Handling a Shimei

King David had hit rock bottom. When David sinned with Bathsheba, God revealed that shameful consequences would come upon David, including a man from his own household who would rise up and usurp his throne and take his wives (2 Sam. 12:11). Though God forgave the iniquity of his sin, the consequences still came. Within a few years, David’s son Absalom had seized power, ravished David’s wives publicly, and forced David to flee Jerusalem for his life (2 Sam. 15:13-14, 16:22).

In 2 Samuel 16, while David and his men trudged dejectedly toward the empty wilderness,

There came out from there a man of the family of the house of Saul whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera; he came out cursing continually as he came. He threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David; and all the people and all the mighty men were at his right hand and at his left. Thus Shimei said when he cursed, “Get out, get out, you man of bloodshed, and worthless fellow! The Lord has returned upon you all the bloodshed of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. And behold, you are taken in your own evil, for you are a man of bloodshed” (16:5- 8).

All of Shimei’s accusations were false, shouted by one who had lost prestige simply because God had chosen David over Saul. Shimei was doing little more than kick David when he was down, insulting him because he saw an opportunity.

One of David’s men offered to deal with Shimei:

Abishai, the son of Zeruiah, said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over now and cut off his head” (16:9).

Indeed, David had executed men for lesser crimes. He was probably tempted to do the same to silence Shimei’s rantings. But this man after God’s own heart did not retaliate. David knew that his downtrodden condition was punishment for his own crimes, and he avoided making it worse by lashing out in anger. David said,

“What have I to do with you, O sons of Zeruiah? ... Let him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him. Perhaps the Lord will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day.” So David and his men went on the way; and Shimei went along on the hillside parallel with him and as he went he cursed and cast stones and threw dust at him (16:10-13).

What self-control! David, like Jesus, “while being reviled did not revile in return; while suffering He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23). David looked for God’s will in the situation, and refused to get offended.

Those who endeavor to work or lead in the church must develop skin as thick as David’s. Men like Shimei will snipe from the roadside, hurling abuses and kicking dirt. Still, any criticism might be the Lord’s correction, and deserves a hearing (Prov. 15:31-32). But the Lord’s servant must be choosy and confident. He must learn to accept the good criticism, and shrug off the mean, unfair, untrue, or ignorant criticism, patiently and without irritation. “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression” (Prov. 19:11). “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all ... patient when wronged” (2 Tim. 2:24). God’s servant, when slandered, absorbs the blow and tries to reconcile (1 Cor. 4:13).

Not many months passed before Absalom was slain while stuck in an oak tree, and the people turned back to David for leadership. Vindicated but sad, David began moving his household back to the capital of Jerusalem. There stood Shimei, waiting to speak to the king in the very same place he had insulted him:

Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king as he was about to cross the Jordan. So he said to the king, “Let not my lord consider me guilty, nor remember what your servant did wrong on the day when my lord the king came out from Jerusalem, so that the king would take it to heart. For your servant knows that I have sinned” (19:18-20).

How things had come full circle! Abishai once again counseled David to kill Shimei. But David, not too proud to be mindful of his own failures, forgave him and promised to spare him.

Remember this exchange next time people’s work in the Lord is up for review. Let’s be careful not to play the part of the belligerent Shimei, needlessly tearing down the work of God’s servants. Let’s be careful not to be the pugnacious Abishai either, eager to return fire. Instead, let’s display the yielding, patient spirit of David. This way, we can both invite the correction of God, and when unfairly attacked, win over the heart of our brother.