2 Samuel 24:1-3 "Now again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” 2 The king said to Joab the commander of the army who was with him, “Go about now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and register the people, that I may know the number of the people.”
God's Ultimate will - To prepare a place for the temple and the cross
Sometimes the best way to interpret a passage of scripture is by noting what is at the end. In 2 Samuel 24:18-25 & 1 Chronicles 21:18-30 we see David purchasing the site where Solomon's temple would be built (1 Chronicles 22:1), and where Jesus would be crucified 1,000 years later. Interestingly enough, this same site is the famed Mount Moriah that Abraham was told by God to offer Isaac over 1,000 years prior to David in Genesis 22:2. God's ultimate will always has a purpose that we often may not fully understand or see. So what all did God permit, reveal and in some case not reveal in bringing about this ultimate purpose?
God's permissive will - David was to be both tested and tempted. 2 Samuel 24:1; 1 Chronicles 21:1
In both 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1 we read what appears to be a seeming contradiction. 2 Samuel 24:1 records that "God incited David" to do a census of his armies, whereas 1 Chronicles 21:1 says it was Satan who urged David to do the numbering of his men. Without going into the technicalities of grammar and language, the explanation for this difficulty of interpretation is explained by noting the area of God's permissive will. The Bible Knowledge Commentary explains: "There is no contradiction for the Lord had simply allowed Satan to prompt David to an improper course of action in order that Israel might be punished and that David might be instructed. This is similar to the Lord's permitting Satan to trouble Job (1:12; 2:6) and His allowing an evil spirit to torment Saul (1 Samuel 16:14). In any case, the Lord Himself did not incite David to do evil for "God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone" (James 1:13).2
In surveying other scriptures, we can note that God "tests" his people in order to promote their spiritual growth (James 1:3-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7) and to get them to examine the condition of their hearts (2 Chronicles 32:31). Satan on the other hand will tempt people in order to try to destroy them. (Matthew 4:1-11; James 1:13-15). Thankfully God's permissive will has boundaries in which even Satan has to observe, being that in the events of testing and temptation, the believer is made more pure and strengthened in their resolve to follow God. (Romans 5:3-5)
God's unrevealed will
Clearly God's unrevealed will refers to those areas God has not divulged to His people. For example, we are not told why God would choose to let Satan act, rather than choosing some other means to bring about His ultimate purposes of judgment and direction. What we do know is that it was "in" David's heart to number his men. Satan was the direct agent who urged and tempted David to act and God permitted it to be done so as to bring about His ultimate purposes.
God's revealed will - why He was judging Israel and testing David
God's revealed will, or what is also called sometimes His moral will, was clearly transgressed by David. A King in Israel was not to trust in the number of horses or chariots that he possessed, but in God alone. (compare Deuteronomy 17:15-16; Psalm 20:7) Israel as a nation had grown quite powerful and with whatever events took place in her history, she had forgotten how to treat those who were living in her borders. We won't spend a great deal of time on this point, only to comment that many connect the events of 2 Samuel 24:1 to 2 Samuel 21:1. God again tests to purify or grow his people. Included in that testing might very well be permission granted to the enemy or some other means to further shape and mold His people and to accomplish His ultimate purposes.
Applications and conclusions
We have looked today at David the believer and what he underwent in falling for Satan's temptation to number his armies. We discovered that God permitted or willed to include Satan's act of tempting David so as to test David and ultimately lead him to purchase the future site of Solomon's temple and the much later crucifixion. What applications can we draw from these texts regarding God, the believer and temptation?
1. God tests us to purify our motives and to advance us for His Good. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
2. Satan's temptations can be avoided and are only entered into when we have chosen to align our hearts according to our selfish desires, rather than God's. (James 1:13-15)
3. God permits what He hates in order to accomplish the good He intends in our lives and in His world. (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28)
4. God mercy and grace can turn back impending judgment for those who repent and humble themselves in his sight. (1 John 1:9)
5. Focus on God's faithfulness and Christ's accomplished work to exit your way out from under the enticements of temptation. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
2. Bible Knowledge Commentary. Zondervan. Page 481.