II Samuel 19:16-30
16 Shimei son of Gera, the Benjamite from Bahurim, hurried down with the men of Judah to meet King David. 17 With him were a thousand Benjamites, along with Ziba, the steward of Saul’s household, and his fifteen sons and twenty servants. They rushed to the Jordan, where the king was. 18 They crossed at the ford to take the king’s household over and to do whatever he wished. When Shimei son of Gera crossed the Jordan, he fell prostrate before the king 19 and said to him, “May my lord not hold me guilty. Do not remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. 20 For I your servant know that I have sinned, but today I have come here as the first from the tribes of Joseph to come down and meet my lord the king.” 21 Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said, “Shouldn’t Shimei be put to death for this? He cursed the Lord’s anointed.” 22 David replied, “What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? What right do you have to interfere? Should anyone be put to death in Israel today? Don’t I know that today I am king over Israel?” 23 So the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king promised him on oath. 24 Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson, also went down to meet the king. He had not taken care of his feet or trimmed his mustache or washed his clothes from the day the king left until the day he returned safely. 25 When he came from Jerusalem to meet the king, the king asked him, “Why didn’t you go with me, Mephibosheth?” 26 He said, “My lord the king, since I your servant am lame, I said, ‘I will have my donkey saddled and will ride on it, so I can go with the king.’ But Ziba my servant betrayed me. 27 And he has slandered your servant to my lord the king. My lord the king is like an angel of God; so do whatever you wish. 28 All my grandfather’s descendants deserved nothing but death from my lord the king, but you gave your servant a place among those who eat at your table. So what right do I have to make any more appeals to the king?” 29 The king said to him, “Why say more? I order you and Ziba to divide the land.” 30 Mephibosheth said to the king, “Let him take everything, now that my lord the king has returned home safely.”
Joshua and all the Israelites crossed the Jordan from the East as they entered the promised land, but a a point much further south. Elijah and Elisha crossed it together there going East and then Elisha re-crossed it from the East returning. David and his troops crossed this place going East as they fled and now re-cross it from the East on their return to Jerusalem. This was a momentous occasion and a glorious return as they crossed the Jordan. Three men with widely different characters meet David there. And Abishai was with David. We will learn something from each of these men.
1 The Repentant Shimei 16-20
Shimei, who had spoken violently against David cursing him with his foul tongue was the first. Had David been defeated by Absalom, he probably would have continued in his bitter vocal opposition to David, but now that David was returning triumphantly to soon ascend the throne again, he realized he needed to make amends and be at peace with him. It is the same today for those who either neglect or abuse the Son of David, they too, should quickly make their peace with Him. When He comes in his glory it will be too late.
Shimei brought others with him to assist, including men of Judah and 1000 Benjamites. Verses 17-18 say, “With him were a thousand Benjamites, along with Ziba, the steward of Saul’s household, and his fifteen sons and twenty servants. They rushed to the Jordan, where the king was. They crossed at the ford to take the king’s household over and to do whatever he wished. When Shimei son of Gera crossed the Jordan, he fell prostrate before the king.” He may have been their leader, but whether that was permanent relationship or just for that special day, these men were engaged by Shimei to welcome and help transport the king and his effects back home again across the Jordan.
In view of the venom and hatred with which he cursed the king earlier, it is remarkable that he was so humble, apologetic and repentant now. He is a good example of what Jesus taught in Mt. 5:25, “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.” So Shimei humbled himself as can be seen in verses 19-20. Never mind right now the fact that years later he will break an agreement he will make with Solomon, for now on this day he humbled himself. “May my lord not hold me guilty. Do not remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. For I your servant know that I have sinned, but today I have come here as the first from the tribes of Joseph to come down and meet my lord the king.”
It was appropriate for Shimei to make a public confession because his earlier cursing had also been in public. Paul and Silas required the same thing when the Roman officials of Philippi intended to excuse them privately the next day after beating them and throwing them in prison without a trial. Acts 16:35-39 say, “When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: ‘Release those men.’ The jailer told Paul, ‘The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.’ But Paul said to the officers: ‘They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.’ The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city.” It is a matter of public justice and a preventative of future injustices for public sins to be dealt with publicly. It was fair for Shimei to confess his sin publicly. When leaders adhere to this principle they are using a living and real situation as a teaching opportunity. Such justice promotes right thinking and godly behavior in our churches. Shimei’s public confession and repentance was a teaching and learning opportunity and David’s forgiveness was an equally practical and easily applicable educational exercise.
