The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The Threshing Floor of Araunah

I posted the following on my blog today and re-post it here with a few comments about how it connects with UR:

In the prison bible study I lead we were going through 2 Samuel, which mainly recounts the reign of King David.

The book of 2 Samuel ends with what many scholars call “appendices,” bits of poetry and narrative that are tacked on to the end of the book. These appendices are found in 2 Samuel 21-24.

The last story from the appendices, found in Chapter 24, recounts the census David undertakes and God’s judgment upon him for doing so. Explanations vary as to why God was angered by the census. For whatever reason, the census was taken as act of hubris by the king, a usurping of God’s prerogatives as the True King of Israel.

David realizes his sin and confesses. God, through the prophet of Gad, gives David a choice of punishments: three years of famine, three years of being chased by enemies, or three years of plague. David chooses the plague. And so the destroying angel begins to work, killing 70,000 people.

But then something interesting happens. As the destroying angel approaches Jerusalem God changes his mind and says “Enough!”:

David sees the angel stopped at the threshing floor of Araunah and asks for God to stop the plague. David then buys the threshing floor, builds an altar on the spot, and offers sacrifices to God.

But what I find interesting in the narrative is that God already stopped, before David’s request and his sacrifices. Various translations of verse 16 read that God “relented,” “repented,” “changed his mind,” and “felt sorry.” The destruction stopped because something happened in the heart of God prior to any human appeal or sacrifice.

I think this is interesting because of why this story is included as an appendix to 2 Samuel. Specifically, this story was included in the book to explain why the temple was built where it was built. The threshing floor of Araunah was on Mount Moriah–the Temple Mount–where the temple was built:

I think this is interesting as from this point forward the temple becomes the location of sacrifice in ancient Israel. You would come to the temple to offer sacrifices so that God would forgive your sins. And because of those rituals you might be lead to believe that God needs or requires these sacrifices in order to show and extend mercy.

And yet, in the primordial account of the threshing floor of Araunah we note that mercy wasn’t triggered or effected by sacrifice. Mercy was found in the heart of a God who repents, relents and changes his mind. Mercy was found in a God who says “Enough!” to punishment, without sacrifices or blood.

Lessons learned here? A few I think.

The sacrifices at the temple might lead us to draw the wrong conclusions about God’s mercy and the necessity of sacrifice. As seen in 2 Samuel 24, the story of the origins of the temple, God doesn’t need sacrifice to show mercy. And God can stop punishment whenever God wants.

Mercy is found in the heart and freedom of God.

And I think this goes to an important issue in the debates between UR and ECT. Can God relent? More sharply, can God relent in a punishment God promised to carry out? That is, God says punishment X will go to a certain point. Can God, because of God’s mercy, choose to stop short of X? Stories like those found in 1 Samuel 24 suggest that God can stop short and has stopped short. In fact, I’d argue that the entire narrative witness of the bible suggests that this–stopping short, relenting–is God’s default mode of operation.

And that, it seems to me, has important implications for what we think God can and can’t do when it comes to punishment post-mortem.

Incidentally, insofar as Jesus is to be identified as the YHWH seen by various Biblical characters (including David), of which this is one example (since the angel of YHWH seen by David here is also regarded as seeing YHWH), the angel of destruction who brought the plague would have been Jesus pre-Incarnate. (Or post-Incarnate, operating backward in time with the resurrected body.)

That means the horrible frightening “angel of destruction” which has sometimes been regarded as Satan going about his duties as chief executioner (or whatever), is the same Jesus Who gives Himself in sacrifice to save sinners!

So for example (and I’m trying to phrase it so our unitarian members can also pick up this concept and run with it) the angel of destruction who slays the first-born sons in the final plague in Egypt, is (at least in a literary sense) the same Only-Begotten of the New Testament Who so loves the whole world that He voluntarily gives up His own life to pay for humanity’s sin.

Mind. Blown.

Hi Richard:

This is an interesting vision of God to be sure.

Interesting too because earlier this week I was reading about the very same passage you mention; 2 Sam 24. The author was noting that in that version of the story, it was God who caused David to order the census. However, in the 1 Chron 21 version of the story it was Satan who caused David to order the census! That’s a pretty large difference in the same story! He was noting, in part, how poorly developed the notion of Satan is in the OT. (Only 3 explicit references to Satan in the entire OT; this one, Job 1,2, and Zech 3) Now it seems 1 Chron was the last, or among the last books added to the Hebrew cannon, so this understanding of the cause of the census represented further/deeper knowledge/understanding of the reality of things. The authors point also being that God brings people along only as fast as they can follow. And at first, had they known about the evil entity of Satan, they would likely be tempted to turn to HIM to in supplication to avoid disasters etc. So God instead just takes “credit” for everything; good AND evil. (Also of course interesting implications in these two versions of the census story of ones views on inspiration…)

Be that as it may, and while your take on this event is a crucial one, there remain problems here for God it seems. First off, God has already received a significant amount of His demanded victims. Sure, He relents, and even stops short of exacting the entire volume of punishment He had promised. But we can’t forget He’d already received (almost as some kind of “payment”??) the deaths of many thousands. So God can’t walk away with a clean record can He?

