The census of king David in 2 Samuel 24:9 and 1 Chronicles 21:5 - Is there an error in the text?
2 Samuel 24:9 And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel 800,000 valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were 500,000 men.
1 Chronicles 21:5 And Joab gave the sum of the number of the people unto David. And all they of Israel were 1,100,000 that drew sword: and Judah was 470,000 men.
Skeptics, atheists and Bible debunkers like to bring up this apparent contradiction regarding these different numbers of soldiers under the command of king David. All Hebrew texts and all Bible versions, including the so called Greek Septuagint and the Syriac, read the same in these two passages, so it is not a textual error nor is the contradiction real but only apparent.
An essential key to reconciling passages such as these is to read the rest of the Bible to see if more information is provided that might help us understand. A portion of Scripture overlooked by those who accuse the Holy Bible of being in error is 1 Chronicles chapter 27.
There we are told of a standing army of some 288,000 men that served the king. These men were divided into 12 groups, each consisting of 24,000 soldiers, which came to Jerusalem to serve the king for a period of one month. One group of 24,000 was then replaced by the next group that also served for one month.
There was always a standing army of 288,000 men in readiness. “Now the children of Israel after their number, to wit, the chief fathers and captains of thousands and hundreds, and their officers that served the king in any matter of the courses, which came in and went out month by month throughout all the months of the year, of every course were twenty and four thousand." 1 Chronicles 27:1. Almost all of 1 Chronicles 27 is taken up with listing which group of 24,000 men served in each of the 12 courses.
1 Chronicles 21:5 tells us "they of Israel were 1,100,000 men that drew the sword." Second Samuel lists the men of Israel as 800,000. The difference between these two numbers is 300,000. The writer of Chronicles includes in his number the standing army of 288,000 while the writer of Samuel counts only the number of valient men who could also join the regular army if needed for an emergency.
1 Chronicles also lists the number of the men of Judah as being 470,000 while the writer of Second Samuel has the count of 500,000.
But why the difference of 30,000 for the one count of the men of Judah? Because the writer of Second Samuel with his 500,000 is also including the additional 24,000 regular soldiers who were at that time in Judah with the king serving for that month. These are rounded numbers. Among 12 different groups of 288,000 each, and an approximate group of 800,000 reserves, there would not always be an exact number.
On the other hand the writer of First Chronicles includes all the twelve groups of 24,000 among the number of the additional 800,000. Thus 800,000 reserves, plus the 288,000 (rounded number of regular standing army) = 1,100,000. By taking all the information provided and putting it together from these two accounts, we see that there is no contradiction.
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown - “And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.
Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king. The amount here stated, compared with 1 Chronicles 21:5, gives a difference of 300,000. The discrepancy is only apparent, and admits of an easy reconciliation; thus (see 1 Chronicles 27:1-34) there were twelve divisions of generals, who commanded monthly, and whose duty was to keep guard on the royal person, each having a body of troops consisting of 24,000 men, which together formed an army of 288,000; and as a separate detachment of 12,000 was attendant on the twelve princes of the twelve tribes mentioned in the same chapter, so both are equal to 300,000. These were not reckoned in this book, because they were in the actual service of the king as a regular militia. But 1 Chronicles 21:5 joins them to the rest, saying, 'all those of Israel were 1,100,000; whereas the author of Samuel, who reckons only the 800,000, does not say, 'all those of Israel,' but barely, 'and Israel were,' etc. It must also be observed that, exclusive of the troops before mentioned, there was an army of observation the frontiers of the Philistines' country, composed of 30,000 men, as appears by 2 Samuel 6:1; which, it seems, were included the number of 500,000 of the people of Judah by the author of Samuel: but the author of Chronicles, who mentions only 470,000, gives the number of that tribe exclusive of those 30,000 men, because they were not all of the tribe of Judah, and therefore does not say, 'all those of Judah,' as he had said, 'all those of Israel,' but only, "and those of Judah." Thus, both accounts may be reconciled.”
John Gill - “In 1 Chronicles 21:5, they are said to be a million and an hundred thousand, which is three hundred thousand more than the sum here given; several methods are taken to reconcile this; but what seems to be the best solution of the difficulty is that here the number of the people in the several parts of the land of Israel was given, which were eight hundred thousand, there along with them, the numbers of the standing army which waited on the king in their courses, which were twenty four thousand every, month, and amounted in the twelve months to 288,000, and reckoning lo thousand officers to them, they make the sum of three hundred thousand wanted.”
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