OFFENSIVE FORGIVENESS

shimei-curses-david

Sometimes the love and grace of God is given to people who are so undeserving that it seems offensive. But Jesus’ love and forgiveness is given time and again to those who don’t deserve it – because no one deserves it. So, if you think you are unworthy, you are correct. But that doesn’t stop Jesus from giving you grace and forgiveness anyway. On the other hand, if his grace offends you, maybe you don’t yet know how much you yourself need it.

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Download 2 Samuel Part 19

The second half of chapter 19 appears to be mostly a detailed record of the political history of that time. This was valuable and significant to the ancient Israelites who lived not long after David’s time. It is still interesting today to historians, and bible-geeks like me. But what is the point of it really?

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it is important to revisit it periodically. We all tend to forget. The Holy Spirit made sure first that this history was written; second, that it was preserved through the years; and third, that it was included in the bible. So there must be some reason for this. There must be some way the Lord wants to speak through it to Christians living today.

Sometimes, in order to hear what the Lord wants to say today, we first need to understand it better. So please bear with me. I think we’ll find some fruitful bible application here if we pay attention to details that might otherwise seem tedious.

Here’s the situation. David’s army has defeated and killed Absalom, who had rebelled against him and set himself up as king in David’s place. There were no computers or telephones or newspapers in those days, so it took a while for the news of David’s victory to spread. Meanwhile, David seems to have waited. This might seem a little bit strange. But remember who David is. He has many faults, to be sure, but he has never grasped at power. Instead, he always waited for the Lord, even refusing to take opportunities to gain the kingdom. So here, he once more waits until he is sure that Lord still wants him as king. He doesn’t want the civil war to continue, so he waits until he is sure he can return in peace. This David once more at his best, trusting the Lord.

The writer of Samuel often makes a distinction between the tribe of Judah and the other eleven tribes of Israel. Often when he writes “Israel” he appears to mean the tribes as distinct from the tribe of Judah. This shows us that there was some tension between those two factions even in the time of David. In the time of David’s grandson, the nation was split. Judah absorbed most of the tribe of Benjamin and became a separate nation named “Judah” (from which we get the word, “Jew”). The other ten tribes formed a kingdom to the north of Judah, which was called “Israel.”

After Absalom’s rebellion, people from the other tribes began talking about inviting David back officially, and officially receiving him once more as king.

Now Israel had fled every man to his own home.  9 And all the people were arguing throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “The king delivered us from the hand of our enemies and saved us from the hand of the Philistines, and now he has fled out of the land from Absalom.  10 But Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why do you say nothing about bringing the king back?”

Apparently, the people really had committed to Absalom. They said he was the one they had anointed to be king over them. This wasn’t as strange as it might seem. After all, he was the king’s son and heir. I’m sure many people assumed that sooner or later, Absalom would be king anyway, and why not have him in the full vigor of his youth? But now, he was gone. I would have thought that at this point it was a clear choice to go back to David, but the people still seemed at a loss. Even so, from most of the tribes, sentiment turned back toward David.

But the tribe of Judah did not seem to know what to do. At first, this seems strange, since David was from the tribe of Judah. But then, so was Absalom. Absalom’s rebellion was conceived and carried out in Hebron, the chief city of Judah. His military commander, Amasa, was a relative of his (and David’s) from the tribe. In fact, most of his inner circle were probably from Judah. In other words, although they were David’s people, they were also Absalom’s people, and they were probably chiefly responsible for the rebellion.

David reached out them. He sent a message to the leaders of the tribe of Judah, saying,

‘Why should you be the last to restore the king to his palace? The talk of all Israel has reached the king at his house. 12 You are my brothers, my flesh and blood. So why should you be the last to restore the king? ’ 13 And tell Amasa, ‘Aren’t you my flesh and blood? May God punish me and do so severely if you don’t become commander of the army from now on instead of Joab! ’ ” 14 So he won over all the men of Judah, and they sent word to the king: “Come back, you and all your servants.” (2Sam 19:11-14, HCSB)

As David makes his way back, he is met at the Jordan river by a host of people who want the honor of escorting him to Jerusalem. What follows is a slightly sickening display of sycophancy. People end up arguing amongst themselves about who gets to show David honor, and who is honoring him more (19:40-43).

Along with the leaders of the tribe of Judah, one of the first people to come meet him is Shimei. You may remember him from 2 Samuel 16:5-13. This was the man who cursed David and pelted him with rocks and dust as he fled from Absalom. When David was down, he piled on with insults and taunting. Shimei did not just screw up and make a mistake – what he did was clear and deliberate. Now that David is king again, he comes fawning to him like a disobedient dog, and begs forgiveness. I don’t know about you, but I think that Shimei was pond-scum. His behavior and attitude are despicable, detestable, the lowest and ugliest forms of hypocrisy and cowardice. He is a jerk, plain a simple, the kind of person I want nothing to do with.

And David forgives him.

Stop for a second, and think on that. Let it sink in.

