II Samuel 19 Part 2

16. And Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite, who was from Bahurim, hurried and came down with the men of Judah to meet King David.

Now we have a very interesting section in which we will consider three different men who came to meet King David during his crossing of the Jordan. We will consider them, why they came, and how David reacted to them. We will see that they had very different motives in doing this, and we will learn some lessons from each one of them.

The very first to meet David is Shimei son of Gera, the Benjamite of Bahurim. He hurries and arrives at the very first with the men of Judah to meet King David. Remember who this Shimei was, for we read of him back in II Samuel 16:5-13. As King David and his men were fleeing from Jerusalem to get away from Absalom and his forces, this Shimei came out and cursed David, throwing stones and dust at him. This Shimei was of the house of Saul, and he accused David of being a corrupt and bloody man and of wiping out the house of Saul when he became king. The ridiculous part of this was that this was exactly what David did not do. All the heathen kings of the nations around Israel would do just that. When they as a new dynasty took over from an old one they would wipe out the family of the old dynasty to eliminate any competition to their reign. The godless kings of the northern kingdom of Israel did just that time and time again in the years after the division of the kingdom, as we can read in the record of the books of Kings. Yet David knew such a bloody and unjust way of securing the throne was not right in the sight of God, and so he had not done this. Yet in Shimei’s blind hatred he had accused David of doing one of the most significant things David did not do. This is the blinding and deceptive power of hatred. Why did Shimei imagine that he himself was alive, if David wiped out the house of Saul?

So this is interesting. The first man to meet David as he returns in victory to retake his throne is the man who least wanted to see that return take place. It is the man who perhaps hates him most in all the land, and who cursed him and rejoiced as he left!

17. There were a thousand men of Benjamin with him, and Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, and his fifteen sons and his twenty servants with him; and they went over the Jordan before the king.

We see that Shimei did not come to King David alone. No, that would have been far too dangerous considering his former conduct. Instead, he manages to work his way in with the entire entourage from Benjamin as a leader among them. A thousand Benjamites presented themselves before the king along with him. Accompanying them also is Ziba Saul’s servant, the one who came to support David during his flight into exile, with his fifteen sons and his twenty servants. Thus the man who bitterly hated David got in with those who honestly were there to welcome him back and who had supported him while he was on the run.

The verse says that they went over the Jordan before the king. This seems a strange statement, because this entourage of Benjamin would have been located on the west side of Jordan, not on the east where David was, so how could they have crossed the Jordan before he did? The statement could mean that they crossed the Jordan in order to appear before the king and escort him back. This would seem to be the most likely. When a great king is returning from exile and is arriving back at his land, we might well expect that a great entourage of men will come to meet him at some significant point and to escort him back from there. Such seems to be what these men did.

18. Then a ferryboat went across to carry over the king’s household, and to do what he thought good.
Now Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king when he had crossed the Jordan.

At this point a ferryboat is sent over the Jordan, seemingly from the western side of the river to the eastern side. It is sent by those coming to meet David in order to carry the king’s household back over, and afterwards to do whatever he thinks is good for it to do. In other words, to carry his people over in whatever way he sees best.

It is at this point that Shimei the son of Gera arrives and falls down before the king. This is said to be “when he had crossed the Jordan.” Whether this means that David had crossed or Shimei had crossed is hard for me to decipher. Either David had crossed with some of the first to cross and Shimei was waiting, or else David was still on the eastern side of the river directing the crossing and Shimei arrives to present himself before him there. This seems more likely to me, but I admit I find these statements somewhat confusing. At any rate, Shimei falls down before the king, a sign of humility and submission.

19. Then he said to the king, “Do not let my lord impute iniquity to me, or remember what wrong your servant did on the day that my lord the king left Jerusalem, that the king should take it to heart.

Shimei now makes his plea to the king. Remember, though, that he is making this plea with a thousand Benjamites, the entire delegation from that tribe, to back him up! He asks the king not to impute iniquity to him or to remember what wrong he did on the day that David was fleeing from Jerusalem. He urges David not to take his words and his actions to heart.

Now both Shimei’s words and Shimei’s actions showed clearly what was in his heart. He hated David with a passion, and no words of his now can disguise the fact. Shimei offers no reason why he should have had a change of heart to not hate David now when he had hated him before, and we can be sure that Shimei did still hate David as much as he did on that day. Yet on that day David was an exile, cast out of his nation and appearing to have lost all his power. Today, however, David is on the way back and his power is on the rise. Shimei knows that once the king is established back on the throne he could easily have him executed. Thus his words are clearly an attempt to save his own neck!

20. For I, your servant, know that I have sinned. Therefore here I am, the first to come today of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king.”

Shimei admits that he has sinned. That he certainly had done. Yet again this was the submission of fear, not the submission of a changed heart and of love. He points out what he has done to try to make it appear that he is honestly sorry. He has tried to make up for it by being the first of the house of Joseph to meet David. This seems a strange statement to us, since he was descended from the tribe of Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, and not from Joseph’s tribe at all. Perhaps it is because of his tribe’s relation to Joseph, as Benjamin was Joseph’s only full (not half) brother by Israel’s wife Rachel, that Shimei says this? Other than Judah, Joseph was the most powerful tribe (or I should say tribes, since they had the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh) in all Israel. Perhaps Shimei means to point out that he has come before even a single person from Joseph has come? Or maybe he uses this to refer to all tribes except Judah? For his delegation appears to have preceded all the tribes’ delegations except that of Judah.

