Crisis amplifies character and David’s kingdom is in crisis. As David flees Jerusalem, we are presented with a diverse cast of characters.
Saul’s son Jonathan has a son named Mephibosheth, who was crippled as a boy. David brings the boy into his palace and appoints a servant, Ziba, to watch over Mephibosheth’s lands and flocks. Ziba greets David as he is fleeing and presents him with an abundance of supplies for the journey. When David asks Ziba where Mephibosheth is Ziba replies by accusing his master of treason. David believes the accusation and elevates Ziba from servant to master.
Shimei is also a member of Saul’s household. He chooses this opportunity of David fleeing and in distress to confront David with curses and rocks. Shimei’s anger boils over to the point that he continues his cursing and rock throwing all through David’s journey to the Jordan. David is not traveling alone. He is accompanied by at least one of his generals and a significant military force. Only David’s belief that Shimei’s attack is ultimately from God prevents Shimei from being killed.
Abishai is one of David’s generals. His loyalty to David stirs him to request permission to remove Shimei’s head. I find it amazing that he asks permission. David restrains him, demonstrating his power as king, and Abishai obeys confirming his loyalty.
Hushai is one of David’s most respected advisors. His loyalty to David causes him to return to Jerusalem to frustrate Absalom with bad advice. When questioned by Absalom, Hushai lies about why he has returned and chosen to become a part of Absalom’s team.
David has vacated Jerusalem and Absalom has entered and taken over the palace. Two of David’s former advisors are present in his court. Absalom chooses to ask Ahithophel, who has been with him since the beginning of the rebellion, what his next step should be. Determined to increase Absalom’s popularity with his followers and increase the separation between David and Absalom, he advises Absalom to sleep with David’s concubines in view of the people.
Absalom reveals his own character when he accepts Ahithophel’s advice. His pride and desire for power lead him to do something repulsive.
There are two remaining characters in this chapter. David is on the run, but he is still the king. One person after another wants something from him in spite of the fact that his kingdom seems to be evaporating before his eyes. Through all this David remains faithful to God. He places himself and the kingdom in God’s hands trusting God to be both just and merciful.
12 Perhaps the LORD will see my affliction and restore goodness to me instead of Shimei’s curses today.” 13 So David and his men proceeded along the road as Shimei was going along the ridge of the hill opposite him. As Shimei went, he cursed David, threw stones at him, and kicked up dust. 14 Finally, the king and all the people with him arrived exhausted, so they rested there.Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), 2 Sa 16:12–14.
The central character through all of scripture is God. Other characters and events tend to distract us, but God is always present and working. God knows the truth about every one of these characters. God has a plan, and his purposes will not fail.
Keep reading. Rarely in an Old Testament narrative do we get the complete story in a single chapter or even in a single book. Getting the whole story on any of these characters requires more than a quick reading of a single story. First impressions are deceptive and yet we often develop an opinion of another person on the briefest interaction. I think our responses to people will be better if we invest the time and attention required to get the full story.
When we get the complete story on many of these characters, we discover that the following prophecy in Jeremiah is definitely true.
The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable–who can understand it?Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), Je 17:9
The more power we have in a situation or relationship the more likely others will attempt to deceive us. In a crisis it is even more likely that survival instincts will encourage people to consider actions that would have been unthinkable in normal circumstances. Several characters in this chapter seek counsel, but no one goes directly to God seeking wisdom. We should always seek God first, especially when circumstances make it difficult to see Him.