Payback can be a good thing or a bad thing. Payback (or retribution) for a criminal may be: imprisonment, fines, or even death. The person who takes performance enhancing drugs may be paid back for their cheating by a suspension. The person who has lied to friends may be paid back by losing those friendships.
However, payback is not always bad. When someone does something good for us we often want to “Pay them back” meaning we want to do something kind to them in return for their kindness. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day and all the other special celebrations are invitations to “payback” those who are special to us. Even our worship, the giving of offerings, and our service to the Lord are a response (or payback, if you will) for the goodness and grace of our Lord.
This morning we are going to look at David as he dealt with some payback issues of his own. The historical setting is the aftermath of the coup attempt by his son Absalom. Absalom was dead, the coup was over and it is time for David to go back to Jerusalem. As the King returned to power there were issues and people that he had to deal with.
Our goal this morning is not to learn more factual information about David. Our goal is to look at the facts to learn how we can better relate to those who hurt us and those who bless us.
The People of Israel – Grace
The first issue for David was: How do you respond to those who have publicly opposed you? Obviously David’s relationship with the people was strained or they never would have supported Absalom in his coup attempt. Now that Absalom is vanquished, what about those who had supported Absalom over David?
Abraham Lincoln faced a very similar issue at the end of the Civil War. Lincoln was asked how he would treat the rebellious Southerners when they finally returned to the United States. Everyone would understand if Lincoln was bitter and felt repercussions were necessary. However, Lincoln said, “I will treat them as if they had never been away.”
In the course of our lives we will face conflict. We will have disagreements. In these times we have a choice: we can hold grudges or we can extend grace. David chose to be gracious. David sent word that he would like his brothers in Judah to bring him back to Jerusalem. David made the first move.
In order to build a bridge, David made Amasa (one of Absalom’s Generals) his new commanding officer. His current General, Joab had shown great insubordination by killing Absalom contrary to the express orders of the King. Making Amasa his commander would be like the President making one of the key members of the opposition party one of his key advisors. It would be meant to send a message that David wanted to bring people together.
One of the biggest problems in strained relationships is the fact that no one wants to make the first move. For some reason we see this as a sign of weakness. Until someone makes a move toward the other there is no hope of reconciliation. You can make the first step toward those who have hurt or disappointed you by
- A civil word
- A handshake
- A simple question like, “So, how’s it going”
- A smile
- A word of encouragement
- An invitation
When Peter denied Jesus I suspect Peter felt he would never be accepted by the Lord again. Jesus made the first move. He invited the guys for a meal and during that meal he gave Peter the chance to reaffirm his commitment.
Paul was the persecutor for the church and Jesus made the first move toward him on the Damascus road. And isn’t it also true that you and I would not be his followers today if He had not made the first move? God extended grace to us when we deserved judgment. Our challenge is to become people who build bridges rather than those who blow them up. Before we can have reconciled relationships we have to want to have reconciled relationships.
Shimei – Forgiveness
The second encounter David has is with a guy by the name of Shimei. We met this guy earlier in the story. When David was being forced out of Jerusalem by Absalom, Shimei stood on a hill, cursed David, and threw rocks at David and his men (2 Samuel 16:5-14). David kept his men from striking Shimei down saying,
Leave him alone; let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. It may be that the Lord will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today.”
Now David was returning to Jerusalem. This same Shimei shows up again. This time he was contrite. He confessed his sin and plead for mercy from the King. As a sign of support he brought with him 1000 Benjamites to help restore David to the throne.
Shimei deserved death (Ex. 22:28). David’s men were ready to execute Shimei on the spot. By cursing the King he had committed a treasonous act. David could have justly condemned him. Instead he viewed it as an opportunity to extend forgiveness.
David undoubtedly extended forgiveness for some Practical Reasons. David needed Shimei and his men. He also needed to send a clear message that he was not going to exact retribution on those who had chosen to stand with Absalom in the past. What better way to send the message that all is forgiven than to forgive Shimei?
However, I think there may have been more to this act of clemency. David also extended forgiveness for Personal Reasons. David never forgot that he was once the man who plead for mercy before the Lord. He too had transgressed God’s law and deserved to die. God in His love extended mercy to David rather than justice. I think David knew he needed to extend that same mercy to others.
