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Sunday: Possible Reasons for Apparent Contradictions — 24 Comments

  1. I an giving this apparent contradiction in the Bible as an example for us to chew on a bit.

    And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah. 2 Sam 24:1 KJV

    And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. 1 Chr 21:1 KJV

    Same event - different instigator!

    And in the spirit of good research, I am not providing you with my answer. It would only bias the discussion.

    • I don't know the answer but am meditating on the following texts:
      Matt 4:1 Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil
      Matt 6:13 lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
      James 1:13-14 God does not tempt anyone, each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.

      • Shirley,

        I checked the first statement in two other gospels, and the understanding is clearer:

        Mark 1 (KJV)
        12 And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness.
        13 And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.

        Luke 4:1-2 (KJV)
        1 And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,
        2 Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.

        "Line upon Line....here a little there a little?"

        Finite writers expressed themselves in different ways, I guess, but no one should allow this to lead them to believe that Jesus himself tempts us. To do this would be to believe the lies Satan tells about Jesus, God.

        All difficulties we find in Scripture must be weighed in the scales of the Love of our Heavenly Father, who would leave no stone unturned to save us all.

    • Thanks for your daily comments which I always look forward to after I read my daily lesson, they are so enlightening and uplifting. May God continue to use in His ministry

      However, I looked up 1 Chronicles 21:4, there seem to be a mismatch with the verse quoted as, it reads

      Nevertheless the king’s word prevailed against Joab.
      Wherefore Joab departed, and went throughout all Israel,
      and came to Jerusalem.

      Or is there some explanation am missing on the contradiction?

      • Thanks for the catch Auxilia Kaunda. I have corrected it. That is one reason why I always quote the verse as well as cite the reference. It's hard to get both of them wrong. 🙂

    • I remember coming across this apparent contradiction and one thing that helped me to reconcile it is to remember that punctuation were not part of the original text and were added later.

      The "he" spoken of in 2 Sam 24:1 is satan. The way we read it though would make it seem like it was God but the context and the cross reference in 1 Chr 21:1 make it clear that it was satan that was being referred to.

      It is also worth noting that the type of numbering David did was not simply some census. It was the numbering of fighting men. David was as they say in slang "feeling himself." And this was instigated by satan.

      So there is no contradiction here even though a surface reading would make it seem like there was.

    • 2 Sam 24:1 clearly uses the pronoun 'he', but the 'he' referes to Satan, not God.
      Just reading this verse by itself, does not make it clear who the 'he' referes to, but it greatly helps if one reads the whole chapter and establishes the context to find the correct meaning.
      The margin showes that 'he' referes to Satan, using Chr.21:1 as a reference to clarify.
      Starting by reading 2 Sam 23, 2 Sam 24:9-17 becomes clearer to understand 'who' instigated the numbering. David gave in to a temptation by Satan and God punished.

      To establish context, reading all of 2 Sam Ch.23 will show a detailed account of David's 'mighty man'. The next chapter has David counting all of Israel. It appears this was done also to find out the number of warriors. It took 9 months to do this.
      v. 9 - 800.000 warriors were found in Isreal and 500.000 in Judah. No total of the whole population is given.

      Being a great warrior, David was led to place pride and confidence into numbers and the strength of his 'mighty men', forgetting that victory comes from the Lord.

      In v.10, David comes to his senses and asks God to 'take away the iniquity of thy servant'. The word of God came to the prophet Gad, David's seer, to tell David what God offers to make things right again between Him and his beloved David.
      This clearly showes that it could not have been God telling David to 'number Israel and Judah'.

      v.14 - tells about David deciding to 'fall into the hands of the Lord' because 'his mercies are great'. Not wanting to go to war any longer, he accepted to have pestilence take its toll on Israel. The Lord sent his angel to mete out David's punishment, and 70.000 men died.

      v.16 - When the angel 'streched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, The Lord repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand...'.

    • Maurice Ashton, thanks!...for the spur...

      Is it possible that “satan” in 1Chron 21:1 means “an adversary”, perhaps Satan (THE adversary) or someone of rank in David’s court who “...proved to be an enemy of David and Israel...” (Barnes Notes commentary)?
      However, “the LORD” in 2 Sam 24:1 (a) may be an example of the LORD (God of Israel) allowing the event to develop... (b) If the term is “the Lord/lord”, perhaps that is a title of a position, (held by an adversary who “proved to be an enemy of David and Israel”)??
      In conclusion...it seems GOD (the Lord in 2Sam), allowed an adversary (1Chron) to incite David to do something that ended with a tragic consequence. Perhaps pride of ___ led to this decision?

