The Life of David, Vol. II.
by A. W. Pink
His Return to Jordan
2 Samuel 19
What a bewildering maze does the path of life present to many a soul: its twistings and turnings, its ups and downs, its advances and retreats are often too puzzling for carnal wisdom to solve. True it is that the lives of some are sheltered ones, with little of adventure and still less of mystery in them; yet it is far otherwise for others, with their journeyings hither and thither. But in the light of Scripture the latter should not be surprised. One has only to read the biographies of the patriarchs to discover how often they were called upon to strike their tents, move from place to place, traverse and then re-traverse the same path. The experiences of David, then, were in this respect, far from being exceptional: nor should any child of God deem it passing strange if he too finds himself retracting his steps and returning to the same place which he left months or years ago.
Amid the strange vicissitudes of life how comforting it is for the saint to be assured that "the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord" (Ps. 37:23). Ah, it was David himself, who, by the Spirit of inspiration originally penned those words. He realized that a predestinating God had first decreed and then ordered his entire journey through this world. Happy, thrice happy, the soul who by faith lays hold of this grand truth. To he fully assured that neither fickle fortune nor blind fate, but his all-wise and loving Father has mapped out his course supplies a peace and poise to a believing heart such as nothing else can give. It softens disappointment, affords comfort in sorrow, and quiets the storm within; yet it is only as faith is in exercise that those peaceable fruits of righteousness are produced in us. An evil heart of unbelief deprives one of such consolation, placing him on the same level as the poor worldling who has no light to disperse his gloom.
In previous chapters we spent some little time in dwelling upon the various sad incidents which marked David’s journey from Jerusalem to the Jordan, and from there to Mahanaim; now we are to contemplate the brighter side of things as the king retraced his steps. The contrasts presented are indeed striking, reminding us of the welcome spring and genial summer after a long and dreary winter. The analogies which exist between the seasons of the year and the different stages and experiences of life have often been dwelt upon, yet not too often, for there are many salutary lessons to be learned therefrom. Some dyspeptic souls seem more in their element when dwelling upon that which is sad and somber, just as there are those (because they suffer from the heat) who are glad when summer is over, Another class determine to be occupied only with that which is cheerful and gay, refusing (to their own loss) to face that which is serious, sober and solemn—just as some people always grumble when the weather is wet, failing to realize the rain is as needful as the sunshine.
It is much the same with those preachers who attempt to trace out the experiences of a Christian. Some who delineate the inward history of a believer, or what they consider it should consist of disproportionately dwell upon his assurance, peace and joy; while others overemphasize his painful conflicts and defeats, his doubts and fears. The one is as harmful as the other, for in either case only a caricature of the truth is presented. The one would rapidly skim over the distressing incidents which occasioned David’s Right from Jerusalem to the Jordan, and those which attended him on the way to Mahanaim; while the other would expatiate fully thereon, but say little upon his happier lot as he returned from his exile to the capital. Let us diligently seek to avoid such lopsidedness, and preserve the balance in all things, so that as we should be equally thankful for each of the passing seasons of the year, we will endeavor to profit from the ever-varying circumstances of life through which we are called upon to pass.
If David had passed through a season of gloom and tragedy, he was now to encounter some pleasant and gratifying experiences. If he had met with ingratitude and unjust reproaches from some of his subjects, he was now to be the recipient of a hearty welcome and the appreciative homage of others. How the tide of public opinion ebbs and flows: one moment exclaiming "no doubt this man is a murderer," and the next one changing their minds and saying "that he was a god" (Acts 28:4-6). How this should warn us against placing any reliance upon the creature! How thankful we should be when God is pleased to incline any to be favorably disposed towards us. On occasions the crowd changes from friendliness to hostility, at other times the converse is the case. So it was at the stage we have now reached in our hero’s history.
"So the king returned and came to Jordan" (2 Sam. 19:15). What a change had been wrought since David had last stood on the banks of this river. Then he was fleeing from Absalom, who had captured the hearts of many in Judah; now the rebel was dead, and God had so reinstated David in the affections of the royal tribe, that all men of Judah had sent word unto him "Return thou, and all thy servants" (v. 14). Assured that God was with him, and that he could rely upon the loyalty of his people, David left Mahanaim where his temporary camp had been set up, and betook himself as far as this famous stream. He had been slow in acting, partly because he wished to make sure of his ground, by ascertaining whether or no the people still desired him to reign over them. Not by force of arms, but by the wishes of his subjects was he determined to hold his position.
