Researched and studied by HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
David’s Dying Charge to Solomon, and his Death,
1 Kings 2:5-10.
If anything was required to convince us that the Old Testament worthies were not all saints, though they were all representatives of saints, the deathbed scene of David would be sufficient for that purpose. We need not point out wherein his dying charge to Solomon differed in spirit as well as in act from what that of a dying Christian would be, were it given under similar circumstances. Much less need we contrast it with the spirit which was manifested by the Lord when He prayed on the cross for His enemies. To die as well as to live in charity with all men is a requirement of Christianity. David was not a Christian, though an eminent type of Christ, and we are not to expect, or at least we are not to require, of him Christian perfection. He is not to be judged by a Christian standard. It is not necessary, indeed it is not lawful, for us to judge him as to his essential spiritual state at all. But it is highly necessary to be guarded against the opinion, that because David is called a man after God’s own heart, everything he did without Divine reproof may be reconciled with the character of a holy Christian man.
Grateful may we be for the light which the coming of the Son of Man in His glory has shed upon the sacred page, especially where it records such instances of human frailty. Precious would that light be were it only for the discrimination which it enables us to make between the type and the antitype, and, generally, between the letter and the spirit of the Scriptures, so far as to preserve us from both of those grievous errors—the justification of wrong because done by some who are called the people of God, and the rejection of the Bible because it seems to sanction it. But far more precious is that light was seen to be when, besides giving us this discriminating light, it discovers to us, as objects of spiritual discernment, interior truths that reveal the nature of our own inner life, and display the wisdom of God in the process of our regeneration. To such high and holy subjects does every part of the Sacred Scriptures relate. The deathbed scene of David, and the execution of his sanguinary will by Solomon, when that light from heaven falls upon them, dissolve away, and are succeeded by scenes in which life and immortality take the place of death and destruction. For death and destruction in regard to the spiritual life, in an advancing state of regeneration, are but the removal of old things that have served their purpose and completed their use, in a previous and inferior stage of spiritual progression, that new and higher things may take their place. This, it may appear, is the general truth representatively taught in the rather singular circumstances of Abiathar the priest and Joab the captain of the host—the two highest officers, one in the sacred and the other in military affairs of the kingdom— being retained in office during the whole of the reign of David, notwithstanding the hereditary judgement that rested on the one and the personal criminality that rested on the other.
Abiathar was one of the descendants of Eli, against whose house it had been declared, that its iniquity should not be purged with sacrifice nor offering forever. The sentence of extirpation on the house of Eli may be considered as having been carried out to a great extent in the time of Saul, though not completely till the time of Solomon. Ahimelech, of the house of Eli, who was a priest in the time of Saul, was slain, among fourscore and five persons that wore a linen ephod, because he had supplied David with bread and the sword of Goliath out of the sanctuary when he fled from the persecuting wrath of his father-in-law. On that occasion, a circumstance occurred too frequently mentioned in the Scriptures to be considered accidental or without meaning. Abiathar, one of the sons of Ahimelech, escaped the slaughter of the priests of Nob, and, as the only remnant of the house of Eli, fled after David, by whom he was received with affection, and afterwards made a high priest. And this office he continued to hold till he joined Adonijah in his attempt to obtain the throne, for which he was thrust out by Solomon.
Viewing the rejection of Abiathar from the priesthood as the remote consequence of a judgement which the conduct of Eli had brought upon his whole house, we are to understand it as teaching an important lesson respecting the course of evil as a principle in ourselves. In those who have entered on the regenerate life, judgement comes to be pronounced upon their evils; and if they continue to progress in that life, those evils will, in accordance with that judgement, assuredly die out or cease to rule. As this is the spiritual meaning involved in these Divine judgements and their fulfilment, we must see that they are judgements of mercy and that the execution of these judgements is a work of mercy. When, therefore, we read in the Scriptures of the Divine Being pronouncing judgement of rejection or extinction, which is only to be consummated in future times and generations, let us think, not of a Divine decree that punishes the sins of the fathers upon the children, or that entails a curse upon all the descendants of one offender, but of that wise and merciful economy by which it is provided that, with the faithful, evils that are seen and condemned by the light of Divine truth will gradually be exhausted and consumed, till not one remains or exercises any rule in the heart and mind.
