2 Samuel 24:13—Why are the numbers of the years of the famine different from those in 1 Chronicles 21?
Problem: God spoke to Gad and instructed him to offer David three alternative punishments for his sin. According to 2 Samuel 24:13, the famine was to be seven years. However, according to 1 Chronicles 21:12, the famine was to be three years. Which one of these is correct?
Solution: There are two possible ways to reconcile these accounts. Some commentators propose that the prophet Gad actually confronted David on two occasions. This proposal is based on the difference in language used to present the alternatives to David. In the 2 Samuel passage, Gad presents the alternatives as a question, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land” (v. 13). In the 1 Chronicles passage the alternatives are presented more along the lines of a command, “Choose for yourself, either three years of famine, or three months to be defeated” (vv. 11–12). Those who offer this solution assume that perhaps the 2 Samuel passage records the first encounter of Gad and David in which the alternatives are presented for David’s consideration, and that after some fasting and prayer, Gad returned for David’s decision by which time God had reduced the duration of the famine from seven to three years in response to David’s supplication.
Another group of commentators suggests that the record in 2 Samuel is a copyist error. They point out that there are more reliable manuscripts which preserve the number “three” for the duration of the famine and that the niv has employed this manuscript reading in its translation.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.