2 Samuel 16
In an earlier chapter we emphasized the fact that in his flight from Jerusalem, David is to be viewed as a contrite penitent. His refusal to stand his ground when Absalom rose up in rebellion against him is to be attributed not to moral weakness, but to spiritual strength. Apparently this had been preceded by a lengthy and debilitating illness which had hindered him nipping that rebellion while it was in the bud, but the king bad recovered by the time the conspiracy had come to a head. No, in his son’s rebellion David saw the righteous retribution of God upon his fearful sins against Bathsheba and Uriah, and accordingly he bumbled himself beneath His mighty hand. He recognized the ways of God in His moral government, so instead of vainly flinging himself against the bosses of Jehovah’s buckler (rebelling and murmuring at His providences), he meekly bowed before His chastening rod. This was "bringing forth fruits meet for repentance"—as lovely, and as acceptable to God, as are "the fruits of righteousness" in their season.
It is, then, in the viewing of David as an humble penitent that we obtain the key to most of what is recorded in 2 Samuel 15 and 16. His sin had found him out and brought him to remembrance before the Holy One of Israel, and he bowed his head and meekly accepted His reproofs. It was for this reason that he bade his loyal followers go back, and leave him alone in his trouble. It was in that spirit he had ordered the priests to carry back the ark to Jerusalem—he felt utterly unworthy that it should accompany him on his flight. It was in that same spirit, as an humble penitent, he a crossed the Kidron and ascended Olivet barefooted and in tears. It was as the mourner before God that David had now turned his face toward the wilderness. All of this has been before us on a previous occasion, but we deemed it necessary to repeat the same, for it explains, as nothing else does, his amazing attitude in the incident we are about to contemplate.
As the fugitive king and his little following began to descend into the valley leading to the Jordan, a man who belonged to the family of the house of Saul came forth, and cursed him, charging him with a fearful crime he had never committed. Meeting with no opposition, this wretched creature cast stones at the king and his men. Now David was not the man, naturally speaking, to suffer such indignities to pass unnoticed: why, then, did he now endure them in silence? Abishai, one of the king’s followers, asked permission to avenge his master of these insults by slaying the offender; but David restrained him, and suffered Shimei to continue his outrageous conduct. But what seems stranger still, David attributed this humiliating experience unto God Himself, saying, "The Lord hath said unto him, Curse David"—language which raises a problem of the first magnitude: the relation of God to evil; for David was not guilty of speaking rashly and wickedly, but gave utterance to a most solemn and weighty truth. But to keep to our main thought:
"He saw God in every circumstance, and owned Him with a subdued and reverent spirit. To him it was not Shimei, but the Lord. Abishai saw only the man, and desired to deal with him accordingly. Like Peter afterwards, when he sought to defend his beloved Master from the band of murderers sent to arrest Him. Both Peter and Abishai were living upon the surface, and looking at secondary causes. The Lord Jesus was living in the most profound subjection to the Father: ‘the cup which My Father bath given Me, shall I not drink it?’ This gave Him power over everything. He looked beyond the instrument to God—beyond the cup to the hand which had filled it. It mattered not whether it were Judas, Caiaphas, or Pilate; He could say, in all, ‘My Father’s cup.’ Thus, too, was David, in his measure, lifted above subordinate agents. He looked right up to God, and with unshod feet and covered bead, he bowed before Him: ‘The Lord hath said unto him, Curse David.’ This was enough.
"Now, there are, perhaps, few things in which we so much fail as in apprehending the presence of God, and His dealings with our souls, in every circumstance of daily life. We are constantly ensnared by looking at secondary causes; we do not realize God in everything. Hence Satan gets the victory over us. Were we more alive to the fact that there is not an event which happens to us, from morning to night, in which the voice of God may not be heard, the hand of God seen, with what a holy atmosphere would it surround us! Men and things would then be received as so many agents and instruments in our Father’s hands; so many ingredients in our Father’s cup. Thus would our minds be solemnized, our spirits calmed, our hearts subdued. Then we shall not say with Abishai. ‘Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head.’ Nor shall we, with Peter, draw the sword in natural excitement. How far below their respective masters were both these affectionate though mistaken men! How must the sound of Peter’s sword have grated on his Master’s ear and offended His spirit! And how must Abishai’s words have wounded the meek and submitting David! Could David defend himself while God was dealing with his soul in a manner so solemn and impressive? Surely not. He dare not take himself out of the hands of the Lord. He was His for life or death—as a king or an exile. Blessed subjection!" (C. H. M.).
