II Samuel 16:1-14
16 When David had gone a short distance beyond the summit, there was Ziba, the steward of Mephibosheth, waiting to meet him. He had a string of donkeys saddled and loaded with two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred cakes of raisins, a hundred cakes of figs and a skin of wine. 2 The king asked Ziba, “Why have you brought these?” Ziba answered, “The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride on, the bread and fruit are for the men to eat, and the wine is to refresh those who become exhausted in the wilderness.” 3 The king then asked, “Where is your master’s grandson?” Ziba said to him, “He is staying in Jerusalem, because he thinks, ‘Today the Israelites will restore to me my grandfather’s kingdom.’” 4 Then the king said to Ziba, “All that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.” “I humbly bow,” Ziba said. “May I find favor in your eyes, my lord the king.” 5 As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the same clan as Saul’s family came out from there. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and he cursed as he came out. 6 He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones, though all the troops and the special guard were on David’s right and left. 7 As he cursed, Shimei said, “Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel! 8 The Lord has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned.The Lord has given the kingdom into the hands of your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a murderer!” 9 Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head.” 10 But the king said, “What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’” 11 David then said to Abishai and all his officials, “My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. 12 It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.” 13 So David and his men continued along the road while Shimei was going along the hillside opposite him, cursing as he went and throwing stones at him and showering him with dirt. 14 The king and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted. And there he refreshed himself.
Ziba grossly and unfairly misrepresented Mephibosheth to David, but Ziba was only one voice. Where was the second witness? David needed to hear the “other side” before making a judgment. Shimei also grossly and unfairly misrepresented David in his accusations. With self-control and meekness David did not fight back or allow others to avenge him. Both of these evil men—Ziba and Shimei—provide men and women of today examples of how to deal with problems spiritual leaders encounter.
Paul wrote in II Corinthians 6: 7-10 about “weapons of righteousness.” Here are the verses: “in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. Pastors and Christian servants of God face career hazards like any other professional. But our “weapons” are very different. Meekness is not weakness; it is power under control. David modeled it for us as we will see.
1. Ziba, the traitor 1-4
We learned earlier of David’s kindness to Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan and how he generously entrusted his servant Ziba with the management of his estate while he thoughtfully entertained him at his own table. We would think this was all settled well, but Ziba had an ambition: he wanted to be the master; not the manager. With Absalom assuming the kingship and David on the run, Ziba made a daring move and to put himself in a good light brought a helpful gift to David in his time of need. Little wonder that David received this gift and had a favorable view of Ziba as a result. He could easily have thought that God was reaching down to him to rescue him as Psalm 18:15 says, “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.” Ziba had enough experience in life and politics to know the power of a gift. Proverbs 17:8 says, “A bribe is seen as a charm by the one who gives it; they think success will come at every turn.”
David wrongly concluded from Ziba’s words and gifts that he was a wise and generous man. Christian leaders today can learn several important things from this misunderstanding. One, that Scripture says to receive things at the mouth of two, not just one, witness. Deut. 19:15 says, “One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” In this case, David made his decision regarding the guilt and judgment on Mephibosheth too early, without all the information he needed in order to make a righteous judgment. Two, Leaders need to hear the “other side” before they make a judgment. In not too long a time David returned to Jerusalem and was welcomed there by Mephibosheth. When David heard Mephibosheth’s rendition of the story, the property is divided between Ziba and Mephibosheth. Thankfully Mephibosheth did have his opportunity to present his case. That lesson will come later in this series. Three, we who interpret and teach the Scripture should read the whole story before we preach or teach something using only an unrepresentative section on which to base what we teach. Bible interpretation is an important matter. The Bible interprets the Bible and until we have considered all the applicable parts of Scripture, we don’t have the whole picture—we could teach an error. When we look at the other references to the life and behavior of Ziba, we reach a totally different conclusion about him than if we read only this part.
Ziba appears generous. Shall we use gifts to put ourselves in the favor of the rich? If we truly believe in the resurrection of the just and the fair reward God’s children will receive in the next life, should we not rather be kind to the poor who are not able to repay us? Luke 14:14 says, “and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Ziba’s gift was practical and beneficial. Verse 2b says, “The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride on, the bread and fruit are for the men to eat, and the wine is to refresh those who become exhausted in the wilderness.” The wine, for example, was not for the king, but for those who became exhausted.” Proverbs 31:6 says, “Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish!” The land is blessed when weakened leaders use it to regain strength as David’s men did, not for drunkenness as Absalom and his friends did. Eccl. 10:17 says, “Blessed is the land whose king is of noble birth and whose princes eat at a proper time—for strength and not for drunkenness.”
We may never know all of Ziba’s motives, but we do know that God used this provision for a good purpose. God is able to make good use of bad people; he sent meat to Elijah through ravens. Whatever Ziba intended in this present, God’s providence sent it to David for his support very graciously.
