II Samuel 16

1. When David was a little past the top of the mountain, there was Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth, who met him with a couple of saddled donkeys, and on them two hundred loaves of bread, one hundred clusters of raisins, one hundred summer fruits, and a skin of wine.

David apparently has finished worshiping God at the hill top, and now he has barely passed over the top when he is met by Ziba. Remember, we first read of this Ziba back in II Samuel 9. Ziba was formerly Saul’s servant, and was the one David called when he wanted to know if there were any of Saul’s household left to whom he could show the kindness of God for the sake of Jonathan, his old friend. Ziba had revealed to him that Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth still lived, though he was lame in his feet. David then called Mephibosheth, who it seems was certain that David intended to kill him, as so many kings of the day did to anyone who was related to a former dynasty. Yet David had done great kindness to Mephibosheth instead. He gave him back all the former property of Saul, made Ziba his servant, as he had been Saul’s servant, and made him to eat food at his table (that is, at his government’s expense) for the rest of his life. Some time has passed since this event, and Mephibosheth is now about thirty-one years old.

Now Ziba meets David with a team of male donkeys yoked together and carrying a load of supplies for David and the other refugees. They are carrying two hundred loaves of bread, one hundred clusters of raisins (probably bunches of grapes dried right into raisins without removing them from their stems), one hundred summer fruits, and a skin-bag full of wine. Since this flight was rushed and unplanned, such supplies were probably lacking, and so must have been much needed and much appreciated by David and his companions.

2. And the king said to Ziba, “What do you mean to do with these?”
So Ziba said, “The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride on, the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine for those who are faint in the wilderness to drink.”

The king asks Ziba what he intends to do with these? Ziba explains that they are meant for the refugees. The donkeys are for the king’s house to ride. The bread and summer fruits are for all David’s young men to eat. The wine, probably a large skin, is for those who become faint in the wilderness to drink. This was all very thoughtful, and must have been a great boon to David and his weary people.

3. Then the king said, “And where is your master’s son?”
And Ziba said to the king, “Indeed he is staying in Jerusalem, for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will restore the kingdom of my father to me.’”

The king wonders where Mephibosheth is? It would seem that this gift would be from him and that he would be here accompanying it. Ziba replies that he is still in Jerusalem. Like his father and his aunt before him, it does not seem that Mephibosheth is willing to leave his life of luxury to join David is exile. Sadly, the mistakes of the father are repeated by the son here, as is so often the case.

Yet Ziba goes beyond just that Mephibosheth was not willing to join David in exile. He tells David that Mephibosheth is hoping that, with Israel rejecting David as king, they will give him back the crown that formerly belonged to his father. This may not have been true, as we will see later in the continuation of this story in II Samuel 19:24-30. Everyone must have known that this was Absalom’s revolt, and it would have been but the vainest hope that anyone would think of Saul’s family by this time. It seems likely from the sequel that Ziba was making Mephibosheth out to be worse than he was. Yet it is strange that he is not here, and this story of Ziba’s must have seemed sadly plausible to David. His own son had turned on him and sought to destroy him, so why not Jonathan’s son as well? He must certainly have realized by now that Mephibosheth was no Jonathan.

4. So the king said to Ziba, “Here, all that belongs to Mephibosheth is yours.”
And Ziba said, “I humbly bow before you, that I may find favor in your sight, my lord, O king!”

The king takes Ziba’s word for it and responds by giving everything that formerly belonged to Mephibosheth to Ziba instead. This perhaps was Ziba’s objective in telling this slander about his master, and if so he receives all he might have wished.

Ziba prostrates himself before David and is thankful that he has found this grace in David’s eyes. It is interesting that of all who side with David at this time, this former servant of Saul’s seems to have the most confidence that David will return to power. For what good will David’s gift do him if Absalom is the new king? Could it be that Ziba rightly believes that God will bring David back to power, even as He brought him to power in the first place? Ziba saw God’s power overthrow the mighty house of Saul and set David up in his place, and he seems to firmly believe that that same power will not abandon David now. Of course, it could be that he is just hedging his bets and setting himself up to benefit if David is indeed restored. Ziba seems to be a shrewd man, and he might have realized that David and his seasoned veterans have a better chance of coming out on top in this conflict than the rabble of Absalom.

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.

David comes to a place called Bahurim or “Village of Young Men” in Benjamin. This village is past the Mount of Olives on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. When he arrives there he is met by a man from the family of the house of Saul. This interesting way of putting it may mean that he was a somewhat remote relative of Saul. The man’s name is Shimei, which means “Famous,” and he is the son of Gera, which means “A Grain.” Ehud, the Benjamite second judge, was also the son of a man named Gera, so it seems this was a good Benjamite name. This man does not come out to help David, as the others who have met him have done. Instead, this Shimei comes 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.

