Posted in Grace

Why Effectual Grace is often Mislabeled Forceful Coercion Rather than Deliverance

In my last post we began looking at a common rebuttal (knee-jerk reaction) to the concept of God giving grace (a gift) in the sense of regeneration. When it comes to the subject of regeneration—to which saving grace specifically speaks—there are two schools of thought within Christian circles. The first states that regeneration must come after faith. The second argues that faith is a byproduct of regeneration (i. e. Logical order; blinded eyes need healed before they can see). In other words, the debate is centered on whose activity—God or man—is primary (takes precedent) and whose is secondary?

To be fair, those who hold to a position different than Reformed theology (my own) would more than likely identify God as the primary mover when it comes to salvation. They would point to the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, and the Holy Spirit after the Lord’s ascension to the Father’s right hand as the grounds on which an individual’s salvation stands or falls. Without this act of “grace” on God’s part, no one would be saved.

So far, so good. At a glance, it appears there is not much of difference between the two camps (i.e. Reformed and non). However, this is not the case.

The Point of Contention

The Non-Reformer (a.k.a. non-Calvinist) argues that if grace is truly grace (a gift), then God must offer it and we must actively reach for it. Salvation comes down to a matter of choice for the fallen creature. God did the groundwork, but the person must put the finishing touches on it. In other words, man has the final say in choosing or rejecting the grace of God found in Christ. As noted in the following statement by Norman Geisler:

  • “In short, it is God’s ultimate and sovereign will that we have free will to resist His will that all be saved.”[i]

This is called synergism, where salvation is seen as a cooperative effort of God and the creature. God does the majority of the work (the heavy lifting), but the finale is decided by the person who wills.

Herein lies the point of contention. They reject the concept of grace being a gift, if God does not consider the choice of the individual in question. If God changes a person’s heart without asking whether or not they want it, then that action of God (regardless of what adjectives we place before it—i.e. good, loving, etc.) is seen as nothing more than forceful coercion. This makes it a violation of the sanctity of the person in question, from their point of view.[ii] If you are not Reformed, you believe this from some degree to another.

An Argument over the Condition of Mankind Post-Fall

The reason for this accusation of force or coercion is tied to how one views the state of mankind. Depending on how serious the consequences of Adam’s rebellion is viewed, determines where one sets his flag.  While the synergistic camp agrees that salvation necessarily needs to be based on the person’s decision, they differ on how this is actually accomplished.

Classical Arminianism holds to the doctrine of prevenient grace[iii]—a preventive measure that heals the will of fallen man. Not entirely, but the grip of sin’s dread curse is loosened just enough that the person is free to respond positively to the gospel call. Well, that is, if they will it.

Another position (the traditionalist? What I’d call the naturalist)[iv], which is gaining ground in some circles, is the idea that man’s will is not affected by sin to the point that he/she cannot choose between the good or the bad. Man is not so sinful that he/she is not able. If he/she desires it, whatever that desire might be, then that is what they do.

Synergistic thought dabbles along this broad spectrum. Prevenient grace acts like a dam that holds back the river of sin, allowing us to see the gospel of Jesus as a precious gift. Or, you’ve been created with a capacity that is impossible to have been tarnished, harmed or maimed by the fall in the garden. The first attempts to deal with sin, biblically defined, seriously. The other leans on her daddy Pelagius for comfort.

Helping Identify the Reason for Disagreement over the term Gift

While I strongly disagree with these positions I can at least understand where in the world the charge of “force or coercion” comes from; when, it is stated that regeneration must come first, before faith, as a logical step in the gracious activity of God. The Synergist believes, they have the ability to choose. If God does not ask them—when they can make the decision on their own—then this amounts to an instance brute force.

So when it is said with a bit of sarcasm that this form of grace (i.e. the Reformed understanding) is comparable to, “…patients [being] dragged kicking and screaming into the operating room, but once they are given a head transplant, they (not surprisingly) feel like an entirely different person!”[v] I am able to see what drives this conclusion.

Geisler charges, that irresistible grace “force[s]…a person from not loving Christ to loving Christ. Hence, irresistible love is forced love. And forced ‘love’ is not love at all.”[vi]  Why, because it removes the choice of the fallen man.

