Passing the Buck.


“Moreover, you also know what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner the son of Ner, and Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed, avenging in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt around his waist and on the sandals on his feet. Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace. But deal loyally with the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table, for with such loyalty they met me when I fled from Absalom your brother. And there is also with you Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a grievous curse on the day when I went to Mahanaim. But when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord, saying, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword.’ Now therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man. You will know what you ought to do to him, and you shall bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” 1 Kings 2:5-9 ESV

As was pointed out in the previous blog, David had two sets of instructions for his son. One was spiritual in nature, while the other was of a more personal nature. In the first four verses of this chapter, David instructed Solomon about what it means to be a man – a godly man. He encouraged Solomon to be obedient to God, reminding him that it would be the key to the success of his kingdom. But now, David makes a slight departure and gives Solomon some last-minute instructions regarding a few personal matters. These involved some unresolved issues linked to David’s reign and involving a few individuals whom David wanted to pay back – either positively or negatively.

There are three men mentioned: Joab, the long-time commander of David’s armies; Shimei, the Benjaminite who cursed David as he fled Jerusalem during the coup by Absalom; and Barzillai, the wealthy Gileadite, who provided David and his companions with “beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd” (2 Samuel 17:28-29 ESV), after Absalom took over Jerusalem. In the cases of the first two men, David was passing on to Solomon the responsibility to mete out justice for what they had done to him. In the case of Berzillai, David was instructing Solomon to show favor to this man and his family by rewarding him for the kindness he had shown him.

It seems odd that David would have waited all these years to do anything about all of these situations. In the case of Shimei, David had sworn an oath before God, that he would not take his life. The exchange that took place between Shimei and David upon David’s return to Jerusalem is so significant about David asking Solomon to execute him. After the defeat of Absalom’s forces by Joab and armies of David, Shimei ran out to meet David, crying out:

“My lord the king, please forgive me,” he pleaded. “Forget the terrible thing your servant did when you left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. I know how much I sinned. That is why I have come here today, the very first person in all Israel to greet my lord the king.” – 2 Samuel 19:19-20 NLT

Shimei confessed his sin to David. He acknowledged the gravity of what he had done. He had cursed the king and even thrown stones at him as he made his way of our Jerusalem. But now, he is remorseful, perhaps even repentant, for what he had done. And he pleads to David for mercy. And while those around David counseled him to kill Shimei for what he had done, David rejected their advice and responded, “‘This is not a day for execution, for today I am once again the king of Israel!’ Then, turning to Shimei, David vowed, ‘Your life will be spared’” (2 Samuel 19:22-23 NLT). How would Shimei have received that news from David? With joy and great relief, but also with a sense of permanence. In other words, Shimei would have taken David at his word and believed that his life was permanently spared. He was forgiven and granted mercy for his entire lifetime. But that was not to be the case. Now, David was asking Solomon to take the life of Shimei. He doesn’t leave Shimei’s fate up to Solomon’s discretion, but clearly tells him, “I swore by the Lord that I would not kill him. But that oath does not make him innocent. You are a wise man, and you will know how to arrange a bloody death for him” (1 Kings 2:8-9 NLT). All that David left up to Solomon was the form of execution.

In the case of Joab, David had more than enough reasons to take his life. During the days when David had ascended to the throne after Saul, Abner, Saul’s military commander, had led a rebellion against David, placing Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, on the throne of Israel. When Abner offered to strike a treaty with David, promising to bring all the tribes of Israel with him, the king accepted, But Joab, seeking revenge for Abner’s murder of his brother, killed Abner. His action infuriated David, but he chose to do nothing about it. Years later, when David’s son, Absalom, raised up a rebellion against his father in order to take the throne from him, Joab would kill Absalom in battle, against the clear command of David (2 Samuel 18:9-15). Finally, when David chose to demote Joab for his disobedience, and replace him with Amasa, Joab would respond by murdering Amasa in cold blood (2 Samuel 20:8-10). In each of these cases, Joab had committed murder and was deserving of death. But David had chosen to ignore his responsibility as king and had allowed Joab to live. And yet, now that David was about to die and Solomon had been crowned the next king of Israel, he was passing off his responsibilities to his son. Once again, David leaves nothing up to Solomon’s imagination when it comes to the fate of Joab, except the form of his execution. David matter-of-factly states, “Do with him what you think best, but don’t let him grow old and go to his grave in peace” (1 Kings 2:6 NLT).

So, Solomon, the newly anointed king of Israel, is being given the unenviable task of meting out vengeance on behalf of his father against two men. He would have to do his father’s dirty work and clean up what David should have taken care of long ago. In the case of Shimei, there should have been no vengeance taken, because David had sworn an oath before God that this man’s life would be spared. It is clear that David had never really forgiven Shimei. His oath had all been a show, designed to make all those around him think that he was a gracious and forgiving king. But obviously, David had never forgotten what Shimei had done. And in the case of Joab, David had never forgiven him for murdering Absalom, even though that was the very fate his son had deserved. Joab’s murders of Abner and Amasa meant far less to David than Joab’s decision to murder Absalom. And while David had every right and a royal responsibility to deal with Joab’s crimes, he had chosen not to do a thing. And now, he was passing on that responsibility to his son.

In his commentary on the book of 1 Kings, D. J. Wiseman writes:

David was wrong in passing on responsibility to Solomon to execute the judgment he himself should have ordered at the time. This was to cause his son and successors much trouble and feuding. – D. J. Wiseman, 1 & 2 Kings: An Introduction and Commentary

David had a habit of putting off the inevitable and the unpleasant. He had allowed Amnon to get away with his rape of Tamar. He had sat back and done nothing after Absalom murdered Amnon. He had ignored all the signs of Absalom’s plan to take over his own kingdom. And while Absalom had been guilty of murder and treason, David had determined to do nothing to punish him, demanding that his life be spared. Joab had three murders to his credit, but David had chosen to turn a blind eye. Part of it was probably motivated by expediency and convenience. He needed Joab. As long as David was alive, Joab was an asset he couldn’t afford to lose. But now that David was dying, Joab was no longer a necessity and Solomon could clean up David’s messes.

Call it what you will: procrastination, conflict avoidance, or merely shirking responsibility, David was guilty of putting off on his son those things he had chosen to ignore or delay. And while David had given Solomon wise counsel regarding what it means to be a man, a godly man, he was actually illustrating just the opposite. He had been disobedient to God. He had failed to listen to God’s commands and deal with his own son justly. He had neglected his responsibility as king to punish Joab for his crimes. He had made an oath before God concerning Shimei and now he was planning on breaking it by somehow convincing himself that his oath lasted only as long as he was alive. He justified his decision by rationalizing that he would not be the one to kill Shimei, Solomon would be. Not exactly godly reasoning. Not what you might call the manly thing to do. But David was far from perfect. He was a man, just like any other man, and prone to the same character flaws and moral indiscretions as the rest of us.

And one of the main lessons that jumps out of the life of David is that it isn’t how well you start, but how well you finish. David had lived a long life and had an illustrious reign. To this day, he is considered the greatest king Israel has ever had. But the closing moments of his life are not exactly his finest. His final words to Solomon, while filled with wisdom, are also marred by his own human flaws. You can see his weaknesses on display. You can sense his ongoing struggle with sin, even to the very last. He would pass on to Solomon a great kingdom. He would hand over to his son a powerful army and a remarkable legacy. But he would also pass the buck, leaving to his son the responsibility to deal with his own unfinished business.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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