Jesus told the parable of the unmerciful servant. A man owed the King a bunch of money (let’s say it was millions). The King was prepared to sell the man and his family into slavery so the debt could be repaid. The man pled for mercy. The King took pity on the man and canceled his debt. It was an extravagant act of mercy.
When the left the home of the King he encountered one of his friends who owed him like $100 and insisted that he pay his debt. The friend did not have the money and asked for an extension to the next payday. The man refused to grant any mercy and had the friend thrown in jail until he could pay. When the King learned about the man’s actions he concluded that the man had not appreciated the mercy that had been granted him. He refused to “pay it forward”. Consequently the King changed his mind about the earlier debt and had the man put back into prison.
I believe David understood that those who have experienced forgiveness should be the most eager to extend it to others. Jesus said, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
Jesus seems to say, if you claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ you should understand that your offense before God is greater than anything anyone could do to you. The principle is simple: if you have received forgiveness; you should extend forgiveness. Admittedly it is easier to proclaim than to do.
I am troubled and confused by 2 Kings 2. As David was dying he gave some final instructions to the new King, his son, Solomon. He essentially signed a death warrant for Joab (who had undermined David’s authority and murdered several innocent men) and Shimei. David told Solomon, “I promised that I would not kill Shimei . . . but you are not me.” Solomon told Shimei that he must stay in Jerusalem or he would be killed (think of his confinement like an ankle bracelet worn by someone on parole.) Three years later when Shimei left Jerusalem, he was executed.
Did David truly forgive Shimei or was it merely political expediency that governed the day? Did David forgive the personal offense against him but believe that Shimei must still be held responsible for the civil offense? Did David believe Shimei to be a threat to Solomon? I don’t know. What I do know is true forgiveness means letting go of the hurt and leaving judgment to God.
Ziba and Mephibosheth – Understanding
The third encounter is with two more people we have met before: Ziba and Mephibosheth. Mephibosheth was the crippled son of David’s best friend, Jonathan. David had promised to take care of Mephibosheth the rest of his life. Ziba had introduced David to Mephibosheth and was given the job of managing his estate.
When David was forced out of Jerusalem, Ziba and his sons joined David. Mephibosheth did not come with Ziba and Ziba said Mephibosheth stayed behind because he was hoping to see the Kingdom return to His father’s family. David was understandably hurt, and angered that his kindness had been spurned. David told Ziba that he would have all the land that had been given to Mephibosheth. Ziba and his sons fought valiantly for David.
As David was returning home, Mephibosheth came out to meet David. We are told, “He [Mephibosheth] had not taken care of his feet or trimmed his mustache or washed his clothes from the day the king left until the day he returned safely.” In other words, it appears that Mephibosheth had been grieving David’s exodus, not celebrating it! Mephibosheth’s story was much different than what Ziba told David. Mephibosheth said he wanted to come with David but Ziba left him behind.
David could have immediately dismissed Mephibosheth but instead he granted him a hearing. There is a lesson here. Rather than draw conclusions without all the information it is always a good idea to let someone explain. Rather than strike out or cast Mephibosheth aside, he listened. David learned that Mephibosheth had not really betrayed him.
Many of the conflicts we have are the result of misunderstanding rather than any real offense. If we would listen much of our conflict would disappear.
David sought to make things right. David declared that Mephibosheth and Ziba would divide the land. It could be that David was not sure who was telling the truth. It could be that he felt he not only owed Mephibosheth (because of his promise to Jonathan) but he also owed Ziba for his faithful service. In this case David sought to be gracious to both men. It could be that this was some kind of test to see if Mephibosheth would remain loyal if he lost some of his land. No matter what the reason, reconciliation came about because David took time to listen.
Barzillai – Gratitude
There is one more person in line for a payback. It is a guy by the name of Barzillai. We were introduced to him in 2 Samuel 17:27-29. As David was leaving Jerusalem on the run Barzillai “brought bedding and bowls and articles of pottery. They also brought wheat and barley, flour and roasted grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds, sheep, and cheese from cows’ milk for David and his people to eat.” Today it would like someone showing up with a semi fully of supplies at a refugee camp.
