Life Lessons: Mephibosheth
There are many stories in the Bible that offer snapshots of God’s redemptive plan and many of these stories occur hundreds of years before the birth of the Messiah they so beautifully foretell. One of my favorites has to be the story of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel because of how it mirrors my salvation story in a tangible way.
If you don’t know Mephibosheth, he was a son of Jonathan, the son of King Saul and David’s best friend. David and Jonathan loved each other like brothers but had to be separated when King Saul became jealous of David, his abilities and quite frankly, his relationship with the one true God. Saul was deemed unworthy to lead the people of Israel due to his disobedience and disregard for the Lord. You can read about Saul’s downfall in 1 Samuel 15 but let me summarize it like this… Half obedience is disobedience. Let that sink in!
Everything gets pretty crazy and uncertain for David in the years that follow because he’s been anointed by Samuel as the next king and yet, he finds himself in situations that don’t seem to lead to a throne. King Saul is trying to kill him which is disappointing considering he’s innocent, a former employee AND his son-in-law. Talk about a hot mess of relational dynamics! Eventually, King Saul and his son Jonathan die which creates the dynamics for a royal coup, not unusual in this time. Yes, David was anointed to be king but in theory, if other sons of Saul still lived OR grandsons, they would most likely have to be overthrown for him to take power. It wasn’t strange to have a new king come to power and murder all of the previous king’s family to ensure no potential usurpers waited in the wings. Sometimes, the greatest crime a person could face was being born into a royal family that didn’t keep the title. However, David seems averse to this tradition as seen in 2 Samuel 4 which is where we also first meet Mephibosheth. So, let’s take a look…
Mephibosheth was flawed. (2 Samuel 4:4)
The first mention of Mephibosheth also mentions how he became disabled. Apparently, his nurse was trying to escape with him in the chaotic aftermath of Saul and Jonathan’s deaths but she fell and he was injured. Try to view this through a historical perspective. This was not a child that could be sent to therapy or be given aids to assist him in living a full and productive life. In fact, judging by how often it is mentioned in his story, I’m guessing it wasn’t just that he walked with a slight limp but rather that he was at the mercy of those around him. You see this often in the New Testament when an individual deemed “crippled” is brought to Jesus by friends or family. Really take in the gravity of this situation.
As he grew, he most likely had to rely on someone to provide his livelihood because he couldn’t work and as a royal on the run he was most likely having a bit of a cash flow crisis. He might have needed assistance in going from place to place, getting to a place to bathe and more. Once again, don’t imagine someone on crutches, making their way to the fully furnished bathroom. And let’s not forget, that for much of history there were many who believed that injuries, illnesses, or other ailments were punishments from God not the nature of a fallen and broken world. Those in need were often scorned, ignored and looked down upon (which is what makes the way Jesus interacted with people in the New Testament pretty shocking.) Yep, if people knew who he was, they probably didn’t have much pity on his situation because it was surely retribution for at least Saul’s faults and potentially his own.
Now, view his story in light of the Gospel and it isn’t hard to see yourself in his place. On the run, in a bad situation with no abilities or resources to give you any value in the eyes of judgement. Regardless of where your salvation story starts, we all begin life running to sin which is away from God. We find ourselves in a dirty, broken mess of a situation with no way out on our own. We are flawed and we can’t do anything about it. But then...
He was brought to the King. (2 Samuel 9:5)
The next we hear Mephibosheth mention is in chapter 9 when David, fully established as king, begins asking a question I bet some were hoping wouldn’t come up. “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (vs 1) We know David meant this for good but this question probably still struck some with apprehension. The whole “Did I miss any potential threats?” quandary. We also know that there were still some of Saul’s servants in the royal household because one is brought before David to answer this question. This is when I would love to have a fleshed out account of the biblical record. How did this servant, Ziba, know that Mephibosheth was still alive? Was he still in contact with his former employer’s son? How did he know his location? Did he answer David truthfully out of respect for authority or because he trusted David meant no harm?
What we do know is that Ziba gives King David a location, Lo Debar which I once had a Bible Fellowship teacher describe as the equivalent of Eastabuchie, a visual picture indeed for those in my city but if you’ve never perused our beautiful back roads, let me just say it was small, rural and WAY out yonder! This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering they initially ran as a means of escape. Being far away makes sense for their purposes but it is also a great picture of how God finds us. As the chapter goes on, we see David having Mephibosheth brought to the royal palace to meet him. Can you imagine all that was going through his mind? Once again, I wish this section was a little more fleshed out. Did he know why he was brought? He was quite young when his father died but did he know the love Jonathan had for David? Was he told of David’s rightful anointing by Samuel? An anointing that Jonathan, as potential heir, had approved? We know that Mephibosheth had a son so was his family brought along as well? Did he fear for their safety too? Did he cry out to the God that had rejected his grandfather? We will never know but I can guarantee that I’d be worrying about all of these things and more on the way to meet the King.
