Passing the Buck.

“Moreover, you also know what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner the son of Ner, and Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed, avenging in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt around his waist and on the sandals on his feet. Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace. But deal loyally with the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table, for with such loyalty they met me when I fled from Absalom your brother. And there is also with you Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a grievous curse on the day when I went to Mahanaim. But when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord, saying, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword.’ Now therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man. You will know what you ought to do to him, and you shall bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” 1 Kings 2:5-9 ESV

As was pointed out in the previous blog, David had two sets of instructions for his son. One was spiritual in nature, while the other was of a more personal nature. In the first four verses of this chapter, David instructed Solomon about what it means to be a man – a godly man. He encouraged Solomon to be obedient to God, reminding him that it would be the key to the success of his kingdom. But now, David makes a slight departure and gives Solomon some last-minute instructions regarding a few personal matters. These involved some unresolved issues linked to David’s reign and involving a few individuals whom David wanted to pay back – either positively or negatively.

There are three men mentioned: Joab, the long-time commander of David’s armies; Shimei, the Benjaminite who cursed David as he fled Jerusalem during the coup by Absalom; and Barzillai, the wealthy Gileadite, who provided David and his companions with “beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd” (2 Samuel 17:28-29 ESV), after Absalom took over Jerusalem. In the cases of the first two men, David was passing on to Solomon the responsibility to mete out justice for what they had done to him. In the case of Berzillai, David was instructing Solomon to show favor to this man and his family by rewarding him for the kindness he had shown him.

It seems odd that David would have waited all these years to do anything about all of these situations. In the case of Shimei, David had sworn an oath before God, that he would not take his life. The exchange that took place between Shimei and David upon David’s return to Jerusalem is so significant about David asking Solomon to execute him. After the defeat of Absalom’s forces by Joab and armies of David, Shimei ran out to meet David, crying out:

“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 19:19-20 NLT

Shimei confessed his sin to David. He acknowledged the gravity of what he had done. He had cursed the king and even thrown stones at him as he made his way of our Jerusalem. But now, he is remorseful, perhaps even repentant, for what he had done. And he pleads to David for mercy. And while those around David counseled him to kill Shimei for what he had done, David rejected their advice and responded, “‘This is not a day for execution, for today I am once again the king of Israel!’ Then, turning to Shimei, David vowed, ‘Your life will be spared’” (2 Samuel 19:22-23 NLT). How would Shimei have received that news from David? With joy and great relief, but also with a sense of permanence. In other words, Shimei would have taken David at his word and believed that his life was permanently spared. He was forgiven and granted mercy for his entire lifetime. But that was not to be the case. Now, David was asking Solomon to take the life of Shimei. He doesn’t leave Shimei’s fate up to Solomon’s discretion, but clearly tells him, “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). All that David left up to Solomon was the form of execution.

In the case of Joab, David had more than enough reasons to take his life. During the days when David had ascended to the throne after Saul, Abner, Saul’s military commander, had led a rebellion against David, placing Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, on the throne of Israel. When Abner offered to strike a treaty with David, promising to bring all the tribes of Israel with him, the king accepted, But Joab, seeking revenge for Abner’s murder of his brother, killed Abner. His action infuriated David, but he chose to do nothing about it. Years later, when David’s son, Absalom, raised up a rebellion against his father in order to take the throne from him, Joab would kill Absalom in battle, against the clear command of David (2 Samuel 18:9-15). Finally, when David chose to demote Joab for his disobedience, and replace him with Amasa, Joab would respond by murdering Amasa in cold blood (2 Samuel 20:8-10). In each of these cases, Joab had committed murder and was deserving of death. But David had chosen to ignore his responsibility as king and had allowed Joab to live. And yet, now that David was about to die and Solomon had been crowned the next king of Israel, he was passing off his responsibilities to his son. Once again, David leaves nothing up to Solomon’s imagination when it comes to the fate of Joab, except the form of his execution. David matter-of-factly states, “Do with him what you think best, but don’t let him grow old and go to his grave in peace” (1 Kings 2:6 NLT).

