Responding to Insult
By internet or television, much of the world one day saw an Iraqi journalist throw both of his shoes at an American president. The shoe incident, however, was a minor embarrassment compared with a public display of contempt described in the Bible. The insult happened on a day that was already one of the lowest moments of king David of Israel. One of David's sons had seized all control of Israel's army and was forcing his father and friends to leave Jerusalem for fear of their lives (2 Sam 15:16). As if that were not enough to be run out or town in tears with head covered and feet bared (2 Sam 15:30). Someone began celebrating at that moment. Somewhere between Jerusalem and Jordan, an angry man began throwing stones and accusing David of being a murderer who, for all his wrongs, was finally getting what he deserved (16:5-8).
In response to the insults, one of David's officers offered to cut off the head of "this dead dog", but David denied permission. Instead, the king suggested that God was saying something to him through the insults. Even to this moment David seems to give us an indication of why the Bible remembers him as a man after God's own heart. He had been humbled and broken by his sons' wrongs; he knew his leadership of Israel had been marred by personal failures that included an affair with a married woman and conspiracy to have her husband killed. At this point, David would have had a reason to wonder whether God was giving him what he deserved. According to 2 Sam 13, David's firstborn son, Amnon, raped his half-sister Tamar. Two years later, Tamar's brother, Absalom, killed Amnon for raping his sister. Those losses broke David's heart: one son was dead, a daughter was defiled and another son was in exile for murdering his brother.
Years passed before David agreed to let Absalom return to Jerusalem. By the time the king was ready to unite with Absalom, however, Absalom had other plans. Deeply embittered in his father's reluctance to see him, he would not accept David's change of heart. Instead, he conspired to use flattery and his own good looks to win the hearts of Israel and become king in his father's place.
When David heard that the men of Israel had joined Absalom, he realised that he and his friends should get out of town to avoid being killed by his own son. It was then, as the king and his friends left the city, that a relative of Saul named Shimei created a scene by throwing stones at David and cursing him (16:5-6). When Abishai offered to kill Shimei, David denied him permission. Instead, the king indicated that God might actually be speaking to him through
Shimei's curses. With a broken heart, David said, "'My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn't this relative of Saul have even more reasons to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do so. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today'. So David and his men continued down the road and Shimei kept pace with them on a nearby hillside, cursing as he went and throwing stones at David and tossing dust into the air" (16:11-13).
Just as David's fear of the Lord had once kept him from lifting a hand against a raging king Saul (1 Sam 24:6), David now showed similar restraint toward Shimei by not ordering him to be killed. The ageing king of Israel showed his willingness to be taught even by an angry enemy out of control.
David's response makes us wonder how different our lives would have been had we always handled criticism and insult with teachable hearts. What if, in the face of far less offensive insults, we had taken occasion to wonder whether our God was lovingly saying something to us even through the angry voice and accusation of critics? What if all of us followed David's wisdom of learning from a bad moment? What is the worst that could happen if we let the accusation of an enemy turn our ear toward God? Would we have wasted time by being wise enough to listen for a half truth in the unkind words of someone who had no interest in flattering us? Even if the present `attacks' are old news, forgiven sins, or were altogether unjustified, would we be poorer for the experience if we took the occasion to remember that the real truth about us is probably far worse than any of our human enemies could know? Would remembering how much we have needed the mercy of God be something we would regret?
We should ask our Father in heaven to help us to be wise as His servant David to give us the grace to listen to His voice in the accusation by our enemies.
Bro Isaac Kapa (Tangaron, Kenya)