But there is another phase of the subject respecting Abiathar when the thrusting out of that descendant of the house of Eli from the priesthood is considered in connection with the installation of Zadok in his place. Abiathar was a descendant of Aaron, the first high priest of the Jews, through his younger son Ithamar, and Zadok was a descendant of Aaron through his eldest son Eleazar. And we have only to call to remembrance the significant history of Jacob and Esau to perceive the meaning of the elder for a time serving the younger, or being subordinate or inferior to him, till the elder, in the course of events, breaks the yoke of the younger from off his neck. For while the regenerate man acts from the understanding rather than from the will—from truth rather than from good—the younger has the first place; but when he comes to act from the will and from goodness, the firstborn, who represents the principle of goodness, acquires the ascendant as his own true right. The ascendancy of truth during man’s reformation is, however, as providential and necessary as the ascendancy of good when he is regenerated. Truth is the sword that combats, good is the sceptre that rules. During the warlike reign of David a younger branch of the house of Aaron rules in sacerdotal affairs; when Solomon begins his peaceful reign the eldest is invested with the robes of office as high priest of the Church.
The case of Joab is one of still more particular interest. The son of Zeruiah, the sister of David, we see in him a representative of rational truth in relation to that which is spiritual, or of relative truth, as compared and connected with absolute truth. The inner man is perfected through mediums and acts through instruments. Essential principles in the inner man act through secondary principles in the outer man. In regard to David and Joab, as standing in this relation to each other, David represents Divine truth such as it is in the spiritual sense of the Word and in the spiritual mind of man. Joab represents Divine truth such as it is in the literal sense of the Word and in the rational mind of man, which is natural truth rationally apprehended. We have already spoken of Joab as representing the rational mind, and therefore also the rational man. But when we speak of the rational man within the Church, we speak of him in relation to the principles of the Church, and therefore in relation to the Word, from which the principles of the Church are derived. Those who apprehend the Word naturally are those who believe it in simplicity, without reasoning on its teaching, being like children who have not yet learned comparison and judgement. Such as these never pervert the Scriptures, because they do not enter intellectually into their teaching. It is the rational man, who is not at the same time a spiritual man, that alone can be guilty of this serious evil. The rational man who is also spiritual, reasons on spiritual subjects from spiritual light; but the rational man who is not spiritual, reasons on them from natural light. The rational faculty, like the letter of the Word, is a sword that turns every way, and may be used either to support or assail the cause of genuine truth, according as it acts under the influence of the spiritual mind, which is in the order of heaven, or of the natural mind, while it is yet under the yoke of self-love and the love of the world.
That Joab should sustain a representative character in which the truths of the written Word can have any share, when his crimes, especially that of deceitfully slaying a man more righteous than himself, were such as to cause David to utter the heaviest judgement against him and his house, is not more surprising than that David should represent the Lord as the Divine truth itself. Judas, as one of the Lord’s disciples, had his share in representing what the disciples collectively represented, all the goods and truths of His Word. And yet Judas betrayed the Lord and betrayed Him with a kiss. Nor was he even then acting out of his representative character. The Lord cannot be betrayed out of the Church, nor where His Word is not known. It is only those who know Him that can betray Him, nor can they betray Him but by that very knowledge of which He is the Author and the Object. The Lord is betrayed when the truths of His Word are turned against Him; and they are turned against Him when they are made to serve the ends of avarice, injustice, revenge. These are the enemies of God as well as of men; and when they triumph by the perversion of truth, the Lord of truth and love is betrayed into the hands of sinners. When this is done deceitfully, the Lord is betrayed with a kiss. This is no doubt the consummation of all wickedness and was permitted to be done to the Saviour to represent that He endured the greatest evil which fallen human nature could or ever can oppose to the purposes and operations of His saving mercy. The death of Judas and of Joab did not represent the extinction of that truth of which they were the types. Persons who are actually guilty of these evils destroy indeed all truth in themselves; for, of all evils, that of holding the truth in unrighteousness, and using it deceitfully, enter most deeply into the human mind, and roots out almost completely the germs of all that is good and true. The holiest truths and goods of the Church and of the Word cannot then avail to secure or preserve spiritual life; as Joab was slain in the sanctuary, clinging to the horns of the altar. It was one of the laws delivered to Moses, “If a man comes presumptuously upon his neighbour to slay him with guile, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.” And when the good of charity or the truth of faith is destroyed deceitfully, the holiest things of worship cannot save from spiritual death.
