king's table

David’s counter-intuitive actions show us that the heart of Jesus is to seek out and love the lost and broken — even those who think they are God’s enemies.

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2 Samuel #10 . 2 Samuel Chapter 9

2 Samuel chapter 9 contains an interesting anecdote about David. I assume that the Lord allowed this to be included in the bible for a reason, so let’s look at it.

2 Samuel 4:4 tells us that Saul’s son Jonathan had a son named Mephibosheth. He was just a little boy of five years old when his father Jonathan was killed in the battle with the Philistines. In the chaos that followed that battle, Mephibosheth’s nurse fled with him, and at some point there was an accident. The text says the nurse fell, presumably with the child in her arms, and Mephibosheth was permanently crippled in both feet.

If you remember, Jonathan was Saul’s firstborn son. Mephibosheth was Jonathan’s only surviving son. That means that he was Saul’s rightful heir. But if you remember, it was Jonathan’s brother, Ish-bosheth, who claimed the throne and fought with David. What this means is that Mephibosheth’s life was probably in danger from his uncle and the war leader, Abner. No doubt, those who took care of him believed he was also in danger from David. So the adults in his life took him into hiding.

The fact that Mephibosheth was even alive was obviously not well known, and his location appears to have been a secret. He had probably lived in fear most of his life, thinking that both his own uncle, and then David, must have wanted him dead. Most civilizations in those days were not kind to people with disabilities, and certainly made no effort to make life easier for them. Especially a man who could not work or fight was considered somehow less of a man. So Mephibosheth was an outcast because his birth made him a threat to others, and he was doubly outcast because he was a cripple. There is little doubt that he spent most of his life hiding in both fear and shame.

Now once David was well-established as king and he had a little time to reflect, he wanted to honor the memory of his dear friend Jonathan. So he began looking for anyone in Saul’s remaining family he could help. His attendants found a man who had been one of the chief servants of Saul’s household, a man named Ziba. David said to Ziba

“Is there anyone left of Saul’s family that I can show the kindness of God to? ”

David’s choice of words here is interesting. If you have been a church-goer for a while, you’ve probably heard a sermon on the Greek word agape, which mean “sacrificial, selfless love.” The Hebrew word David uses for “kindness” is essentially the equivalent of agape. In Hebrew is pronounced “hesed” (but it should sound like you are clearing your throat on the ‘h’). It is often translated “everlasting love,” or “faithful love.” It is usually used to describe God’s love for his people. I think the sense of what David is saying is, “I want to show the family of Saul the faithful love of God.” In a moment I will explain why I think this is so significant.

Ziba reveal the existence and location of Mephibosheth. Ziba is a complex person, and we’ll learn more about him later. I think it is quite possible that he was hoping David was being deceptive, and actually wanted to completely eliminate the entire family of Saul. But Ziba played his cards close to the chest, and simply gave David the information he wanted. So David brought Mephibosheth out of hiding, gave the ancestral lands of Saul, and ordered Ziba and his family to work the land and manage it. This wasn’t entirely a bad deal for Ziba – it was a position of great responsibility and some honor, and they would be able to make a good living. But he may have wanted Saul’s inheritance for himself, because later there is trouble between Ziba and Mephibosheth.

David also gave Mephibosheth a permanent place to eat at the royal table, which was a great honor, and also meant that Mephibosheth would be provided for the rest of his life. Mephibosheth’s reaction is understandable. He says,

“What is your servant that you take an interest in a dead dog like me? ”

These things really happened – they were real historical occurrences. I’ve shared many reasons at various times to believe that the bible is historically reliable. Even so, we need to realize that the writers did not record every single incident in the lives of those they wrote about; and many documents were lost or not included in the bible. As Christians we believe that the Holy Spirit guided the process all the way through. He prompted people to write what they wrote, he allowed the loss of some documents and the exclusion of others. The Holy Spirit had a purpose for including this particular piece of the bible (and in fact, every piece). The writer himself was may have been unaware of that purpose. Jesus told his disciples that the entire Old Testament points to him. I think this is one more place where the Holy Spirit used something from the life of David to show people what the true and ultimate messiah would be like. David’s actions here reveal the heart of Jesus in him. This really happened – it isn’t an allegory. But we can still use it a little bit like a spiritual allegory, and learn about the heart of Jesus from second Samuel nine. Jesus once told the following story:

1 All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them! ” 3 So He told them this parable: 4 “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, 6 and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep! ’ 7 I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance (Luke 15:1-8, HCSB)

Jesus’ heart is for the lost and the broken. He has a special tenderness for those who think they are worthless. He doesn’t wait for people to straighten themselves up and come looking for God. Instead, he goes after them, seeks them himself.

David reflected this with Mephibosheth. He didn’t wait for someone in Saul’s family to summon the courage to find him. Instead, David sent people out looking for someone to show God’s faithful love to. This one reason I think that Hebrew word is so important. David wanted to bring God’s faithful love into the life of Mephibosheth. Jesus wants to bring that same love into our lives.

Mephibosheth was afraid of David. Technically he was David’s enemy. As the grandson of Saul, he could have made a claim to Israel’s throne. Most middle-eastern leaders in David’s situation would have found him in order to put him to death. In addition, Mephibosheth felt he was damaged goods – a worthless man who couldn’t work or fight. No self-respecting life-insurance agent would ever write a policy on him, because clearly he was worth more dead than alive. I think when he called himself a dead dog, it wasn’t just an expression. More than likely, he really thought of himself that way.

But the king sought out this worthless “dead dog.” He brought him out of exile. He gave honor to the man who had none. He made others serve him. And he gave him a permanent place at the royal table, making him essentially a prince, a son of the man who by rights should kill him.

Technically, we should be the enemies of Jesus. Because of our ancestors and tragedies in our own life, we belong in the kingdom of the devil. We aren’t worth much in the eyes of the world. And truthfully, a lot of people hide from God in various ways. They completely avoid him, or deny that he exists and spend their days as far from him as possible. Others hide in religion, using empty words and good works as a way to avoid actually dealing with him face to face.

But Jesus doesn’t leave us there. He doesn’t wait for us to come to him. He seeks us, and brings us back from exile. He himself restores us as rightful citizens of his kingdom. He honors us, and declares that we are not worthless, but rather worth his attention and love. Not only that, but he gives us a permanent place with him – eternal life in relationship with him. And he treats us as his own children, inheritors of the promises of God.

David’s treatment of Mephibosheth is a signal for us that this how Jesus will treat us, if we let him. All Mephibosheth had to do is come when David summoned him, and gratefully place his life in David’s hands, allowing David to show him God’s everlasting and gracious love. That’s all we have to do with Jesus. Mephibosheth didn’t have to make himself acceptable to David, or earn what was given him. In fact, Mephibosheth had done nothing to deserve the kindness David showed him. We can’t earn God’s grace and kindness either. But he showers it on us freely if we will come when he calls and trust our lives into his hands.

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