Who Caused David to Number Israel?

In 2 Samuel 24:1, God moved David to number Israel and Judah.  In 24:10, David concludes that he has sinned and asks the Lord “to take away the iniquity.”  In 24:15, God destroys seventy thousand men because of David’s sin in numbering Israel and Judah.  Why was numbering Israel and Judah considered a sin when the Lord moved David to do so, and why would the Lord destroy seventy thousand people for a sin that he obviously moved David to commit?

Let’s look at 2 Samuel 24:1-15 and read it.  This is not the only place in the Bible where this story is recorded.  We also read of it in 1 Chronicles 21:1-17.  Let’s read that.

In 2 Samuel 24 the text says that God moved David to number Israel.  In 1 Chronicles 21 it says Satan incited David to number Israel.  Could both of these be true?  Let’s look at 1 Kings 22:19-23.  God sometimes permits wicked spirits to act as agents to further tempt individuals who already have sin in their hearts.  What God desires is that the individual human recognize the sin in his heart and repent.  Seeing the consequences of our sin is sometimes the only thing that gets us to repent of our sin.  So God permits this, not because He wants to see men sin, but because he wants to see them repent.  In one commentary, the writers say the following:

These passages also show that God only instigates those who have sinned against Him to evil deeds; and therefore that the instigation consists in the fact that God impels sinners to manifest the wickedness of their hearts in deeds, or furnishes the opportunity and occasion for the unfolding and practical manifestation of the evil desire of the heart, that the sinner may either be brought to the knowledge of his more evil ways and also to repentance, through the evil deed and its consequences, or, if the heart should be hardened still more by the evil deed, that it may become ripe for the judgment of death. The instigation of a sinner to evil is simply one peculiar way in which God, as a general rule, punishes sins through sinners; for God only instigates to evil actions such as have drawn down the wrath of God upon themselves in consequence of their sin.

In addition to this, Israel had been guilty of nation sin in their rebellion under Absalom against David’s leadership.  In addition to calling attention to David’s sin, God punished Israel nationally because they had taken up arms against God’s anointed.

To summarize, God permitted David to sin in numbering Israel so that David could see the consequences of His sin and repent.  God also punished Israel with the deaths of 70,000 people due to the national sins that Israel committed under the rebellion of Absalom.  These two sins were related in that David’s number of Israel was to determine the amount of military he had at his disposal (2 Samuel 24:9).  We don’t know exactly what David was seeking to accomplish in numbering the troops.  Joab was opposed to it, and saw it as a lack of trust in God (2 Samuel 24:3), and even said it was a cause of guilt for Israel in 1 Chronicles 21:3.  So this numbering of the people may have had something to do with maintaining control over the people after Absalom’s rebellion, in which case, David would not have been trusting in God, and also in which case, there would be some people who had rebelled against God who hadn’t been punished for this.