There is something especially tragic about the death of a child. My wife and I, like many other parents, have experienced the shock of waking up to find our child dead in his crib. The malady is now known as SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. One moment the child is healthy and happy; the next, the child is gone. It is indeed a shock. For us, there was an unexplainable peace in the midst of our sorrow. Several years later, the subject of where babies go when they die came up in a theology class at seminary. I remember the academic discussion, the Bible verses quoted, and the conclusions reached. Finally, I raised my hand and shared something like this:
The subject we are discussing here is one that is no academic matter for my wife and me. We lost a child as an infant. We know what losing a child is like. We also know the biblical texts which have been quoted, and we are familiar with the different views as to where babies go when they die. But when my wife and I lost our child, we had a peace and a confidence that went beyond what we have been talking about here. We knew that the God to whom we had entrusted our souls was a good and perfect God, who would do what was right with our child. It was not the arguments discussed today which gave us peace, but God Himself, and in that peace we rest.
Our text for this lesson is one that is most often used to comfort parents who have lost little ones. I would have to say that my own views on this subject are undoubtedly shaped by our experience in losing a child. I must therefore warn you that I do not speak with great objectivity here, but from the perspective of one who has experienced the loss of a child. I know that the conclusions I have reached concerning the fate of children who die are not held by all in our church, perhaps not even by all of the Elders of our church.
As one who has lost a child in infancy, I am satisfied with the conclusions I have reached here. I must point out that my conclusions are the result of inferences and logical processes. They are not always grounded on clear propositional statements. As such, they should be held less dogmatically than views that have clear, straightforward, repetitive biblical support. As such, they can and will be rejected by those who have reached different conclusions, also based upon logic and inference. In the final analysis, we all must say that our conclusions here are less dogmatic than other truths that are much more clearly stated in Scripture. In the end, we must cast ourselves upon the God to whom we have entrusted our souls and our eternal destiny. As Abraham said so long ago, “Shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:25).
Having said this, we can see from our text that David had a remarkable peace about the death of his first child by Bathsheba, a peace which caused those who witnessed it to marvel, and to question David about it. As we approach this text, let us listen to David's answer to the question posed by his servants. Let us seek to learn from David's lips the reason he could praise and worship God at the time of the loss of this child.
After becoming King of Israel, things were going very well for David, perhaps too well. He seemed to have the Midas touch -- everything he touched turned to gold. God had given him success in all he undertook. Like Israel of old, David appears to momentarily forget that his success was the result of God's grace, and not a tribute to his efforts alone. The first glimpse of this overconfidence comes in 2 Samuel 7, where David expresses his desire to build a house for God. In response, God reminds David his successes are the manifestations of His grace (7:8-9). He goes on to assure David that there are good things yet in store for Israel, and that these too will be His doing (7:10-11). Having gently rebuked David for supposing that He really needed a “house,” God promised to build David a better “house,” one that is an eternal dynasty:
‘“The LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you. 12 “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 “He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever (2 Samuel 7:11b-16).’”
But in the chapters which follow, David's arrogance seems to increase. It is most evident in 2 Samuel 11. Israel is at war with the Ammonites, and in the Spring (the time that kings go to war), David sends his army to besiege Rabbah, the capital city of the Ammonites, where the last of the Ammonite opposition has sought refuge. David does not go to battle with his soldiers, but stays at home in Jerusalem, indulging himself in the good life while his soldiers camp in an open field. David gets up from his bed about the time his soldiers (and others) usually go to bed. As he is strolling on the roof of his palace, David happens to see something that was not meant to be seen -- a young woman cleansing herself, most likely a ceremonial cleansing ceremony done in keeping with the law. The woman is beautiful, and David decides that he wants her. He sends messengers to find out who she is. Their answer -- that she was Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite -- should have ended the matter, but David had no intention of being deprived of anything he wanted. He sent for the woman and lay with her.
For David, it was all over after that one night of self-indulgence. He did not want another wife; he did not even appear to want an affair, just a night of pleasure. But God had other plans. Bathsheba conceived and eventually sent word to David that she was pregnant. When David's efforts to deceive Uriah (and the people) into thinking Uriah had fathered this child, he had Uriah killed in battle with the help of Joab. After she had mourned for her husband, David brought Bathsheba into his home, taking her as his wife. Now at last, David hoped, it was over.
This thing which David had done displeased God, however, and God would give David no rest or peace until he had come to see his sin for what it was and repented of it. After some period of distress (see Psalm 32:3-4), God sent Nathan to David with a story, a story which deeply upset David. David was furious. He insisted that the rich man who stole the poor man's pet lamb deserved to die! Nathan then stopped David in his tracks with the words, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7). As David heard Nathan's recital of his sin, he broke, declaring to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13).
Nathan's response to David's confession was both comforting and disturbing. Although he deserved to die for his sins, David would not die because God had taken away his sin (12:13). What a relief these words must have been. But what followed would pierce David through: the son his sin had produced would die. It is David's response to the death of this son that will be the focus of our lesson.
Before we turn to the story itself, I would like to make a few observations which may influence our understanding of this text.
