“Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel” (v. 1).- 1 Chronicles 21
Dualism, that philosophical idea that says good and evil are two equal and eternal forces, is shown to be false in the Word of God in its very first verse. When the Bible says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1), the words the heavens and the earth are a synonym for “all things.” In the beginning, God created all things; this includes the Devil. Although he is very powerful, Satan is ultimately a finite creature who is by no means a match for our Lord.
Though He created the Devil, God is not in any way culpable for evil. Like everything else, Satan was originally “very good” (v. 31), and how Satan could fall when there was no evil present in creation is a great mystery. Still, we know our Creator cannot be tempted with evil, nor can He ever tempt anyone (James 1:13).
That Satan is a creature means he is subject to the Lord, who uses him to fulfill His good purposes (Rom. 8:28). In the final analysis, the Devil is God’s Devil (to summarize Martin Luther) and never operates outside the Lord’s decree. This truth can be seen when we compare today’s passage with 2 Samuel 24. Applying material from the books of Samuel to the Israelites after the Babylonian exile, the Chronicler tells us Satan incited David to take a census of Israel (1 Chron. 21:1) even though 2 Samuel 24:1 says God moved David on that occasion. This is no contradiction; it illustrates the doctrine of providence. Since God is sovereign over all, everything that happens is grounded in His plan. David commanded a census because the Lord ultimately planned that he do so, but Satan was used as the secondary cause to incite David. God ordained David’s sin, but He is not to blame for the temptation, for Satan did the tempting. In this case we might say the Lord “allowed” Satan to tempt David in order to clarify the point that God does not stand behind evil deeds in the same way that He does behind goodness. But make no mistake, John Calvin tells us, God’s decree of evil is not “bare permission — as if God sat in a watchtower, awaiting chance events, and his judgments thus depended upon human will” (Institutes 1.18.1).
That God rules over Satan without Himself being guilty of sin is a hard truth, but it is also comforting. It tells us that what we suffer from the Devil, his demons, and all evil is not purposeless but will lead to our good and God’s glory.
God is much greater than we are, so He is able to do things that we could never do, such as being sovereign over the Devil without ever being guilty of the Devil’s evil. Knowledge of this truth should not only move us to glorify the Lord but also to be confident that every tragedy we meet will serve a good purpose when all is said and done. If you are going through a difficult time, know that God is using it for your good even if you cannot yet see how.
Passages for Further Study
1 Kings 22:19–23