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“Mephibosheth – and Me”

July 15, 2012 2Samuel 9:1-13


Some handicaps are obvious; others are more hidden. Many people get damaged at some point or other, even the ones that look pretty good on the outside.
    Our story today centres on a man who at the tender age of 5 years old suffered a double “whammy” all on a single day. Up until that day, Mephibosheth had enjoyed a relatively pampered childhood: he was the grandson of King Saul, who’d been reigning over Israel for some 40 years. Mephibosheth was also the son of a prince, a bold and valiant prince named Jonathan. But all that changed overnight in the year 1010 BC. King Saul and three of his sons, including Jonathan, were killed in battle with the Philistines. Suddenly nowhere was safe for the surviving members of the royal family. You see, it was common practice for eastern despots to wipe out any surviving members of the previous ruler’s family, as Jehu would later slay all 70 sons of the house of Ahab (2Kings 10). 2Samuel 4:4 tells us what happened when the shocking news reached Saul’s household:  “His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became crippled.His name was Mephibosheth.”
    Suddenly this little 5-year-old boy had two huge strikes against him. He suffered RELATIONAL loss or calamity in the sudden and tragic death of his father and grandfather. Then combine that with a PHYSICAL catastrophe: being dropped by his nurse in a hurry, so he ends up lame in both feet, whether from broken legs or ankles we’re not told.
    Even Mephibosheth’s name is somewhat shameful. Perhaps it started out as Merib-Baal, “one who contends with Baal” (the pagan fertility god), but this got modified because of Jewish reluctance to even pronounce the names of other gods, to Mephibosheth – literally, “from the mouth of the shameful thing”. Who wants to be called that? So, bad name, bad tragedy, bad accident – everything seemed to be mounting up against Mephibosheth. Many would feel he had a RIGHT to carry a chip on his shoulder. Anyway, he was taken far away out of the spotlight to a place called Lo-Debar, in the remote distance east of the Jordan river – far away from the court and corridors of power that might one day have been rightfully his.
    There came to the throne instead one with a wound of a different kind – David. 2Samuel 8 records many of his victories over his enemies. Those he conquered he made bring tribute or taxes; others sought to avoid war by making agreements and bringing gold, silver, and bronze which David dedicated to the Lord. 8:14f records,  “The LORD gave David victory wherever he went.David reigned over all Israel, doing what was just and right for all his people.” This is the mighty warrior that women and maidens had celebrated, singing that he had killed his ten thousands (1Sam 18:7). David had it all – fame and fortune, power and wealth, foreign nations subject to him and courting his favour...but still something was missing. The beginning of 2Samuel 9 finds him asking a question quite unrelated to world domination:  “David asked, "Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?"”
    To understand this, you’ve got to know a bit about the history behind David’s deep friendship with Jonathan. We would call them ‘bosom buddies’, or in the language of Anne of Green Gables, a “kindred spirit.” It seems they hit it off as soon as they met. Jonathan, whose bravery and valour would spark him to climp up and challenge an enemy outpost on a mountain pass (1Sam 14:6-14), resonated instantly with this ruddy shepherd-boy who had just killed a giant most unconventionally with just a slingshot. They “connected”, quickly and deeply. 1Sam 18:1 says,  “After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.” One in spirit - a kindred spirit. As time went on and they got to know each other better, their appreciation for and esteem of each other grew. In 1Sam 20(13-17) we hear Jonathan telling David,  “May the LORD be with you as he has been with my father.But show me unfailing kindness like that of the LORD as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family— not even when the LORD has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth." So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, "May the LORD call David’s enemies to account." And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.” That’s close! We’re not talking about some homosexual sort of thing here – these were both very red-blooded masculine guys – but the deepest possible kind of friendship, a relationship so profound and intimate one would lay down one’s life for the other (as Jonathan nearly does when he risks Saul’s wrath for his friend and nearly takes a bullet - er, spear - for it).
    At their last time seeing each other, when they know David must flee for his own safety on account of Jonathan’s father’s irrational rage and jealousy, it’s a very touching scene. 1Sam 20:41f,  “...David...bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground.Then they kissed each other and wept together— but David wept the most.Jonathan said to David, "Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’"” They would never be able to hang out together again.
    After Jonathan and Saul are killed in battle, David uses surprising words to express how deeply he loved Jonathan: 2Sam 1:26,  “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me.Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.” EH? Does our sex-frenzied culture know any love more wonderful than the bond between the sexes? But David’s saying there’s something more precious and deep than eros or a sparky romance. Jonathan was “very dear” to him, their relationship was of the highest order, sharing a “wonderful” non-sexual love. Soul-mates in a way, we might say.
