Apart from the fact that the machinations of power are quite interesting, and that all of the recorded events of Solomon’s life are fascinating on a number of levels, one might be curious as to why so much time and space (in the Bible) is being given to an examination of the “Shimei situation.” On the surface, it seems like a reasonable curiosity, but in the face of that curiosity, we cannot fail to notice that Shimei makes three separate appearances within the Biblical record. Pondering the reasons for that by exploring those appearances is altogether proper and rewarding. At the same time, we do well to acknowledge that Shimei’s first two appearances occur in connection with the overall Scriptural theme of exile and exodus.
Our first encounter with Shimei is conjoined with David’s exile from Jerusalem, in subjugation. The second encounter is coupled with David’s exodus (from exile), as he returns to Jerusalem, his subjugation ended. The third time that we happen upon Shimei, the story ends with Shimei’s own exile (his death), though he has been given the chance to live a life of exodus in Jerusalem (living within Solomon’s will). Beyond the overt exile and exodus theme embodied by Solomon’s proceedings in regards to Shimei, we can quite profitably look even more deeply into this matter, and in doing so, discover a microcosm of one of the occurrences with which the grand Scriptural narrative began, as Shimei is demonstrated to be analogous to Adam. Though the microcosm and analogy are limited in scope, we shall find it to be quite useful.
Returning to the text of the first book of the Kings, we see that Solomon has summoned Shimei and instructed him to build a house in Jerusalem and live there (2:36a). Solomon places a commanding addendum to this, saying “you may not leave there to go anywhere!” (2:36b) Likewise, following His creative act, God summoned Adam and commanded him to tend the garden in which he had been placed, while also instructing him “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17a). What was to happen to Shimei if he left Jerusalem---if he stepped outside of Solomon’s will and violated his command? Solomon told him “If you ever do leave and cross the Kidron Valley, know for sure that you will certainly die!” (2:37a). Adam, as we well know, in regards to the fruit of the tree, was told “for when you eat from it you will surely die” (2:17b).
The command of God, like that of Solomon, was quite clear. Adam, like Shimei, was expected to abide within the given parameters. Stepping outside of those parameters would result in death. After remaining faithful to his covenant with Solomon for a period of time, Shimei was told that two of his servants had run away, so he went out after them. Shimei knew better. He had observed Solomon’s commandment for three years, but now fell to this temptation to assert his authority as a master. This parallels Adam’s experience quite well. Adam, after obeying for some period of time, fell victim to the same type of temptation. The serpent offered Adam (and Eve, lest we forget) the opportunity to assert themselves as masters (gods) in their own right, which would be especially tempting, seeing as how the Creator had given them dominion over the earth. The news of Shimei’s excursion beyond the boundaries delineated by the covenant came to Solomon’s attention, as would the actions of Adam. Solomon summoned Shimei before him and reminded him of the oath along with the penalty associated with the violation of that oath. Solomon asked: “Why then have you broken the oath you made before the Lord and disobeyed the order I gave you?” (2:43) The Genesis record has God calling out to Adam, along with Adam’s fearful response. God asks Adam (as if He did not know), “Did you eat from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (3:11b)
The author of the “King-ly” history does not even go so far as to provide us with an account of Shimei’s response to Solomon. He knew he was guilty. As we have seen, Shimei’s reward for his violation was death. Adam, on the other hand, points the finger of blame to Eve, who in turn points the finger of blame at the serpent. God calls each of the responsible parties to account, just as Solomon had told Shimei that he would be responsible for his own death if he over-stepped the prescribed boundaries, and draws this particular episode to a close by ultimately pronouncing a sentence of death, stating “for you are dust, and to dust you will return” (3:19b).
Both Shimei and Adam were given the chance to live lives of exodus---enjoying the blessings of life within the boundaries of a willful covenant drafted by their respective kings. Both Shimei and Adam were tempted beyond the boundaries of that covenant for similar reasons. In the end, King Solomon was empowered, and Shimei’s final exile was immediate. If there was to be further punishment for Shimei, then as we previously heard from Solomon, that was the Lord’s business. Adam’s experience, however, was somewhat different. According to the Genesis account, Adam lived a great deal of time in his exilic state before the exile of physical death overtook him. He was first exiled from the garden, forced to consider the exile of creation for which he was responsible, to mourn over the exodus that he had forfeited, and to contemplate the cursing and pain which he had brought to creation. He would even see one of his sons commit murder. This punishment from the Lord was probably greater than the merciful death that would eventually come.
Unexpectedly for us, though this was a likely intention in the construction and presentation of this story, there is much to be gleaned from the accounts of Shimei; for in it, through all its seemingly unrelated twists and turns, we are pointed towards God’s redemption project, and we are reminded of the providence and faithfulness of the covenant-making God.