CLAIM: Why did God take the life of David’s baby because of his sin?
RESPONSE: The text tells us that God took the baby because of the corporate impact that this would have on the neighboring nations. God was worried that the neighboring nations would blaspheme him, if he allowed such a thing to occur according to verse 14 (“because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme”). God was, no doubt, concerned that David’s royal action would cause the wrong impression to be given to the neighboring nations. If he didn’t judge in some capacity, this would have a moral ripple effect on the nations. That is, people could no doubt say, “God has been moving behind David, but he allows him to commit adultery and murder!” God needed to do something in order to rectify this.
David deserved death for committing adultery (Lev. 20:10) and murder (Num. 35:31, 33), but God directly forgave this sin (v.13). Instead, in a great and terrible act of irony, God chose to judge David according to David’s own declaration. When Nathan approached David, he told the story about a poor man with only one ewe lamb (v.3). He explains that a rich man stole this man’s only lamb—even though he had abundant resources (v.4). Of course, this was a tricky metaphor that Nathan was using to show David his sin by stealing Bathsheba from Uriah. David concluded that the man “deserves to die” (v.5) and he deserved a “fourfold” punishment for his sin (v.6). David’s own judgment of a “fourfold” judgment came to fruition: His four sons died terrible deaths because of the result of his sin. Bathsheba’s first son (2 Sam. 12:14-18), Amnon (2 Sam. 13:28-29), Absalom (2 Sam. 18:14), and Adonijah (1 Kings 2:25) all died prematurely because of David’s sin.
Did God actively judge David’s sons? Not necessarily. Sometimes the Bible speaks of dying from natural causes as being “struck” dead by God (2 Chron. 13:20). Thus when the text states, “The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s widow bore to David, so that he was very sick” (v.15), this could possibly be God’s passive wrath—not his active wrath (c.f. comments on 1 Sam. 18:10). However, even if this was God actively taking the life of the child (Ps. 104:29), this passage teaches that the baby went directly into the presence of God at death (c.f. 2 Sam. 12:23). Thus David’s infant was spared from being born into this nightmarish family. In this case, the misery was purely on David’s behalf—not the infant.