What Does the Old Testament say about Babies Who Die?

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by Jesse Johnson

“There is a tendency to think that the Bible is silent about the issue of what happens to infants who die. However, there are at least 26 different passages that address this issue. In all of them, the implication is that infants who die are returned to the Lord.

Yesterday I talked about the need for confidence in dealing with this issue. So as you go through this list, don’t get caught up on one or two particular ones if you disagree. Simply skip those, and let the weight of the others give you confidence. Today we will look at the OT, and tomorrow the NT:

1) Infants belong to God in a special and particular way. In Ezekiel, God describes the slaughter of children born into pagan families as a slaughter of “my children” (Ezek 16:21). This expression of ownership by God over children born into idol worshiping families is stark, and implies God’s care for those children in a personal way.

2) God describes children as “having no knowledge of good and evil” (Deut 1:39). They have a sin nature, but they sin in the way that gravity works: they are pulled down. They do not sin in the way that adults do: adults love sin. Children default to sin, while adults run there.

3) God refers to Gentile children as unable to discern the difference between right and wrong (Jonah 4:11). Children are born with a sin nature, and even babies love to sin. But they do so without appreciating why they are doing it. Adults sin because they discern what truth is, and have a disdain for it. Infants sin because they are unable to discern. There is a difference.

4) God refers to children in pagan families who are murdered as “innocents” (Jer 19:4). Obviously this does not mean that they were born without a sin nature, but simply that they had a certain degree of moral innocence. God does not throw around the term “innocent” loosely (nor does he send “innocent” people to hell).

5) God regards infants as victims of the fallen world. This is the example in Ezek 16:4, which is clearly an allegory, but an allegory that only makes sense if children are innocent victims.

6) When God punished the entire nation of Israel for their disobedience in the wilderness, he only took the lives of those who were of fighting age or older (Deut 1:39). This shows that the culpability of those under fighting age is different than the adults, and that accordingly they should not be punished as adults are. If they didn’t deserve to die in the wilderness, they certainly didn’t deserve to go to hell.

7) Babies will not be punished in hell for the sins of their parents—even of Adam.Deuteronomy 24:16 explains that God will not punish children for what their parents did. That does not mean that there are no consequences for sin—a parent who lives a sin filled life will reap the consequences of that life, and one of those consequences is that the children will be raised apart from the knowledge of God. But that is the consequence of sin, and is manifestly different than God judicially punishing someone for sins they did not commit. The consequence of Adam’s sin is that we all are born with a sin nature, but not that God will send us all to hell irrespective of our own actions (more on this one tomorrow when we look at NT judgment passages).

8) This same truth is repeated in Ezekiel 18:20. There, God expressly says that while death is the consequence of a sin nature, God does not execute a second death a person because of his parent’s sin.

9) When God’s prophet told King Jeroboam that his entire family line would be killed, he expanded on this category distinction. He said that all of Jeroboam’s relatives would be punished by a humiliating burial (or lack thereof), but that there was an exception for Jeroboam’s infant son. He would be buried, and people would mourn, “because in him there is found something good toward Yahweh, God of Israel” (1 Kings 14:13). It is not that the infant was crawling around chewing down the high places, but rather that his sin was by his nature, not by his willful rebellion. He was an “innocent” infant, to borrow Jeremiah’s language, and so he will still die, but will be spared the judicial punishment reserved for those who willingly revolted against God. Again, notice that in both this passage and in Jeremiah 19, God uses positive moral terms to apply to infants who die—“innocent” and “good.” Those are moral terms that God does not use willy-nilly.

10) God created all people personally, and designed them to glorify him forever—either by justly suffering in hell, or by giving glory to them in heaven (Ps 139:13-15Rom 9:224). If infants who died were sent to hell, they would not be suffering justly, as they did not sin in a willful way. In other words, the very justification for hell (namely, and expression of God’s justice) is thwarted if infants go there.

11) Job was a righteous man (Job 2:9), but he suffered tremendously. Job knew what the afterlife was like—after all, it was Job who wrote:

I know my redeemer lives, and in the end he will stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, I will see God in my flesh. I will look at him myself, my eyes will look at him, and not as I look at a stranger. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27)

Yet Job also wished that he would have been still-born. He says in Job 3:11-15 that he honestly thought that his life would be easier had he died in the womb. He is not some gothic poet, but is a godly man, who understand the afterlife, the reality of hell, and the need for a redeemer.

