Sermon preached on 2 Samuel 16:1-4 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 5/1/2016 in Novato, CA.
2 Samuel 16:1-14
“Where is Your Master’s Son?”
Inconsistencies plague us all. We can act so wonderfully one time, and then in another similar circumstance, we can act so horribly. Sometimes we succeed in one test of righteousness just to turn around and fail in another the very next moment. Inconsistencies plague us all, even this man after God’s own heart. We have two scenes here in today’s passage. One shows David at some of his best. The other shows him at some of his worst. They are presented as being back to back events in King David’s life. Oh, how we can relate!
The first event is with David’s interaction with Ziba in verses 1-4. Remember that Ziba was the servant of the late King Saul. David had reassigned Ziba to serve King Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth. Mephibosheth, if you recall, was the crippled son of Jonathan. Remember, the great love that David and Jonathan had for each other. Remember how they covenanted together multiple times. A key part of the covenant between David and Jonathan was that Jonathan was glad to submit the kingdom to David, but David must always remember with kindness Jonathan’s family and his descendants. Crippled Mephibosheth was the last of that line which David could find. And so David had greatly honored Mephibosheth. Not only did he restore to Mephibosheth all of land that belonged to Saul and Jonathan in the Promised Land, but more importantly he effectively adopted Mephibosheth. David said that Mephibosheth would always eat at the kings table, like one of the king’s sons. It was at that time that David then commanded Ziba to serve Mephibosheth and take care of Mephibosheth’s land. Mephibosheth was so very grateful back then that he bowed down to David and asked in 2 Samuel 9:8, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”
And so then we come to this scene. David was continuing on his flight out of Jerusalem when his son Absalom had committed treason. He had fled out of Jerusalem, crossed over the Kidron Brook, and started up the Mount of Olives. As he’s fleeing Jerusalem, we’ve seen him run into a few people along the way. Today it is Ziba and in a moment we’ll look at his interactions with Shimei. And so as David passes over the top of the Mount of Olives, he runs into Ziba. And he sees that Ziba has a bunch of supplies with him; saddled donkeys and lots of food. And so in verse 2, David wants to know what’s going on here. What are all these supplies for? And where’s Mephibosheth?
And so Ziba responds. As for the supplies, they are to help David and his family and his men. In other words, this is Ziba taking sides in the conflict between David and Absalom. This is Ziba saying that I am supporting you, and not your treacherous son. We remember last week how we talked about how many people were rallying to support Absalom, though David still had a number of loyal supporters too. Here, Ziba puts his hope in David. That of course is good in and of itself. And surely this was a help to David.
And yet then Ziba tells a terrible lie. He says that Mephibosheth was not there, because he stayed back in Jerusalem thinking that this was the time he’d finally be able to take back his father’s throne. In other words, Ziba slanders Mephibosheth with this lie in order to make himself look good in David’s eyes, and Mephibosheth look bad. Now, to be clear, this passage doesn’t expose Ziba’s lie. There are certainly questions raised in this story that would call his story into question. How could, for example, Ziba get all these supplies that would have presumably belonged to Mephibosheth, if Mephibosheth had these treasonous ambitions. But later in chapter 19, after Absalom’s revolt is put down and David returns to Jerusalem, then David will meet Mephibosheth. Then we’ll hear Mephibosheth’s side of the story. And it seems that we have amble evidence at that point, to conclude that Ziba was a liar here. That Ziba actually had betrayed Mephibosheth in leaving him in Jerusalem, and then in slandering him like this to David. We’ll consider that more when we get to chapter 19.
So realize then, that David does something wrong here. Look at verse 4. He hears Ziba’s response about Mephibosheth and decides to give everything that belonged to Mephibosheth to Ziba. In other words, in David’s kingly office, he hears the witness of Ziba and makes a judicial decision to punish Mephibosheth by taking back all that land which David had previously restored to him, and assigning it now to Ziba. Evil, manipulator, Ziba, had managed to pull the wool over David’s eyes. Wicked Ziba made himself look almost like someone like Hushai in the previous passage, a loyal supporter of David who would happily serve the king however the king decided best. But in reality, this was a calculated move by Ziba of brown-nosing and slander to manipulate the situation into his own personal gain.