This is the first of a number of painful events David will experience as a result of his sin regarding Uriah and Bathsheba. In our text, David will suffer the loss of the child conceived through the sinful union of David and Uriah's wife, Bathsheba. Next, David's daughter will be raped by one of his sons. In retaliation for Amnon's sin, Absalom murders him. Later, David's son, Absalom, will rebel against his father and temporarily take over the throne. In the process, he will sleep with some of David's concubines, before all Israel, and on the roof of the palace from which David first looked upon Bathsheba. All of these things are directly or indirectly the consequences of David’s sin with Bathsheba.
The tragic death of David’s son is a consequence of David's sin, but it is not the penalty David deserves for his sin. The penalty for adultery and murder is death, on each count. David deserves to die, on two counts: adultery and murder. But Nathan has made it very clear that David's sin has been “taken away.” The death of this child is a painful consequence of David's sin, but it is not punishment for his sin, per se. That punishment has been taken away, borne by the Lord Jesus Christ.
The fast which David observes is a very serious one. In the Hebrew Old Testament, there is a unique way of emphasizing a point. The Hebrew language of the Old Testament repeats the word for emphasis. Thus, when God told Adam that he would “surely die” (Genesis 2:17) He said something like this: “You shall die a death.” Thus, Young's Literal Translation reads,
“And of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou dost not eat of it, for in the day of thine eating of it--dying thou dost die.”
In our text, God uses this doubling method to emphasize the certainty of the child's death:
“However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die” (2 Samuel 12:14).
The same doubling is found in verse 16:
David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground.
Only in the marginal notes of the KJV do we see the literal rendering, “fasted a fast.” The point is that David's fasting was not entered into casually. He was dead serious about this fast, for it was a matter of life and death.
Once again, Bathsheba is not prominent in this text, but David. The sin of adultery was David's doing, while (in my way of reading this story) Bathsheba was a victim. So it is only fitting that it is David who is prominent in this text which depicts his fasting and prayer, pleading with God for the child's life.
The author changes the way he refers to Bathsheba in our text. In verse 15 he speaks of Bathsheba, the mother of the child who died, as “Uriah's widow.” In verse 24, there is a very significant change. Here, the author refers to this same woman, the mother of David's second child Solomon, as “his wife Bathsheba.” Not only has God come to accept this second child, He has come to accept Bathsheba as David's wife.
The final events of chapter 12 give us a definite sense of closure. David's sin is to be understood as the exception, rather than the rule in his life:
Because David did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite (1 Kings 15:5).
Chapters 11 and 12 of 2 Samuel are almost parenthetical, then, as they depict this exceptional period in David's life. This was a time when he was not a “man after God's heart.” And so we find chapter 11 beginning with a description of Israel going to battle, while David stays at home (11:1). We find verses 26-31 of chapter 12 reporting how David showed up for the war, and when it was won, all Israel returned home to Jerusalem. There is a sense of closure, of finality, here, which I think the author intended us to feel. In addition, we find that our text records the death of Bathsheba's first son, followed rather quickly by the account of the birth of the second, Solomon, who was to rule on the throne of his father, David.
There are several ways to approach this passage. We could dissect the passage, giving attention to the nuance of each word and of each phrase. I am choosing not to do this, having already noted the details I think are important. Rather I will approach the passage somewhat like Michael Landon, the late television actor and director, would have done. We have probably all watched (at least the older ones among us) some of the works which Michael had a hand in directing. He had a way a catching the emotion of the moment and then portraying it dramatically. I can still remember one television show in which he learned, much to his surprise, that a woman was blind. When he brought his audience to that moment when the truth of her condition struck him, even I had to mop my eyes. Our text has some very emotional moments, which I believe Michael Landon would have appreciated and emphasized. I will therefore attempt to capture the emotions of David and those near him as he dealt with the death of his son, the product of his sin.
13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. 14 “However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die.” 15 So Nathan went to his house.
David had condemned himself with his own words in response to Nathan's story of the stolen pet lamb: “As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die” (12:5). The law certainly did not pronounce such a penalty on a thief, but it did condemn adulterers and murderers. According to the Law, David should have died for his sins. Based upon divine grace through the coming death of Christ, David was forgiven for his sins and assured that he would not die. These words from Nathan must have been a huge relief to David, who knew he did not deserve anything but God's wrath. His sense of relief was short-lived, however, because Nathan was not finished with what he had to say:
“However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die” (verse 14).
Nathan assured David that the punishment he deserved has been taken away (we know this means it has been transferred to Christ). But God cannot allow His name to be blasphemed by allowing it to appear that He does not care about sin. From the very beginning the Bible teaches us that the wages of sin is death (see Genesis 2:17; 4:8, 23; 5:1ff.; Romans 6:23). For God to allow David's sins to have no painful consequences would enable the wicked to conclude that God does not really hate sin, nor does He do anything about it when we do sin.
The Law of Moses was given to set Israel apart from the nations. It was given so that Israel could reflect God's character to the world. When David sinned, he violated God's law, and he also dishonored God. This hypocrisy was observed by the nations, and it resulted in their dishonoring God. Paul would make this same charge against the Jews centuries later:
21 You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? 24 For “THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU,” just as it is written (Romans 2:21-24).
