I came across an interesting verse in my Bible reading this morning. 1 Chronicles 21:1 says: “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” This verse simply states that the sin that David committed of numbering his army and thus depending upon his military might (that results in the death of many Israelites) was caused by Satan. I suppose he could have literally said, “The devil made me do it.”
Or could he?
In 1 Chronicles 21:17, David doesn’t blame Satan. He takes full responsibility when it says: “And David said to God, ‘Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil…'”
So, was it Satan or was it David that caused this sin? Well, before we answer that question, let’s look at one more verse…
This same story is retold in 2 Samuel 24:1 where it says: “Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.'”
So, David claims he was the one who committed the sin. Yet, we also read that Satan moved David to sin. Further, we read that God’s anger was directed at David and thus He moved David to number the people and receive the consequences.
Honestly, when I try to figure out who was to ‘blame’ for David’s sin, I’m left dumbfounded. I feel like a kindergarten student looking at a college level calculus equation. I can’t understand it … but that doesn’t mean that the equation is not true.
It is in this same way that we are to understand how God works in our world and our lives. Some affirm mankind’s freedom to make his own choices (which I do) while others hang out on the other side and affirm God’s freedom to make His choices (which I also do). These truths do not cancel out each other. Simply because we do not understand the equation doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
So, what are we to make of James 1:13-15 where we are told that God doesn’t tempt us?
If we look carefully at James 1:13-15, we may read between the lines and understand what issues James may have been addressing. Apparently, there were folks who were excusing their sin by saying, “I was tempted by God!” James quickly tosses that argument out by saying that God isn’t tempted nor does He tempt anyone.
Yet, James is not saying that God doesn’t send difficulties into our lives (see James 1:2-4). God even sends things into our lives that will lead to sin (e.g. Jesus sent the Apostles into the Garden of Gethsemane where they slept instead of prayed and then ran like cowards when Jesus was forcibly taken). God sends good things and bad things our way. His desire is that we always take the escape hatch referenced in 1 Corinthians 10:13 but some folks will not take the escape hatch and will sin.
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. <span class="crossreference" style="background-color: white; font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(A)”>God is faithful, and <span class="crossreference" style="background-color: white; font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(B)”>he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 – English Standard Version)
One essential ingredient of temptation is a sinful heart (James 1:14-15). Without it, nothing at all would be tempting. (Imagine someone who has just stuffed themselves with a Thanksgiving dinner. Further, imagine that someone puts a sinfully delicious pie in front of them. It’s NOT going to be a temptation because that person has no desire whatsoever for the pie. Something is a temptation ONLY when it is met with sinful desires.)
It is in that way that we are to understand that God does not tempt us. Does He allow difficulties to come our way? Of course. Otherwise, how could He make the promise of Romans 8:28? Does He allow sinful opportunities to come our way? Of course. He could keep them from us but sometimes, He doesn’t. Yet, His desire in those times of trial is that we grow from the experience (James 1:2-4 again) and take the 1 Corinthians 10:13 escape hatch. Yet, sending things our way does not constitute temptation. Temptation only occurs when we meet the things God sends our way with a sinful heart.
But there is another principle that is activated in the stories of Pharaoh and David (and many more in Scripture) that I referenced above. I addressed it in a recent sermon. It’s the principle that is illustrated in Romans 1:18-32. When God’s patience has been exhausted and His wrath becomes evident, it is sometimes manifested in the removal of His protective hand to allow a person or a nation to continue down a sinful path that they are intent on traversing. Pharaoh was insistent that he would reject any notion of an Israelite exodus so God gave him over to that option. David was insistent on numbering the people so God’s wrath gave him the ability to exercise that option and experience the negative consequences.