So realize then, this was a major failure by King David. It was a failure of justice when he as king was to be the head person in dispensing justice for the nation. Think about it like this. There is an old proverb that goes like this: “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him.” That’s Proverbs 18:17. In other words, wisdom says justice must hear both sides of the story. Ziba’s story sounds plausible at first, but justice would demand that Mephibosheth be given a chance to respond to the charges. But David does not give him that chance. In this failing of judicial due process, he strips Mephibosheth of his divinely given inheritance in the Promised Land. Remember a couple chapters ago when that wise woman from Tekoa spoke to David. We remembered then how the Mosaic Law was very concerned that the plots of land assigned to each family in the Promised Land remained in their respective families. That was even the argument of that woman why she asked for mercy for her guilty son, so that her family’s inheritance in the Promised Land wouldn’t be lost by the execution of her last surviving son. David was prepared to overlook justice there in the interest of mercy so that the land inheritance could be maintained. But here, without a hearing, he strips Mephibosheth of this very thing. The last survivor of Jonathan’s house, he takes the land which would effectively remove the inheritance in the Promised Land from the line of Jonathan.
And so if all this wasn’t bad enough, if all this wasn’t a failure of justice, just stop and think of what this also means. There is arguably an even greater injustice in all of this. It means that David is breaking covenant with Jonathan. David’s hesed, his covenant loyalty toward Jonathan, is being broken. To be fair, I’m sure David is doing this because he thinks that Mephibosheth himself has first broken covenant and not shown hesed to him. But of course, the point is that David made a wrong judgment in that regard. And so the net result is that David removes his covenant kindness from Jonathan’s house in violation of his repeated covenants that he made with Jonathan.
This is not a high point for David. Here’s where we continued to see David on the decline. Here we are reminded that as much as David was a man after God’s own heart, he still had major failings at times. It shows us again that David was not the ultimate king for God’s people. There would yet have to come forth that promised Messiah who would reign in righteousness and truth. That’s what God’s people need. They need a king who couldn’t be manipulated by mere appearances. And when they are weak and afflicted, they need a king who will stand up for them. When they are slandered and wronged, they need someone to vindicate them. They especially need a king who will keep hesed, who will keep his covenant promises of steadfast love and kindness and mercy. This is what God’s people would come to know in Jesus Christ. David had elements of these qualities. But not in the perfection that God’s people need. In David’s shortcomings here, we again are driven to look to Jesus Christ.
Let’s now turn to the other scene in our passage. Here David encounters Shimei. Here, we see a different side of David. Notice the setting first. As David and his men come to Bahurim, they are starting to enter more into Benjaminite territory. They encounter this man name Shimei who was of Saul’s house. And he curses David. And throws stones at David. He calls David a bloodthirsty rogue. Shimei blames David for all the blood of the house of Saul and its downfall as a kingdom. Of course, those blanketed statements are not an accurate description of what took place between the house of Saul and the house of David. But that’s what Shimei at least claims. And so in his curse against David, he’s basically saying that Absalom’s taking of David’s kingdom is God’s judgment upon David for David taking Saul’s kingdom.
So, when Abishai hears this, he wants to take the head off of Shemei. He says, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king?” Remember, Abishai is Joab’s brother. They are both a lot alike, in that they are both men of war and presented as rather ruthless and bloodthirsty fellows themselves. You might also remember, that Abishai was with David one of the times back in 1 Samuel when David could have killed Saul. Abishai was again there offering to do the killing for David. But like back then, and again here, David says no. David called for mercy in both situations.
Now to be fair to Abishai’s point, what Shimei was doing was not right in and of itself. Exodus 22:8 said that you were not to curse a ruler of your people. Shimei is in violation of that law. Of course, that doesn’t mean the death penalty was warranted for such a crime. And surely it would have also been David’s prerogative as the one wronged to be able to show mercy if he so desired.
And that is what David wants here. And actually, David’s reasoning is even a bit more complex than that. David wants to recognize that God’s providence is at work here. Now of course, David knows that what Shimei is saying is not accurate. God is not punishing David for what happened between him and King Saul, because that was God’s doing, not David’s. God took the kingdom away from Saul and gave it to David because of Saul’s sin. David in fact showed great restraint in not being bloodthirsty in Saul’s situation. The discussion here with Abishai only serves to remind us of David’s earlier restraint, like we just did remember. And yet, Shimei’s curse surely would have caused David to think about God’s providence in all this. Surely it would remind David the reason he already did know for why this was all happening. It was related to David’s bloodshed; the bloodshed of Uriah! This was a part of that chastisement God was bringing because of David’s murder of Uriah. And so David is willing to submit to this cursing, inaccurate as it was, because he recognized that God nonetheless can work through it. God could continue to chasten David through such inaccurate cursing. And so David was willing to submit to it all, all the weariness of it, all the shame of it, in submission to God’s plan and chastening.
I’m reminded here of Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsamane when they came to arrest him. We mentioned last week the similarities of David’s flight into exile, and Jesus’ trip out of Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives where he was betrayed by Judas and arrested. There, Peter, like Abishai here, wanted to defend his lord. But when Peter struck the guard, Jesus stopped him and said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” And so in this situation, David looks a lot like how the ultimate Christ would. Here David is a picture of the Christ, willing to submit to God’s will for his life, regardless of the cup that may be involved.