From the Reformed position this is why God’s grace (irresistible/effectual grace) is necessary. Apart from saving grace the individual is left in sin. The natural human condition leaves him in a position of hopelessness.

However, the synergist views such activity by God on an individual as not loving, but the work of a power-hungry monster that makes the poor little fella do what he doesn’t want to do. Comparable to a man on his porch enjoying the view, but then being attacked by an angry nest of hornets. In case you don’t see the connection, God is viewed as the angry nest of hornets forcing the man to do what he doesn’t want. Even though the man chooses to go inside, Geisler thinks “…this…was not a truly free choice. He was coerced into doing it.”[vii]

Not Liking the Options Makes it a Fake Choice?

I’ve already revealed my disagreement with Geisler’s conclusion. He says it wasn’t really a free choice, but why? Because there were other mitigating factors that motivated the man on the porch to make his decision. Geisler writes, “…Free will demands that the act is not coerced, whether externally or internally.”[viii] Says who? Geisler or God? He concludes, “This is in accord with what both good reason and a proper understanding of Scripture teach.”[ix]

Umm…that’s just blatantly false. Reason, which I’m guessing he’s speaking to some extent in light of human experience, and the Scriptures teach very clearly that there are always mitigating factors (both internally and externally) that determine human choices. Do those factors remove the reality of free choices? Did they do so for the man on the porch in Dr. Geisler’s analogy? No, on both counts.

The man freely chose to do as he desired. Originally, that desire was to enjoy the view from his porch, but factors changed that and he preferred in the end to preserve his life. Though, I’m pretty sure Geisler didn’t intend the analogy to be used in this way, he unwittingly provided the grounds for proving what he denies.

**Pause for just a moment please…

  • Before I move on, I want to debunk a myth that is deeply entrenched in Christian-American thought. Man is not born in a morally neutral position towards his/her Creator. Neutrality is false in apologetic reasoning, and it is false in theological reasoning. There is no neutral ground between God and man. The Bible does not teach that anywhere. This is why analogies like the drowning man or the sick woman fail. Our disposition towards God (Father/Christ/Holy Spirit) is tyrannical rebellion, not objective reasoning. Please, if you are convinced otherwise, show me the text (contextually) that states it!

**Back to the Analogy…

Now Geisler’s analogy shows us one person who is confronted with two options. The first is geared towards pleasure seeking (enjoying the view from the porch). The second is geared towards self-preservation (fleeing from the angry hornets). This is a wonderful picture of fallen mankind.

Fallen People Love? This Causes Them to What?

What do sinners love above all else? Their sin (e.g. Jer 14.10; Prov 8.36; Matt 6.24). This is demonstrated in what they pursue daily throughout their lives. As sinners, we constantly seek gratification for the flesh. How that gratification is sated depends upon the person’s idol of choice. For some this is false religion, others it is power, wealth and social status, and yet still others turn to family (spouses or children) to worship, or drugs, alcohol, sex, food, animals, nature, etc. Many are the ways that sinful man gratifies his pleasure seeking self.

But above all else, fallen mankind seeks to preserve his/her own life. Self-preservation is the chief way in which sinners attempt to be like God. They want to know good and evil, and God is evil! We see many expressions of this in our society today.

My only point is that when the man was confronted with a danger to himself, his primary desire at that point shifted from pleasure seeking to live preserving. His choice was real, it was freely made, even though it was beset by mitigating factors in the decision-making process.

What is ironic, I think, is that Geisler (and those like him) fail to see that the gospel is not a sweet-smelling savor to all people (cf. 2 Cor 2.16). To fallen mankind the gospel is very much like the hornets in the story.

“Kris, why would you say that?” My answer to you is this,

  • “This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed” (John 3.19-20; HCSB).

People love darkness, people love their sin and the light is offensive to them. They prefer to preserve their lives rather than be brought into the light. The gospel is beautiful to those who are not perishing, not to those who are.

Who are the perishing ones? Anyone who has not been born-again.

