Second Samuel 24:1

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2 Samuel 24:1: Again the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”

1 Chronicles 21:1: Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.

Second Samuel says that God moved David to number Israel, but First Chronicles says that Satan did.

This seems an apparent discrepancy unless of course both statements are true. It was towards the end of David's reign, and David was looking back over his brilliant conquests, which had brought the Canaanite, Syrian, and Phoenician kingdoms into a state of vassalage and dependency on Israel. He had an attitude of pride and self-admiration for his achievements, and was thinking more in terms of armaments and troops than in terms of the mercies of God.

The Lord therefore decided that it was time that David be brought to his knees, where he would once again be cast back onto the mercy of God. So he let him go ahead with his census, in order to find out just how much good it would do him, as the only thing this census would accomplish would be to inflate the national ego (intimated in Joab's warning against carrying out the census in 1 Chronicles 21:3). As soon as the numbering was completed, God intended to chasten the nation with a disastrous plague which would bring about an enormous loss of life (in fact the lives of 70,000 Israelites according to 2 Samuel 24:15).

What about Satan? Why would he get himself involved in this affair (according to 1 Chronicles 21:1) if God had already prompted David to commit the folly he had in mind? It seems his reasons were entirely malicious, knowing that a census would displease the Lord (1 Chronicles 21:7-8), and so he also incited David to carry it through.

Yet this is nothing new, for there are a number of other occurrences in the Bible where both the Lord and Satan were involved in soul-searching testings and trials:

  • In the book of Job, chapters one and two we find a challenge to Satan from God allowing Satan to bring upon Job his calamities. God's purpose was to purify Job's faith, and to strengthen his character by means of discipline through adversity, whereas Satan's purpose was purely malicious, wishing Job as much harm as possible so that he would recant his faith in his God.
  • Similarly both God and Satan are involved in the sufferings of persecuted Christians according to 1 Peter 4:19 and 1 Peter 5:8. God's purpose is to strengthen their faith and to enable them to share in the sufferings of Christ in this life, that they may rejoice with Him in the glories of heaven to come (1 Peter 4:13-14), whereas Satan's purpose is to 'devour' them (1 Peter 5:8), or rather to draw them into self-pity and bitterness, and down to his level.
  • Both God and Satan allowed Jesus the three temptations during his ministry on earth. God's purpose for these temptations was for him to triumph completely over the very tempter who had lured the first Adam to his fall, whereas Satan's purpose was to deflect the savior from his messianic mission.
  • In the case of Peter's three denials of Jesus in the court of the high priest, it was Jesus himself who points out the purposes of both parties involvement when he says in Luke 22:31-32, "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."
  • And finally the crucifixion itself bears out yet another example where both God and Satan are involved. Satan exposed his purpose when he had the heart of Judas filled with treachery and hate (John 13:27), causing him to betray Jesus. The Lord's reasoning behind the crucifixion, however, was that Jesus, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world should give his life as a ransom for many, so that once again sinful man could relish in the relationship lost at the very beginning, in the garden of Eden, and thereby enter into a relationship which is now eternal.

Thus we have five other examples where both the Lord and Satan were involved together though with entirely different motives. Satan's motive in all these examples, including the census by David was driven by malicious intent, while the Lord in all these cases showed an entirely different motive. His was a benevolent motive with a view to eventual victory, while simultaneously increasing the usefulness of the person tested. In every case Satan's success was limited and transient; while in the end God's purpose was well served furthering His cause substantially.(1)

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