This man has no respect for David or any of his company. He not only casts his words in curses at David, but he also throws stones at David and at all his slaves. King David is being escorted at this time of crisis by all his famous mighty men, who are ranged around him in an honor guard on his right hand and on his left. (Of course, these are his mighty men who are still alive, as we know of at least two of them, Asahel and Uriah, who have died by this time, Uriah sadly by David’s own machinations.) These men were not only his greatest and most loyal soldiers, but also must have been among David’s highest nobility and most honored men at this time in his career. Yet this man is not deterred by such a noble bodyguard, but hurls his stones at David in spite of them. It is not much fun to have stones thrown at you, and this is behavior that is not typical of the way one would treat a king! Certainly this Shimei does not shrink from hitting a man when he is down.

7. Also Shimei said thus when he cursed: “Come out! Come out! You bloodthirsty man, you rogue!

Now we read of the curses Shimei pours on David’s head as he throws his stones at him. He tells him to get out, get out of his own nation, thus rejoicing in the fact that he is no longer wanted in his own realm. He calls him a bloody or bloodthirsty man and a man of Belial. This word does not mean “rogue,” as the New King James makes it. The Hebrew belia’al means worthless, good for nothing, or wicked. The sons of belia’al are usually the basest, the most worthless, and the most wicked of men.

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!”

Shimei claims that the LORD is punishing David for shedding the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place he has reigned. He says the LORD has given Absalom his son control of the government in punishment for the way David took the throne from Saul’s family. He gloats that he is now caught in the very same calamity he caused to happen to Saul’s family, since he is a bloodthirsty man.

Shimei claims all this, but this is only the basest of slander. This is typically how a king of a new dynasty acted when he took control from a former house or dynasty. He would hunt down every living member of the former dynasty who might in any way be eligible to take the throne and would slaughter them all to ensure that they would never threaten his reign. This is what every new dynasty in the northern kingdom of Israel from Baasha on down would later do. Yet this is just what David did not do! David knew well God’s law, and he knew that it said, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin,” Deuteronomy 24:16. It would not have been right for him to destroy Saul’s house for the sins of Saul. Indeed, David always refused to harm Saul, even when God gave him the opportunity to do so. He would not harm the LORD’s anointed. How much less would he wipe out Saul’s family after Saul’s death? Moreover Jonathan had been David’s best friend, and he had promised Jonathan that he would be kind to his house perpetually, even after Jonathan’s death, in I Samuel 20:14-16. David had not forgotten his promise, and had been as kind as he could be to Saul’s house.

It is true that Saul’s family was largely wiped out. Yet this had been done by the Philistines long before David took the throne. David had fled to live among the Philistines, and had even been caught up in the conflict and forced to march out with their army before the battle. Yet David had been spared, doubtless by the LORD’s interference, from actually having to fight against his own people, and had returned home before the battle ever began. Yet did Shimei imagine that David was somehow responsible for the battle, or had instigated the Philistines somehow? The Philistines hardly needed David’s instigation to fight Israel! Moreover since we have followed this story from the beginning we well know from II Samuel 1:11-12 how David and his men mourned, wept, and fasted in grief when they heard of the defeat of Israel and the deaths of Saul and his sons. David had nothing to do with the calamity that fell on Saul’s household. This came on him through Saul’s own actions. Moreover, does not the very fact that Shimei, who was of the family of Saul, was still living show that David had not acted to wipe out Saul’s family as Shimei claimed?

So if David had treated Saul’s house so well when he came to power, why does Shimei make such claims against him? The answer should be clear to us. Shimei hated David. No doubt he resented the success of David and his household when his own house fell from power. He was bitter at the fall of his house, and that bitterness turned into hatred of Saul’s successor. When one hates, the truth is not really of any real concern. Of course, any fact that would support and justify one’s hatred is grasped on to and held as a precious thing. Yet any fact that would cast the one hated in a good light or show up one’s hatred as being unjustified is studiously ignored. What does the truth matter to one who is full of hate? Whether a thing is true, a twisted truth, or an outright lie does not matter to one who hates. If it is a thing that can hurt the one hated, then it is a good thing and will be embraced by the hater.

