2 Samuel 23:1 — “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’”
This is a difficult Bible verse to understand, an apparent contradiction in God’s word. Did God “tempt” or force David to sin? 1 Chronicles 21:1 says, “Now Satan [rather than God] stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.” And James 1:13 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” Simply stated, the Lord tests and Satan tempts –
– Psalm 11:5 — The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
– Psalm 26:2 — Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind.
– Psalm 66:10 — For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.
– Proverbs 17:3 — The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.
– 1 Thessalonians 2:4 — …but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.
Nothing happens outside of God’s Sovereignty. He governs all things. God is perfect in holiness and cannot sin or cause people to sin, but He does use evil and evildoers to test us and to accomplish His will – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good [even evil things], for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28, 29)
God allows (actually ordains) trials in your life, and He tests your heart and mind, not to tempt you but rather to draw you closer to Him and to develop in you Christ-like character. When you are tested, it is not so God can see the truth of your character (He already knows it), it is so you can see it, both the noble and ignoble. Sometimes God needs you to see where you lack faith and need to grow. Sometimes God tests you because He wants you to see the faith you didn’t even know you had in order to encourage you, build you up stronger in faith, reveal Himself to you in a greater way, and bring glory to Himself – “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son.” (Hebrews 11:17) In fact, James said that with faith in God, we should actually rejoice in our trials – “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
Sometimes, as in the case with David today, God will test your heart and mind to expose your sin, idolatry and hypocrisy. God’s will in your failures is to bring you to humble repentance, to draw you closer to Him, to sanctify you, to conform you to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29), and to prepare you for greater faithful service in love. His desire is not to condemn you and destroy you but rather to reconcile you – “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
– Jeremiah 12:3 — But you, O Lord, know me; you see me, and test my heart toward you.
– James 1:12 — Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Temptation is another matter. Temptation is an enticement to sin and to dishonor God, and it comes from three sources: the world (2Peter 1:4, Galatians 1:4, 1John 2:15), the flesh (Romans 7:18, Galatians 5:19 – 21, James 1:14 – 15, etc.), and the devil (Ephesians 6:11, James 4:7). As James teaches, temptation, unlike testing, does not come directly from God, as it would be contrary to His holy essence.
Again, God allows the temptation in order to expose the truth of people’s hearts – you can’t really be tempted with what your heart doesn’t desire or detests. The Father allowed the ‘temptation’ of Jesus by Satan in the desert in order to expose the truth of Jesus’ righteous heart and bring glory to Him. Jesus was tempted externally by Satan, but He was not tempted internally, proving to be wholly faithful and the Son of God.
On the contrary, David was tempted both externally by Satan and internally within his own heart, exposing the pride that remained in both him and the Israelites. There was nothing inherently sinful about conducting a census, God had directed it before. What was sinful was not the conduct of the census but rather David’s motivation for conducting a census. God fully knew David’s heart and the sinful pride of the people, but they could not see it in themselves, so God had to expose it. So, when David wanted to conduct a census for all the wrong reasons, God essentially said, “Do what is on your heart,” turning David over to His own sinful desires that he would face the consequences.
When failure occurs, repentance inspired by faith in God’s grace leads us to discipline and sanctification rather than condemnation. As stated in Jeremiah 12:3, God’s intent is to test you “toward” Him and as Romans 8:29 says, so you may “be conformed to the image of his Son.” In today’s story, David repents and the plague is averted. Remember in the New Testament, both Judas and Peter betrayed Christ. Judas couldn’t bring Himself to repent and accept the forgiveness of God, and He killed himself. Peter, on the other hand, repented, accepted forgiveness, and was used mightily by God. Similarly, Paul, formerly Saul who had made a career of persecuting Christians, repented and went to his death boldly proclaiming Christ and glorifying Him. Repent when you fall short, have confidence in God’s grace, and glorify God boldly as a living testimony to the Gospel. “Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 22 May 21: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5) Examine the motives behind your actions today. Why do you do what you do? You could be doing the right things for the wrong reasons, sinning against God in your apparently good deeds because of selfish motives. You may be motivated by fear, pride, ego, or a sense of duty, but above all of these, God wants you to motivated by selfless love. How many of your decisions are wholly selflessly loving? Of course, our motives are never wholly pure in love as we are not yet perfected in love through our sanctification. But make pure love your goal, search your heart, and pray that God will help you grow in pure love, which is closer fellowship with Him, The God who IS love (2 Samuel 24) “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3)