1 Chronicles 21:1New English Translation (NET Bible)
The Lord Sends a Plague against Israel
21 An adversary[a] opposed[b] Israel, inciting David to count how many warriors Israel had.[c]
1 Chronicles 21:1tn Or “Satan.” The Hebrew word שָׂטָן (satan) refers to an adversary, typically used without the article to refer to anyone in an adversarial role. Used with the article in Job 1-2 and Zech 3:1-2, it refers to “The Satan,” the demonic opponent. Of the heavenly accuser in those passages NIDOTTE (IV, 1231) says that “it is improbable that a specific demonic being is referred to (a possible exception may be 1 Chr 21:1).” TLOT (p. 1269) believes that 1 Chr 21:1 represents the first use of “satan” without the article as a personal name. But see the study note at the end of the verse.
1 Chronicles 21:1tnHeb “and incited David to count Israel.” As v. 5 indicates, David was not interested in a general census, but in determining how much military strength he had.sn The parallel text in 2 Sam 24:1 says, “The Lord’s anger again raged against Israel and he incited David against them, saying: ‘Go, count Israel and Judah!’” The version of the incident in the Book of 2 Samuel gives an underlying theological perspective, while the Chronicler simply describes what happened from a human perspective. Many interpreters and translations render the Hebrew שָׂטָן as a proper name here, “Satan” (NEB, NASB, NIV, NRSV). However, the Hebrew term שָׂטָן, which means “adversary,” is used here without the article. Elsewhere when it appears without the article, it refers to a personal or national adversary in the human sphere, the lone exception being Num 22:22, 32, where the angel of the Lord assumes the role of an adversary to Balaam. When referring elsewhere to the spiritual entity known in the NT as Satan, the noun has the article and is used as a title, “the Adversary” (see Job 1:6-9, 12; 2:1-4, 6-7; Zech 3:1-2). In light of usage elsewhere the adversary in 1 Chr 21:1 is likely a human enemy, probably a nearby nation whose hostility against Israel pressured David into numbering the people so he could assess his military strength. For compelling linguistic and literary arguments against taking the noun as a proper name here, see S. Japhet, I & II Chronicles (OTL), 374-75.
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