2 Samuel 19:8-23 Justice Belongs to God, Forgiveness Belongs to Men
2 Samuel 19:8-23
8 So the king went out and took his seat at the town gate, and as the news spread throughout the town that he was there, everyone went to him.
Meanwhile, the Israelites who had supported Absalom fled to their homes. 9 And throughout all the tribes of Israel there was much discussion and argument going on. The people were saying, “The king rescued us from our enemies and saved us from the Philistines, but Absalom chased him out of the country. 10 Now Absalom, whom we anointed to rule over us, is dead. Why not ask David to come back and be our king again?”
11 Then King David sent Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, to say to the elders of Judah, “Why are you the last ones to welcome back the king into his palace? For I have heard that all Israel is ready. 12 You are my relatives, my own tribe, my own flesh and blood! So why are you the last ones to welcome back the king?” 13 And David told them to tell Amasa, “Since you are my own flesh and blood, like Joab, may God strike me and even kill me if I do not appoint you as commander of my army in his place.”
14 Then Amasa convinced all the men of Judah, and they responded unanimously. They sent word to the king, “Return to us, and bring back all who are with you.” 15 So the king started back to Jerusalem. And when he arrived at the Jordan River, the people of Judah came to Gilgal to meet him and escort him across the river. 16 Shimei son of Gera, the man from Bahurim in Benjamin, hurried across with the men of Judah to welcome King David. 17 A thousand other men from the tribe of Benjamin were with him, including Ziba, the chief servant of the house of Saul, and Ziba’s fifteen sons and twenty servants. They rushed down to the Jordan to meet the king. 18 They crossed the shallows of the Jordan to bring the king’s household across the river, helping him in every way they could.
As the king was about to cross the river, Shimei fell down before him. 19 “My lord the king, please forgive me,” he pleaded. “Forget the terrible thing your servant did when you left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. 20 I know how much I sinned. That is why I have come here today, the very first person in all Israel to greet my lord the king.” 21 Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said, “Shimei should die, for he cursed the LORD’s anointed king!” 22 “Who asked your opinion, you sons of Zeruiah!” David exclaimed. “Why have you become my adversary today? This is not a day for execution but for celebration! Today I am once again the king of Israel!” 23 Then, turning to Shimei, David vowed, “Your life will be spared.”
David’s return to Jerusalem is a kind of national revival, of reconciliation at a tribal as well as the individual level. As the tribes of Israel were still deliberating towards a consensus, the men of Judah responded to David’s call of reconciliation. In today’s passage, we understand reconciliation as the doorway towards lasting peace and restoration in the community. Bitterness hurts the victim but does nothing to the perpetrator. However, forgiveness benefits the forgiver and God will restore him. As justice and vengeance belongs to God, forgiveness belongs to men.
The king rescued us from our enemies and saved us from the Philistines – The supporters of Absalom now without a leader resort to thinking about the good things David had done for them. The rational is: if his domestic administration had flaws, there was no denying his success in the fending off the Philistines. However, the text did not indicate a unanimous agreement among the men of Israel to restore David as their king.
Return to us, and bring back all who are with you – The people of Judah are more favorable towards David despite their tardiness: they responded unanimously. David reaches out to the elders of Judah and as a concession announces his intention to transfer Joab’s command to Amasa. Joab’s demotion is also attributed to his defiance in killing Absalom. As the king makes his way towards Jerusalem, the people of Judah came to Gilgal to escort him across the river.
My lord the king, please forgive me – Over a thousand people from the tribe of Benjamin came to receive David, among whom is Ziba and Shimei. Both have grossly miscalculated David’s chances of surviving the coup. Ziba lied about Mephibosheth’s disloyalty supposing David will not return to hear about the truth. Shimei is anxious to declare his loyalty to David and begs for forgiveness. Abishai is again quick to insist on Shimei’s execution. Abishai is the voice of the law insisted that the act of cursing the king amounts to capital punishment. Nevertheless, David must show himself as magnanimous on this celebrative day of reconciliation and restoration: This is not a day for execution but for celebration!
- No matter how great the animosity, only reconciliation can bring peace and restoration to all. In times of conflict, hurting words are spoken, trust is broken and in many cases lives are lost. However, conflicts must be resolved in the spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness in order to prevent further damage to both parties. David reaches out to the men of Judah seeking a reconciliation. And the men of Judah respond by sending a message to David to return to them as their king. All parties have the difficult choice of offering forgiveness or insisting on just punishment for their enemies. If one were to forgive, the question is: where then is justice? Paul makes the point that justice and vengeance belongs God, but forgiveness belongs to men.
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:19-21
Hence, in forgiveness, the victim releases the burden of justice to God and peace returns to him. At the same time, God demands justice from the perpetrator because of his sin. However, reconciliation does not automatically lead to restoration of fellowship. All parties in the spirit of love must endeavor to build trust and restore the fellowship which was lost. In forgiveness, peace and love returns to the victim having been assured of justice on the part of God. In the same vein, the victim hopes for the perpetrator’s repentance so that there may be continual peace.
- Repentance shunts the debt of the law bringing grace and life for all. When a person repents and asks God for forgiveness, the debt of his sin is immediately forgiven – there is no more debt to pay. In this way, grace and life is restored to the transgressor. However, in the absence of repentance where the sinner refuses to “come clean” and to deal with his sinful nature through the cross of Christ, his sin remains. A sign of genuine repentance is the sinner’s willingness to submit himself to gracious accountability of a godly community. The genuineness of Shimei’s repentance may not be apparent to the readers, neither was it to David. However, David, in the face of confession and remorse must respond with grace and reconciliation even though he is still sorely suspicious of Shimei. Abishai is the voice of the law demanding full recompense, whereas David is the voice of grace and forgiveness. As David forgives Shimei, he releases himself from the burden of revenge, thus bringing life to himself. And Shimei, whose heart lays naked before God will in turn be subjected to God’s righteous judgment.
Do you sometimes harbor vindictive thoughts towards those who have hurt you and secretly hope for their misfortune? Do you have sentiments of anger and injustice when they seem to be doing well? It is time to let it go to God who judges righteously. By releasing your unforgiveness, you invite the blessings of God into your life and open new avenues and opportunities to prosper.
Dear Lord, search me and try me to see if there are any vindictive sentiments in me. I believe that you judge righteously and there is no injustice in you. I forgive _________ (name) who has hurt me; I release him from having to repay me for what he has done. I pray for __________ (name) that he may turn back from his sin and be forgiven by you. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.