Just as Judah had been the first tribe to make David king after Ishbosheth, so now Shimei is the first to welcome the king back. “I have come here as the first from the tribes of Joseph to come down and meet my lord the king.” Perhaps Shimei thought that his own example might encourage others to also welcome the king. But even before the king had time enough to respond to Shimei, another player in this drama has something to say.
2. The Vindictive Abishai 21-23
Joab’s brother, David’s cousin, Abishai, has a suggestion. It is a dark and ruthless recommendation proceeding from an evil and unforgiving heart. Out of the heart the mouth speaks, and here is what Abishai said, “Shouldn’t Shimei be put to death for this? He cursed the Lord’s anointed” (21). Back when Shimei was cursing David, Abishai was willing to risk his life to kill Shimei and now a similar sentiment still reigns in his heart. He so much as said, “Let us make an example of Shimei. Whoever opposes God’s appointed and chosen king risks punishment by death.” David did not follow Abishai’s advice earlier and neither did he this time.
Perhaps Abishai thought ‘David did not retaliate against Shimei earlier because his judicial power was coming to an end, but now he has authority again so perhaps he will strengthen his authority and reputation by bringing justice to him now.’ No, that was not David’s way. Abishai thought wrong. He thought David would be glad to set Shimei straight—even publicly. But no, David rejected the suggestion with strong displeasure. He said in verses 22-23, “‘What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? What right do you have to interfere? Should anyone be put to death in Israel today? Don’t I know that today I am king over Israel?’ So the king said to Shimei, ‘You shall not die.’”
What can we learn from this? Leaders are responsible for the decisions they make. They have a duty to listen to and seriously consider the suggestions and advice of others, but no obligation to follow any of them. They make the choice and theirs is the guilt or the reward. Thank you, David, for rejecting Abishai’s bad advice and, in doing so, demonstrating to us even today that we must make good decisions based on true principles of right and wrong, not on the basis of what advice we had. “Don’t I know that today I am king over Israel?” Yes, David you are the king. Make your decision.
Rehoboam, David’s grandson, had contrary advice from two faction—the older and the younger men. They each gave him opposite opinions and Rehoboam, not his younger counselors, was ultimately responsible for the decision he made. Leaders need to prepare themselves against temptations toward both inappropriate severity and improper leniency. The less we entertain an angry revengeful spirit the better, to be sure, but we don’t want to fall in the ditch on the other side of the road either as David did with Absalom. David knew he was king; he knew he was responsible for his decision and you and I do well to remember his example. Make a decision and then own it. If you can’t own it, then don’t make it. When Peter made a wrong suggestion to Jesus, Jesus said “get behind me satan.” Some of the suggestions we hear need to be treated as Jesus treated that wrong suggestion.
David’s joy to return to Jerusalem influenced and inclined him to forgive. “Should anyone be put to death in Israel today?” He thought that joyful days should be forgiving days. Yet this was not all; his willingness to forgive stemmed from a deeper reason. He had experience of God’s mercy in forgiveness for his adultery and now again in God restoring him to his kingdom. These taught him the value of forgiveness. Those that are forgiven should forgive.
David had revenged the public abuses done to his ambassadors by the Ammonites, “and brought out the people who were there, consigning them to labor with saws and with iron picks and axes, and he made them work at brick-making. David did this to all the Ammonite towns. Then he and his entire army returned to Jerusalem.” (2 Sam. 12:31). That was a matter of national honor, but now David is trying to draw Israel back to himself and is willing to overlook an abuse by a fellow Israelite. The Ammonites were adversaries to Israel’s national interest, but now, if he were to put Shimei to death, he would drive people away from him, not draw them to him. So Shimei had his pardon signed and was bound by his good behavior; if he were to misbehave later and was punished, then he would be a testimony of the justice of the government as he was now a demonstration of it of its compassion. Each of these, in their own time, were prudent. So Abishai’s recommendation was rejected and David made his own responsible decision.
3. The Misrepresented Mephibosheth 17, 24-30
In this section we will discuss Mephibosheth, but Ziba is part of Mephibosheth’s story and therefore is also a part of this section. Earlier we noted in verse 17 that Ziba appeared early on with Shimei and did good for David. Verses 17-18 say, “With him were a thousand Benjamites, along with Ziba, the steward of Saul’s household, and his fifteen sons and twenty servants. They rushed to the Jordan, where the king was. They crossed at the ford to take the king’s household over and to do whatever he wished.” Now we will hear the more complete story. Ziba, had abused David with his fair tongue, and by accusing his master, Mephibosheth, dishonored him even more, and through this misrepresentation had obtained a grant of his former master’s estate from the king. Ziba’s treachery was an extreme unkindness to the son of David’s friend Jonathan. The day of David’s return was an opportunity to set right that which had been gravely misrepresented. Ziba had grossly discolored and distorted the report of the good behavior and humble attitude of Mephibosheth.
