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How it came into the mind of King David to learn the number of his subjects
King David, being king by the grace of God, who had raised him from a shepherd to be a noble, wished one day to learn at all hazards the number of his subjects : which was an act of vain-glory most displeasing to the Lord, who sent an angel who spoke thus : David, you have sinned. So your Lord sends me to tell you. Will you remain three years in hell1 or three months in the hands of His enemies which are yours, or will you leave yourself to the judgment of your Lord ?
David answered : I put myself in the hands of my Lord. Let Him do with me what He will. Now what did God do ? He punished him according to his sin, taking away by death the greater part of his people in whose great number he had vaingloried. And thus he reduced and belittled their number.
One day it came to pass that while David was riding he saw the angel of the Lord going about slaying with the naked sword, and just as the angel was about to strike a man,2 David got off his horse and said : Highness, praise be to God, do not kill the innocent, but kill me ; for the fault is all mine. Then for this good word, God pardoned the people and stayed the slaughter.3
1 Biagi reads : Infermo—ill.
2 This reading follows Biagi. Others give "striking as he willed". 3 The origin of this novella is, of course, Kings ii, chap. 24 It is curious to notice the variations.
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