And David built there an altar unto the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD was intreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel.
The angel of the Lord was marching across the land of Israel with the sword of judgment in his hand spreading pestilence and death wherever it went. In one day no fewer than 70,000 had died, and there were yet two days to go. It was the result of the sins of Israel and of its king: of Israel because it had so often rebelled against the anointed of the Lord, and of its king because David in his pride had thought to number his people so that he might boast of his earthly strength. All across the land the angel proceeded until at last it stood with its sword extended over the very walls of Jerusalem itself. It was there that David’s eyes were opened so that he also saw the angel with its sword extended over the city. Within him the heart of the king smote him heavily so that he fell to the ground with all of the elders of the people about him, and he cried out in prayer, “Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered? even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed; but as for these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, O LORD my God, be on me, and on my father’s house; but not on thy people, that they should be plagued.” It was the cry of a faithful shepherd for his sheep, and the Lord heard him. That same hour the plague was stayed.
Such is the judgment of God, however, that it could not be merely ignored, canceled out, or neglected. Sin had been committed and righteousness had decreed that it had to be expiated. For the moment it was being held in abeyance, but the angel still continued to hover there between heaven and earth over the crest of Mt. Moriah with his sword extended over the city, a grim warning that satisfaction was yet to be made.
Actually the place over which the angel of judgment hovered was of considerable significance. It was Mt. Moriah, the very mountain which many ages before, Abraham had climbed with Isaac his son in order to offer him as a sacrifice in obedience to the command of God. Then, too, when the moment of ultimate judgment had seemed to arrive, God had had mercy upon the children of His covenant and had intervened. He had provided a ram caught in the thicket to take Isaac’s place in symbolic atonement. It foreshadowed that ultimate atonement which someday would be made in that same city, when God’s own Son would truly take away the guilt of all of His people.
Now what was about to take place was another chapter in that same symbolic revelation. To David God sent His prophet, Gad, to instruct him as to the substitution that might be made for the sake of the preservation of the people. Mt. Moriah was not yet a part of the royal city. Located just outside of the walls of the city, it was the possession of one of the Jebusites that still resided in the district, a man named Ornan. Upon the crest of the hill he had located his threshing floor where it could catch the winds that did not blow within the valley. Gad’s directions to David were that he should go and offer a sacrifice to the Lord there within that threshing floor.
A more solemn procession than that which made its way out of the old city of Jerusalem, down through the valley and up to the crest of Mt. Moriah can hardly be imagined. The prime figure in the procession, of course, was the king himself, but dressed not as a king, he was clothed in crude sackcloth with the ashes of mourning upon his head. It was no mere form. There before their very eyes hovered the angel of the Lord with that terrible sword of judgment in his hand. It was a terrifying thing even to look upon the angel, much less to actually make one’s way closer and closer to the place over which it stood. However, there was nothing else to be done. The survival of the nation depended upon the courage and faithfulness of the king and his elders. Only they could make the sacrifice needed to pay for the sins which they had committed. Of this at that moment there could be no serious doubt.
Ornan, or Araunah, the Jebusite had been working at his threshing floor at the time that the angel appeared and began to hover above it. The man himself is for us an interesting figure. After all, the Jebusites were one of Israel’s most recent enemies. It was from them that David had had to capture Jerusalem at the beginning of his reign. And yet here was one of the men of that tribe living and allowed to live upon one of the prime peaks overlooking what had become Israel’s capital city. The indication is that Israel was not as completely as closed a society as we might think, at least, not when measured by earthly standards. It is true, of course, the Scripture warned the people of God continually against intermingling with the heathen nations; and yet there are repeated instances in Scripture of non-Israelites who lived openly within the nation and with apparent approval also of God. The indication is that already in Old Testament times the distinction which God wished his people to make was much more a spiritual distinction than generic. One was a heathen not just by reason of his birth but because of his spiritual life and convictions. Those who were of heathen birth but who feared and bowed before the God of Israel might freely be received within the nation.
