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In the previous chapter, there was no dialogue. We had a summary of David’s exploits, and a testimony to how wonderfully God had established him on his throne. In this chapter, we return to ground level, beginning with “And David said . . .”
“And David said, Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may shew him kindness for Jonathan’s sake? . . .” (2 Sam. 9:1-13).
Summary of the Text
David, now well established as king, remembers his covenant with Jonathan. Is there anyone he can show kindness to (hesed) from the house of Saul, for the sake of Jonathan? (v. 1). David’s courtiers apparently didn’t know of anyone, so they called someone who might know—Ziba, a man who had been a servant to Saul (v. 2). Ziba tells David that there was a son to Jonathan, lame in both feet (v. 3). He is living up north, in Lo-Debar, with a man named Machir (v. 4). Lo-Debar means nothing or no word. Think of it as living in Nothingburg. But for such an out of the way place, it housed one of Scripture’s greats—Machir (2 Sam. 17:27). So David sent, and brought Mephibosheth from there (v. 5). Mephibosheth came into David’s presence and prostrated himself (v. 6), which must have been very hard for him to do. David reassured him, made him a rich man, and gave him a seat with all the princes (v. 7). Mephibosheth responds by calling himself a dead dog, which makes self- esteem counselors everywhere shift uneasily in their seats (v. 8). David then entrusts the management of all the estates to Ziba, with a charge to take care of them for Mephibosheth, together with Ziba’s sons and servants (vv. 9-11). Mephibosheth had a son named Micha, who only appears here (v. 12). And so Mephibosheth ate at the king’s table, and he was lame in both of his feet (v. 13).
A Shot at the Throne
Mephibosheth did not pose any real threat to David’s position, especially from his out-of-the-way place as recipient of Machir’s kindness. But when he is brought near to the court, with a son, he is brought close enough to make Ziba’s later slander of him at least some kind of plausible (2 Sam. 16:3). It was never very plausible, both because of Mephibosheth’s lameness, and the fact that David was fleeing because of another very powerful pretender to the throne. But ambition is capable of not making very much sense, and his new position made that slander more plausible than it would have been before.
Hesed is what David shows to Mephibosheth. This word refers to faithfulness to obligations under a covenant (in this case, between David and Jonathan), a faithfulness that is expressed by means of generosity and kindness. Think of it as covenant kindness, and so we should remember this incident as we are seeking to live as God’s covenant people. The covenant is not this great contract in the sky—the covenant is kept by means of remembrance and kindness. That is covenant keeping, and it can only be done by faith working through love.
Hesed takes the initiative. It overflows. It is not reluctant and does not hang back. Mephibosheth had no idea of what was coming, and it was hesed that was coming to him. Do you want to be faithful as God’s covenant people? Then surprise one another.
When David had been driven from the king’s table, Jonathan took the initiative, sought David out, and made a covenant with him. And now, when the king’s table is David’s table, he seeks out the son of Jonathan. We receive in order that we might give. We should long to receive much because we long to give much. We should give in order to get, in order that we may give some more.
Two Men Exalted
There were two men exalted here—Ziba and Mephibosheth, but only one of them fully. We learn from the following narrative that the one who was exalted as a result of hesed returned that covenant kindness with covenant loyalty, which is part of hesed. When Absalom revolted against David, Ziba brought provisions to David, but did so while lying grievously about Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 16:1-4). His ploy worked, at least initially, and David gave him all the lands that he had been steward of. But when David returned from exile, he discovered that Mephibosheth had been entirely faithful (2 Sam. 19:24-30). Ziba was promoted, but not really. Just as David had his Joab, so Mephibosheth had his Ziba. Mephibosheth was promoted, and the grandson of Saul remained faithful to the grace of God that had come to him.
There are forms of loyalty that are unhealthy, but in this passage we see the kind of character that is loyal in the right way. We see it first in Machir—who is kind to Mephibosheth, excluded from the throne, and then later kind to David, when he was excluded from the throne. Machir was loyal. Mephibosheth expected no kindness, and when it was given to him, he responded to it with the right kind of loyalty. Hesed is the foundation of the right kind of loyalty.
Dead Dogs at the Table
We are gathering around a Table here. All of us belonged at one point to the house of the previous king. We are all of us lame in both our feet, and couldn’t rule over a paper kingdom. And yet, despite our helplessness and contemptible estate, God showed us mercy and kindness. He, through His great Son of David, invited us to come to the court, and to be seated with princes. We came, knowing ourselves to be nothing but dead dogs. That is the disposition that a true convert has. Who am I, that the great God of Heaven should show such kindness to me? David follows the instruction of Jesus here, showing kindness to someone who cannot pay him back.
Note that Mephibosheth said, “who am I, that I should come?” but then he came. Worm theology, in the sense that is unedifying and unhelpful, is the kind of theology that says “who am I, that I should come?” and then does not come. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and He will lift you up (1 Pet. 5:6). The Syro- Phoenician woman also called herself a dog, eating the crumbs under the table, but she also came.
The hand under which we are humbled is the hand of Christ, and the hand that lifts us up is the hand of Christ. When we are lifted up, when we are summoned, we come to the table, and we come in order to eat the bread of the Lord continually (vv. 7, 10, 13).