hand-tally2I received the following question:

I was reading through 1 Chronicles last night and today.  I came upon the census of David (chapter 21).  I specifically remembered that in 2 Samual 24 that “He [the Lord] moved David against them to say, ‘go number Israel and Judah’.”  And the number was 800000 and 500000 for Israel and Judah. Chronicles documents it as 1100000 and 470000.

Also chronicles states that “Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.”  Much of the conversations are different, but it intrigues me why the Lord would offer the same choice to David and why David would conduct two censuses.

Also I am wondering if there were in fact two censuses because of 1 Chronicles 27:24.  I was interested in your thoughts on this  … eh hem … ‘contradiction’.  I’ll keep looking at and perhaps the truth will hit me. As I said before I would be interested in your thoughts too.

I believe that the answer here lies in the exact designations given to each category. In Israel in II Samuel 24:9, the number is 800,000 “valiant men who drew the sword.” My brief check of the Hebrew tells me the idea is something like “wealthy/powerful/army men, mighty men who drew the sword.” In I Chronicles 21:5, however, the number is 1,100,000 “men who drew the sword.” There is just the one word “men,” instead of the three words for powerful, men, and mighty men. Thus, it seems that there were 1,100,000 men in total, but only 800,000 of them were “valiant” men or men of might and power. Then in Judah in II Samuel 24:9, the number is 500,000 men in total. In I Chronicles 21:5, however, the number is 470,000 men “who drew the sword.” So it seems there were 500,000 men in Judah in total, but only 470,000 of them drew the sword. Apparently II Samuel gives a more exclusive number regarding Israel, and a more inclusive number regarding Judah, whereas I Chronicles gives the same criteria for both: simply that they were men who drew the sword.

Remember that Samuel gives what is often the human and political point of view of events, whereas Chronicles gives more of God’s viewpoint, and the heart motivations of the kings that are going on behind the scenes. In Samuel, we learn of the Lord’s anger against Israel, and the result of it. I do not believe that the Lord actually told David to take the census, for that would make David’s confession of sin to the Lord in verse 10 to be nonsensical, as well as the Lord’s response. I think The Companion Bible’s note on this offers a good explanation.

“He moved=He suffered him to be moved. By Hebrew idiom (and also by modern usage) a person is said to do that which he permits to be done. Here we have the historical fact. In I Chron. 21.1 we have the real fact from the Divine standpoint. Here the exoteric, in I Chron. 21.1 the esoteric. For examples, see Ex. 4.21; 5.22. Jer. 4.10. Ezek. 14.9; 20.25. Matt. 11.25;13.11. Rom. 9.18; 11.7,8. 2 Thess. 2.11. God’s permission, but Satan’s suggestion (Jas. 1.13,14); or, yasath, may be taken impersonally, ‘David was moved’.”

I believe that God here was allowing David to be moved against Israel by deciding to perform a census. David’s motivation, we learn in I Chronicles 21:1. There, it tells us that Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. This was David’s actual provocation. Now the name “Satan” actually means “Enemy.” It could be here that “Satan” should actually be translated rather than being a proper name. Then, this would read, “And an enemy stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” In other words, it could have been a threat from a very human army host that raised the desire in David to perform a census so he could know how big a fighting force he had at his command. The problem with this was that God had made clear to Israel that He was their military advantage, and that they were to rely upon Him to win their battles, not upon their military might. David’s numbering of the host indicated a willful pride in the strength of his own armies, rather than a proper reliance upon the God Who had rescued him from all his enemies. Thus the sin, and the reason for the punishment.

I believe there was, in fact, only one census. I Chronicles 27:24, “Joab the son of Zeruiah began a census, but he did not finish, for wrath came upon Israel because of this census; nor was the number recorded in the account of the chronicles of King David,” is explained by I Chronicles 21:6, ” But he did not count Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king’s word was abominable to Joab.” Joab did not finish in that he never numbered Levi or Benjamin. As for “the account of the chronicles of King David,” I do not believe that this is a book we have in our Bibles. Really all we know about it is what we learn here, that it did not contain the numbers from this census. I do not believe it is a reference to either II Samuel or I Chronicles. It was probably a book containing a record of all the significant events of David’s reign, similar to King Darius’ chronicles in Esther 2:23 and 6:1-2.