“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.’” (ESV – Read the chapter)
This is the climax of one of the most emotional stories in the life of David. A good case can be made for this being one of the top five most emotional stories in the whole of the Hebrew Bible. When looking back at this verse and taking it through the lens of the New Covenant, many have seen this as a verse of great comfort. I’ve used it as such. But, the only way to experience that hope is to see it through that New Covenant lens. It’s a good reminder that Jesus has to be the interpretive framework we use for the Hebrew Bible. Anything else and it won’t do us any good.
One of the most tragic things any couple can face is the loss of their child. It does not matter if the loss occurs when the baby is out of the womb or in it, the loss is a painful tragedy. I suspect that if you haven’t experienced this personally, you know someone well who has.
In my few years of pastoring, I have had the unfortunate opportunity to preside over the memorial service of a little girl who was stillborn. Her parents knew this would be the case before she was delivered, but this didn’t make the pain any less.
In their service, I told this story of David and Bathsheba losing their child. When I came to this part of the story, I made the point that we can have hope even in a time such as this that one day, those who are in Christ will get to meet this little girl. She will be present and whole in the kingdom of God.
I based this comforting encouragement on two ideas. First, theologians have long held that even though we are all born into sin, there is a point before which our actions are not our own; before which we do not have the mental or moral capacity to commit sin. Prior to this point—and when it is exactly I don’t think anyone is willing to pin down to a specific age—children who die are given a special gift of grace from God and brought straight into His presence to wait for the coming of the kingdom. There is nowhere in the Scriptures that gives some kind of a firm basis for this idea, but rather it is rooted in our understanding of the loving and just character of our God. We know God always does the right thing and that His doing of the right thing (just) is always heavily tempered with mercy (love), and we stand confidently on the notion that an infant who has no moral capacity for sin yet is not going to be condemned to Hell. And, this confidence extends all the way back to the point of conception as we know from Scripture and science alike that people are fully people from that point forward.
The second idea is this verse. David said that while his son would not be returned to him, he would go to him someday. This second idea is where the lens of Christ as the proper interpretive framework for the Hebrew Bible comes into play. You see, when David said this, he was almost certainly not thinking in the same terms we are here. Absent a special gifting of knowledge from God—which we have no evidence he received—we have no reason at all to think he somehow understood forward what our relationship with God would be on this side of the cross.
David’s comment was fatalistic. He was almost certainly not thinking in terms of a future resurrection, but rather of the fact that while God was not going to heal or bring back his son from the grave, he was going to die someday himself and so go to the place (in his mind, Sheol) where his son was.
For us, for this couple I mentioned before, there’s not much hope in this realism. As followers of Jesus, though, we can follow the apostles’ lead in seeing the Hebrew Scriptures through the lens of Christ and understanding them in ways the original authors could not have absent a special gifting of knowledge from the Holy Spirit. In fact, given that the Old Covenant outlined and described throughout the pages of the Hebrew Bible has been fulfilled and replaced by the New Covenant that Jesus inaugurated with us by His death and resurrection, if we try and use any lens other than Him to understand, much less apply Genesis through Malachi, we’re going to err in our interpretation and application.
The Hebrew Bible is not primarily for our application as followers of Jesus. It is for our information and inspiration. There is much hope and encouragement to be found within its pages, but only when we understand it properly through Jesus. Anything else and we will lead others—and ourselves—astray.