A Great Grace Give-Away
David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” “At your service,” he replied. The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?” Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet.” “Where is he?” the king asked. Ziba answered, “He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar.” So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel. When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. David said, “Mephibosheth!” “At your service,” he replied. “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.” Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s steward, and said to him, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.” (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.) Then Ziba said to the king, “Your servant will do whatever my lord the king commands his servant to do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons. Mephibosheth had a young son named Mika, and all the members of Ziba’s household were servants of Mephibosheth. And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table; he was lame in both feet.—2 Samuel 9:1-13
Like most stories, the background of this narrative helps us understand why King David went out of his way to find Mephibosheth and demonstrate such amazing, remarkable and unheard of generosity and kindness to him.
Before David became king he became good friends with Jonathan, the son of Saul, who was king at the time. Because of Saul, David and Jonathan’s friendship was an awkward relationship. As Jonathan’s father, Saul knew that David had been chosen to replace him, and thus he started trying to kill David. For some time David was on the run, hiding from Saul.
Several times, while running away from Saul, David found himself with a “perfect” chance to kill Saul. David could well have justified taking the law into his own hands, and killing Saul. He could have reasoned that God had not only chosen him to be the next king but now he was giving him the opportunity to take Saul’s life and assume the throne God had promised him. And of course, David could have also logically concluded that this whole drama was a matter of the survival of the fittest—if he did not kill Saul, eventually Saul’s attempts to kill him would succeed. But David turned the other cheek—he spared Saul’s life.
Through all of this ongoing life and death adventure, because of his loyalty and friendship to David, Saul’s son Jonathan was in a difficult position. Jonathan was convinced Saul, his father, would kill David if he had a chance, and therefore Jonathan helped protect David. As a result Jonathan and David made a covenant of friendship and loyalty—between not only themselves, but between their descendants. You can read about it in 1 Samuel 20. Jonathan was killed as he fought the Philistines alongside his father. Saul was critically wounded and took his own life.
David mourned Saul and Jonathan’s death—and then officially became king over Judah. In an amazing break with tradition, David did not follow the common practice of new kings or queens, which entailed killing any and all surviving relatives of the person who was on the throne before them. The idea behind this murderous practice was to ensure that no one had a rightful claim to your throne.
The wicked Queen Athaliah, who ruled over Judah some 150 years or so after David, actually killed her own grandchildren so that she could secure her own authority. You may remember King Herod as another example of this brutal practice. Herod had heard that a king would be born in Bethlehem, someone who could eventually claim his own throne. Because Herod had no idea to what family this child would be born, he ordered that all boys two years of age and under be killed.
By contrast to such self-serving brutality, David was a representation of Jesus. After establishing his kingdom against foreign enemies, David sat in his palace in Jerusalem and asked if anyone in Saul’s family was still alive. David intended to demonstrate kindness, generosity and grace to Saul’s family. He intended to honor the covenant he had made with his good friend Jonathan. David was engaged in A Great Grace Give-Away.
Let’s take a moment to describe what life was like for Mephibosheth, living in Lo-Debar. First—the name of the town itself. Lo-Debar means either 1) “no pasture”— having to do with its desolate, unproductive land, or 2) “no word”—also a derogatory term having to do with the assumed stupidity and general lack of intelligence of its inhabitants.
No one ever wanted to live in a town like Lo-Debar. At the very least, if someone had the misfortune of once residing in Lo-Debar, they would never return. Life was grim for residents of Lo-Debar and they were despised by others.
In addition, Mephibosheth had been crippled when he was five years old. When the news came to Jonathan’s family that both Jonathan and Saul had been killed on the battlefield, the family hurried to run away. During their attempt to escape, five-year-old Mephibosheth fell. He was apparently crippled in both feet—perhaps paralyzed from the waist down. You can read about the accident that paralyzed him in 2 Samuel 4. So here is Mephibosheth, the son of a prince, the grandson of a former king, on crutches, in a God-forsaken place.
There are many Lo-Debar’s around the world today, where people have no hope, where they are diseased, malnourished and abused. There are many places today where life has little or no value, where the young must sell their bodies in exchange for food and where families sometimes mutilate their own children so that they can make more money begging.
