The is the last in my sermon series on the life of David. You would expect his last words to be something memorable. They were, but not in the way I had hoped!
The Killer King sermon series
#7 – The Death of David
2 Kings 2:1-2
July 27, 2014
Today, we end our journey through the life of King David. It’s been quite a ride, hasn’t it? We were there when David was anointed as the next king of Israel by the prophet Samuel. We cheered him on as he stood up to and defeated the giant Goliath. We watched in horror as he committed adultery with Bathsheba, then had her husband Uriah killed. We saw David extend generous compassion to a lame man by including him in a royal banquet. And last week we saw David suffer the consequences of his sin with Bathsheba, which lead to the death of David’s son Absalom.
Today, we will be with David on his deathbed as he prepares to be with God. Before he checks out, though, he’ll have a few last words to share with his son Solomon, who is poised to succeed David as the next king of Israel. You expect there would be a lot of wisdom and inspiration in David’s final words. After all, this the greatest king of Israel, one of the superstars of the Bible. And yet, this is also David, the violent, vengeful, power abuser. We all know people we would label drama queens; David is history’s first drama king.
Our drama today is actually in three acts. To get a handle on the context of David’s deathbed words, we have to go back to Act 1, which takes place in 2 Samuel 16. David’s son Absalom had fled Jerusalem after murdering his brother, but then came back with the agenda of kicking his father David off the throne and becoming king. Absalom garners enough support that David has to leave town. On his way out of town, we’re told this peculiar story: When King David came to Bahurim, a man of the family of the house of Saul came out whose name was Shimei; he came out cursing. He threw stones at David and at all the servants and warriors of King David. 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.” As David and his men went on the road, Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went, throwing stones and flinging dust at him.
There’s no question that David’s violent actions are worthy of this kind of response. As Shimepart of the previous king’s family, Shimei had witnessed David’s violence first-hand, and his anger boils over at this moment. It reminds me of a player on the visiting team leaving the basketball court, and all the home fans are cursing and throwing sodas on him and generally behaving like idiots. And you have to question Shimei’s sanity because not only is he treating the king of Israel like this, but he’s doing it while the king is surrounded by his soldiers. One of the soldiers says to David, “Let me take care of this guy for you,” but David basically says, “We’ve got bigger fish to fry. Leave him alone.”
Act II takes place later, when David has defeated Absalom’s army and is returning home to Jerusalem. So let’s say you’re Shimei, and you see on the news that the king, the one you cursed and threw stones at while he was fleeing, is now coming back to town and bringing all his soldiers with him. What would you do? Hiding in a closet or wearing a wig and changing your name to Fred would be viable options. Here’s what Shimei does in 2 Samuel 19: Shimei fell down before the king, as he was about to cross the Jordan, and said to the king, “May my lord not hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem; may the king not bear it in mind. For your servant knows that I have sinned; therefore, see, I have come this day, the first of all the house of Joseph to come down to meet my lord the king.” One of David’s soldiers answered, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s anointed?” But David said to Shimei, “What have I to do with you, that you should today become an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” The king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king gave him his oath.
That’s pretty generous of David, don’t you think? Let’s conveniently forget that everything Shimei said about David being a murderer and scoundrel were 100% true. Even with the curses ringing in his ears and the bruises from the stones still fresh, David looks at Shimei and pardons him for his acts. Maybe, just maybe, during his time of exile and his battle with his own son, David’s had a fundamental shift in his perspective. Maybe he’s finally chosen to leave behind his violent vengeful ways so that he can finish his reign in peace and go to his death bed with a clean heart. Maybe he’s finally let go of his grudges. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Well, that’s just not going to happen. The final act in our drama today is the scene at David’s deathbed. Here’s what we read in 1 Kings 2: When David’s time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying: “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn. Then the Lord will establish his word that he spoke concerning me: ‘If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’
Now, if David had just ended there, then we would be able to tie a nice yellow bow on top of his life and declare that all’s well that ends well. But drama king David just can’t leave well enough along, so he continues to talk. He gives Solomon instructions on how to handle several political loose threads, and then says this: “There also with you Shimei son of Gera, who cursed me with a terrible curse on the day when I fled Jerusalem; but when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword.’ Therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man; you will know what you ought to do to him, and you must bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David.
