Why did God Punish David's Innocent Child?

Question
Why did God punish David and Bathsheba's child for David's sin? The child was completely innocent of sin. This is unjust.
Answer
Thanks for your question. David and Bathsheba committed the act of adultery (2 Sam. 11:1-5) and David added to this the crime of murder (2 Sam. 11:15-17). David was confronted by God's prophet Nathan (2 Sam. 12:1-12) and advised David that one of the consequences of his sin would be that he would lose his son (2 Sam. 12:14).

God Judges Sin

Sin demands a high price; "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 3:23). There is no hiding them, "be sure your sin will find you out" (Num. 32:23). And there is no escaping the punishment for sin; "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31).

God is holy (Exod. 3:5-6; 15:11; Lev. 11:44-45; 20:26; Josh. 24:19; 1 Sam. 2:2; Psa. 5:4; Isa. 57:15; 1 Pet. 1:15; 1 John 1:5; Rev. 4:8; 15:4). God is just (Deut. 32:4; 2 Chron. 19:7; Rom. 9:14). He must judge sin (Rom. 2:16; Rev. 20:11-15); "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" (Gen.18:25). He always keeps his Word (Tit. 1:2).

David's Sin was Judged

Nathan outlined the three judgments against David: (1) violence would not depart from his own house (2 Sam. 12:10); (2) his wives would be given to another (2 Sam. 12:11); and (3) his son would die (2 Sam. 12:14).

Though David would not immediately die (2 Sam. 12:13) because of his sins detailed for us in 2 Samuel 11, he still suffered the consequences of them. David sinned in secret, but he would suffer before all (2 Sam. 12:12). Public humiliation is bad enough for a common person, but for a king (2 Sam. 12:7) it would be an immense but deserving shame (cf. 1 Tim. 5:20).

David's daughter Tamar was raped by her half-brother, Amnon (2 Sam.13:1-17). David lost his son Amnon, because Absalom desired vengeance for the rape of his sister, Tamar (2 Sam. 13:18-29). Absalom attempted to usurp David's throne (1 Sam. 15ff) and later died at the hand of Joab and his servants (2 Sam. 18:1-18). Then his son, Adonijah, attempted to usurp his throne too (1 Kings 1:5-53). However, other than sinning against God, his greatest grief was the loss of his son.

The Death of a Child

A wife who loses her husband is called a "widow." A husband who loses his wife is called a "widower." A child who loses his parents is called an "orphan." What word describes a parent who loses a child? There isn't one, because it isn't supposed to happen. [1]

Common to both a parent's heart and desires is the hope that our children outlive us. Children should grow, worship God, have fun, and mature. They should live! Parents expect to die and leave their children behind. This is the expected natural course of life.

To a parent the death of a child is the ultimate tragedy. It is one of the most devastating experiences that one may ever have. The stress, isolation, and grief are enormous. There exists a 'moment-to-moment tension, a never-ending whiplash of to-and-fro' thinking, "How could I be alive and my child not be here?" [2] It is an unspeakable pain of pains, a sorrow of sorrows.

How David must have felt? (2 Sam. 12:16-18). How God the Father must have felt when he gave his only begotten sinless Son to die for his children (John 3:16; Rom 5:10)?

David's Son was not Innocent

While it is tragic to lose a child, David's son was not innocent. All people are born with the stain of original sin. All are born into sin (Psa. 51:5) and thus "by nature are the children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3). Original sin is universal - save for Christ who was born of the virgin Mary (Matt. 1:18-25).

Original sin is a yoke for all (Rom. 5:12-19). This is true even of infants. Though infants cannot discern good from evil (Deut. 1:39), they are not innocent; they simply have not sufficiently matured to an age "yet" to express their sin nature in a noticeable manner.

Adam's sin was imputed to the entire human race, including children. Because of our union with Adam, we are all guilty of Adam's first sin. Before you say, "I wouldn't have sinned like Adam did," realize that Adam's decision was from a complete state of sinlessness! All since Adam do not begin in such a state of purity!!! You and I would have done no better than Adam; probably much worse!

The doctrine of original sin is difficult for some to understand. Some would like to do away with this doctrine saying it is unjust. However, without this doctrine, neither could "any" ever be saved. As Paul teaches us:

Romans 5:12-19 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned - for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

So, if we do away with the doctrine of original sin (that all men, save Christ, are under their Federal Head, the sinner Adam) then there would be no salvation either. Why? Because all God's people would have no Federal Head; the second and last man Adam (1 Cor. 15:45, 47), Christ, the righteous One, to save them from their sin. According to the Apostle Paul, if there is no imputation of sin, then there is no imputation of righteousness either. So, original sin is a truthful, necessary, and informing doctrine. To deny the doctrine of Federal Headship is to deny the very gospel itself.

So, David's child was not innocent.

God's Punishment was Just

So, God didn't unjustly punish anyone. Besides, God wasn't punishing the child, but David. Indeed, David's covenant child went immediately to Heaven (Prov. 14:32; 2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23). Would this child have ended up as treacherous, murderous, and ungodly as David's other sons (Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah)? We don't know, but we do know that God is sovereign and all-knowing (omniscient). He knows what is best (Rom. 8:28). Indeed, David even repented (2 Sam. 12:13; Psa. 51).

To our finite minds the death of a child will never feel right, or seem right; yet we can be assured that it is indeed right, when ordained by God, who is always holy and just. God's justice was filtered through his grace and mercy (Psa. 103:10; Lam. 3:22). Praise be to God for such love!

Footnotes:

[1] Quoted in part from Jay Neugeboren, "An Orphan's Tale," (Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1976).

[2] Linton Weeks, "Deep Grief: Creating Meaning From Mourning," (National Public Radio, 2010).

Related Topics

Lessons on Repentance - Psalm 51

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).