Let’s be honest. David’s forgiveness and compassion are offensive. Abishai, brother of Joab suggests, as he did before, that Shimei would be a more attractive person if his head was removed. I tend to agree with Abishai. But David did not.

Does this remind you of anything? The love and compassion of Jesus were also offensive. The Pharisees were offended that he would eat with tax collectors and known sinners. He allowed a prostitute to kiss his feet in public, and wash them. It offended them.

I think once more, this text is a far-off picture of Jesus, the ultimate anointed savior of God’s people. It isn’t really about David, it is about Jesus, his wisdom and love, and how people respond to him. So let’s consider the rest of this text in that light.

We’ve been talking about Shimei. His sin was obvious and deliberate. There was no excuse for it. It wasn’t a momentary slip. It revealed an ugly character. Even so, David offers him forgiveness and redemption. Jesus does the same. That’s right, Jesus came to redeem and forgive class-A jerks, cowards and crawling hypocrites. It is offensive sometimes, to think Jesus would forgive someone that I want to hate so much. But he does.

Abishai was like me. Shimei’s character was clear to him. He was offended by David’s compassion and mercy. But David rebuked him. Sometimes we really are offended by the idea that Jesus would forgive certain people. Would he forgive a child-molester? Based on what I know of the bible, the answer is “yes.” Jesus is king, and he can forgive who he pleases. He does not answer to us.

But as an illustration, I do want to finish the story of Shimei, though it does not end for many years. When David was dying, he told Solomon to watch out for Shimei. So, even though David forgave him, he certainly saw the truth about what kind of person he was. Solomon made a just and fair ruling for Shimei, allowing him to live in peace if he would show his obedience and faithfulness by never leaving Jerusalem. Shimei ignored that when it became inconvenient, and Solomon had him executed. So in the end, forgiveness did Shimei no good, because he did not allow it to touch his heart and change the kind of person he was.

In the same way, the forgiveness of Jesus does not help those who don’t truly repent, who don’t allow him to work in their lives. Jesus sees all, let ultimate judgment rest with him.

Back to David, the next person to arrive was Ziba. At this point, Ziba was revealed as a trickster and manipulator, because right behind him was Mephibosheth, whom Ziba was supposed to serve. Mephibosheth revealed how Ziba took advantage of his disability, and took the donkey that was supposed to be for him, and told David that Mephibosheth rejoiced over David’s trouble. David does not seem to know who to believe, but he reverses his earlier decision that gave all of Mephibosheth’s land to Ziba. Now, instead, he tells Mephibosheth to divide the land between them. Even so, this amounts to forgiveness for the trickster and manipulator, Ziba. There it is again, that offensive forgiveness.

Mephibosheth’s response shows that his loyalty was always true. He doesn’t care about the land, as long as David is safe, and king again. I mentioned before that Mephibosheth is a great picture of God’s grace. Unlike Shimei, the grace he received through David changed him permanently. He doesn’t just want what David can give him. He wants the best for the king that saved him, and he wants fellowship with him, whether he has blessings from him or not. Mephibosheth rejoiced that David was back and safe, far more than he rejoiced about being vindicated in the dispute with Ziba.

This is an encouragement to me to have a similar attitude. It isn’t about what Jesus can do for me in this life. It isn’t about me getting what I think I deserve, or being proved right. It is about loving Jesus and being in relationship with him. You can’t manufacture that. It only comes when you love Jesus for who he is. If you feel like you lack that kind of love (as I often do), ask the Holy Spirit to give it to you.

One of the people who helped David in his exile was an old man named Barzillai. David blessed him and rewarded him, though again, Barzillai wanted no other reward than the safety of the king, and in fact, was too old to enjoy any of the blessings David wants to bestow. So too, I find it helpful to remember that even though Jesus sometimes offends me by his radical forgiveness of people whom I think are undeserving, he does also love his faithful servants. He does not forget them, or offer them less than anyone else. Maybe, like Barzillai, we don’t enjoy the blessings in the this life. Even so, Jesus offers us blessing and joy that can never spoil or fade.

Another group to consider is the leaders of the tribe of Judah. They made a deliberate choice to follow Absalom instead of David. But before they even repented, David was reaching out to them, forgiving them, restoring them to a relationship with him. So Paul writes about Jesus in Romans 5:

For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person — though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! (Rom 5:6-8, HCSB)

Jesus’ love and forgiveness is given time and again to those who don’t deserve it – because no one deserves it. So, if you think you are unworthy, you are correct. But that doesn’t stop Jesus from giving you grace and forgiveness anyway.

Abishai was not the only one who took offense at the mercy of God that David showed to all who would see. The ten other tribes of Israel were also offended that even though they were the ones who first talked of bringing David back, it was the tribes of Judah and Benjamin who got the honor of doing so.

In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were also offended at Jesus’ grace. That was because they did not believe they had need of it themselves. I think that may be a key. If the forgiveness and mercy of God to others offends you, is it possible that perhaps you do not realize how much you yourself need that same grace?

Let the Spirit speak to you today.

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