12) Job 3:16-19 is the most explicit passage in the Bible concerning the fate of infants who die. Job declares that dead infants go to a place where “There the wicked cease to make trouble, and there the weary find rest. The captives are completely at ease; they do not hear the voice of their oppressor. Both the small and the great are there, and the slave is set free from his master.”

Obviously Job is not describing hell, and his generic use of “infants” as well as “a stillborn child” implies that this is a statement with universal application. All infants who die or who are stillborn go to a place of rest, where there are kings, rich, poor, and the afflicted, and they are all free from torment. This is obviously not a description of hell.

13) Solomon makes a similar and explicit proclamation about the fate of dead infants. He expressly contrasts the fate of the wicked who labor in vain with a dead infant fathered by that wicked person. He concludes that it would be better to be the dead child, because he at least will go to a place of “rest” (Ecc 6:5). Solomon goes on to say that both the child and the father will die, but only the dead child will experience rest.

14) When David’s infant son was sick, David fasted and prayed frantically. When he died, David was at peace and worshiped. His attendants were shocked by this act of worship, and asked what could possibly provoke a loving father to worship at his child’s death. David’s response is well-known: “I’ll go to him, but he will never return to me” (2 Sam 12:23). This is not the despondent response of a mourning parent. It is the confident response of a man after God’s own heart.

By the way, the idea that David was worshiping because he too was one day going to die is so twisted and out of touch with reality that it is difficult to understand. Have you ever seen a parent respond to a child’s death with joy because, hey–after all–that parent is going to one day die too? Moreover, that kind of anti-supernaturalism requires us to believe that David (David!) did not understand the afterlife. Hardly.

David mourning Absalom

David mourning Absalom

15) Moreover, contrast his response to his infant son’s death—for which David was primarily responsible—with his response to his other sons’ death. When Absalom died, there was no death-bed conversion, and there was no mystery about his relationship with the Yahweh. David, who had done everything possible to spare Absalom’s life, was so despondent that Joab had to warn him that unless he changed his attitude, he risked a coup by the troops. Meanwhile, David was shrieking, “My son, Absalom! Absalom, my son, my son!” If David’s response to his infant’s death was simply “I’ll die too one day” then his response to Absalom’s death is incomprehensible.

16) Isaiah refers to an age where children learn “the difference between good and evil” (Isa 7:16). In other words, there is an age where children still sin, but not because of their knowledge of sin. At the very least, this lets us know that God views the sins of infants as coming from a form of innocence, rather than from a discernment of good and evil.

Tomorrow we will continue this list with a look at what the NT teaches about those who die in infancy.”

-Jesse Johnson,  http://thecripplegate.com/what-happens-to-infants-who-die-the-ot-answers/

Poem on the Death of the Child of a Godly Man

There was a blameless man who was so godly he would pray
For the sins of all his children at the dawning of the day”
“Perhaps these ones I love have cursed the ever-blessed God;
So I slay this lamb and beg that You withhold Your gracious rod.”
 
Still, God saw fit to bruise him in His dark, mysterious grace,
But behind a frowning providence He hid a smiling face.
For the Lord is not so simple as to strike without an aim;
The brightly burning furnace is a purifying flame.
 
There was a tested man who lost his all and then some more.
He buried his face into his hands and bowed upon the floor.
The he cried, “Shall we receive so much that’s good from God above,
But reject His hard calamity that strikes with equal love?”
 
There was a weeping man who said that God was to be blessed
Both in poverty and riches, both in safety and distress.
So the Lord received His praises both in honor and in shame,
For this broken man found strength to say: “Lord, blessed be Your name.”
 
There is a throbbing man who is so very dear to me.
And just like the shattered Job of Uz, he’s picking up debris.
His life is now bereft of one that he had so adored.
Still, I hear him say with quivering voice, “Oh blessed be the Lord.”
 
The Lord is always giving, yet He sometimes takes away.
But the Sun still shines as brightly in the night as in the day.
Dr. Varner, please keep saying, as you feel the piercing sword:
“Oh, blessed be our sovereign God. Oh, blessed be the Lord.”
 