Mephibosheth is given an inheritance that isn’t his. (2 Samuel 9: 7)
When Mephibosheth meets King David he bows to honor him and I have to wonder… Is this out of respect for his position as king or out of respect for what he knew of David’s character? Regardless, it was a smart move. Immediately, David puts his fears to rest explaining the purpose behind his summons. The king wants to restore what would have been his inheritance if his father were still alive… possessions traditionally lost when a new family came to power. I bet this shocked and overwhelmed those listening because it was definitely out of the ordinary. Conquest includes acquisitions of all kinds and this is not something that has changed with the passing of time. God’s army acquired many resources and possessions during their campaigns just as a modern army does so this had to seem a bit unorthodox. The bizarre nature of these events becomes even more apparent when you read Mephibosheth’s response, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” (vs 8).
Not killing him for being a potential threat showed mercy but giving him all of these resources showed David’s grace. Once again, I can’t help but see myself in this scene. I who have nothing being brought before the King. I’m dirty, broken and without anything of real value. I know I don’t belong there and I know that true judgement should bring my death but the King of mercy spares my life. Mercy, the showing of compassion or forgiveness when you have the power to punish and harm. But then, even more incredibly, I’m offered riches beyond my wildest dreamings. Things I surely don’t deserve and could never earn on my own. That is grace… God’s unmerited favor. The story of the cross told nearly a 1000 years before it was witnessed.
Mephibosheth’s life is changed forever. (2 Samuel 9: 9-11)
Can you imagine how much his life must have changed in that moment? It’s obvious that Mephibosheth is an adult by the time he meets David and that some sort of living is being eked out in Lo Debar but nothing compared to the life he was born into and yet, with one word from the King he is now bolstered beyond anything he could have expected. Chapter 9 tells us that EVERYTHING that had belonged to Saul AND his family was given back to Mephibosheth. David then instructs Ziba, Saul’s old steward, to have Mephibosheth’s estate run by his sons, servants and himself. He is instructed to have the land farmed, harvested and stored all for Mephibosheth’s provision. David is ensuring that he will be cared for continually as part of the royal family which leads me to my last point.
Mephibosheth is adopted. (2 Samuel 9:11)
No, the word adoption is not used but the sentiment is there. Twice, in verse 10 and verse 11, we are told that Mephibosheth is invited and eats at David’s table like one of his sons. This is very intimate and would have made a statement to others watching the situation unfold. See, in my culture, sharing a meal with someone isn’t exactly monumental or noteworthy. I’m southern afterall and we love to have food whenever possible but can you imagine if I threw a party for the neighborhood that included entertainment and a delicious spread but when it came time to eat, my family had a separate table away from the others. Better yet, my family was feasting on incredible platters from a local catering service while I threw a couple of dollar menu options on everyone else’s table. My neighbors would be offended, probably think I’m insane and definitely wouldn’t accept another invite.
However, in other cultures and time periods, it was not uncommon for those of the upper echelon to sit separate from those “beneath them” and to eat nicer foods. Your position within the venue, the types of food you ate, even your access to a spot at a table was determined by your “worth”. Those in charge could make a statement or send a message by inviting someone to the top table with the family or by sending them something expensive to eat. So, when the Bible says that “Mephibosheth ate at David's table like one of the king’s sons” they weren’t kidding. This wasn’t a one time invitation to show goodwill but rather inclusion in the family. It let everyone know where Mephibosheth fell in the rankings.
The New Testament continually refers to us being adopted as children into the family of God. To me that’s another incredible part of salvation… not just forgiveness of sins or eternal life on the fringe of heaven’s society which would still be more than I deserved but rather being brought into the family of God. He is my Abba Father and with that comes the rights of a child. I am a daughter of the King who has the right to approach his throne at any point not just with petitions but to actually climb into the lap of the Father. That kind of grace is overwhelming in light of what I deserve and I am forever grateful. I pray that you too have experienced the ultimate love of a gracious and compassionate Father and if not, I pray you will meet Him today. I think my Bible summed it up best when it said, “Regardless of how unworthy you feel, you can know that you have been made worthy because you are a child of God”.