For the past nine months or so I've been reading through the Bible chronologically. I'm far behind my in my reading plan, so a week or two ago I was reading in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles. I love this reading plan because you often read the exact same story in two different places. It opens your eyes to nuances and perspectives you might miss if you read the stories separately months apart. Here's a great example.
2 Samuel 24:1 read, "Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah." (ESV)
When I read that, a big 'red flag' went up. How do I reconcile this with James 1:13 which 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."?
Notice a few things though. Here, David's census taking is a punishment. God is angry at David and Israel and he 'incited' David to take a census which would result in judgment (pestilence) on the land. Why was God angry? That is one of the details we wish we knew, but we don't get the answer - at least not in this text. This is a narrative example of what Paul teaches in Romans one - that God 'gives people over' to sin as punishment (Romans 1:24, 26). So God was angry with David and Israel and incites them to greater sin (taking a census was a display of trusting in their military might, not God) and judging them for their sin. Ultimately, this episode leads to the purchase of the land on which Solomon would build the temple. But that still doesn't resolve the issue of God tempting David to take the census!?
Read next the same story in 1 Chronicles 21:1, "Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel." (ESV). Ah. The Chronicler has a more immediate perspective - Satan tempted David. His perspective is like the servants in the book of Job that came with the report "the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword...The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword...a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead" (Job 1:15, 17, 19).
This immediate perspective is balanced by a more 'cosmic' perspective which recognized God's absolute sovereignty, even over evil and evil moral agents. You see it in Job's words, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." (Job 1:21). I think this is the perspective you get looking at the 2 Samuel passage. The Chronicler looks to the immediate circumstance - Satan tempted David. The author of Samuel looks to God's sovereignty as the ultimate explanation. Satan does it, but does it according to God's plan. God does it, but using Satan as him intermediate tool.
Nothing falls outside the scope of God's sovereignty, so I can say with utter confidence (and gratefulness) , that "we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28, ESV). God's toolbox is huge as he works for his glory and our eternal good!