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“Seven years” or “Three years” in 2 Samuel 24:13?

7 years or 3 years?  In 2 Samuel 24:13, several translations (ESV, NIV) depart from the reading of "seven years" in the Masoretic text in order to avoid a supposed contradiction with “three years” in 1 Chronicles 21:11-12. However, a careful reading reveals that there is no contradiction as the words in question in both passages are not even from the same speaker. It is helpful to color-code the words of each speaker.

  • Words of the LORD are in RED.
  • Words of the prophet Gad are in GREEN.

1 Chronicles 21:10-12 says:

"Go and tell David, saying, Thus saith the LORD, I offer thee three things: choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee. So Gad came to David, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Choose thee Either three years' famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee; or else three days the sword of the LORD, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel. Now therefore advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sent me."

2 Samuel 24:12-13 says:

"Go and say unto David, Thus saith the LORD, I offer thee three things; choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee. So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days' pestilence in thy land? now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me."

The "three years" in 1 Chronicles 21:11-12 are the words of the LORD whereas the "seven years" in 2 Samuel 24:13 are the words of the prophet Gad. The two accounts can be harmonized as follows:

Harmonization of 1 Chronicles 21:10-12 and 2 Samuel 24:12-13:

"Go and say unto David, Thus saith the LORD, I offer thee three things; choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee. So Gad came to David, and told him, Thus saith the LORD, Choose thee Either three years' famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee; or else three days the sword of the LORD, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel. Now therefore advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sent me; and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days' pestilence in thy land? now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me."

The verbatim words of the LORD as recorded in 1 Chronicles 21:11-12 must fit in 2 Samuel 24:13 in between "and told him" and "and said unto him". Otherwise, the phrase "and told him, and said unto him" is very redundant. Thus the prophet Gad first "told him [David]" the verbatim words of the LORD as recorded in 1 Chronicles 21:11-12, and then "said unto him [David], Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land?" Dynamic translations such as the NIV, NLT and CEV unfortunately remove the clause, “and told him". Translators of these translations apparently thought the words "and told him" were insignificant verbal surplusage. But this clause is the key to understanding the seeming discrepancy between the two accounts.

Why did Gad speak of “seven years” after delivering the LORD’s word concerning three years of famine? The figure “seven years” spoken by Gad is not the number of years that the LORD will be adding in the future. The seven years is the combination of the four prior years of famine and the possible future addition of three years. Prior to this incident, in 2 Samuel 21:1, the narrator says “Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year.” And from the time of 2 Samuel 21:1 to 2 Samuel 24:13 we understand that there was a lapse of one year. Thus by the time the LORD gave David this dilemma in 2 Samuel 24:13, there were four years of famine. Now, when Gad asked David, “Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land?” Gad was basically saying, “Shall [a total of] seven years of famine (four previous years and three added years) come unto thee in thy land?” Seven years of famine would have been the cumulative result of receiving three more years of famine.

Read more articles from: The King James Version is Demonstrably Inerrant
Also read: Masoretic Readings Defended