Biblical Q&A: Why Did God Get Angry At David For Taking A Census?

Thank you, Rose, for your question.

Rose’s question:



Let’s start by putting 2 Samuel 24:1 & 1 Chronicles 21:1-2 side by side.

Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He stirred up David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.” -2 Samuel 24:1 BSB

1 Then Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, “Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan and bring me a report, so that I may know their number.” -1 Chronicles 21:1-2 BSB

Which one is it? Did God make David take the census or, was it Satan? There’s no contradiction. Only one of them went against David to cause him to sin against the Lord. The first thing we must look at is, can God tempt you to sin?

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone. -James 1:13 BSB

As you can see in James 1:13, God does not tempt anyone to sin against Him. So, how do we understand 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1-2? To understand what those two passages can mean, we have to look at Job Chapter 1.

Satan presented himself to God to give Him an account of his whereabouts on the earth.

6 One day the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. 7 “Where have you come from?” said the LORD to Satan. “From roaming through the earth,” he replied, “and walking back and forth in it.” 8 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one on earth like him, a man who is blameless and upright, who fears God and shuns evil.” -Job 1:6-8 BSB

Satan took notice of Job and his faithfulness to God, which Satan hated immensely. Satan went to God and asked Him permission to attack Job to destroy his relationship with God to show Him that Job is not as faithful as God’s boasting of him was. God permitted Satan to attack Job and his family.

When God allows evil to fall upon us, it feels as if God Himself wanted to bring a stumbling block so that we may have the potential of falling into sin.

For the arrows of the Almighty have pierced me; my spirit drinks in their poison; the terrors of God are arrayed against me. -Job 6:4 BSB

Job felt that God was the one bringing this disaster upon him. But, in reality, it was Satan who troubled Job. God wanted to show Satan that Job loves God, not because He blessed him with wealth, but Job’s love was based on a righteous and loving God. Let’s take a look at Job 2.

3 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one on earth like him, a man who is blameless and upright, who fears God and shuns evil. He still retains his integrity, even though you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause.” 4 “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give up all he owns in exchange for his life. 5 But stretch out Your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse You to Your face.” 6 “Very well,” said the LORD to Satan. “He is in your hands, but you must spare his life.” -Job 2:3-6 BSB

The language in the passages above clearly identifies Satan as the one doing the tempting by destroying everything he has so that Job would eventually curse God and die (Job 2:9)—to commit suicide.

The reason 2 Samuel 24 seems to identify God as the one pushing David to take the census, it’s because God allowed Satan to go forth and tempt David through persuasion to take the census.

To put it into perspective, 2 Samuel 24:1 shows God as being sovereign over all things and allows Satan’s attacks. 1 Chronicles 21:1-2 reveals Satan—as the one who caused David to stumble and sinned against the Lord.