Please forgive any typos in this manuscript. The passages referenced are 2 Samuel 16:5-14, 2 Samuel 19:16-23, and 1 Kings 2:8-9, 36-46
There are passages in the Scriptures that are relatively unfamiliar or obscure. Our Old Testament lesson that we heard for today from 2 Samuel 19 is one such passage. In this passage we are jumping in the middle of an enormously difficult event in the life of King David, and in this passage we see great examples of humility, of restraint, and forgiveness—but also a warning of the need to persevere. There are actually 3 passages we will look at today, all centering around King David and his relationship with a man named Shimei. So if you have your Bible, you can turn to 2 Samuel, where we will be looking particularly in chapters 16 and 19, and in 1 Kings chapter 2.
King David was the second King of Israel, and is very important to Biblical history, both in his own right and also as a type or forerunner of Jesus Christ. We are told that David was a man after God’s own heart; in 1 Samuel God gave to David the great promise that a King would come from his line who would sit on the throne forever, which points forward to the Son of David, Jesus Christ. But King David’s life itself was certainly not perfect; he was himself a sinner, and even as one who pointed to Christ, He also pointed to the great need that all human beings have for Christ. This is seen particularly in his family life. For our purposes this morning, we need only see that one of David’s sons, named Absalom, had consolidated power with several of the northern tribes of Israel and decided to revolt against his father, and seize power. David’s hold on his kingdom became so tenuous that he felt obliged to leave Jerusalem and regroup with an army outside the city. David actually had to leave his throne, in what would have appeared to be shame, since he could not be safe in Jerusalem.
This is the situation in which we read the first passage, 2 Samuel 16:5-14, where we read: “5 Now when King David came to Bahurim, there was a man from the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei the son of Gera, coming from there. He came out, cursing continuously as he came. 6 And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David. And all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. 7 Also Shimei said thus when he cursed: “Come out! Come out! You bloodthirsty man, you rogue! 8 The Lord has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the Lord has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son. So now you are caught in your own evil, because you are a bloodthirsty man!”’ As David departed from Jerusalem, unjustly, fleeing from the usurpers in shame, this man heaped abuse on him as he fled. This was wrong of Shimei to do for a couple of reasons. First, in Exodus 22:28, we read this: “Thou shalt not revile God, nor curse a ruler of thy people.” David was the true anointed leader of the people of Israel. David himself had obeyed this command when Saul was pursuing him to kill him, after David himself had been anointed. David did not take multiple opportunities to do Saul harm, or even to kill him. Instead, he waited for God’s judgment and timing, and did not strike Saul. But here Shimei hurls abuse on David, cursing the anointed ruler.
In addition to this, Shimei makes false and cruel comments toward David. He accuses David of being a worthless man, of getting what he deserved, of in fact having usurped the throne himself, from the previous King, Saul. This was, of course, not the case. David had not murdered Saul or his family, or usurped the throne. But Shimei, Saul’s kinsman, had harbored a lie in his heart, that David had murdred Saul to come to the throne—and chose this time vent his spleen, to heap his false curses upon David.
David was traveling with his court and with his guards. One of his guards and generals, his nephew Abishai, offered to go walk across the valley to the opposite ridge, where Shimei was walking parallel to them, throwing rocks and abuse, and offered to take off his head. Now, on one level David would have been justified in having Abishai do so. What Shimei was doing was a serious affront, it was treason, it was disobeying the Bible, and it was slander. But David held his hand. He said: “Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. It may be that the LORD will look on the wrong done to me, and the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing today.” David endured the mocking and false words of Shimei, confident that the LORD would vindicate him. He trusted that God saw all things, and that God would take care of Him—so that He did not need to strike back to get his own revenge in the present. He had a broader perspective than merely what was happening to him in the present, and the pain he was experiencing. He saw that God was involved in his life, and in his affairs, even in his pain.
In the intervening chapters, David and Absalom’s forces fought a costly battle, in which David’s forces were victorious, and Absalom was killed. This was a vindication for David—God had indeed placed him on the throne, and secured his throne, according to the promise God had made—even though it was at great cost for David, for he loved his son, even when his son had rebelled against him.
