Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel,
and it incited David against them to say,
“Go, number Israel and Judah.”
2 Samuel 24:1
Then Satan stood up against Israel
and moved David to number Israel.
1 Chronicles 21:1
So who did it?
Who prompted David to take the census which led God to inflict a massive judgment on Israel, God or Satan?
For that matter, who prompted all the calamity that fell upon Job?
Was it God?
“Have you [Satan] considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil…Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” (Job 1:9, 12)
Or was it Satan?
“Have You [God] not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” (Job 1:10-11)
The problem in both of these passages is that we see God orchestrating an event which includes Satan acting in a malicious way. How can God and Satan work together? God, the supreme loving Father, and Satan, the father of lies…cooperating?
It happens in the New Testament too. In the fourth chapter of Matthew and Luke, we read that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil. Paul refers to a messenger of Satan who had been given to him to keep him from exalting himself, a messenger who Paul says God allowed to continue to attack him (2 Cor. 12:7,8). In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, we read of two men, Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom Paul, “handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.” (1 Timothy 1:20)
Essentially, what we learn from all these passages is that Satan – though he is cursed for his rebellion against God – is still used by God for His own sovereign purposes. The Tempter, as he is referred to in Matt. 4:3 and 1 Thess. 3:5, requires no aide or abetting from God in order to do evil; instead, we see that God releases Satan unto certain goals so that either the righteousness or unrighteousness of a person will be exposed.
In the cases of Job, Jesus, and Paul, we read of success in their resistance to the devil’s schemes. But as we look back to 2 Samuel, we see that it is Joab, not David, who comes out ahead during this temptation,
So David said… “Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, and bring me word that I may know their number.”
Joab said, “May the LORD add to His people a hundred times as many as they are! But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? Why does my lord seek this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt to Israel?”
Nevertheless, the king’s word prevailed against Joab. Therefore, Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem. …But he did not number Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab.
(1 Chr 21:3-6)
Every other time Joab disagreed with David, he was in the wrong – but not this time. David was resting on his laurels. I like what the Mac says in his study Bible,
David’s census brought tragedy because, unlike the census in Moses’ time (Num 1,2) which God had commanded, this census by David was to gratify his pride in the great strength of his army and consequent military power…Joab knew David was operating on a sinful motive, but the king’s arrogance led him to ignore the warning.
I appreciate this account of Joab standing against David’s sentence for a few reasons:
1. It shows that Joab has a sense of honoring God for the victories he has in battle. Joab often took matters into his own hands, slaughtering men whom David instructed him not to kill. Without this passage, we’d only be left to hope for a glimmer of light in Joab’s heart; this passage shows us that Joab did indeed take God seriously.
2. Joab obeyed the order of his king despite his disagreement. Every other time we see Joab disagreeing with David, he ends up disobeying as well. But in this case, Joab responds to David by telling him the truth, but obeying him regardless since David was his ruler.
3. We can safely conclude Joab would not be part of the “church-growth” movement defiling the church throughout the world today. Joab is a warrior, first and foremost – but as vicious as he was, he did not ultimately turn to numbers so he could feel good about what he was doing. After winning countless battles with fewer soldiers than his enemy, Joab knew that God was the ultimate fighter for Israel.
4. We see that Joab is a man of strong conviction! I love the Bible in Basic English translation of verse 6, “…for Joab was disgusted with the king’s order.” As Joab (and perhaps a scribe or two) dutifully count all of Israel, a task which must have taken weeks if not months, he reaches a point of disgust: Joab has had enough!
Jump to David and Joab Part 1, 2, 3, 4, Finale