Man of Blood (2 Samuel 16:7-8)

Man of Blood (2 Samuel 16:7-8)

            The last post about ‘the blood of Jesus’ brought to mind the time when David was accused of being a ‘man of blood’. The setting is David’s escape from Jerusalem due to the Absalom conspiracy. After praying on the Mount of Olives, David passes on through the town of Bahurim where he is cursed by Shimei who declares: 

            “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! The Lord has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul…your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.” (2 Samuel 16:7-8).

            The horror of this scene and experience for David is summed in the vitriolic barbs of Shimei in verses 7-8. In these two verses Shimei presents the Prosecution case against David. David is humiliated, shamed and almost dehumanized. Shimei identifies David with the demonic – he is on the side of ‘Belial’ (16:7) a term which is used earlier in the Samuel narrative of the evil sons of Eli (1 Sam 2) and of Nabal (1 Sam 25). In both cases, they die under God’s judgement.

            Shimei judges that the flight of David from Jerusalem is the signal that the time for the vanquishing of the enemy of the house of Saul has finally arrived. Shimei interprets David’s humiliating passage past Bahurim as the Lord’s judgment. It is the wrath of God which David is experiencing, and this is directly linked by Shimei to David’s shedding of blood in the house of Saul. The tribes of Israel may have been united under King David when his throne was secure, but now when he is at his most vulnerable the dissenting voice of Benjamin cries out against him. Shimei’s dissatisfaction with David is very different to the much milder claim of Absalom of delayed judgment by the king (15:1-6). Shimei’s claim is not related to the Bathsheba-Uriah the Hittite episode. Shimei’s interpretation is succinctly summed up: ‘The LORD has given the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son’ (16:8). The reason for this judgment, according to Shimei, is that David has stained his hands with the blood of Saul’s household.

            It is a brutal attack upon David. The very foundations of the Davidic kingship are called into question. In this public prosecution, Shimei lays the charge, delivers his verdict and executes his sentence of punishment. Death by stoning was the law’s punishment for those who drew the people away after other gods (Deut 13:10). Shimei bitterly accuses David of such idolatry by labeling him with the name ‘belial’. In Shimei’s judgment, David never had any right to take Saul’s place, and his wickedness and worthlessness are summed up in this epithet ‘belial’. Shimei has been seething ever since David came to the throne, and now at Bahurim, he has his chance to vent his fury. He gives his verdict on what he sees is plainly the truth. 

            The law made it quite plain that such judgment was only to be made after due process: ‘you shall inquire and make search and ask diligently’ in order to ascertain the truth (Deut 13:14). Shimei pays no heed to that precept of the law, and simply takes the law into his own hands casting his judgment upon the behalf of the people. Shimei is judge and jury and his stone-throwing, cursing verdict indicates that in his view the hearing is over. (The consonants which comprise the name Shimei form the base for the verb ‘to hear’). This Benjaminite declares: David has no right to be the king of Israel for he is a man of blood. 

            The salt is rubbed into the wound for David by Shimei’s elaboration of the meaning of David’s ignominious retreat. The Lord’s judgment is to hand the kingdom over to Absalom, David’s son. In this it is clear that Shimei’s anger is directed at David personally. He does not seek for the throne to be returned to the house of Saul, he only wants to see David suffer and lose the throne. The uprising of Absalom is the vindication of Shimei’s long-held belief about the king of Israel. David is evil and for the third time, Shimei explains why that is: he is a man of blood!

            Shimei’s charge at Bahurim raises a critical question which is very much at the heart of this passage and, indeed, central to the whole Davidic narrative in the books of Samuel. What right does David have to be the king of Israel? How can any Israelite be sure that Shimei’s verdict is incorrect? Has David actually come to the throne and taken that which was never his? The answers may not be clear, but to the man of faith it may be seen that such a charge lacks substance. Shimei may as well have charged that David did not have the right to have his first wife, Michal, returned to him. Shimei’s charge is a brazen one for one other reason. Ultimately, it questions who chose David to be the king of Israel, a charge which is directed against the LORD himself.

Postscript: [Of course, as Walter Brueggemann notes, the narrative goes to some length to explain how the demise of Saul’s sons was without the complicity of David. In 2 Samuel 3, Abner and David conclude their peace-keeping arrangements, but, the peaceful negotiations between the two parties soon find another warring member whose actions derail the harmony. Joab holds a grudge against Abner for killing his brother, Asahel, and during this peace time, Joab murders Abner (3:26-27). He does this without David’s knowledge and clearly contrary to the wishes of the king of Hebron. It is in this context, at the very funeral of Abner, that the narrator first employs the epithet ‘King David’ (3:31). The death of Abner grips Ish-bosheth with fear and his short reign is soon brought to an end by the treacherous actions of two captains of the Benjaminite army (4:1-12). In short, the narrative has made clear that David is innocent of any such charge (2 Sam 3-4). If David were to be cursed and punished because of such a prosecution charge then there would be a serious miscarriage of justice.]

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