The story is told of a man who was walking down the street one evening when three men jumped out of the shadows, beat him up, and robbed him. But the thieves found only 75 cents in the man’s pockets. And so, one of thieves asked him, “Why in the world did you put up such a fight to keep us from getting just 75 cents from you?” The man who was robbed said, “It’s because I thought you were after the $500 that I’ve got hidden in my shoe.”
All of that is to say that there are some hidden treasures in the Bible. When it comes to God’s wisdom, Solomon said that we are to “search for it as for hidden treasures.” (Proverbs 2:5). And this morning, we’ve got one of those hidden treasures in our text.
A few days ago, I spoke with my mother and she asked me what I was going to preach on today and I told her, “Mephibosheth.” And she said, “Who’s that?” She’s been in the church for 89 years, she reads her Bible every day, but she wasn’t familiar with Mephibosheth. This is an absolute treasure that is tucked away here in the Old Testament.
It’s a story that illustrates for us God’s love and grace, and teaches us the importance of kindness. Someone has defined kindness as “love in action”, and kindness is such an important attribute for Christians to manifest because the longer we live, the more we find that our world is becoming more and more unkind.
If you were around in the 1980s and early ’90s, you may remember these huge plastic blocks that contained movies – VHS tapes. And there was a place called Blockbuster Video where you could rent these tapes to play in your VCR. This was long before the convenience of DVDs, Netflix, and Hulu. But, if you ever rented one of these VHS tapes from Blockbuster, you remember that they had to be rewound after they were watched and before you returned it to the store. And you probably remember seeing a sticker on top of the videotape advising you to “Be kind. Rewind.”
Apparently people were so self-absorbed and self-centered even in the 80s and 90s that they couldn’t be trusted with the common courtesy, decency and kindness to rewind their videotapes without admonishment. And the humorous aspect of this whole thing is you actually felt good about yourself when you rewound these tapes. “Look at me; I am so kind! I rewound this tape.” The profoundness of kindness was reduced to the simple courtesy of rewinding a tape.
But true kindness is much more significant than that. It’s been said that an act of kindness is never forgotten. You may still remember small acts of kindness that people showed you when you were a kid. They may have forgotten all about it. They may not have even thought much about it at the time. But you remember. Simple acts of kindness are a powerful force for good in this world.
2 Samuel chapter 9 tells us about an extraordinary kindness. It’s the story of a powerful king who reached out and extended kindness to a young man who neither earned it nor deserved it. In fact, the king’s kindness came as a total surprise to him. It’s a story that teaches us important lessons about the power of kindness and it also reminds us of God’s great kindness to us and how that should impact our lives. This story is about David and Mephibosheth, but it’s really about God and us.
If you were here a few weeks ago, you should recognize the name Mephibosheth because, in chapter 4, we saw how his story began. This morning, we’re going to see how his story ends.
Just to remind you, Mephibosheth was the son of Jonathan, who was the son of King Saul, who was the first king of Israel. King Saul and three of his sons were killed in battle with the Philistines, leaving the throne to be occupied by David. In those days, a new king would often secure his position by exterminating the family of the previous king. That way no one could come back to take revenge.
Now, we know that David was a man of God and he had no intention of killing anyone, but Saul’s family didn’t know that. So, they were in a panic as they tried to escape.
In 2 Samuel 4, “Saul’s son Jonathan had a son named Mephibosheth, who was crippled as a child. He was five years old when the report came from Jezreel that Saul and Jonathan had been killed in battle. When the child’s nurse heard the news, she picked him up and fled. But as she hurried away, she dropped him, and he became crippled.” (2 Samuel 4:4)
It was very important for Saul’s family to save 5-year-old Mephibosheth, because if any of Saul’s family ever did come back to the throne, he’s the one who probably would have been next in line. And so, if David was planning on murdering Saul’s relatives, this boy would be at the top of his list. So, they left town in a hurry. Mephibosheth’s caretaker scooped him up in her arms and began running.
Something happened, though, where she dropped him. It must have been a hard fall because it seems to have broken his ankles or his feet. And they didn’t have orthopedic surgeons like we have today, so it didn’t heal right. And so, Mephibosheth was handicapped for the rest of his life.
He became fatherless and crippled all on the same day. For the next 20 years or so, he lived in a distant land, weak and unable to take care of himself. Unable to hold a job, unable to support a family, unable to do much of anything.