Thus Shimei acts and speaks out of his hatred for David. What does it matter to him if the things he says are untrue? What does it matter if David had actually done the opposite of what he says he did? He resents David, he resents all the good he has done, he even probably resents the fact that he has not been the kind of man he claims he is. Everything that could possibly make David look bad will fill Shimei with glee. Now, this calamity has come on David, and he gloats in his hatred over the man he has made his enemy in his own mind and heart. This is the kind of man Shimei was, and this is why he did what he did to David.

9. Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Please, let me go over and take off his head!”

Abishai David’s nephew, the son of Zeruiah David’s sister, is incensed by this disgraceful conduct towards his lord. He speaks to the king. This man Shimei, he points out, is just a dead dog, a skulking remnant of Saul’s fallen house. Why should he be allowed to treat David this way? He asks the king for permission to go over to him and behead him, and thus be quit of his outrageous insults.

Of course, this was the danger Shimei faced. What made him think that David and his men would not do this to him? The ironic thing is that he trusts in the king’s grace to allow him to protest as he is doing at the very same time he is accusing the king of having no grace and being a bloody and violent man! Shimei shows, even in his hatred, that he knows deep down the kind of man David is even while he claims something different. Either that or his hatred ran so deep that he took this chance to curse David, not caring even if it would mean his life.

Shimei reminds me of many protestors even in our own day. Living in a nation that allows them the freedom to protest, they curse and show forth hatred for the government of that nation, not seeming to realize that the kind of totalitarian government they are seeking to bring into power by protesting would never allow someone to protest and curse the way they are doing! The Shimei type of person is still alive and well, but they are still the same kind of dead dog that Shimei was.

10. But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? So let him curse, because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David.’ Who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’”

David uses here a Hebrew idiom, “What have I to do with you?” which appears here for the first time in Scripture, and seems to mean along the lines of “Why have you come to me this way?” and to be a repudiation of what has just been said. David feels that Abishai should not have asked him such a violent request.

As the king answers, he seems to take it for granted that this was the thought of Abishai’s brother Joab as well, these two nephews of his, the sons of Zeruiah. The way he says this makes me wonder if his sister had had the same kind of violent tendencies her sons did? At any rate, David rejects Abishai’s suggestion. He orders them to allow Shimei to curse. After all, David knows his wickedness with Bathsheba and Uriah, and recognizes in this calamity Jehovah’s hand of punishment on him for his sin. He does not know if perhaps Jehovah told Shimei to curse him. Maybe Jehovah sent Shimei as part of that punishment. Who then should say to Shimei, “Why have you done so?” if he has actually acted at Jehovah’s command?

It is good that David has this attitude. He recognizes that this whole series of events is his own fault, and so he is willing to take his punishment humbly. We are not told if Jehovah really had anything to do with what Shimei did, yet we know David was a prophet and perhaps we should take his word for it. Yet Satan, who hated David as well because he was God’s representative and doubtless wanted to see him fall, might also have had something to do with instigating Shimei against him. Moreover Shimei’s own hatred was certainly a motivator of what he did.

11. And David said to Abishai and all his servants, “See how my son who came from my own body seeks my life. How much more now may this Benjamite? Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the LORD has ordered him.

David now gives a command regarding this matter not only to Abishai, but also to all his servants. He points out to them that Absalom, his own son who came from his own body, now seeks his soul. This is the Hebrew word nephesh and means “soul,” not “life.” Of course, Absalom sought David’s soul to destroy it, as we well know. In light of this, can David blame a Benjamite, the tribe of Saul the former king whose hopes were disappointed by David’s taking the throne, for wishing to see an end to David’s soul as well? Thus he commands them to leave him alone and allow him to continue to curse. Again, he claims that Yahweh Himself has ordered him to do it, recognizing that this is all part of His punishment upon him.

12. It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day.”

David looks at it this way: if he accepts this cursing, it may be that the LORD will be pleased, and will repay him with good for accepting Shimei’s cursing this day.

Here we have one of the famous “eighteen emendations of the Sopherim.” This was a group of men who in ancient times, long before the Hebrew text reached its current, settled state, took up their pens and edited the word of God according to their own thoughts and ideas. We learn of these emendations in the Massorah or notes on the Hebrew text contained in many old Hebrew manuscripts. The various Massorahs do not all list the same emendations, but in total there are about twenty-seven of them, contrary to their common name, and they often affect passages where the Sopherim apparently thought the original text was not respectful enough toward the LORD. Of course, what can be more disrespectful than taking up one’s pen against His Word to change it?

The original Hebrew here read, “It may be that Yehovah will look with His eye on my affliction.” The Sopherim had a problem with speaking of Yehovah’s eye, and so changed it to “look on my affliction.” Yet this is not the only place Yehovah speaks of having eyes. We know that He can and does see all He wishes to see, and moreover there are actually eyes involved when we speak of the angel of the LORD, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Thus we have no problem with the Bible speaking of Yehovah’s “eye.”

