And when king David came to Bahurim, behold, thence came out a man of tee family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera: he came forth, and cursed still as he came . . . .
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.
There was something about David by which even the greatest disaster could become for him an experience of deepest spiritual importance. Such was his flight from Jerusalem.
As David turned from his palace and passed out through the gates of Jerusalem, he was conscious of the fact that it was not primarily the treachery of the people that lay behind this. In fact, it was not even primarily the wickedness of his son. It was God’s hand that was visiting him because of the evil which he had committed in Israel. It would have been easy to allow his mind to dwell upon the two former aspects of what was happening, thus excusing himself even though leaving his heart bitter. But for David, God was always first in every consideration. Because of it, what might well have been a frantic flight of bitter despair was subtly transformed into a sort of pilgrimage of sad but meaningful penance.
As David left the royal city and climbed the mount of Olivet toward the ridge surrounding the city, there were two visits which could not but strengthen him. First there was the approach of Ittai the Gittite seeking to join him even though he and his company were entirely new to the city and the nation. It was an offer that David finally accepted. And then there came Zadok the priest with his company and bearing the ark of the covenant upon their shoulders. There was warmth and encouragement in this gesture too, even though David felt compelled to reject their offer and send them back with the ark to its proper resting place. But the appearance of new reasons for sorrow had not ceased. It was just as he was passing over the ridge which would block Jerusalem from his sight that the news was first brought to him that Ahithophel had joined Absalom also. It was a painful blow, one of the most painful of all, for Ahithophel had been to him, he thought, a trusted friend.
Often he had confided in him in complete confidence, trusting that all of Ahithophel’s advice was from a heart of love and faithfulness. And now, even in this, there was painful disappointment. Undoubtedly it was this that gave rise to the anguished cry of Psalm 41, “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.”
Nevertheless, David was not left without a compensating comfort. Hardly had this news come to him than there appeared his other intimate counselor, Hushai the Archite. He was the picture of sorrow and mourning as he came with his clothing tom and earth upon his head. He was an elderly man, and one hardly able to make the arduous trip which was lying before them: but the loyalty of his old friend was enough to comfort the heart of David nonetheless.
Moreover, it also brought to the mind of David a plan by which he might be able to offset the evil effects of Ahithophel’s treachery, for Ahithophel could be expected to be an extremely effective advisor to Absalom. Thus David said to Hushai, “If thou passest on with me, then thou shalt be a burden unto me: but if thou return to the city, and say unto Absalom, I will be thy servant, O king; as I have been thy father’s servant hitherto, so will I now also be thy servant: then mayest thou for me defeat the counsel of Ahithophel. And hast thou not there with thee Zadok and Abiathar the priests.7 therefore it shall be, that what thing soever thou shalt hear out of the king’s house, thou shalt tell it to Zadok and Abiathar the priests, Behold, they have there with them their two sons, Ahimaaz Zadok’s son, and Jonathan Abiathar’s son; and by them ye shall send unto me every thing that ye can hear.” It was a daring plan and not without risk for Hushai; but he saw immediately the advantages of it and turned quickly to return to the city before Absalom should enter it. He must be waiting for the traitor when he arrived in Jerusalem.
Still, this was not all who came out to meet David in his flight. Hardly had he passed over the crest of the hills separating him from the view of Jerusalem than there appeared Ziba, a servant of Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan whom David had befriended when first he came upon the throne of Israel. The sight of this man was extremely welcome from a purely practical point of view, if nothing else, for with him he brought a number of riding asses and a vast amount of food, two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred bunches of raisins, a hundred bunches of summer fruits, and a large skin full of wine.
David was quite astonished. Not knowing quite what to make of it all, he asked, “What meanest thou by these?”
Quickly Ziba replied, “The asses be for the king’s household to ride on; and the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat; and the wine, that such as be faint in the wilderness may drink.”
Still David did not understand clearly, so that he inquired further of Ziba, “And where is thy master’s son?”
It was then that the true nature of his reasoning came out. He replied, “Behold, he abideth in Jerusalem: for he said, To day shall the house of Israel restore me the kingdom of my father.” Actually what Ziba said was not entirely true, although he apparently believed that it was. It had been his work to take care of the lands which David had assigned to Mephibosheth while his master remained in the palace and ate of the king’s table. When, however, Ziba had heard that David had had to flee from Jerusalem, he had looked for his master to flee from the city also. But Mephibosheth had not come, and Ziba had jumped to the conclusion that he had joined the revolution also in hope of some personal gain. So angered had he become at the very thought of this that he had packed together whatever food he could find on Mephibosheth’s estate and had brought it to David.
For David his actions were extremely opportune, for in leaving the city they had hardly had opportunity to make proper provisions for food, and the asses were as Godsent for his family. Neither did David have any real reason to doubt Ziba’s conclusion. In gratitude for what Ziba had done and incensed by his claims about Mephibosheth, David said to him, “Behold, thine are all that pertained unto Mephibosheth.”
Overwhelmed by this sudden turn of events, Ziba could only answer, “I humbly beseech thee that I may find grace in thy sight, my lord, O king.” And with that he returned to take possession of his suddenly acquired wealth.
All of this, however, seemed only to prepare the way for the next one who came out to meet David. He was of the household of Saul also, Shimei, the son of Gera; and the bitterness that Ziba had wrongly claimed to exist in the heart of Mephibosheth had long dominated this man’s life completely. He had been born and raised as a member of the royal family only to fall down to the level of an ordinary member of the nation when David had been made king. It was a reversal of fortune which he had never been able to accept, so that his heart had burned with bitter resentment all through the years of David’s reign. Until now, moreover, it had seemed utterly futile and even dangerous to so much as voice the hatred of his heart within the nation, for David was generally acclaimed as a far more excellent ruler than Saul had ever been. But now suddenly it seemed that everything was reversed, or at least that David, whom he hated with all of the passion of his soul had fallen into disfavor too, just as had Saul’s house. At last, the gall of bitterness which he had held pent up within his soul for so many years could express itself, and he was more than willing to have it so. No sooner did David and his company approach the town of Bahurim where this Shimei lived than he came out to stand on the hillside overlooking the road upon which David traveled to throw stones at him and curse him as though he were some mean and vile creature. “Come out,” he shouted, “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.”
Actually, it was still for Shimei a risky and dangerous thing to give vent to his feelings as he did. Although David had not had sufficient fighting men with him in Jerusalem to defend the city, he had not been without them entirely, and those which he did have were now with him. They were not the kind of men who thought lightly of anyone ridiculing the king whom they honored and loved. One of them, Abishai, the brother of Joab, was quick to jump to the king’s defense. Standing before David, he cried out, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head.”
It was, however, exactly in circumstances like this that the truly spiritual nature of David’s heart came most beautifully to the fore. Defense of his own name and reputation was not to him a matter of prime importance; and it did not astonish him ever that there should be people who disliked him and reacted against him. After all, he was a sinful man too with faults against which men might rightly rail. But this was not his primary concern. Always he remembered that behind every circumstance in life there was a God who had designed those circumstances with a purpose much more just and important than any of the motivations of man. And in this hour David knew full well what God was doing in all of these bitter events that had arisen—God was visiting him for the sins he had committed. Although Shimei may not have understood one bit of what he was doing, the curse which he expressed was no more than what he, David, deserved. The humble penance of his heart expressed itself most beautifully in the answer which David gave to Abishai, “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? 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.” What did the motives of men’s hearts matter to David when he was sure that he rested in the hands of the Lord.