Stepping Stones

Read: 2 Samuel 16:1-14

When King David came to Bahurim, a man of the family of the house of Saul came out whose name was Shimei son of Gera; he came out cursing. He threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David; now all the people and all the warriors were on his right and on his left. Shimei shouted while he cursed, “Out! Out! Murderer! Scoundrel! The LORD has avenged on all of you the blood of the house of Saul in whose place you have reigned; and the LORD has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, disaster has overtaken you; for you are a man of blood” (2 Samuel 16: 5-8, NRSV).

Have you ever been in a situation where you weren’t sure whom you could trust? It’s a bit like trying to find your way through a marsh or a bog. You look for solid ground or for stepping stones, knowing that one false step could be your last.

David isn’t in a bog, but he may as well be. He and his entourage are fleeing for their lives, and everything depends on the decisions he makes about whom to trust.

Appearances can be deceiving. One of the first people he encounters comes bearing gifts of food and wine—generous enough in proportion to feed the whole company. In many ways, it was an answer to prayer. But perhaps David has heard a version of the proverb, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” In this case, he’s wary of Ziba, the servant he’s assigned as Mephibosheth’s household manager (see 2 Sam. 9). “Why have you brought these?” he asks Ziba bluntly.

Ziba has a ready answer, which either means it’s the truth or something he has carefully rehearsed. When David asks the obvious follow-up question as to why Ziba’s master, Mephibosheth is not with him, Ziba offers what appears to be a direct quote: “He remains in Jerusalem; for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will give me back my grandfather’s kingdom.’” Mephibosheth, remember, is the grandson of David’s former rival, King Saul. If Mephibosheth is indeed harboring hopes of reclaiming this grandfather’s throne, this would be just the kind of thing he might say. But did he really say it? David makes a quick decision. Trusting that Ziba is telling the truth, David gives all of Mephibosheth’s property to Ziba.

Moving east from the Mount of Olives, David’s next encounter is with one Shimei son of Gera, another relative of Saul’s. At least there is no ambiguity about Shimei’s intentions. Scuttling along beside the procession, he hurls both curses and stones at David. Interpreting David’s circumstances as a sign of God’s displeasure, he voices in public what some must have been saying in private: “Out! Out! Murderer! Scoundrel.”

Abishai (one of David’s loyal soldiers and the brother of the volatile General Joab), offers a ready remedy for the situation. “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king?” he asks. “Let me go over and take off his head.”

Well, that’s decisive! Under the circumstances, one might expect David to let Abishai off his leash. But this time David hesitates. Abishai’s advice may seem like the sure place to “step,” but David opts instead for a detour that says a lot about his own state of mind. Maybe Shimei has “come out cursing” because God has told him to, David suggests. “Let him alone,” he tells Abishai. “It may be that the LORD will look on my distress, and the LORD will repay me with good for this cursing of me today.” In other words, David isn’t sure what God’s will is in this situation. The only thing to do is wait and see.

It’s a strange place to be for a man who was so recently sitting on a throne.

Ponder the words of Psalm 40, a psalm ascribed to David: “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”

Pray: “On Christ the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

(From the hymn, “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less,” by Edward Mote)