Which leads us to the passage we read earlier today. As the victorious David returned to Jerusalem, Shimei made a point of crossing over the Jordan, first, to go to David to apologize. His prophecy was in fact not right—God had not given the kingdom over to Absalom, and the abuse he had heaped on David was not justified.
Perhaps you can identify a time in your own life when someone has said things about you, or done things to you, that were not justified. This is certainly what happened to David here. Shimei recognized his wrong. We cannot of course know his sincerity—it seems that others doubted it, and it is likely from what we’ll say in a minute that he wasn’t sincere. Yet listen to what he said when he came before David: “Let not my lord hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. Do not let the king take it to heart. For your servant knows that I have sinned. Therefore, behold, I have come this day, the first of all the house of Joseph to come down to meet my Lord the King.” Notice here Shimei’s words of repentance. He takes full responsibility for the wrong that he has committed, for the wrong he has done. He recognizes his sin, and pleads for forgiveness.
Again, Abishai, perhaps out of an abundance of loyalty to David, says that Shimei deserves to die for what he has done—and to die right then. But David, again, refused Abishai’s counsel. David was not going to enforce a deadly punishment on this man who seemed to be penitent. And so he swore that day that he would not execute him. David here shows abundant restraint. He forgives even though it is costing him something, even though it is difficult for him to do.
But David’s forgiveness was not perfect, in contrast to God’s, which is perfect. I think it should be noted, however, that Shimei bares most of the blame for the way that things turned out. When he gave his last words and counsel to his son, Solomon, before Solomon took the throne, David asked Solomon to not forget what Shimei had done, and to deal with him in wisdom. This was probably done by David to ensure that Solomon had an idea of possible threats in his Kingdom, and to be wary. This Solomon did by putting a strict restriction on Shimei—he was to live in Jerusalem, and not leave, surely so that he wouldn’t be able to go and join with any who would have wished to rebel against David’s son. Yet Shimei blatantly and foolishly disregarded Solomon’s command, which resulted in his just execution.
So what are we to make of all of this?
First, we have examples here of great humility. David here shows humility in not striking back immediately. In the context of an Ancient Near Eastern King, insults were not to be tolerated. Even today, there are folks you wouldn’t dare insult without fear of great reprisals. Although David was a warrior, he knew that there was a time to forgive, to show restraint, even when gravely wronged. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that our trespasses might be forgiven, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Forgiveness is a requirement as a response to the Gospel. And not just forgiveness in word, but forgiveness that is costly. David’s forgiveness is of a grave affront—and he did not respond to that evil with evil, but instead with forgiveness. Shimei, in his approach to David, shows great humility as well, as he abased himself before the King, and did not make excuses. In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus tells us that we are to not give into wrath, and anger—which clearly Shimei had in his initial heaping of wrath upon David. But Jesus also says that if we have something against someone, we ought to be reconciled to them as we come to the altar of God. David was re-approaching the temple when Shimei went to him, and they settled their issue. Similarly, this applies to us in the New Covenant, in the Church, where we are instructed to settle our differences with each other, to be at peace with our neighbors, before we come to the Lord’s Table, the Altar of the New Covenant. In fact, of the requirements for coming to the Lord’s table is being at peace with our neighbors in the Church. We see this in 1 Corinthians 11, among other places. The Lord’s table is about our relationship with God, and what God does for us—but it is also about us and our neighbors in the Church. We are to be at peace with fellow believers as we come to this table, for it is a table of unity in the Body of Christ. If we are not at peace with our neighbors, then we are called to wisely not come to this altar, until we have made peace with them. Are we at peace with our neighbors as we are coming to the table today? If not, settle it before you come to the Table today.
But we also need to recall as we come to this table that the Lord Jesus gives us complete forgiveness. When we come to Jesus, as Shimei came to David, and truly repent of our sins, Jesus grants to us full and perfect forgiveness. Even if David’s forgiveness was perhaps imperfect, Jesus’ forgiveness is not. But we must come to him with true repentance, with full repentance. Shimei’s repentance, late in his life, proved to be partial. He did not persevere in his repentance. So we must remember today that in the great grace of God, he calls us to persevere in repentance, not to rely on repentance from our past, but to renew our repentance, today. So as we come to this table, let us come with full repentance, trusting in the One who died for our forgiveness, and ever lives that we might be justified. Amen.