COPING WITH THE DEATH OF INFANTS
2 Samuel 12:20-23 says, “So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes, and he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, “What is this you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died, you arose and ate food. And he said, While the child was alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, `Who can tell 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 shall not return to me.”
This infant who lived just seven days came into this world by an affair which David had with Bathsheba, the wife of another man. We make no excuse for David, for in a moment of great weakness he committed a great sin and a great crime. Furthermore, God did not excuse him. God said to him that others would sexually assault his wives even as he molested Uriah's wife. God said, “For what you have done, the sword will never depart from your house.” Some of his sons died by the sword. His greatest sin was to disappoint Jehovah who honored him by appointing him to be King over Israel. However, because of his deep sorrow for what he did and for his sincere repentance and other reasons beyond our knowledge, God said to him, “I have put away your sin; you shall not die.” David was forgiven, but he paid dearly for this sin the rest of his life. Had this infant lived, the jealous sons of David most likely would have killed this boy and his mother also. As it turned out, Bathsheba became the mother of Solomon, and David appointed Solomon to succeed him on the throne, and that may have been the only protection that Bathsheba and her four children had. Solomon saw to it that no one harmed his mother. If David himself was here among us this morning, there is no one present who would so bitterly condemn as he would condemn himself.
My first comment on this passage is that the sufferings and deaths of infants and little children are painful to witness and raise many questions. Why should the innocent suffer? Why should the sinless die? Why does God allow it? We have before us an infant sickening and dying, a parent striving with God in prayer and fasting for its life. But all this striving was in vain, for the little child dies after living only seven days. How shall we explain this? I agree with those Bible scholars and interpreters of God's word who suggest the most reasonable explanation is that innocent children die because they belong to the sinful, dying human race. The humana race is responsible, not God. Holy scripture throws some light upon the mystery. It teaches us in general that death came into the world through sin which is disobedience to God and transgression of God's laws. Innocent children die because they belong to a sinful dying race. Their deah is a part of penalty of the sins of mankind. Little babies begin to die the moment they are born.
Another explanation is that God allows the death of little children as one of the powerful forces to promote repentance and holiness. God thus finds a way into the hearts of parents and their surviving children. Although God forgave him, please notice the reason given in verse 14 why God allowed this baby to die: “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 die.” David knew and felt that he caused the death of his son, and he had to live with it for the rest of his life. It had a part in brining him to repentance and holiness. Of course, the death of all babies is not caused by the sin of the parents, but it was true in David's case. The death of infants can have a powerful impact for good on the lives of bereaved parents. On the other hand, in this 21st century the home is one of the most dangerous places that many little children can be. Many of them never get out their home alive. Their lives are terminated by one or both of the parents. A further explanation as to why God allows infants to die is that no ultimate harm is done to the child. In fact, it may turn out to be a great blessing. Why should the sinless die? To which it may be replied, why should they not die, seeing that to them death is an escape from a world of sin and misery, with it's awful possibilities of temptation and evil? At their death they pass into a perfect and eternal world of purity, safety and bliss. Had they lived a normal life, they may have lived in such a way as to miss heaven. I will comment more on this thought later in the lesson.
The second thought derived from this sad experience of David is that it is not an unusual thing for a father and mother to have to face the loss of an infant. I have been called on to conduct a service for the death of an infant on several occasions. One of the shortest obituaries that I have ever prepared went like this: “Richard Thomas Montague was born Tuesday, November 12 and departed this life on Wednesday, November 13 at the age of 13 hours. He is survived by his mother and father, John and Edith Montague, other family members, relatives and loved ones." We gathered before an open grave to help this mother and father say goodby to their son they were allowed to keep but 13 hours. Their grief was just as great as David's. Their sorrow would have been no greater had he lived to be 10 or 20, for he was their son. Human affection is as much a part of the order of nature, as the law of gravity. I was amazed how deeply they grieved for a child they had known for only 13 hours. But he was family, and it was a great loss to that family.
Life can be hard, sometimes very hard. One of the most difficult tasks in life is to accept the death of a child, be it a son or daughter. Nothing can prepare a mother or father for such a task. Perhaps we can imagine in our minds what it might be like, but we cannot know the emptiness and the pain until we have been there. I read of one man and his wife who lost three children: one at 18 days, another at 5 years of age, and the third at 18 years in an accident. That father said, “Of all deaths, that of a child is most unnatural and hardest to bear. When a child dies, a part of the parents is buried.” That is the way parents feel whenever a child passes away, and that is the way David felt.
Such tragedies occur in Presidential mansions as well as in average homes like ours. Charles De Gaul, former President of France and his wife lost a small daughter. The former President of the United States, George Bush and his wife lost their three-year old daughter. One of the best known instances of the loss of a child was in a well-known king's palace. That king was David, and that seven-day- old son was as precious to his father as any child who had ever lived. David is honored in the Bible as the greatest king of Israel, and his name is given to Jesus, by metaphor and prophecy, as the great coming King of Kings and Lord of Lords of the entire world. His infant son took seriously ill and lingered between life and death for a week. He did everything possible to save him, including turning to God in prayer. He fasted and wept all week, but his infant son lived but seven days.
