Problem: 2 Samuel states, “Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah’” (2 Sam. 24:1). However, the parallel passage in Chronicles states, “Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel” (1 Chron. 21:1). Did Satan incite the census? Or did God?
Solution: Several questions arise regarding this passage. We will answer them one by one:
Does this passage show that the concept of Satan evolved as an answer to the problem of evil? Critical theologians sometimes argue that the chronicler replaced God with Satan in order to get God off the hook for causing David to sin. Consequently, the chronicler (as well as later Israelites) invented the concept of Satan to defend God’s character. We reject this view. See our earlier article, “Did the Concept of Satan Evolve?”
By inciting David, was God controlling David’s freewill? Not at all. The same term “incited” (wayyāseṯ) is used of Satan trying to “incite” God against Job (Job 2:3). Therefore, this cannot mean that the term is fatalistic. In fact, David uses this same term (wayyāseṯ) when speaking to King Saul—yet David offers Saul an opportunity for repentance (1 Sam. 26:19). Joab even warned David (1 Chron. 21:3), but with no success. God does not tempt people to sin (Jas. 1:13), and he is not doing so here. Selman explains, “This census is to be understood as God’s judgment on Israel, but the full effects could be avoided if David would only acknowledge the error of his ways.”
How can both God and Satan incite David to take the census? Isn’t this a contradiction? No. Just like in the book of Job (chs.1-2), God used Satan to carry out his own agenda. God knew that Satan would freely choose to harm David for evil purposes. At the same time, God knew that he had an overall plan for telling David to take the census. Another way to explain this difficulty is to see 2 Samuel 24 as a theological perspective, while 1 Chronicles 21 describes a human perspective (see NET note).
Why was it sinful for David to take a census? This is likely due to “self-sufficient pride” and an “attitude of pride and self-admiration for what he had achieved in the way of military success.” In other words, David was trusting in his military, rather than God (see David’s psalm in 2 Samuel 22 for a contrast).
What does “again” refer to in 2 Samuel 24:1? This likely refers back to God’s judgment in 2 Samuel 21:1-14.
 Selman, M. J. (1994). 1 Chronicles: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 10, p. 212). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Payne, J. B. (1988). 1, 2 Chronicles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job (Vol. 4, p. 407). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
 The NET note understands satan as an “adversary,” because the term lacks the article. Under this view, a rival nation may have opposed Israel, making David nervous and wanting to trust in the size of his military. Other commentators (ourselves included) reject this view, understanding Satan to be a proper noun. Payne, J. B. (1988). 1, 2 Chronicles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job (Vol. 4, p. 407). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Selman, M. J. (1994). 1 Chronicles: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 10, p. 212). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Archer, G. L. (1982). New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (p. 186). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
 Baldwin, J. G. (1988). 1 and 2 Samuel: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 8, p. 315). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.