When times are hard, you learn who your true friends are. When David was considered an outcast, Barzillai was there to provide for basic needs. Even though David’s face was splashed unflatteringly across the tabloids of the day, Barzillai remained loyal to the King. David was encouraged and strengthened by his friend and he would never forget such an act of kindness.
I suspect you may have a Barzillai in your life. It may be a mother who worked all night to finish a project you had left to the last minute. It may be a father who came to get you in the middle of the night. Perhaps it was a friend who stood by you when others were attacking you like hungry wolves. It may be a teacher, a coach or an employer who believed in you when you did not believe in yourself. It may be someone who seemed to come out of nowhere to stay by your side in a time of illness or loss. We owe these people our gratitude. They hold a special place in our hearts.
David invited Barzillai to return with him and enjoy all the good things of life in the executive mansion. Barzillai said, “David, I appreciate the kindness but my taste buds are shot, my hearing is pretty well gone and I will really be more of a burden to you than an aid. Truth is, I would just as soon be able to sit in my recliner, sleep in my bed, and die in my own home. Barzillai suggested that if David really felt it necessary to be so gracious he should bestow the blessing on his son.
Oh to have the spirit of Barzillai! This man was not after riches and blessing. He only wanted to serve and honor the King. It was not about Him . . . it was about the King. We see this same attitude in the life of Jesus. The author of Hebrews writes, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” [12:2] Jesus gave His life, “for the joy set before Him”. His focus was not on his comfort but on our blessing. He gave so that we might receive. It is a gift we must never forget or take for granted.
Issues of Payback for us
Each of us will experience blessings and abuses from others as we walk through life. The issue that has been raised this morning is: what will you do in response to these actions? Sinful human nature tends to spotlight the offenses and overlook the blessings. We criticize much more than we applaud.
The main thing we learn from the test is that we have it backwards: we should be overlooking offenses and celebrating blessings. It is right and proper to honor Spouses, Fathers, Mothers, Grandparents, Veterans and the host of others. It is good to celebrate birthdays. We need to do more of this. Instead of focusing on what we don’t have we should rejoice at what we have been given. We do much more good when we encourage than when we criticize. When we encourage we spur another on, when we strike back we drag people down and leave them wounded along the road of life.
Some wounds are deep. Grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation are easy to talk about but much harder to extend. Grace and forgiveness are not about ignoring a wrong that is done. It is about putting that injustice into the hands of Jesus. Getting past the hurt involves seeing ourselves clearly as those who have committed great offenses and who have received a great mercy. As we take time to listen to others we will discover that many of the hurts that we have experienced at the hand of others are really just a cry of pain from the one who is hurting.
If you are licking your wounds or even if you are in a position where you can payback those who have caused those wounds you need to ask some questions,
1. Do you trust God to do what is right? Do you trust Him to eventually make right that which is wrong? If so, stop playing God! Trust that the Lord of all the earth will do what is right. Forgiveness at its core is an issue of trust and obedience. We are commanded to forgive. To continue to hold a grudge and nurse a wound is an act of sinful rebellion. Will you act in the way God has told you to act? Will you obey the Lord even in this area? Will you trust Him even with your wounds?
2. Where do you choose to place your focus? Are you focusing on the blessings and gifts of life so that you can overlook the offenses or are you so busy dwelling on the offenses that you are missing the blessings? You choose where you will place your focus. You can focus on the offense or the promise. You can focus on the offense of another or focus on the character and trustworthiness of God. One choice leads to bitterness, resentment, and churning. The other leads to joy and peace.
3. Do you truly appreciate what a magnificent grace you have been given? God has forgiven our tremendous debt through the blood of Jesus. He has set us free from the past and free for the future. It is an undeserved blessing. The Lord does not ask us to pay Him back (it is impossible). He does ask us to pay it forward. He has commissioned us to be dispensers of grace in a world that is intent on getting even.
One more thing: Give thanks for and TO the grace-dispensers in your life. Celebrate those who bless your life, lift your spirit, and help carry your load. Take the time to give them a call, write them a note, or send them a card to let them know how greatly they have been used by God to enrich your life. There is a really good chance that they do not realize the impact they have had on your life. When you take the time to spotlight the strengths and blessings of others you become a grace-dispenser. You take a step toward living with the heart of God.