Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 11. The Downfalls of David (3)
2 Sam 24:1 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.”
1 Chron 21:1 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.
A Complex Story: We come to a strange ‘failure’ in David’s life, one that bears some consideration in this whole subject of redemption. It is a difficult and complex story for there are a number of unclear points within it and we will consider each of them. Each time we must seek to see what is happening and why and, in the midst of it, also note how David responds in it all.
God’s Anger: The first difficulty is that “Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel,” Again? We are not told a) what previous causes there had been for the Lord to be angry and b) we are not told what the present cause is. There is clearly something that is very wrong in Israel – yes, even under David. The people did not necessarily have the same heart as their king, and this is seen a number of times in the Old Testament period. At such times, where we are ignorant of the background, we have to remind ourselves that God is a just judge and also a loving one and so when we find judgments involving death, what I call ‘judgments of the last resort’ (meaning they are the last thing the Lord resorts to, to save the nation and the world) we need to see them through that filter.
David or Israel? We then come to the second difficulty which is the question, is this to do with Israel’s wrong doing or David’s wrong doing? Well, in both versions of this story – seen in both 2 Sam 24 and 1 Chron 21 – we see it is expressly against Israel, the people. However we might suggest that, seeing the way David responded, the Lord also saw in David an attitude that needed confronting and so this incident deals with both Israel and David.
And Us? Now as an aside to the story, we need to consider this under the umbrella of redemption and consider how it applies as a principle today. I have observed over the years, in both myself and other leaders that I have known, the Lord provoking situations that apparently cause our downfall, specifically to deal with wrong attitudes that have sprung up and prevailed. This has, in my own experience, been specifically to do with leaders but I believe it applies generally. Where the Lord sees harmful attitudes prevailing that are not being dealt with by us, it is, to use a modern phrase, as if He pulls the rug out from under our complacency. A crisis arises, which is often caused by our lack of grace and wisdom which, in turn, results when He lifts off His hand of provision and we find ourselves saying or doing things in line with the wrong attitude that previously we would not have said or done. (Yes, those two sentences do take some reading, but make sure you take them in). Now this is so significant in this whole subject of redemption, that we will return to it later in the series, but we do need to understand it and take it in if we are to catch the full import of what is going on. For David it is an issue of pride and it is that which initially means he insists on getting his way contrary to the counsel of his advisors (see 2 Sam 24:3,4 & 1 Chron 21:3,4)
God or Satan? The third difficulty is that 2 Sam 24:1 says God incited David while 1 Chron 21:1 says Satan incited David. So what is the truth? Well, another word for ‘incited’ here might be ‘tempted’ because David is tempted into an action that is wrong, that we shall shortly consider. The apostle James teaches us, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” (Jas 1:13,14) The ‘evil desire’ in this case is pride. We see a similar thing in the case of Cain who we have previously considered: “So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:5-7) Cain had a wrong attitude (self-centred jealousy and possibly pride) and that ‘evil desire’, to use James’ words, was just waiting to ‘entice’ him into further bad actions, which he gave way to. So we see a two-sided coin here. On one side we see the wrong attitude that we tolerate, perhaps because it ‘feels good’, while on the other side that same attitude becomes the cause of our downfall.
But God or Satan? Yes, we haven’t fully answered the questions above have we. We’ve turned the focus on David or us, and seen that a wrong prevailing attitude provides the opportunity for temptation to come and cause downfall, but who brought it, God or Satan? Well, James said that God doesn’t tempt anyone so what is the truth here? To see the truth we have to go to what is thought to be one of the oldest books in the Bible, that of Job. In chapters 2 & 3 we see the Lord wanting to test Job and so He draws Satan’s attention to him and allows Satan to provoke others into action against him. The teaching of the Bible is that God uses Satan for a variety of purposes.
God’s Use of Satan: As a quick summary we may suggest the following. God uses Satan:
- a) To reveal men’s hearts (here in 1 Chron 21:1, David’s heart is revealed),
- b) To bring judgement on unbelievers (Rev 9:11 as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name means “Destroyer”),
- c) To bring discipline to believers (1 Cor 5:5 enabling Satan to come humble and bring repentance)
- d) To subjugate unbelievers (1 Jn 5:19b The whole unbelieving world is under the control of the evil one)
- e) To maintain humility in our lives (2 Cor 12:7 to keep Paul from getting proud),
- f) To develop faith & righteousness in our lives (1 Pet 1:7 Trials are testings and testings reveal our faith, 1 Pet 5:8,9 – we learn to resist),
- g) To bring about trials whereby we can be rewarded, blessed & changed (Jas 1:12 we patiently endure testing – testing develops us and God blesses through it),
- h) To teach us how to fight (Judges 3:2 to teach warfare),
- i) To demonstrate God’s power over the enemy (Eph 3:10 wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms).
God’s Sovereign Control: Whether through Satan or through His own direct words, the Lord is seen throughout Scripture as the One who provokes or stands against and reveals unrighteousness, i.e. it is part of His redeeming activity. You see it in a variety of ways in the following references: Ex 4:21, 7:3, 9:12, 10:1,20,27, 11:10, 14:4, Josh 11:20, 1 Kings 22:22,23, Job 1:12, 2:10, Ezek 3:20, 14:9, Acts 4:28. Again and again these things lead on to His bringing judgment, either corrective and disciplinary, or terminal and final. These are the things behind our present accounts but as you will guess, we have only just started this study of this particular incident, so we will continue it tomorrow.
Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, deliver us from the evil one this day. Convict me by your Spirit is that is what is needed.