Not and Invitation, but a Command

It is the natural state of mankind to flee from the gospel, because the gospel is a violation of what they hold dear—both their sin and existence. The gospel is not a flowery invitation, but a command of repentance:

  • “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent…” (Acts 17.30).

To the unbeliever the gospel of God, of Jesus Christ, is comparable to a nasty hornet’s nest (e.g. Exod 23.28). God does not plead with us by wringing His hands like a wishful mother. The command to repent means to throw down your arms! To stop your rebellion! To bow the knee and submit to Christ’s/God’s will! Acknowledge that He is King or face the dire consequences of your betrayal!

The self-preserving nature of fallen man immediately recognizes his/her enemy. They refuse to change their mind and instead flee to the darkness from which they came. This individual willfully chooses this option over bending the knee and acknowledging the authority of another over them.

  • “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh…[which] is death…For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8.5a, 6a, 7-8).

Thus, the need for God’s effective grace. Doing for the sinner what he can’t, what he won’t do for himself/herself. Delivering us from…well…ourselves.


[i] Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, [1999], 2001), 98.

[ii] Ibid, 96-101.

[iii] Roger E. Olson identifies prevenient grace as the source of human libertarian free will. Saying prevenient “…grace…precedes and enables the first stirrings of a good will toward God.” Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 20.

John Wesley stated that “Salvation begins with what is usually termed (and very properly) preventing grace; including the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against him.” John Wesley, “On Working Out Our Own Salvation,” in The Works of John Wesley: Sermons 1 &2, Vol 5-6, Reprint (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 6.509.

Nazarene theologian W.T. Purkiser explains prevenient grace in this way: “Salvation is by the grace of God, but it is not restricted to a group arbitrarily limited by an unconditional election. It is for all men. Through the free gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ all men, not merely the elect are given a gracious (as opposed to natural) ability to hear and heed the gospel…Prevenient grace, then, enables the sinner, otherwise dead in trespasses and sins, to hear the gospel call, repent, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved.” W. T. Purkiser, Exploring Christian Faith (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1960), 272.

[iv] I realize that the term “naturalist” may have a different connotation than I am assigning it. To be clear, I am not talking about a person who thinks that nature is all there is or a person who steers clear of processed foods. In using this term, I am merely tying it to the belief that Adam’s original created condition is still the natural condition. The fall, while changing some things (what exactly, I’m not sure?) did not affect the internal nature of mankind when it came to be capable of choosing good or evil. From the little that I have read on the “traditionalist” this seems to be the natural state that they believe mankind is in. Therefore, the label naturalist.

[v] Geisler, Chosen But Free, 99, 100.

[vi] Ibid, 100.

[vii] Ibid, 186.

[viii] Ibid, 187.

[ix] Ibid, 187.

Posted in Grace

Common Rebuttals on Giving without Consent: Isn’t that just Forceful Coercion?

Knee-jerk reactions are common when the subject matter in question is either misunderstood, found offensive to the hearer, or alien to their personal view of reality. A common reaction that occurs with a discussion on the word “gift.” In biblical language, a gift of God is synonymous with grace.

“Grace” refers to the unearned, unmerited favor of the Creator bestowed upon the creature. Grace[i] is something freely given by God to mankind; an undeserved mercy that He is not required to give. While, it is true that there are differences in how this grace is distributed, the point is that it begins with God not with man. Grace is an activity (action) of the Creator with mankind as the recipient (receiver).

NO, NO, Grace Can’t Mean That!

The knee-jerk reaction is in response to what it means to “receive a gift.” The respondent who is eager to argue against the biblical position will say things like, “If I do not get to choose to receive (take) the gift, then it is not a gift. If you mean the ‘receiving of the gift’ is something that God must do for me, then it is not a gift but coercion. If I do not will to actively receive the gift, then I it is being forced upon me! Calvinism’s God forces Himself upon the unwilling, and I’ll have none of that…thank you very much!”

My understanding, sympathies and even empathy with that position aside, the fact remains that to receive something may be accomplished in either the active or passive sense. This is effectively demonstrated in the Gospel According to John as I have been arguing (here 1st  here 2nd  ,here 3rd). In the same way a gift is acquired either actively or passively.