    • In his exegesis on Exodus, Dennis Preager addresses this common misconception of the Hebrew language. He points out that in most instances where a translator has interpreted the text as ”God caused” an event or a thought that led to action, it is usually better interpreted as “God allowed” it to happen.

      • Jim, in 2Sam 24:1, I can agree the original could have been "David was moved by his pride or Satan" but what about "Again God was angry with Israel" how does one fit "allow" into that phrase?
        And further down the chapter 2Sam 24:15-16 does God send the plague and the angel with the sword to kill 70,000? or who does He allow to do that?

  2. Some minor discrepancies may also be due to the fact that the Bible writers were inspired with ideas to express in their own words, and it may not have mattered whether there were two demoniacs or one, or whether the rooster crowed once or twice. Perfection is not to be found in the human element of Scripture, yet it is the word of the infinite God. It is a blending of the human and the divine.

  3. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path Ps 119:105

    When we study the scriptures/the word/the bible we find the book is like no other book. Whatsoever we are looking for in the book, we will find it. E.g if we are looking for history-we will find it, maths; we will find it, different language; we will find it. If we are looking for errors and mistakes we will find it.

    The bible took almost 1500 yrs to write and compile. The way people did things in such a vast time differs over a period of time. E.g The bible says David went to war without any body armor, took a sling with five stones and kill the giant Goliath who was six cubit tall. I said this to say, if people do not believe in the simple understandable parts of the bible, they will not embraced the more challenging ones. Humans have to exercise faith to believe when reading and studying the bible, even when we do not understand the jest of the matter.

    Looking at some texts people used

    ...For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God....Ex 20:5
    This is the law of jealousies, when a wife goeth aside to another instead of her husband, and is defiled. Num 5:29

    A soft answer turneth away wrath,....stir up anger Psm 15:1
    Be ye angry, and sin not....Eph 4:26

    Bear ye one another's burden, .......Gal 6:2
    For every man shall bear his own burden Gal 6:5

    • The issue is not so much that we will find apparent inconsistencies Lyn. Other people find them and throw them in our face as a reason for not believing the Bible. At the very least those people should know that we are aware of the problem and they deserve more than a "cute" answer.

      Serious searchers are turned off by simplistic answers but if they see that we have considered the inconsistency and offer at least an understanding of the problem, they may not agree with you but they will not dismiss what you say lightly either.

  4. Humility and submission to the Holy Spirit is important for the reader in order to understand not only what is written, but what can be applied to his personal life. Into believing that the Bible is the Word of God and Light for the way, there is got to be an individual message for each one. By reflexion, may we extract what is implicit and by the work of the Holy Spirit may we have our counciousness awaken and the work of Jesus in our hearts!

    • I don't really have a definitive answer. I just toss a few ideas around in my mind as possibilities. So with that in mind, here is something to think about.

      The idea of Satan as a separate entity is not well developed in the Old Testament, and there is some evidence to suggest that in the minds of many God was the source of good and evil. In fact, Satan gets a specific mention only about 3 times. We have to remember that the writers who were recording the history of David were not 21st-century protestant theologians. Could it possibly be that the writer of Samuel was one of those who thought that God was the source of good and evil and the writer of Chronicles was one who had had the view of separate sources of good and evil. I would add that this approach may help for some of the other difficult passages where God seems vindictive.

      Well that is a thought that I have - its more a thought that I put up for discussion rather than an idea that I want to push.

      • Maurice, that is interesting,what I have learned from this quarters studies is when finding a challenging text, do some research on the translation, if it is reasonable, then what did the author mean and what did the hearers understand, then what is the context, how did God interact with His people when they strayed from the LORD's way previously, then as this text impacts my understanding of the character of the LORD what does the rest of the Word tell me about His character.
        Now I need to use the above learning and go and re-think my approach to this text, it is not a simple question of did God move David to sin by counting the people, it is do I trust the Word or does it have to be reinterpreted when I don't understand.

      • Another fact to note is when each was written. Chronicles was written after the exile and the writer (Ezra) put history in a more positive light.

