Followership: Absalom, Mephiosheth, Ziba, and Shimei

David Grief basic

Can you imagine a family member turning against your leadership? But, let’s up the ante…can you imagine your son seeking not only your failure as a leader, but your death?

In this blog I normally write about leadership failure. But in this article I want to discuss a good leader’s “followership.”

Rebel in the Ranks

It is hard to fathom the depth of sorrow the rebellion of a child is to a father.

God’s anointed King David faced off against just such child. Absalom, King David’s son, determined to wrest David’s kingship from him. The story really begins when Absalom’s sister, Tamar, was raped by another of David’s sons, Amnon. Absalom is of course very angry at Amnon, but rather than seek true justice, he conceived of a plan to murder Amnon.

After he has his servants murder Amnon while his brother is drunk, Absalom flees for his life. David, his father, is heartbroken at the loss of Absalom, though 2nd Samuel notes he is “comforted about Amnon, since he was dead.” [2 Samuel 13:39]

Intertwined in the story of Absalom is that of Ziba, Mephibosheth, and Shimei. Like Absalom, they are caught up in the politics of followership. Each has a story to tell.


When Absalom is called and welcomed back to Jerusalem by David, he returns the favor and love of his father by conspiring to take away his crown. When it is found out, King David runs for his life, leaving Jerusalem with his family and servants. He says,

“Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.” [2 Samuel 15:14]

He saves his family and servants and in fact the whole city from Absalom’s invading army. He is thinking not just of his own life, but that of the Jerusalem residents. The city would have suffered from a battle between David and Absalom.


This is where Ziba comes in. Ziba is the servant of Mephibosheth, who is the crippled son of Saul. David had shown mercy to Mephibosheth, the former king’s son, after he succeeded Mephibosheth’s father as King of Israel.

This, in itself, was an extraordinary act of kindness in that it was common to kill off all relatives of the overcome king. Yet, David brings Mephibosheth into his home and provides all his needs…even a place at his table.

However, as David is leaving the city, Ziba comes to David explaining,

“Behold, [Mephibosheth] remains in Jerusalem, for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will give me back the kingdom of my father.’” [2 Samuel 16:3]

Ziba throws Mephibosheth under the bus and David hands over all that is owned by Mephibosheth to Ziba as he comes along with David.


As David is leaving the city, he is cursed and assaulted by Shimei, another relative of Saul. Shimei comes out and throws rocks at David and calls him a “worthless man.”

One of David’s commanders suggests to David that he take the man’s head off. It certainly was no way to treat the King and any king worth his salt would respond decisively to such disrespect.

A Mixed Bag

Each of these followers were good or bad examples of what it means to be a subordinate.

David’s own son, Absalom, is a coniving and wicked son. He clearly cannot see beyond his own desires and lust for power. And yet, David loves him. He weaps for him. He longs for him. David deeply mourns the loss of Absalom when he is killed by Joab, David’s military commander.

And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”  [2 Samuel 18:33]

Can you hear the depth of his sorrow in those words?

I remember studying a motet from the Renaissance era [“Absalom, Fili Mi” by Josquin de Prez] that very beautifully captured David’s emotions. It ends with the the singer (David) singing the lowest note written up to that time in music history describing his desire to die in Absalom’s place.

David loved his son.

Ziba, like Absalom seeks his own desires as well. He appears to look to gain position by standing between Mephibosheth and David. David rewards Ziba’s apparent loyalty to him, but when he finds that he has deceived him he does an interesting thing: he allows him to keep half of what he had promised him. A rather gracious response to one who deserved to be put in jail!

Shimei, another example of rebellion, is treated with extraordinary kindness by David originally. As David flees, is cursed by Shimei, and encouraged to do him in, David instead suggests that God is speaking through Shimei. It is an amazing act of humility on David’s part. Rather than kill Shimei at that time, David trusts the Lord to vindicate him. He says,

“Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.” [2 Samuel 16:11-12]

And then there is Mephibosheth.


Finally, Mephibosheth, who spends David’s exile under the bus, welcomes David back to Jerusalem following the putting down of Absalom’s rebellion. David clearly questions Mephibosheth with suspicion, but finds out that Mephibosheth had not joined the rebellion but in fact had been deceived by the servant.

Mephibosheth expresses genuine gratitude and love for David and David receives his explanation and returns half of that which he promised to Ziba when he was fleeing. Mephibosheth even expresses his humility and love by saying,

Oh, let him take it all, since my lord the king has come safely home.” [2 Samuel 19:30]


It is the example of Mephibosheth that should drive our understanding of following Christ: Gratitude.

There will never be a leader like Jesus Christ [as noted in an earlier blog]. He has given us everything we have without anything required of us.

David, as a quality leader, did similarily for Mephibosheth.

And Mephibosheth sits at his feet in gratitude. He recognizes the prized position he has is one of extraordinary privilege. He does not deserve it. He cannot work for it. It is pure grace.

May we, as leaders, be those who our subordinates look to with gratitude and point them to the ultimate leadership in Christ. And may we, as followers, recognize our God-given leaders as those to be followed with gratitude to the Lord.

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