"And when king David came to Bahurim, behold, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, he came forth, and cursed still as he came" (2 Sam. 16:5). What a contrast is this from what was before us in the preceding verse! There we saw the hypocritical Ziba fawning upon David, pretending that he desired to "find grace" in his sight, and addressing him as my lord, O king." Here we find Shimei "cursing" the king, and denouncing him as "thou man of Belial." Ziba presented David with an elaborate present, whereas Shimei threw stones and cast dust at him. Unto the flatteries of the former David reacted by grievously misjudging Mephibosheth; whereas to the revilings of the latter, he meekly bowed before God—ah, my reader, the Christian has good reason to fear the smiles of the world, far more than he has its frowns.
"And when king David came to Bahurim, behold, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera: he came forth, and cursed still as he came." The first book of Samuel furnished the background to this dark scene. Saul had been Israel’s king, and upon his death a determined effort had been made to preserve the throne in his family: see 2 Samuel 2:8-3:2. But the attempt of Abner and the determination of Ishbosheth to reign as king over Israel, was in direct defiance of Jehovah’s ordination (1 Sam. 16: 1-13; 2 Sam. 2:4). But Shimei disregarded this divine appointment, and his heart was filled with enmity against David, whom he wrongly regarded as the usurper of the throne. While David was in power, he dared not openly anathematize him—though he hated him just the same; but now that David was fleeing from Absalom, Shimei took the opportunity to vent his malice, which shows his utter baseness in taking advantage of the king’s trouble at this time.
"And he cast stones at David, and at all the servants of king David: and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right band and on his left" (v. 6). The rank hatred of Shimei’s heart now burst forth in full force. With savage vehemence be curses the king, and flings stones and dust in the transports of his fury; stumbling along among the rocks high up in the glen, he keeps pace with the little band in the valley below. But ere passing on, let us not overlook the fact that Bahurim has been mentioned previously in this book: see 2 Samuel 3:16 and context. Did David now recall how the husband from whom he had torn Michal had followed her to this very place, and then turned back weeping to his lonely home? We cannot be sure, but the remembrance of later and more evil deeds now subdued David’s spirit, and caused him to meekly submit to these outrageous insults.
"And thus said Shimei when he cursed, Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou son of Belial: the Lord hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead thou has reigned; and the Lord hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son: and, behold, thou art taken in thy mischief, because thou art a bloody man" (vv. 7, 8). The different scenes presented in these chapters require to be viewed from various angles, if their manifold signification is to be perceived. This we endeavor to bear in mind as we pass from incident to incident. Shimei is not only to be regarded as the Lord’s instrument for chastening David, as a figure of the devil as "a roaring lion"—raging against David because he had come into the enemy’s territory (see preceding chapter); but also as a type of those who slandered and persecuted Christ Himself. It is this many-sidedness of these historical pictures which gives to them their chief interest for us today.
When the parents of the infant Jesus presented Him to God in the temple, old Simeon was moved by the Spirit of prophecy to say, "Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against . . . that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34,35). How truly the terms of this prediction concerning the Antitype were adumbrated in the type. All through his checkered career, but especially that part of it we are now considering, David’s various experiences served as occasions that "the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed." Much that was bidden beneath the surface was forced out into the open. Those who were loyal to him at heart were now unmistakably manifested as his staunch supporters and faithful friends: his "mighty men" continued to cling to him despite the drastic change of his fortunes. It now became clear who really loved him for his own sake—like Mary and Martha and the apostles in the Gospels. On the other hand, hypocrites were exposed (Ahithophel, the forerunner of Judas), and bitter enemies openly reviled and condemned him—as was the lot of our Lord.
The conduct of Shimei on this occasion was base and vile to the last degree. In the first place, it was in direct defiance of the express commandment of the Lord: "Thou shalt not revile the judge, nor curse the ruler of thy people" (Ex. 22:28); "Curse not the king, no not in thy thought" (Eccl. 10:20). Second, it was despicable beyond words that Shimei should wait to vent his malice upon David till the time when his cup of sorrow was already full, thus adding to his grief: "For they persecute him whom Thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of Thy wounded" (Ps. 69:26). Third, the awful charge he now preferred was absolutely false, and against the plainest evidence: so far from David having slain Saul, he had again and again spared his life when he was at his mercy. He was many miles away at the time of Saul’s death, and when the tidings of it reached him, he made lamentation for him: 2 Samuel 1:12.
