When David saw that “the conspiracy” against him “grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing” (2 Sam. 15:12), the king knew he had to act. So, David and his household fled the city, though the priests and men such as Hushai the Archite, who were on David’s side, stayed behind (vv. 13–37). After leaving the city, David almost immediately had two significant encounters, as today’s passage describes.
First, David met Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth (16:1; see ch. 9). Ziba came bearing provisions—donkeys, bread, fruit, and wine—for the people on the run. Additionally, Ziba told David that Mephibosheth stayed behind in hope that the kingship would return to Saul’s descendants. David believed Ziba regarding Mephibosheth’s betrayal, for he pledged to give Ziba everything that belonged to Mephibosheth. As we will see, Ziba was lying; Mephibosheth remained loyal (19:24–30). David should have recognized this. As commentators note, it makes little sense for Mephibosheth to have believed that David’s family was losing the throne, since Absalom, David’s son, was being proclaimed king (15:10). Also, Ziba did not stay with David but went back to Jerusalem himself, odd behavior for one loyal to the son of Jesse. David’s failure here shows his continuing poor judgment after his sins involving Bathsheba and Uriah (chs. 11–12).
David also met Shimei, a man from Saul’s family. Shimei cursed David and threw stones at him, blaming him for the deaths of Saul, Jonathan, and Ish-bosheth, even though David had nothing to do with their demise (16:5–8; see 1 Sam. 31; 2 Sam. 4). When offered the head of Shimei, David refused, stating that God was behind the cursing and that the Lord might repay him for the wrong done (vv. 9–14). And, indeed, Shimei would ultimately die for his act (1 Kings 2:36–46). This juxtaposition of God’s ordaining a curse and yet also ultimately thwarting the curse is not odd when we consider that the Lord can sovereignly ordain things that do not please Him in order to bring about an ultimately good end (Gen. 50:20). Augustine of Hippo reflects this when he comments that God “inclined [Shimei’s] will, which had become debased by his own perverseness, to commit this sin, by his own just and secret judgment.” To judge Shimei for his sinful resistance to David, the divinely appointed king, God ordained both Shimei’s cursing and the punishment he received for it.