Considered as representing principles, the death of Joab represented the separation from holy truth of the profane principle which adhered to it from the corrupt mind of man. And in these and other cases where another takes the office, the new occupant represents a new principle—one more in accordance with the truth, and more capable of manifesting its nature and uses.
If the case of Joab is impressive, still more so is that of Shimei. It will be recollected that when David was fleeing from Absalom, who had rebelled against his father, Shimei, of the family of the house of Saul, “came forth, and cursed still as he came. And he cast stones at David, and at all the servants of David: and he said, Come out you bloody man, and you man of Belial: the Lord has returned upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead you have reigned.” When urged by Abishai to allow him to take off his head, David rebuked him, and said, “So let him curse, because the Lord has said to him, Curse David.” When, after the death of Absalom, the king was returning from the place of his retreat, Shimei came with the men of Judah to welcome and receive him: and confessing his sin and craving forgiveness, David swore to him that his life should be spared. In this pardon there were no conditions, there was no reservation. But in the solemn moments of a deathbed, ten years later, David charged Solomon to do what the oath alone, it would seem, prevented David himself from doing—to bring the hoar head of Shimei with blood to the grave. Naturally considered, all this might be perfectly consistent with Jewish notions of right and justice. Yet we cannot regard it as a part of the inspired Word of God without being satisfied that something is intended to be conveyed by it to the mind of the spiritual man that does not appear from the literal history.
Considered as a part of the history of man’s regeneration, it is easy to perceive the general truth it was intended to convey. Shimei must represent a principle in the mind which rises up and assails it in states of trial and temptation, but which submits itself to the authority of the truth in times of prosperity; and which, though evil, cannot be removed till regeneration has attained a certain stage in its progress towards a state of perfection. The human mind, as the little world within, is like the great world without, in this as in all things else, that there are within it, in its imperfect state, those thoughts and feelings that are friends in prosperity and enemies in adversity, or that are obedient subjects when authority is established, but rebellious and insolent when that authority is shaken. If these ruling powers were to be overturned, or even brought into jeopardy, how many obedient and orderly citizens would break out into acts of contempt or violence. Even when these powers are in full operation, there be some that curse them in their hearts, and only want the outward occasion to curse them with their lips and in their lives—to cast at them the stones of violence and the dust of contumely.
In the spiritual affairs of the soul, there is some considerable resemblance to this. In the earlier stage of the spiritual life, there are thoughts and feelings that yield to the pressure of authority exerted by the truth which we have acknowledged as the law of life, but which show insubordination and violence when that pressure is removed. When we suffer we are often disposed to murmur and are sometimes even tempted to break out into complaints against the wisdom and goodness of Providence.
Circumstances do not create these rebellious principles or increase their malignity, but they afford occasion or opportunity for their coming into open rebellion. Most conscientious persons have learned by experience that circumstances, especially those of trial and temptation, bring dispositions into activity which they hardly knew or could believe they possessed. Such circumstances as to make us thus practically acquainted with ourselves are no doubt among the permissions of an all-wise and good Providence, whose dispensations are not all present peace, but which permit the sword to pierce through the very soul. In the wars of this world, how are the passions of men let loose! in the day of adversity how cruelly does the enemy triumph! In the wars of the spiritual life—those of the world within—there are not less startling revelations of the enormity of the evils that slumber in the human heart—evils that either never have been excited so as to be seen in their real malignity, or that rise up anew after they have been brought into some degree of subjection. It is a merciful as it is a wise provision in the economy of our Divine Saviour, that evil is not allowed to pass the bounds of possible restraint and final subjugation; and that they are only permitted to come into activity when we have the power to overcome them. “As your day, so shall your strength be.” “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.” Evil, however effectually subdued, is never annihilated, but is removed from its central and commanding position in the mind to an outward and subordinate place. It is always, therefore, possible, while we live in this world, for evil to return to the place from which it has been cast out; and no doubt there is in every subdued evil an inherent inclination to throw off the yoke. The actual return of any evil to its original central place and to its original authority in the mind would be to the individual a kind of the second fall that would leave him far more wicked and degraded