“But the king said, ‘What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, “Curse David,” who then shall say, “Why have you done so?”’ And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, ‘Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to.’” (CSB – Read the chapter)
How do you respond when you’ve been cursed? Let’s broaden that out: How do you respond to a perceived insult? Do you immediately seek to respond in kind? Do you nurse a grudge that eventually becomes a sullen hatred? Do you begin plotting how you will get your revenge at some point in the future? Being insulted is tough. It’s even tougher when the person insulting you is someone over whom you have some measure of authority. That’s what David experienced. What would you do?
David’s men certainly wanted him to respond in kind. David and his men were fleeing Jerusalem and Absalom’s revolt. They came through a region near the Jordan where Shimei, one of Saul’s descendants, called him every name in several books, told him all this tragedy was God’s punishment, and even threw rocks and kicked dirt down on the whole party. Joab’s brother, Abishai, was ready to go separate his head from his body in response. No one was going to insult his king that way.
And, while we might not go to quite the length of decapitating someone who has offended us, we at least understand the sentiment, right? When we’ve been offended, our natural instinct is to respond with an offense of our own.
What David did instead was to operate on a moral plain that was 1,000 years ahead of its time. Rather than responding to Shimei at all, David actually scolded Abishai for his thirst for violence. It was a move reminiscent of Jesus’ scolding of James and John when they wanted to call down fire from heaven on some people who rejected His message. David took up the incredibly humble position that maybe it really was at God’s command that Shimei was doing and saying all he was, ignored him completely, and kept right on moving toward his goal.
In doing so, he illustrated the standard to which we are called to adhere as followers of Jesus. He laid it out for us in the Sermon on the Mount. When we are insulted and offended we are to respond by turning the other cheek. Odds are, you’ve heard that phrase before. You may have even heard the explanation that Jesus wasn’t talking about passivity in the face of physical violence, but rather about refusing to return insult for insult.
Understanding exactly what Jesus meant by that is important, but what is perhaps even more important is the question of whether or not you believe Him. The question is whether or not you agree with David or his men regarding his response to Shimei. The fact is, this is a place where the culture and the Scriptures are pretty wildly divergent.
In the mind and eyes of the culture (you pick which one you’d like to have in focus, they’re all the same on this point), turning the other cheek like David did here and Jesus would later commend has always been considered to be a display of weakness. When someone has insulted you, you need to stand up for yourself. You need to respond with a display of power that sends the signal that you are one who is not to be threatened lightly. To do anything else invites more frequent and more intense abuse. Now, in a culture shaped by the Christian worldview as ours still is, that may not be something anyone would necessarily say out loud, but behavior belies belief pretty clearly.
The truth, though, is that when done properly, responding with kindness or turning the other cheek is actually a position of strength. It’s a position of strength, but not the kind of strength the world recognizes as such. It requires the strength of humility. It requires the strength of knowing who we are, who God is, and being okay with that. It requires the strength of a healthy self-confidence in which you know when the insults are divergent from the truth and ignore them, and when they aren’t and use them as a gift from God aimed at helping you root out a place of unrighteousness in your life.
Not many can do this. David could. Jesus calls and equips we who follow Him to do it (not that we always or even often lean into this strength). Few others can. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make it our aim. It means we have our work cut out for us. Think about how much even small progress in all this will have an impact on our culture. People who aren’t there won’t understand, but this is something worth striving to make real in our own life. This is the path to a better world.