Who caused David to order the illicit census of Israel, Satan or God?


Email Received:

1 Chronicles 21:1 indicates that Satan provoked David to take the illicit census of Israel. However, 2 Samuel 24:1 indicates that the Lord motivated David to take the census. Isn't this a contradiction? Also, if it was God who caused David to do it, how could it have been a sin?


Ted's Response:

Here are the passages you are referring to:
Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, "Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are." (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." So the king said to Joab and the army commanders with him, "Go throughout the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba and enroll the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are." (2 Samuel 24:1)
Later, we see that David understood that he had sinned in doing this foolish thing, and it was evil in the sight of God and was even repulsive to Joab, who had performed the census under David's direction:
Joab reported the number of the fighting men to David: In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who could handle a sword, including four hundred and seventy thousand in Judah. But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king's command was repulsive to him. This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel. Then David said to God, "I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing." (1 Chronicles 21:5-8)

Joab reported the number of the fighting men to the king: In Israel there were eight hundred thousand able-bodied men who could handle a sword, and in Judah five hundred thousand. David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the LORD, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing." (2 Samuel 24:9,10)
Basically, what happened is relatively straightforward. God was angry with Israel, which happened numerous times due to Israel's disobedience. God used Satan as a tool to provoke David to call for the illicit census. Because David had allowed himself to follow through with Satan's temptation, it was a sin. As a result, Israel was punished:
So the LORD sent a plague on Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead. (1 Chronicles 21:14)

So the LORD sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. (2 Samuel 24:15)
All of this is an example of how God predestines us to make the free-will choices that we make. See Which do you feel is true: God's predestination or our free will?

Incidentally, God used Satan as a tool to test Job in an attempt to get Job to curse God (Job 1:8-11, 2:3-5). However, Job never once cursed God for causing and allowing him to experience horrific suffering and affliction, even though Job's wife told him to curse God and die (Job 2:6-8). As a result, Satan was proven wrong, while Job received enormous rewards during the final 140 years of his life. See more in Why did God ask Satan if he had considered His servant, Job? And did Satan choose to obey God in not killing Job?


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