The first professor of Princeton Theological Seminary, Archibald Alexander, observed that “Men will not be judged in the last day by the opinion which they had of themselves.” He would have agreed as readily that we also will not be judged by the opinions others have of us, for good or ill. We might be well advised, nonetheless, to allow the former to be tempered by the latter.
David had reason to be humbled when he was scuttling to safety from Absalom’s coup d’etat. But when a kinsman of the late King Saul, Shimei, showered “trash talk” on him along the way, he might have been forgiven had he refused to tolerate this unwarranted abuse and agreed to let Abishai dispatch the worthless fellow. The day would come, in Solomon’s time, when Shimei’s head would roll (2 Kings 2:5–9), but David was content for the present to be cussed out and count it a word to the wise. He did not rise up in righteous outrage. He took it as a message from God, even if it came from unhallowed lips (2 Sam. 16:10).
A criticism is not always wrong, even when the critic is in the wrong. Shimei’s charge was false, for David had not killed off the house of Saul. The opposite was in fact the case (see 2 Sam. 9; 16:1–4). But David knew he was censurable by God for his real sins.
This is not difficult to apply to ourselves. If someone lets us have it with both barrels for something we did not do, we can surely think of a hundred things we did for which the Lord did not come down on us. The severity of unjust critics may be hard to bear, but it will serve our souls better if, instead of huffing with righteous indignation, we submerge it in the sanctifying thought of how gracious and longsuffering God is toward us in Christ. It is “through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,” for the reason that “His compassions fail not” (Lam. 3:22).
A contrite heart is always helpful, even when we are guiltless of the specific charge levelled against us. David observed three things, all of which pointed away from himself and to the God of grace. First, he reasoned that the Lord was using Shimei to make that point (16:10). Second, he reckoned that it was a small matter beside what Absalom was doing to him. He kept things in proper perspective (16:11). Third, he saw a glimmer of future blessing from the Lord, who looks favorably on sinners who truly repent (16:12).
This did not excuse Shimei. He had an “untameable tongue” (cf. James 3:5–6, 9). But God takes willful sinners in His sovereign stride and, in the mysterious workings of His providence, turns around what they mean for evil and uses it for the believer’s ultimate good (Gen. 50:20). “Surely the wrath of man shall praise You,” says the psalmist (Ps. 76:10), meaning that the very worst that people can do will never overthrow His glory and consequently never thwart His plan of salvation for all who will believe on His Son.
In the Philippi earthquake, the prison was shaken to bits and the jailor was afraid for his life, but that was precisely how the man heard the Gospel and came to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved (Acts 16:31). He was not guilty of letting Paul escape, but his contrition over the very possibility led him to deal with the greatest guilt of all—his guilt before God, which, as Paul says elsewhere, we discover is real when God stops our self-righteous, self-justifying mouths and forces us to face the issues of life (Rom. 3:12; cf. Prov. 4:23).
Coming to Christ
If the world’s disappointments and outright injustices only leave us outraged—and we become only determined to get even—then it is certain we are not hearing the voice of God.
Was this not essentially Adolf Hitler’s attitude to his own people as he spent his last days in the Berlin bunker? He hated his people for letting him down by losing the war. They deserved to be blown to bits by the allied powers for their sins. Did it cause him to ponder his responsibility for all these millions dead and a world left in ruins? He was sorry, but only with the “sorrow of the world” that “produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10).
This graphically underscores two truths. One is that getting “mad as hell” will only get you to hell, because, as James notes, “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). The other is that it is best to see your own sins in the sins of others and come to Jesus for salvation while He is near and still calling you to repentance unto life (Acts 11:18). You may, in this world, get all the vindication you want. You may indulge all the satisfaction of seeing the other guy “get his.” But it will all fall into a lost eternity with miseries worse than the worst you think you have been through if you never truly see yourself as the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15), deserving of hell, and never come to Jesus for salvation.
You remember how David was ready to execute a man who had stolen a lamb. Only when Nathan said, “You are the man!” did it dawn on David that he was the one deserving of death (2 Sam 12:7). Let us allow other people’s sins and false accusations against us to point the Lord’s finger at our own hearts and say “You are the man!” And then let us look to Jesus the Savior and walk in His way.