“Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. So David said to Joab and to the leaders of the people, ‘Go, number Israel from Beersheba to Dan, and bring the number of them to me that I may know it.’” (1 Chronicles 21:1-2).
King David had been reigning in Israel for years. God had richly blessed him and preserved him wherever he went. Now his heart is moved to have his general Joab go an take a census of the people to see how many men there would be who could go to war for Israel. Joab then brings back a report showing there were 1,300,000 who were “valiant men who drew the sword” (2 Samuel 24:9).
What is interesting is why David did this? As we consider from the Scriptures why he did this, we get a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes as we are engaged in our own spiritual warfare which we wage against Satan and his allies (2 Timothy 2:4). The inspired author of Chronicles mentions that it was Satan who “stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1). However, the writer of 2 Samuel tells us that that God moved David to numbered Israel because, “the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel” (2 Samuel 24:1). So the Bible describes both God and Satan having a part to play in David’s choosing to number Israel.
It is interesting to compare these events with what happened in the 1st 2 chapter of the book of Job as we see Satan going before God to get permission to afflict Job. Each time God set boundaries on what he would allow Satan to do to Job. The first time, God would allow Satan to “touch all” that Job had, but he could not “lay a hand” on Job himself (Job 1:12). The second time, God allowed Satan to afflict Job’s body, but Satan was told to “spare his life” (Job 2:6).
Whose fault was it that David numbered Israel? Actually, it was David’s fault! Because God was angry with Israel, He “allowed” Satan to tempt David to number Israel. However, although Satan tempted David, which God allowed him to do, David still had the power to choose not to give into the temptation (James 1:13-15). King David succumbed to this temptation because he had begun to trust in the power of his army instead of the power of God to deliver him from his enemies.
Following his receiving word of how many in Israel could serve in the army, we read: “And David's heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O Lord, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly’" (2 Samuel 24:10). God would punish Israel by sending His angel which resulted in the death of 70,000 people, but He also restrained the angel and stopped him from killing more. He also gave David an opportunity to repent and offer his sacrifice to God for his sin (1 Chronicles 21:14-15, 18-27). Thus in God’s infinite wisdom He accomplished His purposes to punish Israel’s sin for which He was angry with them, did not take away David’s freedom to make his own choices, and provided a way for redemption for David and Israel.
As I consider this behind the scenes look of what goes on behind the scenes of my own spiritual warfare, I am awed by the power and wisdom of God. I am also reminded of how Satan continually probes for opportunities to lead me astray. Today I will strive to cling to God’s hand and look to Him in faith as I war against my adversary, the devil.
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9).