Great point! I seem to remember discussing that same point in the past. Not sure with whom, might have been in OT class at GLCC. If you look at 1 Chronicles 21:1 and following, the same story is told from the perspective of another writer. And here it says, Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.” vs 2 Sam. 24:1 that says, “Again, the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He incited David against them, saying…” This passage in 2 Sam 24 comes on the heels of great military successes. David has been the recipient of God’s blessing in every military conquest. God is angry with “Israel”, for what specifically, it doesn’t say. But the NIV note says ‘some have concluded that it was occasioned by the widespread support among the people for the rebellions of Absalom and Sheba against David…’ None the less, David had some pride issues brewing within him. And who could be surprised? With all David’s successes, the Lord’s anointing as the chosen King, God’s constant blessing… it does appear that God, being all knowing, and while not causing David to sin (James 1:13-14), He did provide the means for David to “choose” to sin (i.e. God provided the opportunity for David to do, what inwardly he wanted to do anyway.) The mere act of taking a census, that God had instructed him to take, would have simply been obedience. But David’s instructions to Joab in verse 2 to go ahead and take the census, “so that I may know how many there are.” shows us that it was something David wanted to do in the first place. He didn’t say, ‘Joab. I know it sounds prideful, but God has commanded us to take a census of Israel and Judah, for whatever reason. Maybe we’ve got too many guys. The army has gotten too large to where it’s no longer clear to our enemies where our strength is coming from. We know it’s God who blesses us with victory, regardless of the size of the army, and we will continue to give Him the glory. But to those we go up against, it’s no wonder to them that we’re so successful; with an army of 800,000+, who wouldn’t be?! So I need you to go out and count ’em up.’ David knew what he was doing was a wrong thing to do, moreover, his attitude about doing it was wrong. Even Joab tried to talk some sense into David, but David would hear none of it…till after he had done it. Then, “David was conscience stricken…and he said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done.” (24:10) It puts me in mind of the Jews that would not, could not, see the truth about Jesus and cried out for his crucifixion. But after His death, burial, and resurrection, at Pentecost, Peter preached the truth to them and they were likewise, “conscience stricken”. Acts 2:37 “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?'”
And on the night Jesus was betrayed, following Jesus arrest, Peter, like David, being one so close to the Lord, was momentarily controlled by sinful selfishness, adamantly denied that he even knew Jesus at all. Afterwards, hearing the cock crow, he was “conscience stricken”; “And he went outside and wept bitterly.” (Lk. 22:62)
So yes, at first reading of this passage in 2 Samuel 24, it would appear that David was set up for a fall – and he was. But he chose to do, to carry out, what was already in his heart. But God, in his great wisdom, knew David inside and out, and while He knew of David’s inner pride, He also knew it needed to be dealt with. And…God knew how David would deal with sin once he had carried it out and was convicted of it. He knew David was a repentant person and his repentance, his acceptance of his punishment, would serve to heal Israel as well. Just like God provided David an opportunity to sin, He also provided David an opportunity to do right, to show compassion worthy of God’s approval and blessing (v 14-17).
And that’s my take on 2 Samuel 24:1-17. (Source: Rick’s Commentary on the Old Testament)
This same question was a point of discussion, and thereby a class assignment for us to research, in my Old Testament III class at GLCC. This was my answer at that time which I believe goes along consistently with what I’ve just written (above).
There are many different theories of explanation for the differences. The first difference appearing in the first verse of each account where Samuel states it was the “anger of the Lord” that incited David against Israel. In Chronicles the culprit is said to be Satan. One theory of explanation for this is that of progressive revelation; whereas not all things are revealed by God at once. Over time, God reveals things more completely. Just as the concept of life after death was more clearly revealed in later years than it was at the time of Daniel and prior. Also the understanding of Satan, or the adversary, was not as clearly revealed at the time of the Samuel writing.
Another theory for the difference is that it could have been a textual, or copying error. In other areas of difference, number comparisons appear significantly different. For instance, the census figures for the number of fighting men was considerably different and the amount paid by David for the site of the threshing floor was 50 shekels of silver, in 2 Samuel, versus 600 shekels of gold in Chronicles. One idea is that numeric precision was not as important in ancient times, suffice it to say that there were ‘a lot’ of fighting men available. In the case of the monetary difference, at different times in history silver was worth more than gold and it could likely be that 50 shekels of silver and 600 shekels of gold were equivalent at that time.