“And David said, “Is there still any one left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David; and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “Your servant is he.” And the king said, “Is there not still some one of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lodebar.” Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lodebar. And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David, and fell on his face and did obeisance. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, your servant.” And David said to him, “Do not fear; for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father; and you shall eat at my table always.” And he did obeisance, and said, “What is your servant, that you should look upon a dead dog such as I?” Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s son. And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him, and shall bring in the produce, that your master’s son may have bread to eat; but Mephibosheth your master’s son shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who dwelt in Ziba’s house became Mephibosheth’s servants. So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem; for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet.”
– II Samuel 9:1-13
This is one of my favorite stories in all the Old Testament. It’s a kind of postscript to the great friendship between David and Jonathan. As young men David and Jonathan were inseparable, and Jonathan saved David’s life on at least one occasion. Jonathan’s love for David was such that “he loved him as he loved his own soul” (I Sam. 20:17) and David described this deep friendship as “passing the love of women” (II Sam. 1:26). This is a very rare and beautiful friendship, the depths of which are rarely found in scripture or in daily life: it’s a feeling of being “twin sons of different mothers”; it is a friendship marked by generosity of spirit, a self-giving love that flies in the face of personal ambition or gain or even self-preservation.
Jonathan was killed in battle alongside his father King Saul, and David mourned him deeply. And the story above is David’s fulfillment of his promise to take care of Jonathan’s family should anything ever happen to him. Mephibosheth was the last surviving member of Jonathan’s family: a son, who had been dropped as a child resulting in permanent damage to both feet.
In those days it was standard practice for a newly-crowned king to locate all the remaining family members of the previous king and have them killed. This was insurance against any temptations people might have to put the old king’s family back on the throne. And so at this meeting David quickly tells Mephibosheth not to be afraid, while Mephibosheth describes himself as “a dead dog”. They both know what was expected. But David does the unexpected: he restores to Mephibosheth everything that was his father’s AND his grandfather’s (except the throne) and commands that Mephibosheth “eat at the king’s table” – a privilege usually reserved for the king’s sons. In doing this — in taking such a risk — David shows the depth of love he felt for Jonathan, Mephibosheth’s father.
But there’s more to the story than just this. As in so many Old Testament stories, the Hebrew names have meanings which add depth and character to the story. The names found in the story are:
- David – “beloved”
- Saul – “asked for” or “prayed for” – the people asked for a king
- Jonathan – “gift of God” – which he very much was for David
- Ziba – “army”, “fight”, or “strength” (this meaning will become clear as the history of II Samuel continues)
- Machir – “bartered”
- Ammiel – “God of my people”
- Lodebar – can mean either “no pasture” or “no word”. The latter is more common and is a euphemism for lack of wisdom: the name of the town might be roughly translated “Clueless-ville”
- Mephibosheth – originally named Merib-baal (opponent of Ba’al), the second name is a more generic “contends with idols”.
- Mica – “Who is like God?” or “Who is afraid?”
- Jerusalem – “God’s Peace”
So in our story, the ‘Beloved’ remembers ‘Gift-of-God’ and searches for his son. The son, ‘Contends-With-Idols’, is found among God’s people, but ‘bartered’ and living in the ‘City-of-Little-Wisdom’. As ‘Contends-With-Idols’ comes to live with the ‘Beloved’ in ‘Gods-Peace’ he brings with him ‘Who-Is-Like-God/Who-Is-Afraid?’
And this brings it all home to us where we are today.
David’s action mirrors God’s loving-kindness towards us: we, people who find ourselves bartered for less than we are worth, people who live in a world of little wisdom, people who don’t know the King except perhaps as a distant and feared name, people who — where it comes to living a holy life — are about as good as a man with two lame feet. What would God want with us? But like David he gives us our lives, provides for our weakness, declares his love and good intentions toward us… and then invites us to his Table. We eat and drink as one of the King’s children. And all of this is made possible by the ‘Gift-of-God’, Jesus Christ.
If there was every any doubt, be assured of his love and kindness. Who is like God? Who could be afraid?