19 Aug MEPHIBOSHETH: RADICAL GRACE IN ACTION
Mephibosheth sat in the courtyard of the humble home of the generous Makir in the town of Lo Debar where he had lived for some seventeen years or so. Although Mephibosheth was of royal lineage, he landed in Lo Debar as he fled – or more accurately – was carried away as a five year old fugitive. When news of the death of his father, Jonathan, and grandfather, Saul (the King of Israel) at the hands of the Philistines, reached his caregiver, he was rushed to safety in Lo Debar. He had good reason to stay in Lo Debar, in the territory of Gad, east of the Jordan River and live in relative obscurity: David had become King, just as the prophet Samuel had promised, and just as young Mephibosheth had been told by his own daddy, Jonathan.
For more than fifteen years, Mephibosheth had weathered the conflict between his uncles (of the house of King Saul) and the new regime of King David. Finally, David’s throne was firmly established by eliminating those of Saul’s household who attempted to lay claim to the throne. Meanwhile, Mephibosheth became content just to be alive, and live in relative anonymity – accepting his fate, and adapting to a new “normal” since his own tragic accident at age five. In the rush of his escape to safety, he was snatched up and amidst the urgency of the moment, he was dropped and his legs were severely damaged, leaving him irreparably crippled – unable to walk on his own. It did not help matters that no one dared draw attention to the boy’s condition by stopping to seek help, and risk giving more people information as to who he was and to where he might be going. All that was important at that time was getting this “heir” of King Saul safely hidden away, so as not to be harmed by the new ruler or viewed as a threat to his throne.
AN EPIC INTERRUPTION
In spite of all the difficulties, Mephibosheth resolved to make the best of his situation. He remained in Lo Debar, settled there, married, and now had a young son, named Mica. He appreciated the truly important things in life – like daily breath, the continued generous hospitality of Makir, as well as the blessing of his own wife and son. He did not have contact with his father’s extended family, and he rarely thought about who he was or where he had come from until the obviously worried voice of his wife called for him from inside the house.
“Mephibosheth, Where are you?”
“I’m out here in the courtyard getting a little sun. What is it?”
She rushed outside, looking quite distraught, came straight up to him, and spoke in a quiet voice:
“There are three servants from Jerusalem – from King David’s court – here to see YOU! How did they find you? What are they going to do to you? Should I get Mica and run into the village? Oh, Mephibosheth….I’m so frightened….we thought the scare was over!”
“Calm down, my wife. You get Mica ready to run and I shall speak to the visitors. Did you tell them you were my wife? They won’t hurt you if they don’t know. Pull yourself together and guide the guests around the house to meet me. Pretend you are a servant girl here to help them, and perhaps you can hear our conversation from nearby and understand why they have searched me out after all these years. We always knew this could happen one day, but we hoped it would not! Fear not my bride, and bring them here.”
The three messengers were led around the house. They questioned Mephibosheth as to his identity. They said King David had spoken to Ziba, a servant of King Saul who still served in Jerusalem. He sent them here to Makir’s home to retrieve Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. Their orders were to come and retrieve Mephibosheth and his family members, and bring them to King David who wanted to “show kindness to them for Jonathan’s sake.”
Mephibosheth heard the words out of their mouths, and yet after living as a fugitive for all these years, he scarcely believed “showing kindness” was anything but an excuse to bring him before the King to do away with him. With a resolute face to give his wife courage and trembling voice he stated,
“I am Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, son of King Saul, the Benjamite whom you seek. Did Ziba also tell you that I have been crippled since childhood and cannot walk but need to be carried everywhere and aided in many ways? Does the King really desire the presence of one as deformed as I am in his royal court? If it is my life you seek, why not shorten your journey and burden to carry me —a full grown invalid – and simply carry out my sentence here where I may receive a proper burial, then you can simply return with testimony of accomplishing your task? For by the testimony of two or three witnesses it will be credible.”
The men responded,
“Our directives are clear. We must follow them through. We were told of your disability, and we will leave at once to present you to the King. Is this woman who called you your wife?”
Before Mephibosheth could speak and say otherwise, the woman stepped forward, with anguish in her face and spoke,
“I am his wife, and I will prepare at once to aid my husband on the journey.”
She moved with determination to begin preparation and never mentioned the child who had already been shuttled off to her parents’ home elsewhere in Lo Debar.
AN EXCRUCIATING JOURNEY
The journey was long and difficult. The King’s servants were well-equipped and ready to transport the crippled Mephibosheth, but the sheer distance up to Jerusalem took more than a day’s journey by foot and in the cart pulled by a donkey. More difficult than the distance was the waking hours left to contemplate their fate. They reflected upon the many years they had lived away from recognition and any repercussion from his earlier life and lineage – and now here they were – taking step after step, enduring bump after bump, and heading toward a very tenuous future. Mephibosheth and his wife talked in hushed tones when able and rehearsed over and over how he should act and speak in the presence of the King (if he actually got that far). They had heard of the kindness of King David, and Mephibosheth consoled himself with the stories his father had told to him as a little boy about his friend David, and he prayed that perhaps he might find favor in David’s sight.
“Maybe he really does want to honor you, Mephibosheth! That’s what the men said. So many have spoken of the strong friendship of David and your father Jonathan…couldn’t it be possible?”
“It would be wonderful, but I cannot let my mind believe it. I know we spoke of this so many times and even as I arranged with your parents to take you in marriage, I truly believed that any threat to my inability to be your husband and father a family had long passed. I am sorry for you, my beloved, and wish you had stayed behind with Mica to care for him.”
