Mephibosheth – WHO?
2 Samuel 9:1-13
By Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
The gospel’s open secret is that strength is found in weakness. Crippled people know that they need a Savior. The goal isn’t to avoid disability. The goal is to find the Savior. And our dis-ability is always the means for discovering the Savior’s ability. Adapted from Craig Barnes.
Mephibosheth – WHO?
This morning we are returning to the story of David. Let me see if I can catch us up. We didn’t look at the first part of David’s story, back in 1 Samuel. Many of those stories are familiar. As a young boy David is chosen to be the next king of Israel, David and Goliath, David sings for Saul and becomes best friends with Saul’s son, Jonathan. That story actually plays a part in today’s story because David and Jonathan make a covenant with each other. Saul eventually turns against David and tries to kill him, so David runs away and lives out in the wilderness with a band of rebels and outcasts. 1 Samuel ends with Saul and Jonathan both being killed by the Philistines.
The story continues in 2 Samuel. In chapter 4 there is a short paragraph about Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. At first it seems like an irrelevant story, trivia that isn’t important. I’ll tell you more about it in a few minutes. Chapter 5 is where we started looking at David’s story. He becomes king of the united kingdom of Israel. He moves the capital to Jerusalem and brings the ark into the city. Then we looked at God’s covenant with David in chapter 7.
At that point David was at the peak of his life and faith. Everything went his way. He was securely established as the king. His government was well organized and his enemies were defeated. And so he paused and reflected on his life. That is where we pick up our story, in 2 Samuel 9. Read 2 Samuel 9:1-13
I love the name Mephibosheth. It’s easy to mess up but fun to say. Mephibosheth spent the first part of his life in fear. The passage back in chapter 4 tells us that his dad and his grandfather were both killed by the Philistines when he was only five years old. The nurse who took care of Mephibosheth knew that the Philistines would try to find and kill any of Jonathan’s sons, who would be heirs to the throne. She picked Mephibosheth up and ran away. As she was running she tripped and dropped the young boy and he broke both of his ankles. There weren’t any good orthopedic surgeons back then so Mephibosheth lived the rest of his life crippled. He knew that if the Philistines found out where he was they would kill him. Yet he was unable to run away.
He probably was also afraid of David. Saul probably told stories about David and his band of guerillas. Then David became king and Mephibosheth assumed that he was in great danger. In that culture, when a new king was anointed he typically killed all the surviving heirs of the previous king to make sure that they didn’t try to become king. For years Mephibosheth lived in fear, lived with his disability, hiding from the Philistines and David. I wonder if his heart skipped a beat when David’s servants finally knocked on the door.
Many people live crippled by fear. Maybe you have physical limitations that fill you with anxiety. Maybe you were abused as a child or are still in an abusive relationship. Maybe you did something in your past and have a constant fear that people will find out what you did and who you are. We all have fears that cripple us, and every time someone knocks on the door of our lives we cower and put up our defenses to try to keep ourselves safe.
David wanted to know if Jonathan, his best friend, had any children. The covenant that they made with each other was that if something happened to one of them the other would care for the family of the one who had died. So David asked “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Sam. 9:1). The word for kindness in Hebrew is hesed. It’s one of the great words of the Old Testament, but is difficult to translate. It includes love and compassion but it also includes a gracious commitment to help the other person. It is the word that is often used to describe God’s love for us.
Ziba, who was one of Saul’s servants, told David that the only heir he knew of was someone that he didn’t need to worry about. “He’s a cripple.” Ziba didn’t even say his name. “Don’t worry about him. He’s insignificant. He lives out in Lo-debar” which means a place where there is no pasture. It’s barren land. Lo-debar is the place we all live when we are defined by our weakness, when we live out of our fear.
David wasn’t looking for Mephibosheth to get rid of him, but to show his love and commitment to Jonathan. He wanted to surround Jonathan’s son with hesed. David didn’t care that he was crippled. He wasn’t worried about how it happened or whether Mephibosheth would try to take his throne. He just wanted to where he was. He asked Ziba “Where is he?”
That is the question that God asks about us. When Adam hid from God in the garden of Eden God came and asked “Where are you?” Whenever we hide from God he wants to know – “Where are you?” Not “What happened? How did you mess up this time? Who’s to blame for this problem?” Just, “Where are you?”
David’s servants brought Mephibosheth to his house, his royal palace. Mephibosheth probably thought his life was over. David would kill him as the last of Saul’s heirs. He threw aside his crutches, fell on his face and begged for his life. David calls him by name. “Mephibosheth!” He’s not an enemy. He’s not a threat. He’s not an insignificant crippled man. He is a person with a name, a human being, the son of his best friend.
When God thinks of you he doesn’t think of you just as part of a group. “You belong to Sharon Church.” You’re not a number. “Your #278645. Let me look up your file and see what it says about you.” God doesn’t look at you and think “He’s that sinner.” Or, “She’s that one with all the problems.” God knows your name. “You’re Todd, Joan, Rhiannon.”
Then David offered to Mephibosheth an amazing promise. “Don’t be afraid, for I will show you kindness, for the sake of your father Jonathan; I will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul, and you yourself shall eat at my table always” (2 Sam. 9:7). Essentially David adopts Mephibosheth as his own son.
It is obvious in this story that Mephibosheth does not deserve what he gets. David shows him kindness, hesed, not because he has earned it, not because he is worthy, but because David had made a covenant with Jonathan. It was “for Jonathan’s sake” that he did this (2 Sam. 9:7).
Mephibosheth was a disabled man, who lived in constant fear and who couldn’t do much of anything for David. Yet David showed kindness to Mephibosheth. He restored Saul’s land and servants, which would bring Mephibosheth plenty of money to live. He invited Mephibosheth to eat at his own table, which was not only a provision of food but an invitation to an intimate relationship and a position of honor.
David sought out Mephibosheth, to show him kindness, to bless him and restore him to a place of honor, to welcome him to his table and adopt him into his family. In the same way, through Jesus Christ, God has sought us out, to surround us with hesed, to restore us to a place of honor, to welcome us to His table, and to adopt us as his beloved children.
This is a story of grace, grace that God offers to everyone who lives in fear, grace for those who live in barren places, grace given to those who have nothing to give. This is grace for you and for me. God welcomes us into a relationship of intimacy and invites us to a table of fellowship. God doesn’t do this because of our inherent value. He does it for the sake of his son, Jesus Christ. This is just who God is, and what God does.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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