I must admit that I find it strange when someone claims that a “gift is not a gift if I did not receive (actively) it.” Like a Christmas present. Or to argue that “if I receive (passively) something from God without my permission (i.e. my active choice), it is a violation of who I am (i.e. my will).” Like the rain. In that case, it is said, it is not a gift but an act of force/coercion.

Did I choose my life? No. But was it a gift? Yes. Did it require my approval? No.

“But you couldn’t give your approval, because you were not yet born!” True, but my point is that does not remove the fact of us calling it a gift from God and our parents. I suppose you could say that it was forced upon you—since you didn’t ask—but your reasoning will not change reality. Life is a gift, it comes from God and He does not ask our permission beforehand.

Illustrations from Experience and Scripture…

Hold your knees for a moment! Before you attempt to squirm your way out of that remember all I’m attempting to establish is that there are times when a gift is a gift regardless of our choice. Take for example my little sister.

When we were young, we moved to Colorado Springs, CO. Our family took a trip to the top of Pikes Peak. My parents were preoccupied with something (could have been my other sister), but I was the only one paying attention when my little sister stepped passed a safety line. I don’t know how far of a drop it was, but even now as I think of it my fingers sweat…it was pretty steep. Immediately, I grabbed the back of her coat and yanked her back to safety. In that moment I had given a gift to my sister—life—and I didn’t ask her permission or give her a choice in the matter. I took the initiative and acted where she, as a toddler, was too stupid to do so. Does her lack of “choice” (active receiving) somehow lesson the fact that she was given a gift? No.

What about a debtor whose debt is too high to pay back? He is incapable of paying back what he owes, though he is responsible for doing so. His life is forfeit. The judgment is set. However, the one to whom the debt is owed gives mercy to the debtor forgiving the debt he was responsible for, but unable to pay. Is that a gift? Yes. Did the debtor ask for it? No, but it was granted to him nonetheless.[ii]

I suppose if you still want to argue, which is highly likely since the issue is not how we define the word (i.e. in context) but rather with what you want to believe, you may say to me: “Yes, but if your sister knew the danger she would have asked for aid. If the debtor thought the Judge would be merciful, he’d have begged to erase his debt.” The problem is that my sister was unaware of the danger and so such choosing was beyond her capacity. Likewise, the debtor was unaware that the Judge would ever be so lenient, so gracious towards him, and so he did nothing and it was credited to him instead.

Counter Arguments…

A gift is defined by the giver, not the recipient. An act of merciful grace is not coercion, but doing for one what they are incapable of doing for themselves (cf. John 8.36).  Still there will be some that calls such “gifting” forceful coercion.

The thoughts of the late Norman Geisler provide an excellent example of such thinking. He wrote,

  • “Forced freedom, whether of good or evil, is contrary to the nature of God as love and contrary to the God-given nature of human beings as free. Forced freedom is a contradiction in terms…no matter how well the act of ‘irresistible grace’ is hidden by euphemistic language, it is still a morally repugnant concept.”[iii]

What Geisler is here arguing against is the idea that God gives fallen creatures a new heart[iv] (removing a heart of stone, giving a heart of flesh), what is often referred to as regeneration or being born-again, so that the individual in question might respond appropriately to the Lord. He finds that activity of God, if it is true, to be an extreme violation against creaturely will; comparable to dragging them kicking and screaming against their will. Later on, in his book he offers an interesting analogy to illustrate his point.

He writes of a man on his porch enjoying the mountainous scenery, but being set upon by a hornet’s nest forced to seek safety indoors. He writes, “…this…was not a truly free choice. He was coerced into doing it.”[v] I guess God graciously acting for the fallen creature is comparable to a nasty nest of hornets besetting the semi-innocent by stander? While, I don’t believe Geisler’s illustration has the force he thought it did, it does prove a position that he tenaciously denies (which we’ll work through in the near future).

You see, the person who desires to sit upon the porch to take in the visually appealing view is confronted with a choice. If he stays outside to view what he desired, his mortal life will be threatened by the angry hornets. Thus, he is then presented with two choices. One pertaining to pleasure, the other geared toward self-preservation. They are real choices driven by an internal will.