“Whatever becomes of you, I will accept and suffer the same. My parents will care for Mica, regardless. And, if we find you are indeed “honored,” we will send for him at that time. I am so weary of praying and my tears of anxiety and sorrow are all used up. I desire to be done with this and know our fate.”
The furlongs passed so slowly and the steps up to Jerusalem seemed so labored and tedious.
A DESPERATE HUMILITY IN THE ROYAL PALACE
There was no time to prepare. The messengers only warned them of their imminent arrival when they were within view of the palace. As they approached King David’s palace, they were overwhelmed by the grandeur. The doors swung open and attendants of all types stood at attention as the servants picked up Mephibosheth by the shoulders and carried him up the steps and down a passageway to the stately entrance. The doorman told them, “Wait here for an audience with the King.”
Mephibosheth braced himself, and his wife followed about five steps behind, praying for the best, and with every step anticipating the worst.
“Enter now,” said the doorman as the large doors moved inward.
The three servants again picked up Mephibosheth by the shoulders again and carried him, his limp, atrophied legs dragging behind him. He never looked up, but halfway across the room he was set down. He buried his face in the cold stone floor in homage and respect to the King, with his arms stretched out before him.
“Mephibosheth!” was uttered from somewhere in front of him and he scarce wanted to raise his head to see who spoke.
“Your servant,” Mephibosheth replied in abject humility, too frightened to raise his head, bracing himself for the blow of a club or the cool edge of a sharp sword wielded to remove his head.
As the steps of the King approached, he heard unbelievable words: “Do not be afraid. I sought you out so that I might show kindness to you for the sake of your father Jonathan–whom I loved more than any man — I promised to show kindness to his family forever on account of our covenant together. That was at about the time of your birth, Mephibosheth, and now as I see you, it seems like yesterday. I will restore to you the lands of your father and grandfather King Saul, and you will–as the son of Jonathan–eat at my table from now on!”
Mephibosheth, still stunned and afraid to look up, bowed lower and spoke further, “What is your servant that you would even consider or notice me? I am like a dead dog in your sight to be avoided and done away with as disgusting.” At that moment, Mephibosheth felt a hand on his head – the kind and gentle hand of the King. David lifted up Mephibosheth’s head, looked into his face with grace and kindness, and spoke with tenderness: “I see your father in your face, Mephibosheth. I am so happy to see you. I will arrange for your care, my friend.”
“My Lord?” asked the King’s servants.
“Speak” replied the King.
“The woman at the door is his wife, should we arrange for her as well?”
“Yes, see to it that all of their belongings are brought to Jerusalem, and that they are well taken care of for the sake of my dear friend Jonathan. See to it at once, and call Ziba immediately.”
The King turned to leave. As the servants of the royal palace lifted Mephibosheth to carry him out and do as they were ordered, he was met by his wife at the door who threw her arms around him as they uncontrollably cried for joy and relief.
The King had spoken. The wealthy servant Ziba who had served King Saul was given orders to care for all of the land given to Mephibosheth that had previously belonged to King Saul. This included land which David himself had inherited as the new King, and some which Ziba had deviously embezzled for himself during the transfer of power long ago. In fear of the King, he moved swiftly to put his sons and servants to work carrying out the King’s orders. Ziba’s twenty servants now cared for the needs of Mephibosheth’s family as well as the fields to supply a sustainable source of income.
A DAILY REMINDER OF GRACE AT THE TABLE
Sumptuous meals were daily prepared for the King, the royal family, and special guests who dined at his table. There were the King and his sons. First, there was Solomon, who showed incredible intelligence and wisdom and loved to engage in stimulating conversations. Next to him was Absalom, the handsome and charming young man with the long hair. There was Adonijah, the son who aspired to leadership, and his brother, Ammon. Joab, the Commander of the Armies of Israel, was welcomed when he returned from the battlefield. He shared stories of incredible conflicts and victories. Nathan, the prophet would sit at the table sometimes, as did Ahithopel and Hushai, the court advisors. Shammah, Josheb, and Eleazor, the three leaders of David’s mighty men who performed incredible feats of courage for David, would join in when they were in Jerusalem to report to David. Many other distinguished guests – such as the Queen of Sheba, and Hiram, King of Tyre — would also dine at the King’s table.
All of these were welcomed to the table by virtue of their prominence and high position. But, one guest was physically carried in by attendants for every meal. He was not dignified nor one deserving to be there: he was simply – Mephibosheth. He daily ate at this table because of the radical grace of the King of Israel. He daily was reminded of the greatness by the opulence and majesty of his setting and yet knew he did not deserve to be there. That was a poignant lesson of grace to all present. It was not a single action of goodwill; rather it was repeatedly, day after day given as a commitment to grace. It was given by the King to an unworthy crippled man.
The story of Mephibosheth is my story and your story! We are the most unworthy invalids because of our trespasses and sins, and yet God, by His grace, welcomes us to His table! He has paid the price for my sin and yours! He takes those who, due to our iniquity and sinful nature, would be His enemies and He welcomes us, as spiritually handicapped as we are, to come and feast in His abundance and blessings (Ephesians 1:3), both now and forever. Consider the radical grace of God practiced daily on our behalf. Praise Him for His incredible grace!
*The Mephibosheth narrative is found in 2 Samuel 9; further references are in 2 Samuel 4:4; 19:24-31; and 21:7; and David and Jonathan’s covenant is in 1 Samuel 20.