Monday, July 30, 2012

Solomon & Shimei (part 1 of 3)

Early in his reign, Solomon has Adonijah (his brother) and Joab (general of the army) dispatched.  Following that, Solomon turns his attention to a man named Shimei.  He does so because Shimei is mentioned within his father’s dying words.  David said to Solomon: “Note well, you still have to contend with Shimei son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurin, who tried to call down upon me a horrible judgment when I went to Mahanaim” (1 Kings 2:8a).  This is not entirely true, so David seemed to have been employing exaggeration with some effect.  What Shimei is recorded to have said to David was “Leave!  Leave!  You man of bloodshed, you wicked man!  The Lord has punished you for all the spilled blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you rule.  Now the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom.  Disaster has overtaken  you, for you are a man of bloodshed!” (2 Samuel 16:7) 

Apart from a subjective rhetorical flourish when Shimei declares that the Lord is punishing David for the spilled blood of the house of Saul, this cursing by Shimei rings true.  David was not punished for bloodshed related to the house of Saul, but rather, it was the blood spilled within his own house (Absalom’s slaying of Amnon as a result of Amnon’s rape of Tamar), as well as the blood spilled by his own command (David using Israel’s enemies to have Uriah murdered), that had led to the situation which gave Shimei the opportunity to speak forth such words.  Beyond the improper of attribution of the spilling of blood there mentioned, it is difficult to find fault with Shimei’s message to David.  At that point, since David was fleeing Jerusalem, Absalom, by all appearances, had taken the kingdom.  With the peaceful transfer of power, one could easily look upon Absalom’s taking of the throne as having divine sanction. 

With regard to referring to David as a man of bloodshed, it must be said that Shimei does not appear to be incorrect in his assessment.  If we were to look ahead to the first book of the Chronicles, we would there find a record of David speaking to Solomon and saying “My son, I really wanted to build a temple to honor the Lord my God.  But the Lord said to me: ‘You have spilled a great deal of blood and fought many battles.  You must not build a temple to honor Me, for you have spilled a great deal of blood on the ground before Me” (1 Chronicles 22:7-8).  Apparently, God Himself referred to David as a man of bloodshed. 

It’s useful here to consider, if the blood David spilled in battle was (according to the Scriptural record) almost entirely at the Lord’s direction, why that same God would use the fact of spilled blood as a reason to bar David from building His Temple.  The most likely reason is that a temple constructed by a king that was known to have waged vigorous military campaigns, and through those campaigns to have extended his territory and his power, would be seen as a temple constructed in honor of a conquering, warring, subjugating god that would bear a great deal of resemblance to the gods of the surrounding nations.  A temple built to honor such a god would simply be one amongst many.  This point is drawn out by what the Lord is reported to have said to David after making mention of his acts of bloodshed, which was “Look, you will have a son, who will be a peaceful man.  I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side.  Indeed, Solomon will be his name; I will give Israel peace and quiet during his reign.  He will build a temple to honor Me; he will become My son, and I will become his Father.  I will grant to his dynasty permanent rule over Israel” (22:9-10). 

The temple to be built by Solomon would not be constructed by a man of war, nor could it be perceived as a symbol of military conquest, which would have been common in that day.  The Temple that would be honoring to God alone (rather than a temple that would be partly honorific for David) would be built by one known as a peaceful man, though the fact that blood was spilled in abundance at the beginning of Solomon’s reign seems a bit troubling in this light.  Nevertheless, this Temple that was to be associated with rest and peace and quiet would be raised into existence by one about whom God spoke of as being His son.  This Temple would be the symbol of a permanent rule over the people of God, and by extension, over the territory occupied by that people.  Here, the analogies to the One that would eventually come, as a Son, in place of the Temple, and Who would raise up an eschatological Temple to God, are so stark and clear that they need not even be detailed. 

Reverting our attention now to David and his directives concerning Shimei that were passed along to Solomon, we find him moving from a recounting of the Shimei situation in connection with his escape from Jerusalem, to his dealings with Shimei upon his return to Jerusalem, and saying “He came down and met me at the Jordan, and I solemnly promised him by the Lord, ‘I will not strike you down with the sword.’” (2:8b).  To this David added, “But now,” speaking to Solomon, “don’t treat him as if he were innocent.  You are a wise man and you know how to handle him; make sure he has a bloody death” (2:9).  In the record of the Kings, these are the final words of David.  Ironically, and in a way that probably indicates that the author wants this to be acknowledged, these last words of David have to do with him calling for the bloody death of the man that had referred to him as a man of bloodshed.      

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