Though the hornets are a mighty force to behold, the man could stubbornly refuse to go inside. He’ll suffer greatly for it, for the wrath of angered hornets is not to be trifled with, but the choice is still before him. The other option is to protect what is truly valuable to him—his own skin. So, while the choice to go inside to safety may not be as pleasurable as enjoying the beautiful view of God’s creation, it is more pleasurable than receiving many stings from a dangerous opponent that can end your life. He still made the choice, no one forced or coerced him to do it.

Not liking the choices, is not the same as not having a choice. Just because the term “gift” is not couched in language you are comfortable with, doesn’t mean it becomes less than a gift. A kidnap victim may sympathize with their captor (Stockholm syndrome), but that does not mean a person who frees them from the situation is not acting graciously towards them. You could say the same about a person in an abusive relationship. The abused may see it as a violation to free them from the situation, but isn’t that activity of “saving” them a gift nonetheless? One would have to be pretty foolish to argue in opposition to this, but people do.

We’ll look at why the do in upcoming posts…

God Bless!


[i] P. E. Hughes defines grace as “…undeserved blessings freely bestowed on humans by God—a concept that is at the heart not only of Christian theology but also of all genuinely Christian experience.” Walter A. Elwell, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic [1984], 2001), 519.

[ii] This narrative is illustrated by Jesus when speaking on the subject of forgiveness (Matt 18.22-35). The debtor owes his Master what he is incapable of paying. He cannot pay the debt, so he asks for more time. The Master grants to forget his debt. The debtor did not ask for forgiveness, but time. What the parable proves is that though the Master is gracious to forgive debts owed to Him, the man in question was really wicked at heart because he was unwilling to forgive those who owed him. Only those who call on the Lord with a humble and contrite heart will be forgiven, but only true disciples of Christ are capable of demonstrating such a spirit. The rest are left facing judgment.

[iii] Norman L. Geisler, Chose But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, [1999], 2001), 98, 99.

If you’re interested in the counter view to this work check out: James R. White. The Potter’s Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free. Revised Ed. Calvary Press. 2009.

[iv] There are various other ways that Scripture identifies the fallen state of the children of Adam. Making necessary God’s action to change them so that people might respond appropriately to His Law-Word—i.e. blinded-eyes, lame, leprous, deaf, unclean lips, slave and dead. NOTE: None of these conditions can be changed physically by a movement of creaturely will, neither can they be changed spiritually by that method. Therefore, God acts (graciously) to transform them.

[v] Geisler, Chose But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election, 186.

Posted in Divine will, Foreknowledge, irresistible, resistible, Sovereignty, Theology

Divine Decrees: Understanding the Distinction present in the Will of God

How does God will for things to be done?  What is meant by the “will of God?” Theologians tend to define the will of God in two specific categories: decretive and preceptive.

The decretive will of God is the eternal decree that He has purposefully set to do in history for His own good.  Here are a couple examples:

  • “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (Gen 1.26a; NKJV)
  • “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Exod 4.21; NKJV).
  • “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish my purpose, and I will do it” (Isa 46.8-10; cf. Dan 4.35).1
  • “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph 1.11).

The decretive will of God is God’s purposeful desires and actions taking place in history (time) as He sees fit.  What He has decreed (i.e. willed) cannot be undone…ever (cf. Isa 43.13; Prov 21.30). This will of God is irresistible, because it is in no way limited by the creature’s, desires, nature or action (activity).

This is one aspect of God’s will, here is the other.

