Scurrilous Shimei

“And when king David came to Bahurim, behold, thence came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera: he came forth, and cursed still as he came. And he cast stones at David, and at all the servants of king David: and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. And thus said Shimei when he cursed, Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial: The LORD hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead thou hast reigned; and the LORD hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son: and, behold, thou art taken in thy mischief, because thou art a bloody man. Then said Abishai the son of Zeruiah unto the king, Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head. 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. And as David and his men went by the way, Shimei went along on the hill’s side over against him, and cursed as he went, and threw stones at him, and cast dust. And the king, and all the people that were with him, came weary, and refreshed themselves there” (2 Samuel 16:5-14).

Introduction

David and his followers travelled to a place called Bahurim which could not have been too far from Mount Olivet, and although it’s exact location is unknown, it was somewhere on the western side of the Jordan because it was in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin. It was the place Michal was returned to David so must have been well known to him (2 Samuel 3:16). It is suggested that Bahurim is modern-day Ras et-Tmim on the east of Mt. Scopus.

Swearing and stones

Shimei, one of King Saul’s relatives, meets David with foul-mouthed curses and oaths. The “cursing” means more than pronouncing ill fortune for David, but is instead the equivalent of what we know of swearing today. He was calling David every evil and wicked name he knew in the coarsest of language possible. Each time Shimei is mentioned in the text he is described as using profanities. Later, on his death bed, David recounted how Shimei had “cursed me with a grievous curse” (1 Kings 2:8), therefore the event must have deeply troubled his heart.

Shimei pelted David and those with him with stones and dirt as he swore at him. David was accused of being a vicious dictator with innocent blood on his hands. This was certainly a rewriting of history by Shimei. He said that David was not welcome in Bahurim so should find some other place to take refuge from Absalom. Shimei was one of the old guard that somehow remembered that everything was rosy and peaceful under the previous regime, and conveniently forgot all the hardship and trouble it caused for everyone. Maybe he believed the stories about David trying to overthrow King Saul, so in his mind he must have spilt much blood to get to the throne. David was indeed guilty of shedding innocent blood, but not that which this evil man was suggesting. He was trying to make out that David was not the legitimate king of Israel so therefore must have considered that only Mephibosheth had that right. Shimei believed that David’s present circumstances were the judgement of God upon him for removing Saul’s dynasty from the scene.

Murder and mercy

Abishai, David’s nephew, wanted to go and shut Shimei up for good, but David instead desired mercy rather than revenge. Abishai was very upset about all the evil and unjustified remarks Shimei was making about David, though he obviously took it personally since they were levelled against everyone in the entourage. Abishai’s request for permission to behead Shimei was out of devotion to David and would not have thought twice about completing the task. “Abishai, the brother of Joab, the son of Zeruiah, was chief among three. And he lifted up his spear against three hundred, and slew them, and had the name among three” (2 Samuel 23:18).

David was able to restrain Abishai from taking vengeance upon Shimei. David had a compassionate heart despite the many offences he had received over the years, and maybe he had learned a lesson about mercy from Abigail when she restrained him from murdering Nabal (1 Samuel 25). As for Abishai, this was the second time he was restrained from carrying out a revenge attack on a perceived enemy, for David resisted his request to kill Saul (1 Samuel 26:8-9).

The mercy David showed was borne out of his realisation that God was indeed chastening him over his sin with Bathsheba. He tells Abishai that Shimei’s cursing is nothing compared to the treatment he was receiving from his own son. This reveals that he has a humble heart and was ready to accept whatever punishment God was sending his way.

Resistance and refreshment

Shimei continued to cast stones and dirt at David in his attempt to make him leave Bahurim and appears not to have been very successful. Everyone in David’s group were wearied due to the events of the day. David and his followers found refreshment in Bahurim despite what Shimei tried to do to keep him out. Let them curse, but bless thou. David, at length, is housed at Bahurim, where he meets with refreshment, and is hidden from this strife of tongues” (Matthew Henry). Some commentators suggest that it was a well-known oasis that travellers frequented on their journey.

Conclusion

David needed loyal friends, but he was also willing to listen to even the worst of critics. He, at that moment, was unsure if the madman on the hill was a messenger of God or not. He did not want to be like King Saul who only wanted people around him that told him what he wanted to hear, but instead exposed himself to the thoughts and ravings of every one of his subjects. Of course, we know that Shimei was not sent by the Lord for God did not put any wickedness into Shimei’s heart, for he had of himself an heart full of malignity against David; but only left him to his own wickedness” (John Wesley).

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