Bearing Unjust Criticism With Dignity

Girl covering her mouth Free PhotoEcc 3:7 “There’s a time to be silent and a time to speak” – Wrote the wise king Solomon eons ago. Notice how ‘silent’ is prominent; this is by design! God does nothing by accident. He’s making the point that we’re too hasty to speak and should keep quiet more often. Another king named David, shows us how to bear unjust criticism with meekness and quietness in the following biblical account. In it you’ll see the dignity and wisdom of not becoming defensive and argumentative, or slinging arrows back at your attacker. Though innocent in the current situation, David knew he was guilty of similar past sins so kept quiet rather than defend himself, and received the criticism as God’s chastisement. Sometimes we don’t hear God’s “still, small voice” gently correcting us, or worse, we ignore it so God has to take more drastic measures to get our attention. You see God doing this throughout Scripture, and I have myself experienced the latter on numerous occasions. Despite the seeming indignity of apparent unjust criticism, refraining oneself from striking back and remaining quiet is a dignified response. God’s ways are not our ways – Isa 55:8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.” It is a declaration of Adonai. “For as the heavens are higher than earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.

2 Samuel 16:1 – 14

2 Sam 16:1  Now when David had passed a little beyond the summit, there was Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth to meet him with a pair of saddled donkeys, and on them 200 loaves of bread, 100 clusters of raisins, 100 fig cakes and a bottle of wine. 
2Sa 16:2  So the king asked Ziba, “What are you doing with these?” Ziba said, “The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride on, the bread and the figs are for the young men to eat, and the wine is for anyone who faints in the wilderness to drink.” 
2Sa 16:3  Then the king asked, “And where is your master’s son?” “Well, he’s staying in Jerusalem,” Ziba said to the king, “for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will restore to me the kingdom of my father.” 
2Sa 16:4  Then the king said to Ziba, “Behold, all that belongs to Mephibosheth is yours.” “I bow low,” Ziba said. “Let me find favor in your eyes, my lord the king.” 
Shimei Curses David
2Sa 16:5  When King David arrived at Bahurim, behold, just coming out from there was a man of the family of the house of Saul—his name was Shimei son of Gera. As he came out, he kept on cursing 
2Sa 16:6  and flinging stones at David and at all King David’s servants, while all the people and all the mighty men were at his right hand and on his left. 
2Sa 16:7  Thus Shimei said as he cursed, “Get out, get out! The man of bloodshed, the good-for-nothing! 
2Sa 16:8  Adonai has returned on you all the blood of Saul’s house, in whose place you’ve reigned. Adonai has handed the kingdom over to your son Absalom—so see, your own evil has overtaken you, because you are a man of bloodshed.” 
2Sa 16:9  Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why let this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over now and take off his head!” 
2Sa 16:10  But the king said, “What have I to do with you, sons of Zeruiah? If he curses, it’s because Adonai has said to him, ‘Curse David!’ So who should say, ‘Why did you do so?’” 
2Sa 16:11  Then David said to Abishai and to all his officials, “Look, my son who came from my own body is seeking my life—how much more this Benjamite? Leave him alone and let him curse, since Adonai has told him. 
2Sa 16:12  Perhaps Adonai will look on my affliction and return good to me for his cursing this day.” 
2Sa 16:13  So David and his men continued on the way, while Shimei kept walking alongside the hill parallel with him, cursing as he walked, casting stones at him and throwing dirt. 
2Sa 16:14  Finally the king and all the people that were with him arrived weary, so he refreshed himself there. [Tree of Life Version]

Impatience and submission
Mephibosheth, it will be recollected, was the only son of Jonathan. Now, when David was a little past the top of the hill where he had worshipped God, he met Ziba coming towards him with two asses, laden with cakes of raisins and summer fruits, a skin-bottle of wine, and two hundred loaves of bread. Probably, when David first saw Ziba, he thought that Mephibosheth had sent this timely contribution, and the first thing that annoyed him was to find that this present did not come from him at all. No doubt there was a good deal more conversation between David and Ziba than is recorded; the crafty man made it very plain that it was he who had been so thoughtful for the “king’s wants; thus he led David on to suspect Mephibosheth’s loyalty; and when the king asked him plainly why his master was not with him, feigning probably great reluctance to speak against his employer, and pretending that only loyalty induced him to speak, he told the lie against Mephibosheth. David was very apt to judge hastily: he was a man of a very warm temperament, with strong affections, and passions that were easily excited. Here Ziba seemed faithful, and mindful of his sovereign, when Mephibosheth was said to be ungrateful; and thinking that he has found devotion where he expected nothing, and ingratitude where he looked for love, as it was in the case of Ittai and Ahithophel, and really forgetting in the moment of his flight, and when in danger of losing his own throne, that he has no power to enforce his sentence, he awards to the crafty Ziba all the lands of Mephibosheth.

