1 Chronicles 18-21: David’s Military

Original Publication Date
February 26, 2017
Oct 14, 2023 1:08 AM
1 ChroniclesChapter StudyAmmonSyriaPhilistineDavid
Bible References
1 Chronicles 18-21
Table of Contents
This page was originally posted on my Blogger version of the blog on February 26, 2017 The content below has a few minor tweaks for clarity, and additional references, and some updated information.


David defeats many great armies during his time, including the Philistines, the Moabites, Ammonites, and Syrians. A major shift in Israel's relationship with God can be seen by viewing the outcome of David's battles with these nations versus the outcomes just before the exile. During David's reign the Syrians became servants of Israel, but just before the exile, Israel is forced to serve Syria. Their military strength is directly correlated to their faith in God. Similarly, our success—note, what we consider success may not necessarily the same as what God does—is directly correlated to our relation with God.


When David wins battles, he also acquires spoils of war. The spoils he acquires, particularly the brass, are stored and put aside for the Temple. David may not have been able to build the Temple but he was still in a position to make sure the necessary preparations were made so someone else could build the Temple.

Ammonite/Syrian War

The information given on the war between Israel and Ammon, which later includes Syria, is given in both 1 Chronicles 19 and 2 Samuel 10.

When the Ammonites' king dies, his son Hanun takes over. David had been friends with the previous king, so he sent men to comfort the newly crowned king Hanun. However, the people of Ammon were suspicious of David and treated the men he sent disgracefully instead. They convinced Hanun that these men were actually spies. Naturally when these men returned, David was angry with the Ammonites. Knowing that this would cause war, the Ammonites hired 32,000 chariots from Syria.

David's captain, Joab, is forced to fight a two front battle. Joab takes men with him to fight the Syrians and sends men with his brother, Abishai, to fight the Ammonites. Israel defeats the Syrians so thoroughly that the Syrians become servants of Israel and refuse to help Ammon anymore. Ammon does not give up so easily, however; they take a year to regroup and reinitiate the war. David does not attend the battle, but Joab defeats them and destroys the city of Rabbah. The crown of the Ammonite king, which was very valuable, is taken by David.

Philistine War

The Israelites also battle with the giants of the Philistines. The Philistines were known for their giants, like Goliath. The summary of the Israelites' victory over these giants is given in 2 Samuel 21 and 1 Chronicles 20. This time we learn that the brother of Goliath, killed by Elhanan, was named Lahmi. David's brother, Jonathan, kills a giant who has 6 fingers and 6 toes on each hand and foot. A third giant named Sippai was killed by Sibbechai.

Controversial Census

1 Chronicles 21 brings us back to the issue discussed in the post on 2 Samuel 24, which contains the bulk of the discussion on the "contradictions" found in this chapter, but I'll touch on it here briefly. There are 2 major conflicts in the retelling of David's illegal census: who prompted him to number the people of Israel and how many men were found.

1 Chronicles presents us with totals for Israel and Judah instead of by tribe. This is likely because the kingdom had already split by the time the Chronicler wrote this passage. At that point, tribal totals would have been less important.

Who Authorized the Census?

Was it God or was it Satan that orchestrated the census? 2 Samuel 24:1 says God told him to do it, but 1 Chronicles 21:1 says Satan was behind the census. This is largely considered a contradiction by non-believers, but it actually makes sense… Satan can only do what God allows—remember he had to ask permission to torture Job. In 2 Samuel 24:1 we see that God was angry with Israel and set against them. Thus, in anger, God allowed Satan to tempt David into carrying out an improper census.

Moreover, God had already outlined how censuses were to be carried out during Moses' time and 2 examples are given to us in Numbers. There were clearly times when God called on his people to number all those eligible for war and there were clear protocols for carrying out such a census. David didn't follow these protocols though, and Satan would have been the one to convince him to do it his way instead of God's. Thus, even if God had required David to number the people, Satan would have been the one to convince David to do so contrarily to God's way.

How Many Israelites?

According to 1 Chronicles 21, David determines that there were 1,100,000 people in Israel and 470,000 men in Judah. Benjamin and Levi are not included in these numbers. 2 Samuel records a different set of numbers: 800,000 men from Israel and 500,000 men from Judah.

A major difference in the text is the wording. 2 Samuel 24 specifies that the men from Israel were "valiant men" there were likely men in the army that were not considered valiant. These men would have been included in the general total given in 1 Chronicles 21, hence the 300,000 extra men. The men of Judah are described as swordsmen in 1 Chronicles, but this distinction is not made in 2 Samuel. Thus, it is possible that the extra 30,000 were military personnel who did not use swords. A full discussion of this is found in the post on 2 Samuel 24.

David's Reaction

David quickly realizes that he has sinned and rushes to repent. When he repents, God gives him a choice for 1 of 3 punishments. David states that he does not want his shame to come on him by the hands of a man and opts for direct punishment from God instead. God sends pestilence upon Israel which kills 70,000 men.

David begs for mercy from God when he sees an angel with his sword drawn against Jerusalem. The angel appears at Ornan's threshing floor, the future home of the Temple. David asks God to transfer the punishment to himself since it is he who ordered the census. This is the sign of a true leader; he is willing to take the fall for his mistakes rather than have the nation be punished unjustly.

Ornan also sees the angel; perhaps this is why he was so willing to give the land to David. David didn't want a free handout, though; he insisted that Ornan be compensated. Giving to the Lord something that has been given to you is kind of like re-gifting in our world today.[1] Giving something to God that you didn't work for is meaningless.

References and Footnotes

  1. I say kind of because everything has been given to use by God, technically.

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