The preceptive will of God is the standard the Lord has given for human behavior.  God is a moral being and He expects His creatures to act in a like manner (i.e. image bearing).  This will of God is specifically tied to God commandments, His Law (precepts, statutes, etc.). Here are a couple examples:

  • “And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.  Make yourself an ark of gopher wood.  Make yourself an ark of gopher wood.  Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.  This how you are to make it…’” (Gen 6.13-15a).
  • “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you’” (Gen 12.1).
  • “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod 20.2).2
  • “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (Lev 20.7-8; cf. 18.4-5; 19.37)

The preceptive will of God is God’s purposeful desire for mankind’s actions in history.  The commands of God are given as a standard for the functionality of imaging (mirroring) God’s Holy heart in all of creation.  Unlike the decretive will, the preceptive will (what God has commanded men and women to model) can be resisted.  Something Stephen declares to the ruling body of religious elites in Jerusalem (i.e. Sanhedrin) in Acts 7:53, “…you who received the law as delivered by angels did not keep it” (Acts 7.53; italics added; cf. Ezek 20.18-21; Heb 2.2).

One of the things I hoped you noticed is that a couple of my examples above appear to leave open the possibility that the man commanded could rebel.   Look at Noah and Abram (Abraham).  Could Noah have refused the will of God and not built the ark?  Could Abraham refused to go to a foreign country leaving all that he knew in his former life?  Certainly, by mere appearances this seems to be the case.  Some will use a similar argument to say that Jesus could have sinned, and Judas Iscariot could have chosen not to betray Christ.  Although God’s Word testifies otherwise.3

The alarming truth (and it is only alarming if you refuse to believe it) is that Noah and Abram (Abraham) could not have rebelled against the preceptive will of God (His command to build and to leave) because it is also an instance of His decretive will (His purpose in history).  God had set both Noah and Abraham apart (aside) to do that which He willed (decreed).  Had they rebelled they would have been sinning against God, but the grace of God had changed their hearts to not only want to obey but also equipped them to obey. Therefore, they kept the preceptive will of God because it was a part of His decretive will.

We are given an example of the opposite in 2Sam 24.

In this passage David is the current reigning king of Israel.  In the historical retelling, the reader finds that David sins and the result of that sin is the death of 70, 000 men (2Sam 24.15).  David knew that he had sinned against God, and pleaded for the Lord’s mercy in punishing him (2Sam 24.14).

If David sinned, then why did 70,000 others die?  The answer is related to the covenantal nature of God, and David’s status as the covenantal head of Israel (civil magistrate).  As we have seen with Adam and Christ Jesus what the covenantal head does, those under them receive the consequences.  For those interested you may check out the following article to see why this is the case:

So, the question before us is “why did David do what he did?” Well, let’s have a look see.

  • “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go number Israel and Judah” (2Sam 24.1).

What do we learn in this verse?  Well, we see that God is angry at Israel.  We are not told the reason, but we are given this status.  We also see that David’s sin was numbering Israel and Judah.  If we take the time to sift through the rest of the narrative, we find that David’s concern was measuring his military force (cf. 2Sam 24.9). Evidently, David thought it necessary to see what his current military status was in case of conflict.

The reader is blessed with the fortune of having the same account spoken of in another place; namely, 1Chron 21.  This is an instance of a parallel account.  These are helpful to the students of Scripture as they shed more light on what is really going on in the text in question.  Listen to how 1Chron 21 reads:

  • “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel” (v.1).

What do we learn here in this text?  Well, we find that David sinned by numbering Israel, but this time we find that an adversary (identified by many English translations as Satan) has provoked David to number Israel’s military might.  All men are sinners that is our status before our Creator.  And while it may be true that Satan or an unidentified agent of the dark lord (a foreign pagan king threatening Israel?) incited David, he could not say “the devil made me do it” to get out of bearing the responsibility of his action.  We are responsible for our own sin, although the consequences may ripple beyond us.

There is something that I purposefully left out of the observation of the 2Sam 24:1, did you notice it?  Go back and compare the two accounts (2Sam 24:1; 1Chron 21:1), what was left out?  The Chronicler focuses on two agents: David, and an adversary (the Devil and/or one of his ilk), but who does the author of 2Sam focus on?  In 2Sam 24:1 we see that the two agents focused on are: The Lord, and David. Who incited David to sin?  The Lord did: “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them….”  How can that be?

