2 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 21-22, Psalm 33: Did God or Satan Do It?

Today’s reading is one of those classic “gotcha” passages in Scripture. What I mean is that there are certain places that people who are bent on disproving the validity of Scripture go to make their case. These are normally places that contain an obvious “inconsistency” or “contradiction”, and when faced with questions about these passages, everyday Christians freeze up. We don’t know how to answer the accusations, and we’re normally too proud to just say, “I don’t know the answer, but I’ll find out for you.” That’s why I call it a “gotcha” passage, because it’s easy to feel like someone just pantsed you. It’s happened to me before.

Anyway, 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21 contain a blatant difference. In fact, this may be the biggest “contradiction” in the whole Bible. Here are the first verses from each chapter:

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.

See what I mean? How is God the one inciting David to take a census in the first verse, and then Satan does the same thing in the second?

Do you remember what happened at the beginning of Job? Satan came before God and God gave Job over to be tested. Or what about Judas? God ordained for Jesus to be betrayed and killed, but Luke tells us that Satan entered Judas to incite Him to act against the Lord. How can God and Satan both be behind this evil? James 1 tells us that God cannot do evil or tempt anyone to do it. God is never the active agent of evil in the Bible. This is important to remember as we read. If God does not do evil, or tempt anyone to do it, then the passage we need to figure out is 1 Samuel 24.

Here’s the way I understand it: God ordains, in His Sovereign will, that evil things be done to bring about a greater goodness. For example, Adam and Eve sinned because they disobeyed God, but God ordained that disobedience so that one day, He would send His Son to defeat sin and conquer death. Not all of these examples are so simple to see, like in our passage. Here the active agent of causing the evil is Satan, but Satan is being used by God to accomplish His good works.

Ultimately, we are the ones responsible for our own sins. We cannot blame it on God or Satan, which is why David repents for his sins against God. He doesn’t say, “well, You told me to do it” or “the Devil made me”. David repents and God forgives, though there are consequences to his actions this time. What we must cling to is Romans 8:28, which is rightly applied here:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

God is working to bring all things together, even the worst of sins, so that at the end of time, we might see His glory to the fullest, that our joy may be made complete and His the Name of Christ be worshiped by all.

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