You, Me, and a Guy Named Mephibosheth

Anyone called on to read the Bible in public knows that it can quickly humble you. One of the big reasons for that has to be the names. Biblical genealogies are particularly intimidating. They are the scriptural passages where both one’s confidence and verbal competence go to die. But genealogies aren’t the only problem. Difficult names lie in wait at nearly every turn. And so it is with 2 Samuel 9, where we encounter a man named Me…Me-phib…Mephibosheth. (Go ahead, try saying it five times fast.)

On top of his difficult name, Mephibosheth doesn’t appear to be a particularly compelling character at first. 2 Samuel first mentions him—somewhat parenthetically—in chapter four. There we learn that he was the son of Jonathan, who was himself the son of Saul, the latter having been Israel’s first king. But in Mephibosheth’s case, his lineage was far from a blessing. As a result of repeatedly disobeying God, Saul eventually met his demise at the hand of the Philistines in a battle that also claimed the life of Jonathan. This took place when Mephibosheth was five years old. To make matters worse, when his nurse received the news, she took him and fled in haste, causing him to fall and become lame in both feet.

Things likely didn’t improve much for Mephibosheth in the years that followed. The death of Saul paved the way for David, the man God himself had chosen, to become king. His ascent to the throne was not without conflict, however. Another of Saul’s sons, Mephibosheth’s uncle Ish-bosheth, attempted to keep the kingship, a decision that resulted in a long and ultimately futile war with David and finally his own death.

Being a member of Saul’s family, Mephibosheth may very well have feared David’s revenge. History is littered with triumphant kings exterminating the descendents of their rivals. Saul, being threatened by David’s success, had tried to kill him multiple times. Ish-bosheth had warred against him.

So one can only imagine what was going through Mephibosheth’s mind when, as we read in chapter 9, was summoned before David. If he feared the worse, what happened next had to be a shock. We pick up the story in v. 6:

6 When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor.
David said, “Mephibosheth!”
“Your servant,” he replied.
7 “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “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.”

This leads to a few additional observations:

1. 2 Samuel 9 makes it a point of emphasis that Mephibosheth was lame, repeating the fact in vv. 3 and 13. This underscores Mephibosheth’s helplessness. He is completely at David’s mercy, powerless to change his situation.

2. As v. 7 makes clear, David’s kindness to Mephibosheth is for the sake of Jonathan, whom the reader of 1-2 Samuel knows was David’s best friend. Jonathan aided David even when his father Saul desired to kill him. (See 1 Sam. 18-20.) In what I find to be an interesting choice of words, David also states in v. 3 that he wishes to show “the kindness of God” to Mephibosheth.

3. The account goes on to tell us that Mephibosheth ate at David’s table “like one of the kings sons” (v. 11).

All that said, what’s this got to do with you and me? Is the account of David and Mephibosheth merely an interesting note to David’s reign as king, or is there perhaps another point to the story? I’m betting on the second option. Consider that you and I were also once identified with a King’s enemies. And whereas we don’t know if Mephibosheth was guilty only by association, we know that we certainly weren’t. We were in real rebellion (see Eph. 2:1-3). Consider that we also were completely at this King’s mercy, powerless to avoid his punishment and unable to earn his favor. But instead of giving us the sentence we deserved, he showed us—for the sake of another—almost inexplicable kindness, giving us an inheritance (Col. 1:12) and a place in his own family (Rom. 8:15-17; Heb. 2:10).

As the Old Testament does so often and in so many ways, 2 Samuel 9 gives us a picture of what God would later do in Christ. And like Mephibosheth (see v. 9), we might rightly respond to such kindness with great wonder.

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