By Irvin Himmel
Following the death of Saul there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. Abner, who had commanded Saul’s army, made Saul’s son, Ishbosheth, king as a rival of David. Eventually, David was recognized as the lawful ruler over all the tribes. Some resentment against David lingered.
The story of Shimei is told in 2 Samuel 16:5-13; 19:16-23; and 1 Kings 2:8-9, 36-46. This little-known Bible character is a rather interesting man. His actions and the reactions by David and Solomon reflect the conditions in Israel in the days of the United Kingdom and remind us of problems confronting ancient monarchs. There are lessons for us as well.
Shimei the Slanderer
David and his loyal supporters found it necessary to flee Jerusalem during Absalom’s rebellion. They made their way eastward to the Mount of Olives and on to the Jordan, eventually reaching Mahanaim. Not far from the Mount of Olives they came to Bahurim in Benjamite territory. It was there that Shimei, son of Gera, came forth and cursed David. He threw stones at David and his servants, yelling, “Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial.” Shimei asserted that the Lord had returned upon David the blood of the house of Saul. He felt that David was responsible for the overthrow of Saul’s rule. He may have supposed that David had something to do with the deaths of Saul and his sons Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua, as well as the deaths of Ishbosheth and Abner. He further considered the rebellion of Absalom as a means of David’s being taken in his own mischief. To the partisan mind of Shimei, David was a bloody man.
Abishai, David’s nephew and one of his captains, asked the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord, the king?” He wanted to go over and lop off Shimei’s head. David felt that this cursing might be a part of David’s own punishment for the sins he had committed, so he said, “Behold, my son . . . seeketh my life: how much more now may this Benjamite do it? let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him.” David felt that he must bear affliction, and he looked to the Lord to repay good for evil. So Shimei continued along the way, cursing as he went, throwing stones, and casting dust.
Shimei took advantage of David’s humiliating situation. He vented his hatred for the king. He was of the family of the house of Saul, clearly in sympathy with Saul’s house, angry that someone from the tribe of Judah was ruling, and happy that David’s son Absalom was attempting to over-throw the king. David showed remarkable composure under these trying circumstances. Abishai would gladly have cut off Shimei’s head if David had just given the word.
Shimei the Spared Sinner
After Absalom was killed and his revolt ended, David began the journey from Mahanaim, east of Jordan, back to Jerusalem. At the Jordan he was met by Shimei the Benjamite, and with him there were a thousand men of Benjamin. Shimei is not cursing and calling David ugly names, nor throwing stones and kicking up dust. He falls down before the king and pleads for mercy. He confesses, “I have sinned.” Doubtless he wanted to impress David that he was a man of considerable influence by bringing a thousand men with him. He knows his life is in the hands of the king.
Abishai, brother of Joab, asks, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s anointed?” Abishai and Joab were quick to settle all matters with the sword! David grew a bit weary with them at times.
At the moment David was more interested in healing and bringing the people together than he was in putting someone to death. He said to Shimei, “Thou shalt not die. And the king sware unto him.” David had been through some very difficult days and longed for peace. He wanted his return to Jerusalem to be a time of rejoicing, not a day of vengeance.
Shimei the Self-Convinced
When David was old and about to go the way of all earth, he spoke to his son Solomon, the new king, about Shimei. When Shimei had blasphemed the Lords anointed, that was a serious affair. David had spared his life under oath, but now the matter was in Solomons hands. David advised Solomon not to regard him as guiltless, but to do with him according to what might be considered wise.
Solomon called for Shimei, instructed him to build himself a house in Jerusalem, and not to leave the city. This would kep him under surveillance and away from the other Benjamites. He was warned that if he left the city, “Thou shalt know for certain that thou shalt surely die: thy blood shall be upon thine own head.” Shimei acknowledge, “The saying is good: as my lord the king hath said, so will thy servant do.” Solomon was giving Shimei a place of refuge in the city that was Israel’s pride. If Shimei would abide by the king’s instructions, he could live out his days in peace.
Shimei dwelt in Jerusalem for three years. Then two of his servants ran away to Gath. Shimei did a very foolish thing. Instead of petitioning the king for permission to seek those servants, or arranging for someone else to being them back, he saddled his ass and went to Gath in person and brought back the servants. He risked his life for the sake of regaining two runaway slaves. Perhaps he thought that Solomon’s oath would be forgot-ten after all this time. Maybe he supposed he could slip away, bring back his servants, and the king would never know about it. Before we judge him too harshly, let us be reminded that people act in an equally sense-less manner today. Many throw off divine restraints and violate the will of God. They suppose that their deeds will go undetected by the King of heaven. They risk their souls for earthly possessions.
Solomon learned of Shimei’s violation of his agreement. He reminded him that he had sworn by the Lord to remain in Jerusalem. “Why then hast thou not kept the oath of the Lord, and the commandment that I have charged thee with?” Solomon declared that “the Lord shall return thy wickedness upon thine own head.” Shimei stood self-condemned. He had admitted that Solomon’s agreement with him was good. He had nothing to plead in self-defense.
Acting upon orders from King Solomon, Benaiah fell upon Shimei that he died. Despite David’s leniency toward him, and Solomon’s allowing him to live in peace provided he would remain in Jerusalem, Shimei sealed his own fate. Many today are given marvelous opportunities by the mercy and grace of God, but they, like Shimei, play the fool.
Guardian of Truth XL: No. 18, p. 6-7
September 19, 1996