The Scriptures record the death of two of David’s sons. One—the result of his adultery with Uriah’s wife—died in infancy at the age of one week (2 Samuel 12:15-23); the other—Absalom—died as a young man in a coup attempt against the King, Jehovah’s Annointed (2 Samuel 15:1-18:15). The infant’s death was preceded by seven days of fasting and intense prayer, then followed immediately by worship and eating. Absalom’s death was preceded by David’s fleeing from Jerusalem and giving orders that Absalom’s life be spared, then followed immediately by intense grief—weeping and loud mourning (2 Samuel 18:33-19:6).
David’s response to each death was a puzzlement to others. With the death of the infant, his servants were confused by his actions (1 Samuel 12:21). With the death of Absalom, “the people stole back into the city that day, as people who are ashamed steal away when they flee in battle” because of David’s reaction (2 Samuel 19:1-3). The reason for such different responses is clear—David’s infant died in innocence; Absalom died in sin. “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23) was said about David’s dead infant; he had no such sentiments when Absalom died.
Unlike several popular (mis)translations, David did not believe in total hereditary depravity. He did not believe that his infant son “was sinful at birth” or “sinful from the time” of his conception (see Psalm 51:5 in NIV, et. al.). He did not believe that his infant son was destined for hell when he died seven days after Bathsheba gave birth to him.
David did believe that he was born into a world inflicted with the consequences of sin and into a family that had not escaped the ravages of sexual sin; therefore, he wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).
From cover to cover the Scriptures teach that “the soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20).