Who moved David to number Israel?                                                                by Jack Kettler


“And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” (1 Chronicles 21:1)


1 Chronicles says that Satan provoked David to number Israel.


Strong's Concordance:

satan: adversary, also the name of the superhuman adversary of God

Original Word: שָׂטָן

Part of Speech: Noun Masculine

Transliteration: satan

Phonetic Spelling: (saw-tawn')

Definition: adversary, also the name of the superhuman adversary of God


In another passage from 2 Samuel says:


“And again, the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.” (2 Samuel 24:1)


In contrast to 1 Chronicles, this passage from 2 Samuel says it was the Lord that moved David to number Israel.  


Who moved David to number Israel, Satan, God, or both? 1 Chronicles says Satan, and 2 Samuel says the Lord did. Do these passages conflict?


Commentator Albert Barnes' from his Notes on the Bible understands the difficulty some have had with this passage in 1 Chronicles 21:1:


“As the books of Scripture are arranged in our Version, Satan is here for the first time by name introduced to us. He appears not merely as an “adversary” who seeks to injure man from without, but as a Tempter able to ruin him by suggesting sinful acts and thoughts from within. In this point of view, the revelation made of him here is the most advanced that we find in the Old Testament.


The difficulty in reconciling the statement here, “Satan provoked David,” etc. with that of Samuel, “the Lord moved David,” etc. 2 Samuel 24:1 is not serious. All temptation is permitted by God. When evil spirits tempt us, they do so by permission (Job 1:12; Job 2:6; Luke 22:31, etc.). If Satan therefore provoked David to number the people, God allowed him. And what God allows, He may be said to do. (Another view is maintained in the 2 Samuel 24:1 note).” (1)


The other view of 2 Samuel 24:1 is explained by Barnes' from his Notes on the Bible:


“And again, the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel - This sentence is the heading of the whole chapter, which goes on to describe the sin which kindled this anger, namely, the numbering of the people 1 Chronicles 21:7-8; 1 Chronicles 27:24. There is no note of time, except that the word “again” shows that these events happened “after” those of 2 Samuel 21. (Compare also 2 Samuel 24:25; 2 Samuel 21:14.)


And he moved David - In 1 Chronicles 21:1 the statement is, “and an adversary” (not “Satan,” as the King James Version, since there is no article prefixed, as in Job 1:6; Job 2:1, etc.) “stood up against Israel and moved David,” just as 1 Kings 11:14, 1 Kings 11:23, 1 Kings 11:25 first Hadad, and then Rezon, is said to have been “an adversary” (Satan) to Solomon and to Israel. Hence, our text should be rendered, “For one moved David against them.” We are not told whose advice it was, but someone, who proved himself an enemy to the best interests of David and Israel, urged the king to number the people.” (2)


The second view explained by Barnes’ while plausible, does not hold up in light of the many translations that follow the King James Version, using the original word: שָׂטָן (Satan) in their translation that is in the Hebrew text.  


In seeking an answer to the question of who moved David, the Lord or Satan, consider the case of Job:


“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, from going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made a hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So, Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.” (Job 1:6-12)


“And they bemoaned him, and comforted him (Job) over all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him.” (Job 42:11) _


From the two passages under consideration and the passages from Job, Satan provoked David in 1 Chronicles 21:1 with God’s permission, similar to Job’ account. The Lord moved both David and Job. He gave Satan permission to test both Job and David.


Another example:


In 2 Kings 25:1-21, King Zedekiah of Judah rebels against Nebuchadnezzar, and Jerusalem is besieged by King Nebuchadnezzar, and eventually, the inhabitants are carried away into Babylonian captivity. Because of Judah’s unfaithfulness, the Lord brought judgment on them, using Nebuchadnezzar as God’s intermediator or as His instrument. God was Judah’s Judge, yet a third party, the Babylonians, carried out this judgment. 


In conclusion:

There is no conflict between the Chronicles and Samuel passages. Together both passages supply essential information regarding the providential outworking of redemptive history. In the Scriptural story of Christ’s death, one finds Satan, the pagan Romans, and God’s will to permit His Son’s sacrifice for the elect people of God.


“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)


“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)




1.      Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, 1 Chronicles, Vol. 3 p. 479.

2.      Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, 2 Samuel, Vol.  p. 151.


Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com