Again, this statement of Shimei’s sounds good. It sounds like real submission and humility that Shimei expresses here. Yet we can be quite sure that it is all insincere. When the chips were down, Shimei showed that he hated David. The reason he is doing this now is that he wants to live. His fear for his life is motivating these nice-sounding words and not a change of heart. That must have been plainly evident to David, a very wise and discerning man who also had the sharp eyes of the Spirit to aid and guide him. It certainly was obvious to his men, as we will see in the next verse.

21. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered and said, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the LORD’s anointed?”

At this point Abishai, David’s nephew and the son of David’s sister Zeruiah, speaks up. It must have been obvious to him that Shimei’s words were hypocritical and spoken only out of fear in order to placate David’s wrath. Remember that Abishai was the one who spoke up on the road as Shimei was cursing David and urged his uncle the king to give him permission to put Shimei to death. Now, disgusted by this act Shimei is putting on, just as he did on the road, he wants to execute Shimei.

Yet Abishai tries to be cleverer than he was on the road. Then he only urged David to let him execute Shimei for cursing the king. Here, he remembers David’s zeal for the LORD’s anointed. When Abishai had urged David to let him strike King Saul to the ground when the LORD gave Saul into their hands, David told him that it would not be right for him to strike the LORD’s anointed. David had even felt badly when he cut the corner off Saul’s robe, since he said he did not have the right to do such a thing to the LORD’s anointed. Now Abishai turns that idea to his advantage. Is not David now the LORD’s anointed? And has not this man Shimei cursed the LORD’s anointed? Should he not then be put to death for daring to do such a thing to the LORD’s anointed? Abishai must have figured that if anything could win David’s consideration, it must be an argument put like this. How could David reject such an idea and maintain his zeal for the LORD’s anointed?

22. And David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should be adversaries to me today? Shall any man be put to death today in Israel? For do I not know that today I am king over Israel?”

David again is exasperated with his violent nephews, his sister Zeruiah’s boys. His putting it this way always makes me wonder what his sister was like. I tend to think that she must have had a fiery and violent temper, and David recognized this in this kind of talk coming from her boys. David’s expression “What have I to do with you?” seems to carry the idea, “What do I have in common with you?” Of course, he had much in common, but he means regarding this matter. His volatile and violent nephews always had a very different attitude than he did in such things. The difference between the two brothers, however, is that Abishai was always loyal to David, and he only aided in one of Joab’s murders when he was instigated to by his brother. He was not the unscrupulous and ambitious man his brother was, and unlike his brother stayed loyal to David to the end, in spite of what his brother did.

David says that his nephews are actually acting like enemies to him today. Why is this? Is it not out of zeal for David and indignation over what Shimei had done that Abishai suggested this? Indeed, now that Shimei’s great hatred for David was revealed, all could know that Shimei would gladly take any opportunity he had to support a rival to David or to back up an attempt to cast David off the throne. Would it not be better and safer for David’s government if Shimei were dead?

Yet David points out that if he followed Abishai’s advice he will be playing into his enemies’ hands, and Abishai might as well be one of those enemies as to suggest such a thing. Why is that? David asks if any man shall be put to death today in Israel? In other words, David does not believe that this is the day to execute anyone, no matter how guilty. Why? Well, had not every single one of the men coming to meet David and escort him back NOT gone with David into exile? Had they not all NOT sided with David, but rather with Absalom, in the rebellion and revolt? If David was going to execute traitors, would that not include the vast majority of the men who were coming to escort him back, with the exception of a few like Ziba? What would it look like to these men if David executed Shimei now? Would it not look like he was not going to let bygones be bygones? Would it not look like they would be at a great disadvantage if they accepted back such a vengeful king, in light of the fact that he also had reason to be vengeful against them? Would it not erode his support to the point that these men might immediately turn and remove their support from him being made king, casting it instead to someone else?

No, any move on David’s part against Shimei would be misconstrued by the great majority of those who had come to meet him, and nothing short of their withdrawal from supporting his return could be expected to be the result. The first to withdraw support would be the Benjamite delegation into which Shimei had so cleverly insinuated himself. When these left, the rest of Israel’s delegations who were coming to meet David would hear of it, and they would hear why they left. No doubt they would all have turned back and not even bothered to go to David at that point. What would happen to David then, if such a disaster happened? David would return to be king over Judah, as he was the first seven years of his reign while Saul’s family was still trying to maintain authority over the rest of the tribes. Meanwhile the other tribes would choose some other man to be king, one who had no reason to be embittered against them for rejecting him as king. Then, the rift between Judah and the rest of the tribes, the rift that became a permanent reality in the days of David’s grandson Rehoboam, would have been made already at this early date, and it probably never would have been mended again, just as the later rift never was.

David says that he well knows that today he is king over Israel. In other words, just today he has been restored and is just now returning as king. His power is not yet consolidated. He is not yet stable on the throne. It is a day, therefore, to show forgiveness and magnitude. It is a day to rejoice, and to graciously accept the submission of all who come to him. It is not a day to have executions. Not in the least!

23. Therefore the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king swore to him.

Thus David does what he has to, the only thing he could do on this day, and certainly the only thing he could do when Shimei has his entire tribes’ entourage with him. David tells Shimei that he will not die for his actions against him before, as Abishai has suggested. Shimei, still nervous, probably does not find just David’s word sufficient, and so David swears to him that he will not put him to death. Yet David too was a clever man, and in the end he was cleverer than Shimei. David knows that his son will sit on the throne after him, and David did not forget Shimei. One of his last orders to Solomon was to see to it that Shimei would be executed, an order which Solomon wisely carried out. Thus, though Shimei escapes for now, his sins would find him out in the end.

Thus we end our consideration of the first significant character who came to meet David at his return. The first, Shimei, is seen to be an enemy and a hypocrite. We will see the second in the next verse.