Finally, I have said all this just to say one more thing about this tragic experience that happened to David and that has happened to many other people in the world. David has revealed to the whole world, to the saved and lost, to believers and unbelievers, to Christians and nonchristians, to the good and bad the best possible way to cope with the death of infants and innocent children. The entire world should be grateful to David, if for no other reason, than just to learn how to handle the death of a little child in their family. When his son died, David did something that absolutely astonished all of his servants. After laying on the ground all night fasting and weeping, but when informed that the childre was dead, to their amazement he arose, washed, put on his robe and went to the house of God to worship. He laid aside all signs of mourning. He went to the tabernacle and worshiped God. When his servants asked him to explain such strange behavior, he explained and justified his conduct by informing them that further fasting and weeping was useless. He then said, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, “Who can tell whether the Lord will be garcious to me and 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 shall not return to me.” There was something in that statement, “I shall go to him...” that satisfied and comforted him, and that put an end to mourning. And I say to you, this is “the” way for a mother and father to cope with the death of an infant. It is the only way to cope with such a tragedy. The words, “I shall go to him,” are the greatest and most comforting words ever spoken about an infant's death. David's Psalm 23 ranks high among the most comforting words ever spoken about the death of anybody, young or old. That psalm has comforted millions of people on their deathbed, and thousands of soldiers have died more peacefully as the psalm was being read to them. That Psalm is probably the most read passage in the Bible, has been heard read by more people than any other passage, and has been read at funerals more than any other passage in the Bible. Unfortunately, great numbers of mothers and fathers who have lost an infant son or daughter have never heard what David said about the death of his own infant son. What he said is as great as what he said in the 23rd Psalm.
What did David mean by the words, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” Where did his son go? To the grave? Indeed his little body went to the grave, but this baby boy lived seven days in this world, and he was a living soul just like Adam was. No Bible believer would say this little boy lived without a soul for seven days. Tell me,what comfort could there be to David to say he would join his son in the grave? What comfort in ceasing to exist like his son.That is a fact, but there is no comfort in it. David stopped mourning, because of what he believed and put into words for the benefit of posterity. We must not forget that David was a prophet and spoke the word of God. I agree with those Bible scholars, preachers and interpreters of God's word who believe that these words of David indicate his belief in the continued existence of his child. He believed that he would recognize and know him in the future world, and he believed in the immortality of the soul. We know that David believed in his own immortality. In Psalm 16:10 David said, “My flesh will also rest in hope, for you will not leave my soul in Sheol..” Peter quoted this verse on the Day of Pentecost to prove that God left he soul of Jesus in paradise for just three days and then raised Him from the dead. These words first had an application to David and then a higher application to Jesus. As the soul of Jesus went to a place in Hades called aradise, it necessarily implies that all saved people in Old Testament times also went
to paradise at the time of death. This was the comforting belief David had about his infant son. I shall go to him. David was forgiven; all was well with his soul, and he believed when he died he would go where his innocent, sinless son went when he passed away. I believe there will be great numbers of little children in heaven with new spiritual bodies.
In World War II, I was stationed in England. On a visit to London to sight see, I chanced to walk by a quaint cemetery that extended out close to the sidewalk A number of interesting epitaphs were written on most all headstones in that cemetery. As I strolled through that burial place, I was fascinated by the sayings loved ones put the headstones. My eyes caught the attention of one epitaph that I have never been able to forget. I wrote it down and brought it back with me. Written on the tombstone of a small child were these words:
“Who plucked this flower?, said the gardener.
“I,” said the Master, and the gardener held his peace.”
To me, this was a very beautiful thought, and I have never forgotten it. I have used it in every service I have conducted for infant children. Those parents who put that statement on the headstone of their little child showed a deep trust and belief in God. To them their little child was like a flower plucked for the Master's bouquet. Their words indicated their belief that God took the child and believed the child was with Him. We parents are really just gardeners, and our children are like beautiful flowers God gives us to enjoy for a while. God gives us the exalted privilege of helping Him create beings who shall never cease to live.
Someone wrote this beautiful poem:
“Death is an angel sent down from above,
Sent for the buds and flowers we love.
Truly tis so, for in heaven's own way
Each soul is a flower in the Master's bouquet.
Loved ones are passing each day and each hour,
Passing away as the life of a flower;
But every bud and each blossom someday
Will bloom as a flower in the Master's bouquet
Gathering flowers for the Master's bouquet,
Beautiful flowers that will never decay;
Gathered by angels and carried away,
Forever to bloom in the Master's bouquet.”