Today’s first reading comes from 2 Sam 24 in which the popular understanding is that God punishes the people because of David’s action of taking a census. There is no specific restriction on taking a census in the Old Testaments (although some might argue Exodus 30:12 restricts is to God’s initiative). But then again, does God punish because of David’s action? Note that the Lord’s anger is directed to the people…again. The opening of 2 Sam 24 reads: “The LORD’s anger against Israel flared again, and he* incited David against them: ‘Go, take a census of Israel and Judah.‘” (2 Sam 24:1) In the Hebrew there actually no subject that does the inciting.
So, whoever or whatever is the cause, the phrase “incited David” is interesting. A parallel verse (1 Chronicles 21:1) reads “A satan rose up against Israel, and he incited David to take a census of Israel.” Satan, in Hebrew, means “adversary,” or, especially in a court of law, “accuser.” In later Judaism (cf. Wis 2:24) and in the New Testament, satan, or the “devil” (from diablos, the Greek translation of the Hebrew word), designates an evil spirit who tempts people to do wrong. Continue reading