than the first. It would be his return, after the evil spirit had gone out of him, with seven other spirits more wicked than himself. This is a state of things that is to the utmost mercifully provided against. One of the means by which Divine wisdom and goodness secure the earnest mind against this calamity is, that no particular evil that has been completely overcome is ever likely to rise up and acquire dominion again. But evils are connected together like tribes and houses and families; and though one may be subdued, another may renew the assault. Saul, the bitter enemy of David, maybe dead, but a Shimei, of the house and family of Saul, may come forth, and, in the hour of adversity and trial, manifest the same spirit of bitterness and hostility. This is one of the circumstances incidents to the regenerate life. The natural man can go on acting daily from the same evil principle and gratifying the same evil craving, with little difference but that of increased intensity. The Christian looks into his own heart; and, as he discovers the evils of his nature, he humbles himself on account of them, and looks for Divine aid to enable him to remove them. The manifestation of the evils of the heart leads, therefore, to two distinct states. It shows us what we are in and of ourselves. The curse, deep and bitter as it is, which brings evil to our view, produces a conviction in the mind that it is deserved, and that the accusation is of Divine permission, to humble us under a sense of our corruption. We are prepared, therefore, to say with the humbled king, “Let him curse because the Lord has said to him, Curse David.” In this state of humility, in which the cursed nature of sin is seen, there is also a looking to the Lord that He may turn away the curse and give a blessing in its stead. The afflicted soul is ready to express the hope of David: “It may be that the Lord will look on mine affliction and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day.” This patient submission to the worst that an accusing conscience or accusing spirits can do, lays in the mind the foundation of a better state; for every state of real upward progress is laid in the sincere acknowledgement that in ourselves we are nothing but evil, and that all good comes from God as its true and only possible source. In ourselves are only the evil and curse; in the Lord only have we goodness and the blessing.
When this foundation is once laid deep in the mind, the ultimate removal of the evil of the heart will be accomplished. But that removal can only be effected when its opposite good obtains such an ascendancy in the mind as to give us the necessary power to effect it. The beginning of Solomon’s reign was the period when Shimei and the other eminent delinquents during David’s reign were punished; for this represented a new state and one in which that higher good—the good of love to the Lord—begins to obtain practical ascendancy in the regenerate mind.
But the question arises, Why did Solomon, instead of executing immediately the will of his father to put Shimei to death, lay upon him a personal restraint which there was a reasonable probability of his submitting to, and so defeating the object of David?
Jerusalem means the Church and in a particular sense the doctrine of the Church. Shimei was required to build himself a house in Jerusalem, and not to go forth any whither, and was warned that on crossing the brook Kidron he should surely be put to death. Jerusalem represented the Church and in particular the Church in regard to its doctrines. To build a house in Jerusalem is to build up the mind in conformity with the doctrines of the Church, and not to go out of Jerusalem is to live within the bounds or according to the teaching of the doctrines of truth and goodness. The lesson we are taught in the circumstance, that, so long as Shimei remained in Jerusalem, his life would be spared, is this, that so long as evil is restrained by the truths or doctrines of the Church, and a man lives in conformity with them, his spiritual life is preserved, but that whenever he throws off the restraints of doctrine and allows his evil to go forth into actual life, it brings certain death upon him. It is not by merely refraining from the act that spiritual life is preserved; for when there is the intention to do evil, the act exists potentially in it, and, unless sincerely repented of, will come forth into actual existence also when occasion offers. So long as evil has not entered so deeply into the will and thence into the act as to have become a fixed principle and a confirmed habit, the state is not a hopeless one. In a general way, too, so long as evil is confined to the mind, it does not bring its ultimate results upon the soul; since it is a law of Divine as it is of human justice that evil is never actually punished except when it, comes into action. So that even in the future state men are not actually punished for the evils they have committed here, but for the evils, they commit there. They carry with them the evil principles from which they have acted in this life; and as often as these bring them into states of actual opposition to goodness and truth, they fall under punishment as the means of correction and restraint.
But while the general condition was laid upon Shimei that he should not go beyond the city of Jerusalem, there was a particular line marked out as the boundary which he was not to pass. “For it shall be, that on the day you go out, and passest over the brook Kidron, you shall know for certain that you shall surely die.”