So let me get this straight. On David’s deathbed, as he is about to die, his very last words to his son Solomon are this: “Follow God and do what God says and you will be blessed. Oh, and by the way, kill that one guy who called me a bad name a few years ago.” That’s what David wanted his last words to be? That’s the equivalent of someone in Hospice care saying, “By the way, there’s a car in Lexington with the license plate 123ABC. Twelve years ago they cut me off in traffic and didn’t use their turn signal. Promise me you’ll slash their tires.”
This is just ludicrous, but David’s words are doubly sinful because of when he says them. The deathbed scene has a lot of significance in the Bible as the place were significant blessings were bestowed. Think about Jacob stealing Esau’s blessing from Isaac on his deathbed, or Israel conferring blessings upon his twelve sons as he was dying. The deathbed is sacred space, the place of blessing, and through his words David has desecrated it by using it to plot revenge.
As we come to the end of David’s life, having traveled his journey with him, here’s what I really wonder about him. What inside of him was so twisted, so messed up, that he would hold onto this grudge for so long? I thought we had seen a new side of David when he pardoned Shimei by saying, “You shall not die.” Instead, David was making a mental note to make sure Shimei got what was coming to him at any cost. Really, David? That’s really what you want to be remembered for?
It reminds of the story you may have heard about the two shop owners whose stores were across the street from each other. They had a bitter feud as they battled for customers that fostered hatred between the two men. One day, the Devil appears to one of the men and says, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll grant you any wish you want, but the other shopowner will get twice what you request. So the shopowner says, “I wish that you would make me blind in one eye.” By holding this grudge inside of him for so long, David not only hurt Shimei by ultimately calling for his life, he robbed himself of the peace that comes with letting go of anger and animosity.
I’m sorry I can’t give you a better ending to David’s story. I was really tempted to skip this part and tell you all about what a wonderful person King Solomon was, how God offered him anything he wanted and he chose wisdom. That’s the kind of high note on which you want to end. But we can’t cut out of the Bible the fact that David ended with unfinished business, and his singular focus was on making sure that his desire for revenge was satisfied. And in the end, Shimei is indeed put to death. Both men suffer the consequences of resentment.
Here’s a hard fact about living: At some point in our lives, we are going to be wronged. Someone is going to curse us, or sling mud at us, or cut us off in traffic. If you choose to risk being in relationships with people, then you risk getting hurt. That’s a part of life. I’ve asked you to do this before, but I think it’s worth it. Pause for a second and think of someone you really don’t like, someone who really gets your blood boiling. Could be a family member, a friend, a political leader. Got someone? Now, stop and realize that someone could be thinking of YOU. We all play the parts of the wronged and the wrongdoer at some point in our lives. When we’re the ones who’ve been wronged, we feel that resentment starting to grow in us like a cancer. I wouldn’t want someone lying on their deathbed thinking about getting revenge on me. We have to address it and aggressively pursue peace before that cancer poisons us.
Don’t be like David. Do you have someone in your life with whom you are in conflict? Do you have someone against whom you’ve been holding a grudge? Is there a relationship in your life that needs reconciliation, or at least closure? Then take care of it. Don’t wait for it to resolve itself, don’t wait for the other person to make the first move, don’t ignore it and hope it will go away. Deal with it. Hebrews 12 says, “Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.” Resentment grew in David like a cancer until he became consumed by it. We’ve got to cut off that feeling at the root.
I’ve learned a lot from David during this series. He’s shown great bravery, deep compassion, and strong faithfulness. He’s also shown weakness for temptation, an inability to take responsibility for his actions, and a murderous desire for revenge. In other words, he’s human. Just like you. Just like me. There is much we can learn about how to live from David, but there’s also a lot we can learn about how not to live, especially in how he dealt with those who disagreed with him. So I hope one of the things you take away from this story is the importance of seeking peace in the midst of the turmoil in our lives and in our world. We don’t have to look very far to find something that will make us mad. All the more reason for us to focus our lives on making peace. If you don’t, you might end up like David, lying on your deathbed and thinking only of revenge. That’s no way to die, and it’s certainly no way to live.