Elsewhere, the apostle Paul instructs Timothy that elders -- those church leaders whose lives are publicly under scrutiny -- who persist in their sin are to be corrected publicly, so that all will learn (1 Timothy 5:19-20). God is very concerned about his reputation. He works in such a way as to instruct not only men who look on, but also angels who do likewise (see Exodus 32:9-14; 34:10; Ephesians 3:8-10).
God could not look the other way when David sinned, for his disobedience to God's commands was a matter of public knowledge. As his victories and triumphs were known among the Gentiles, so his sins would be widely known as well. By taking the life of this child, conceived in sin, God makes a statement to those looking on. If God does not deal with the sin of His saints, they might reason, then He will not be concerned with mine, either. Thus, they will mock God with the confidence that they can get away with their sin.
Years ago I taught sixth grade. It did not happen very often, but occasionally a child would blatantly disobey one of the rules, and it was necessary to take him outside and introduce him to the paddle. My class (and all those within hearing range) knew what to expect when I stepped outside with a student.51 But when a child was sent to the principal's office, it was frequently a different matter. The principle would give a little lecture, and the student would come back with a big smile on his face. The willful student and everyone else knew he had gotten away with his unacceptable conduct. God could not allow David to come through this monumental sin without doing something about it, something visible to all. This was for David's discipline, and to silence those who would use David's sin as an occasion to blaspheme the name of God; it was to proclaim and promote the glory of God.
Then the LORD struck the child that Uriah's widow bore to David, so that he was very sick. 16 David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground. 17 The elders of his household stood beside him in order to raise him up from the ground, but he was unwilling and would not eat food with them. 18 Then it happened on the seventh day that 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 still alive, we spoke to him and he did not listen to our voice. How then can we tell him that the child is dead, since he might do himself harm!” 19 But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; so David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead.” 20 So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him and he ate. 21 Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” 22 He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.' 23 “But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
After Nathan left David, God struck the child born to David and “Uriah's widow.” We do not know what the malady was, but we do know that after seven days the child died.52 David had mourned when Saul and Jonathan died in battle (2 Samuel 1), when Abner was killed by Joab (2 Samuel 3), and even when Nahash the Ammonite king died (2 Samuel 10). His mourning here, however, is not a mourning over the death of his son (for he has not yet died), but is instead the mourning of repentance. David mourns as a sign of his repentance as he beseeches God to spare the life of his son.
Is it right for David to beseech God to spare the life of this child when He has already said that He is going to take the life of the child? I believe the answer is “Yes!” David knew that some prophecies were warnings of what God would do unless men repented. God sometimes foretold future judgment, which would come to pass if men did not repent. The hope for divine relenting in response to human repenting is set down in Jeremiah 18:5-8:
5 Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 6 “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. 7 “At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; 8 if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.
Further, it may be that David viewed this situation through the eyes of the Davidic Covenant, which God had recently made with him:
12 “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 “He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you” (2 Samuel 7:12-15).
Is it possible that David felt this child might be the heir to his throne? If this were the case, then David surely had reason to hope that God would spare the child's life.
David was certainly right in his assumption that the life of this child was in God's hands, and that his best course of action was to appeal to God to spare the child's life. David believed in the sovereignty of God, and thus he rested his case with God. David's prayers are not only the expression of his repentance, but the exercise of his faith. Believing in God's sovereignty did not keep David from taking action (fasting and praying); his faith prompted him to act.
In spite of David's sorrow, sincerity, and persistence in petitioning God to spare the child's life, his request was denied. The child died. David must not have been with the child when it happened or he would have seen this for himself. David did see his servants whispering to one another, perhaps furtively glancing in his direction as they did so. They were afraid to tell David because they feared he might cause harm. The text is not altogether clear about whom the servants feared David might harm. You will notice that by the use of italics the NAB indicates to us that the word himself is supplied by the translators. I am not so sure David's servants feared only for David's safety. They may have feared for themselves as well. I think that the NIV best conveys the ambiguity of the original text:
On the seventh day the child died. David's servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, we spoke to David but he would not listen to us. How can we tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate” (2 Samuel 12:18, NIV).53
The long and short of it is that no one wanted to be the bearer of bad tidings to David. After all, if David had taken this child's illness so seriously, would he not take the news of his death even more so?54 They did not need to inform David because he instinctively knew the child was gone. The words of Nathan were fulfilled as David could see on the faces of his servants. When David asked if the child was dead they could not deny it. They told him the child was indeed dead.
It is what happens from this point on that perplexes David's servants. While the child was ill they had not been able to get David up from the ground, nor to eat any food. They assumed it would only get worse once he knew the child was dead. Instead, David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, changed his clothes, and went into the house of the Lord, where he worshipped. When he had finished worshipping God, he came home and asked for food. When they set it before him, he ate it.
