Shortly after a pestilence in Jerusalem resulted in the deaths of 70,000 Israelites (I Chronicles 21:15), David saw an angel suspended over the city with its sword drawn ready to strike (I Chronicles 21:15-16). David successfully interceded for the people and God, through the priest Gad, instructed David to purchase the land beneath the angel to build an altar (I Chronicles 21:17-18). The land was the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, known in II Samuel as Araunah (II Samuel 24:16; I Chronicles 21:15).
The Jebusites were to Jerusalem what Native Americans are to the United States - they were the previous occupants prior to David taking the city (II Samuel 5:6-9). Evidently, David respected their property rights as he did not displace them, or as in the case of Ornan, exercise eminent domain when he wanted their property.
When Ornan realized the king desired his holdings, Ornan offered not only his land but also the implements needed for the offering (I Chronicles 21:23). David insisted he purchase the land stating, “I will surely buy it for the full price; for I will not take what is yours for the LORD, or offer a burnt offering which costs me nothing (I Chronicles 21:24 NASB).”
According to Samuel, David paid 50 silver shekels (II Samuel 24:24) while Chronicles names the selling price as 600 gold shekels (I Chronicles 21:25). The discrepancy has been explained by claiming that Samuel names the price for only the threshing floor while Chronicles adds the entire property and/or the materials for the sacrifice. Some Rabbinical sources reconcile the discrepancy by suggesting that David collected 50 silver shekels from all 12 tribes (600 total) and that the amount equated with 50 gold shekels (The Talmud on Zevahim 116b).
From either account, it is clear that David paid Ornan more than fair market value as he procured the land as God had instructed (I Chronicles 21:25). This land purchase would prove highly significant as Ornan’s threshing floor would be the future site of the temple (II Chronicles 3:1). As such, the land for the temple had been secured without bloodshed and the location had been selected by God.
What are some of the most important land acquisitions in history? Have you ever purchased a lot to build a house? Can the story of Ornan be used as a Biblical case study regarding eminent domain?
David’s eagerness to pay for the land and not simply take it demonstrates that he understood sacrifice. The king was correct to pay for Ornan’s land and not impose his will on his subject. Still, David’s claim accentuates how difficult it is to accept something one feels they have not deserved. As Americans say, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”
This is worth remembering as Christianity is predicated upon accepting grace. As David illustrates, it is our inclination to want to feel as though we have earned what we have. The grace of Christ is not something that can be merited. Consequently, grace is often difficult to accept.
Have you accepted grace? Why? Why not?
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;” - Ephesians 2:8, NASB