Who is the one who incited David? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I saw someone share this in a group and figured I should write something on this common objection. If you go to 1 Chronicles 21, you see this.
“Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.”
Okay. That sounds pretty clear. The devil rises up against Israel. David then takes a census.
Yet when you see how 2 Samuel 24 starts, there’s a tiny difference there.
“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.”
Okay. So maybe having the Lord instead of Satan isn’t a tiny difference.
What’s going on?
Let’s start by looking at the first one. One of the problems with the translations we have today is that people rarely look behind them. The text says Satan. Well, obviously that’s Satan. Right?
For one thing, the devil comes against David in this and the response is to….take a census?
Sure. In Israelite law the king was not supposed to do that, but why would he do it here? If the devil wanted to tempt David, weren’t there better ways that would appeal to David a lot more? To give an obvious one, that one last time of naked woman bathing within eyesight sure seemed to do the job pretty well.
If you look at the word for Satan in the text, you will find it doesn’t always refer to the angelic being. For instance, in Numbers 22 when Balaam is riding on his donkey, the Angel of the Lord stands as a Satan for Balaam. What? You don’t remember reading that? Because the text doesn’t say that. It says the angel stood as an adversary for him. Later in that chapter, the angel of the Lord uses Satan in an active sense to say that he was opposing Balaam.
In 1 Samuel when David is among the Philistines, they are scared to go to battle with him in the ranks lest he turn Satan on them to win the favor of Israel. Oh, wait. The text says the same thing again. It says that he will turn into an adversary to them.
In 1 Kings 5, the reign of Solomon is peaceful because there was no Satan against him. Wait. There it is again. Adversary. Yet when Solomon turns against God, there are raised up several Satans, no, adversaries, in the form of leaders of armies to fight against him.
True, the term is used in Job and Zechariah to refer to a figure much more like the fallen angel that we know of today, but that does not occur in the historical literature at all. In all likelihood then, this is what is going on here as well.
This also explains why David would then have a census. If another army is coming up, David will count his fighting men then. That is a failure on his part to trust in the Lord.
Also, none of this means that there is no fallen angelic being known as Satan. It just means that that is not who is in reference here. In this case then, the text has the Lord putting David to the test by raising up an army against him, and David fails.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)