-David Gunderson, poem on the death of Dr. William Varner’s daughter Lynda Joy in 2005 at the age of  26. David Gunderson wrote this in response to hearing Dr. Varner mention at her funeral Job’s statement: “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

http://dribex.tumblr.com/post/16886997117/lynda

Open Letter to the Star Tribune

“Dear Editor,

Are you aware of the fact that the same day the Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved the unconditional permission to terminate the lives of 24-week-old fetuses, the neonatology unit at Abbot Northwestern was caring for a 22-and-a-half week-old (500 gram) preemie with good chances of healthy life?

Now that is news and calls for profound reflection. Instead, your lead editorial the morning after (Feb. 26) glossed over this critical issue and endorsed abortion because it is “one of the most personal decisions a woman can make” and because “the abortion decision is undeniably sensitive.” This level of reflection is unworthy of major editorials in good newspapers.

I assume you mean by “personal decision” not: having deep personal implications; but: having deep personal implications for only one person, the mother.

But abortion is emphatically not a “personal” decision in that limited sense. There is another person, namely, the unborn child. If you deny this, you must give an account of what that little preemie is at Abbot Northwestern. Abortion is a decision about competing human rights: the right not to be pregnant and the right not to be killed.

I assume you approve of the Committee’s action. But I also assume you would not approve of the mother’s right to strangle the preemie at Abbot before its 25th week of life. If so you owe your readers an explanation of your simple endorsement of abortion because it is “personal” and “sensitive”.

In fact I challenge you to publish two photographs side by side: one of this “child” outside the womb and another of a “fetus” inside the womb both at 23 or 24 weeks, with a caption that says something like: “We at the Star Tribune regard the termination of the preemie as manslaughter and the termination of the fetus as the personal choice of the mother.”

I have read in your pages how you disdain the use of pictures because abortion is too complex for simplistic solutions. But I also remember how you approved the possible televising of an execution as one of the most effective ways of turning the heart of America against capital punishment (a similarly complex issue).

We both know that if America watched repeated termination of 23-week-old fetuses on television (or saw the procedure truthfully documented in your paper), the sentiment of our society would profoundly change. (The Alan Guttmacher Institute estimated over 9,000 abortions after 21 weeks in 1987.)

Words fail to describe the barbarity of an unconditional right to take the life of a human being as fully developed as 23 weeks. You could never successfully defend it in the public presence of the act itself.

You can do so only in the moral fog of phrases like: Abortion must be left to the woman because it is “undeniably sensitive”. This is not compelling. There are many sensitive situations where the state prescribes limits for how we express our feelings where others are concerned. And there is another concerned. If you are willing, you may meet this “other person” face to face in dozens of hospitals around the country.

Sincerely yours,

John Piper”

March 2, 1992, Complements of:

http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/open-letter-to-the-star-tribune

My Eternal King

My God, I love Thee; not because
I hope for Heav’n thereby,
Nor yet because who love Thee not
Must die eternally.

Thou, O my Jesus, Thou didst me
Upon the cross embrace;
For me didst bear the nails and spear,
And manifold disgrace.

And griefs and torments numberless,
And sweat of agony;
E’en death itself; and all for man
Who was Thine enemy.

Then why, O blessed Jesus Christ
Should I not love Thee well?
Not for the hope of winning Heaven,
Nor of escaping hell.

Not with the hope of gaining aught,
Nor seeking a reward,
But as Thyself hast loved me,
O everlasting Lord!

E’en so I love Thee, and will love,
And in Thy praise will sing,
Solely because Thou art my God,
And my Eternal King.

-17th century Latin text, Attributed to Fran­cis Xavier, Translated by Edward Caswall 

My God, I love Thee;

Do All Those Who Die in the Womb Go to Heaven?

I don’t know. The Bible doesn’t say.  It is certainly possible that they do. It is also possible that they don’t. It is, in turn, possible that some go to heaven when they die and some do not. Christians have, over the years dealt with this heart-wrenching question a number of different ways.

Some suggest that such children have no need to be saved from the wrath of God because they do not stand guilty before Him. While most of these would agree that even the youngest are tainted by sin (see Psalm 51:5), a few go so far as to suggest that the very young are without sin. Both positions suggest that the Bible leaves room for what they call the “age of accountability,” an unknown time (some suggest age 13 on the basis of the practice of bar mitzvah, when a Jewish boy becomes a man) when children do become responsible before God for their sin. The closest supportive text here is II Samuel 12:21-23.

