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While David was on the run, Shimei cursed him and Abishai son of Zeruiah volunteered to kill him.

2 Samuel 16:10 But the king said, “What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’ ” 11David then said to Abishai and all his officials, “My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. 12It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.”

So according to David's logic, God could ask Shimei to curse David but then turn the curse into a blessing. Why was he over-reacting to Abishai who was on his side while being nice to Shimei who was against him?

Before David died, he instructed Solomon:

1 Kings 2:8“And remember, you have with you Shimei son of Gera, the Benjamite from Bahurim, who called down bitter curses on me the day I went to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord: ‘I will not put you to death by the sword.’ 9But now, do not consider him innocent. You are a man of wisdom; you will know what to do to him. Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood.”

Now David was unforgiving to Shimei. How to explain his mindset?

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A straightforward reading would interpret David's mindset this way:

  1. During Absalom's rebellion where he and his loyal supporters had to go on exile, David did NOT know God's intention for him. David most likely thought that God was punishing him. If that were the case, going against God (who might have spoken through Shimei) would be dangerous (v.10). David exhibited similar humility when confronted by Nathan about the murder of Uriah, in which he accepted God's punishment of the death of his child. Therefore David's restraint against retaliation was wise, although he could have retaliated (per Abishai's suggestion) because officially going against God's anointed should be punished.

  2. Thus, I would not read the 2 Samuel 16:5-14 passage as forgiveness but as postponing revenge. In the Psalms David often asked the LORD to defeat and punish his enemies. Once Absalom was defeated in a process where David was guiltless, David would have thought that God was in his favor, restoring his throne until the end of his life. The successful thwarting of Adonijah must have emboldened David further (sensing that God was with him).

  3. Unfortunately we do not have enough information to establish whether Shimei still posed a threat to David's house. If so, I would read 1 King 2 as the last words of a dying king to his son, reminding Solomon of potential enemies that can potentially harm his son's throne. OR we could read this as the historian's warning to us on how even great men who started well with God can end with vengeance (David) or idolatry through wives (Solomon).

The following answer to Question #58 of 555 difficult Bible questions answered; a book of reference for all denominations (1914) supports both interpretations in point #3 above:

55. Was David Justified in Ordering Solomon to have Joab and Shimei Executed? Dean Stanley, strange to say, avers that in the order given to Solomon (I Kings 2:5-9) King David "bequeathed a dark legacy of long cherished vengeance." Dr. Terry's view seems more probable, that "this dying charge was not the offspring of personal revenge, but a measure of administrative wisdom." "David," says Wordsworth, "does not mention among Joab's sins that which caused him personally the most poignant grief, the murder of Absalom." He dwells on the fact that Joab had treacherously slain Abner and had also assassinated Amasa, shedding the blood of war in peace. Shimei had blasphemously insulted the royal majesty of Israel. David, it is true, had sworn to spare Shimei, but this oath was not binding on Solomon. David seems to feel that he had been too lax in punishing crime. His own guilt, though repented of, may have made him feel that the son of Zeruiah, in particular, was too strong for him. Hence this charge to Solomon as keeper of God's law and guardian of the kingdom's safety. In one sense, the execution of these men may be looked upon as an act of retributive justice (they being the enemies of the king), yet in the view of some commentators, the personal vindictiveness that David cherished in the matter, and the absence of a disinterested purpose to secure justice and the welfare and security of Israel, his kingdom, call for condemnation of David in his instructions to his son.

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  • What is ironic about part of your answer is that it was Abishai himself who went after the title you stated Shimei went after(1Sa 26:8). Also Shimei ended up fleeing Jerusalem, thus David's hunch about him.
    – user21676
    Oct 23 '20 at 19:54
  • @user21676 Good observation about Abishai ! I wonder whether the author of Samuels is trying to make a point through this contrast. Oct 23 '20 at 20:15

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