Posted: 24 Nov 2010 11:00 PM PST
SECOND SAMUEL 24, which roughly parallels 1 Chronicles 21, says that the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, so he incited David to number the people, which act was strictly forbidden—and then that act brought down the wrath of God on the nation (1 Chron. 24:1). The passage before us says that "Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel" (1 Chron. 21:1).
The two stances are not mutually exclusive, of course, nor even particularly antithetical. In God's universe, it is impossible to escape the outermost bounds of God's sovereignty. Whether his providential will over the Devil is portrayed as permissive (as in the case of Job), or something more directive, God is in charge. As for the moral dimensions of the matter, it is important to recall that even within the framework of 2 Samuel 24, God is not arbitrarily and whimsically tempting David to do evil, and then rather viciously clobbering him for it. Whatever God sanctions is portrayed as God's response to antecedent sin: God's anger burned against Israel, we are told, so that certain things took place. In the same way, the mark of God's anger on the nation of Israel during the waning years of the reign of the Davidic dynasty was more and more callous corruption on the throne and among the ruling elite, with the result, of course, that there was more sin in the nation, and more immediacy to God's threats of judgment.
Nevertheless, having said this, the feel of these two chapters, 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21, is quite different. In both cases David is held responsible to follow the Scriptures of the covenant, regardless of the temptation or the complexities of its provenance. But the explicit mention of Satan in 1 Chronicles 21 underlines the dimension of the cosmic fight between good and evil. Three other perspectives are also highlighted:
(1) Joab is always portrayed as a considerable military leader, but not as a particularly spiritual or even moral man. Here he stands up to the king with godly advice, and he is not listened to (1 Chron. 21:3–4). Godly counsel may come from a variety of sources. Doubtless one must listen to all of them—but at the end of the day all counsel must be tested by the Word of God.
(2) Some actions have immense repercussions on others. This was especially true under the old covenant, where kings, prophets, and priests stood in a representative relationship with the people. Though the new covenant is configured differently, it is still true, for instance, that the sins of the fathers are visited on the children for three and four generations.
(3) God is more merciful than people. It is better to fall into his hand, unmediated by human agents, than into any other hand.
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