“David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to 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.”” (ESV – Read the chapter)
These are two of the hardest verses I’ve yet encountered in this slow walk through the history books of the Hebrew Bible. In the first part of this note I began sharing about what has given me such trouble. I started out fairly easy. Here I will get into the real problem for me (and possibly you too). As I said before, here goes…
After God announced through Nathan that David would not face an immediate and deserved death for his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah, someone who stopped reading there at v. 13 would have possibly breathed a sigh of relief with David. He wasn’t going to face any immediate consequences. Sure, God had said the sins were going to bring all kinds of trouble to his family and through them his kingship in the years ahead, but at least he could stop worrying about what would happen now.
Then comes v. 14. It begins with a foreboding, “nevertheless,” in the ESV. Other translations use “however,” or the King James Version’s fun “howbeit,” or simply “but.” The ominous idea is clear: In spite of what I just said, there’s more coming.
More to the point, David isn’t going to die, but his unborn son will. At this point, for me, the wheels fall off the wagon. David deserved to die and didn’t, this totally innocent child had done nothing wrong and yet was going to die. What gives?!? How is this just or right or fair or whatever other word you want to use there? How could God transfer the just punishment of David’s sin over to this innocent little boy like this?
As I have wrestled with this several different thoughts have come to mind. First, and as I have said many times before, we have to get God character right. If we don’t start thinking about this with right thoughts about God in our heart and mind, we’re not going to be able to reach anything remotely resembling the right conclusions. More specifically, God is holy, just, and loving. He cannot tolerate sin in His presence or His people. He always does the right thing. And He is entirely committed to seeing us become fully who He made us to be.
Here’s why all of that matters so much: I don’t understand why God allowed David’s son to die in his place. There are a couple of things that can make thinking about this somewhat easier, but not much. And they don’t change the fact that I—perhaps you too—don’t understand why God worked in this particular way here. But, when we don’t understand something in the Scriptures, something that threatens our otherwise clear picture of who God is, we can lean into the character consistently presented in the rest of it and fall back on the assumption that the error is with our understanding, not with God Himself or even simply the text. If we don’t start from the standpoint of a perfectly just and righteous God and an inerrant text, we’ll wind up somewhere we may not want to be.
Second, David lived in a day when the infant mortality rate was high. In spite of the fact that in v. 15 we’re told that God “afflicted” the child (they thought about God’s involvement in both good and bad things happening much more comprehensively than we do), we shouldn’t understand this as God actively killing the baby boy. Such an act would violate His character. Rather, in a day when life was much more fragile for a newborn than it is today, God simply allowed this particular effect of sin to run its natural course without stopping it. In His perfect foreknowledge, He knew the baby would die by some disease or infection and did nothing to prevent it.
Third, the idea of children or someone else paying the price for the sins and folly of their parents isn’t nearly so far-fetched as we perhaps wish it was. Although there isn’t necessarily a straight line connection between David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah and the death of his and Bathsheba’s son, it isn’t hard to think of numerous other examples of times when there is such a connection.
For example, no word is mentioned of how Bathsheba is doing who has now in a year’s time endured being rape, the death of her husband engineered by the man who raped her, and the death of her son who was conceived in the rape. Where is her justice? It would come later when her second son by David, conceived in the aftermath of this tragedy, would be named king after David’s death, but neither she nor we know that now.
As a more recent example, near where I live, when Hurricane Florence was dumping bathtubs of rain on us and the roads and bridges were flooding, a mother was driving through a particularly rural part of the county when she came upon a road closed sign. Now, the sign was there because the roads beyond it were dangerously flooded by the nearby river. She drove around the sign.
You can perhaps feel the ominous music swelling. She didn’t make it very far when her car stalled and was swept away in the high water. Getting out the car, she made her way in the high and fast-flowing water to the backseat where her 14-month old was strapped into his car seat and pulled him out to get them both to safety. She didn’t. The little boy was swept away in the water and drowned. And, as much as our heart breaks for the tragedy this woman now bears, her son’s death was a direct result of her ignoring the road closed signs and driving into dangerously unsafe conditions. The state recognized this fact too and, after an investigation, arrested her for causing his death. Perhaps she knows some of the pain David did here. She needs your prayers.
The point here is that the sins of a parent often are worked out through the lives of our children. And while there is sometimes a clear correspondence between the sin and consequence, sometimes one appears all out of proportion to the other like in the case of this poor mother.
Still, none of this changes the fact that I still struggle with what happened here. Fortunately, my faith does not rest on whether or not I can get my mind around or otherwise come up with a totally satisfactory explanation for why God acted in this way. My faith hangs on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. In places like this, I trust in the God who was revealed in the resurrection and lean into the new covenant He made with us. I lean into that assumption that the problem is in me, not the text. And I press forward in following Him, learning from David’s sins and consequences so that I can experience real life. I hope you will join me in that whether this is your hard passage or another is.