Bible Problems: Does 2 Samuel 24:1 Contradict 1 Chronicles 21:1?

Posted: May 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

 I must admit, I am not as familiar with the Old Testament (OT) as I would like to be.  I try to continually read through the books found in the OT.  I believe that the OT is Christian scripture and is part of God’s special revelation to His people.  It contains the history of creation, the choosing of Israel, the law, the covenants, and so much more.  Ultimately, however, I love the OT because it points us to Jesus.  We see the fall of man in the first few pages of Genesis.  At the same time, we read of the promise of God to crush the head of the old serpent (Satan).  And as the OT progresses we are continually and consistently pointed forward.  The kings come and go.  The prophets tell of judgment and of salvation…both coming in the future.  The OT sets the stage for the coming of the Christ and helps us understand what the Messiah has come to do.

Now, as much as I love the OT, it is true that at times I find it hard to follow.  The list of genealogies, the numbering of the tribes of Israel, and the specific instructions about washings, sacrifices, and the like are sometimes a bit confusing.  Moreover, there are at times apparent historical contradictions. Other times, one verse seems to say something that another verse contradicts.  For example, 2 Samuel 24:1 says that the God “moved David against” Israel.  But the account of the same event in 1 Chronicles 21:1 says that Satan “moved David.”  This is, a first glance, an apparent textual contradiction.  How do we solve the issue?

First, it is helpful to remember that, as you wrestle with textual problems such as these, that you are not the first to do so.  You can be fairly confident that others have worked through these same issues.  For me that means I know I can find help.  It also means that I need not worry about the Bible falling apart underneath me as if I have discovered the one contradiction and insolvable problem in the Bible.  That doesn’t mean I don’t work through it and seek to understand the Bible myself; it simply means I don’t have an emotional breakdown the moment I run into a problem.  I take a deep breath and work through it. 

Secondly, I pull out multiple translations.  How do the NASB, ESV, NKJV, NIV, and others render the verses in question?  Sometimes this approach will shed much light on the problem.  If you are skilled in Hebrew (OT) or Greek (NT), then it is also helpful to look at the original text and see in what ways the original word or phrase could be taken.  The many different English glosses of a word can help clarify the issue.

Thirdly, use a concordance.  The work that so many have done before us to link the Bible together using reference notes is tremendously helpful.  Look at the referenced passages and let the Bible help solve its own problems.  I find this to possibly be the most helpful part of problem solving.  Strong’s Concordance, a good reference Bible, or tools on the internet will direct you to passages that will give you clues on how to work through your questions.

Fourthly, open a good study bible.  I think the best on the market is the ESV Study BibleDr. John MacArthur also has one that is beneficial (although written from the perspective of a Dispensationalist, a position with which I do not agree).  Opening a number of study bibles will be a way to consult others who have already read and thought through these issues. 

Fifthly, commentaries are helpful.  I do not like to open a commentary until I have done the first four things.  I find that if I do, my interpretation is driven by what the commentator has said instead of what the Spirit is saying to me as I study.  That approach is not meant to undermine the use of commentaries.  I thank God for the many volumes that have been produced and made available.  They are a gift to the church of the Lord Jesus.  Open them up and see what scholars have said about the text and apparent problem that you are facing.  Many times this will provide some answers (as well as raise more questions).

Lastly, write down your thoughts.  Study with a pen in hand.  Record your thoughts as you move through each of these steps.  A good journal should always be at hand when studying God’s Word (and any subject, in my opinion).  It provides you a way to record what you are thinking, jot down specific questions that come to mind, and note any insights that you gain as you study.  As you come to the end of your study, write down where you have come at that time.  You can now, when faced with this passage (or similar passages), go back to what you have written and be reminded of what you have previously read, studied, and concluded.

Now, for our present problem, I would say that there is no contradiction.  We know that God works through a variety of means to accomplish His purposes, including God working through evil.  In my opinion God created the world and planned for sin to enter into creation.  Sin must be if Christ is to be put on the cross and the glory of God put on full display.  The way He accomplished this was by placing Satan in the Garden and creating the circumstances that led Adam and Eve to rebel.  God worked through the natural disaster of the flood to destroy the entire human race, except for Noah and his family.  In 1 Kings 22:13-23 we find that God used a “lying spirit” (which is identified by some scholars as Satan) to accomplish His purposes.  So, acknowledging that God sometimes employs evil to accomplish His good purposes, we can deal with 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1.

I take the passage as simply saying that it was the plan of God to incite David to take the census.  The means that God uses to get this done (similar to what happens in 1 Kings 22) is by allowing Satan to incite David.  Thus the end is what God has ordained (the census) and the means (Satan) is what God employs to bring about that end.  Thus, in the final analysis, both verses hold true and there is no contradiction.

One final note to make is this:  All of this is done in humility.  I admit that I am not inspired and have much to learn.  Thus, I hold my position only until I can be shown a better way.  My desire is to always think rightly about what God has revealed.  When my thinking and theological formulations are shown to be inconsistent with the Bible, I change my thinking.  I go back to the drawing board and work the issue again. 

So, study.  Read.  Consult other passages.  Listen to those who have gone before you.  Write down what you are learning.  And hold your positions with a humble confidence. Do all while praying that God would open your eyes and allow you to see the truth that He has revealed.

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