In playgrounds around the world, kids are screaming “that’s not fair!” From our very earliest years, we have a sense of justice. We want justice; it’s central to who we are as humanity. God has placed an understanding of justice on our hearts, and we are rightfully angry and tear-filled when there is injustice.
Ironically though, we often draw the line on where we are willing to demand justice at the one who gives us justice—God. What I mean is that many of us have deep issues with God dispensing justice. There have been some who have left Christianity because of the actions of God in the Old Testament (e.g. God’s commanding of the Israelites to destroy the Amalekites). A particularly hard example is God’s taking the life of the son born to David in his adultery with Bathsheba:
13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.” 15 Then Nathan went to his house. And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick. (2 Samuel 12:13-15)
Our initial reaction is one of discomfort, shock, confusion, and maybe even anger. God wouldn’t literally “afflict” the innocent child because David’s adultery “utterly scorned the Lord,” would he? Well, let’s look at the elements of this response to show that we could be mistaken in responding this way.
God Wouldn’t Afflict . . .
Perhaps the easiest way to answer this part of the response is to look at a couple verses of what God says of himself.
The following is from Exodus 34 and is God telling Moses what he is like in his character:
6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (vv. 6-7)
Praise God that he is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, and forgiving of our iniquities and transgressions and sins! We also praise him for his justice, that he is not like our unjust judges; he punishes all who are deserving. But God goes on and says that he “visits” the sins of the fathers on their descendants! To visit iniquity means to sit in judgment against sin. In our individualistic culture, we don’t like the idea of communal guilt: the idea that God brings judgment upon someone for the sins of their father. But this is not a new concept as we will see. This characteristic about God is also enshrined in the Second Commandment of the Ten: “ . . . I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exodus 20:5).
This is very interesting wording because God told David through Nathan that his son would die because he had “scorned the Lord,” (2 Samuel 12:14), and God, in the Ten Commandments, said he would bring punishment on the father’s children “of those who hate me.” Now, it is best practice to only go with what the text gives us when we speak about the motivations of God, but here seems to be the greatest clue. God would not allow his representative king to completely sidestep the consequence of the Law. God is jealous for his holy Name, and he will uphold his Law even on the king.
A Side Note from the Weekend
If you remember from Pastor Andrew’s sermon this weekend, he made it clear that the death of David’s son was a consequence and not a punishment. Pastor Andrew made this very general so that we can make some clear distinctions. David’s son did not die to create atonement for David through this punishment. David’s sin would be placed on God’s own Son who would be crucified 1000 years later—that’s where David’s atonement comes from. But David was “punished” in the sense that there were still consequences (curses) that the law of God had clearly outlined that God would bring on David’s house. It wasn’t punishment as atonement but punishment as consequence.
But How Could God Be Just in Taking the Life of David’s Innocent Son?
If I’m honest, this is hard to swallow. But only because our minds and hearts have not been saturated in the worldview of the Bible. The Bible assumes that because of humanity’s rebellion, starting with the Fall of Adam and Eve, every single person has been born into a rebel kingdom that has been marked for destruction by God (note: see how we are under the sentence of death because of our forefather Adam’s sin. We still sin too, but even before we do, the sentence stands over us). This is hard, but it is true. God would be just in taking all of our lives at this very moment—if God had not promised Noah that, even though the world is full of sinners, he would not completely wipe out humanity again (Genesis 8:20-22).
But David’s Sins Were Forgiven, Right?
Yes! God has mercy on David’s sin and does not remove his promises (2 Samuel 7) from David. But just like a murderer who comes to faith in Christ during his life sentence in prison, his murder is expunged from God’s record. But that would not excuse him from the consequences he must face on earth for his past sinful actions.
If anything, this God of justice should make us look at our own sin. How could we ever be in the presence of such a holy and just God? While we can be quick to think God is being unjust, this goes to show that we are blind to the reality that it is our sin that calls upon our God of justice to enact the consequences for our actions. But thanks be to God that when God moved in the fullness of justice on the sins of his people, he condemned them in his Son, Jesus Christ. [H]e was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). It is in the cross of Christ that we see God’s character that he declared to Moses—he both abounds in love, faithfulness, and forgiveness but will also not clear the guilty. (We are not simply forgiven and let go. Only because the punishment for our sins was paid is our guilt justly taken away. We are cleared because our record is clean). While we were born as children of rebels under God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3), God afflicted his own truly innocent Son for our sins so that now we can stand boldly in the presence of our just and holy God as sons and daughters of the true King (Hebrews 10:19-22).
-Alex Nolette (Equip Coordinator)