The Postponement of Shimei’s Punishment
A young lady from Colorado writes, “David previously spared Shimei’s life, though Shimei cursed him, because David knew that Shimei’s wickedness was in God’s hands (II Sam. 16). But, in I Kings 2:8-9, David later tells Solomon to bring Shimei down to the grave with blood. Is this God’s judgment on Shimei (through David) for his cursing David, for David tells Solomon not to hold Shimei guiltless? Is this simply David executing justice as king? Why is it that David now appears to uphold justice? Was it an admirable thing that he upheld justice in the end but was not defensive at first as he confessed God’s sovereignty in II Samuel 16?”
There can be no question about it that Shimei sinned dreadfully when he cursed David during the king’s flight from Absalom his son. The event is recorded in II Samuel 16:5-14. Abishai, one of David’s top generals, wanted to kill Shimei but David prevented him from doing that.
David’s belief in, and confession of, God’s absolute sovereignty over the sins of wicked Shimei is amazing! “And the king said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah? so let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David. Who shall then say, Wherefore hast thou done so? And David said to Abishai, and to all his servants, Behold, my son, which came forth of my bowels, seeketh my life: how much more now may this Benjamite do it? let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him. It may be that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day” (II Sam. 16:10-12).
Shimei’s cursing of David was worthy of death because Shimei was one who believed that Saul and his sons should still have been on the throne of the nation. He did not believe, as God Himself had made clear, that God had deposed Saul and his sons for disobedience, and that David was the man of God’s choice.
Further, Shimei cursed God’s magistrate and thus violated a fundamental principle of God’s law, namely, that one has to honour and be in submission to those in authority over them, as the fifth commandment requires.
It is also quite possible that Shimei knew that David was in the line of Christ and was king as a type of Christ. After all, Jacob had already prophesied that Christ would come from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10) and not from the tribe of Benjamin, from which tribe Saul came. It may very well be that Psalm 89 had already been written, in which psalm David is said to be the one whose son would build the temple of God and sit on the throne.
David humbled himself and endured Shimei’s cursing because he received his ignominious flight from Absalom as God’s chastening. God had told David, through Nathan the prophet, that the sword would never depart from his house after his sin of adultery and murder (II Sam. 12:9-10). Only God could remove His chastening hand from David.
II Samuel 19:18-23 tells us that upon David’s restoration to the throne, Shimei, fearful of his life, begged to be forgiven. Again, David promised not to execute him. The Bible does not tell us why but the reason may be that David did not want to mar with bloodshed that happy day when he was restored to the kingdom.
Whatever reasons David may have had, he left some matters undone and, on his death bed, he charged Solomon, his son and successor, to take care of them (I Kings 2:5-9). There were men who had committed grave sins and had never been punished for them.
Joab was executed for his murder of Abner, the general of Saul and Ishbosheth, and Amasa, the newly appointed general of David’s armies, and for his part in the conspiracy to put Adonijah, David’s fourth son (II Sam. 3:4), on the throne instead of Solomon (I Kings 2:28-34).
Adonijah, who conspired to make himself king instead of Solomon, was executed only after he asked permission to marry Abishag, a concubine of David (I Kings 2:13-25). Perhaps he was only killed then because Solomon interpreted his request as implying that Adonijah was going to mount a second attempt to gain the throne. It seems to have been a custom in those days that a successor to a king’s throne also took the concubines as his own (II Sam. 3:7-8; 16:21-22).
Abiathar also deserved to be executed, for he joined Adonijah in his conspiracy to become king, but was spared because, as a priest of God, he had served David well. Nevertheless, he was deposed from his office (I Kings 2:26-27).
Solomon initially spared Shimei from a deserved death but told him to stay within Jerusalem. When he disobeyed, he was executed. He showed by his disobedience that he had no more respect for Solomon than he did for David and that he was not truly sorry for his sin. Though he was initially spared by both David and Solomon, he brought upon himself just judgment when he showed he had not genuinely repented (I Kings 2:36-46).
When we were children, my father said that David spared Joab because David was afraid of Joab and that, towards the end of his life, David wrongly left the “dirty work” of meting out justice upon those who deserved it to Solomon because he knew Solomon was very wise and so would know how to handle these difficult matters. Moreover, my father reckoned that David no longer had the energy to shed more blood, something he had done all his earlier years as king. The reader may judge whether these comments are a fair analysis of the situation. Prof. Herman Hanko
For more on Shimei, listen to or watch “Absalom and His Rebellion (II),” 9 sermons on II Samuel 15:24-18:33), available on the CPRC website and in an attractive box set on CD or DVD for £10 (inc. P&P in the UK) from the CPRC Bookstore.