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Responding to Insult

By Internet or television, much of the world saw an Iraqi journalist throw both of his shoes at an American President.

The shoe incident, however, was a minor embarrassment compared to a public display of contempt described in the Bible.

The insult happened on a day that was already one of the lowest moments in the life of David, king of Israel. One of David’s own sons had seized control of Israel’s army and was forcing his father and friends to leave Jerusalem for fear of their lives (2 Samuel 15–16).

As if it wasn’t enough to be run out of town in tears, with head covered, and feet bared (2 Samuel 15:30), someone began celebrating the moment. Somewhere between Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, an angry man began throwing stones and accusing David of being a murderer who, for all of his wrongs, was finally getting what he deserved (16:5-8).  

In response to the insult, one of David’s officers offered to cut off the head of “this dead dog.” But David wouldn’t let him do it. Instead, the king suggested that perhaps God was saying something to him through the insults.

Even in this awful moment, David seems to give us an indication of why the Bible remembers him as a man after God’s own heart. He had been humbled and broken by his own wrongs. He knew his leadership of Israel had been marred by personal failures that included an affair with a married woman and a conspiracy to have her husband killed.

At this point, David would have had reason to wonder whether God was giving him what he deserved.

According to 2 Samuel 13, David’s firstborn son, Amnon, raped his half-sister Tamar. Two years later, Tamar’s brother Absalom ambushed and killed Amnon for disgracing his sister.

Those losses broke David’s heart. One son was dead, a daughter was defiled and distraught, and another son was in exile for murdering his brother.

Years passed before David agreed to let Absalom return to Jerusalem. By the time the king was ready to be reunited, however, Absalom had other plans. Deeply embittered by his father’s reluctance to see him, he would not accept David’s change of heart. Instead, he conspired to use flattery and his own good looks to win the hearts of Israel and become king in his father’s place.

When David heard that the men of Israel had joined Absalom, he realized that he and his friends had to get out of town to avoid being killed by his own son.

It was then, as the king and his friends left the city, that a relative of Saul named Shimei created a scene by throwing stones and cursing the king (16:5-6).

When Abishai offered to kill Shimei, David wouldn’t let him. Instead, the king indicated that God might actually be speaking to him through Shimei’s curses.

With a broken heart, David said, “ ‘My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reasons to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today.’ So David and his men continued down the road, and Shimei kept pace with them on a nearby hillside, cursing as he went and throwing stones at David and tossing dust into the air” (16:11-13 NLT).  

Just as David’s fear of the Lord had once kept him from lifting a hand against a raging King Saul (1 Samuel 24:6), David now showed similar restraint toward one of Saul’s embittered relatives. By not ordering Shimei killed, the aging king of Israel showed his willingness to be taught—even by an angry, out-of-control enemy.

David’s response makes me wonder how different my life would have been if I’d always handled criticism and insult with a teachable heart. What if in the face of far less offensive insults, I had taken the occasion to wonder whether our God was lovingly saying something to me—even through the angry voice and accusations of a critic?

What if all of us followed David’s wisdom of learning from a bad moment? What is the worst that could happen if we let the accusations of an enemy turn our ear toward God? Would we have wasted our time by being wise enough to listen for a half-truth in the unkind words of someone who had no interest in flattering us? Even if the present “attacks” are old news, forgiven sins, or altogether unjustified, would we be poorer for the experience if we took the occasion to remember that the real truth about us is probably far worse than any of our human enemies could know? Would remembering how much we’ve needed the mercy of God be something we would regret?

Father in heaven, please help us to be as wise as Your servant David. Give us the grace to listen for Your voice in the accusations of our “enemy.” Even if, this time, we hear only the lies of an accuser, help us to remember how, in Your Son’s darkest hour, He didn’t return evil for evil but endured the public humiliation and curse we deserved. —Mart De Haan

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