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Satan or God: Who Tempted David to Sin?

The author of 2 Samuel says that Yahweh caused David to sin by taking a census of his military personnel (2 Sam 24:1) while the author of 1 Chronicles attributes this temptation to Satan (1 Chr 21:1). It is clear that the author of 2 Samuel had no problem accepting that Yahweh was capable of inciting David to sin and then punishing him for doing what he incited him to do by slaughtering 70,000 of his subjects with a plague (2 Sam 24:10-7). The Chronicler, on the other hand, understandably found this theology objectionable and so changed the reference from God to Satan. As people developed a heightened sense of the moral character of God and of the depth of evil that engulfs this world in the centuries leading up to Christ, we find other examples of people amending Scripture in this way and/or emphasizing the role of angels to distance God from morally dubious activities.

This alteration is theologically significant inasmuch as it demonstrates how in the progress of revelation, later, more enlightened authors discerned “something else going on” when earlier authors ascribed immoral behaviors to Yahweh. Yet, the crucientric significance of this alteration only becomes apparent when we interpret it in light of the cross, for it confirms that in earlier times Yahweh was willing to stoop as far as needed to remain in covenantal solidarity with his people and to continue to further his historical purposes through them. Not only does this bear witness to the merciful, accommodating character of Yahweh supremely disclosed on the cross, it bears witness to God’s willingness to assume responsibility for all he allows. While the later Chronicler correctly understood that Satan is the one who incites people to sin, God stooped to allow the earlier author to depict him as Satan, thereby making him look guilty of something that he merely allowed.

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