Meanwhile, David’s kingdom flourished. Under his leadership, Israel grew to several times its original size. He was successful on the battlefield. Israel was eventually at peace. The people were thankful. And David, the shepherd who became king, wondered about something.
Chapter 9, verse 1, “Is anyone in Saul’s family still alive — anyone to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1).
It’s interesting. A couple of chapters ago, David was asking, “Is there anything I can do for God?” That’s why he wanted to build a temple. Now David is looking around and he’s asking, “Is there anything I can do for somebody else?” This is one of David’s greatest attributes – he wants to do something for God, and he wants to do something for others.
The problem is, David doesn’t even know if any of Saul’s family is left at this point. If there is, they certainly haven’t done anything for David. But David doesn’t know if this person even exists. “Is anyone in Saul’s family still alive?”
King Saul had several sons. Three of his sons died in battle with him. The fourth son, Ishbosheth, took the throne for a while in Israel. That resulted in war between the house of David and the house of Saul for many years. Ishbosheth was eventually killed, against David’s wishes, and David finally became king over all Israel.
And now with his kingdom firmly established, David asks if there is anyone left from the house of Saul to whom he can show kindness. Even if there was someone left from Saul’s family, why should David bother to show him any kindness? Saul was David’s sworn enemy. He had tried to kill David time and again. Saul’s son Isbosheth had declared war on David. Any living relatives of Saul could still potentially make a claim for the throne. So, why did David want to show kindness to someone in Saul’s family?
The answer is found at the end of verse 1 – “for Jonathan’s sake.” David and Jonathan had a special friendship with each other. Which was surprising, because Jonathan was next in line to be king, and yet he knew that God had called David to be the next king. But instead of trying to kill David like his father did, Jonathan entered into a covenant with David instead.
Jonathan pledged to do everything he could to save David’s life and he only asked for one favor in return. He said, “You must never stop showing your kindness to my family, even when the Lord has destroyed all your enemies from the earth.” (I Sam. 20:15, NIV).
So, David made a promise to Jonathan that he would always show kindness to Jonathan’s family. And now, David began to think about that promise that he had made. There must have been many times when David thought, “If it hadn’t been for Jonathan saving my life, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
And so, David said, “After all these years, I wonder if there’s anybody left, any of Jonathan’s family, that I could show kindness toward them?” As David thinks about the promise that he made to Jonathan, he wants to make good on his promise.
So, David set about to try to find this person. Verse 2, “He summoned a man named Ziba, who had been one of Saul’s servants. ‘Are you Ziba?’ the king asked. ‘Yes sir, I am,’ Ziba replied. The king then asked him, ‘Is anyone still alive from Saul’s family? If so, I want to show God’s kindness to them.’ Ziba replied, ‘Yes, one of Jonathan’s sons is still alive. He is crippled in both feet.’” (2 Samuel 9:2-4).
We’re told that Ziba was a servant in Saul’s household. He is identified elsewhere as “the steward of Saul’s household” (2 Samuel 19:17) which would seem to indicate that Ziba was more than just one of the servants. He was in charge of the whole household and probably made the day-to-day decisions regarding the resources that still belonged to Saul’s family. So, he’s the natural one for David to ask.
David asks Ziba the same question he asked earlier, “Is anyone still alive from Saul’s family? If so, I want to show God’s kindness to them.” It is significant that David doesn’t say that he wants to show kindness; he said that he wants to show God’s kindness. His words reflect an understanding that all the kindnesses we have received come from God, and that we therefore have an obligation to pass that kindness on to others.
“Is anyone still alive from Saul’s family? If so, I want to show God’s kindness to them.” And it turns out that Ziba knew of someone. He said, “Yes, one of Jonathan’s sons is still alive. He is crippled in both feet.” (2 Samuel 9:3-4).
Every time Mephibosheth’s name is mentioned, it’s always followed by, “he is crippled in both feet.” I think that’s just how Mephibosheth was known. He’s the crippled guy. Perhaps some of you know what it’s like to carry a stigma. Every time your name is mentioned, the negative things in your past re-surface.
“Have you heard from John lately? You know, the guy that got a divorce?”
“We got a letter from Jerry yesterday. Remember him, the alcoholic?”
“Sharon’s in town. You know, the one that had a child out of wedlock.”
