In one passage of the Old Testament, the Bible says that God moved David to number Israel and Judah. However, in another account, the Bible says that Satan provoked King David to number Israel. Did God or Satan incite King David to do the census? Is this a Bible contradiction?
While this may appear confusing to the new Bible student or skeptic, this is not a contradiction at all. In fact, this is in perfect harmony with what the Bible teaches about the nature of God’s sovereignty, as well as Satan’s actions.
The short answer is this: the LORD’s anger was kindled against Israel, so He allowed Satan to tempt David into numbering Israel. David appears to have been struggling with a pride issue at this point. He later feels remorse, and he acknowledges that his desire to number Israel was a sin (1 Chronicles 21:8).
Let’s take a look at the passages in question, and see how these events transpired.
2 Samuel 24:1 Compared to 1 Chronicles 21:1
(2 Samuel 24:1) And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.
(1 Chronicles 21:1) And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.
These passages give us the complete picture of what happened. God was displeased with the nation Israel, and He wanted to chastise them for their sin. He also must have seen pride developing in King David. Therefore, God kills two birds with one stone. He’s going to step back and allow Satan to tempt David to do a prideful thing, since pride was already growing in his heart. Then, He’s going to chastise the entire nation for their previous sin.
The Means God Used to Discipline Israel
Satan was the means God used to entice David to commit this sin. God Himself tempts no man to sin (James 1:13), but God can step back and allow Satan to tempt someone, and He does this for various reasons. For example, God may allow Satan to tempt someone to reveal sin that is already present in that person’s life, to reveal true faith, to keep someone humble, or to bring chastisement or consequences on them for their sin.
Consider the scriptures in which God uses or allows Satan or an evil spirit to do some act:
- In the book of Job, God allows Satan to test Job (Job 1:6-12). Job proves faithful, and God rewards Job with DOUBLE the blessings.
- In the New Testament, Jesus told Simon Peter that Satan desired to sift him as wheat (Luke 22:31). Jesus consented to this “sifting,” but only for a greater purpose. He promised to pray for Peter during the sifting.
- God allowed Satan to put a “thorn” in the flesh of Paul so that he would not become conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7).
- God sent an evil spirit to King Saul (1 Samuel 16:14). This was likely a chastisement for his continued disobedience.
- In Judges 9:23, God sent an evil spirit between the men and Abimelech so that they would bring judgment on Abimelech for his wicked sin.
- in 1 Kings 22:20-21, God allowed a deceitful spirit to put lies in the mouths of the prophets of Ahab, so that he would fall in battle.
- Paul “delivered over to Satan” a man in the church so that he could see the full effects of a sinful life without Jesus, with the intention that he would eventually repent and be saved (1 Corinthians 5:5).
God hates sin, and God warns us to resist the temptations of the Devil. God will also punish Satan for eternity for his wickedness against humanity. However, God still uses Satan to carry out His will.
God apparently saw pride rising in King David’s heart. Perhaps all of his conquests and military exploits had finally given him an ego. This was sin, of course, because it was God who gave David and Israel the victories. In addition, David may have been trusting more in his military prowess than in the True God. Therefore, God decided to allow Satan to test David’s heart. How does Satan do this? He prompts him to number Israel.
Numbering People Is Not Always a Sin
I should briefly note that it isn’t always a sin against God for military commanders or nations to number their citizens. In fact, God commanded Moses to number the Israelites (Numbers 1:19). He also allowed Solomon to do it without chastisement (2 Chronicles 2:17).
The main problem with this census is that it seems as if David was doing it from a prideful heart, trusting more in numbers than in God. The passage gives us this hint of this pride:
“For the king said to Joab the captain of the host, which was with him, Go now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba, and number ye the people, that I may know the number of the people. And Joab said unto the king, Now the LORD thy God add unto the people, how many soever they be, an hundredfold, and that the eyes of my lord the king may see it: but why doth my lord the king delight in this thing? Notwithstanding the king’s word prevailed against Joab, and against the captains of the host. And Joab and the captains of the host went out from the presence of the king, to number the people of Israel” (2 Samuel 24:2-4, emphasis mine).
King David was getting some kind of satisfaction from knowing the number of his “empire.” Joab thought it was a bad idea, and even asked David why he would “delight” in such a thing. Nevertheless, King David was insistent, and he finally got his wish.
Satan played on a weakness that David had: Pride. He tempted David to number Israel. This was God’s will, however, because He desired to bring judgment on Israel for some unnamed sin they had committed.
The Method God Used for Chastisement
God sent a prophet (seer) to David to give him three different options of punishment: Seven years of famine, three months of military defeat, or three days of pestilence. David opted to suffer from the Lord’s hand. Therefore, God sent a plague as punishment, which killed 70,000 men.
This should be a sobering reminder to us today: God will bring judgment on a nation for its wicked sins. When we legalize sexual immoralilty, abortion, drugs, and remove God’s laws from public places, we’re just begging for His wrath!
Conclusion: God Used Satan to Incite David to Number Israel
Question: Did God create me, or did my parents create me? Both! God created me through my parents. Did God incite David to number Israel, or did Satan? Both! God incited David to number Israel by withdrawing and allowing Satan to play on David’s pride and self-sufficiency. God did this to punish Israel for sin, and to reveal sin in David’s own heart. God didn’t coerce David to do this–it was already in his heart. He merely withdrew His protection and allowed Satan to do what he always desires to do: Tempt people to sin so that they may stumble.
In the end, David repented of his wickedness, and 70,000 men died as a result of the plague God sent, which was his earthly judgment on them for some unnamed sin.
No contradiction exists whatsoever. You can always trust God’s word. Many passages may seem confusing or contradictory on the surface, but further study will always reveal that God’s word is the inerrant, infallible Word of the Living God.