The sin of the census is also found in 2 Samuel 24. There we read that the LORD incites David to count the people (2Sam 24:11Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”). The chronicler says that Satan moves David to number. Here we have one of those contradictions that the opponents of the Bible like to use to portray the Bible as unreliable. But 1 Chronicles 21 is not a correction to a previously written account in 2 Samuel 24.
We can learn from Job here. In the book of Job Satan brings all the misery about Job. But Job does not attribute this misery to Satan, but to God. The devil acts according to his own evil nature, but is ultimately nothing but an instrument in God’s hand. Paul sometimes attributes something to Satan (1Thes 2:1818For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and [yet] Satan hindered us.), knowing very well that God rules his life.
It is therefore important to realize that God’s hand is present in what Satan wants to do by moving David to number. God is above all that happens on earth and not Satan. In 2 Samuel 24 it is a test of the LORD to put David to the test. David fails there in his responsibility as king. God’s king must remain dependent on God alone and not rely on the power of his army of which he wants to know the number of militant men. In 1 Chronicles 21 it is Satan who wants to disturb the counsel of God and to do so by overthrowing David.
The impressive thing is that God does not allow Himself to be disturbed in the execution of His plans and that it is precisely through this sin that He achieves His goal. That never means an apology for sin. Through our failures God glorifies Himself and works out His purposes. We already see this at the fall into sin. Not that God would have wanted the fall. God abhors from sin. Yet He has a greater blessing for man than without the fall. This is the secret of God, which cannot be understood by us, but can only be worshipped by us in faith. To us God’s counsel and our failure are not compatible, but to God they are.
Another question is whether it was sin to number the people. After all, in the wilderness God has numbered His people several times (Num 1:22“Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, every male, head by head; 26:22“Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel from twenty years old and upward, by their fathers’ households, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel.”)? Here too, we need to look beyond the fact of the census. The censuses he has had done, he has had done in connection with the heave offering to make atonement (Exo 30:12-1612“When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them.13This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to the LORD.14Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the LORD.15The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the LORD to make atonement for yourselves.16You shall take the atonement money from the sons of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the sons of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves.”). In the New Testament, in rounded numbers, numbers are also sometimes mentioned (Acts 1:1515At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said,; 2:4141So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.; 4:44But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.). However, the number of believers in the churches ‘established’ by Paul is never mentioned.
There are things that are wrong in themselves. These are things that are simply sin, for example because they are clearly forbidden by God in His law. There are also things that are not sin in themselves, but are wrong because of the mind in which something is done. The latter is the case here. David wants to know how great the fighting power of his army is. He forgets that he depends on God for his strength and not on the number of militant men at his disposal. He forgets that all power rests with God alone.
David’s prosperity exposes him to the temptations of the enemy. As head of Israel and conqueror of all enemies, he wishes to know the power of the people, who are his glory. With this he forgets the power of God Who gave him all this and made Israel great. He forgot on which way he won from Goliath and what he said then (1Sam 17:45-4645Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted.46This day the LORD will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel,).
The account of the sin of the census begins with the statement that Satan stands up against Israel (verse 11Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.). Satan is concerned with the destruction of God’s people. In the people there are enough leads for him to attack, but to strike the people in the most effective way he turns to David, the leader of God’s people. If he can tempt the leader to sin, it will have consequences for the people.
Satan seems to be successful. David is receptive to the whisper of Satan. He instructs Joab to number Israel “from Beersheba even to Dan”, which is from the extreme south to the extreme north (verse 22So David said to Joab and to the princes of the people, “Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, and bring me [word] that I may know their number.”). Joab must therefore number the whole people. If he has done that, he must bring David the result, so David “knows their number”.
Joab strongly resists this commission (verse 33Joab said, “May the LORD add to His people a hundred times as many as they are! But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? Why does my lord seek this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt to Israel?”). With clear arguments he tries to change David’s thoughts. He acknowledges the kingship of David and reminds him that all his subjects are his servants. So why number? It seems he has a better understanding of the folly of such a census than David. His mind tells him that this matter is not according to the will of God. It will only bring calamity to the people, he says to David.
David, however, is not willing to change his mind. This time his word is too strong for Joab (verse 4a4Nevertheless, the king’s word prevailed against Joab. Therefore, Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem.). Does David make it a prestige case? Does he not want to listen to Joab, who has shown himself to be an unreliable man several times because he doesn’t care about David? In any case, David should have listened this time, but does not do it.
Joab goes throughout all Israel and returns to Jerusalem with the result of the census (verses 4b-54Nevertheless, the king’s word prevailed against Joab. Therefore, Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem.5Joab gave the number of the census of [all] the people to David. And all Israel were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword; and Judah [was] 470,000 men who drew the sword.). David, however, gets an incorrect number. Out of abhorrence for the command, Joab did not number two tribes. The abhorrence of Joab is justified as a fact and is underlined by what is said in verse 77God was displeased with this thing, so He struck Israel. about God’s displeasure with this matter. The census was evil in the eyes of God.
David brings guilt upon the people by his action. It brings God’s judgment over Israel. God’s wrath ignites against His people because there is also a spirit of pride in the people about the position they have obtained (2Sam 24:11Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”). Does not the judgment of God play into the hands of Satan? In verse 11Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. it says that Satan stands up against Israel and now we read that God stands up against Israel in judgment.
Superficially, it may seem so. But if we look deeper, we see that this is not the case. It has to do with the complete difference in intentions that Satan has and that God has. Satan seeks the destruction of God’s people and God seeks the restoration of His people. In the rest of this history we hear nothing more of Satan. He has fulfilled his role and is finished talking; he doesn’t matter anymore. God has taken the matter into His hands and is working towards the goal He has set himself.