Some suggest that the children of believers are welcomed to heaven, and leave open the question of the end of the children of unbelievers. The best text in defense of this position is I Corinthians 7:14, where the children of at least one believing parent are said to be “holy.”

Still others take the position that the elect among those dying in the womb go to heaven, and leave open the question of whether or not all or only some such children are elect. Finally, some take a mildly agnostic position, suggesting that “the God of heaven and earth will do rightly.”

I, though I agree that all and only the elect will enter into heaven, and that the judge of all the earth will do rightly, embrace none of these positions. In the end I believe that the texts cited do not warrant the conclusions drawn from them. Thus my bold response- I don’t know. What I am persuaded of is this. All humans, from conception, are sinners and stand guilty before a holy God. Their only hope is the work of Christ applied to them. That work is applied always and only through faith, and that only the faith of the one saved.  Babies in heaven are there not by virtue of their age, nor their election, nor their parents. They are there by virtue of Christ, applied to them by their Spirit-given faith.

But can unborn babies believe? Not by themselves, just like you and me. It takes a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to make that happen.  Do we have reason to believe that He sometimes makes that happen? II Samuel 12:21-23 suggests He might. I Corinthians 7:14 suggests He might. Add to that John leaping in the womb at the presence of Christ (Luke 1:41) and we have reason to hope.

This could, of course, include all children dying in the womb. It could include none of them. Either way the Judge of all the earth would have done rightly. This is, clearly enough, an emotional issue. It is not, in my own life, merely abstract. My wife and I lost seven children to miscarriage, and have one precious 14 year old with the capacities of a one year old.  Our emotions, however, should not lead us to add to the Bible, nor to muddy the precious saving waters of the work of Christ given to us by faith. Our hope for them is the same as our hope for anyone. We are all sinners, and all without hope save for the work of Christ. But praise be to His name, He came into this world to save sinners.

-R.C. Sproul Jr., http://www.ligonier.org/blog/do-all-those-who-die-womb-go-heaven/

The Death of Christ

“Let us see now one more proof of the unspeakable importance of the death of Christ. Let us treasure up His gracious sayings. Let us strive to walk in the steps of His holy life. Let us prize His intercession. Let us long for His second coming. But never let us forget that the crowning fact in all we know of Jesus Christ, is His death upon the cross. From that death flow all our hopes. Without that death we would have nothing solid beneath our feet. May we prize that death more and more every year we live; and in all our thoughts about Christ, rejoice in nothing so much as the great fact that He died for us!”

-J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Mark, 228. {Mark 11:1-11}

From: http://jcrylequotes.com/2011/10/19/concentrating-on-the-cross-of-christ/

The Glory of a Particular Death

“For in the cross of Christ, as a splendid theater, the incomparable goodness of God is set before the whole world. The glory of God shines, indeed, in all creatures on high and below, but never more brightly than in the cross….”

“If it be objected that nothing could be less glorious than Christ’s death…I reply that in that death we see a boundless glory which is concealed from the ungodly.”

-John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John, 68 {Jn 13:31}, 135 {John 17:1}

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” -Romans 3:21-26

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” -Romasn 5:8

Death

Death is a great fact that all acknowledge, but very few seem to realize. Most people eat, drink, talk and plan, as if they were going to live upon earth forever. The true Christian must be on his guard against this spirit. “He that would live well,” said a great divine, “should often think of his last day, and make it his company-keeper.” In the state of poverty, be against murmuring, discontent, envy. In the possession of wealth, be against pride, self-sufficiency, arrogance. There are few better antidotes than the remembrance of death. “The beggar died,” and his bodily wants were at an end. “The rich man died,” and his feasting was stopped for evermore.

-J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke volume 2, 213. {Luke 16:19-31}

Words From One Under the Altar

“Therefore our Saviour, desirous to set out the pains of hell unto us, and to make us afraid thereof, calls it fire, yea, a burning and unquenchable fire. For as there is no pain so grievous to a man as fire  is, so the pains of hell pass all the pains that may be imagined by any man. There shall be sobbing and sighing, weeping and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, which are the tokens of unspeakable pains and griefs that shall come upon those that die in the state of damnation. For you must understand that there are but two places appointed by Almighty God, for all mankind, that is, heaven and hell.