Here is where things get a bit interesting…

This is where your theological assumptions will either hinder or help your reading of the text.  Exegesis is taking out from the text what is there.  Eisegesis is the opposite, this is where things get smuggled in.  Why?  To protect a vital aspect of your foundational perspective such rescuing devices are proposed.  Such as?  Such as saying that the “and he” in the verse cannot possibly be pointing back to the Lord God.  Why?  Because that would mean that God wanted what transpired to happen to happen.  This is an example of God’s decretive and preceptive will at work.

For David to sin, he would have to go against something purposefully and willfully that God had commanded (preceptive will).  We are not told what exact command David violated, but we do know that he sinned.  So, the question is, why count the army (military might) of Israel?  Many commentators believe that David was feeling threated by some other national force.  First, we see David’s pride being wounded and his doubt being aroused; a violation of the 1st and 2nd commandments.  Second, we see that since his trust has evidently failed in the Lord, he begins to trust in his own power which is to take the Lord’s name in vain; a violation of the 3rd commandment.  How so? As God’s representative man over a nation that was enlisted to be a light to the rest of the pagan world, David’s thoughts and actions reveal a heart that treats God’s Name lightly…what we call blasphemy.  Third, it is possible that this is a violation of the tenth commandment as well “being covetous” of one’s neighbor’s possessions.  If a foreign king and army were threatening David, then David’s numbering may be a sign of wanting to demonstrate his superiority.  This sort of behavior is provoked when we feel inferior to others.  The reason we feel inferior is because we feel as if our neighbor is our better.  Our wanting to prove our superiority is a sign of the jealously that dwells within our hearts.

Now the point is that God knowing David’s heart, used these things to instigate David to sin.  Why?  Well we are now beginning to touch on the decretive will of God.  God knows everything that was, is and shall be (He’s omniscient), this is not a passive knowledge.  God does not learn.  He does not look down the corridors of time seeing what His creatures will do, and then like a boxer react to the blows being thrown.  Rather, God has determined how things will lay out in history (the beginning from the end).  He has established reality and does not leave things to chance or accident.  Like the quantum realm things appear chaotic from our perspective, but just because we fail to see the reasons behind all activity does not mean that there aren’t justified reasons that God has for bringing about all that happens in life: the good, the bad and the ugly, so to speak.

The Lord was angry with Israel and He had determined long ago to deal with whatever idolatry they were being condemned over.  God used His agents (creatures) namely Satan and David to bring about the end that he desired.  He used their sinful dispositions to bring about what He desired (decreed will) in history.  God was sinless in the endeavor because God’s motives were pure and good; whereas, David, Satan and the other agents in this history had impure and evil motivations.  This historical event highlights how God can will for something, but be untainted by sin.   His decretive will is His plan of purpose for all of history, and His preceptive will is the commanded standard by which all mankind is judged.

Suppose you don’t like that and you refuse to believe that and you out-rightly deny that.  What have you gained?  Where should you turn to find answers?  What should govern your thoughts?  What we see in 2Sam 24/1Chron 21 is likewise true of Jesus of Nazareth, God used sinful agents to bring about what He had planned from eternity: “…for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4.27-28; cf. 2.23). And not just Him, but Joseph, Job, Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, Jonah, David, Ruth, Esther, etc., etc., etc.

This paradoxical teaching from Scripture is beyond the grips of our 3lb brains.  I realize even that statement is psychologically unsatisfying, but the fact remains that there are things that God knows and understands that we do not.  And yet we are promised that what He has given us is for our good, if we love Him.  Those who do love Him find the following answer from the Lord satisfying in acceptance of our creaturely limitations:

  • “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut 29.29; italics added; cf. 2Tim 3.16-17).



1 All other Scripture references in this work shall be of the English Standard Version

2 All the commandments of God found in the books of Moses, expounded upon in the civil sanctions, preached by the prophets, prayerfully sung by the Psalmists, taught through the wisdom writings, and further built upon in the N.T. are binding as ethical/moral precepts for all image bearers.

3 Considering Jesus, see these passages:  Gen 3.15; 49.10; Mic 5.2; Isa 9.6-7; Dan 2.1Pet 3.19-20; Rev 13.8; for Judas Iscariot look to these: Psa 41.9; 109.6-19; John 17.12; Acts 1.16-20, 25.