How many times we are warned in Scripture against pronouncing hasty judgments; and which of us has not had to confess more than once that the bad opinion we have formed of some person was altogether erroneous? Again and again we have listened to unjust calumnies; we have thought there must be some truth in the accusation, some foundation for the slander, and we have acted very much like David here. David had gone but a few steps further before he encountered Shimei, another of the tribe of Benjamin. Bahurim is but a little distance from Bethany, on the other side of the Mount of Olives; but tilt they reached that spot, faint and weary, Shimei followed them with bitter curses. Now David had recovered himself; probably his conscience blamed him for his hasty ebullition of temper against Mephibosheth: and he may have felt that he had believed Ziba’s story too easily. At least, when he spoke like that, he had forgotten his early friendship, and the beautiful and disinterested love of Jonathan. Now we are to see David in a better mood; grace has once more subdued nature. Now, Shimei was uttering unjust words: David of course knew that he did not deserve them for no one could have been more forbearing to the house of Saul: and perhaps Shimei’s words reminded him, as well as Abishai’s impetuousness, of his own conduct to that family in times past; and hence his command of his temper at this moment. 

This man Shimei evidently had long hated David. He had been hoping there would be some reverse in his fortunes, and he rejoiced in his enemy’s downfall. But what does David do? He loses sight of Shimei altogether; he looks above the instrument to the Agent; he sees God’s hand in the matter, and to be angry, therefore, would be to be discontented with the providence of God. Oh that we could learn to follow David in this! There are numberless annoyances that happen to us all; and since “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God,” we must be prepared for trials that will peculiarly test our faith and patience. If you forget that “the Lord reigneth,” if you do not connect the providence of God with all that happens, the very smallest daily trouble may completely upset you, and you will be continually losing your temper. (C. Bosanquet, M. A.)

2 Samuel 16:5-13

Shimei the son of Gera; he came forth, and cursed still as he came.

The forbearance of David towards Shimei
I. The provocation David received.
    1. The most irritating by which the patience of man was ever tried. The reason why God was pleased to allow this insult to be added to the other trials of David, is obvious. He wished to teach him how low his iniquities had sunk him, and to show him that the cup of the Divine indignation against him was not even yet exhausted. It tells us that the servant of God must expect to meet with insults and provocations from his fellow-sinners. We are not dwelling among angels, but among men. We are living in a fallen world, in a world that has renounced the authority of the God of peace, and thrown itself under the dominion of the prince of discord. It would be madness, then, to think of passing through it, as though it were a world of love.
   2. The conduct of Shimei was cruel also, as well as irritating. The condition of David at this period appeared calculated to disarm by its misery the most inveterate of his enemies. We are ready to suppose in the hour of affliction that every heart must feel for us, and that the malice of our bitterest enemies must now for a season be changed into pity. But experience proves that the most afflicted are generally the most persecuted. Their calamities leave their adversaries nothing to hope from their favour, and little perhaps to dread from their displeasure.
   3. The provocation which David received was also undeserved. It here was indeed blood which cried from the ground for vengeance on his head, but he had never injured Shimei; and as for his having been guilty of the death of Saul, and his family, no charge could be more unjust. But the ungodly are always selfish. They judge of others, not by the laws of impartial justice, but by the standard of self-interest.

II. But let us turn from the cruel and irritating conduct of this disappointed Israelite, and consider the forbearance which David manifested.
   1. He received the provocation of Shimei with meek silence. He heard his accusations, and he knew them to be false; but he answered him not a word. There are indeed cases in which it becomes absolutely necessary to vindicate our characters at any risk from the calumnies of the ungodly; but these occasions do not often occur. When our enemies are much incensed against us, it will generally be found that to reply to their aspersions serves only to increase their violence, and perhaps to give them an advantage over us. Silence under provocation is safety. To govern our lips is, in most instances, to govern our hearts.
   2. But there may be silence where there is no meekness. No angry word may proceed from the lips, while the deadliest revenge is cherished in the heart. It is necessary therefore that we should observe, further, that David forgave the provocation of Shimei. His friends around him were incensed to the utmost, and were eager to vindicate the honour of their insulted monarch with their swords. Would the conduct of David have been either unlawful, or sinful, if he had commanded his attendants to take immediate vengeance on Shimei? It might not have been unlawful, for the laws of Judaea would undoubtedly have condemned the traitor, and the power of carrying them into execution was vested in David’s hands; but laws were not designed by God to gratify vindictive passions. It is as sinful to seek revenge by the arm of the law as to seek it by the violence of our own arm. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”

Conclusion.
   1. A review of this history, as far as we have considered it, is calculated to leave impressed on us a conviction of the power of true religion; its power, not only to touch the fears and hopes of the soul but the mighty power which it exercises over the dispositions, the temper, the heart.
   2. This history reminds us also of the dignity which a meek and forgiving spirit imparts. The Bible tells us that “it is the glory of a man to pass over a transgression,” and it gives us in this chapter a confirmation of the saying. Here, then, is a lesson for those who are striving to raise themselves to honour. You wish to be highly esteemed among men, and, in order to procure their respect, you imagine that no real or supposed insult must pass unnoticed, and that you must commence a struggle for superiority in rank and consequence. Is, then, the object of your wishes to be attained by such means as these? Impossible. Cease from the foolish attempt. Go and sit at the feet of David, and let him teach you that the readiest, the surest, the safest way to exalt yourselves is to lie low and be humble, to be “meek and lowly in heart,” to triumph over the pride and folly which have hitherto been leading you captive. (C. Bradley, M. A.)

