Though I have read the story of David in these Old Testament narratives on many occasions in my life, this time through it I have been struck as never before about the pain and sadness that must have been terribly pervasive in David’s life. Perhaps as a younger man I saw more of David’s passions, energies and greatness, but now in my own more reflective years and with a mostly-grown family, I am struck more by the amount of trials and sorrows that befell him year after year.
The Scriptures are clear that David was a great man with a genuine heart for God. He is applauded in ways that few others are in the Bible. Yet at the same time, he is a man filled with faults and besetting sin issues. And in some fashion, this teaches us all that even at our best, in the flesh we are all still a mess in too many ways.
In this bridge chapter that we read today (before we skip quickly on Sunday to the end events of David’s life), we see the continued retreat of David from Jerusalem and the recording of two encounters with two men: Ziba and Sheba…
David and Ziba
16:1 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.”
You will recall the story from two weeks ago of Mephibosheth, the son of David’s friend Jonathan … who though lame in both feet, was restored and given a place at the king’s table. Saul’s former servant Ziba, with his sons and servants, were to care for Mephibosheth while tending all the lands given to him that formerly belonged to Saul, his grandfather.
Here Ziba tells David that Miphibosheth remained in Jerusalem under the belief that the people would restore the kingdom to him. Later, in chapter 19, when David returns to Jerusalem, there is Mephibosheth with the opposite story – claiming that Ziba lied. It appears that David did not know who to believe, so he split the assets in half for each. I tend to see this as Mephibosheth being on the side of truth, though we don’t know for sure.
Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin – often a bit of a wild and crazy bunch. And Shimei is from the same clan as Saul and he curses David and pelts the group with rocks as they ignominiously retreat from Jerusalem.
Shimei Curses David
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.
Again we see David taking the broader view and perspective about the hand of God being sovereign over all things good and bad. David believed that by God’s grace, the very, very bad day he was having would be turned around at a later time; and indeed it was. In fact, Shimei had to humble himself later in the story as David returned to Jerusalem, and David forgave him and the Benjamites with him. This was the beginning of an alliance between the two tribes of Benjamin and Judah – as they would together remain more true to the Lord than the split-off northern kingdom of 10 tribes in the division after the reign of Solomon.
I have to say that I’m too often like Abishai than like David. When wronged, I’d rather go over and chop someone’s head off than trust God to work circumstances over time to my vindication through his power. (Many years ago I named a pet “Abishai.”) This was one of David’s “mighty men,” who were themselves a mixed bag of good and bad traits.
But that is what we all are; and the trick to the Christian life is to allow the Spirit to maximize our good traits and divine gifts, while yielding to God to suppress the traits of the sin nature that express themselves in self-absorption.
In the following several chapters we see that Absalom is overthrown and dies, and David is restored to the kingdom. But troubles and trials persist to David’s final days. And even in this time, we see the mixed bag of positive and negative traits in David himself … though the good traits of trust, faith, and repentance were the larger and defining reality at the foundation of David’s character and spirit.