First Reading = 2 Samuel 4:4, 9:1-13
4Saul’s son Jonathan had a son who was crippled in his feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled; and, in her haste to flee, it happened that he fell and became lame. His name was Mephibosheth.
9David asked, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” 2Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and he was summoned to David. The king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “At your service!” 3The king said, “Is there anyone remaining of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness of God?” Ziba said to the king, “There remains a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” 4The king said to him, “Where is he?” Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” 5Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. 6Mephibosheth son of Jonathan son of Saul came to David, and fell on his face and did obeisance. David said, “Mephibosheth!” He answered, “I am your servant.” 7David said to him, “Do not be afraid, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan; I will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul, and you yourself shall eat at my table always.” 8He did obeisance and said, “What is your servant, that you should look upon a dead dog such as I?”
9Then the king summoned Saul’s servant Ziba, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson. 10You and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him, and shall bring in the produce, so that your master’s grandson may have food to eat; but your master’s grandson Mephibosheth shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. 11Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so your servant will do.” Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. 12Mephibosheth had a young son whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba’s house became Mephibosheth’s servants. 13Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he always ate at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet.
We are continuing our series looking at the Gospel according to David. In this series, we are looking at how David receives, grants, and desperately needs the grace of God – just like Jesus’ disciples. Last week we heard how David had a strong sense of calling – he knew his purpose as defined by God. This week we are watching how David responds when he has opportunities for vengeance. In our first text, we heard how he honored Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth out of his great friendship for Jonathan – even though Mephibosheth and his family could be seen as threats to his own rule since they were descendants of the previous king.
In our main text today, we are jumping way ahead in the story. David is returning after one of the darkest periods of his life. His son, Absalom, led a rebellion and David was forced out of Jerusalem and into hiding. As David was leading his loyal army out of town, various people took the opportunity to kick him while he was down.
One such heckler was Shimei son of Gera. He was from the same tribe as Saul, the previous king, and he was steaming mad that David had taken the throne. Shimei saw David’s retreat as evidence that God had turned against David. And, interestingly, David does not dispute this interpretation.
So we’ll watch Shimei give David some good old-fashioned heckling, and then we’ll jump ahead several chapters to David’s return. David eventually emerged victorious over Absalom, and the second half of our text is David’s return to power. He went right back up those same streets he had used to flee Jerusalem. He saw the same people, but now he was riding high instead of slinking away. Let’s see how David responds to Shimei in both instances.
Main Reading = 2 Samuel 16:5-14, 19:16-23
5When King David came to Bahurim, a man of the family of the house of Saul came out whose name was Shimei son of Gera; he came out cursing. 6He threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David; now all the people and all the warriors were on his right and on his left. 7Shimei shouted while he cursed, “Out! Out! Murderer! Scoundrel! 8The Lord has avenged on all of you the blood 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. See, disaster has overtaken you; for you are a man of blood.” 9Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” 10But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” 11David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “My own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite!
Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord has bidden him. 12It may be that the Lord will look on my distress, and the Lord will repay me with good for this cursing of me today.” 13So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went, throwing stones and flinging dust at him. 14The king and all the people who were with him arrived weary at the Jordan; and there he refreshed himself.
[Now we’re jumping ahead to chapter 19 where David is returning to Jerusalem after defeating the rebellion.]
16Shimei son of Gera, the Benjaminite, from Bahurim, hurried to come down with the people of Judah to meet King David; 17with him were a thousand people from Benjamin. And Ziba, the servant of the house of Saul, with his fifteen sons and his twenty servants, rushed down to the Jordan ahead of the king, 18while the crossing was taking place, to bring over the king’s household, and to do his pleasure. Shimei son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was about to cross the Jordan, 19and said to the king, “May my lord not hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem; may the king not bear it in mind. 20For your servant knows that I have sinned; therefore, see, I have come this day, the first of all the house of Joseph to come down to meet my lord the king.” 21Abishai son of Zeruiah answered, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s anointed?” 22But David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should today become an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” 23The king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king gave him his oath.
Grace or Judgment
Well I have two main memories of my English literature class at the University of Texas. First, I got hooked on a 12,000 page novel series during that semester and decided to read my novels instead of the assigned readings for the entire semester. I read plenty of English literature, just not what the professor thought I should read. And second, I vividly remember this exercise in my breakout group.
We were each handed a series of short essays. Each essay was from a real student’s application to the University of Texas. Identifying information was removed, of course. And after we read the applications, the TA asked us to decide the fate of each student’s application based on their essay. And then we had to share our reasons with the breakout group.
I was willing to let all of them in if they met the other requirements for entry. Some of my classmates had a bone to pick with one or another of the essays. And then the last guy to share his thoughts told us in a very ominous tone, “I wouldn’t let any of them in! The University of Texas is a prestigious university, and I don’t believe any of these are up to our standards!”
I don’t think he would’ve liked my application essay, either. I tried to be funny. That’s not very prestigious.
What an interesting exercise, though, right? It reveals so much! Some of us were just making sure someone could clear the established minimum bar. Some had a few buttons that could be pushed. And then that guy, who clearly saw his role as a gatekeeper. A kind of judge on someone’s worthiness. “You get what you deserve! Good people like me get good things, and bad people like you get bad things!”