So, Solomon, the newly anointed king of Israel, is being given the unenviable task of meting out vengeance on behalf of his father against two men. He would have to do his father’s dirty work and clean up what David should have taken care of long ago. In the case of Shimei, there should have been no vengeance taken, because David had sworn an oath before God that this man’s life would be spared. It is clear that David had never really forgiven Shimei. His oath had all been a show, designed to make all those around him think that he was a gracious and forgiving king. But obviously, David had never forgotten what Shimei had done. And in the case of Joab, David had never forgiven him for murdering Absalom, even though that was the very fate his son had deserved. Joab’s murders of Abner and Amasa meant far less to David than Joab’s decision to murder Absalom. And while David had every right and a royal responsibility to deal with Joab’s crimes, he had chosen not to do a thing. And now, he was passing on that responsibility to his son.

In his commentary on the book of 1 Kings, D. J. Wiseman writes:

David was wrong in passing on responsibility to Solomon to execute the judgment he himself should have ordered at the time. This was to cause his son and successors much trouble and feuding. – D. J. Wiseman, 1 & 2 Kings: An Introduction and Commentary

David had a habit of putting off the inevitable and the unpleasant. He had allowed Amnon to get away with his rape of Tamar. He had sat back and done nothing after Absalom murdered Amnon. He had ignored all the signs of Absalom’s plan to take over his own kingdom. And while Absalom had been guilty of murder and treason, David had determined to do nothing to punish him, demanding that his life be spared. Joab had three murders to his credit, but David had chosen to turn a blind eye. Part of it was probably motivated by expediency and convenience. He needed Joab. As long as David was alive, Joab was an asset he couldn’t afford to lose. But now that David was dying, Joab was no longer a necessity and Solomon could clean up David’s messes.

Call it what you will: procrastination, conflict avoidance, or merely shirking responsibility, David was guilty of putting off on his son those things he had chosen to ignore or delay. And while David had given Solomon wise counsel regarding what it means to be a man, a godly man, he was actually illustrating just the opposite. He had been disobedient to God. He had failed to listen to God’s commands and deal with his own son justly. He had neglected his responsibility as king to punish Joab for his crimes. He had made an oath before God concerning Shimei and now he was planning on breaking it by somehow convincing himself that his oath lasted only as long as he was alive. He justified his decision by rationalizing that he would not be the one to kill Shimei, Solomon would be. Not exactly godly reasoning. Not what you might call the manly thing to do. But David was far from perfect. He was a man, just like any other man, and prone to the same character flaws and moral indiscretions as the rest of us.

And one of the main lessons that jumps out of the life of David is that it isn’t how well you start, but how well you finish. David had lived a long life and had an illustrious reign. To this day, he is considered the greatest king Israel has ever had. But the closing moments of his life are not exactly his finest. His final words to Solomon, while filled with wisdom, are also marred by his own human flaws. You can see his weaknesses on display. You can sense his ongoing struggle with sin, even to the very last. He would pass on to Solomon a great kingdom. He would hand over to his son a powerful army and a remarkable legacy. But he would also pass the buck, leaving to his son the responsibility to deal with his own unfinished business.

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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When God’s People Live Ungodly.

Now there happened to be there a worthless man, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjaminite. And he blew the trumpet and said, “We have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel!”

So all the men of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba the son of Bichri. But the men of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.

And David came to his house at Jerusalem. And the king took the ten concubines whom he had left to care for the house and put them in a house under guard and provided for them, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood.

Then the king said to Amasa, “Call the men of Judah together to me within three days, and be here yourself.” So Amasa went to summon Judah, but he delayed beyond the set time that had been appointed him. And David said to Abishai, “Now Sheba the son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom. Take your lord’s servants and pursue him, lest he get himself to fortified cities and escape from us.” And there went out after him Joab’s men and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and all the mighty men. They went out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri. When they were at the great stone that is in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. Now Joab was wearing a soldier’s garment, and over it was a belt with a sword in its sheath fastened on his thigh, and as he went forward it fell out. And Joab said to Amasa, “Is it well with you, my brother?” And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. But Amasa did not observe the sword that was in Joab’s hand. So Joab struck him with it in the stomach and spilled his entrails to the ground without striking a second blow, and he died.

