Then Nathan went to his house. And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick. David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us. How then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.” But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.” Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” – 2 Samuel 12:15-23 ESV
This is a difficult passage. It involves the death of an innocent child, apparently as the result of God’s direct intervention and discipline. The prophet, Nathan, had told David:
“The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.” – 2 Samuel 12:13-14 NLT
Verse 15 seems to make quite clear God’s involvement in the situation.
And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick. – 2 Samuel 12:15 ESV
The Hebrew word translated as “afflicted” is nagaph and it means “to inflict” (as in a disease). It’s the same word used in Exodus when God “struck” the firstborn of the Egyptians as part of the tenth plague.
At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock.– Exodus 12:29 ESV
What are we supposed to do with this information? It raises all kinds of ethical and moral questions in our minds. Why would God punish an innocent child for the sins of his parents? What had the child done to deserve death? Is God a vindictive god who lashes out in anger, inflicting pain on the innocent in order to get the attention of the guilty? Why didn’t God kill David since he was the one who sinned and commissioned the murder of Uriah? These kinds of questions are legitimate and perfectly normal for us to consider as we deal with this passage. But it is essential that the conclusions we draw or the answers we walk away with are based on a biblically accurate understanding of God.
Let’s take a closer look at what is going on in this story. David, the king of Israel, was God’s appointed and Spirit-anointed leader. He represented God on behalf of the people. He was to rule and reign over them, but modeling his leadership on the shepherd model. He was to serve them. He was to care for them. But when David sinned with Bathsheba, he was not acting as a shepherd. He didn’t have the best interests of the flock at heart. In fact, the passage in 2 Samuel that chronicles David’s sin, tells us that when he was informed that Bathsheba was a married woman, the wife of Uriah, he, “sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her” (2 Samuel 11:4 ESV). The phrase “took her” is the Hebrew word laqach, which means “to seize, snatch or take away.” David stole another man’s wife. And this is made perfectly clear when we look at the story Nathan the prophet used to convict David. He made up a sad tale about a poor man who had a lamb that was like a household pet. One day, a rich man, who received a surprise visit from a friend, decided to take the poor man’s lamb in order to feed his guest. The text says, “but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him” (2 Samuel 12:4 ESV). Nathan used that same Hebrew word, laqach. The rich man snatched or stole the poor man’s lamb. He took advantage of the poor man, even when he had plenty of lambs of his own.
And it is interesting to note David’s righteous indignation when he heard this heart-wrenching story.
“As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” – 2 Samuel 12:5-6 ESV
David had stolen Uriah’s “lamb”. He already had more wives than he needed and far more than God had commanded. But he used his divinely-ordained power to take advantage of his own flock. Not only that, David got Bathsheba pregnant. He took what was not his and he expected to receive blessings from his own disobedience. Despite his sin, he saw nothing wrong in having an heir who would be the fruit of his own immoral act. But as king, David was going to be held to a higher, more stringent standard.
We know David loved this child. He prayed to God desperately and intensely, asking that he might be spared. “David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground” (2 Samuel 12:16 ESV). For seven days, David fasted, wept and prayed, begging that God might show grace and allow his son to live. But God did not answer David’s prayer. At least not in the way David desired. His son died. It was a devastating blow to David. But even he seemed to understand that this judgment from the hand of God was deserved and anything but unfair. He doesn’t rail at God. He doesn’t shake his fist in indignation at God. In fact, the text tells us, “David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped” (2 Samuel 12:20 ESV).
But again, we are left with the question, “Why?” Why did God choose to allow the death of the child? As the king of Israel, David had broken his covenant with God and with his people. He had stolen what was not his. He had taken what had belonged to another and tried to garner blessings through his sin. The literal “fruit” of David’s sin with Bathsheba was their son. That son did not belong to David any more than Bathsheba did. He was a stolen blessing. It reminds me of the story of Esau and Jacob, the twin sons of Isaac. Esau was the older of the two, having come out of the womb first, with Jacob literally holding on to his heel as he made his way entry into the world. Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, had been barren and unable to have children, but in answer to Isaac’s prayer, God caused her to conceive. And he told her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23 ESV). But when the two boys became adults, Jacob, with the help of his mother, concocted a plan to steal from Esau, the birthright that rightfully belonged to him as the firstborn. Keep in mind, God had already promised that Jacob would rule over Esau. The older was going to serve the younger. But in an act of distrust and self-reliance, Rebekah and Jacob came up with a plan to trick the dim-sighted Isaac, and cause him to give the blessing that belonged to Esau to Jacob. And Esau, when he found out what had happened, was furious. He also called what they had done exactly what it was: Stealing, He said, “For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing” (Genesis 27:36 ESV). And he used the very same Hebrew word, laqach. Jacob snatched what did not belong to him. God was going to give it to him eventually, but he decided to take matters into his own hands. And his actions would result in punishment. He would end up having to fun for his life and would spend years in self-imposed exile. He had the birthright and the blessing, but no joy. He had the legal claim to inherit all that belonged to his father, but not the pleasure of getting to live with his family.
Jacob would eventually be restored to a right relationship with Esau. It would be God’s doing. And David would eventually have another son by Bathsheba. It would be Solomon. He lost the first son, as punishment for his sin. But God would eventually bless with another son who would grow up to be the heir to the throne and man picked by God to build the temple. David sinned. The child died. And while the child’s death was clearly God’s doing, it was not God’s fault. He was justly meting out the punishment David deserved. David had killed Bathsheba’s husband. God had killed David’s son. The first was undeserved and unmerited. The second was earned, not by the child, but by the king whose immoral actions had brought about the child’s very existence. This story is not intended to be a model or illustration for how God deals with ALL sin. But it simply shows us how God chose to deal with the man He had anointed king over His people. David was being held to a higher standard. He should have known better. He should have lived differently. And he had no one to blame but himself.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.