The Pestilence Angel is referred to in the First Book of Chronicles, chapter 21 as the angel who delivered the pestilence upon Israel as punishment to King David for having conducted a census of Israel and Judah. According to tradition, it was Satan who incited David to count the people, and David ordered this be done against the urgings of his military commander Joab. God proceeded to punish Israel.

David then admitted that he wrongly acted and prayed that God remove his guilt. God sent word to David that he could take his choice of three years of famine, three months of military losses, or three days of the Lord’s own sword, bringing pestilence throughout the country. David decided that it would be better to suffer at the hands of the merciful God than at the hands of man. So the Lord sent a pestilence throughout Israel, killing 70,000 of David’s people:

And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but, as he was destroying it, the Lord saw and repented of the evil, and said to the destroying angel at the moment when he was standing beside the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite, “Enough! Stay your hand.” When David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, with his sword drawn in his hand and stretched out over Jerusalem, he and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell prostrate to the ground; and David said to God, “It was I who gave the order to count the people. It was I who sinned, I, the shepherd, who did wrong. But these poor sheep, what have they done? O Lord my God, let thy hand fall upon me and upon my family, but check this plague on the people.” The angel of the Lord,speaking through the lips of Gad, commanded David to go to the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite and to set up there an altar to the Lord. David went up as Gad had bidden him in the Lord’s name. Ornan’s four sons who were with him hid themselves, but he was busy threshing his wheat when he turned and saw the angel. (1 Chron. 21:15–20)

Ornan offered to give his threshing floor to King David, but the King insisted on paying Ornan full price for it, so that the offering to the Lord should come directly from him. David built an altar on the threshing floor and made his offering to the Lord. “Then, at the Lord’s command, the angel sheathed his sword” (1 Chron. 21:27).


  • Ferguson, Everett, ed. Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. Vol. 846 of the Garland Reference Library of the Humanities. New York: Garland Publishing, 1990.
  • New Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America, 1981.


Angels A to Z 2nd Edition – Written by Evelyn Dorothy Oliver & James R. Lewis – Copyright © 2008 by Visible Ink Press