2 Samuel 24:13, 1 Chronicles 21:12
How Many Years of Famine – Seven or Three?
In 2 Samuel and in 1 Chronicles we find the story of how King David angered God by counting the fighting men of Israel; and as a result of David’s action, God sent the prophet Gad to tell David to choose a punishment. In 2 Samuel 24:13 the KJV reads:
“So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, ‘Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? ’”
Most modern translations actually change this verse to read “three years of famine” to avoid an apparent contradiction with 1 Chronicles 21:12 which reads:
“So Gad came to David, and said unto him, Thus says the LORD, Choose either three years' famine …”
There is really no reason for modern translations to depart from the clear reading of “seven years” found in in the Masoretic Hebrew text of 2 Samuel. If we read both accounts carefully we see that it is actually a different person’s words being recorded in the two books. In 1 Chronicles 21:12 we are told “Thus says the Lord…” and we have a direct quote from God stating three years famine as one of the choices David could make. But in 2 Samuel 24:13 it is the Prophet Gad who speaks after giving God’s words: “…and told him [the choices], and said unto him…” Gad was aware of the fact that there had already recently been a famine in Israel for three years, the effects of which were probably still being felt. You can check this by reading 2 Samuel 21:1 which says there was a famine in the days of David for three years, and from the time of 2 Samuel 21:1 to 2 Samuel 24:13 there was apparently about a year in which the land was recovering.
Thus, after delivering God’s message regarding a possible further three years of famine, the prophet Gad asks David if he wants to choose what would essentially be, for Israel, a total of seven years of famine – the three years that had already occurred, the year of recovery and then a further three years. This seems to be Gad’s way of stressing the problematic nature of that choice as the land was already weakened by famine. So there is no need to presume any contradiction between 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles on this point.
You may also notice another detail of 2 Samuel 24:13 in modern dynamic translations such as the NIV: the words “.. and told him…” are removed from the phrase “and told him, and said unto him,” as the translators apparently thought these words were extraneous. But in doing this the NIV and other translators removed the answer to the apparent contradiction with 1 Chronicles 21:12.