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When David's son from Bathsheba died David stopped mourning and got up and ate, stating that nothing could be done for his son now:

[21] Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” [22] He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ [23] But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:21-23 ESV)

Latter in the same book when David hears that his sons (who was trying to take his throne) is dead he grieved:

[33]  And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33 ESV)

David was rebuked for mourning (2 Sam 19ff), but did David not grieve for his baby son as he knew the baby would be in heaven (2 Sam 12:23b) and that Absalom wouldn't be? If this is correct, can this reasoning be applied to all babies who die?

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! "I shall go to him" might simply mean that David knows he will die. From what I've read, the concept of heaven wasn't really developed in Judaism until sometime after the start of the Babylonian captivity. But why David wouldn't apply the same logic to both children is an interesting question. +1 –  Jon Ericson Feb 2 '12 at 23:34
    
@JonEricson: I thought the concept of heaven didn't appear until at least the Hellenistic era, perhaps due to the influence of Plato. Is it present in Jewish writings of the Babylonian captivity? –  Ron Maimon Mar 31 '12 at 4:17
    
@Ron: It seemed to be a process that started in the captivity (in part to explain how prophesies, such as the establishment of David's throne forever, could be fulfilled). By the 3rd century BC, we have a pretty full account of heaven in the book of Enoch. So I would say there's not a full-fledged description of heaven in captivity literature, but hints and foreshadowings. –  Jon Ericson Mar 31 '12 at 17:00
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up vote 7 down vote accepted

David accepted the death of his child by Bathsheba as punishment for his sin with her and he let that overcome his grief. (The status of the child’s soul is a question for elsewhere.) There was no such consideration in the case of Absalom, and David was overcome by father’s grief. Joab berates him for this, saying that his grief threatens morale.

(Off-topic, but I’ll mention it anyway: The Midrash notes that David called Absalom “my son” eight times between verses 1 & 5; seven to raise him from the seven levels of Gehinnom and the eighth to raise him into Heaven.)

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You might point out that even when Avsalom was trying to kill David, David still found it appropriate to write a psalm in praise of G-d (Ps. 3). According to the Midrash to Ps. 3:3, David saw Avsalom's rebellion as a more suitable fulfillment of the prophecy at 2 Sam. 12:11 than if the rebellion had been led by one of his servants. –  Bruce James Feb 9 at 2:47
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According to the Me'am Lo'ez, some explain the behavior by reference to the following law: if a fast is decreed due to a lack of rainfall, then when it rains, the people should stop fasting. But, if an individual fasts for someone who is ill, and that person recovers, he still must complete that fast (through sundown). In the latter case, there is still a chance of relapse, so the fast must be completed. But where the patient dies, there is no reason to continue the fast, further fasting serves no purpose. David explains this in the next verse (2 Sam. 12:22-23). David did in fact grieve the lost of his young son, but mourners are allowed to eat. In contrast, Avsalom -- even if he tried to kill his father -- was still David's son and David's grief was very appropriate.

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