Let’s read the verses in question. 2 Samuel 24:1 says “And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.” In 1 Chronicles 21:1 we read, “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” This seeming contradiction is easily solved when we remember that God, in His permissive will, often allows Satan to act against His people to teach them lessons or to punish them for sin in their lives. So, it was “Satan who actually put it in the heart of David to number the people,” but “God allowed him to do it.” We see other examples of this in Scripture, such as the time that God allowed Satan to test Job by taking from him his cattle, his servants, his children and his health. Job knew that God, in His sovereignty, was allowing this to happen. In faith he could say, in Job 1:21, “the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away, blessed be the name of the LORD.” He didn’t attribute his losses to Satan, but to God Who permitted Satan to take nearly everything he had from him.

Perhaps it would be profitable to consider WHY God allowed Satan to test David. We saw in 2 Samuel 24:1 that “the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.” We can infer from these words that Israel had committed some sin which had angered the LORD and because of this He allowed Satan to influence David. God also knew that David’s PRIDE would cause him to succumb to Satan’s temptation. David was, at this time, at the zenith of his power and popularity, and God would use Satan as an instrument in His hand to reveal the pride that was lurking in his heart. It is interesting that Joab tried, in vain, to keep David from numbering the people. We see that in 2 Samuel 24:3, “And Joab said to the king, ‘Now may the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times more than there are, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king desire this thing’?” (NKJV). Joab knew that if a census was taken it would only be to cater to David’s pride and thus he tried to dissuade him from doing it. He no doubt knew that this could bring down God’s judgment upon Israel, for in Exodus 30:12 God had told His people that if a census was taken, there was also to be a ransom sum paid for each soul “that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them.” Joab’s words fell on deaf ears, for we read in verse 4, “Nevertheless the king’s word prevailed against Joab and against the captains of the army. Therefore Joab and the captains of the army went out from the presence of the king to count the people of Israel.” We don’t read of David paying the prescribed ransom price and in the remainder of the chapter we see that God did indeed judge Israel with a pestilence that resulted in the death of 70,000 people. David’s heart was filled with pride as he numbered the people and God dealt with his pride by reducing his numbers significantly! Even before the judgment fell David realized that his pride had led to his sin and he was made to confess, in verse 10, “I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.” David’s repentance was fully revealed during the plague, for we read these precious words in verse 25, “And David built there an altar to the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD heeded the prayers for the land, and the plague was withdrawn from Israel.”

In summary we can say that Satan moved David to take the census, God allowed him to do it, and David’s pride led him to act on Satan’s temptation. But through it all God was in complete control and He used these circumstances to discipline David for the sin of pride and Israel for sins they had committed. This in turn led to David judging his sin and having his fellowship with the Lord restored. (169.7) (DO)