Who incited David to count the fighting men, God or Satan?

We sometimes come upon passages of Scripture that seemingly conflict with one another, the parallel accounts in”Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21 are one of the most difficult to deal with as they seem to blatantly contradict one another. Yet that cannot be the case if we believe in the divine inspiration and authority of Scripture, there must be some way of dealing with this which shows the justice and glory of God in his redemptive purposes. So I will look at some questions that have been given to me about these passages, and in doing so I will first of all paint the big picture and then move to the details of the picture.

1.God is Sovereign: The Bible shows us that nothing happens by chance, but rather that everything is under the sovereign hand of God. The whole of history is in his hands. Satan could not attack Job without God’s permission ( see Job 1 and 2). It is true that God allows Satan to do certain things so that God’s ultimate purposes will be fulfilled. It is vital that we grasp the overarching sovereignty of God over all things(see Romans 8). It is only with this in mind that we can begin to understand the narrative accounts in the Scriptures.

2 God is righteous ,holy and gracious. Whenever Scripture describes the work and actions of God it points us to a God who is consistent and faithful in his character. The passages above show both God’s great holiness in his judgement against sin but also the fact that although god never compromises his holiness, he is always willing to show grace and mercy to the repentant. Maybe at first glance we don’t see this here because God still judges, yet in his grace he hears David’s prayer. In our day we tend to see the graciousness of God as something devoid of the holiness of God whereas in the bible we see a god of holy love.

Let us now look at the two passages;

Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1).

Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.” (2 Sa 24:1).

At first glance these two passages seem to contradict each other but I believe 2 Samuel 24 gives us the clues that we need to reconcile the two. It is obvious that Israel has sinned although we are not told how but God is angry with them. If we understand this in the context of God’s covenant with his people we will understand that there are blessings and curses attendant upon keeping the law or breaking it. God had warned his people in Deuteronomy of the perils of disobedience, let me give you two verses as an illustration,

         Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them.

15       However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:
(Deuteronomy 28:14–15).

The following verses show how this works, god move his protection from Israel and allows them to be attacked by hostile forces. If we take the terms of the Covenant seriously we see that God in his just anger removes the protection from his people thereby allowing their enemies to attack. In this case he allows Satan to incite David to number the people,Satan would not have been able to attack the people of Israel if God had not justly removed his protection from them. We can therefore see that in one sense God is responsible for this act and on the other hand see that Satan is the enemy that attacks God’s people. we can not explain one factor away we must see that under the terms of the Covenant Israel has sinned and has therefore forfeited its divine protection.

The fact that David took a census is interesting because David in his Psalms repeatedly asserts that we are not to put our trust in the power of men but in the power of God. The taking of the census reveals David putting his trust in the power of men more than in the power of God. Obviously this is very relevant to us, it shows us our constant need of standing in the power that only God can give and not in our strength. We need to see that in our own lives we are constantly in danger of doing things in our strength and the individualism of our society encourages us to do this. We are taught to be self-sufficient, a concept that is directly at odds with the Biblical narrative. Our sufficiency is to be in God alone. alsothe Bible calls us to fellowship not solitary individualism. The Christian and Biblical stress on dependence on God and interdependence with men runs as a counter cultural stream. We find it hard to resist the pressures of our culture.

Although it may not be readily apparent God is acting in his gracious ways in this narrative, he provides David with escape routes from this temptation through the advice of Joab and when David repents he is forgiven, but God’s judgement on the nation still has to take place. David realised when he had to make a choice that he was safer in placing himself in God’s hands rather than making his own decision. In our day we have so downplayed the holiness of God that we do not perceive the true extent of his grace. We also forget that sin always has consequences, we may well be forgiven for the penalty of our sin through the blood of Christ but we also have to acknowledge that there are still consequences to our actions..

We ned to come before the God of holy love and realise that his standards are good and just, we must be prepared to walk in obedience to him, these passage have much to say to us today, it would be good to look at the letters from Jesus to the seven churches at the beginning of the book of Revelation, if you look at these carefully you will see that Jesus warns his people against sinning against him and yet at the same time offers his grace and mercy to them.

About pneumaandlogos

David Rollings was born in Luton in1949 and raised by my Christian parents in the Gospel Standard Strict Baptist denomination( Hyper-Calvinistic} in the sixties I rebelled against this background and got involved in left-wing politics. I became a Christian in 1969 and soon started reading Francis Schaeffer's books and came to embrace a Christian Worldview. I had the privilege of being on the staff of L'Abti Fellowship from1975 - 1979. After L'abri I studied at London School of Theology where I gained my BA.(1983) A few years later I studied for my MA by distance learning with The Nazarene Theological College Manchester (1999) For the last 25 years, I have been an elder of Shoreham-by-Sea Baptist Church. I also regularly attend the Christian Doctrine Study Group of the Tyndale Fellowship.
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