Vengeance

When Shimei son of Gera crossed the Jordan, he fell prostrate before the king and said to him, “May my lord not hold me guilty. Do not remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. For I your servant know that I have sinned, but today I have come here as the first from the tribes of Joseph to come down and meet my lord the king.”

Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said, “Shouldn’t Shimei be put to death for this? He cursed the Lord’s anointed.”

David replied, “What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? What right do you have to interfere? Should anyone be put to death in Israel today? Don’t I know that today I am king over Israel?” So the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king promised him on oath.

2 Samuel 19:18-23

When Absalom, David’s son, was trying to steal the throne and forcing David out of Jerusalem, Shimei was there to “greet” King David as he left. Shimei threw stones at King David as he cursed David and his reign. Scripture says that Shimei was “showering him with dirt” (2 Samuel 16:13) and calling King David a “scoundrel” (2 Samuel 16:7). These were things punishable by death, but David was too ashamed to respond.

This was a classic case of “piling on.” David’s own son was trying to steal the throne and forcing him out of Jerusalem and this man was joining in the fun. But what would happen when King David regains the throne and re-enters Jerusalem? Wouldn’t this man be the first to reap the vengeful wrath and justice of the newly restored King David? Abishai son of Zeruiah thought so.

Yet, we can all learn a lesson from King David’s response. Instead of righteous judgment, David dispenses grace. Instead of revenge, David gives forgiveness. King David had been fully exonerated, fully restored, and fully revealed as the rightful king. This was his moment to exact revenge on all of those people who joined Absalom’s bandwagon–all of those who betrayed him instead of being faithful servants–but instead David showed grace.

It wasn’t only Shimei that David treated with kindness and grace. He did the same to Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son (2 Samuel 19:24-30). He also showed grace to the royal concubines who had slept with Absalom. Though David could have put them out of the royal court to live destitute and in disgrace, instead he never slept with them again and yet provided for them the rest of their lives (2 Samuel 20:3).

How could King David have such a graceful response?

We get a clue from something David said to Abishai. When asked why he wouldn’t put Shimei to death, David said, “Should anyone be put to death in Israel today? Don’t I know that today I am king over Israel?” (2 Samuel 19:22). In other words, David could respond with grace and forgiveness because he knew who he was. It was about his identity. David was secure in his identity as king. He didn’t need to prove it to anyone with vengeance.

What is our response to those who have wronged us after it is revealed that we were in the right and they were in the wrong? When the truth finally catches up to those who’ve spoken lies about us, what do we do? When those who have betrayed us are finally exposed, how do we react?

Is it with grace? Is it with forgiveness? Is it with kindness? Or do we throttle them with revenge, condemnation, and judgment?

We who have been forgiven of so much, we who live by the grace of God, we who have been shown the kindness of God in the face of Jesus, we who had Christ die for us while we were yet sinners, we are called to respond the way King David did. If we are secure in our royal identity as children of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, if we know that we are co-heirs of God’s Kingdom, we will be able to respond in grace. The apostle Paul gave clear instructions to the Roman Christians about what we are supposed to do in these situations.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:17