Have you ever read the story of King Solomon taking the throne in Israel?
The story takes place in the first three chapters of I Kings, and there is much more to it than most realize. King David grows old and pronounces his son, Solomon, the next king. (A great story of forgiveness and restoration, as Solomon was the second son of David and Bathsheba.) However, Solomon's half-brother Adonijah proclaims himself king, touching off a conflict ending in his own death. When Solomon finally becomes king, God grants him anything he desires, and he requests wisdom. That's the part of the story most of us remember.
But, a series of events takes place before Solomon assumes the throne. David, on his death bed, gives his son Solomon a list of instructions and requests.
First, David instructs Solomon to follow God's commands. Then, to execute Joab in retaliation for Joab's murders of Abner and Amasa. Then, to show kindness to the sons of Barzillai, because he was loyal to David when Absalom tried to usurp the throne. Then, to execute Shimei in retaliation for his cursing of King David along the road when David fled Jerusalem to escape Absalom.
David dies after handing his son, the new king, this clipboard of payback. Solomon fulfills all of his father's wishes, killing Joab and Shimei to settle David's grudges against them.
I've never quite been able to understand this incident. Was David authorized by God to exact vengeance on these men? Not according to any Scripture I know of. Even if David had been authorized to kill these men, why would he not have just done it himself while he was king? Why burden his son with this baggage at the very beginning of his administration? And, why did God allow all this to happen? The Scripture just doesn't say.
The part of this story that bothers me the most is Shimei. In 2 Samuel 18:19-23, when David regains his throne after his son Absalom is killed, Shimei begs for mercy from King David, fully expecting to be executed for his insults. However, David shows mercy to him, swears to him he will not be killed, and allows him to live. Then, years later, on his death bed, out of all the things in all the world he could think about and leave with his son, he brings up this grudge, that he apparently never let go of, breaks his promise to Shimei, and tells his son to kill him. In fact, he cites his original promise not to kill Shimei, creating a loophole allowing someone else to kill Shimei for him. David's wording to Solomon is especially chilling: "Bring his gray hair down to the grave with blood."
David is one of my biblical heroes. I'm named after him. But this story, I believe, reveals some of his darkest personal flaws.
How can we not resolve to be forgiving people, seeing these examples of bitterness over past wrongs in their ugliest full form? How easy to judge David, but also how easy to hold grudges ourselves.