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Doctrinal Matters: Difficult Passages

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The Death of David’s Son

by  Kyle Butt, M.A.

David’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba is one of the most infamous, heartbreaking events recorded in the Old Testament. The emotional pain and anguish caused by David’s sin plagued the king for the remainder of his days. In the midst of the biblical record concerning God’s dealing with David’s sin, skeptics believe they have found a legitimate moral complaint against the God of the Bible (Wells, 2001).

When God’s prophet Nathan confronted David about his sin, David’s heart was broken and he repented immediately. In response to his humble reaction, Nathan said: “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Samuel 12:13). Yet, even though David would not die, several consequences of his actions would result in spite of the Lord’s forgiveness. Nathan explained to David: “However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die” (12:14). The subsequent verses explain: “And the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became very ill.... Then on the seventh day it came to pass that the child died” (12:15,18).

Upon reading this text, the skeptic suggests that God is unjust for killing an innocent child. How could a loving God kill an innocent child? The skeptic further suggests that this passage proves that God showed favoritism to David, because Leviticus 20:10 says that, under the Law of Moses, a man who committed adultery with another man’s wife should be killed. Does the story of David’s sin and God’s reaction to it reveals moral deficiency and unjust favoritism in God’s character?

Did God Show Favoritism?

First, let us consider God’s alleged favoritism to David. Why was it the case that David was not killed for his adultery, when the Old Testament commanded that adulterers should be killed? One plausible reason is that there was a stipulation placed on the death sentence for those who committed adultery. In order to sentence adulterers to death, a minimum of two witnesses had to present evidence against the accused. Deuteronomy 17:6 says: “Whoever is worthy of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses, but he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness.” In the case of David and Bathsheba, no witnesses came forward to testify against them. In fact, the text indicates that the only reason Nathan knew about the incident was miraculous revelation from God. In short, there is no biblical indication that the minimum of two human witnesses could not be found to testify against David (see Miller, 2003). Mosaic Law would not include God’s omniscient ability as testimony, thus, David would not have been condemned by the Law of Moses. In fact, without God’s intervention, it seems that David’s sin might have gone undetected. [NOTE: The same could be said for David’s plot to kill Uriah. David sent Uriah back to Joab, the army commander, with a letter detailing the procedure to put Uriah to death. Yet the text indicates that Uriah did not read the letter, but passed it to Joab. The biblical text also indicates that Joab read the letter, but there is no record of any other person being privy to the information in it. Thus, if only Joab read the letter, then he would have been the lone witness testifying to Uriah’s murder, and the requirements for the death penalty from the Law of Moses would not have been met for David’s crime of murder either.]

David’s Son

Having successfully dealt with the misguided accusation of God’s alleged favoritism, let us move on to discuss God’s action regarding the death of David’s son. The skeptic charges God with injustice because the Bible says that God struck the newborn child and he died. According to the skeptic, a loving God would never kill an innocent child.

In reply to such an allegation, it must be admitted that the Bible attributes the death of the child to God. One reason this instance is so striking is because the language in the text clearly states that God struck the child. The fact that the child died due to God’s actions should not surprise a person who has read the Bible. The Bible records numerous instances in which God’s action directly caused the deaths of innocent children. When God sent the Flood on the ancient world, some estimate that there were two billion people alive at that time. Millions of those people who died in the Flood would have been infants and innocent children (Genesis 7:21). Furthermore, when God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah due to the wickedness of their adult inhabitants, it is only reasonably to conclude that many children and infants died in the destruction as well (Genesis 19:24-25). In addition, God gave Saul a direct command to destroy the sinful Amalekites. That command is recorded in 1 Samuel 15:3: “Now go and attack Amalek and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (emp. added). The account of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan contains similar instances in which God ordered or condoned the physical destruction of entire populations, including innocent children (Joshua 6:21). It cannot be denied that the Bible records instances in which God condoned, ordered, and/or caused the death of innocent, sinless children.

Is Death Always Evil?

How, then, can an infinitely loving God cause the death of innocent children and still be considered loving? The skeptic simply says that if it is true that God caused the death of innocent babies, then it is impossible for a moral person to consider that God as loving. The skeptical argument goes something like this: (1) A good and loving God would not kill innocent children; (2) the God of the Bible kills innocent children; (3) therefore the God of the Bible cannot be good and loving.