In response to an understandable question from David, Ziba made himself look even better at the expense of Mephibosheth whom he makes look very bad. Verse 3 says, “The king then asked, ‘Where is your master’s grandson?’ Ziba said to him, ‘He is staying in Jerusalem, because he thinks, “Today the Israelites will restore to me my grandfather’s kingdom.’”” This gross misrepresentation and false accusation may serve to represent the many instances when godly leaders today have received a negative and false report. What immense damages masters experience from the lying tongues of their servants! Or shepherds from their sheep!
David knew Mephibosheth and should never have received this misrepresentation from the ambitious Ziba. David was too quick to seize these lands from Mephibosheth and give them to Ziba. Verse 4 says, “Then the king said to Ziba, ‘All that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.’” David soon regretted his hasty judgment and was able to partially right his wrong when he met Mephibosheth. But many are the times when our wrongs cannot be so easily righted. May the Lord help us today to learn from this experience of David’s so that the Mephibosheths in our churches are not destroyed by the Zibas who are also there. Ziba may have laughed all the way back down the mountain and back to the estate. We don’t know.
Before we leave this conversation, however, let us also notice that Ziba was eager to inform David of his humility: “‘I humbly bow,’ Ziba said. ‘May I find favor in your eyes, my lord the king.’” Actions speak louder than words. Ziba says something nice about himself—that he was humble—but his actions spoke otherwise. Jesus said we would know people by their “fruits,” not by their “words.” Ziba’s words effected David. Ziba said, “May I find favor in your eyes, my lord the king,” But isn’t it infinitely more important to have favor in God’s eyes? We can fool people, but we cannot fool God. People may fool us but they cannot fool God. People in leadership with authority to make judgments about others should guard themselves from flatterers. God created us with two ears so that we may hear both sides.
2. Shimei’s Groundless and Unkind Attack 5-8
David was more successful in bearing Shimei’s curses than he was in discerning Ziba’s flatteries. By Ziba he was brought to pronounce a wrong judgment on Mephibosheth and by Shimei he was able to pass a right judgment on himself. Smiles are dangerous; they may may us feel good, but frowns drive us to our knees in prayer and benefit us much more ultimately.
As David approached Bahurim, which was in Benjamin where, apparently, Shimei lived, he was greeted by a bitter relative of Saul’s. When Saul’s house fell, so did Shimei’s hopes for advancement. Shimei was totally unfair and out of order; his malice and hatred made David’s distress all the more difficult. Shimei thought David had caused the ruin of Saul’s family, not realizing that Saul himself had destroyed his own family. Shimei, influenced by bitterness and enmity, seized the occasion to curse David and throw rocks at him. He displayed a creative ability to coin the words and hopes necessary to curse. Verses 5-6 say, “As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the same clan as Saul’s family came out from there. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and he cursed as he came out. He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones, though all the troops and the special guard were on David’s right and left.”
Several times in my own life and experience in Christian ministry I too have been amazed at the effect and impact harsh words from a fellow believer can have. My mother taught me, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” I know she intended to comfort me, but now, even as an adult, I have come to believe that, indeed, words can hurt us. Only as the Holy Spirit provides us with an invisible armor are we enabled to not be bitter or angry and retaliate in kind. The man or woman of God must be able to bear up under such treatment and lay it all at the feet of Jesus without taking revenge.
Shimei actually took a great chance because, if David had been inclined to resent this affront, he could have lost his life. When someone is perceived to have been abandoned by God, evil persons take it upon themselves to persecute that person. It is like kicking a man when he is down. Ps 69:26 speaks of this. It says, “For they persecute those you wound and talk about the pain of those you hurt.” Evil men seek to add to the affliction of the wounded. Why not rather comfort them? Anyway, Ps. 71:11 gives us some insight into this matter: “They say, ‘God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him.’” Others may make their own decisions as to whether they will encourage or attack the person—even a man or woman of God—who is going through a trial. They make their decision, but we can make our own. We can decide not to fight back.
Shimei did more, however than cast words at David, he also cast stones. His king was not a dog, but Shimei treated him like one—a bad one. David was not a criminal, but Shimei treated him like one. He also cast dust or dirt; verse 13 says, “So David and his men continued along the road while Shimei was going along the hillside opposite him, cursing as he went and throwing stones at him and showering him with dirt.” The dirt would be less painful, but nevertheless could be harmful to the eyes and certainly to the spirit of a man. However, those that fight against God cannot hurt Him. And those that fight against God’s servants only give them an opportunity to use their weapons of righteousness such as patience, non-retaliation, submission and quietness of spirit.
Don’t you suppose David became a better man through this, and don’t you think the people who were in his group observed his behavior, admired it and sought to duplicate it in their own lives for the rest of their lives? In this narrative, what we can learn from David’s behavior is of great worth and benefit to us personally while what we see in Shimei only makes him look foolish and mean. The same will be true when you are treated as David was. Those around you may soon forget who made the attack or what they said or what kinds of stones they threw, but they will not soon forget the fine example you set and how it impacted them.
