Seven or three years?

2 Samuel 24:13—”This passage mentions that there will be seven years of famine, whereas 1 Chronicles 21:12 mentions only three.”

We may assume that the author of 1 Chronicles emphasized the three-year period in which the famine was to be most intense, whereas the author of 2 Samuel includes the two years prior to and after this period, during which the famine worsened and lessened respectively. We find a similar problem in the Qur’ān regarding the length of tempest Allah inflicted on the people of ‘Aad; Sura Qamar 54:19 says Allah took one day to destroy the people of Aad, but Sura Hakka 69:6-7 says it was eight long days. We may assume one passage referred to the most severe time of trial and the other referred to the total.

Another solution can be noticed by observing the usage of words in each passage. When you compare the two passages you will note that the wording is significantly different in 1 Chronicles 21 from that found in a 2 Samuel 24. In 2 Samuel 24:13 the question is “shall seven years of famine come to you?” In 1 Chronicles 21:12 we find an alternative imperative, “take for yourself either three years of famine…” From this we may reasonably conclude that 2 Samuel records the first approach of the prophet Gad to David, in which the alternative prospect was seven years; whereas the Chronicles account gives us the second and final approach of Nathan to the King, in which the Lord (doubtless in response to David’s earnest entreaty in private prayer) reduced the severity of that grim alternative to three years rather than an entire span of seven. As it turned out, however, David opted for God’s third preference, and thereby received three days of severe pestilence, resulting in the deaths of 70,000 men in Israel.1

Some interpreters consider this a transcriptional error – that the copyists misread ג gimel, (three) as ז zain, (seven) in the early abjad system of numbering. A mistake of this kind might be easily made from the similarity of the letters.

In the Qur’ān , we find similar variant readings – see the article about minor variants.

  1. This paragraph is excerpted from 101 Cleared-Up Contradictions in the Bible by Jay Smith, Alex Chowdhry, Toby Jepson, James Schaeffer (http://debate.org.uk/topics/apolog/contrads.htm)

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