Second, most Christians who believe in ECT hell have always believed that some would be saved and some would be lost. This state of affairs is retained in the story you relate. The only thing that is changed is the final tally of saved vs lost; there being more “saved” because God relented and changed His mind.

But third is that as Universalists we hold that God will not relent until EVERYONE is (eventually) saved. So what is missing here (and indeed missing from the entire OT one might argue) is a more robust and advanced understanding of the reality of resurrection. This provides the mechanism and understanding for what God can do – and is going to do – for all those who, like the number killed of the 70,000 before God relented, appear to be lost forever. Same for ALL the victims of God’s apparent violent “judgement” in the OT. It’s simply not the “end of the story” for them. And we know all this because of the witness of the Christ.

But the people simply were not ready to make the leap from their current understandings (ie a God who exacts complete and unrelenting vengeance) with a God who saves all. Thus the story you relate provides a crucial “middle step” in the transition – in the progress of truth; the recognition that there are mitigating forces on God’s apparent “need” for violent judgment.

And maybe that’s what you are implying by your post!!

Thanks Richard!


Total Victory,
Great and important observations. To be sure, you can’t squeeze a comprehensive and consistent theology supportive of UR out of this text. And I really wasn’t trying to do that. The only very narrow point I think this story helps illustrate is that God’s justice isn’t a compulsion God has to carry out in some sort of OCD fashion. In debates with those supportive of ECT you get this sense that appeals to God’s holiness function as a sort of restriction. God must punish, the logic goes, because some feature of God’s character demands it (e.g., “God loves us, but God is also holy.”). And yet I think, if we ponder the weight of the OT, as mixed a testimony that is the OT, the general theme, over and over, is that God isn’t ultimately compelled to punish. In fact, over and over and over again God relents. And again, that’s a very narrow point, one that doesn’t necessarily support UR, but a point that, it seems to me, dramatically destabilizes the vision of ECT.


The rabbis used to say that God gave them the Chronicles just to make problems for them to solve. :laughing:

Yes – this idea can really be a huge barrier to acceptance of a God who “simply forgives”. How often I’ve had people quote to me “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” … very much insisting on a tit-for-tat arrangement; a quid quo pro.

I’m reading the second edition of Baker and Greens “Recovering the Scandal of the Cross” and this sort of thinking is very ingrained in the Penal Substitution models of the Atonement. God must do X; must have payment; there must be a “penalty/punishment” abosrber. And so on.

Interesting that in the story of Jonah, I don’t believe we’re ever told of a sacrifice being offered as part of the conditions of their repentance! Yet many Christians insist that sacrifice is a manditory prerequisite for God’s forgiveness…

So, narrow as you say, yes… but by no means trivial or unimportant!!


Not sure whether I have anything to contribute here, but I don’t want to miss the discussion . . . .

I remember taking a class about the gospel of Luke in college. I forget which story we were discussing during this particular class, but it was one of those stories where Jesus looks at a person and says, “Your sins are forgiven.”

I raised my hand and asked the bible professor, “Sir, if Jesus–God Incarnate–can forgive sins that easily then why do we think God needs a blood sacrifice to forgive sins? It seems, for Jesus at least, that forgiveness is fairly straightforward. God just forgives you.”

The professor answered by saying that the blood of the cross flowed forward and backward in time. Thus, any verbal forgiveness Jesus gave away on the street was covered by the cross retroactively. And I remember something snapping within me with his answer. “Really?” I thought, “These are the sorts of intellectual gymnastics we are willing to go through?” And with that the last lines of the theology of my youth were cut loose. It’s a vivid memory for me. One of those turning point events.

Ah yes: young Richard Beck; trouble maker. (But asking the very sort of questions that I believe honor God!!) I cannot help but think of Moses – when an irate and exasperated God says let Me just kill these people and begin anew (this is Ex 32) with YOU! And Moses protests and says But God! think of what the EGYPTIANS will say!!
And yet again the Lord “relents” – that’s v 14.
So God relenting is not new in 2 Sam!!

I’ve had similar experience when I pointed out that Jesus, on the cross, forgives freely yet hasn’t yet died. “Yes but…” is the reply… He knows that He WILL die and therefore knows that He WILL have “payed the penalty”…
Yeah right…
And still, forgiveness before, or even without repentance?? What manner of extravagance is this??