The servants were amazed and puzzled. A New Testament text may help explain what was normally expected:
14 Then the disciples of John came to Him, asking, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9:14-15, NAB).
David was expected to mourn for the child after he died. From the servants' perspective, David had mourned so much for this child while he was still alive that they feared what would happen when they told him he was now dead. Finally David’s servants worked up the courage to ask the king how he could respond so calmly, knowing that the child was dead. David now explains his change in behavior. I think David’s unusual response can be explained in this manner:
The death of this child came as no surprise to David because it had already been foretold by Nathan. Through Nathan God had informed David that this son, the fruit of David's sinful union with Bathsheba, “Uriah's widow,” would surely die. The death of this child was the revealed will of God. For David to mourn excessively would have been to express his regret over God's will. David's actions indicated that he had accepted the death of this child as God's will.
Nathan had already explained the reason for death of this child to David. The purpose for the death of this child was not to punish David. The appropriate punishment for David's sins under the law would have been the death penalty. Nathan has not given David news of a reduced sentence, but of complete forgiveness, because the guilt and punishment for his sins had been “taken away” (12:13). The purpose for this child's death was instructive. It was meant to silence any blasphemy on the part of the “enemies of God.” Lest any might wrongly conclude that Israel's God was oblivious to David's sin in the breaking of God's law, God made it apparent that He would not wink at sin, even the sin of a man after His own heart. The death of David's son was an object lesson to the enemies of God.
David's mourning during the child's sickness was an act of repentance, not the mourning of the loss of a loved one:
22 He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.' 23 “But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
The death of this child was accepted as God's final answer to David's petitions for the child's life. This is the substance of David's answer to the question posed by his servants. While the child was alive, David fasted, wept, and prayed. But now the child is dead. David has done all that he could. God has given David a clear and final answer: “No.” David sees death as the time to cease those activities which were only appropriate in life. Someone has said, “Where there's life, there's hope.” As far as David's hope for the healing of this child is concerned, God has indicated to David that he should cease his efforts to persuade God to relent concerning this child's death.
I see a similar example of David's acceptance of death as a point of termination in chapter 13, where David finds a certain comfort in the fact that his son Amnon was dead:
The heart of King David longed to go out to Absalom; for he was comforted concerning Amnon, since he was dead (2 Samuel 13:39).
David's comfort, to some degree, was found in Amnon's death. In David's mind, it was as if God had closed a chapter. The death of David's child by Bathsheba was God's final answer to his request that the child might live.
David was comforted by the fact that what he asked for (and was denied) was grace. God's grace, by its very nature, is sovereign grace. Grace is often defined as “unmerited favor.” Allowing this simple definition to stand for the moment, let us see how David can be comforted by the fact that what he asked for -- and was denied -- was a matter of grace.
I have already called attention to the words of Jeremiah 18, where repentance is encouraged, and where God leaves His options open concerning the canceling (or even delaying) of threatened judgment. There is a very similar passage in the Book of Joel, where repentance is encouraged, and divine relenting is spoken of as a possibility:
12 “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping and mourning; 13 And rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness And relenting of evil. 14 Who knows whether He will not turn and relent And leave a blessing behind Him, Even a grain offering and a drink offering For the LORD your God? (Joel 2:12-14, emphasis mine).
In both Jeremiah 18 and this passage in Joel, sinners are encouraged to repent in precisely the way we see David repenting and petitioning God in our text. The appeal of the penitent sinner -- that God would relent and withhold judgment -- is based upon God's grace, and not on the sinner's merits. And just because it is a matter of grace, we dare not presume that God must relent. Thus, in Jeremiah and Joel55 we are encouraged to hope for the possibility of God relenting, but not to presume that He will indeed relent.
We can see an example of the right kind of thinking in the Book of Daniel. Daniel's three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, refused to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar's golden image. He was furious, but he gave these men a second chance. If they would bow down at the next opportunity, they would not be punished, but if they refused, they would be cast into a fiery furnace. This is the response of the three men to this offer:
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. 17 “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).
These men knew they were obeying God rather than men. They knew that God was able to deliver them from the fiery furnace. They did not dare to presume that He would do so, and so they responded to Nebuchadnezzar in a way that left the option open. God could deliver them, for He was able. But whether or not He would do so, they did not dare to presume. Either way, they would not do as the king demanded, for they were committed to serve God first and foremost.
David knew that God was able to save his son. He also knew that if He did so, it would be by grace alone, and not on the basis of merit. If God had spared his son, David would have rejoiced greatly. But when the child's death made it apparent that God had declined to spare him, David could still find comfort, because he knew that grace is always sovereignly bestowed. God's choice is not determined by man's merits, and thus it is a sovereign choice, one that is not determined by any outside force, but by the independent choice of God Himself. This is the point Paul makes when he speaks of man's salvation as the result of God's sovereign choosing, long before man is even born, before man can do anything good or evil (as if this would affect the outcome of God's choosing):
8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is the word of promise: “AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” 13 Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED” (Romans 9:8-13).
In the case of the men of Nineveh, God did relent, and the city was spared (much to the displeasure of Jonah). In the case of David, God did not relent. David cannot legitimately be angry with God, for he did not deserve that for which he petitioned God. Indeed, he deserved much worse than what he received. One dare not be distressed with God when He does not give us what we do not deserve. We have no claim on divine grace. When it is granted, we should gratefully receive it as those unworthy of it; when it is not, we should humbly acknowledge it was nothing we deserved in the first place.
