A House Divided.

And King David sent this message to Zadok and Abiathar the priests: “Say to the elders of Judah, ‘Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his house, when the word of all Israel has come to the king? You are my brothers; you are my bone and my flesh. Why then should you be the last to bring back the king?’ And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh? God do so to me and more also, if you are not commander of my army from now on in place of Joab.’” And he swayed the heart of all the men of Judah as one man, so that they sent word to the king, “Return, both you and all your servants.” So the king came back to the Jordan, and Judah came to Gilgal to meet the king and to bring the king over the Jordan.

And Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, from Bahurim, hurried to come down with the men of Judah to meet King David. And with him were a thousand men from Benjamin. And Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, with his fifteen sons and his twenty servants, rushed down to the Jordan before the king, and they crossed the ford to bring over the king’s household and to do his pleasure. And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was about to cross the Jordan, and said to the king, “Let not my lord hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. Do not let the king take it to heart. For your servant knows that I have sinned. Therefore, behold, I have come this day, the first of all the house of Joseph to come down to meet my lord the king.” Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord‘s anointed?” But David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be as an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” And the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king gave him his oath. – 2 Samuel 19:11-23 ESV

Joab had forced David out his lingering state of mourning over Absalom and demanded that he take back the reins of his fractured kingdom. And the very first thing David did was attempt to win back over his own tribe of Judah. They had backed Absalom during his attempt to take the kingdom from David and now, David was going to have to win back their trust and favor. So he sent the priests, Zadok and Abiathar, with an offer of pardon and restoration if they would only recommit themselves to him as their king. He even offered to replace Joab as the commander of his army with Amasa, the man whom Absalom had made his leading general. We know little about Amasa other than what we are told in 2 Samuel 17:

Absalom had appointed Amasa as commander of his army, replacing Joab, who had been commander under David. (Amasa was Joab’s cousin. His father was Jether, an Ishmaelite. His mother, Abigail daughter of Nahash, was the sister of Joab’s mother, Zeruiah).   – 2 Samuel 17:25 NLT

Whether or not this was a wise move on David’s part is yet to be seen. But it was an obvious slap in the face to Joab and intended as punishment for his role in the death of Absalom, against the explicit orders of David to spare his life. Once again, we see David making judgments that appear to be motivated by emotion rather than logic or reason. It had been Joab who led David’s army against the forces of Absalom and delivered a resounding victory. It had been Joab who spoke words of truth to David and commanded him to stop his mourning over Absalom and start acting like a king again. But David would reward Joab by giving his position to Amasa, Joab’s own cousin and the man who had led the army that had tried to destroy David. Some might say that this was just a case of political posturing on David’s part – an attempt to win back over the opposing side. David was just “reaching across the aisle” in a gesture of good will. But was this a wise move? Better yet, was it a godly move? In his effort to unify his fractured nation, was David going too far? Was he sending the wrong message? It is interesting to note that David does little to punish those who rebelled against him, yet he demotes Joab, his long-time friend and the commander of his army. Just as he never punished Amnon for raping Tamar or Absalom for murdering Amnon, David seems reluctant to mete out any kind of justice for the many acts of treason committed against him. And it is important to remember that each and every person who participated in the coup against David was actually sinning against God, refusing to accept His appointed king and determining to replace him with their own.

David even pardoned Shimei, the man who had cursed and thrown stones at him as he was fleeing from Jerusalem. This disgruntled member of the clan of Saul had publicly berated and chastised David.

“Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel!” he shouted at David. “The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan. You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom. At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!” – 2 Samuel 16:7-8 NLT

Not surprisingly, it was Shimei who was one of the first to show up on David’s doorstep begging for forgiveness.

As the king was about to cross the river, Shimei fell down before him. “My lord the king, please forgive me,” he pleaded. “Forget the terrible thing your servant did when you left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. I know how much I sinned. That is why I have come here today, the very first person in all Israel to greet my lord the king.” – 2 Samuel 19:18-20 NLT

And just as on the day when Shimei had hurled rocks at David, Abishai spoke up and offered to take his life, saying, “Shimei should die, for he cursed the Lord’s anointed king!” (2 Samuel 19:21 NLT). But, once again, David rebuked Abishai, and told him, “Why have you become my adversary today? This is not a day for execution, for today I am once again the king of Israel!” (2 Samuel 19:22 NLT). Rather than retribution, Shimei was given a full pardon. David was understandably reticent to mar his return to office with additional bloodshed or acts of vengeance. He wanted to be viewed as a peacemaker, not a vindictive, revenge-seeking dictator who was going to pay back everyone who had wronged him.

But there is an interesting side note concerning David and Shimei that sheds some light on David’s real attitude toward this man. Years later, when David was nearing death and preparing to hand over the kingdom to his son, Solomon, he gave him a series of directives, to be carried out after his death. One of them concerned Shimei.

“And remember Shimei son of Gera, the man from Bahurim in Benjamin. He cursed me with a terrible curse as I was fleeing to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan River, I swore by the Lord that I would not kill him. But that oath does not make him innocent. You are a wise man, and you will know how to arrange a bloody death for him.” – 1 Kings2:8-9 NLT

It seems that David’s pardon of Shimei was temporary in nature. David would keep his word and not seek revenge against Shimei, but that did not mean his son would not. David was basically commanding Solomon to kill Shimei for him. But Solomon came up with a different plan.

The king then sent for Shimei and told him, “Build a house here in Jerusalem and live there. But don’t step outside the city to go anywhere else. On the day you so much as cross the Kidron Valley, you will surely die; and your blood will be on your own head.” – 1 Kings 2:36-37 NLT

This arrangement would work well for Shimei until he made the mistake of leaving Jerusalem in search of a couple of runaway slaves. When Solomon found out, he had Shimei executed. So David’s revenge against Shimei was ultimately carried out. He paid for his sins. But it seems that David was constantly letting someone else do his dirty business. He had let Absalom carry out justice against Amnon. Then it took Joab to pay back Absalom for his act of treason against his own father. And he assigned Solomon with the task of dealing with the rebellion of Shimei.

There is no doubt that David was in a difficult spot. He had a divided kingdom. His reputation was in a shambles. Absalom had spent years disseminating vicious rumors concerning David’s poor leadership and lack of justice. He had raised questions regarding David’s integrity and undermined the peoples’ trust in him. So David had his work cut out for him. But what he really needed to do was act like a king. He needed to lead decisively and justly. He could not afford to be complacent or to be seen as lacking in conviction. David’s desire to be politically correct and to try and treat everybody with kid gloves was going to blow up in his face. It would seem that David should have spent more time worrying about what God would have him do, rather than obsessing over what was politically expedient. The people wanted and needed a king. Part of the reason they had backed Absalom was that he came across as the kind of leader they had been looking for. He had exposed flaws in David’s leadership. And David continued to allow those very same weaknesses to plague his reign.

God had provided a means by which the kings of Israel were to rule. He had given them His law and statutes. They were to operate based on His will, not what was politically correct or personally convenient. In fact, God had clearly said:

“When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.” – Deuteronomy 17:18-20 NLT

David’s divided kingdom needed a king who had God’s undivided attention. They needed a monarch who was obsessed with doing the godly thing, not the expedient thing. They needed a man after God’s own heart, not a king who spent all his time trying to win over theirs.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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