–September of 2009
How to Handle Hurting Words
Read II Samuel 16:5-14 & 19:15-23
The humiliation of David’s temporary exile in the face of Absalom’s anarchy had to be one of the lowest moments of his long reign. But insult was added to injury when, as he fled Jerusalem, a man named Shimei followed him shouting curses. The accusation was that David was getting what he deserved because he was a murderous man – guilty of the “blood of the house of Saul.”
Shimei couldn’t possibly have spoken more unjust and hurtful words. If David was innocent of anything it was the blood of Saul. He had spent years in exile to keep Saul from killing him. He had refused to speak evil of Saul, or take advantage of Saul’s fractious kingdom, or even lay a hand on Saul even though the Lord delivered Saul into David’s hand again and again. If anything in the world was untrue, this charge was untrue!
Why Shimei’s Criticism?
The Bible tells us that Shimei was of the house of Saul. So when Saul’s kingdom ended it brought about the demise of all the influence, power and financial advantage Saul’s relatives had enjoyed for years. Shimei just couldn’t let it go and was still carrying the old family grudge. David’s misfortune gave Shimei the opportunity to vent all those years of stored-up malice. The timing and boldness of Shimei’s remarks were fueled by three things: first, he thought he could verbally assault David safely since David was fleeing for his own life; second, he knew the taunt about Saul would hurt David the most at this particular moment; and third, he believed that God was now on his side. Shimei was sure that David was fleeing for his life because God has deposed him!
David refused to say anything to Shimei! He did, though, speak words of restraint to his inner circle who wanted to remove Shimei’s head. David’s silence toward Shimei and his response to his friends offers some valuable insight on how we should respond to hurting words or unfair accusations.
1. Develop a tough hide. One can’t have a china-doll fragility about every little thing someone says (Eccl. 7:21-22). One of the benchmarks of spiritual maturity is that we have gained enough confidence of who we are in Christ and of His unwavering love for us that the actions and words of others no longer have the power to devastate us. Disappoint and hurt? Yes! Devastate? No!
2. Keep things in perspective. David realized that Shimei’s cursing was nothing in comparison to the big issues surrounding Absalom’s treason. Unfair criticism from a sour old man can look fairly small in light of some of life’s more serious issues.
3. Learn to hold your tongue. Not every criticism deserves an immediate answer. In most cases, a hasty response to criticism causes one more distress than the actual criticism itself (Prov. 15:28, 26:4 and 29:11). Saint Augustine once prayed, “O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.” Neither is it necessary to say something even if you feel your words can fix the other person. One must carefully avoid a false sense of responsibility to fix someone else’s problem. God is far better equipped to intervene and do the fixing.
4. Try to understand where the person is coming from. Shimei was a descendant of Saul. Saul’s loss of the throne brought significant loss to all his relatives including Shimei. Even though David was totally innocent of any wrongdoing toward Saul or his family, Shimei still focused his anger on David because he was a visible reminder of what Saul’s descendants used to have and had no more.
5. See God’s hand behind it. David told his followers that Shimei’s cursing may well be from the Lord. He was truly innocent of the blood of Saul, but he was not innocent of the blood of Uriah. David’s keen sense of his own failures made him very open to God’s using whatever means necessary to make him a better man (Rom. 8:28).
6. Exercise forgiveness and move on. As the story makes clear, David returned to Jerusalem victorious. Shimei met David’s retinue with great humility and an abundance of apologies. Shimei expected and deserved death but was given grace and forgiveness (Eph. 4:32).
There is one sure thing about life, and that is that sooner or later someone will offend you. How one handles these offenses has a profound impact on one’s own spiritual advancement and the progress of those around them. Too often Christians become stuck in a place of woundedness and become dysfunctional as they relive the experience over and over again. David teaches us to deal with it and move on! Paul would tell us to rejoice in such a trial because it gives us opportunity to learn many things about ourselves as well as to experience the grace of God.
My ninth-grade English teacher, Miss Splawn, was often frustrated by a boy in our class who talked incessantly. In despair she would say aloud to the whole class, “I can’t stop him! I can’t kill him! I guess I’ll just have to let him talk on!” We can’t stop the hurting remarks that people are going to make about us, nor can we “take off the head” of everybody who unleashes a volley of criticism at us. But we can hold our tongue, learn the lessons that are there for us and ultimately exercise the liberating power of forgiveness!