Of course I love David’s perspective in this. It’s verse 12. David hopes that he might yet obtain a blessing out of this. He hopes that God may look upon his affliction with Shimei’s cursing and in turn give him a blessing. I remember similarly with Balaam’s cursing of Israel, how the Bible says that God turned Balaam’s cursing into a blessing. David hopes for something similar here, and he will receive it. David will ultimately be restored and vindicated over Absalom, and even Shimei. And that again is where David looks Christ-like. For as Jesus submit himself to his father’s will, even to the cursed death of the cross, God in fact turned that into a blessing. Jesus took on all our curses, and bore them in our place. But then God gave Jesus the blessed vindication of the resurrection, along with the redemption of all those for whom he died. We too then know this blessing to those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ.
Well, in our last point for today, I want to consider these two scenes together. How interesting that David could show this worthless Shimei such mercy, but not show it to Mephibosheth. I think we are drawn to make this contrast with the reference to the dead dog in verse 9. The last time that phrase is mentioned in the Bible was on the lips of Mephibosheth as I quoted earlier. David shows mercy to the dead dog Shimei, but he delivers a harsh and faulty judgment to Mephibosheth who was was formerly a dead dog, but had been so lifted up by David. Maybe Shimei’s curse wasn’t that far off after all. Had David treated the house of Saul, the house of Jonathan as he should have? I mean think about this whole thing with Mephibosheth. Hadn’t David exalted Mephibosheth, crippled Mephibosheth, to be like one of his sons? And yet what did David ask Ziba? He asked him where Mephibosheth was. Well, I might ask David that question. Why ask Ziba that? Why not ask David that? I mean when David fled Jerusalem in chapter 15, it seems they had to assemble quite a lot of people, several small armies even. But the text made it very clear that that the King got all his whole household together to leave town. The whole royal household left the palace, leaving just 10 concubines behind. Where is Mephibosheth you ask, David? Where is your crippled adopted son you ask? Maybe David you should have asked that question before you left him in Jerusalem? Maybe you should have asked that question before you gathered up your whole household except for him and left town? Maybe you should have shown more hesed to not leave someone who would be potentially in great danger when Abasalom shows up; someone who is crippled and not even able to protect themselves; someone you had sworn to show loving kindness forever. Who failed in hesed?
We see great inconsistency of David here, and it came at Mephibosheth’s expense. David, a man after God’s own heart, did not have God’s heart in this. Rather think of God’s heart in such matters. God is the one who in his own covenanting, he covenanted to save a group of sinners; people who were but dead dogs. He covenanted to bring them into a relationship with him as adopted sons and daughters. And to accomplish this, even when we were lame and crippled in our own sin, he sent his Son, the True King after God’s own heart, to come to us. He came to seek and save that which was lost. Like the parable of how he would leave the 99 sheep and go after the one straying, Jesus came after us. He didn’t leave us behind. He didn’t forget about us. He pursued us in covenant loyalty and covenant love. And he’s pursuing you here again today. He has sent forth his word today to declare his love and loyalty in Christ. Cling to him afresh today. Rejoice in this salvation. Trust in his mercy and love.
Saints of God, in conclusion, I leave us with a final point of application. For those who have come to know God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, we are reminded today of a struggle we will have in this life. It is the struggle of being inconsistent. We can relate to David here! We can be inconsistent to our Christian faith. We can be inconsistent in our efforts to live godly. This is a common struggle for all of us. It is one we’ll have the rest of our lives until we go to be with the Lord. I think it helps to recognize this. Sometimes recognizing it can help us to combat against it. And there are ways by the grace of God to fight against it. One of the biggest things needed in such a struggle is wisdom. We need wisdom in the midst of our struggles to be consistent. We need wisdom so that we can see how to take the truth of God’s word and more consistently live it out.
There are a number of ways God provides for us to grow in wisdom. I’ll mention just one for today: godly counsel. That’s a theme that will come up in next week’s passage. Look for this in your fellow Christians. Every Christian is to be seeking to grow in God’s word and wisdom so that we can help each other apply the Bible to our different circumstances. And of course make use of your pastors and elders in this regard too. The idea is to help one another think biblically about whatever particular concern you have going on in your life, so hopefully you can live more consistently with your Christian faith.
It can be so frustrating when one moment you are doing something so right, only to turn right around and do something so wrong. In such struggles, may we keep bringing our struggles to the throne of grace in prayer. In that prayer, be refreshed in Christ’s forgiveness. And in that prayer seek grace to grow through your mistakes. This privilege of prayer is a great blessing God gives us for dealing with such wearying struggles as we await the day when the struggles will finally end at the day of Christ. Amen!
Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.