When a Child Dies
2 Samuel 12:13-25
Dr. Jim Denison
A little girl noticed some gray hair on her mother’s head and asked, “Why are some of your hairs white?” Her mother replied, “Every time you do something wrong, one of my hairs turns white.” The little girl thought about her answer for a moment and then asked, “Mom, how come all of grandma’s hairs are white?”
A teacher was teaching her class about the circulation of blood and said, “If I stood on my head, the blood would run into it and I would turn red in the face.” “Yes,” the class said. “Then why is it that while I am standing in the ordinary position, the blood doesn’t run into my feet?” A little boy in the back of the room shouted, “‘Cause your feet ain’t empty.”
The children were lined up in the cafeteria of a Christian school for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of applies. A teacher made a note: “Take only one—God is watching.” Further along the lunch line was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. A child had written a note: “Take all you want—God is watching the apples.”
Despite the challenge they can be, children are our greatest joy and privilege. Our church loves children, making Vacation Bible School (which starts Monday) one of our favorite weeks of the year.
We love our children, and we assume that God does also. So the issue we must face today is the hardest question parents ask: why do children die? What do we do when we lose a child? Where is God then? How are we to trust a God who allows or even causes such a tragedy?
We’ll discuss David’s child first, then look at what Scripture says about our children and their heavenly Father today.
Why did David’s child die?
Remember the tragic, adulterous sin of David and Bathsheba. Now the Lord, speaking through his prophet Nathan, tells David that the child of their sexual union will die.
David will not die, even though the sin was his—”The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die” (v. 13).
Why? Because David confessed his sin in repentance (cf. Psalm 51:3-4, 10). And God forgave him for it, a gift David celebrated for the rest of his life (cf. Psalm 32:1-2).
But what of the innocent child of their sinful union?
I’d like to be able to tell you that their baby’s death was a simple coincidence, that the Lord had nothing to do with it. But the text won’t allow me to teach this interpretation.
The Lord knows that their unborn child is a boy, though there were no sonograms to discover this fact. And he knows that the child will soon die. Note that Nathan does not say God will kill the child, but that it will die as a consequence of David’s sin. Perhaps the child was born with a terminal condition which the Lord would not heal. Perhaps the Lord’s role was more direct and causal. Either way, clearly God could have prevented the death of this innocent baby, but he did not.
Why? Why did David’s son die? Here is the data supplied by our text.
David’s sin was larger than he knew: “by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt” (v. 14). Apparently his “private” sin would be private no longer. And the pagan enemies of the Lord and his people would be able to show contempt for Jehovah God.
If this God permits his king to commit such atrocity, he’s no different from Molech, the god to whom the Canaanites offered child sacrifices, or Baal and Ashtoreth, worshiped with adulterous sexual sin. One of the abiding tragedies of the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal is the way it has made America look in the eyes of the Muslim world. So it was with David and his sin.
The Lord could simply punish David with death, and so vindicate his righteousness before the watching world. But David has responded to his sin with confession and repentance, and the God of grace has promised to forgive every sin we confess to him.
So the Lord cannot kill David for his sin, but must redeem his righteousness before the world. The death of the child of David’s sin will do just that—it will show the watching world that Israel’s Lord is indeed a God of righteousness—that sins have consequences with him. And I would imagine that David considered the death of his son a worse consequence than his own death, by far. I would. So would you.
What does God think of children?
So, is the text saying that the Lord permitted or even caused the death of David’s son in order to redeem his own name among the nations? Before we finalize our answer, let’s ask a second question: what does God think of children? How does his word view them?
The great miracle of the Incarnation is not that God would enter the world he made. As Creator, he had every right to visit his creation. The great miracle was that he would do so as a baby. Rather than appear among us in his heavenly status, the Lord Jesus chose to become a fetus, then a newborn, helpless infant. The hands that held the stars were sheltered in a mother’s arms. Christmas tells us what God thinks of children.
Jesus made clear his feelings on the subject in two separate incidents.
The first was his response to his disciples’ question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1). He knew they needed to see the answer more than hear it, so “He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven'” (vs. 2-3). The “greatest” in God’s kingdom is the one who is most like a child.