At first glance, this logic seems to make sense. When examined more closely, however, there lies within this argument a faulty assumption. The faulty assumption built into this line of reasoning is that the death of an innocent child is always, in every circumstance, evil. With the assumption built in, the first premise should read like this: A good and loving God would not kill innocent children, because the death of anyone innocent is always a bad thing. The assumption that death, especially of innocent children, is always bad or morally evil, stems from the skeptic’s adherence to pure naturalism. If this physical life and material world are all that exist, then to take an innocent person out of this physical world is inherently evil, according to the skeptic.

Yet, the same Bible that tells about a God who takes the physical lives of innocent children also informs the reader that this physical world is not all there is to existence. In fact, the Bible explains that every person has a soul that will live forever, long after physical life on this Earth is over (Matthew 25:46). The Bible consistently stresses the fact that the immortal soul of each individual is of much greater value than that individual’s physical life. Jesus Christ said: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul” (Matthew 16:26)?

Although the skeptic might object, and claim that an answer from the Bible is not acceptable, such an objection fails for one primary reason—the skeptic used the Bible to formulate his argument. Where is it written that God is love? In the Bible (1 John 4:8). Where do we learn that the Lord did, indeed, kill or order the deaths of babies? Once again, that information comes directly from the Bible. Where, then, should we look for an answer to this alleged discrepancy? The answer should be “the Bible.” If the alleged problem is formulated from biblical testimony, then the Bible should be given the opportunity to explain itself. As long as the skeptic uses the Bible to formulate the problem, we certainly can use the Bible to solve the problem. The biblical solution to the alleged problem in this instance is that every human possesses an immortal soul that is of infinitely more value than his or her physical existence.

A Biblical Perspective on Death

With the value of the soul in mind, let us examine several verses that prove that physical death is not necessarily evil. In a letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul was writing from prison to encourage the Christians. His letter was filled with hope and encouragement, but it also contained with some very pertinent comments about the way Paul (and God) view death. In Philippians 1:21-23, Paul wrote:

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better (emp. added).

According to the skeptic, the death of an innocent person is always, in every case, evil. In these verses, however, Paul lays that faulty assumption to rest. Paul, a faithful Christian, said that death was a welcomed visitor. In fact, Paul said that the end of his physical life on this Earth would be “far better” than its continuation. For Paul, as well as for any faithful Christian, the cessation of physical life is not loss, but gain. Such would apply to innocent children as well, since they are in a safe condition and go to paradise when they die (see Butt, 2003). It is easy to understand that an eternal, blissful life with God would have been a “far better” situation in many respects for David’s son than growing up as the illegitimate product of David’s adulterous activity.

Other verses in the Bible show that the loss of physical life is not inherently evil. The prophet Isaiah concisely summarized the situation when he was inspired to write:

The righteous perishes, and no man takes it to heart; merciful men are taken away, while no one considers that the righteous is taken away from evil. He shall enter into peace; they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness (57:1-2, emp. added).

Isaiah recognized that people would view the death of the righteous incorrectly. He plainly stated that this incorrect view of death was due to the fact that most people do not think about the fact that when a righteous or innocent person dies, that person is “taken away from evil,” and enters “into peace.” Is the skeptic, then, accusing God of cruel and unjust actions by delivering innocent children from evil and allowing them to enter into peace?

The psalmist wrote: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (116:15). Death is not inherently evil. In fact, the Bible indicates that death can be great gain in that a righteous person is taken away from evil and allowed to enter peace and rest. God looks upon the death of His faithful followers as precious. Skeptics who charge God with wickedness because He has ended the physical lives of innocent babies are in error. They refuse to recognize the reality of the immortal soul. Instead of the death of innocent children being an evil thing, it is often a blessing for the children to be taken away from a life of hardship at the hands of a sinful society, and ushered into a paradise of peace and rest. In order for a skeptic to legitimately charge God with cruelty, the skeptic must prove that there is no immortal soul, and that physical life is the only reality—neither of which is possible. Failure to acknowledge the reality of the soul and the spiritual realm will always result in a distorted view of the nature of God.

In summary, it is the case that God treated David in perfect accord with the Law of Moses, showing no partiality. Furthermore, it has been shown that since death is not inherently evil, God was not guilty of immorality by causing the child’s death. God also ushered David’s son into an eternity of bliss. Therefore, the skeptic’s charge against God fails once again to discredit His infinitely flawless character. As Abraham asked the rhetorical question in the long ago, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). The answer has been the same throughout the millennia—a resounding “Yes.”

REFERENCES

Butt, Kyle (2003), “Do Babies Go To Hell?,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2255.

Miller, Dave (2003), “The Adulterous Woman,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2324.

Wells, Steve (2001), Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, [On-line], URL: http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/2sam/12.html.




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