caused. He gets offended (for unknown reasons), he causes death and destruction and when he stops, he gets praised for his grace. Isn't there something wrong with this line of reasoning? When I was in school, whenever we had worship in church, I would think to myself, why does God require that we worship him. Is he insecure? Egotistical? It's like government/business leaders to surrounds himself/herself with sycophants. They are doing so out of fear, not love.

  9. This is an interesting take on a fascinating text (you seem to be quoting the LXX - three years of famine - vs. seven years in the Masoretic; but it's then three months and three days). It seems to me there's a bit more to this in the sacrificial system here. It does appear in the language of the LXX that, even though the statement of the Lord's causing the angel to cease comes first, in the next verse David cries out to God for mercy while the angel is still engaged: "David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel smiting the people ..." and sought the punishment to be on him, not on the people.

    The language appears to me to be open to (and even hints at) the idea that the Lord relented upon David's cry for mercy and to take the punishment / mayhem on himself because he was the one who sinned. This is not an uncommon technique in many narratives in scripture - to put things out of order a bit (Perhaps the point is that while calling out to God as David does is important, essential even - "whosoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" - the more important part is God's choice to show mercy).

    But, then, it is also interesting that God does not put the punishment upon David's house (not in this case) but instructs David to erect the altar instead. Which does seem to indicate the sacrifice becomes something of a substitute (and there seems to be a loose connection here with "God providing the lamb" as a substitute for the sacrifice in Gen. 22 on the same place, essentially). I'm not as big on the substitutionary atonement symbol as much as the Christus Victor - but even there there are still substitutionary concepts - Jesus takes the consequences of sin and evil on himself and wins the victory ultimately.

  10. ... Killing 70,000 people who had nothing to do with the census and then deciding "Nah, that's enough" is mercy?

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