Which brings to mind a question which I’d love to hear you address at some point (unless you already have and can direct me to it…)
What then of the heavy use of*** sacrifice language/imagery*** in the OT and NT??
Perhaps in a future post…

There are so many jarring disconnects between the offer-sacrifice-to-effect-forgiveness paradigm and God’s insistent I-desire-mercy-not-sacrifice paradigm.

Sacrifice – and sprinkling of blood; except Jesus didn’t bleed to death nor was His blood “sprinkled”

Sacrifice – not just blood, but farm produce; grain

Sacrifice – done for sin, sure; but also done for worship, for celebration, for thanksgiving!!

It’s gotten me into more trouble with my fellow believers than I’d like to admit, but the essence of sacrifice as most Christians conceive it, is profoundly and deeply rooted in paganism… A means of persuading a deity bent on violence to relent. He likes blood, so give ‘im some blood. And the higher the quality, the better! (for us) Hey; how about some JESUS blood??!!

“Hematolotry” I’ve heard it called.

And yet… the idea of “the saving blood of Jesus” is incredibly profound and rich… just that it’s not anywhere near the pagan version of things…

Just a thought…

Thanks Richard!


I was just talking about this in another thread recently, although I’ve written more extensively about it somewhere else on the forum (which I ought to dig up).

But since it seems relevant I’ll port the relatively briefer version back over here. :mrgreen:

Although I generally agree [with the contention being made in the other thread], Abraham’s covenant with God didn’t involve Abraham actually making the covenant – God was the only one who went through the split sacrifices, so neither Abraham nor his descendants could void the covenant by misbehaving. The Mosaic covenant could be breached, because the people took it with God and bound their descendents to it (which they then almost entirely broke, Moses included); but St. Paul (and the Hebraist if they aren’t the same person) stresses hard that the Abrahamic covenant remains intact and cannot be broken on pain of God’s death. In fact, if Abraham or his descendents break the covenant, God still has to die! – which is what happens. :slight_smile: But since God Himself was innocent of the breach, the death wasn’t permanent (as a death due to sin would be apart from the grace of God, Who on the cross is dying for the sake of sinners anyway).

This is probably what accounts for the language seeming to point toward penal substitution in the scriptures: in order to keep His side of the covenant God must bear the burden of the sin of Abraham and Abraham’s children, which includes all the children Abraham will ever have either naturally or spiritually, as many as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the shore.

There are several other interrelated issues going on there, too, such as the Father making the covenant not with Abraham at all but with Abraham’s seed meaning Christ. (I forget at the moment whether this is in Hebrews or Galatians.) But since all rational beings descend from Christ the action of God, Christ pays for the sin of all rational beings in order to keep the covenant made with the Father. But then if God doesn’t bring all the children of God to salvation, God breaks the covenant made with God!

So insofar as there’s something like a penal substitution, it isn’t about the Son convincing an angry Father to relent, but about God demonstrating that He intends to keep His promise to reconcile all the children of Abraham, which via Christ (as the descendant of Abraham by the flesh through Mary) includes all the spirits created by the Father of Spirits. That’s the sense in which the Son pays for our sins, or one of the senses. (I can think of others, too.) If God permanently killed a sinner or otherwise let the sinner “die the death”, He’d be breaking the Abrahamic covenant, so the innocent Son with Whom the Father made the covenant enacts the validity of the covenant by giving His life for the sake of keeping the covenant.

I’ve no great answers. But I generally start with the work of Rene Girard on this subject. I don’t want to lecture you if you know it well, but that’s where I start. Sacrifice in the OT is a developmental process of slowly extracting God from scapegoating violence (e.g., early in the OT sacrifice is central but is strongly criticized and marginalized by the later prophetic tradition). That process, begun in the OT, is brought to completion in the cross of Jesus which exposes sacrifice, finally, for what it really is: humans involved in scapegoating violence. Thus, the cross is the sacrifice that ends all sacrifices.

Richard - I start with Girard too. After reading Girard my tectonic exegetical plates shifted forever; although I don’t take Girard as being in any way the universal tin opener that some do (and he wouldn’t want that either). There seems to be a specifically Girardian form of universalism emerging I think - which needs to be in dialogue with other forms to avoid mutual incomprehension :slight_smile:

All good wishes :slight_smile:

(by the way, Richard=Rick and ‘Dick’ rhymes with ‘Rick’ in case anyone gets confused. But its probably easier to be known as Richard - since Dick… well it’s one of those names :laughing:

I reckon some sort of dialogue on this site between a competent universalist Girardian (so not me!) and a universalist more au-fait with traditional biblical universalist categories of Calvs, Armis, Restorationists, Ultras etc would be good (and I’ve no idea where Girardians fit in this schema). There are quite a few people who have been influenced by Girard on this site; and some of the talking heads in ‘Hell bound’ are Girardians - so it would be good to clarify stuff. :slight_smile: