The king said moreover to Shimei, Thou knowest all the wickedness which thine heart is privy to, that thou didst to David my father: therefore the LORD shall return thy wickedness upon thine own head;
And king Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the LORD for ever.
David had been a great king and a man after God’s own heart. No one can doubt the spiritual depths that ran through his soul, for the Psalms which he wrote have lifted up the people of God on wings of worship for all the centuries which have followed. Here was a man who knew and felt in his own experience all of the sorrow and all of the longings, all of the grace and all of the gratitudes common to the lives of all true believers; and he knew how to express them in ways which to this day stir response in the hearts of God’s people.
It did not mean, however, that David in his rule attained unto any kind of perfection. In fact, as is so often the case, his very virtues at times became his greatest weakness. Just because David could understand his fellowman so well and because he loved them so thoroughly, David often found it difficult to render them judgment. It was not that he did not understand what judgment required. This he had made quite clear with those men who slew King Saul and later Ishbosheth. But when it came to men that were close to him and whom he loved in this closeness, like Joab and Absalom, his heart faltered and he could not render the judgment which his mind knew was quite proper. And that was not the only thing. After the killing of Uriah the Hittite; it was even worse. It always seemed to him that he was himself the greatest sinner in the kingdom, who deserved to die as much as any.
But the results of this were not good. That had become evident. Absalom, having been excused, only went out to lead a rebellion against him. In fact, even Joab, who had sinned so often so severely but whom David had spared for reasons of friendship had finally turned to join the forces of rebellion. At last even David himself had to recognize that all of his leniency had not been true kindness; rather, it left the nation exposed to all kinds of evil dangers. Thus, one of the last things that the old king did was to call his son Solomon to him and leave with him the following commandment, “Thou knowest also what Joab the son of Zemiah did to me, and what he did to the two captains of the hosts of Israel, unto Abner the son of Ner, and unto Amasa the son of Jether, whom he slew, and shed the blood of war in peace, and put the blood of war upon his girdle that was about his loins, and in his shoes that were on his feet. Do therefore according to thy wisdom, and let not his hoar head go down to the grave in peace. But show kindness unto the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be of those that eat at thy table: for so they came to me when I fled because of Absalom thy brother. And, behold, thou hast with thee Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite of Bahurim which cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim: but he came down to meet me at Jordan, and I sware to him by the LORD, saying, I will not put thee to death with the sword. Now therefore hold him not guiltless: for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him: but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood.”
To us it sounds strange as the request of a dying king to his successor, and particularly of David. Could he who wrote the 23rd psalm be as bitter and vindictive as that? And indeed there are those who at this point go on at length about the primitive ethics of that day which could draw even such a man as David into so unchristian an attitude. But they miss the point completely. If there is one thing that the life of David brings out it is that he was not a man of bitter spirit given to jealousy and revenge. In fact, that was exactly the point. Because of his personal tendency toward kindness in any situation in which he was personally involved he had often failed to work justice where it was demanded of him as a king and a magistrate in Israel. It had been a fault on his part and it had had sad consequences for the nation. Now in his dying day he recognized that fact and he would do what he could to correct it.
For Solomon, however, the whole matter presented a problem. Certainly, he had to honor the request of his father, and it was better, too, that the nation should understand from the beginning his intention to establish his kingdom in justice and with judgment. This was particularly important exactly because his father had not been strong in this regard. Nevertheless, he had to be careful. His judgments should not be excessive lest they should come to the conclusion that he only wished to put on a display of power and so instill fear within his subjects. His judgment was to be based solely upon the righteousness of God, and not upon any personal vindictiveness. This he wanted to be clearly apparent.
The first problem was that of Adonijah, and this matter he had handled wisely. Demonstrating the fact that he held no personal desire for revenge and that he was not particularly afraid of Adonijah, Solomon had listened to his plea and granted him his life, although under some very careful restrictions. No sooner, however, had Adonijah betrayed Solomon’s confidence and had begun to maneuver again to try to establish for himself a base of power, hoping no doubt yet that he might be able to gain the throne, than Solomon’s judgment was swift and final.
