Today in my Bible reading, I came across a passage that has confused me in the past. Today, I think I received a little more insight. The passage is 2 Samuel 24:1-25. It starts out with God saying that he was mad at Israel and so he caused David to harm them by asking him to do a census (v.1). David passed the order and even the captain of his army tried to talk him out of it, but he went ahead anyway (v. 3). After the census was done, it says that David's conscience began to bother him and he said to the Lord in verse 10, "I have sinned greatly and shouldn't have taken the census. Please forgive me, Lord, for doing this foolish thing." The Lord responds through a prophet the next day by giving David a choice of three punishments, each with its own attached death toll (v. 12-13). David chooses the three days of plague and 70,000 people throughout the nation perished (v.15). David takes the blame as he pleads for the Lord to stop (v. 17) and takes the initiative to make a sacrifice that actually costs him even though he had a way out (v.24). 
What is confusing about the passage is that this situation seemed to be God's plan from the beginning, but David is taking the blame. You could even say it is the fault of the Israelites, David could have blamed them too. Perhaps this is why David is said to be a "man after God's own heart". He could have been justified in saying to God, "but YOU told me to do the census!" Or to the people, "God is going to punish you for being so evil!" and then hang it over their heads so they are forced to obey David's leadership. Instead, David would rather be faulted and take the blame on himself -- that is a good leader! And, I can see why God admires that. Jesus reinforces this type of leadership in the way he lived and urged his disciples that "anyone who wants to be first, must be the very last, and the servant of all" (Mark 9:35).