What exactly did Shimei say? Ex 22:28 says, “Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.” David was a man of honor and conscience, and a good reputation for everything just and good. What harm could this foul mouth say against him? Who had been more kind to the house of Saul? Who spared Saul’s life twice? Who wrote the “Lament of the Bow” in which its writer praised the greatness of Saul and Jonathan? Who searched for and blessed Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson? How foolish was Shemei! How untrue and unjust his accusations! No man was more innocent of the blood of the house of Saul than David. So what do we learn from this?
Someone, even you, may be totally innocent, even the opposite of the charges foolishly and falsely made, and yet be subjected to accusations. Jesus said that the disciple is not greater than the Master. They brought false charges against Him too. It is good for us that men are not our judges. Verses 7-8 say, “As he cursed, Shimei said, ‘Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel! The Lord has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The Lord has given the kingdom into the hands of your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a murderer!’”
David did not shed the blood of any of Saul’s house. Except for Uriah, the blood that David spilled was done in service to a just God who, in mercy to unborn heathen generations of people who would have heaped horrible eternal judgment upon themselves had they been born into those godless environments. David completed what Joshua and Saul left incomplete. Yes, blood was shed, but it was a mercy. If those people had lived, there would have been many more people in hell today. Look at the whole picture. David was a tool, or shall we say he was a weapon, in God’s hand? He was used of God to serve a righteous and just cause.
And speaking of Absalom, Shemei, do you think Absalom will serve with greater righteousness? Will he who murdered his own brother, Amnon, while he sat at the dinner table as Absalom’s guest, treat others any better who try to interfere with his goals? Shemei, think again—if you ever did think.
3. David’s Composure, Humility and Patience 9-14
This is the part of the story from which Christian leaders can learn the most. When we see how patient and submissive David was under this abuse it can give us the courage, humility to follow his example. Abishai, David’s cousin, the son of his older sister, Zeruiah, was particularly eager to enforce David’s honor with the sword. Verses 9 says, “Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, ‘Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head.’”
If David would just give him permission, his cousin would put a stop to those lying cursing lips by taking off the head of which those lips were a part. David quickly put a stop to that suggestion. “But the king said, ‘What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, “Curse David,” who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’”
Years later in another period of Israel’s history Christ rebuked the disciples as recorded in Luke 9 55-56, “When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’ But Jesus turned and rebuked them.” The sword can defend honor on the battlefield, but if one is fighting with weapons of righteousness, a soft answer is a better weapon than a sword. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
A humble spirit can turn a malicious accusation into a beneficial reproof. He saw the hand of God in it and said, “If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, “Curse David,” who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’” Then, as if to remove any possibility that Abishai might not have heard David clearly, David added this explanation: “My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today” (11-12).
It was Shimei’s sin and David’s affliction. There were other aspects to the drama, but the thing we can learn from David is that he was quiet in his spirit and untroubled with any thought of defense or revenge. It, what Shimei was saying and doing, was from, God. God allowed it and he would submit to it. The same thing happened to Jesus; it was man’s sin but God used it. Acts 2:23 says, “This man was handed over to you (the apostles were addressing the Jewish leaders) by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” And Acts 4:27-28 say, “Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you (the apostles were now addressing this in prayer to God) anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”
God’s sovereign and providential will was at work in the affairs of men and David saw that and said God did it. This is a profound theological insight and one from which men and women of God today can learn and benefit. God is at wok in human affairs. God is doing it. God does things. Circumstances may look like it is man that is doing things, but God is doing it. When we understand this, we can see how God is using what people do to develop us to be what He wants us to be. David looked above the instrument of his trouble to the supreme director of the event. Job did the same thing when he heard what the plunderers had done, but said, as recorded in Job 2:21,“the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” There can be nothing more effective to calm our spirits and quiet our souls under our afflictions than to have an eye to the hand of God in it. The scourge of Shimei’s tongue was God’s rod.
“My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to.” Tribulation works patience in those who are willing to submit to God’s refining process. David’s enemies, his former friends even his son were all against him. David comforted himself by thinking that God would somehow bring good out of this and said in verse 12, “It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today,” The more we bear, the better we are able to bear even more.
At last they arrived at their journey’s end for that day. Verse 14 says, “The king and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted. And there he refreshed himself.”
The living Word of God was written centuries ago. The events recorded in II Samuel happened about 3,500 year ago. Yet the principles we can learn from these ancient narratives speak with precision and as accurately to the issues of Christian ministry, Church Life and Leadership Development today as the most recent issue of Christian Life, Christianity Today monthly magazines or the latest blog on the Internet. Hopefully, we will be able to understand and apply these two valuable lessons from David’s experiences with Ziba and Shimei—hear the other side and don’t fight back.