And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will be then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead? But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead. Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat. Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? Thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread. And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead; wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”

(II Samuel 12:18-23)

Upon the death of his sickly baby boy, David expressed his confidence that they would be reunited. “He shall not return to me,” he said, but he affirmed that “I shall go to him.” His baby was now in Heaven, and some day David would be there, too. David went to Heaven because he was saved; the baby went to Heaven because he was safe. Just as we need to know how sinners are “saved” from their sins, we also need to understand that there are people who will escape the wrath to come because they are not accountable for their sins, and therefore “safe.”

We cannot doubt that David was a saved sinner. That this great lover of God was a sinner we know because he confessed to being one.

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

(Psalm 51:5, written by David)

O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee.”

(Psalm 69:5, also written by David)

We also know of his sins because of the inspired record in First and Second Samuel. But David was a saved sinner. He wasn’t going to Hell for his sins, even though he deserved (as we all do) to go there. He was saved from his sins the same way penitent sinners have always found salvation: through faith in the Savior. Men who lived before Jesus came were saved by faith in the coming Savior, just as today they are saved by faith in the Savior Who has come. Old Testament believers knew of the Savior by the prophecies that promised Him, just as we know of Him through the New Testament scriptures. David clearly had his faith in God’s promise of salvation.

He only is my rock and my salvation…”

(David in Psalm 62:6)

As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”

(David in Psalm 103:12)

David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”

(Romans 4:6-8)

David was going to Heaven because he was saved. And he said that he would be going to where his infant son went when he died. The child went to Heaven because of a consistent divine principle that individuals are not responsible for sinning when they are not sufficiently aware of the laws they have violated. In other words, although human beings are sinful from their conception, they are not accountable for their sins until they are old enough to be aware of them.

This principle is very clear in the judgment on the unbelieving generation of Israelites who died in the wilderness. God said, “Surely there shall not one of these men of this evil generation see that good land, which I sware to give unto your fathers, save Caleb…because he hath wholly followed the LORD.” Then Moses, as God’s spokesman, said, “Joshua the son of Nun, which standeth before thee, he shall go in thither: encourage him: for he shall cause Israel to inherit it” (Find these words in Deuteronomy 1:34-38). Then the servant of the LORD made this statement:

Moreover your little ones…which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it, and they shall possess it.”

(Deuteronomy 1:39)

The generation that refused to obey God because of their unbelief was not allowed to enter or possess the Promised Land, but was doomed to die in the desert. However their children, who were not old enough to be held accountable for the sins of the nation on the day they decided not to obey God, were allowed to go in. Now the age of responsibility for this sin was set at twenty (Read Numbers 14:26-35), much older than the age at which a child would become accountable for his sins as a whole, but the principle is nevertheless made clear by this incident. The children under twenty were not held responsible for the particular sin of rebellion that was committed that day in Kadesh. This was because God does not hold people responsible for breaking His commandment who don’t understand the issues of right or wrong involved in their action.

In the ordinances of the Mosaic Law under which Israel was governed before Christ, a difference was made when “a soul commit a trespass, and sin through ignorance.” Although certain responsibility was placed on the Israelite to know the law and certain guilt was assigned to him when he became aware that he had sinned (Read Leviticus 5), ignorance of the law was a factor in determining how the wrong would be rectified. The concept that knowledge determines responsibility was definitely written into the regulations regarding trespass offerings.

The Lord Jesus taught that knowledge will determine the extent of responsibility at the judgment when He said,

And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.”

(Matthew 11:23)

Jesus said that Capernaum, the headquarters city of His ministry, which had witnessed so many of His miracles, was more responsible for its sins than the vile city of Sodom was for hers. The reason was its greater knowledge of the truth. Therefore its punishment will be more severe. Again knowledge determines responsibility.

In another place, scripture records Jesus saying,

And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required…”

(Luke 12:47-48)

Right in the heart of the Epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul deals with the question of accountability for sins. He is giving the testimony of every man when he describes in Chapter 7 the time when he became accountable, and condemned with the death penalty for his sins.

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence [lust]. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.”

(Verses 7 through 10)

It is the Law of God, impressed upon the mind either through the conscience (Romans 2:11-16) or by the testimony of scripture, that makes the developing child accountable for his sins. Before he understands the basics of the Law, he is “alive,” unaccountable for his sins and not subject to the penalty of eternal death. When the Law came into his consciousness, he “died” in that he became accountable for his sins, and subject to sin’s wages. When he knows right from wrong, and realizes he has done wrong, he is no longer safe, and must turn to Christ in order to be saved (Read Romans 3:10-26).

This moment of realization is highlighted in Isaiah 7:16, where the prophet speaks of the time when “the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.” The Book of Jonah also focuses on the age of accountability in its final verse (4:11), where it speaks of the mercy of God in not destroying the city of Nineveh when so many there were children “that cannot discern between their right hand and their left.” The concept of an age at which a child becomes responsible is found throughout the Bible.

In the amazing eighteenth chapter of Matthew, the subject of children is handled by the Lord Jesus Himself (See verses 1 through 14). He says that men must “become as little children” in order to “enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Further He says that one must humble himself as a “little child” in order to be “greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (verses 1-4). Those who receive one little child in Jesus’ name is receiving Jesus Himself. Those who cause a child to stumble will suffer great judgment from God (verses 5-9). We are warned not to “despise” (disesteem. belittle) little children because God has assigned an angel to each one of them (verse 10). Jesus came to save the lost, and it is not the will of God that one little child should “perish” (verses 11-14). What He is saying is that from conception, God has desired the salvation of every child that comes into the world. His work in the heart of children makes it so that a child will naturally come to repentance and faith in Christ unless he is offended (caused to stumble) by an adult. With this perspective on childhood, the importance of what is going on in the lives of kids becomes powerfully evident. The sin of turning children away from God by teaching them false ideas, abusing their lives in different ways, and sending them down the wrong road either deliberately or unwittingly, becomes to our minds especially wicked. And the idea of children being safe until they are aware enough to be saved fits the scenario Jesus gave us. In chapter 19, Jesus says, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (verse 14). When a child becomes accountable because he understands the difference between right and wrong, he also becomes able to come to Jesus for his soul’s salvation.

David is in Heaven today because he was saved by faith in the Savior. His baby boy is also in Heaven because, in the plan of a loving and merciful God, Who does all things well, he died while he was morally and spiritually safe.

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Comments (1)

Benjamin June 24th, 2011 at 5:27 pm    

Thank you for this article, it was really helpful and clear. We really need teachings like this in my country, Hungary. With your permission, I would like to post the hungarian translation on our website:

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