“And Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite, which was of Bahurim, hasted and came down with the men of Judah to meet king David. And there were a thousand men of Benjamin with him, and Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, and his fifteen sons and his twenty servants with him; and they went over Jordan before the king. And there went over a ferry boat to carry over the king’s household, and to do what he thought good. And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was come over Jordan; And said unto the king, Let not my lord impute iniquity unto me, neither do thou remember that which thy servant did perversely the day that my lord the king went out of Jerusalem, that the king should take it to his heart. For thy servant doth know that I have sinned: therefore, behold, I am come the first this day of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered and said, Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the LORD’S anointed? And David said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah, that ye should this day be adversaries unto me? shall there any man be put to death this day in Israel? for do not I know that I am this day king over Israel? Therefore the king said unto Shimei, Thou shalt not die. And the king sware unto him” (2 Samuel 19:16-23).
There were obviously many people that did not expect to see David returning to power but instead hoped that Absalom would remove him for ever. One such person was Shimei, who had to think and act quickly to avoid being executed for his outbursts against the king as he was leaving Jerusalem. We already know that this man had a wicked heart; therefore his request for forgiveness was simply a scheme to save his own skin and was certainly not a product of true repentance or loyalty for David.
Shimei realised that he had to move quickly when he learnt that David was approaching Jerusalem. The word “hasted” means that he literally ‘dashed’ to the River Jordan to be one of the first to greet David. Not only was he quick on his feet, but he was quick to change sides again and make out that he was a reformed character. This, as Scripture later indicates, was not a display of humility but simply a self-serving and hypocritical act. He also thought that David would be impressed that he was one of the first people to escort him back to Jerusalem. Shimei was also quick to make him aware of this fact.
He puts on a good show of being sorry for the way he had previously behaved towards David because he knew he was doomed otherwise. He confessed that he had grievously sinned when he cursed him with foul-mouthed oaths. To emphasise his remorse Shimei grovels in the dust to make it seem that he was now a true servant of the king. He must have believed that David was a gracious and forgiving person or else he would have fled for his life in the opposite direction. “For in his adversity he was his most cruel enemy, and now in his prosperity, seeks by flattery to creep into favour” (Geneva Bible Notes).
We should note that Shimei did not repent in private to David; instead he came with a huge crowd of people, some of whom, like him, had been on Absalom’s side. He probably thought that David could not make an example of him and let the rest of the traitors go free. He also understood that if he were punished for what he did then David might alienate the tribe of Benjamin. Shimei believed that there was safety in numbers.
A decision had to be made there and then about Shimei for he had put David on the spot in the midst of a multitude of people. Abishai was for putting him to death immediately because of what he had done, and no doubt he saw through the scheme he had hatched to avoid punishment. We should not suppose that Abishai was being anything but loyal to David even if he received a rebuke for his judgement on the matter. David had previously used similar words towards Abishai when he desired to kill Shimei as he pelted him with stones and dust (2 Samuel 16:9-10). At least Abishai was consistent.
David wanted peace at all costs and hoped that all the rebels would learn to trust and follow him. It is also possible that David believed that he had to forgive Shimei his sin since God had forgiven him to a greater degree. “When God hath been so merciful to me in forgiving my sin, shall I shew myself revengeful to Shimei?” (John Wesley). It is certain that Abishai was correct in his estimation of Shimei, but he had no understanding of God’s timing in all of this. Unbeknown to himself or David was the fact that Shimei’s punishment would be dispensed in the not too distant future. “Shimei, hereupon, had his pardon signed and sealed with an oath, yet being bound, no doubt, to his good behaviour, and liable to be prosecuted if he afterwards misbehaved; and thus he was reserved to be, in due time, as much a monument of the justice of the government as he was now of its clemency, and in both of its prudence” (Matthew Henry).
Shimei was forgiven though his evil behaviour was not forgotten by David. At best he had earned himself a reprieve from punishment. David promised him that he would not die, but we must assume that it was a personal rather than a legal agreement that he had to abide by, for in 1 Kings 2:8-9 he gives Solomon orders concerning Shimei, “And, behold, thou hast with thee Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite of Bahurim, which cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim: but he came down to meet me at Jordan, and I sware to him by the LORD, saying, I will not put thee to death with the sword. Now therefore hold him not guiltless: for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him; but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood.” Later Solomon sought to be merciful towards Shimei who proved he had no love for David’s dynasty and so was executed (1 Kings 2:36-43). So in fact Shimei died because he broke his own promises to David and Solomon rather than them breaking their own.
There may be several ways to summarise this study, but we cannot neglect to mention that it is possible for people to say all the right things, appear to be truly humble and repent of their sins, yet their hearts are not in it. Therefore the show they put on to impress others does not impress God, for it is hypocrisy and insincerity, both of which only add to impending punishment.