Mephibosheth gave ample proof of his genuine joy in the king’s return and the narrative informs us that he had been a true mourner for the king when the king was banished. Verse 24 says, “Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson, also went down to meet the king. He had not taken care of his feet or trimmed his mustache or washed his clothes from the day the king left until the day he returned safely.” He had been in a sad state the whole time. During that time when the glory of Israel was absent he wholly neglected and abandoned himself out of personal concern for the king’s affliction and patriotic distress regarding the kingdom.
As soon as the king returned to Israel, even before David arrived at Jerusalem, given the opportunity by David’s question, Mephibosheth openly reported the true nature of his sorrow. Verses 25-28 say, “When he came from Jerusalem to meet the king, the king asked him, ‘Why didn’t you go with me Mephibosheth?’ He said, ‘My lord the king, since I your servant am lame, I said, “I will have my donkey saddled and will ride on it, so I can go with the king.” But Ziba my servant betrayed me. And he has slandered your servant to my lord the king. My lord the king is like an angel of God; so do whatever you wish. All my grandfather’s descendants deserved nothing but death from my lord the king, but you gave your servant a place among those who eat at your table. So what right do I have to make any more appeals to the king?”
He justifiably complained of Ziba, the servant who should have been his friend. Ziba had been in two ways his enemy: (1) he had hindered him from going with the king, by taking Mephibosheth’s donkey himself, taking unfair advantage of the fact that Mephibosheth was crippled and (2) had told David that Mephibosheth intended to receive the kingdom—which was totally untrue. Ziba had good legs with which to walk, a donkey on which to ride and a forked tongue with which to deceive the king. With all these advantages Ziba had defamed his master and promoted himself.
Mephibosheth gratefully testified to the king’s great generosity. David could have treated him as a rebel, but rather treated him as a friend. “You gave your servant a place among those who eat at your table.” Could Mephibosheth have been so foolish as to aim higher when he already was eating at the king’s table? This effectively demonstrated the untruthfulness of Ziba’s former accusation.
He trusted the king to make a fair judgment. “My lord the king is like an angel of God; so do whatever you wish.” Of course David could find no fault in that request. As though to say, “So many kindnesses I have received above what I deserved, “. . . what right do I have to make any more appeals to the king?” Why should I trouble the king with my personal concerns when I have already been so blessed beyond expectation or imagination? And, Christian leader and child of God today, hasn’t the Lord God done that same thing for us? We all have multiple stories of how has God proven Himself “able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or think” (Eph 3:20). We too have nothing to complain about. “What right do I have to make any more appeals to the king?”
God is good and everything He does is done in a way consistent with His goodness. Whatever He does is good. God is wise and everything He does is done in a way consistent with His wisdom. In His perfect wisdom He knows what is best and in His goodness He does what is best. Furthermore, He is strong, strong enough to actually do whatever He knows in His wisdom is best and in His goodness is motivated to do. So as Mephiboshethses of today, crippled from difficulties in our past yet sitting at the king’s table, let’s take a lesson from Mephibosheth, the crippled and grateful son of Jonathan, and rejoice that we too eat at the table of the King.
David revoked a prior decision regarding the estate of the house of Saul. Let it not all go to Mephibosheth nor all to Ziba, but let them divide it. “Why say more? I order you and Ziba to divide the land” (20). David may have harbored extreme fear of Ziba, or been too soft with him. Why would he allow Ziba, who had so wickedly lied about Mephibosheth, to go free with no punishment or even a rebuke? Deut 19:18-19 say, “The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you.”
Mephibosheth demonstrated his pure, sincere and unadulterated love for David in his response to David’s questionable decision. He said, “Let him take everything, now that my lord the king has returned home safely”—“Oh, let him have it all! All I care about is that my master the king is home safe and sound!” This statement from Mephibosheth is in the same spirit as two short songs I sang often as a child that we sometimes still sing today. It expresses what many Christians of this generation feel. “Take the whole world, but give me Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.” “Turn your eyes upon Jesus; Look full in His wonderful face; And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
Christian leaders today, whose hearts are occupied by King Jesus, who love and delight in their King like Mephibosheth did his, can say to everything that competes for our affection, “All I care about is that my master the king is home safe and sound!”