Then Joab and Abishai his brother pursued Sheba the son of Bichri. And one of Joab’s young men took his stand by Amasa and said, “Whoever favors Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab.” And Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the highway. And anyone who came by, seeing him, stopped. And when the man saw that all the people stopped, he carried Amasa out of the highway into the field and threw a garment over him. When he was taken out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri. – 2 Samuel 20:1-13 ESV

David had not yet made it back inside the walls of Jerusalem when another disaster struck. He had just eliminated one rebellion, when another one raised its ugly head. The ten disgruntled tribes of Israel, unhappy with what they viewed as David’s favoritism for his own tribe of Judah, decided to throw in their lot with Sheba, a Benjaminite. This “worthless fellow” took advantage of the unstable conditions in Israel and called for another rebellion against David. It is impossible to read this account and not recall the curse God had placed on David as a result of his affair with Bathsheba.

“Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.” – 2 Samuel 12:10 ESV

There was going to be more bloodshed. And more people were going to die unnecessarily, all as a direct result of David’s sin. The conditions in his kingdom remained unstable and insecure. Even when he finally made it back to Jerusalem, David had to deal with the ten concubines whom Absalom had sexually violated and publicly humiliated. It must be remembered that what happened to them was also tied to David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba. God had told David:

“Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.” – 2 Samuel 12:11-12 ESV

So these women were shamed and forced to remain in a state of widowhood, not because of anything they had done, but all because of the sins of David. The wake of human misery and destroyed lives that David left behind him is unprecedented. He had lost three sons to death. His daughter had been violated by her own brother. Tens of thousands of his own people had been killed in an unnecessary civil war. And the death toll would continue to rise. When David called for his troops to put down the uprising led by Sheba, he put Amasa in command. It’s important to remember that David had replaced Joab with Amasa, as the commander of his army, all because Joab had disobeyed a direct order and had killed Absalom. Now, Joab was going to take the life of Amasa, in an attempt to eliminate the competition and get his old job back. And the day would come when Joab would get what he deserved. But it would not be under David’s watch. Once again, just as we saw with Shimei, David would put off meting out justice and leave it to his son, Solomon, when he took the throne. It would be Solomon who would eventually deal with Joab and his murders of Abner and Amasa.

“Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him, and thus take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause. The Lord will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner the son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah. So shall their blood come back on the head of Joab and on the head of his descendants forever. But for David and for his descendants and for his house and for his throne there shall be peace from the Lord forevermore.” – 1 Kings 2:31-33 ESV

But there was no peace in Israel. At least not during David’s day. The body count was mounting. The violence was escalating. And the instability of David’s kingdom seemed to be getting worse, not better. All in spite of the fact that David was a man after God’s own heart. David’s relationship with God did not protect him from failure or inoculate him from the ramifications of sin. The people of God are just as prone to bad decision-making as anybody else. Believers can undervalue the wisdom of God and overlook the sins taking place around them. We can surround ourselves with bad counselors, put off making difficult decisions, give in to impulsive desires, and leave God out of our daily lives. And when we do, we can find ourselves facing the same kind of unnecessary outcomes. David loved God. He had a deep-seated desire to serve God. But our desires must who up in our behavior.  His love for God must be accompanied by a commitment to obey God. Any hope he had of serving the people of God as the faithful shepherd of God was totally dependent upon his complete reliance upon God.

As believers, we are God’s people living in a godless environment, surrounded by ungodly people who don’t share our views or our love for God. It is difficult to live as child of God on this earth, but we can make it even more difficult by refusing to rely upon Him. There will always be a temptation to do things our own way and simply assume that our relationship with God will provide us with some kind of invisible force-field, protecting us from the dangers of sin. But our salvation, while it has delivered us from the judgment of sin, does not inoculate us from the temptation to sin. That is why Paul so strongly urged his readers to rely upon the Holy Spirit.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. – Galatians 5:16-17 NLT

A man after God’s own heart who refuses to let God have is heart, will find himself surrounded by discord and difficulty. Our ability to survive and thrive on this planet is dependent upon our commitment to remain totally reliant upon God. David would continue to learn that invaluable lesson. He would discover the reality that being God’s hand-picked king meant nothing if he did not live as a God-dependent man.

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

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