"And Judah came to Gilgal to go to meet the king, to conduct the king over Jordan," (v. 15). It will be recalled that David had sent Zadok and Abiathar to inquire into the attitude of the elders of Judah toward him: it seems a pity that there had been no joint conference with the heads of the other tribes. "It would have been better if they had conferred with their brethren, and thus acted in concert, as this would have prevented many bad consequences" (Thomas Scott). Even though it had involved further delay, joint action on the part of Israel would have been far more satisfactory. Nothing is gained by partiality: those slighted nurse their grievance, and sooner or later express their dissatisfaction and cause trouble. Thus it proved with the Nation, for less than a century later ten
"And Judah came to Gilgal, to go to meet the king, to conduct the king over Jordan." The place where the men of Judah now met David was associated with memorable events. It was there that Joshua had, by the command of the Lord, circumcised those of Israel who had been born in the wilderness, so that "the reproach of Egypt" was rolled away from them (Josh. 5:2-9); and it was from that incident it derived its name, for Gilgal means "rolling away." How appropriate the chosen venue, for the reproach of Judah’s infidelity was rolled away as they now renewed their fealty to David. Again, at a later date we read, "Then said Samuel to the people, Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there" (1 Sam. 11:14)—thus was history now virtually repeating itself.
"And Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite, which was of Bahurim, hasted and came down with the men of Judah to meet king David" (v. 16). What pleasant surprises we sometimes have amid life’s disappointments! This is the last man of all who might have been expected to be among those who came to welcome the king, for Shimei was the one who had reviled and cursed him on his outward journey (2 Sam. 16:5, 6). The commentators attribute Shimei’s friendly advances on this occasion to nothing more than carnal prudence or an instinct of self-preservation, but this we think is quite a mistake—he seems to have been in no danger of his life, for the next verse informs us there were a thousand men of Benjamin with him. No, in the light of verse 14 we believe this is another instance of God’s making his enemies to be at peace with him when a man’s ways please the Lord.
"And there were a thousand men of Benjamin with him, and Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, and his fifteen Sons and his twenty servants with him; and they went over Jordan before the king" (v. 17). Well did Matthew Henry suggest, "Perhaps Jordan was never passed with so much solemnity, nor with so many remarkable occurrences, as it was now, since Israel passed it under Joshua." It was almost as surprising for the lying Ziba to present his obeisance to the king on this occasion, as it was for Shimei, for if the one had reviled him with a foul tongue, the other, by his wicked imposition (2 Sam. 16:1-4) abused him with a fair one. No doubt he was anxious to establish himself more firmly in the king’s favor ere Mephibosheth should undeceive him.
"And there went over a ferry boat to carry over the king’s household, and to do what he thought good" (v. 18). "This is the only place in which a boat for passing over a river is mentioned. Bridges are not mentioned in Scripture. Rivers were generally forded at that time" (Thomas Scott). "And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was come over Jordan" (v. 18). See here a signal demonstration of the power of God: nothing is too hard for Him: He can subdue the most rebellious heart. What wonders are wrought by the Spirit even in the reprobate, for upon them too He puts forth both His restraining and constraining operations: were it not so, the elect could not live in this world at all. Yet how feebly is this realized today, even by the saints. How little is the hand of God beheld by them in the subduing of their enemies’ hatred and in making others to be friendly and kind toward them. A spirit of atheism, which would exclude God from all human affairs, is more and more infecting this evil generation.
"And said unto the king, Let not my lord impute iniquity unto me, neither do thou remember that which thy servant did perversely the day that my lord the king went out of Jerusalem, that the king should take it to his heart. For thy servant doth know that I have sinned: therefore, behold, I am come the first this day of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king" (vv. 19, 20). Let us see in this incident a typical picture of the penitent sinner casting himself upon the mercy of David’s greater Son and Lord. This is exactly what takes place at a genuine conversion: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Isa. 55:7). This is the course which Shimei now followed: he ceased his defiant conduct, threw down the weapons of his warfare against David, acknowledged his grievous offences, cast himself at the king’s feet, thereby avowing his willingness to be subject to his royal sceptre. Saving mercy is not to be obtained any other way. There must be a complete right-about-face: contrition and confession are as imperative as is faith in Christ.
