Question & Answer Forum : Lessons from David’s Life

Since God does not tempt any man with evil, how do we understand, “He moved David” to commit an act of pride (2 Sam 24:1)?

Resolving such apparent contradictions requires us to begin with the clear statements of Scripture and work from there. When James tells us that God tempts no one (1:13), he bases his statement on the character of God. “God cannot be tempted with evil.” No possible means can ever exist that will produce evil in God. The next part of the sentence begins with “and.” What follows therefore must be consistent with what James has told us about the character of God. Nothing can cause evil in God and God cannot cause evil in others.

This principle underlies the teaching in John’s first epistle: light (1 Jo 1:5) cannot produce evil (2:4) and love (4:16) cannot produce hatred (v 20). We judge trees by their fruit: a harvest of grapes does not grow on thorn bushes (Mat 7:16-20). A tree reproduces what it is. We reproduce what we are. God can only “reproduce” what He is.

God has permitted sin in His fair creation, but He cannot be the cause of it. We cannot in any way construe His eternal plan of redemption (1 Pe 1:18-20) as the cause of sin. The same must apply to the events described in 2 Samuel 24: “And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’”

The results of this census make it clear that David commanded Joab to assess the military power of his nation (vv 8-9). Joab argued against this census by reminding David that numbers of soldiers were not the secret of Israel’s strength. The Lord could produce as many more as He would choose (v 3). David had earlier recognized, “The Lord is my . . . strength” (Psa 18:2) and that the king’s joy is in the Lord’s strength (Psa 21:1). Pride in his nation’s strength moved David to number his soldiers. The truth from James is clear: a person does evil because his own desires entice him (Jam 1:14). David’s own heart produced what David did.

God permitted what David did. David’s heart produced what David did. The passage states, though, that an external source incited David. The text of the Septuagint (translated about 250 years before Christ) identifies this source as Satan: “And the Lord caused His anger to burn forth again in Israel, and Satan stirred up David against them.” This is consistent with the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles: “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel” (21:1). The Hebrew text in 2 Samuel doesn’t specify the subject of the verb, “moved,” although grammatically the subject would be the previous noun, “Lord.” Theology overrules the grammar and the parallel passage provides the subject for the verse. As in the case of Job’s trials, God permitted it, but Satan precipitated it. Add to that, in this case, David produced it (see Believers Bible Commentary).

D. Oliver

When leaders in an assembly instruct a believer to do what is contrary to the Word of God, should the believers bow to them?

No. This answer is clear. “We ought to obey God rather that men” (Acts 5:29). We must understand, though, that this is a rare and exceptional case. First, “what is contrary to the Word of God” cannot be what is actually contrary to my opinion or preference. Also, we must judge “what is contrary to the Word of God” in light of the teaching of other parts of Scripture. Is there another possible way to understand this in a way consistent with revealed truth? The conclusion regarding this is best reached on our knees, with a heart bowed in subjection to the Lord. Dispassionate discussion of this issue with the overseers is a wise and proper course of action, because the normal expectation of the Word of God is subjection to them (Heb 13:17). Seeking the guidance of trusted believers who are wise and know God and His Word is essential, for “in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Pro 11:14; 24:6, see 15:22). Courage for such a step is necessary and the Lord will provide it: He enables what He commands (Jud 6:14). But caution is necessary, first, to be absolutely certain before the Lord that the Scriptures require this step and, second, to be certain to do what is required in a godly manner consistent with the Word of God. “He that believeth shall not make haste” (Isa 28:16).

D. Oliver

Is David’s respect for Saul an example of a believer bowing to a man in authority who is wrong?

No. When David cut off a corner of Saul’s robe, his conscience bothered him. His sensitivity is admirable. He recognized before the Lord that any act, however slight, that indicated disrespect for “the Lord’s anointed” was wrong. David later said, “Who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be guiltless?” (1 Sam 26:9). David respected what God had done in anointing Saul. God had made Saul king and God would remove him in keeping with His word through Samuel (1 Sam 15:26). God’s timing of His work is perfect and David waited for God to do what He had said He would do. David was subject to Saul because he was submitting to God.

This is a different case from the previous question (submitted with this question). Saul was not worthy of the place of authority he held. That is not the issue in the previous question. Whether or not we think they are worthy of their responsibility, the recognized overseers of an assembly are accountable to God for leading His people. The men, in themselves, are not the issue; the problem is what they have taught. They have instructed believers to do what is contrary to Scripture. This is not the case between Saul and David. David obeyed God’s intent (see 1Ch 16:14-22) and recognized he should do nothing against Saul. He did not face a command from Saul to disobey God.

If (and, as implied in the previous answer, this is a huge “if”) leaders among the Lord’s people legislate action that is contrary to God’s Word, proper and godly behavior will not show disrespect for the leaders themselves. Nevertheless, in obeying God rather then men, the believers will not follow the legislation of men, but the legislation of heaven.

D. Oliver