Day 24: 2 Samuel 22 – 1 Kings 7 A Theologians Nightmare

Derek Ouellette —  February 2, 2011

Today’s reading recounts David’s final explicit sin, his death and Solomon’s rise to the throne

To begin I’d like to point out a cool verse and then I’ll finish with a disturbing story:

I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing. – David (2 Samuel 24:24)

How could you sacrifice that which has cost you nothing? How is that even a sacrifice? Sacrifices cost. Period. I think there are many Christians in North America who would gladly take Araunah up on his offer. They would gladly let Araunah provide the sacrifice for them. They would even speak of it as a “blessing” from the Lord.

Oh that we would not be diluted by our own hubris!

Now on to the difficult stuff

In 2 Samuel 24 we are told an interesting story which scholars have had a difficult time reconciling. This story is most easily reconciled by someone whose theology holds to “omni-determinism”, but even most of them don’t like the story.

Keep in mind as we go through this that I am not working with a commentary or any study notes, and although I am aware that Chronicles tells a different version of the story (1 Chronicles 21), I will not be using it here except to say that verse one of the Chronicles account replaces the Samuel account of “God” with “Satan” – which only complicates things.

Verse one opens up with:

“Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go and take a census of Israel and Judah’.”

The story does not tell us why the Lord’s anger burned against Israel. No reason is given. None. What the story does tell us is that because the Lord was “again” angry with Israel, he incited David to take a census. The Lord did.

So David did as the Lord commanded. Then, when the census was taken…

David was conscience stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” – 2 Samuel 24:10

As a result of David’s sin,

The Lord sent a plaque on Israel… and seventy thousand of the people died. – 1 Samuel 24:15

That is a difficult passage for me to reconcile. Here is what seems to be happening: The Lord is angry with Israel (for whatever reason we are not told) and incites David to take a census, thus causing David to sin (“I have sinned greatly”) and giving the Lord opportunity to punish Israel.

Question, if Israel had done something to anger the Lord, why would the Lord need an additional reason to punish them? Why would he incite the opportunity? How is he absolved from sin? Isn’t it unjust to punish David for doing precisely as the Lord instructed?

But just when you think you’ve reached a new peak in “determinism” within the biblical narrative, the text unsettling throws an “openness” monkey wrench in the mix:

The Lord was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, ‘Enough. Withdraw your hand.” – 2 Samuel 24:16

If all things are determined in the finest of details, then how is it that the Lord “was grieved”? Such a statement cannot be “anthropomorphic” because it would add nothing to the narrative.

It seems then that the Lord was actually grieved over the destruction which the Lord commanded as a punishment for David’s sin which the Lord himself directly incited because the Lord was (for some mysterious reason) angry with Israel and needed an excuse to punish them because – apparently – whatever he was angry with them over was not punishable.

Talk about an unsettling story; and a theologian’s nightmare to be sure!

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Crystal

    Yes, that is a weird story.
    Why God would need the excuse, I’m sure I don’t know.
    However, ‘incite’ isn’t exactly the same as ‘command’. It isn’t inconsistent for the scripture to assign responsibility for an evil to God when he removes his hand of protection or relents from holding back an evil.
    We are not told the condition of David’s heart at the time, but there’s a good chance David was already bent on pride and God simply allowed Satan to use that foothold to incite him in this expression of arrogance.
    Had God been sparing Israel for David’s sake and now David’s heart was displeasing too? Not even close to conclusive, but a possibility…

    • Derek Ouellette

      Thanks Crystal for putting that positive spin on the story… you are correct in every detail. Incite does not mean command, I did stretch that.
      I still find the story difficult to handle. First that the Lord would incite David to sin to punish Israel and second that the Lord would do so because he wanted further reason to punish Israel after he was already angry with them (for unknown reasons).

    • Derek Ouellette

      P.S. Let me know what you think of Piper’s “Desiring God”.

  • Crystal

    Well, David is certainly under the impression that it is on his account (not Israel’s) that this thing has happened. Were it not for that pesky phrase “Now again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel…”

    As for Piper…if you were hoping for more positive spin stuff, that was the wrong question. I’m reading it aloud to my husband and I often feel like I should be washing my mouth out. Oh, the unqualified and arrogant statements that man makes about God!

    I can appreciate his heart and I have no problem with ‘Christian Hedonism’ as it is stated in the introduction. The book should have ended there, though.

    Still hoping for it to get better, but logical and theological soundness are on vacation for now. Can you say non-sequitur?

    To be fair, I am not a Calvinist, and Piper, of course is–and rather extreme at that.

    Some of my favorite parts so far:

    Piper has figured out what the chief end of God is.

    Piper is savvy to Jesus’ exact thoughts and motives in certain narratives, quite apart from anything the text reveals.

    Apparently God is actually “happy” about the evil he has decreed when he chooses to look at it through his “wide lens.”

    I think this is a valuable read because it has shaped so many people’s thoughts, but to tell you the truth it is very disillusioning for the same reason.

    Sorry, that was longer than I intended. I would feel bad reviewing it on my own blog, so I vented here. :)

    • Derek Ouellette

      Don’t apologize for the length, I enjoyed your thoughts as they mirror my impression of Piper. I also liked your use of “non sequitur”. I had to look it up and will add that one to the vocabulary.