2nd Samuel 24:1 (see also 2nd Chronicles 21:1-10)
Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”
David’s census, of course, was a sin. Verse 10 states: “Now David’s heart troubled him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the LORD, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have acted very foolishly.’”
There’s more. 1st Chronicles 21:1-2 states: “Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. So David said to Joab and to the princes of the people, ‘Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, and bring me word that I may know their number.’”
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “Given 2 Samuel 24 says that God did it and 1 Chronicles 21 says that the devil did it, this is a good example that permission is is in play, even if the passage doesn’t mention it. God seemed to permit this as a punishment.” (SEA)
Laurence Vance explains: “There is also the matter of God’s permission. Often times God is said to do something when in fact he only permitted it to be done. Satan provoked David to number Israel (1 Chr. 21:2), but God was said to do it (2 Sam. 24:1). The best example is Job. Satan was the cause of Job’s trouble (Job 1:12, 2:7), but Job (Job 1:21), the writer of Job (Job 42:11), and Satan himself (Job 1:11, 2:5) attributed it to God.” (The Other Side of Calvinism, p.273)
That’s exactly what is going on. According to Job 2:7, the devil harmed Job, and at Job 2:3, God says that He harmed Job: “...you incited Me against him, to ruin him without cause.” Sound familiar? However, the context reveals that what actually happened was that God had taken personal responsibility for having granted permission to the devil to harm Job, though with certain restrictions. So God took responsibility for allowing it, but that doesn’t mean that God was in agreement with the devil, or that He wanted the devil to succeed against Job, in getting him to doubt God. Far from it. Filter that back into the matter pertaining to David and the census:
(1) God was angry with Israel, as the text states.
(2) Satan brings his usual accusation before God and makes his usual demand to be allowed to harm someone.
(3) Since God is angry with Israel and sees a benefit in bringing judgment upon it, in order to motivate repentance and restoration, He allows Satan to do as he asks.
(4) Whereas Satan was a willing party to harm Israel, God was a reluctant party to permit it, knowing that Israel had to experience the judgment that it brought upon itself, like a reluctant parent having to discipline their beloved child in order to instill good moral character.
The fact is that Satan is the accuser of the brethren. Revelation 12:10 states: “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.’” Jesus said concerning this accuser, Satan: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32) So that’s what we see illustrated in the book of Job, in which Satan entered Heaven to challenge God concerning Job: “‘But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.’ Then the LORD said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.’ So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD.” (Job 1:11-12) So Satan did it, and God took responsibility in allowing it: “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause.” (Job 2:3)
There is evidence of ambiguity in the Samuel passage because it doesn’t have God speaking to David to tell Israel, “Go take a census,” but only that God moved him. That’s just how Scripture is sometimes, and which is why it requires study, both in context and parallel passages.
One Calvinist points out: “But what it does say is that God incited David to sin against the Lord - showing it was His will for David to do such and also we see that it says that Satan incited David to sin against the Lord.”
But it wasn’t God’s will for David to take the decree, as God specifically said that He was “displeased.” (1st Chronicles 21:7) It wasn’t God’s will for David to get duped by Satan, no more than it was God’s will that Job waver in his faith, no more than it was God’s will for Peter deny Christ three times. Satan is the accuser; God permitted his challenges. Due to God’s anger against Israel, he wasn’t particularly motivated to want to defend Israel against Satan’s challenges, and hence permitted him to hoodwink David into taking the census. I think that that’s the most natural reading of the texts involved, and hence I reject the Calvinist “proof-text” for antinomy.
Here is a link to further discussion on this passage.