Let us contrast that mentality with what David does in our text today. I mean, you’ve gotta hand it to Shimei. He’s shouting and cursing David, who, even though he’s retreating, is still at the head of an army that includes a group known as “the Mighty Men.” Verbally attacking the Mighty Men seems…unwise. Shimei has some chutzpah for insulting the Mighty Men! And one of them, Abishai, wants to make that point. Literally. “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.”
But what is David’s reply? “Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord has bidden him. It may be that the Lord will look on my distress, and the Lord will repay me with good for this cursing of me today.”
And lest we think that David is only showing grace when he’s afraid of God’s judgment, let’s see the exchange between Abishai and David on their triumphal return. When Shimei begs for forgiveness, Abishai says, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s anointed?” But David says, “Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” And David gives Shimei his oath that he will not kill him.
Now, David’s no fool. When his son Solomon succeeds him as king, David gives him a warning to watch Shimei like a hawk. But given two very easy opportunities to take out his frustration on Shimei, who was absolutely tempting fate by insulting an army, David decides to grant him unmerited grace. He doesn’t just forgive him, David grants Shimei an oath not to kill him. That’s above and beyond. That’s not just forgiveness, that’s grace.
And the Mighty Men can’t believe it. “Shimei doesn’t deserve forgiveness, let alone grace! Shimei doesn’t deserve to live,” as Abishai makes clear. They have a hard time understanding David’s forgiveness, and they are completely dumbfounded by this extra step of grace.
The Gospel of Grace
This reminds me of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, during his betrayal by Judas. Peter grabs his sword and chops off the ear of one of the people who came to seize Jesus. But Jesus stops him and heals the ear of the man who has come to arrest him. Jesus didn’t just forgive those who arrested him, he went above and beyond to heal one of them. That’s unmerited grace.
That same Peter denied Jesus three times, and yet Jesus personally restored him after Jesus’ resurrection. That’s not just forgiveness. That’s unmerited grace.
Jesus on the cross prayed for those killing him, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And Stephen mimicked Jesus when a crowd was stoning him to death. He prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Praying for those who are killing you unjustly? That’s unmerited grace.
Next week we’ll talk about needing and receiving grace ourselves. But this week we’re talking about showing grace to others. This is at the very epicenter of our faith. Jesus told us that if someone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other cheek. If someone places a burden upon you for one mile, carry it another mile. Jesus told us to pray for those who persecute us, to bless our enemies. Jesus wants us to demonstrate the Gospel of grace, just as David did with Shimei in our text today.
Not just forgiveness, but unmerited grace and favor. This is hard to accept. This doesn’t feel right. This doesn’t feel proper for such a prestigious establishment as ours. We should be able to punch back, to get even, to take the Shimeis in our lives and let Abishai have his way with them! Bring on the sword for such insolence!
But that’s not the Gospel. That’s not Jesus. That’s not grace as Jesus showed us and taught us and expected us to demonstrate. If you want to follow Jesus, you’re going to run into this difficult concept of demonstrating grace.
D.A. Carson imagines this as our internal desire for our faith.
“I would like to buy about three dollars worth of gospel, please. Not too much – just enough to make me happy, but not so much that I get addicted. I don’t want so much gospel that I learn to really hate covetousness and lust. I certainly don’t want so much that I start to love my enemies and cherish self-denial…I want ecstasy, not repentance; I want transcendence, not transformation. I would like to be cherished by some nice, forgiving, broad-minded people, but I myself don’t want to love those who are different from me – especially if they smell. I would like enough gospel to make my family secure and my children well behaved, but not so much that I find my ambitions redirected or my giving too greatly enlarged. I would like three dollars worth of gospel, please, three dollars worth of gospel.”
You see, grace sounds great. Until there’s a Shimei hurling insults at us. Grace sounds great. Until we’re stuck inside for months and it’s starting to get on our nerves. Grace sounds great. But you won’t believe what he said…, or you won’t believe what she did…, or you won’t believe what I read today…
Grace sounds great. Until it demands more than three dollars worth of gospel from us. Grace is difficult in the best of times, and we are not in the best of times. And I’m using “we” here very intentionally. I need to hear this, too. My fuse is shorter. My patience is thinner. My awareness of shortcomings is much greater. Grace during this time takes far more than three dollars worth of gospel.
So here’s my challenge for all of us this week. Pick one person – just one person – to be your Shimei this week. No matter what they say. No matter what they do. No matter how they insult you. No matter what they deserve. Grant them unmerited grace. Unmerited favor. Like David to Shimei, like Jesus to so, so many, like Stephen to the crowd who were killing him, demonstrate unmerited grace to your Shimei this week. Who would that be? Think about that for a moment.
A quick side note, here. In our text today, Shimei couldn’t actually hurt David. David was a warrior surrounded by warriors. Shimei was basically throwing his shoe at a soldier. He couldn’t actually hurt David. So if there’s someone who’s actually hurting you, that’s not a Shimei. That’s a situation where you might need to retreat like David. Shimei couldn’t hurt David, so he showed him grace. Absalom could hurt David, and so he retreated. Keep that in mind. A Shimei isn’t someone who is physically hurting you. A Shimei is someone who annoys you or gets under your skin. Keep that in mind when you pick your Shimei this week to show unmerited grace.
Sisters and brothers, demonstrating grace to the Shimei’s in our lives requires far more than three dollars worth of gospel. How much gospel do you want in your life? And will you demonstrate that gospel – even to the Shimei’s of the world? Amen.