These five reasons alone are sufficient basis for David's actions in our text. But there is yet one more thing we are told in this text to which I call your attention: David found consolation and comfort in the death of the child because he was assured that, although the child could not return to be with him in life, he would go to be with the child in heaven:
“But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (verse 23).
I believe there is only one way this verse makes any sense, and that is by understanding David to be saying something like: “I cannot bring the child back to life, to be here with me once again, but I can look forward to being with this child in heaven, after I die.”
This conclusion, expressed above, is not accepted by all. Some would understand David to be assured that he will be reunited with this child in heaven. They would not necessarily conclude that this means that all babies who die go to heaven. Some who believe in infant baptism may be tempted to believe that those babies who are baptized as infants will go to heaven if they die as babies. There are also those who are strongly convinced that since babies cannot repent and trust in Jesus Christ, none who die go to heaven. If this were the case, David would have to be understood to say something like this: “I cannot bring this baby back to life, but I will join him in the grave.” I want to address this last view first, and then seek to defend my own view, which is that babies who die (before the age of accountability) go to heaven.
There are some who understand David to be speaking of joining the child in the grave. In the context of our text, I find it difficult to understand how. David has fasted, wept, and prayed, so much so that his servants have become concerned for his own well-being. They could not convince him to get up off the ground or to eat. Suddenly, after the child dies, David goes on with his life as though nothing had happened, and when asked why by his servants, he gives the answer we find in our text. A part of this answer is that while he cannot bring the child back, he will someday be with the child. In the minds of some, David would be saying something like this:
“I was greatly intent on expressing my repentance, and in petitioning God for the life of this child. But now the child is dead, and I know that he will be buried in lot #23 at Restland Cemetery. To my great joy and comfort, I know that I will be buried in lot #24. This is the reason why I can be comforted in my grief. We will be side by side in the grave.”56
I simply do not find this explanation to be an adequate explanation for David's comfort and conduct. I believe that David is looking beyond the grave, to his reunion with this child at the resurrection. Is that not the same sense that we gain from Paul's words below?
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
I think we must admit that the view that all babies go to heaven if they die is the one we would most like to believe. For this reason alone, we are obliged to approach this matter with skill and caution. I would also agree that our text in 2 Samuel 12 alone would be thin evidence for my conclusions, if there were not other supporting texts and truths. It is certainly true that my conclusions are based upon inferential evidence. Having said this, I would also say that any other point of view on this subject is also inferential, and based (in my opinion) on even thinner evidence.
Let me say one final thing before proceeding with some of my arguments. This subject (Do babies who die go to heaven?) is not one which should divide evangelical Christians. It is not a fundamental of the faith, and it should not be viewed as heresy, no matter which of the views (stated above) are held. In the final analysis, we should be willing to say that God would be righteous and just in sending every human being (including babies) to hell, if He chose to do so. Further, those of us who know and love God should be willing to trust Him in this matter. Sometimes certain subjects and questions are not clearly answered. In such cases, I believe this is deliberate so that we have to trust in God Himself.
With all these caveats, let me list the factors which incline me to the conclusion that babies who die go to heaven. I will focus on four lines of evidence.
First, in the Book of Jonah, God clearly makes a distinction between children and adults, and rebukes Jonah for desiring that divine judgment come upon little children. We all know the story of how Jonah, the prophet of Israel, was instructed to go to Nineveh and to proclaim the coming of God's judgment on this wicked city. We remember how Jonah rebelled, but was finally compelled to go to Nineveh, where he announced the coming of God's wrath on Nineveh in 40 days. The people of Nineveh repented, and God relented. Jonah was furious. He wanted God to destroy this wicked city and all who lived in it. Defiantly Jonah stationed himself outside the city, where he waited for the destruction that God had threatened and canceled. Jonah waited in the heat, still intent on watching the Ninevites perish. Then, this account follows:
5 Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city. 6 So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. 7 But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. 8 When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah's head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.” 9 Then God said to Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” 10 Then the LORD said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. 11 “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” (Jonah 4:5-11, emphasis mine).
Jonah was angry with God. The cause for his anger is astounding. He was angry with God because of the grace He had shown to these sinful Ninevites. He was incensed that God would forgive unworthy sinners, when they repented of their sins. To a large degree he was wrong because he seems to have assumed that God blessed the Jews on another basis -- the simple fact that they were Jews. Jonah hated grace, especially when bestowed upon those he considered unworthy sinners.57 The sad irony is that he failed to understand that God’s blessings to Israel and to him were also based solely on divine grace. Ultimately, Jonah himself seems to have trusted in something other than grace.
God gave Jonah a lesson in grace. He gave this pouting, rebellious prophet a source of shade, even though he had no good reason for staying out in the heat. When God took the plant away, and thus the shade it afforded Jonah, the prophet was hopping mad. God challenged him concerning his anger. Did Jonah deserve the plant and its shade? Then why was he angry when God took it away? Jonah did not deserve this gracious provision, yet Jonah somehow felt he did deserve it.
