Every Word In The Bible Is Truly Spoken,
But Those Words May Not Accurately Reflect The Truth Of The Situation.
Conflicts of description or narrative occasionally occur in the Bible. These can cause challenges in light of a belief that every word in the Bible is inspired by God and that no error exists.
Consider the discussion of Job in Chapter 11 of Ideolatry, (click for blog post) which concluded that everything in the Bible is truly stated, but not necessarily true. One such situation of conflict is found in the record of David’s numbering of Israel or the taking of a census. Two accounts of the event are found in the Bible. The first is found in 2 Samuel 24 and the second in 1 Chronicles 21. These two chapters describe the same event, but they provide differing perspectives as to who was involved in instigating the activity.
Every word in the Bible is truly spoken in that it is a true representation of the activities of a particular event and the words spoken. However, those words may not necessarily be an accurate reflection of the truth of the situation. Even when the narrative presents something that is not reflective of the truth, there is a reason for its presence in the Bible. Careful study can reveal hidden truth within the text, and it can also provide a great deal of insight into God and His character and nature.
Questions arise when the accounts of 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21 are examined. The answers will provide insight into the apparent contradiction.
- “Why is there a discrepancy between the two accounts?”
- “What is the problem?”
- “Moses took a census but was not considered to have sinned, so why was it a sin for David to take a census?”
Other more basic questions to determine what is going on might be:
- “Who are the respective authors of these two books?”
- “What is the perspective of each writer?”
There is speculation among scholars regarding the authorship of these books. Two likely co-authors of 2 Samuel are identified as contemporaries of David. The first was Gad the Seer, one of the prophets of David, and the second was Nathan, another prophet, who played some notable roles during the reign of David. The book of 1 Chronicles is attributed to the prophet Ezra and was written about 400 years after this event.
Who Did It?
The account in 2 Samuel 24:1 begins by stating that God’s anger was directed against Israel. It attributes the prompting to take the census to the Lord or Yahweh (Strong’s OT:3068).
“Jehovah”- Strong’s OT:3068,= Yehovah (yeh-ho-vaw’);
(the) self-Existent or Eternal; Jehovah, Jewish national name of God: KJV - Jehovah, the Lord.
Although they were written 400 years apart, the narrative of the two accounts is consistent except in one crucial point. The motivation for David’s census is different and the source is noted at the beginning of each account. A comparison of the texts beginning with 2 Samuel 24:1-4 reveals that both perspectives cannot be correct because they clearly attribute the causation to two greatly differing sources.
2 Samuel 24:1-4 (Author probably Gad or Nathan)
1 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 For the king said to Joab the captain of the host, which was with him, Go now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba, and number ye the people, that I may know the number of the people. 3 And Joab said unto the king, Now the LORD thy God add unto the people, how many soever they be, an hundredfold, and that the eyes of my lord the king may see it: but why doth my lord the king delight in this thing? 4 Notwithstanding the king’s word prevailed against Joab, and against the captains of the host. And Joab and the captains of the host went out from the presence of the king, to number the people of Israel.
In stark contrast to 2 Samuel, the 1 Chronicles account attributes the provocation to Satan (Strong’s OT:7854). Satan, sometimes translated adversary, is always associated with evil while God (the Lord or Yahweh) is sometimes associated with both good and evil.
“satan”, - Strong’s OT:7854, satan (saw-tawn’), from OT:7853;
an opponent; especially (with the article pre xed) Satan, the arch-enemy of good: KJV-- adversary, Satan, withstand.
The apparent conflict between these two accounts clearly produces some serious confusion. In the 2 Samuel account, God was considered the adversary of David and Israel. Understanding who prompted David’s action is essential since in 1 Chronicles 21:1-4 Ezra describes a very different scenario, casting Satan as the adversary.
Some might say that God is responsible either way since He created everything, including Satan.
However, God is not just playing a cosmic chess game with the lives of mankind. If God is viewed through that lens, man is just a puppet for God’s amusement. One account portrays God as both good and evil, and the other clearly shows evil in the camp of the adversary, Satan. Where then, does the responsibility for the prompting of David lie? With God or with Satan?
Examination of these two accounts certainly generates some concerns. These concerns might be answered by studying the observational context of the writers as we did in the discussions of relativity, the ping pong players, the cars and the stationary observers…
I hope my blog posts help you grow in your faith and Biblical understanding. I would like to invite you on a journey of further spiritual growth by purchasing the Ideolatry Book and Study Guide. Together, these tools will give you a strong Biblical foundation when life is difficult to understand.
May the Lord bless you and keep you... Dr. Rich Masek
Do you want to learn more about this subject?
Read Chapter 17, The Numbering Of Israel - A Threat Assessment
in Ideolatry - God Is Not Your Problem
You can read about more subjects from Ideolatry below.