And in what state soever a man dieth, in the same he shall rise again, for there shall be no alteration or change. Those who die repentant and are sorry for their sins—who cry to God for mercy, are ashamed of their wickedness, and believe with all their hearts that God will be merciful unto them through the passion of our Saviour Christ; those who die in such a faith, shall come into everlasting life and felicity, and shall rise in the last day in a state of salvation. For look—as you die, so shall you arise. Whosoever departeth out of this world without a repentant heart, and has been a malicious and envious man, and a hater of the word of God, and so continues, and will not repent and be sorry, and call upon God with a good faith, or has no faith at all; that man shall come to everlasting damnation; and so he shall arise again at the last day.

For there is nothing that can help a soul when departed out of its damnation, or hinder it of its salvation.”

—Bishop Hugh Latimer, (1485-1555) , martyred for the Name of Christ. From Pulpit of the Reformation

“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.” – Revelation 6:9-11 NASB

 

Execution by God

Athanasius on the death of Arius (in a letter to fellow pastor)

“You have asked me to tell you about the death of Arius.

I debated with myself for a long time about whether or not to give you an answer, afraid that someone might assume I was taking pleasure in his death. But, since there has been a debate among your colleagues concerning the Arian heresy — in which the question was raised as to whether or not Arius was restored to the church before he died — I think it is necessary to give an account of his death. That way your question will be put to rest, and, at the same time, it will silence those who are contentious. My guess is that, when the incredible circumstances surrounding his death become known, even those who raise such questions will no longer doubt that the Arian heresy is hateful in the sight of God.

I was not in Constantinople when he died, but Macarius the presbyter was there, and I heard about what happened from him.

Arius, on account of his politically-powerful friends, had been invited to appear before the emperor Constantine. When he arrived, the emperor asked him whether or not he held to the orthodox beliefs of the universal church. Arius declared with an oath that he did, and gave an account of his beliefs in writing. But, in reality, he was twisting the Scriptures and not being honest about the points of doctrine for which he had been excommunicated.

Nonetheless, when Arius swore that he did not hold the heretical views for which he had been excommunicated, Constantine dismissed him, saying, “If your faith is orthodox, you have done well to swear; but if your beliefs are heretical, and you have sworn falsely, may God judge you according to your oath.”

When Arius left the emperor, his friends wanted to immediately restore him to the church. But the bishop of Constantinople (a man named Alexander), resisted them, explaining that the inventor of such heresies should not be allowed to partake in communion. But Arius’s friends threatened the bishop, saying, “In the same way that we brought him to the emperor, against your wishes, so tomorrow — though it be contrary to your wishes — Arius will have communion with us in this church.” They said this on a Saturday.

When Alexander heard this, he was greatly distressed. He went into the church and stretched out his hands before God, and wept. Falling on his face, he prayed, “If Arius is allowed to take communion tomorrow, let me Your servant depart, and do not destroy that which is holy with that which is unholy. But if You will spare Your church (and I know that You will spare it), take note of the words of Arius’s friends, and do not give Your inheritance to destruction and reproach. Please remove Arius from this world, lest he should enter the church and bring his heresy with him, and error would be treated as if it were truth.” After the bishop finished praying, he retired to his room deeply concerned.

Then an incredible and extraordinary thing happened. While Arius’s friends made threats, the bishop prayed. But Arius, who himself was making wild claims, unexpectedly became very ill. Urged by the necessities of nature he withdrew, and suddenly, in the language of Scripture, “falling headlong, he burst open in the middle,” and immediately died where he lay. In an instant, he was deprived not only of communion, but of his very life.

That was the end of Arius.

His friends, overwhelmed with shame, went out and buried him. Meanwhile, the blessed bishop Alexander, amidst the rejoicing of the church, celebrated communion on Sunday with holiness and orthodoxy, praying with all the brethren. They greatly glorified God, not because they were taking joy in a man’s death (God forbid!), for “it is appointed for men once to die,” but because this matter had been resolved in a way that transcended human judgments.

For the Lord Himself had judged between the threats of Arius’s friends and the prayers of the bishop Alexander. He condemned the Arian heresy, showing it to be unworthy of communion with the church. God made it clear to everyone, that although Arianism might receive the support of the emperor and even all mankind, yet it ought to be condemned by the church.

(Note: [Nate Busenitz] has updated and paraphrased the story in a few places for the sake of readability. Those interested can find Philip Schaff’s original translation here.)”

http://thecripplegate.com/death-of-historys-worst-heretic/