David's Tragic Census-who 'Moved' him to do it?

The question: In 2 Samuel 24 it says that God moved David to take a tragic census of Israel's military power, but in I Chronicles 21 it says that Satan moved him to do so. What gives?!



See also the additional treatment here.

1. God bestows evil consequences upon evil actions ("you reap what you sow"). In any given case, He has many different possibilities of evil consequences to choose from. He chooses what kind of evil to bestow, and when to bestow it, according to His wisdom and plan. He orchestrates His actions to keep all of His commitments. For example, when He visits judgement upon Jerusalem, He manages it such that the righteous are preserved.
Example: I Kings 22 (pp. 2 Chronicles 18): God decides to kill the evil king Ahab, and asks the heavenly hosts as to how to entice Ahab to enter into a battle in which he will die. A spirit volunteers to be a 'lying spirit' in the mouth of Ahab's false prophets. God says 'do it'. God is not guilty of lying, but merely gives Ahab the fruit of his own evil ways (Jer 24.7).

Example: I Sam 16: After repeated failures to submit to God's leadership, Saul is rejected as king. He remains on the throne however, and continues his non-committed lifestyle and reign (even indulging in sorcery and seances). God punishes him by sending an 'unclean spirit' to trouble him. (If he had simply turned back to the Lord, he could have at least had peace of mind.)

2. Satan is always accusing Israel (see Zechariah 3.1-2 in OT) and believers (see Rev 12.10 and I John 2.1 with Jesus as our defense lawyer in NT), and seeks to get God to punish His people. In the 2 Samuel passage, it says that God was angry with Israel (presumably because of the recent revolt under Sheba in I Chrn 20 and other acts by Amnon and Absalom). This would have been a prime opportunity for the Accuser to "incite" (NIV) God to act against Israel through the person of their King. The standard way Satan does this is to appeal to God's justice. He points out man's sin, and then that God's holiness cannot allow it to go unpunished. With His honor at stake, God responds with judgement (but He does not "willingly afflict the children of men" (Lam 3.33). The Cross changed the dynamics of that argument, hence less 'early judgments' on the nations today.

3. One example of this interplay between God and Satan can be seen in Job, although the motivations are radically different. In Job 1.8-12, God brags about Job and Satan accuses Job of honoring God simply for materialistic gain. God allows Satan to attack Job and then in 2.3 God confronts Satan with Job's failure to sin even though "you incited me against him to ruin him." In other words, Satan was the "ruiner" but God was also a "ruiner".

4. This idea of God acting through agents (for reasons of judgment, of mercy, of testing, etc.) occurs frequently in scripture. Job is a good example of reasons of testing. Our passage is a good example of reasons of judgment (on Israel). And Joseph's selling into slavery is a good example of reasons of mercy.

In the story in Gen 37 Joseph (of Technicolor Dreamcoat fame) is sold into slavery by his jealous, angry brothers. God grants him incredible success in Egypt, even rising to the number 2 position under Pharaoh. Listen to him in later passages recall his version of that history:

So in this case, there were evil human intentions, with God's overarching purpose for good. (In spite of the judgment and punishment that God meted out upon his people in our Census case, some good did occur--the site for the temple and the site of Calvary was chosen in an act of grace!)

5. One last example of this 'dual agency' principle concerns sending the spies into Canaan after the exodus:

"The LORD said to Moses, 'Send some men to explore the land of Canaan..."(Num 13.1)

"Then all of you came to me and said 'Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for use...'" (Dt 1.22)

Two possibilities exit here:
  1. God moved the men to suggest/request the sending or
  2. The men said first, Moses asked permission of God, and God gave his Send-command. The second is the more likely of the two, in light of the passages in Job. Note: this case shows that the agencies do not have to operate at the same time.
6. The most probable sequence in our passages runs like this: 7. It is important to note 2 Sam 24.16: "When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the LORD was grieved because of the calamity..." God's justice is always angry at sin, and His love is always grieved over the misery that sin causes.

(N.B. This is attempted theological resolution of this issue. A philosophical resolution would involve delineating the 'interface' between volitions from three different ontic realms: human, angelic, divine--no small task, if even do-able!)


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