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Question: Why did God cause the death of the infant son of David and Bathsheba for the sins of his parents (2 Sam. 12:14-18)? This seems to violate Deut. 24:16, which states, ``Fathers should not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.''


Answer: When King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, she became pregnant. In order to cover up his sin, David arranged for Uriah to be killed in battle (2 Sam. 11:1-17). David was thus responsible for Uriah's murder. Nathan the prophet later told the king, ``You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites'' (2 Sam. 12:9, NIV).

If David had been tried by an Israelite court for his crimes and been found guilty of first-degree murder, he would have received the death penalty (Num. 35:31, 33). First-degree murder is the most serious of crimes, because man is created in the image of God (Gen. 9:5-6). Dr. Walter C. Kaiser explains, ``The person who destroyed another being made in God's image in fact did violence to God himself-so sacred and permanent was the worth and value that God had invested in the slain victim'' ([1, p. 115]). And according to Deut. 24:16, which is a directive for Israelite courts, it would have been wrong for that court to have put someone else to death for David's crimes.

David was never tried before a human court, however. Instead, David's case was decided by God himself. Kaiser comments, ``The legal principle of dealing with each individual according to individual guilt is one side of the equation. The other side is that God has reserved for himself the right to render all final decisions. Not all situations can, or are, resolved in human courts. Some must await the verdict God will give'' [1, p. 177].

Because David sincerely repented of his sins, God forgave David and spared his life (2 Sam. 12:13). This decision reflects God's gracious nature (Exod. 34:6-7; Num. 14:18; 2 Chron. 30:9; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 116:5; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). But God chose not to prevent the disastrous consequences of David's sins, which would plague the king for the rest of his days. Commentators (see e.g. [2]) point out the irony that David actually received the fourfold punishment that he advocated for the rich man in Nathan's parable (2 Sam. 12:6), since four of his sons eventually died untimely deaths---Bathsheba's first son (2 Sam. 12:14-18), Amnon (2 Sam. 13:28-29), Absalom (2 Sam. 18:14), and Adonijah (I Kings 2:25). In a sense, three of these sons repeated their father's sins---Amnon by raping Tamar (2 Sam. 13:1-14), Absalom by entering the royal harem (2 Sam. 16:22), and Adonijah by trying to claim David's concubine Abishag (I Kings 2:13-17).

God may have directly intervened at some stages of the sequence of unfortunate events that followed David's sins. The wording of 2 Sam. 12:11-12, 15 seems to imply this. Some have argued (see [2]) that God brought about the death of Bathsheba's infant son to ensure that David would receive no benefit from his sin. On the other hand, it is also possible that God simply allowed the consequences of David's actions to unfold without stepping in to remove those consequences. (The Hebrew Scriptures sometimes describe the sudden onset of a fatal illness by saying that God “struck” a person---I Sam. 25:38; 26:10; 2 Chron. 13:20.)  Either way, the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe is ultimately responsible for what occurred.

Here it is important for us to remember that God's judgment is not our own---His thoughts are far above our thoughts (Isa. 55:8).  His supreme sovereignty over all means that even if we could understand everything that goes into His judgments, we still would not have any right to question them.  The clay cannot say to the potter, ``What makest thou?'' (Isa. 45:9)  The Book of Job is one of the best answers to the question of the death of David's infant son that there is.  Only if we were omniscient could we be in a position to question whether or not God was just to allow David's illegitimate son to die.  But we aren't---so we should be humble, obedient, and docile (“teachable”) in the face of the divine decrees.

In this sinful world, innocent people often suffer as a result of the actions of others (see Luke 13:1-5; John 9:1-3). Nevertheless we can have faith that God, who is loving and just, will set all things right in the resurrection and judgment to come. (Remember the example of Abraham's faith described in Heb. 11:17-19.) Although God allowed the death of David's infant son, he did not thereby condemn the child to eternal death. As Kaiser declares [1, p. 178],

``No one will ever be denied eternal life because of what his or her forebears did or did not do. Each will live eternally or suffer everlasting judgment for his or her own actions (Ezek 18). Our standard of what constitutes fairness and justice, after all, is rooted in the character of God himself.''

In summary, Deut. 24:16 is an injunction for human courts of law, not a guarantee that no one will ever suffer in this world as a result of another person's sin. However, God will follow the principle of Deut. 24:16 in rendering eternal judgment.



1. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., et. al., Hard Sayings of the Bible, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1996.

2. Ronald F. Youngblood, ``2 Samuel,'' in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 3, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1992.

Issue 16


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