Why should the command be given not to pass over the brook Kidron? That stream and the deep and dark ravine in which it flowed formed the boundary of hardly two sides of the high ground on which Jerusalem stood. It lay on the north and east of Jerusalem, and on the opposite side stood the Mount of Olives, at the foot of which was the garden of Gethsemane. There was no doubt a reason for Solomon’s specific limitation: and the Word itself will enable us to see what that reason was.
Kidron has been already mentioned in connection with the very events in David’s history which brought Shimei’s hostility into action. When David fled from Absalom, in leaving Jerusalem, it is recorded that, in the mournful procession, “all the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people passed over: the king also himself passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over, toward the way of the wilderness.” In the Gospel also this brook is mentioned in connection with an event in the Lord’s life which still more strikingly marks the character of its signification. When the Divine Saviour had finished the Holy Supper, and had ended that prayer to the Father, in which He expresses the depth of His love for His people, and the ardency of His desire for union with the Father and conjunction with them, it is said in the i8th of John that “when Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which He entered, and His disciples. And Judas also, which betrayed Him, knew the place.”
Kidron, the dark and turbid, is thus, as it were, the boundary-line between the Church and the world, where peace and security end and tribulation and danger begin, with those, at least, who are passing through the trials of the spiritual life. Shimei had remained three years in Jerusalem when two of his servants “ran away to Achish, son of Maacah king of Gath. And they told Shimei, saying, Behold, your servants be in Gath. And Shimei arose, and saddled his ass, and went to Gath to Achish to seek his servants: and Shimei went, and brought his servants from Gath.” It is more than likely that in his eagerness to recover his runaway servants, Shimei had for the moment lost all recollection of the bond under which he held his life. In this Shimei was but the type of those who hold their spiritual life on the same conditions. When religion is to us a law but not a principle, and thus controls the outward actions but does not affect the inward life, the bond, though it has been solemnly consented to, is easily forgotten, and likely to be broken under any circumstances that strongly excite our self-interest or self-love. Time, also, which strengthens inward principles, tends to weaken the sense of outward obligations. The three years that Shimei remained in Jerusalem would have been to a spiritual man a full state of confirmation in the principles of religion but proved in his case the complete forgetfulness or neglect of its duties. But Shimei, while he violated the law under which he himself lived, forgot the rights of his servants. The law of Moses says, “You shall not deliver to his master the servant which is escaped from his master to you” (Deuteronomy 23:15). This seems, indeed, to relate to the servants of foreign masters, but it is understood to have awarded to Israelitish servants the protection to which others were entitled. Shimei was like the servant in the parable whose lord forgave him a large debt only because he asked forgiveness, but who, when he went out from his master’s presence, seized a fellow-servant by the throat who owed him a very small sum, and refused to listen to his entreaties for mercy. Servants are types of things that serve, as of truths that serve goodness. But truths may be made to serve evil, and then they become slaves, not by consent but by compulsion.
When they assert their freedom and are forced back into slavery, they are deprived of the rights which belong to them and are doubly oppressed. Everything connected with religion partakes of the freedom which religion confers, and which it breathes. Even the laws of Moses were founded on this principle, provision being made for the emancipation of those who, from any cause, had been reduced to servitude, and no one could be retained beyond the time of his release but by his own consent. Shimei, although he consented to the restriction laid upon his own movements, no doubt felt uneasy under the restraint and asserted his freedom to bring his servants into bonds.
But his unlawful freedom cost him his life. So with those who deeply sin against the truth. If they continue within the limits which it assigns to them, they will save themselves alive, but if they transgress, the sword of truth will cut them in sunder, and appoint them their portion with the hypocrites.
Shimei was the last who fell under the sword of Benaiah of those who had transgressed in the time of David. And it is added, as the result of the removal of these discordant elements, that the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon. In delivering the parable of the wheat and the tares, which relates to the time and the process of judgement, the Lord says of the angels, “They shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:41, 43). Divine judgement is designed to remove all things that offend against the laws of truth, and that sin against the laws of goodness, that righteousness may shine forth as the sun of love and truth in the kingdom of the Father, which is the kingdom of love that rules by wisdom. This is the kingdom represented by that of Solomon.