Now God turns Jonah’s attention from this object lesson to the real issue, the destruction or deliverance of the Ninevites. Why would Jonah be so intent on the condemnation of 120,000 who could not tell their right hand from their left? It seems to me that this text suggests that God views the 120,000 differently than He does the older Ninevites. Those who can tell their left hand from their right can also discern between what is good and what is evil. While Jonah is eager to condemn such children, God is not. God does not argue with Jonah about the grace He has shown the repentant (adult) Israelites. He rebukes Jonah for desiring the children to suffer divine wrath along with the adults. Jonah does not distinguish between the children and the adult Ninevites; God does. The basis for this distinction is what is of concern to us in our study of the death of David’s son.
God’s rebuke of Jonah is based upon the fact that Jonah is unwilling to make a distinction between the sinful (but repentant) adult Ninevites and the 120,000 children of Nineveh. The distinction is not just one of age, but of rational ability. These 120,000 children cannot distinguish between their right hand and their left. If this is so, and they cannot make concrete distinctions, how can they possibly make abstract distinctions like the difference between good and evil? How can they consciously choose to willfully disobey God, or to trust and obey Him? God also mentions the cattle. They cannot choose to serve or reject God either, not because of their age, but because of their nature as beasts which lack the capacity to reason. Jonah would delight to watch these children and cattle suffer the wrath of God; God rebukes Jonah for this thinking. Does this principle not apply to all children, and not just the children of Nineveh? I believe it does.
Second, according to both the Old and the New Covenants, children are not to suffer divine condemnation for the sins of their parents.
“Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin (Deuteronomy 24:16).
27 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and with the seed of beast. 28 “As I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to overthrow, to destroy and to bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the LORD.
29 “In those days they will not say again, 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children' s teeth are set on edge.'30 “But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge. 31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:27-34, NAB, emphasis mine).
Whether under the Old Covenant or the New, children are not to suffer condemnation for the sins of their parents. Each one is to suffer for their own sins. In Romans 5, Paul writes:
12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned -- 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come (Romans 5:12-14).
In other words, Adam’s sin has been imputed to the entire human race. Even before the Law was given, men were sinners by nature. And for this, all die a physical death. Adam’s sin makes the whole human race sinful by nature.
In Romans 7, Paul speaks of being alive apart from the law, and then coming alive to the law:
I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died (Romans 7:9).
It would seem from this text Paul is speaking of the coming of the age of accountability. In his infancy, Paul was “alive apart from the Law,” because he was not yet able to grasp the law, and thus to discern good and evil. Since he was unable to grasp either the need or the nature of the choice before him, he was not yet alive to the law. But there came a time when he became alive to the law, and at that moment, he fell under its curse.
In chapters 1-3 of Romans, Paul lays a foundation for the rest of the epistle. He seeks to demonstrate that all men are sinners, subject to the eternal wrath of God, and unable to save themselves by any work of their own (and thus in need of the gift of salvation in Christ through divine grace). Paul’s conclusion (that all men are sinners) is summed up in chapter 3, as he draws together a list of Old Testament citations:
9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.” 13 “THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE, WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING,” “THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS”; 14 “WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS”; 15 “THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, 16 DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, 17 AND THE PATH OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN.” 18 “THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES” (Romans 3:9-18).
This indictment is the conclusion of all that Paul has written up to this point, beginning with chapter 1, and especially verse 18:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
How did Paul prove men to be sinners, under divine condemnation? In chapter 1 Paul shows that the heathen who have never heard the gospel are sinners, under divine condemnation. These folks are assumed not to have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, they have received a divine revelation about God, which they have willfully rejected. This revelation comes through nature:
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures (Romans 1:20-23).
I believe the argument goes like this. God has revealed Himself to all men through nature. This revelation is not complete, and it does not include the good news of the forgiveness of sins through the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross of Calvary. Even so, a person’s response to what God has revealed to them in nature is a demonstration of how they would have responded if more had been revealed to them. Those who have received the revelation of God in nature have rejected it, twisting it into a religion of their own making, so that they worship God’s creation rather than God the Creator. In Romans 2 and the first part of chapter 3, Paul shows that God justly condemns men as sinners for failing to live according to the standard of their own conscience, and most certainly for failing to live according to the standards set down in the Law of Moses. He shows that all men are sinners, deserving God’s eternal wrath, because they have been given some revelation about God and they have spurned it, perverting the truth that was revealed to them and exchanging it for something they would rather believe.
Everyone who is condemned as a sinner in Romans 1-3 is one who has received a revelation about God, who has the mental capacity to grasp it and respond to it, and has rejected this revelation. I contend that unborn children and infants (I won’t try to define where the so called “age of accountability” begins) have never received such revelation and have no capacity to reject it as evil or embrace it as good. They have not sinned in the sense of knowing what is right and willfully choosing to do what is wrong.
Here is where some folks begin to get uneasy. They fear that saying this is to deny the sin nature of all mankind, including children. They fear that this is tantamount to declaring young children innocent. I am not saying this at all. Whether an unborn or an infant, every offspring of Adam (i.e., every human being, regardless of age) is a sinner by nature. This sin nature is the result of Adam’s sin, which has been imputed to all his offspring. There is a difference, however, in being a sinner by nature and being a sinner in deed. A tiny newborn baby is a sinner by nature, but he will not become a sinner by deed until he willfully chooses to do what he knows to be wrong. Apart from a premature death, every child who is a sinner by nature will blossom into a child who is a sinner by deed.