Your past tends to follow you wherever you go. Isn’t there anyone who sees you for who you are and not what you did? Mephibosheth carried his stigma for twenty years. When people mentioned his name, they always mentioned his problem. But not David.
Another king might have asked Ziba, “Aren’t there any other options? Any healthy family members? Someone who is handicapped is not going to fit very well with the castle crowd. And what could Mephibosheth possibly do for us? He’s got no wealth, no education, no training. Surely there’s someone I can help who isn’t so needy.”
But David wasn’t the kind of person to think like that. Instead, David’s response was, “Where is he?” And Ziba said, “In Lo-debar, at the home of Makir son of Ammiel.” (2 Samuel 9:4).
Lo-Debar is a Hebrew word that means “no pasture”. It was a barren piece of land on the other side of the Jordan River. Mephibosheth was literally living in “Nowheresville.” Instead of being cared for by Saul’s family, he was in some stranger’s house in a town called “Nothing.” He was going nowhere with nothing to his name and no place to call home. Mephibosheth didn’t know it yet, but things were about to change.
Verse 5, “So David sent for him and brought him from Makir’s home. His name was Mephibosheth; he was Jonathan’s son and Saul’s grandson. When he came to David, he bowed low to the ground in deep respect. David said, ‘Greetings, Mephibosheth.’ Mephibosheth replied, ‘I am your servant.’” (2 Samuel 9:5-6).
David sent messengers who traveled to Mephibosheth’s door, put him in a chariot, and brought him from “No Place” to “Some Place,” and not just someplace but the king’s palace in Jerusalem. What a shock that must have been. His grandfather Saul had sinned against the Lord and lost the royal throne which might have belonged to Mephibosheth one day. He lost everything and had nothing, but now he is suddenly summoned before David, the new king of Israel.
Mephibosheth treats David with great respect. He bows low to the ground and says, “I am your servant.” But Mephibosheth was afraid and his fear is understandable. Remember, usually what happened in those days is that when a new king takes the throne, the former king’s family members are hunted down and executed. That was protocol. That’s how it worked.
Now, we don’t do that here in the United States — yet. But in ancient times, they did. The new administration would hunt down the old people and kill them to make sure there’s never a threat to the throne because their reign wasn’t a four-year or eight-year term. It was a perpetual family succession.
So, Mephibosheth was a bit worried. Yes, he was the son of Jonathan, but he was also the grandson of King Saul, and therefore a potential heir to the throne. That was probably not the safest thing to be when you appeared before the new king.
What was David going to do to him? Even though he may have been told that David was a kind man, what assurance did he have? Even though the messengers surely told him that David meant him no harm, he was still afraid, and you can’t blame him. The anxiety must have shown on his face because David’s first words to him were,
“Don’t be afraid!” (2 Samuel 9:7)
“Don’t be afraid.” Incidentally, your king has been known to say the same thing. The most repeated command of Jesus was, “Fear not.” Don’t be afraid.
Mephibosheth had been called by the king, but he still needed some assurance.
“‘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.”” (2 Samuel 9:7, NIV)
David intended to show his kindness in two ways. First, he would restore to Mephibosheth all the farmland that belonged to his grandfather. That would give Mephibosheth somewhere he could live, somewhere he could grow crops, something he pass down as a legacy. This was a tremendous blessing because land was vitally important in those days.
And then, second, David tells Mephibosheth, “You will always eat at my table.” This was an incredible act of kindness. Very few people ever ate at the king’s table. This was usually reserved for the king’s family and a few close associates. Even to eat once at the king’s table would be an amazing privilege. But David doesn’t say, “You will eat at my table tonight, or next week,” but “You will always eat at my table.” What an incredible act of kindness.
I think there are several things that contribute David wanting to extend such great kindness. First, David never forgot his own humble beginnings. David never got over the grace that God had shown him. We saw last week that David prayed, “Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? … How great you are, O Sovereign LORD! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you.” (2 Samuel 7:18,22). David never took God’s kindness towards him for granted, and so he was ready and willing to show God’s kindness to others.
David also knew that Mephibosheth hadn’t done anything wrong. In many ways, Mephibosheth was suffering for his grandfather’s sin. Through no fault of his own, Mephibosheth had been barred from the king’s table. David now restores that to him. This is an extraordinary kindness.
