36 Then the king sent and summoned Shimei and said to him, “Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and dwell there, and do not go out from there to any place whatever. 37 For on the day you go out and cross the brook Kidron, know for certain that you shall die. Your blood shall be on your own head.” 38 And Shimei said to the king, “What you say is good; as my lord the king has said, so will your servant do.” So Shimei lived in Jerusalem many days.
39 But it happened at the end of three years that two of Shimei’s servants ran away to Achish, son of Maacah, king of Gath. And when it was told Shimei, “Behold, your servants are in Gath,” 40 Shimei arose and saddled a donkey and went to Gath to Achish to seek his servants. Shimei went and brought his servants from Gath. 41 And when Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath and returned, 42 the king sent and summoned Shimei and said to him, “Did I not make you swear by the Lord and solemnly warn you, saying, ‘Know for certain that on the day you go out and go to any place whatever, you shall die’? And you said to me, ‘What you say is good; I will obey.’ 43 Why then have you not kept your oath to the Lord and the commandment with which I commanded you?” 44 The king also said to Shimei, “You know in your own heart all the harm that you did to David my father. So the Lord will bring back your harm on your own head. 45 But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the Lord forever.” 46 Then the king commanded Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and he went out and struck him down, and he died.
So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon. – 1 Kings 2:36-46 ESV
There was one last piece of unfinished business that Solomon had to take care of. Just before his death, his father had charged him with the task of repaying Shimei for the disrespectful way he had treated David while he was evacuating Jerusalem after Absalom had taken over the kingdom (2 Samuel 16:5-14). This relative of David’s predecessor, King Saul, had held a grudge against David ever since he had supplanted Saul as the king of Israel. He was overjoyed to see David having to suffer the indignity of sneaking out of the capital city because his own son had stolen his kingdom. Shimei even threw stones at David, hurling insults and curses as he did so.
“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
Some of David’s faithful soldiers, who had accompanied him out of the city, offered to strike Shimei down, but David would not allow it. Instead, he told them, ““My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today” (2 Samuel 16:11-12 NLT). David could empathize with Shimei’s anger and resentment. He understood why Shimei was so upset, and he had concluded that God was behind it all. When Shimei had called David a murderer, he had struck a very sensitive nerve. David would have immediately recalled his complicity in the death of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:14-17). Shimei was right; he was a murderer. And perhaps God was still repaying him for his sinful actions against an innocent man. So, David refused to punish Shimei for his actions.
But some time later, when the attempted coup had been thwarted, and Absalom had been killed, David returned to the city of Jerusalem. And one of the first people to greet him upon his arrival was Shimei.
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
With the news of Absalom’s death and David’s return to Jerusalem, Shimei had feared for his life. He knew he was a dead man unless he could convince David of his remorse and regret for his previous actions. Feigning sorrow for his emotionally driven display of anger, Shimei begged the king for forgiveness.
Though Shimei deserved punishment, David was unwilling to spoil the joy of the occasion by meting out judgment. He could have had Shimei executed on the spot, but instead, “the king said to Shimei, ‘You shall not die.’ And the king gave him his oath” (2 Samuel 19:23 ESV).
David had kept that oath, but on his deathbed, it became clear that he had never really forgiven Shimei for what he had done. He had allowed Shimei to live but had never stopped dreaming of getting his revenge. So, as he lay dying, David gave Solomon a not-so-subtle hint about what should be done with 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 Kings 2:8-9 NLT
David didn’t tell Solomon what to do. He simply reminded Solomon of what Shimei had done. And he fully expected Solomon to defend his honor by having Shimei put to death.
But Solomon had other plans. Rather than subjecting Shimei to capital punishment, he had him confined to the city of Jerusalem. Shimei, as a Benjamite, lived within the territory of his tribe. But Solomon ordered that he relocate within the city walls where his actions could be carefully monitored. And Shimei was given strict instructions never to venture outside the walls of the city for any reason, under penalty of death.
“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
Solomon graciously spared Shimei’s life but placed him under house arrest. And this arrangement seemed to work well for Shimei. For three years, he enjoyed a peaceful and prosperous life. But then, the unexpected happened. Two of his servants ran away and, without thinking about it, Shimei saddled a donkey and pursued his missing property. But when he had recaptured his runaway servants and returned to Jerusalem, he was surprised to learn that he had been summoned to the king’s palace.
By this time, Shimei must have understood the gravity of his situation. He had broken his oath to the king. And Solomon reminded Shimei of their agreement.
“Didn’t I make you swear by the Lord and warn you not to go anywhere else or you would surely die? And you replied, ‘The sentence is fair; I will do as you say.’ Then why haven’t you kept your oath to the Lord and obeyed my command?” – 1 Kings 2:42-43 NLT
Notice that Solomon describes Shimei’s oath as having been made to the Lord. When he had agreed to the stipulations handed down by the king, he had been swearing an oath before God. Solomon had been acting as God’s appointed leader, and when Shimei had agreed to the terms of the contract, he had made a binding covenant with God Almighty. And now, he had broken that vow. He had failed to keep his word and would have to suffer the consequences. And Solomon made sure that Shimei understood the gravity of his situation.
“You certainly remember all the wicked things you did to my father, David. May the Lord now bring that evil on your own head. But may I, King Solomon, receive the Lord’s blessings, and may one of David’s descendants always sit on this throne in the presence of the Lord.” – 1 Kings 2:44-45 NLT
David had kept his word and had allowed Shimei to live. Now, Solomon was going to keep his word and have Shimei executed for the violation of his oath. Shimei’s death would not be because he had left the confines of the city of Jerusalem. The death sentence that hung over his head was due to his unlawful treatment of and rebellion against the Lord’s anointed, King David. He deserved to die because he was a rebel. But Solomon had shown him grace and mercy. And the city of Jerusalem had become a city of refuge, a place where he could find release from the condemnation of death he so richly deserved. As long as he remained within the walls of the city, he would be spared. The city was not a prison; it was actually a form of protection. As long as Shimei remained faithful to reside within the confines of the city, he was spared the penalty of death. But as soon as he walked outside the gates, he violated his oath and forfeited his right to life.
In so many ways, this narrative foreshadows what Jesus Christ would do for guilty sinners. He would become the place of refuge, the living Jerusalem, where those condemned to death could find mercy, grace, and life. As long as Shimei remained within Jerusalem’s protective walls, he would be spared the penalty he deserved. But when he allowed himself to be distracted by the cares of this world and went in pursuit of his runaway servants, Shimei revealed his true heart. He placed a greater value on material things than he did on the gift of life he had been offered by the king.
Jesus would later remind His disciples about the necessity of abiding in Him. He would challenge them to remain faithful, recognizing that their hope of eternal life was found in Him alone.
“Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!” – John 15:5-7 NLT
Shimei had failed to remain in Jerusalem, and it cost him his life. He had seen the walls of the city as a prison rather than a protection. He had seen his agreement with the king as restrictive rather than redemptive. And how often do those who are offered the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ come to see that offer as a burden rather than a blessing? They prefer the “freedom” of sin over the emancipation from death that is offered within the protective walls of God’s gracious love. And, like Shimei, they end up forfeiting their lives.
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