Q&A: Did God or Satan incite David to number the fighting men of Israel and Judah?

Did God or Satan incite David to number the fighting men of Israel and Judah?

Question

Did God or Satan incite David to number the fighting men of Israel and Judah?

Answer

Biblically, both did. Let's look at the texts that refer to your question:

2 Samuel 24:1: Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, "Go, number Israel and Judah."

1 Chronicles 21:1: Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.

2 Samuel 24:10: But David's heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the LORD, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly."

Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6); however, David was trusting in the number of his fighting men to be a victor and not in the omnipotent, sovereign Divine Warrior (cf. Exod. 15:3; Rev. 19:11), and the Lord's anger was justly kindled against him. God ordained that David number Israel so he could teach him a valuable lesson concerning covenant faithfulness.

Satan, not God, tempted David (cf. Jas. 1:13, 17). Satan alone did that (1 Chron. 21:1). So, while God ordained David's numbering of Israel, he himself did not tempt David to do so. Moreover, while God ordains all things, he is not the author of sin or evil. God ordained a series of events in Job's life (Job 1:6-12), but he did not author them (Job 1:13-19). God even ordained the death of his very own Son (Gen. 3:21; 1 Pet. 1:19-20; Rev. 13:8), but he himself was not the author of his death (Acts 2:23-24; 4:27-28; cf. John 13:25-27) nor is he guilty of filicide. For further explanation please see "Did Shakespeare kill King Duncan, or did Macbeth?" below.

Although David had the power to resist Satan (1 Cor. 10:13; Heb. 2:18; Jas. 4:7), unlike Job (Job 1:22) and Jesus (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-14; Luke 4:1-13), he had his own evil desire to number Israel, was enticed by Satan and dragged away to give birth to sin (cf. Jas. 1:14-15). Yes, David sinned, but with this temptation by Satan and testing by God, David learned a serious lesson concerning faith and repentance (2 Tim. 2:24-26; cf. 2 Sam. 24:10, 11-17; Heb. 12:4-12).

God is absolutely sovereign. Without being their author, he ordains all things – including temptation, sin and suffering — for the good of his children (cf. Rom. 8:28). As the Westminster Confession of Faith states:

The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave, for a season, His own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon Himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends. (WCF 5.5).

So, while God knowingly ordains and allows evil to work in a believer's life, it is ultimately used for his good. This is all done in love, and God is glorified in the continuous sanctification of his people.

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Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).