Melakhim Alef Chapter 2
David is nearing death and delivers his last will and testimony to the new king, Shelomo. First and foremost, he exhorts Shelomo to observe the Torah of Hashem and His commandments, so that his kingdom will be well established and supported by the Almighty. David then offers instructions to Shelomo with respect to several personalities who had “unfinished business” with David.
David provides Shelomo with three pieces of advice: First, he should not allow Yoav, who had shed much innocent blood in defiance of royal orders, to go down to his grave peacefully. Second, he should amply reward Barzilai HaGiladi in recognition of the support and friendship he showed to David during Avshalom’s rebellion. Third, he reminds Shelomo of the curses that Shimi ben Gera pronounced upon him and calls for Shelomo to punish him appropriately. David then dies and is buried.
Adoniyahu approaches Batsheva, Shelomo’s mother, with an unusual request. He prefaces his petition with a description of how close he had been to securing the throne of Israel for himself before Shelomo was given the upper hand. Nevertheless, he acknowledges Shelomo’s right to the position that was granted to him by Hashem. Adoniyahu asks Batsheva to persuade her son, Shelomo, to allow him to marry Avishag Hashunammit.
Batsheva agrees to intervene on Adoniyahu’s behalf and visits Shelomo, who greets her with tremendous respect. When Shelomo hears of Adoniyahu’s request, however, he is quite upset and calls for him to be executed. Shelomo correctly understands that Adoniyahu desires a relationship with King David’s former “concubine” that will lend legitimacy to his claim to the kingdom, a claim he apparently has not fully relinquished. Adoniyahu clearly has his heart set on the crown and is employing a devious strategic plan to pursue it.
After Shelomo sends Benayahu to kill Adoniyahu, he summons Evyatar, who is banished from serving as a Kohen and is instructed to return to his fields in Anatot instead. This was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Shemuel that predicted the ultimate downfall of the house of Eli, of which Evyatar was a descendant. Shelomo refrains from killing Evyatar because of the loyalty he demonstrated to David during trying times in the king’s life. Moreover, Evyatar was not numbered among the personalities whom David identified as threats to the throne. His error in following Adoniyahu was regarded as a relatively minor infraction.
Yoav hears of these developments and escapes to the sanctuary, grabbing hold of the horns of the altar to gain asylum from Shelomo’s judgment. Benayahu ben Yehoyada is dispatched to apprehend him but Yoav refuses to leave his position. Shelomo then explains the legitimate basis for the execution of Yoav and instructs Benayahu to kill Yoav right where he is standing; Yoav is executed and buried.
Lastly, Shelomo addresses Shimi ben Gera and places him under a kind of house arrest. As long as Shimi stays within the borders of his town and refrains from crossing the Qidron River, his life will be spared, despite his disrespectful behavior toward King David. Shimi agrees to this condition and is seemingly relieved to find that he was shielded from the harsh judgment he may have expected. Nonetheless, three years after meeting with King Shelomo, Shimi’s servant runs away from home and Shimi, intending to recover the servant, leaves his town. Shelomo summons Shimi once again and has him executed.
One question that we can ask about this chapter is why Shelomo seems to wait for the request of Adoniyahu to be presented to him before taking any action against Yoav and Shimi, who were specifically identified by David as worthy of punishment. It seems that David’s instructions to Shelomo are best understood as recommendations he offers based on his experience with these men and not as “commands” per se. Shelomo takes them under advisement in the meantime, hoping that perhaps David has overestimated the significance of certain events in his history and the nefarious character of some of the personalities involved, and that perhaps these violent punitive measures can be avoided.
However, once Shelomo sees that Adoniyahu has not truly abandoned his aspirations for the throne, he realizes that the political tensions, conflicts and “baggage” of the past have not been decisively put to rest. On the contrary, these factors continue to exert a substantial influence on key players in the realm and endanger the future of Shelomo’s monarchy.
The continued presence of complex and powerful people like Yoav and Shimi, whose loyalties and agendas are never fully transparent and who are reasonably suspect, can only be a hindrance to the establishment of Shelomo’s rule. Indeed, it is quite possible that Yoav himself – knowing that he had fallen out of favor with David and Shelomo though not with Adoniyahu, whose coronation he supported – encouraged Adoniyahu to pursue Avishag Hashunammit as a stepping stone to the throne. The political complications left behind by David make “wiping the slate clean” an urgent necessity for his successor. Therefore, Shelomo systematically, although patiently and carefully, roots out the individuals who could legitimately pose a threat to the stability of the kingdom in the near or even distant future.
One further point to explore is the treatment of Shimi ben Gera. On the surface, Shelomo’s roundabout punishment of Shimi seems to be unnecessary. Why place him under house arrest and compel him to swear to Hashem not to cross the Qidron River? It is quite clear that Shelomo expects Shimi to eventually violate the oath and be liable to the death penalty. Why not simply have him executed for his denigration of King David and avoid the circuitous path to punishing him?
It seems that the answer lies in David’s initial words to Shelomo regarding Shimi ben Gera. David had sworn to Shimi that he would not kill him for the curses that he uttered. Given that Shimi ben Gera remains a problematic character who must be eliminated from the political scene, Shelomo must find a pretext for killing Shimi that is independent of his original crime, and this pretext must be, in and of itself, sensible and coherent.
Shelomo therefore demands that Shimi essentially take what amounts to an oath of allegiance to him – despite being a member of the tribe of Benjamin, Shimi will reside in Jerusalem out of deference to and under the watchful eye of the King. Shimi’s crossing of the river in order to retrieve a slave basically amounted to placing his own “power” and status as “master” over that of King Shelomo’s. Rather than acting as a true servant of the king, he violated the royal order to recover his own servant. This betrayal was what cost him his life.
It is fascinating that the Rabbis refer to Shimi as Shelomo HaMelekh’s Torah teacher and that some commentaries, including Rashi, go so far as to state that he was the head of the Sanhedrin. What led the rabbis to attribute this position to Shimi ben Gera? I believe they were perplexed by an obvious difficulty in the narrative – the great significance assigned to the words and deeds of Shimi ben Gera, a man who does not seem to occupy any position of political clout or influence.
If Shimi were a nobody, he would not have been a source of so much distress and worry for David and would not have had to intercept and beg for mercy from David upon his return to Jerusalem. Moreover, had Shimi not been a person of any spiritual stature, David may not have ascribed his harsh remarks to Divine inspiration. Finally, had Shimi been a mere commoner, it would have been unusual for Shelomo to single him out as a threat to the kingdom and to target him with such cunning.
All of these factors lead us to the conclusion that Shimi must, in fact, have been a leader of considerable importance whose statements and actions carried weight in the eyes of the people. Since he does not appear to have held or aspired to any political office, the Rabbis are justified in concluding that he was a religious teacher who wielded a level of spiritual influence that could have far-reaching effects on the social and political climate of the kingdom.