Monday, July 30, 2012

Solomon & Shimei (part 2 of 3)

Solomon, at what seems like the first opportunity to do so, does indeed deal with Shimei.  Immediately after reading about Joab’s execution, we find that “Next the king summoned Shimei and told him, ‘Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and live there---but you may not leave there to go anywhere!  If you ever do leave and cross the Kidron Valley, know for sure that you will certainly die!  You will be responsible for your own death!’” (1 Kings 2:36-37)  Interestingly, Solomon puts the onus on Shimei for his own welfare and survival.  It almost seems as if Solomon is reluctant to carry out his father’s orders against Shimei.  So mercifully, as would befit a peaceful man, Solomon converts Jerusalem into something akin to Shimei’s personal city of refuge (though he had not killed anyone).  As long as Shimei stays in Jerusalem, no harm will come to him. 

Shimei responds as we might expect, especially in the wake of Solomon having had his own brother executed, along with the general of Israel’s army.  He says, “My master the king’s proposal is acceptable.  Your servant will do as you say” (2:38a).  This is followed by a note that informs us that “Shimei lived in Jerusalem for a long time” (2:38b).  That period of time, we quickly learn, was three years (2:39).  Shimei’s response to Solomon’s proposition reminds us of his response to the returning David.  In that situation, he had said, “Don’t think badly of me, my lord, and don’t recall the sin of your servant on the day when you, my lord the king, left Jerusalem!  Please don’t call it to mind!  For I, your servant, know that I sinned, and I have come today as the first of all the house of Joseph to come down to meet my lord the king” (2 Samuel 19:19-20).  David’s recorded response to Shimei was “You won’t die” (19:23). 

Shimei, above all things, seems to have been willing to follow kingly authority, as evidenced by his words that demonstrated support of an Absalom that had peacefully (and justifiably) taken the throne of Israel, of a David that was returning to the seat of power, and of a Solomon that was now seated as Israel’s king.  Solomon’s knowledge of David’s two encounters with Shimei, the fact that he had probably been a loyal subject of David, and the lingering promise by David that Shimei would not die in relation to the events related to Absalom, likely account for Solomon’s reluctance to deal harshly with Shimei.  In fact, what we can see is that Solomon constructs an entirely new basis for his dealings with Shimei, seemingly unrelated to what has gone on before.  Solomon strikes a deal with Shimei in relation to not leaving Jerusalem.  If he were to leave Jerusalem, it is then that he would die; and his death would be for that reason alone. 

Three years after this agreement is struck, two of Shimei’s servants ran away.  “So Shimei got up, saddled his donkey, and went to… find his servants” (2:40a).  To accomplish this, he left Jerusalem.  He left what was his city of refuge.  “When Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem… and had then returned, the king summoned Shimei and said to him, ‘You will recall that I made you take an oath by the Lord, and I solemnly warned you, “If you ever leave and go anywhere, know for sure that you will certainly die.”  You said to me, “The proposal is acceptable; I agree to it.”  Why then have you broken the oath you made before the Lord and disobeyed the order I gave you?’” (2:41-43)  As we can see, Solomon is keeping his dealings with Shimei completely within the context of the oath between he and Shimei.  Though Solomon only entered into an agreement with Shimei because of David’s desire to see Shimei killed, Shimei’s physical fate is not bound up with his “mistreatment” of David.  In effect, Solomon is demonstrating that Shimei has sinned against him, in willful violation of their covenant, and is therefore deserving of an agreed upon sentence of death owing to that violation, and nothing more. 

Though Solomon does add “You are well aware of the way you mistreated my father David” (2:44a), he adds that “The Lord will punish you for what you did” (2:44b).  With these words, Solomon indicates a personal disinterest in what had taken place between Shimei and David, leaving God to arbitrate that case.  He then goes on to say, in further reinforcement of the idea that the judgment that is about to be passed has to do with him and him alone (unrelated to David), that “King Solomon will be empowered” (2:45a).  With that, Solomon, reflecting on the covenantal promise made to David in specific and initial reference to him (Solomon), says “David’s dynasty will endure permanently before the Lord” (2:45b).  The very fact of his rule was evidence of that empowerment, and that in him, the promise to David was established.  Solomon did not need Davidic sanction to thusly deal with Shimei; and indeed, the author of this history goes on to write, “So Solomon,” after ordering Shimei’s execution, “took firm control of the kingdom” (2:46b).    

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