Learning from Critics

And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David. And all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. Also Shimei said thus when he cursed: “Come out! Come out! You bloodthirsty man, you rogue! The LORD has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the LORD has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son. So now you are caught in your own evil, because you are a bloodthirsty man!” (2 Samuel 16:6-8)

It is human nature to take a strange delight in the weakness of those who were once strong. When one flower rises above the others in the field, many are happy to see it cut down. These verses from 2 Samuel 16 describe a man rejoicing in the crisis of David’s kingdom. David’s son Absalom didn’t want to wait until David died to take the crown, so he cleverly took-over the kingdom. As David escaped Jerusalem – barely beyond the brutal grasp of his own wayward son – he was greeted along the way a harsh critic, a man named Shimei.

Shimei was a distant relative of the former King Saul, and he hated David for replacing the dynasty of Saul. When David was kicked out of Jerusalem, Shimei thought it was a wonderful example of the justice of God. In Shimei’s twisted mind, David was a bloodthirsty man who gained the throne unlawfully. Shimei thought David got what he deserved.

He cursed and threw stones at David, screaming, “You bloodthirsty man, you rogue!” Shimei was about as offensive as a person could be. He wanted to destroy any shred of dignity or confidence that David had left. There are always people ready to rejoice when a leader suffers. Shimei had this heart against David for a long time, but he could only show it when David was brought low.

This in itself was a hard trial for David to bear. At this low point Shimei was happy to put David even lower. Charles Spurgeon described how difficult this trial was for David: “It is very hard to bear a cowardly attack. One is very apt to reply and use hard words to one who takes advantage of your position and deals you the coward’s blow. Only the coward strikes a man when he is down.”

It’s also interesting to take apart Shimei’s accusations. Notice what he said in 2 Samuel 16:7-8: “The Lord has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul . . . you are caught in your own evil.” Looking at it all impartially, a quick look at the outward appearance of things seemed to confirm Shimei’s analysis. After all, David was down – perhaps this was the judgment of God. Yet Shimei was wrong. None of this came upon David because of what he did to Saul or to Saul’s family.

– Shimei was wrong because David actually treated Saul and his family with great love and graciousness
– Shimei was wrong because David was not a bloodthirsty man. He was a man of war, but not a bloodthirsty man
– Shimei was wrong because David did not bring Saul and his family to ruin – Saul himself ruined his family

We see that each criticism brought upon David was superficially true, but actually false. As a leader, David knew what it was like to be attacked by the false critic who seems to be true. But he kept his cool and avoided treating Shimei like an enemy, even if Shimei deserved it.

Interestingly enough, Shimei was right about one thing. He told David, “The Lord has brought upon you.” It was true that the Lord brought this upon David, but not for any of the reasons Shimei thought. David himself recognized that God had a purpose through this trial, and like a submitted yet disobedient child, he surrendered himself to God’s correction. He was wise enough to hear something from the Lord, even from his harshest, rudest critic who was mostly wrong.

To be a leader means to be criticized, but the real point of godly surrender under criticism isn’t simply to survive your critics – it is to be wise enough to hear something from the Lord, even from your harshest, rudest critics who are mostly wrong. God can speak to us from unlikely sources.

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