Notice Mephibosheth’s humble response in verse 8: “Mephibosheth bowed respectfully and exclaimed, ‘Who is your servant, that you should show such kindness to a dead dog like me?’” (2 Samuel 9:8)
Once again, Mephibosheth bows down. He is literally “floored” by David’s kindness. “Who or what am I that you should even notice me?” He doesn’t claim the privileges David extends to him as a right. Rather, he receives it as pure grace, unearned and completely undeserved.
The next few verses show us that David didn’t just promise to do these things for Mephibosheth, he actually did them. David puts his plan into action. Verse 9,
Then the king summoned Saul’s servant Ziba and said, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and servants are to farm the land for him to produce food for your master’s household. But Mephibosheth, your master’s grandson, will eat here at my table.” (Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.)
Ziba replied, “Yes, my lord the king; I am your servant, and I will do all that you have commanded.” And from that time on, Mephibosheth ate regularly at David’s table, like one of the king’s own sons.
Mephibosheth had a young son named Mica. From then on, all the members of Ziba’s household were Mephibosheth’s servants. And Mephibosheth, who was crippled in both feet, lived in Jerusalem and ate regularly at the king’s table.” (2 Samuel 9:9-13)
It’s a beautiful story of grace, a story of great kindness. But, as I said earlier, this isn’t just a story about David and Mephibosheth. It’s a story about God and us.
We see here that Mephibosheth had a fall, and he was unable to walk because of that fall. You may recall that Adam and Eve had a fall in Genesis chapter 3. In fact, we’ve all had a fall as a human race. And as a result, we’re crippled by sin.
Paul describes our situation in Romans 5:6, as, “while we were still weak” or “when we were unable to help ourselves …” Which sounds a lot like Mephibosheth. He was totally helpless without David’s intervention. And Mephibosheth didn’t reach out to King David. King David reached out to him. And if David hadn’t reached out, Mephibosheth’s life never would have changed for the better.
It’s the same way with us and God. The apostle John tells us that we love God because God first loved us. He’s the one who went looking for us. We’re the ones that needed to be found. We’re the ones who were lost. So, if it were not for God reaching out and calling us into his presence, our lives never would have changed for the better.
We see in this story that David cared for Mephibosheth, met his every need for the rest of his life – basically, he treated him like his own son. We might even say David adopted him into his own household. You’ll eat at my table. I’m going to treat you like royalty. I’m going to take care of you the rest of your life. I’m going to show you kindness the rest of your life.
In the same way, you and I have been adopted into the family of God. And God treats us like royalty. He says, “I’m going to take care of you the rest of your life.”
Listen to what Paul says in Ephesians 2, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:1,4-7)
I like the way someone has paraphrased that last verse — it will take God all of eternity to show you just how much he loves you. God is going to show his kindness, his grace, his love, forever and ever.
You and I, we were crippled by the fall, permanently marred by sin. But then we were called by the king – not because of beautiful we were, but simply because of his grace. And though we may see ourselves as dead dogs, God says, “I see you as my son, my daughter.” And he invites us to take a place at his table. Though we often limp more than we walk, we take our place next to the other sinners-made-saints and we share in God’s glory. Because we are the adopted sons and daughters of the king.
But I think there’s one more important lesson to take away from this story. I think we need to see ourselves as Mephibosheth and reflect on the fact that God has shown us such great kindness. But I think we also need to see that we are called to be like David in this story, because God expects us to show kindness to others around us, even though they may not deserve it.
I love this quote that I found — “We are kind not because someone deserves kindness or because of what we get in return, but because of who we are in Christ.”
When we speak of loving kindness, the kindness of God should not just be something that flows vertically, but also flows horizontally. Yes, it flows vertically. We experience God’s love, God’s kindness, God’s grace to us, and that’s awesome.
But the question is, how does that change you? What does that kind of love and kindness do to you? God expects us to take what we have received from him and distribute it to others. We have become receivers of God’s kindness. Now we need to become sharers of his kindness.
We live in a world that is unkind and seems to be becoming more unkind every single day. So, when you take the time during your busy schedule to start thinking like David did, “Who is there out there that I could show kindness for the sake of Jesus? Do you think it would make a difference if we intentionally thought about how we could do that?
Instead of saying, “I’ll just live my life and see what happens.”, instead say, “Who could I show kindness to today, to share the kindness of God that I have received from him?” Do you suppose that might make a difference in this world? You know that it would. So, I encourage you to give some thought this week to this question — Who is there that I can I show God’s kindness to?” As you have received, freely give.