More difficult was the case of Joab. Here was a man who for many years had filled one of the most important positions in the nation, captain of David’s army. He had been a close friend of David from the very first; and he often had served David faithfully and well even at the risk of his own well-being. But Joab deserved to die. Too often he had used his courage and strength and position to destroy in cold blood anyone who interfered with his own intentions. For friendship’s sake, David had failed to punish him as he deserved; but the king’s conscience had always smote him severely for allowing such evident injustice to go on unrestrained within the kingdom. And now Joab had gone too far. He had joined the treachery of Adonijah; and this could not be allowed to go unpunished. It was for Solomon to see that it should be so.
But Joab was no easy man to handle. He had been wily in his life and he remained that way until the end. No sooner had Solomon determined to move against him, then Joab knew it, and began to maneuver to save himself. It was a difficult situation, almost impossible; and yet Joab was left with at least one thing he could try in order to save his life. Adonijah, when his life had been in greatest danger, had gone to the tabernacle and had taken hold upon the horns of the altar until Solomon had promised to show him mercy. It was not exactly Joab’s kind of thing, but it had worked for Adonijah, and it presented the only real possibility. Thus Joab, too, made his way to the tabernacle and stood there with determination beside the sacred altar.
The reasoning behind this move, of course, was that the tabernacle was holy ground, a place where human blood should not be shed and where not even violence. should take place. As long as he stood here, Joab figured, he would be safe; and eventually Solomon would have to promise him clemency just as he had done with Adonijah.
Joab underestimated Solomon, however. Solomon had all regard for the sanctity of the tabernacle but he was not about to have it become a handy means of escaping justice. He called to him Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada and told him, “Go, fall upon him.”
Benaiah came to the tabernacle immediately and said to Joab, “Thus saith the king, Come forth.” So confident was Joab of his, position, however, that he felt no need even of being penitent. Boldly he challenged Benaiah, “Nay; but I will die here.” And with Benaiah it worked. He was afraid to slay Joab in the tabernacle and returned to Solomon.
But Solomon was firm. He said to Benaiah, “Do as he hath said, and fall upon him, and bury him; that thou mayest take away the innocent blood, which Joab shed, from me, and from the house of my father. And the LORD shall return his blood upon his own head, who fell upon two men more righteous and better than he, and slew them with the sword, my father David not knowing thereof, to wit, Abner the son of Ner, captain of the host of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, captain of the host of Judah. Their blood shall therefore return upon the head of Joab, and upon the head of his seed for ever: but upon David, and upon his seed, and upon his house, and upon his throne, shall there be peace for ever from the LORD.” So it was that Joab died within the tabernacle and Benaiah was made captain of the armies of Israel in his place.
Moreover, Solomon also went on to honor the remainder of David’s instructions by calling to him Shimei, the man from the house of Saul who had met him when he was fleeing from Absalom and had cursed him. At the time David had refused to have him punished, and in fact, when returning to the city, had forgiven him when he had appeared repentant. But the leniency had not been wise; and Shimei still represented an element that would be happy at any time to overthrow the house of David. So Solomon laid before him these restrictions, “Build thee an house in Jerusalem, and dwell there, and go not forth thence any whither. For it shall be, that on the day thou goest out, and passest over the brook Kidron, thou shall know for certain that thou shall surely die: thy blood shall be upon thine own-“head.”
Shimei was relieved. He had thought that once again he was in danger; but this restriction of Solomon was not as bad as that. Quickly he answered, “The saying is good: as my lord the king hath said, so will thy servant do.” He felt quite sure that in a few years all would be forgotten and he would be as free as he had ever been.
And so it was, when about three years later one of Shimei’s servants ran away to Gath, he simply saddled his ass and pursued him. It was a sad mistake on his part. Hardly had he returned before he was called before Solomon and told, “Did I not make thee to swear by the LORD, and protested unto thee, saying, Know for a certain, on the day thou goest out, and walkest abroad any whither, that thou shalt surely die? and thou saidst unto me, The word that I have heard is good. Why then hast thou not kept the oath of the LORD, and the commandment that I have charged thee with? . . . Thou knowest all the wickedness which thine heart is privy to, that thou dost to David my father: therefore the LORD shall return thy wickedness upon thine own head; and king Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the LORD for ever.”
There was left no room for any to doubt. Solomon’s kingdom was to be established in justice.