        For more understanding of inspiration, read 1SM 15-23 and GC v-xii. I'm surprised the lesson didn't direct us to those.

      • There is a view regarding the developmental progression across Scripture that I find to have merit. I find a convergence of the following:

        1) Subsequent to the fall, the knowledge of God dramatically declined and correspondingly, ‘paganism’ instead took over. By the time of the flood and again by the time of Abraham, belief in polytheism dominated. It has been proposed that if God had unveiled a knowledge of Satan too early in Israel’s post-Exodus redevelopment, it would have risked the Israelites seeing Satan as the god of evil. Hence, God worked to develop/train Israel in monotheism first and then, when that understanding was sufficiently well developed, introduced progressive awareness and understanding of Satan as the source of evil, but not as a god of evil.

        2) Chronicles was one of the later Old Testament books written - slightly after the time of Zechariah 3:2 that mentions The Satan (hassatan). Hassatan is used 16 times in the Old Testament - twice in Zechariah 3:2 and the other 14 times in Job. The dating of the writing of Job is unknown, but the use of the definitive article (has) infront of satan would tend to suggest it reflected an awareness around the time of Zechariah. If knowledge of hassatan from Job had been earlier, I would propose that hassatan would have been more widely used earlier. The reference in Chronicles only uses satan (translated adversary) rather than hassatan (translated The Adversary) but its slightly later/newer date of writing would be consistent with a more widespread growth in awareness of The Satan as simply Satan - like how we refer to him nowadays without the preceding definitive article - though we know who someone is talking about when they use the word Satan.

        • Phil, the "developmental progression" you cite sounds reasonable - except for several small details:
          As we understand it, the book of Job was recorded by Moses before he recorded Genesis. And the actual story had most likely been handed down verbally for who knows how many generations. In other words, it originated long before Israel and thus long before the Exodus. And the book clearly mentions Satan, the adversary.

          [Check out "Regarding the Book of Job" and "Satan in Job."]

          For me, the "developmental progression" theory sounds a little too "evolutionary" - the idea that our spiritual understanding has become better and better. (I suspect the opposite is the case.) Although many of the Israelites in Egypt had become degraded by slavery and had forgotten much about God, clearly not all of them had. The parents of Moses were among those who kept a clear understanding of the Creator God alive.

          While it is true that "Satan" is mentioned more often in the New Testament than the Old Testament, that does not necessarily demonstrate that the Israelites had no understanding of the rebel angel..

          • Thanks for your feedback perspective Inge.

            There are other examples of the developmental progression principle (that I was first introduced to at Avondale College by my Old Testament Theology lecturer back in the day) - I just included the example of Job because of its reference to hassatan. We could perhaps leave the example of Job aside then for a moment and look at other examples that reflect a developmental progression across scripture (albeit an overarching progression that encompasses smaller ongoing 'cycles' of progression and regression). The development of the initially prevailing 'multiplied payback' that was then refined post Exodus to "eye for an eye..." (Exodus 21:24)and later in the New Testament further refined to "turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:38-39) is another example. Another is Jesus refinement teachings where He would say "you have heard it said... but I say to you...".

            With regard to the book of Job, I do not deny that Job likely lived during the Patriarchal period and that his experiences were handed down via oral transmission - as was typical back in those times. I also do not deny that Moses is a prime candidate for the original written work. However, it is possible that the version we have now has been edited at a later point in time. I have no way of proving this but the use of hassatan in Job being used nowhere else in the Old Testament except for Zechariah raises some questions. If this word was used by Moses when he wrote Job, why did he not also identify the figure in the tree in Eden as hassatan? And why is the detailed knowledge of the character and nature of Satan that is present in Job otherwise so absent in the Old Testament? I would propose that it is plausible that an editor may have 'updated' that detail at a later point in light of evolving knowledge of Satan. I am not saying that no-one in the Israelite period had any understanding of the rebel angel - but overt textual references in the Old Testament regarding Satan are rather rudimentary - except for Job.