Meekness under provocation
“The fruit of the Spirit,” said St. Paul, writing to the Galatians, “is long-suffering.” Long-suffering patience is one of the rarest of virtues, because it is so easy to be impatient. There is a story told of the great Athenian Pericles, which gives us a good lesson in patience. Hardly anything ever put Pericles out of temper. There was a man who railed at him throughout a whole day in the market-place before all the people, and this although Pericles was a magistrate. Pericles, however, took no notice, but went on hearing and dealing with the various cases brought before him until night fell. Then he set out for home, walking slowly. The man followed him all the way, uttering hard, untrue, and cruel words all the time. When Pericles arrived at his house it was quite dark, so, calling his servant, he ordered him to get a torch and light his defamer home. [The Biblical Illustrator By Joseph S. Exell, M.A., Published in 1900; public domain.]

David was guiltless of the crime of which Shimei accused him; but his conscience reminded him of other flagrant iniquities; and he, therefore, regarded the cursing of this man as a chastisement from heaven. His answer to Abishai’s proposal evinced the spirit of deep and humble resignation – the spirit of a man who watched the course of Providence, and acknowledged Shimei as the instrument of God’s chastening hand. [Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary; Published in 1871; public domain.]

A DAY THAT REVEALED CHARACTER
There may have been some truth in Ziba’s statement, but we should balance it with 2Sa_19:24. Shimei vented the spleen of the house of Saul. He probably referred to the recent execution of the sons of Rizpah, and perhaps suggested that David had been guilty of all the disaster that had befallen Saul’s house from the day of Gilboa. When men curse us, whether we deserve it or not, let us look past them to the permissive will of God. “Let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him!” When, through the treachery of Judas, the bitter cup came to the lips of our Lord, he said, “It is the cup that my Father hath given me to drink.” Pain and sorrow, treachery and hard speeches, may be devised against us by the malignity of an Ahithophel, a Shimei, or a Judas; but by the time these have passed through the permissive will of God, we may receive them as the strokes of His chastening rod, that we may partake of His holiness. We are not the sport of chance or human caprice. God deals with us as with sons. [F. B. Meyer/ Published in 1914; public domain.]

Summary – David’s encounter serves as a lesson that a person who appears to be unfairly criticizing us might be an agent of God’s chastisement, not necessarily for that moment, but for past wrongs we’ve committed but not yet acknowledged or repented of. We often don’t pay attention to God’s still, small voice gently correcting us because our minds are preoccupied, or worse we ignore it, which forces God to send us a stronger word of correction, say through an enemy who’s really just an instrument in His hand. When we belong to God, everything that happens to us has to go through Him before it can reach us, so to be angry is to be angry at the providence of God.“If you do not connect the providence of God with all that happens, the very smallest daily trouble may completely upset you, and you will be continually losing your temper” [1]. May we fully apprehend and apply this helpful lesson to our lives so that we can respond to unjust criticism with dignity, knowing that God may be allowing it as a form of discipline for our good. Often it’s to bring to our attention something we’ve been doing which we’re not fully aware of that’s harmful to others or to ourselves.

God wants us to know the reason for our trials, and we can know, if we ask Him about them. Bear in mind that God answers us in His timing not ours, so be patient but persistent, persistence counts with Him – Luk 11:5-9  Then Jesus said to them, “Which of you has a friend and will go to him in the middle of the night and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine has come to me on his journey and I have nothing to set before him.’ Then from within he may answer, saying, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.’ I tell you, even if the friend will not get up and give him anything out of friendship, yet because of the man’s persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you, ‘Ask (and keep on asking), and it shall be given to you. Seek (and keep on seeking), and you shall find. Knock (and keep on knocking), and it shall be opened to you. [TLV]

God delights to answer our questions, for He loves us, having died to save our souls from destruction. Speaking of which, continual verbal abuse from someone who’s taking out his/her frustrations on you is destructive to your soul, and is therefore not heaven sent. There’s a world of difference between that and the occasional criticism which comes as correction from God. This is why it’s imperative that we seek God in prayer about our trials and not rely upon human reasoning – Pro 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. 

Debra R. Stout, April 7, 2018

Footnotes: 

[1] C. Bosanquet, M. A.

(All Scripture quotes are from the KJV unless otherwise indicated. Words of Christ are in red.)

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