Have you, my reader, really and truly surrendered yourself to the Lordship of Christ? If you have not, no matter what you believe, or how orthodox the profession you make, you are yet in your sins and on your way to eternal perdition. Make no mistake on this point, we beseech you: as you value your soul, examine thoroughly the foundations of any hope of salvation which you may cherish. If you are living a life of self-pleasing, and are not in subjection to the commandments of Christ, then are you in open revolt against Him. There must be a complete break from the old life of worldliness and carnal gratification, and the entering into a new relationship with God in Christ, namely, a submitting to His holy will and the ordering of all your conduct thereby. You are either living for self, or striving to serve and please God; and in your heart you know which course you are following. Being religious on the Sabbath and irreligious the other six days will avail you nothing.
"But Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered and said, Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s anointed?" (v. 21). Abishai was brother to the arrogant Joab and possessed much of his domineering spirit. He was the one who had offered to slay Shimei at the time he had reviled David (2 Sam. 16:9): mercy was foreign to his nature, and even though Shimei now publicly acknowledge his offence and besought the king’s pardon, this son of Zeruiah thirsted for his blood. May we not consider this line in our typical picture as illustrative of the principle (cf. Luke 9:42; 15:2, etc.) that there are some ready to oppose whenever a sinner takes his true place before God. If there are those who complain that the way of salvation is made too easy when the grace of God is emphasized, there are others who argue that salvation by works is being inculcated when the righteousness of God and the claims of Christ are duly pressed.
"And David said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah, that ye should this day be adversaries unto me? shall there any man be put to death this day in Israel? for do not I know that I am this day king over Israel? Therefore the king said unto Shimei, Thou shalt not die. And the king sware unto him" (vv. 22, 23). It is indeed blessed to mark how David’s soul loathed the evil suggestion made by Abishai. That son of Zeruiah—whose heart had never been broken before God, and therefore was devoid of His compassions—was far too blind to perceive that this was no time for the enforcing of unmingled justice. But it was far otherwise with David: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7): he had received wondrous mercy from the Lord, and now he exercised mercy unto this wretched Shimei, and in return for this he shall obtain further mercy from God. Let us not ignore that searching word, "If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14, 15). God communicates grace to His people in order to make them gracious—reflectors of Himself.
Feign would we dwell for a moment longer on the lovely spirit which now actuated our hero. In previous sections of 1 and 2 Samuel we have beheld the grace of God towards David—electing, exalting, pardoning and preserving him; so too have we seen the grace of God working in him. It was the general rule of his life, giving character to his dealings with others, as it had thus given character to God’s dealings with him. Being called to enter into blessing, he rendered blessing. When he was reviled, he reviled not again (1 Sam. 17:28); when persecuted, he threatened not, but suffered it (1 Sam. 19:31). Never do we read of him seeking his own advancement or honor: when tidings reached him of the death of Saul, he wept instead of rejoicing; in the fall of Abner and Ishbosheth, it is only of the sorrow and fasting of David we hear. So it is, in varying measure, with all Christians: notwithstanding the detestable workings of the flesh, there are also the precious fruits of the Spirit—seen and approved of by God, if not always observable by others or cognizable to ourselves.
This was the man after God’s own heart, and in every scene in which he was called to take a part—save when he was, for a while, turned aside by Satan—we behold him seeking not his own aggrandizement or even vindication, but serving in grace and kindness. A most blessed example of this was before us when pondering 2 Samuel 9. He would be an emulator or follower of God (Eph. 5:1), as a dear child. So it was when Abishai was for exacting bare righteousness: but mercy had rejoiced over judgment towards himself in the heart of the Lord, and nothing but the same is now beheld in the heart of David. Divine grace had not only pardoned his grievous sins against Uriah, but had now delivered him from the murderous designs of Absalom; how, then, could he consent to the death of even his worst enemy! Ah, my reader, divine grace not only forgives sins, but it also transforms sinners: taming the lion, making gentle the wolf. Thereby the divine "workmanship" (Eph. 2:10) is made manifest.
But let us look again beyond David to that blessed One of whom he was so eminent a type. In what has just been before us we are presented with a lovely picture of the Gospel. The grand truth of the Gospel is that Christ "receiveth sinners." Yes, He not only spares, but welcomes His worst enemies, and freely pardons them. Nevertheless, they must seek Him, surrender to His Lordship, take their place before Him in the dust as penitents, confessing their sins, and casting themselves on His sovereign mercy. This is what Shimei did. He determined to make his peace with David, came to him, and did obeisance before him; and we read that the king said "Thou shalt not die." And this, dear reader, is what the King of kings will say of you, if you throw down the weapons of your warfare against Him and exercise faith in Him. May the Spirit of God graciously cause some unbelieving reader to do so.