The 21st chapter of the First Book of Chronicles contains, to say the least, a lesser-known Bible story. King David orders that a census be taken to determine the number of eligible and able fighting men in his kingdom. Doing this was unprecedented, and though it may sound completely normal to us from our modern and secular viewpoint, to David's officers this idea was blasphemy. "My lord the king," interrupted Joab, David's trusted counselor, "are they not all my lord's subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?"
The guilt to which Joab referred was the implication that God could not win a battle for Israel without the existence of a large and powerful army. In counting his available men, David was acting like any other king, not a king who had the King of the Universe on his side; not a king who had seen great victories through providence, regardless of strength in numbers.
God, also, was unhappy with David's actions, and sent a prophet named Gad to him with a message. To atone for his sin David would have to choose among three punishments: three years of famine, three months of defeats at the hands of Israel's enemies, or three days of plague brought by the angel of the Lord. David chooses the plague, and 70,000 died by it. David was left despondent, with the guilt of this destruction upon his own head.
This story in First Chronicles, however, begins with a very important sentence: "Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel." One action, seemingly insignificant, seemingly innocuous, by Satan, and a chain of events fall into place causing destruction and despair.
No doubt, Satan has risen up against us, too. It is not the first time, and it will not be the last, but in recent weeks, months, years, Satan has risen up against America and against the world, and almost no one has noticed. The havoc he has brought about is noticed, but his hand in it all is invisible to our jaded and blinded world. We pin blame on any number of things, from guns to racism, from psychoses to socioeconomics, but the evil plaguing our world has a much more specific source: a fallen angel named again and again in holy scriptures. Satan.
Satan is not brought up in polite society, I've noticed. In our rational world, even those who believe in God prefer not to think about Satan and all he represents. We concentrate on the bright side of the supernatural, conveniently forgetting that an evil lurks in the spirit world, meddling day-by-day with our existence. Yet any student of scripture encounters his obvious reality:
- Satan mocked God by questioning the goodness of Job
- Satan accused the high priest in Zechariah's vision
- Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness
- Jesus saw "Satan fall like lightening from heaven"
- Satan bound a woman with an issue of blood for 18 years
- Satan asked to sift Simon Peter like wheat
- Satan entered into Judas, causing his betrayal
- Satan caused Ananias to sin by convincing him to hide the sale of his property
- The thorn in Paul's side was a messenger from Satan
- Paul notes that Satan blocked his way during his travels
- Satan is hurled down to the earth in a vision in Revelation
Few characters in the Bible, quite frankly, are documented as thoroughly as Satan. yet even among many believers he is ignored or seen as a myth. Let's not be deceived -- Satan is real. He continues to be our enemy, and his anonymity is his greatest weapon.
Without Satan there would have been no Dallas sniper, no Minnesota shooting; there would have been no Orlando, no Sandy Hook, no Boston Marathon bombing, no September 11th, no Columbine. These and endless other acts of violence stem back, eventually, to Satan himself. We are in the midst of a horrid spiritual war, yet we do not even acknowledge the enemy. How then can we ever win?
It is high time that we as believers wake up to the existence of our common enemy, and recognize his role in the pain enveloping our world. We need to see the battle as one beyond our ability to fight or win. We need to call upon God not merely to mend us, but to defeat the enemy who uses us against each other. We need to take heart in the words of the great hymn, which reminds us:
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.