But what of those children who die before they have become a sinner by deed? If we were to conclude they are condemned to hell for all eternity, for whose sin(s) are they being eternally punished? I would have to say they would be punished for Adam’s sin. They would suffer eternally for being a sinner by nature, for being born. I believe the distinction God was making in Jonah 4 was between those Ninevites who were sinners by deed, and those who were sinners by nature, but not by deed. I believe God was rebuking Jonah for wanting to see sinners by nature (only) suffer God’s wrath as though they were sinners by decision and deed. On what basis can God save sinners by nature, so that they need not be condemned? That is our next topic of discussion.
Third, in Romans 5 Paul teaches us that the sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus Christ atones for the sin of Adam, so that no descendant of Adam’s is condemned to hell for Adam’s sin. If I understand the Scriptures correctly, the only reason that an infant could go to hell is because of Adam’s sin. The Old and New Covenants tell us that this cannot be, since children must not be punished for the sins of their parents. Romans 5 tells us how God has accomplished a means for infants to be saved from condemnation. The issue addressed by the fifth chapter of Romans is this: “How can one person – Jesus Christ – be the Savior of all those who believe in Him?” “How can one man save many by dying for them?”
The answer Paul gives us in Romans 5 is very simple: “It was one man (Adam) who brought sin upon the human race; so, too, it was one Man (Jesus Christ) who provided the solution to the problem of sin for all who believe.”
17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men (Romans 5:17-18).
45 So also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly (1 Corinthians 15:45-49).
Our Lord Jesus Christ is called “the last Adam” because He is the only One who can reverse the effects of Adam’s sin. He does so, not by automatically saving all men, but by making atonement for the sins of men, so that all who receive the gift of salvation have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. All children have a sin nature which they have inherited from Adam. They obtained this, not by committing any sin, but by being born into the human race. They involuntarily obtained a sin nature. Paul’s argument in Romans 5 is a “much more” argument. He argues that whatever Adam did by his sin, Christ did (or rather undid) much more. If any child goes to hell simply because of Adam’s sin, then Christ’s work on Calvary is not “much more” than Adam’s. All those who suffer the eternal wrath of God for their sin are those who have, by their own willful choice, rebelled against God and rejected the revelation of Him He made known to them. All those who have not yet made this willful choice to identify with Adam in his sin, and who die before doing so, are involuntarily covered by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Adam could thus corrupt the whole human race, but Christ could do much more in that He could atone for Adam’s sin and transform guilty sinners into forgiven saints. The death of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary is the means by which infants are saved from the guilt and condemnation of their sin nature, just as it is the means by which all (adults) who believe are saved.
This is how I explain the confidence and peace David demonstrated when his son died. David was assured that he would not die, and this was due to the fact that his sins were “taken away.” Under the Old Covenant, there was no salvation for David, only the condemnation of death. David must therefore be delivered from divine wrath due to God’s provision in Jesus Christ, in accordance with the New Covenant. This is the basis for the salvation of every saint, Old Testament or New. If God dealt graciously with David, on the basis of the new covenant, would He not also deal with his son on the same basis?
Fourth, the belief that infants are saved by the blood of Christ is the view held by some of the most highly regarded students of Scripture. The doctrinal position of the church throughout its history does not have the authority of Scripture, but it does help to validate or call into question contemporary interpretations of the Scriptures. When one holds a view or interpretation of Scripture that the church has consistently rejected throughout the history of the church, it certainly calls that interpretation into question. Allow me to cite a few quotations which express the viewpoint of some respected theologians and preachers of the past.