"And thus said Shimei when he cursed, Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou son of Belial: the Lord hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead thou hast reigned; and the Lord hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son: and, behold, thou art taken in thy mischief, because thou art a bloody man" (vv. 7, 8). What a solemn case is this of the holy name of the Lord being found upon the lips of the wicked!—a warning to us that all who make use of the name of Christ do not "depart from iniquity" (2 Tim. 2:19). Observe too how Shimei undertook to interpret the divine dispensations toward David, showing us that wicked men are ever ready to press God’s judgments into their service, for they judge right and wrong by selfish interests. May divine grace preserve both writer and reader from the folly and sin of attempting to philosophize about God’s dealings with others.
"Then said Abishai the son of Zeruiah unto the king, Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head. And the king said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah? so let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David. Who then shall say, Wherefore hast thou done so?" (vv. 9, 10). Here again the type merges into the antitype, and that in two respects. First, how this well-meant but fleshly suggestion of David’s devoted follower reminds us of that request of Christ’s disciples concerning those who "did not receive Him," namely, "Lord, wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from Heaven, and consume them, even as Elijah did?" (Luke 9:54). As Christ answered "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of," so David restrained Abishai—clear proof he was not the "bloody man" Shimei had called him! Second, David refused to return railing for railing, reminding us of "when He (Christ) was reviled, He reviled not again" (1 Peter 2:23), in this leaving an example for us to follow. But turning from the typical, let us consider the practical.
Though the blood of Saul did not rest upon David, that of Uriah did; this he knew full well, and therefore towed to God’s righteous chastisement, and spared Shimei—both Absalom and Shimei were instruments in the hand of God, justly afflicting him—though the guilt of their conduct belonged to them. A parallel case is found in Aaron: the remembrance of his great wickedness in making the golden calf, composed his mind under the fearful trial of the death of his sons (Lev. 10:1-3)—knowing he deserved yet sorer judgment, he was silent.
"And the king said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah? so let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David" (v. 10). David saw the hand of God in this experience, afflicting him for his sins against Bathsheba and Uriah. Shimei had received a commission from heaven, to curse David, though that no more excused him or took away his guilt than the crucifers of Christ were guiltless because they did what God’s hand and counsel "determined before to be done" (Acts 2:23; 4:28). God has foreordained all that comes to pass in this world, but this does not mean that He regards the wickedness of men with complacency, or that He condones their evil. No indeed. In their zeal to clear God of being the Author of sin, many have denied that He is the Ordainer and Orderer of it. Because the creature cannot comprehend His ways, or perceive how He is the Author of an act without being chargeable with the evil of it, they have rejected the important truth that sin is under the absolute control of God, and is as much subject to His moral government, as the winds and waves are directed by Him in the material sphere.
The subject is admittedly a difficult one, and if we are spared, we hope to write more at length upon it in the future. Meanwhile, we content ourself by giving a quotation from the Westminster Confession: "God’s providence extendeth itself to all sins of angels and men, and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and other wise ordering and governing, in a manifold disposition unto His own holy ends; yet so as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God" (chap. 5). The holiness of God is no more sullied by directing the activities of evil men, than the beams of the sun are defiled when they shine upon a filthy swamp. The hatred of his heart belonged to Shimei himself, but it was God’s work that that hatred should settle so definitely on David, and show itself in exactly the manner and time it did.
"And David said to Abishai, and to all his servants, Behold, my son, which came forth of my bowels, 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. It may be that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day" (vv. 11,12). Two further considcrations arc here presented: David calmed himself under the lesser affliction of Shimei’s cursing him, by reminding himself of the greater trial of Absalom’s rising up against him. And he sought comfort in the possibility that God might yet overrule this trouble for his own ultimate blessing. The practical value of this incident is, the valuable teaching it contains on how a saint ought to conduct and console himself under severe trials. Let us summarize. First, David comforted himself with the thought that his sins deserved sorer chastisement than he was receiving. Second, he looked beyond the afflicting instrument, to the righteous hand of God. Third, lie considered the minor affliction unworthy of consideration in view of the major. Fourth, he exercised hope that God would yet bring "good" out of evil. May grace be granted us to do likewise.