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Our Young Folk's Josephus by  William Shepard
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GOD SENDS A PESTILENCE UPON THE ISRAELITES

WHEN peace had been established over all his dominions, King David was anxious to know how many people he ruled over. Therefore he told Joab to go out and number the [166] people. Joab took with him the heads of the tribes and the scribes, and went over the country of the Israelites and inquired at every household. At the end of nine months and twenty days he returned to the king, and told him that he had numbered all the tribes except those of Levi and of Benjamin, and there were among them one million three hundred thousand men who were able to bear arms and go to war.

There was a law given to Moses, that if the multitude were numbered, a half-shekel should be paid to God for every head. David did not comply with this law, and the prophet came and told him that God was angry with him. David felt that he had sinned, and he prostrated himself before God and begged Him to be merciful and to forgive him. But God sent Nathan the prophet to tell him that He intended to punish him and his people for their crime. And He said he might choose which of three punishments he would prefer:

"Would he have a famine come upon the country for seven years? Or would he have his enemies conquer and rule over the land for three months? Or would he have three days of pestilence among the people?"

David was in great trouble to know which he should choose, but he considered within himself, and answered Nathan that it was better to fall into the hands of God than into those of his enemies. He meant that he chose the three days of pestilence.

So God sent an angel that brought a great pestilence down upon the children of Israel, and in one morning seventy thousand of them had died. David had put on sackcloth, and he lay on the ground praying to God and begging that the pestilence might now cease, and that He would be satisfied with those that had already perished. Looking up into the air, he saw the angel floating over Jerusalem with his sword drawn. Then David prayed the Lord to punish him and spare his people.

[167] God heard his prayers, and caused the pestilence to cease. And He sent a prophet named Gad, who commanded David to go up at once to the threshing-floor of a man named Araunah, and build an alter there, and offer sacrifices.

Araunah lived on a hill named Moriah, which was within the city of Jerusalem. He was threshing his wheat when David and his rulers appeared before him. And he ran to the king and bowed, and said,-

"Wherefore is my lord come to his servant?"

David said that he had come to buy of him his threshing floor, that he might build an altar there and offer sacrifices to God.

Then Araunah said he would let him have the threshing-floor as a gift, and he would also give him his oxen for a burnt-offering. But David thanked him, and said that he desired to pay for everything, as it was not just to offer a sacrifice that cost nothing. So he bought the threshing-floor for fifty shekels, and offered sacrifices, and God was pacified and became gracious again. Now this was the same place where Abraham had formerly sacrificed a ram instead of his son Isaac. And when David saw that God was pleased with his sacrifices, he called that place the altar of all the people, and he chose it as the place on which the temple should be built.


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