First, let us hear from Charles Haddon Spurgeon:
Now for one or two incidental matters which occur in Scripture, which seem to throw a little light also on the subject. You have not forgotten the case of David. His child by Bathsheba was to die as a punishment for the father's offence. David prayed, and fasted, and vexed his soul; at last they tell him the child is dead. He fasted no more but he said, “I shall go to him, he shall not return to me.” Now, where did David expect to go to? Why, to heaven surely. Then his child must have been there, for be said, “I shall go to him.” I do not hear him say the same of Absalom. He did not stand over his corpse, and say, “I shall go to him;” he had no hope for that rebellious son. Over this child it was not—”O my son! would to God I had died for thee!” No, he could let this babe go with perfect confidence, for he said, “I shall go to him.” “I know,” he might have said, “that He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure, and when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil, for he is with me; I shall go to my child, and in heaven we shall be re-united with each other.”58
And once again:
Now, let every mother and father here present know assuredly that it is well with the child, if God hath taken it away from you in its infant days. You never heard its declaration of faith - it was not capable of such a thing; it was not baptized into the Lord Jesus Christ, not buried with him in baptism; it was not capable of giving that “answer of a good conscience towards God,” nevertheless, you may rest assured that it is well with the child, well in a higher and a better sense than it is well with yourselves; well without limitation, well without exception, well infinitely, “well” eternally. Perhaps you will say, “What reasons have we for believing that it is well with the child?” Before I enter upon that I would make one observation. It has been wickedly, lyingly, and slanderously said of Calvinism, that we believe that some little children perish. Those who make the accusation know that their charge is false. I cannot even dare to hope, though I would wish to do so, that they ignorantly misrepresent us. They wickedly repeat what has been denied a thousand times, what they know is not true. In Calvin's advice to Knox, he interprets the second commandment, “showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me,” as referring to generations, and hence he seems to teach that infants who have had pious ancestors, no matter how remotely, dying as infants are saved. This would certainly take in the whole race. As for modern Calvinists, I know of no exception, but we all hope and believe that all persons dying in infancy are elect. Dr. Gill, who has been looked upon in late times as being a very standard of Calvinism, not to say of ultra-Calvinism, himself never hints for a moment the supposition that any infant has perished, but affirms of it that it is a dark and mysterious subject, but that it is his belief, and he thinks he has Scripture to warrant it, that they who have fallen asleep in infancy have not perished, but have been numbered with the chosen of God, and so have entered into eternal rest. We have never taught the contrary, and when the charge is brought, I repudiate it and say, “You may have said so, we never did, and you know we never did. If you dare to repeat the slander again, let the lie stand in scarlet on your very cheek if you be capable of a blush.” We have never dreamed of such a thing. With very few and rare exceptions, so rare that I never heard of them except from the lips of slanderers, we have never imagined that infants dying as infants have perished, but we have believed that they enter into the paradise of God.59
Finally, let us hear from Loraine Boettner, who cites the position of a number of other theologians:
Most Calvinistic theologians have held that those who die in infancy are saved. The Scriptures seem to teach plainly enough that the children of believers are saved; but they are silent or practically so in regard to those of the heathens. The Westminster Confession does not pass judgment on the children of heathens who die before coming to years of accountability. Where the Scriptures are silent, the Confession, too, preserves silence. Our outstanding theologians, however, mindful of the fact that God's “tender mercies are over all His works,” and depending on His mercy widened as broadly as possible, have entertained a charitable hope that since these infants have never committed any actual sin themselves, their inherited sin would be pardoned and they would be saved on wholly evangelical principles.
Such, for instance, was the position held by Charles Hodge, W. G. T. Shedd, and B. B. Warfield. Concerning those who die in infancy, Dr. Warfield says: “Their destiny is determined irrespective of their choice, by an unconditional decree of God, suspended for its execution on no act of their own; and their salvation is wrought by an unconditional application of the grace of Christ to their souls, through the immediate and irresistible operation of the Holy Spirit prior to and apart from any action of their own proper wills . . . And if death in infancy does depend on God's providence, it is assuredly God in His providence who selects this vast multitude to be made participants of His unconditional salvation . . . This is but to say that they are unconditionally predestinated to salvation from the foundation of the world.”60
We have lingered long on this sad incident in which David finds joy and comfort, but allow me to conclude by pointing out several areas of application.
First, this text (along with the others I have mentioned) offers comfort to all those who have suffered (or will suffer) the loss of a little one. I believe that our Lord summed it up as concisely as possible when He said, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16). What comfort there is to know that our little ones are in His arms.
Second, we learn from this incident that even when God forgives our sins He does not remove all painful consequences. David’s sins with Bathsheba and with Uriah were forgiven, but the death of this child was still necessary. Sin has painful consequences. Even though our sins are forgiven, they are never worth the price tag that comes in terms of consequences.
Third, God is more concerned with His reputation than our happiness. Some people think that God is a kind of magic Genie, who awaits our every command, and who seeks to satisfy our every whim. David would have been happy to receive his child back, but God’s reputation required that He deal with sin in a way that makes it very clear how a holy and righteous God feels about sin.
Fourth, we can learn a lesson about unanswered prayer. David prayed as earnestly as a man could pray, but God clearly answered, “No!” David was content with that. He did not protest or complain. He accepted God’s will as that which was best. He worshipped God in spite of his loss and his pain. He did not agonize that he simply lacked faith. He knew God had heard him and He had answered. How many of us praise God when He has told us “No!”?
Finally, the believer’s hope and joy in the midst of trials and tribulations is the context for witnessing to our faith in Jesus Christ. David’s servants expected him to (re)act in a very different way, once he learned that his son was dead. They were amazed at the way he found comfort, joy, and a desire to worship God when his family was struck by tragedy. They asked David concerning this hope, and David was able to give an explanation of that hope. Our response to our sufferings and trials affords us the same opportunity. Let us learn to rest in Him in Whom we have placed our hope, and then to share this hope with those who do not possess it (see 1 Peter 3:15).
52 When God struck Nabal, he died after ten days -- see 1 Samuel 25:38.
54 We do not really know whether any of the servants knew of Nathan’s word that this child would surely die. If not, then they may not understand why David is so serious in his mourning of repentance and petition.
55 See also Jonah 3.
56 I am duty bound to point out the words of Barzillai in 2 Samuel 19:37. There was some comfort in being buried near one’s relatives, but this does not seem to be sufficient comfort to explain David’s words and actions in our text.