    So David’s heart had a very empty corner, because Jonathan was no more. As he sat on his throne, contemplating the successes the Lord had given him, the fame and the fortune faded into insignificance compared to the joy of that loving relationship he known with Saul’s son. He wanted to share his success through kindness with someone from Saul’s household, for Jonathan’s sake.
    Mephibosheth had relational and physical injuries; David suffered from a broken relationship. There are many things that can handicap us a people. Counselor John Regier lists Twelve Locked Hearts that can result from experiences in life. Some of us may be handicapped in these ways, even if our feet and other limbs work just fine! For example, what Regier calls the “hostile locked heart” results from bitterness not being resolved for years; a person experiences pain in their life and just turns it all inside, unable to deal with it except through anger and defiance. The person with a “neglected locked heart” may have severe rejection issues because as a young child they were neglected or abandoned; perhaps they come from a home where a parent had very little sympathy. They lived in emotional pain because they didn’t feel wanted. A person with a “self-focused locked heart” may have grown up in an alcoholic home: since alcoholic parents are very self-centred and care only about themselves, their children become self-focused just like their parents. A person with a “moral locked heart” may have been introduced to pornography at a very young age, been molested sexually, or been involved in premarital sex or adultery. A last example is the “defiled locked heart” where the individual has been abused, whether sexually, physically, emotionally, or spiritually (yes it does happen in church settings). Such a person doesn’t let anyone into their heart, doesn’t trust others, don’t know how to open up to others, and don’t know how to relax.
    It’s a shame, isn’t it, that there are so many types of locked hearts – so many people that are ‘walking wounded’? Somehow, like Mephibosheth, they got traumatized and dropped along the way – maybe not dropped PHYSICALLY, but someone who should have shown them love and kindness let them down hugely.


Mephibosheth may have been living at the ‘back of beyond’, geographically and perhaps emotionally, but v5 of 2Sam 9 tells us that David had him brought to his court. Mephibosheth must have been shaking with terror in his crooked boots: usually (as we noted) this could mean only one thing, the successor was going to kill any threats to his security - namely descendants of the previous king. But as Mephibosheth bowed low to pay David honour, David unloaded a huge surprise on him. V7,  “Don’t be afraid...for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan.I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table."” WHAT?! Amazing! Let’s take that bit by bit.
    “I will surely show you KINDNESS...” Remember the language in Jonathan’s covenant with David? “Show me unfailing kindness like that of the Lord as long as I live...do not ever cut off your kindness from my family...”(1Sam 20:14f) The Hebrew root for ‘kindness’ in both cases is checed, “goodness, kindness, faithfulness”.
    Next phrase, “for the sake of your father Jonathan.” David’s best buddy may have been long dead, but he was consciously seeking to honour his promise to Jonathan by being kind to his son. These wonderful benefits were not because Mephibosheth deserved them, or on account of his inherent merit or ability, but because of the deep love of the covenant-maker.
    Next, “I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul...” As King, Saul had become entitle to various properties that were outside the family inheritance. Now David, the current king, had the authority to grant these properties (that came with the office of king) to whomever he liked. Mephibosheth was suddenly becoming landed gentry, with considerable means of support; David later assigns Ziba, Saul’s former servant, and all his sons and servants, to manage the estates for Jonathan’s benefit.
    That was considerable kindness; but the best was yet to come. David added, “and you will always eat at my table.” This isn’t about the food! This is the KING’S table we’re talking about here – this is a great honour. It also is associated with friendship, intimacy, fellowship: David’s making Mephibosheth a PERMANENT guest at his table.
    There’s a note of intense love and intimacy in this gesture that we see the Lord Jesus inviting people to who believe in Him. Revelation 3:20,  “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” The human heart most yearns for love and affection, friendship and connection, something well represented by table fellowship, the freedom and openness one can experience when dining with close friends. David wants that kind of deep bond with Mephibosheth, probably like what he used to enjoy with Jonathan. God seeks that sort of intimacy with us!
    This “at the table” aspect is emphasized several times in this passage. V7 “you will always eat at my table”; v10 “will always eat at my table”; v11 “So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons; v13, “And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table.”
    Such grace isn’t lost upon Mephibosheth, who responds humbly in v8, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” Stark imagery! A dead dog would be contemptible, useless, undeserving of special treatment. It conjures up in one’s mind’s eye perhaps road kill! Not attractive at all, just to be discarded. An echo here perhaps of Ephesians 2(1-7), where Paul describes our DEADNESS before being granted new life in Christ:  “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world...Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved.And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
    Welcome to the table! David’s unwarranted kindness to Mephibosheth is a vivid parable of God’s welcome to His presence of us sinners. No right to come on our own; it’s only because we’re IN CHRIST, as Mephibosheth had that connection with Jonathan, that allows us to be seated with God at all.