13. And as David and his men went along the road, Shimei went along the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went, threw stones at him and kicked up dust.

So David and his men continue along the road and Shimei follows them, walking along the hillside opposite them cursing the whole time, throwing stones at David and dusting him with dust! Surely David must have felt downcast enough without this annoying gnat troubling him. Yet he takes patiently all this abuse.

14. Now the king and all the people who were with him became weary; so they refreshed themselves there.

Now the king and all the People come to a place called Weary, or perhaps a way stop for travelers called “for the weary.” Here they do stop and refresh themselves, which probably they much needed after the long and sorrowful journey they have had to this point.

15. Meanwhile Absalom and all the people, the men of Israel, came to Jerusalem; and Ahithophel was with him.

Now we change scenes from David and his men to Absalom and all the people, the men of Israel, who had joined his rebellion. They arrive at Jerusalem with Ahithophel, and find David and his People gone.

16. And so it was, when Hushai the Archite, David’s friend, came to Absalom, that Hushai said to Absalom, “Long live the king! Long live the king!”

When Absalom arrives at Jerusalem, Hushai the Archite, David’s friend, meets him. Remember that David sent him back to the city in hopes that he could be David’s agent to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel. Of course, Hushai does not represent himself that way to Absalom. Instead when he meets him he cries out, “Long live the king! Long live the king!”

Again the word “friend” describing Hushai is re’eh, and seems to indicate some kind of official position that this man had with David. The only other person said to have a “friend” is Solomon, David’s son, who had Zabud the son of Nathan as his friend in I Kings 4:5.

17. So Absalom said to Hushai, “Is this your loyalty to your friend? Why did you not go with your friend?”

Absalom questions this at first, for this seems like poor friendship indeed. Is this his faithfulness to his friend, he wonders? Then he asks him why he did not go with his friend when he went into exile? This is the pivotal question, for if Hushai does not give account of himself well to Absalom now, he will never be allowed into the counsels of Absalom later to carry out his mission to defeat the advice of Ahithophel.

The Hebrew word for “friend” that Absalom uses is rea’, the usual word for a friend or a companion, rather than the odd word used in the previous verse.

18. And Hushai said to Absalom, “No, but whom the LORD and this people and all the men of Israel choose, his I will be, and with him I will remain.

Hushai answers Absalom’s rather mocking question very shrewdly. He claims he would rather belong with the one Jehovah and the people and all the men of Israel choose. This was true, perhaps, of the people and the men of Israel, but this was not true regarding Jehovah, and Absalom well knew it. He had not chosen to take the throne in obedience to Jehovah, but in rebellion against him. Of course, Hushai knew very well that Jehovah had not chosen Absalom, but he offers these flattering words to try to put Absalom off his guard and win his confidence. Thus he strongly states that he will remain with Absalom since Jehovah and the people and the men of Israel have chosen him rather than David. This is just what Absalom wanted to hear, and so Hushai was very clever to put it just this way.

19. Furthermore, whom should I serve? Should I not serve in the presence of his son? As I have served in your father’s presence, so will I be in your presence.”

Secondly, Hushai says (the word is “secondly,” not “furthermore”), his reasoning is this: whom should he serve? Would it not be better to serve before the face of the son? He flatteringly implies that Absalom is the up-and-coming generation, and it is better and safer and probably more long-term to serve the son than the father. Thus as he has served before the father’s face, now he will be the same before the son’s face. By these words, it seems, he completely put Absalom off his guard and won his way into his good graces. Indeed, even Ahithophel does not seem to have questioned Hushai’s inclusion in their counsels, as he might have done. Far from having abandoned David, we can see that Yahweh is still with him, and works to bring his plans to success.

20. Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give advice as to what we should do.”

It seems that Absalom is satisfied with this answer, and so accepts him and turns to the more important question in his mind. They have successfully taken Jerusalem without a fight, and have set David and his men to flight. Now what should he do? He asks this question of Ahithophel, his partner in crime and most trusted advisor.

21. And Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house; and all Israel will hear that you are abhorred by your father. Then the hands of all who are with you will be strong.”