Surely no one could have conducted himself more properly than did Ornan under the most demanding circumstances which suddenly descended upon him: To begin with there was the reality of the pestilence. sweeping across the land which no one could ignore for its awful terribleness. But Ornan had gone quietly and patiently about his work, nonetheless. And then there came that appearance of the angel of the Lord to stretch out his sword in judgment over the city Jerusalem. But the terrifying thing was that the angel stood between heaven and earth directly over his threshing floor. Truly, here was sufficient cause to turn anyone to flee in utter terror as fast as he possibly could. But not Ornan. Although he was a Jebusite, and although he did not dare to presume to claim Israel’s God for his own, nevertheless he recognized and reverenced Israel’s God sufficiently to realize that there was no fleeing from him. In humble patience he merely bowed and waited to see what the meaning of this might be.
It was not long, either, before it became apparent to him just as he had expected. As he looked from his advantage point on the peak of the hill, he saw the royal but solemn procession making its way from the city directly to the place where he was standing. Neither did the man fail to give proper recognition when the king himself left the company of people and approached him directly. As he bowed the king spoke, “Grant me the place of this threshing floor, that I may build an altar therein unto the LORD: thou shalt grant it me for the full price: that the plague be stayed from the people.”
The true nature of Ornan’s spiritual depths came out fully in his answer. In response to the king, he answered, “Take it to thee, and let my lord the king do that which is good in his eyes: lo, I give thee the oxen also for burnt offerings, and the threshing instruments for wood, and the wheat for the meat offering; I give it all.” Not only did the man have no desire whatsoever to make himself rich because of the extremity of the situation, but he proved himself to be a man who had used his days of living among the Israelites to examine and become familiar with the proper worship of Israel’s God so that he was able to provide for the every requirement of His proper service. This to him was the opportunity and privilege of his life. Without a moment’s hesitation he was willing to give to it all that he possessed, his property, his beasts of burden, the very tools and instruments with which he made his living. It mattered not, as long as they could be given to the worship of the God in whom he believed and it would serve the preservation of Jehovah’s covenant people. Here was a dedication and love such as surely could not have been surpassed by anyone within that nation. In name Ornan was a heathen, but in heart he was a truest worshipper of Jehovah.
For David, however, it was quite impossible for him to accept the generosity of Ornan. He was the one who had been commanded to present an offering unto the Lord, and surely he could do no less than to make such an offering from that which he himself possessed. So he explained to Ornan, “Nay; but I will verily buy it for the full price: for I will not take that which is thine for the LORD, nor offer burnt offerings without cost.”
Ornan immediately saw also the propriety of this, and without further debate he set the price of six hundred shekels of gold, which David paid.
Was there ever a more dedicated and concerned group of worshippers gathered about an altar than those who stood there on the threshing floor of Ornan? Quickly but properly the altar was built and the oxen which so shortly before had been laboring for man in the threshing of wheat now were required to sacrifice even their blood. For those who engaged in the work there could be no question as to its importance, for always before their eyes there was that angel of judgment holding forth his sword directly over their heads. The climax came, however, when the sacrifice was made fully ready for offering, for then no fire was needed. It fell by itself directly from heaven consuming the sacrifice completely.
It remained, however, for the sacrifice to be completed, for the most wonderful thing of all to transpire. While the eyes of the worshippers watched, the sword of the angel was lowered and placed into its sheath before the appearance of it disappeared, never to be seen again—not at least until many, many years later when once again judgment should fall on a hill immediately outside of the walls of that same city. Only that time it would be even more wonderfully terrible than this. Here the judgment was, as it were, postponed to a later day; there it would be finally taken up and paid for to the finish. In fact, that would be the final fulfillment of that which the burning oxen so dimly reflected to the eyes of David.
Neither was the true importance of that moment lost to the eyes of the repentant king. In fact, it was to his eyes beyond question the most significant revelation of all his earthly experience. It was not finally the great and wonderful victories which God had given him over others; it was not the great size to which his kingdom was extended and the wealth which had been brought to him by it. To David the wonder of his life; was that here, when he and his people deserved to perish, their God Jehovah had had mercy and received; the sacrifice on Ornan’s floor in place of the life of the nation. To see that truth so amazingly set forth before his eyes was the closest that he ever came to beholding the true wonder of His God and His glory. From that day forth David’s life was dedicated to but one thing: gathering together proper and sufficient materials that upon that very spot a temple might be raised in recognition of Jehovah’s gracious presence among his people, if not by his own hands, at least by those of his children.