    Picture the scene around the king’s table there in Jerusalem. We have David the mighty victorious king. There are no doubt a representation of his beautiful queens. Then there are his “Mighty Men” whose exploits we can read about elsewhere (2Sam 23:9ff) - valiant heroic soldiers who had shown they could stand their ground and hold off the enemy when everybody else fled; who could jump into a pit on a snowy day and kill a lion. These were the calibre of men at David’s table. Then over here were the visiting officials from foreign countries, ambassadors and statesmen, in charge of valuable gifts of gold and silver. And here - hobbling in on his crutches and hopping onto a seat where the table would conceal his twisted lower limbs - here was Mephibosheth! Who was there not because of his beauty or might or power, but purely by the grace and goodness and kindness of the King.
    Why such grace? Was David remembering an earlier time, when he first met Jonathan? Back then he’d been just a simple shepherd boy. The youngest of eight boys, a mere farm-boy with no armour and only a sling for weaponry. But how had Jonathan treated him? 1Sam 18(4),  “Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.” Jonathan had shown great grace by giving all he had to his new friend.
    Even so – we have been ‘graced’ by Christ, shown great kindness. Now it’s our turn to pass on that kindness to others. Jesus laid down His life for us; we can love others because He first loved us. 1Jn 3:16, 4:19 -  “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers...We love because he first loved us.”


The relationship would be tested during the coup led by David’s handsome but rebellious renegade son Absalom. Ziba accused Mephibosheth of opportunism (2Sam 16:3). Later, when David was restored to the throne, Mephibosheth came before him and it was obvious he hadn’t trimmed his beard or washed his clothes from the day David was ousted. He set the record straight - he’d wanted to go with the king but Ziba had blocked him and slandered him.
    David’s in a bind here because it’s one of those “he said / she said” scenarios where you can’t corroborate just who’s telling the truth. He divides the property he’d given to Ziba between the two of the them, Ziba and Mephibosheth. But right here is where we see that relationship has become far more important to Mephibosheth than any material goods. 2Sam 19:30,  “Mephibosheth said to the king, "Let him take everything, now that my lord the king has arrived home safely."” Hear that? It’s not about the money! I don’t care if Ziba gets the whole shooting match - the most important thing is having YOU back. The relationship, being together again. Mephibosheth had caught the importance of kindness; his feet may have been broken and twisted, but his heart was whole.
    Earlier I was describing some of the “locked hearts” John Regier says people can develop; locked hearts that block intimacy and truly connecting in relationship. In closing, I’d like to share some steps Debra Burton has developed to foster emotional intimacy with one’s children. Hopefully such steps will help prevent having so many ‘locked hearts’ in the next generation!
    First, “See if there are any root problems and clean them up in both parent and child.” Resolve your own personal and marital issues; find out how to meet the emotional needs of your spouse.
    Second, “Take your children in your arms and talk to their hearts.” Make statements such as: “I just want you to feel loved by me.” “I’m so privileged to have you in my life.” “I’m so pleased with you.” “I will always love you!” “I’m so glad God made you the way He did.”
    Third, “Take each child and sit down with them knee-to-knee / eye-to-eye.Ask them the Emotional Intimacy Questions.” Such as - “Do you feel loved by me?” “Do you feel as though I understand what goes on inside of you?” “Do you feel like I put my job or other people before you?” Try to do this 30 minutes at least once a week.
    Fourth, “Honour your child! Take some time to just relax and enjoy your child on an individual basis.” Avoid talking about rules or controversial subjects. Talk about how important they are to you. Praise them for Christlike character qualities.
    Fifth, “Ask your child one thing they want you to change.” Anger, inattentiveness, not saying “please forgive me”, being too harsh...This gives them hope and helps build their trust.
    Sixth, “Meaningful touch.” One of the locked hearts is caused when a child isn’t physically loved by a parent. Everyone feels nurtured when they’re touched even if it isn’t their “love language”.
    Seven, Debra Burton says, “Give them a blessing in the morning and at night.” Start and end their day by speaking words that affirm your belief that God has His hand on their lives.
    Last: “Help them to resolve issues with other people.” Teach them not to let the sun go down on their wrath, hurts, or misunderstandings. Show them how to connect with their siblings and with you.
    The goal in all of this? “When we emotionally connect to our children’s hearts, they will obey and honour us; they will talk to us and want to be with us – not because they have to, but because they love us!”
    Mephibosheth got “dropped” and suffered emotional turmoil when he was just 5 years old. But David showed him great kindness, goodness, faithfulness. His blessing of Mephibosheth showed that it reaped deep connection down the road, when David was rejected by many. Mephibosheth just wanted to be with him.
    No matter what your brokenness may be, how every other people have ‘dropped’ you or let you down – may you experience the Lord’s kindness in your own life, and receive His healing and wholeness so you can bless and be kind to others in turn. Let’s pray.