            With regard to the concept of 'evolution' of knowledge being a concerning paradigm, I would propose that the notion of increasing 'new' light (or increasing perception of 'new' light) across time is reflective of an evolving capacity that appears reflected, for example, in Daniel 12:4 and is also held as a belief within Adventism. In actuality, there appears to be a somewhat cyclic pattern whereby the capacity for reception of truth grows and then subsequently wanes before once again growing. This pattern is seen for example in the growth of understanding reflected in the New Testament writings that subsequently receded across the subsequent centuries prior to the reformation - advancing under the Reformation but again receding post-reformation. And within this latter period, early Adventism grew in its capacity to perceive 'new' light that also subsequently receded (eg 1888, post 1901, etc). This is an oversimplification overview to illustrate the ongoing cycling of advancement and recession in truth apprehension as a likely consequence of the activities and counter-activities within the ongoing 'Great Controversy/Cosmic conflict' saga.

            Anyway, those are my counter-thoughts in regard to the difficult and apparently divergent passages that are the focus of this week's lesson - including Maurice's example provided today. And hopefully your thoughts and my thoughts will spur others to do some digging and reflecting to see what conclusion they come to for themselves - just like the Berean's were commended for doing (Acts 17:11).

  5. Time and again we read in the Word that the LORD was angry with Israel because they broke The Covenant that they had entered into with Him.
    In many ways the LORD tried to get them to repent and return to walk in His ways, by direct discipline, by stirring up adversaries against them, by sending them messages by His prophets repeatedly.
    Until eventually He removed the ten tribes from His promised land and His sight:

    2Ki 17:11 KJV And there they burnt incense in all the high places, as did the heathen whom the LORD carried away before them; and wrought wicked things to provoke the LORD to anger:
    2Ki 17:18 KJV Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only.
    2Ki 17:20 KJV And the LORD rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight.

    With that background, how do I understand 2Sam 24:1-17? Again Israel had stirred up the LORD’s anger against them by going contrary to the agreed covenant, David decided to count his army contrary to the LORD’s instructions, the LORD was displeased with this additional display of lack of trust in Him. The Holy Spirit convicted David’s conscience that he had done wrong, he repented and acknowledged his error – he didn’t blame either God or even Satan. He said sorry but he and Israel still had to suffer the consequences of his actions. God gave him 3 choices: 3 years famine, 3 months at the hand of his enemies or 3 days of pestilence from God and his destroying angel’s sword. 70,000 were killed but before the angel could destroy Jerusalem God repented of the evil and stayed the angel’s hand. David and the elders fell on their faces submitting to the LORD, David built an altar with a sin offering and the LORD accepted it by sending fire.

    • Shirley - you are very familiar with the Bible, though you seem still 'confounded' trying to 'understand' when the violation of God's Law requires a correcting response; it is important to you to determine 'who is the one' that punishes or 'who does the punishing'. I am starting to wonder why this is?!
      You can find answers to your question "how do I understand 2 Sam 24:1-17" in my post June 14th on this string of posts. It addresses this exact passage explicitly.

      Regarding justicement by the Father of Life:
      Heb 12:5-14 clearly states that God, as the Father of all life 'rebukes, chasteneth and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth' and whom He loves. It does not state 'how' this is done.

      We are encouraged to 'faint not' - not to loose our Faith - because we know the God who 'chasteneth' us - we are HIS children.
      v.7 -..'For what son is he whom the father chasteneth not'?
      v. 8 - 'But if ye be without chastisement, wherof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons'.
      v. 9 - We gave reference to our fathers of the flesh which corrected us. 'Shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live'?
      v.10 - ..but He(chasteneth)for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
      v.11 -..:'nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby'.
      v.14 - 'Follow peace with all men and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

      Verse 14 - Paul encourages us to accept the Lord's means toward 'peace' and 'holiness'. Yes, God's 'tough love' is demonstrated in the justicement of the ones He saves, and it is difficult to understand this to take place inside/as part of His all-encompassing Law of Love.
      But then, we accept Him by Faith because we trust Him! 🙂

  6. Two principles of interpretation that I find help resolve apparent discrepancies are:

    1) The widespread use of Hebrew idiom whereby God was seen as causing that which He in actuality permitted/allowed. But one example is 1 Samuel 16:14,15.

    2) God’s use of accommodation/adaptation in working with people within the limits of where they were at - because that is all they were capable of understanding at that point in time. Matthew 19:8 is one example illustrating this point. God’s non-mention of the issue of polygamy to Abraham is another.

    Unfortunately these two key Bible interpretation principles are all too frequently overlooked - thereby significantly increasing risk of misinterpretation.


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