So Ahithophel gives his advice. When they arrived David’s concubines, his slave-wives whom he had left behind to keep his palace in his absence, were the only residents still in David’s house. Now he advises Absalom to have sexual intercourse with these concubines of his father. The reason he gives for advising this is that this will assure everyone that the rift between David and Absalom is permanent. If his men thought that Absalom and David might patch things up and settle their differences, they may hesitate to fight too viciously against David and his men, lest if their relationship is restored their actions would be remembered without favor. Yet if Absalom has become abhorrent to David, then they will have no reason to imagine such a situation, and so will not hesitate to fight as ferociously as they can against David and his men.

While Ahithophel’s suggestion has a certain logic to it, it certainly contains no thought of decency, propriety, or morality. This was not only adultery, but was in direct contradiction to Leviticus 18:8, “The nakedness of your father’s wife you shall not uncover; it is your father’s nakedness.” We can see in this suggestion that Shimei was not the only one who hated David with a passion. Clearly Ahithophel hates David and sees this as an excellent way to satisfy his hatred against him. Remember that Ahithophel is Bathsheba’s grandfather, and he appears to have taken David’s illicit relationship with her as a personal insult against him, his family, and his honor. Thus he no doubt sees this as a great act of revenge against David for what he did to his granddaughter Bathsheba and grandson-in-law Uriah.

Even in the words Ahithophel uses we see the problem with his hatred of David. He tells Absalom to “go in” to his father’s concubines, a word that, when used of sexual relations, indicates the sexual aggressor. Yet in the story of David and Bathsheba, we read that, after David called for her, Bathsheba “came in” unto David, the same word indicating that she was the aggressor with David! Ahithophel blames everything on the king and views his adulterous granddaughter like an innocent lamb, when in fact this was not at all the case. Again we see that hatred does not care overly much for the facts or the truth.

22. So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the top of the house, and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.

Absalom and his men unquestioningly follow Ahithophel’s advice. Even Hushai does not think himself to be dear enough in Absalom’s counsels yet to speak against this plan, and indeed he perhaps was wise to wait until a more critical moment to speak against Ahithophel.

By being willing to do this abhorrent thing, Absalom shows how far he has slipped morally by this point. To boldly, openly, and publicly commit adultery like this, Absalom has thrown off all decency and morality. While his hatred for his father first stemmed from his failure to defend his sister from rape and sexual dishonor, he now shows himself more than willing to force himself on David’s wives whether they like it or not. Thus we see that Absalom, at first a somewhat sympathetic character, has fallen to the point where he has no qualms about committing the lowest of crimes. In just this way wickedness often degenerates the character of those who allow bitterness and hatred into their hearts.

So in obedience to Ahithophel’s advice, Absalom’s servants pitch him a tent on the palace roof. There David’s concubines are taken, and Absalom has sex with his father’s wives one at a time in this tent, doing it right there in public for all to see. This is said to be in the sight of all Israel, and remember that many of the patriarchs, the leading men of Israel, had joined Absalom, so this statement is indeed accurate. What he had done would be known far and wide across the whole land after this.

While this act was most abhorrent, yet we see in it the guiding hand of the LORD. He had told David the punishment He would bring upon him for his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah. He had told David in II Samuel 12:11-12, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.’” Now that is indeed what happened. David committed adultery secretly, but David’s own wives were taken by another, his own son no less, in public, in clear daylight, and before the eyes of all David’s people.

Moreover this was done on the roof of David’s house. This is the first time this roof has been mentioned since II Samuel 11:2. It is the very roof upon which he had been walking when he had seen Bathsheba bathing and had coveted her and determined in his heart to take her for himself if he could. Now this roof becomes the stage for David’s own wives being taken by another and David being cuckolded and humiliated. This reminds us of the punishment of Ahab, when in the very field of Naboth, the man he and his wife Jezebel murdered, his son and heir was destroyed by Jehu. The LORD, when He chooses to act judicially, acts very fittingly. Here He even uses the very roof where David sinned to bring about David’s own public humiliation.

23. Now the advice of Ahithophel, which he gave in those days, was as if one had inquired at the oracle of God. So was all the advice of Ahithophel both with David and with Absalom.

Jehovah, it seems, now wishes to emphasize for us how highly both David and Absalom viewed Ahithophel’s advice. David formerly and Absalom up to now have valued Ahithophel’s counsel like it was the counsel of God Himself, His very word. That is how his counsel had been viewed previous to this time both by David and by Absalom. This shows us that Hushai had no easy job ahead of him. How could he hope to oppose the counsel of Ahithophel when it was held in such exalted regard? It would seem hopeless for him to even attempt to do this. Thus we see that the only hope for David and his men is that Jehovah will step in to rescue him. If Ahithophel’s advice is to be disregarded, it must be Jehovah, not merely Hushai, Who will bring this about. We will see if He does bring this about in the next chapter.