The Good Kind of Repentance

Now Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king when he had crossed the Jordan. Then he said to the king, “Do not let my lord impute iniquity to me, or remember what wrong your servant did on the day that my lord the king left Jerusalem, that the king should take it to heart. For I, your servant, know that I have sinned. Therefore here I am, the first to come today of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king.” (2 Samuel 19:18b-20)

It’s one of the most important words in the Christian’s vocabulary – the word repent. As the late Dr. J. Edwin Orr used to say, it is the first word of the gospel. It was the first word in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-2), the first word in the preaching of Jesus (Mark 1:14-15), the first word in the preaching of the twelve disciples (Mark 6:12), the first word of exhortation in the first sermon of the apostolic church (Acts 2:38), and the first word in the preaching of Paul (Acts 26:19-20). Yet repentance is often misunderstood today – a good example of repentance can teach us a lot. Shimei is a good example of repentance in 2 Samuel 19.

Notice how he came to David: I, your servant, know that I have sinned. Shimei brought a remarkably humble, contrite confession to David. He sinned greatly against the king so he repented greatly before him. We can see four aspects to Shimei’s repentance that makes it a good example for us.

Shimei’s repentance was humble (fell down before the king). His posture represented his low place before David. When we repent before God we should humble ourselves. Not in a weird, phony way – but in the simple recognition that God is God and we are not. Being humble isn’t making yourself out to be less than you really are. It is more self-forgetfulness than self-abasement.

Shimei’s repentance honored David (Do not let my lord impute iniquity to me). He knew David had the right to impute iniquity, but he made a plea for mercy. He didn’t come demanding forgiveness, but looking for mercy.

Shimei’s repentance was honest (I have sinned). He made no attempt to excuse or minimize his actions. Excuse making and self-justification stain many words of confession or repentance. There is no place for self-pleading in true repentance. It recognizes that no matter why we sinned, we still sinned – and must answer for it before a God who loves us and has made provision for forgiveness.

Shimei’s repentance was put into action (here I am, the first to come today of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king). Real repentance will show itself not only in words and ideas, but also in action. Repentance of mere words is a flimsy, shoddy thing. If the words are true then action will follow.

Because of these four aspects, we can say that Shimei’s repentance was effective. He heard the words he needed to hear from David: The king said to Shimei, “You shall not die”. David spared the life of Shimei and showed forgiveness to the man who had bitterly cursed him (2 Samuel 16:5-13). It was a generous move on the part of David, but being a great king means being full of mercy and goodness. David spared Shimei’s life.

Our king is greater than King David. King Jesus stands more ready to forgive than even His ancestor David. Knowing this should spur us to action and make us ready to ask for repentance and receive forgiveness.

Charles Spurgeon expressed this thought well: “Perhaps you have been like Shimei, who cursed king David, and you are afraid that Jesus will never forgive you. But David forgave Shimei, and Jesus is ready to forgive you. He delighteth in mercy. I do believe that the harps of heaven never give to Christ such happiness as he has when he forgives the ungodly, and saith, ‘Thy sins are forgiven; go in peace.’“

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David’s weekly devotional is also translated into German.

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