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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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  • Stumbled across this Q and felt led to provide a supplementary answer.
    – Anne
    Oct 3, 2021 at 12:54

2 Answers 2

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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, 2020 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, 2020 at 20:15
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The whole account needs to be understood, starting in 2 Samuel chapter 16:5-14 & 19:8 & 15-23 and taking up again in 1 Kings, the whole of chapter 2. Only then is the answer to your question clear. It all has to do with truly repenting before God and knowing God's forgiveness (as with David) or taking advantage of God's long-suffering and mercy till the point is reached when that ends and God's judgment falls (as with Shimei). This is about the difference between those two mindsets.

In 1 Samuel chapter 26, we learn of David's long-suffering and patient, respectful forbearance of the Lord's anointed, King Saul. Despite Saul trying to kill him, David would not kill Saul when the opportunity arose. He would not even say anything disrespectful about Saul. When David later became the Lord's anointed king, he knew full well what respect he was due, but he did not demand it. Rather, he had the patience to let people demonstrate unarguably whether they truly had respect for the king (and, hence, for God) or not.

When David fled from Absolom, he and his entourage passed over the brook Kidron. This turns out to be significant as Shimei later had to promise never to cross the Kidron valley, or he would die (1 Kings 2:37). They then went to Bahurim where Shimei started cursing David and throwing stones and dirt at the exhausted group. David prevented Abishai from decapitating Shimei by pointing out that his own son, Absolom, was trying to kill him - how much more Shimei the Benjamanite.

"Let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David. Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden him. It may be the the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day" (2 Sam 16:11-12).

Whatever translation you were using said, "restore to me his covenant blessing" (instead of 'requite me good'.) That is not what the Hebrew text seems to say, but it is actually significant, because the matter of breaking a covenant is the key element many years later, when Shimei breaks the one he made with King Solomon. Going back to when David was still King and Shimei cursed him, this is an explanation I read in the book below:

“King David spared his life but said nothing about not imputing iniquity and Shimei, being spared his life, pursued the matter no further. No roaring seems to have occurred within Shimei that he found it impossible to live his spared life without forgiveness. David, who wrote Psalm 32, could not live without confessing his sins to the Lord and without obtaining forgiveness, from the Lord. It seems enough for Shimei that his life is spared and that he should continue on earth and life his life without forgiveness. But his sin was still imputed. It still belonged to him and still lay, heavily, to his account…

Many have a stirring or two about their sins. But that is not the roaring that is felt when God Almighty presses his hand sore down upon a man, crushing his inner parts till he is truly humbled, really penitent, genuinely of a broken and a contrite heart, which condition God will not despise.

So Shimei had shrugged off the iniquity which was still imputed, willing to accept a covenant that depended on himself for life. And, in due course, predictably, since his heart was wicked, he broke it. Shimei had been granted space to repent. Time in which to consider his ways. Days in which to meditate on a covenant which required his obedience or, else, would require his death. But Shimei must have had other things on his mind. His runaway servants, for example.” Righteousness by N Johnstone pp58-60, Belmont Publications

The lessons in the protracted dealings of David, then Solomon, with this covenant-breaking, unrepentant Benjamanite - Shimei - teach us profound lessons about God's heavy hand, which should lead to genuine repentance, then entering the covenant with him. David wrote Psalm 32 which shows us David's mindset. And, conversely, it teaches us the way of sinners who will curse God's anointed, then take God's patience for granted, until finally they are lost to the covenant of grace. Eternally. Sobering lessons. But as David already understood all these things and was led by the Spirit of God, he said what he said, and did what he did, so that even after his death the lessons could come down the centuries, even to us.

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