By Kevin Freeman
Read 2 Samuel 16:5-13; 19:16-23
Trust God’s Justice
It was the lowest point of his life. Ulysses S. Grant, the distinguished West Point graduate, and Mexican-American War veteran was destitute. His dream of civilian life had not worked out well, nor had his ability to cope. Saddled with debt and unable to provide for his family, the man soon became a drunkard and a shell of his former self. Eight years later, Grant was in the White House as president. The crisis that was the American Civil War helped Grant come to his senses, effectively lead the army, and serve to help stabilize and heal the country rocked by the war.
It was the lowest point of King David’s political life. His son, Absalom, had exploited a few chinks in David’s armor and was at that moment amid a successful coup against his father. Fleeing Jerusalem, David and his people were met with the insults of Shimei, part of Saul’s family, and supporter of that former king. Shimei probably thought he was the mouthpiece of God as he slandered the king and highlighted every supposed despicable act David had done. Shimei used his physical high ground to kick dust down on the dejected caravan and pelt them with rocks along the way.
Abishai, one of David’s military advisers, offered swift justice. On David’s order, Abishai would willingly liberate Shimei’s head from his shoulders, thus ending the verbal and physical assaults. The king was well within his rights to give the order, but David’s response, “What have I to do with you?” surprised Abishai. He rejected Abishai’s violent offer of protection, siding more with the insults of Shimei than with the protection of his guard. David exercised restraint.
Restraint is an expression of faith in God. It is a tool in the believer’s arsenal to avoid personal vengeance or justice. Perhaps David remembered how close he had come to bloodshed against Nabal years earlier, and he knew that vengeance is in God’s hands. He made a theological appeal, assuming that Shimei was indeed speaking on God’s command. David was willing to take Shimei’s accusations to heart as a form of holy chastening. Perhaps, as David bore the assault, God would deliver him upon seeing his contrition.
In a crisis, it is easy to lose restraint with those who seem to be smaller players. The husband worried about his job takes out the stress on his wife. The wife with marital struggles is harsh toward her children. The stress eats at us and leads us to take it out on the little guy. An appropriate response to a crisis requires restraint.
God did deliver David from his son’s coup attempt. After that victory, David had the opportunity to execute justice. Shimei had, in fact, proven that he had not spoken for God but rather undermined his king during his most vulnerable state. Yet again, David rejected Abishai’s offer of swift justice by asking, “What have I to do with you?” Restraint again won the day. God had already restored the kingdom, and Israel required healing – not more bloodshed – after its own civil war.
God’s own self-restraint is modeled repeatedly in the Bible, which reminds us to live out this trait as well. Psalm 103:8 declares, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (ESV). Our God is a God of restraint, and he calls us to the same standard.
Let’s admit it: If God’s justice were to flow as swiftly as we often want to exercise our own justice, we all would be in big trouble! Grievances will occur. Offenses will come. Our restraint can be an expression of faith, trusting God’s justice and care over us. We exhibit trust in God’s justice by not seeking our own.
But this is difficult, especially during a crisis when life feels like a pressure cooker. Every small problem is magnified and the life you have built suddenly feels like a house of cards that could collapse at any moment. Where is your pressure release valve? For some, that valve angles downward at innocent people with no recourse. Similarly, others angle their valves outward, directed at every perceived offender. By reading the Psalms, it is clear that David directed his pressure release valve upward, bringing every offense and worry to God. We would be wise to do the same.
The crisis of the United States Civil War brought Ulysses S. Grant back to his senses and put him on a path toward success. The crisis of losing the monarchy abruptly brought David out of a reign that apparently had become complacent. As you allow God to shape you, direct your concerns, and grievances to him, what will the current crisis do for you?
How did David’s experience with Shimei’s insults help him consider God’s perspective on his kingship?
When others have wronged us, how does our self-restraint exhibit faith in God?
Name a person who you believe shows great self-restraint.
Describe how you have seen God’s self-restraint on your life, allowing you to grow through your mistakes without pouring out deserved judgment.
Putting it into Practice
- Think of the person who requires the most self-restraint from you. Pray for God’s strength to help you show restraint to him or her.
- Is there someone to whom you have shown little restraint? Ask that person’s forgiveness.
- Memorize Psalm 103:8.
God uses wrongs against us to shape our character.
- What do you think would have ultimately happened to David’s kingship if he had ordered the death of Shimei while fleeing Jerusalem?
- Describe someone who you believe shows great self-restraint.
- There is a saying that goes, “Every criticism contains at least a grain of truth.” How has the criticism of others allowed you to consider your own actions and shaped your character?
- Which is harder: Showing self-restraint when criticized or considering those criticisms in order to grow?
Courage for Crisis is a series of devotionals by Kevin Freeman, associate pastor at Redland Baptist Church in Rockville, Maryland.
Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash