Who incited David to count the fighting men of Israel?

  1. God did (2 Samuel 24: 1)
  2. Satan did (I Chronicles 21:1)
  • 1
    The fact that two persons both incited something is not a contradiction. If anything, it is an agreement. This question needs to be clarified as to its purpose.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 20, 2020 at 14:52
  • The Hebrew in 1 Chron 21:1 only states 'an adversary' (see Young's Literal Translation, for example). This may not necessarily refer to the personage called 'Adversary' in Job. The 'adversary raised up' could, in fact be God himself, taking an adversarial stance against David, personally. This question needs some research.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 20, 2020 at 15:05

2 Answers 2


First, let’s see what the Bible says:

“Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” (2 Samuel 24:1) NASB

“Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.” (1Chronicles 21:1) NASB

God is the sovereign Lord of all. He fulfils His purposes in His creation through angels or humans or nature or even Satan and the other evil spirits. God's anger allowed David to be incited against Israel. That does not necessarily mean that God Himself directly incited David to count.

Since God can use any agent of His choice to get the desired results it is implied that He chose Satan in this case. This is not a contradiction at all, but a failure on the part of the questioner to understand the biblical statements in their immediate as well as larger contexts.


This come up regularly in various forms and is summarized (paradoxically) by Jeremiah:

Lam 3:38 - Do not both adversity and good come from the mouth of the Most High?

The idea of the Divine Passive is one that is not explicit in the Bible but was created to explain the available, apparently contradictory, facts. Here are some examples:

  • 2 Sam 24:1 vs 1 Chron 21:1 – Who tempted King David to have a census? God or Satan? Both are correct (!) because to the Hebrew mind, God is omniscient and omnipotent and thus events only occur if He allows. James 1:13 explicitly states that God tempts no one.
  • Job 2:3 - God says that Satan "incited" God to ruin Job, even though it was Satan that was the direct cause of Job's ruin
  • 1 Sam 16:14, 16, 18:10, 19:9 – God sent an evil (literally, unclean) spirit on Saul? God does not have an evil spirit to send! Again, the omnipotent God is deemed responsible for that which He does not prevent.
  • Judges 9:23 has an identical idea of an evil spirit from God.
  • 1 Kings 2:22, 23, 2 Chron 18:21, 22 all have a "lying spirit" from the LORD.
  • Ex 9:12, 10:1, 20, 27, 11:10, 14:8 – God causes Pharaoh to harden his heart??? Clearly not! Compare Ex 8:15, 32, 9:34 where Pharaoh hardens his own heart.
  • Compare Rev 17:1 where God judges the great prostitute, with, Rev 17:16, 17 where the great prostitute becomes a victim of her own wicked ways.
  • In Eze 14:9 says, “I the LORD have enticed/deceived that prophet”; whereas James 1:13 says that God does not tempt anyone.

Thus, the name of this idea, "divine passive" - God is attributed as the cause of that which He does not prevent (in Hebrew thinking).

Thus, there is no contradiction between 2 Sam 24:1 vs 1 Chron 21:1 because, while Satan was the actual tempter, God did not prevent this occurring and thus is attributed as the cause.