Our world is filled with Lo-Debar’s—places where people made in God’s image live in open sewers and cesspools, on garbage dumps, places where they are treated like so much worthless trash. While our heart goes out to the victims of such horrific places of torment and misery, we should also realize that there are many others around this world whose physical living conditions are relatively comfortable and pleasant, but in spite of their positive physical circumstances they are spiritually and emotionally enslaved.
They are emotionally and spiritually crippled—broken and beaten down, despairing of hope. You may have been in such a circumstance at one time, or you may have friends or family who live within the spiritual city limits of such a place right now.
Here are six lessons about God’s grace we can receive from this story:
1) Mephibosheth is every man and every woman—he stands as a timeless illustration of our human need of divine grace. Mephibosheth is not simply a historical character, but he is a picture of our human dilemma, our desperate need of God.
2) Wishing to pass on, as verse three says, God’s kindness, David reached out to Mephibosheth. David knew that God’s grace is dynamic—it does terminate with those to whom it is given. David wanted to pay forward the grace he himself had received—David was involved in A Great Grace Give-Away.
3) Like all of us, Mephibosheth was at first skeptical of God’s grace. It seemed too good to be true. Mephibosheth was afraid of David, thinking he must have had other motives. When Mephibosheth arrived at the king’s palace, David reassured him. The first thing David said to him was don’t be afraid (2 Samuel 9:9). From our perspective, looking back, understanding the Bible from a Christ-centered perspective, we can see the Christ-like role of David. David reached out, as Jesus did so often to those to whom he ministered and to whom he often said, “don’t be afraid.”
In the same way, many today are afraid of God—they fear God because God has been misrepresented to them. Ironically, Christ-less religion has had a primary role in convincing people that God must not simply love them. God must have strings attached to his amazing grace. Many therefore believe God to be filled with wrath and vengeance—they perceive God as a God of retribution and punishment—a God of condemnation and judgment. God’s grace has been so impugned and maligned, so vilified, slandered and badmouthed that many run away from his grace, rather than toward it.
4) Mephibosheth wasn’t looking for David. David was the last person he wanted to see, because if David was like any other king he would put Mephibosheth to death. Many people talk about their search for God, but if indeed they are searching for God, they are doing so because God draws them (John 6:44). If we are really looking for God and his grace we are swimming upstream, because we are naturally hostile to God (Romans 8:7). If anyone is searching for God they are doing so because the Father has enabled them (John 6:65). David, a type of Christ in this story, was seeking someone to whom he could show kindness. Mephibosheth wasn’t looking for David—he had no reason to believe that David would actually demonstrate grace to him.
5) David was lavishing God’s grace on someone who had done nothing to deserve it. Mephibosheth was not a hero of the battlefield. Mephibosheth was not an outstanding citizen. Mephibosheth did not come to David’s attention because he had merited an award or special prize. Mephibosheth was a nobody. He was a cripple, from a nowhere kind of town. After David encouraged Mephibosheth not to be afraid:
Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” (2 Samuel 9:8).
6) God’s kindness is never deserved—rather, it is lavished on those who cannot help themselves. That, of course, is the core and foundation of grace—grace is the undeserved, unmerited kindness and favor of God given on the basis of his goodness, not on the basis of the goodness or merit of the recipient.
And what was it, exactly, that Mephibosheth received in A Great Grace Give-Away? He is invited to eat at the king’s table—every day! He never had to worry about where his next meal was coming from. David also gave Mephibosheth all the land once owned by his grandfather Saul, and of course, since Saul was king we can safely assume he was incredibly wealthy and the owner of a great deal of property. In addition, David instructed Ziba and his servants to farm the land, bring in all the crops, and then bring the profits and produce to Mephibosheth. You don’t have to be a spiritual rocket scientist to realize the incredible Christ-centered significance of the grace given to Mephibosheth.
There are tens of millions of people in our world today living in their own Lo-Debar. They are broken and abused, despairing and diseased—they are physically and spiritually malnourished—they are spiritually crippled and many are also physically crippled.
The good news is that God left his heavenly palace, in the person of Jesus, to come and find us in our misery and pain, and give us the riches of his grace. The good news is that Jesus is alive today, continually seeking out those in need. Jesus is always and forever engaged in A Great Grace Give-Away.
You may have been, or you may be right now, in your own Lo-Debar. You may have been crushed and crippled by tragedies of your life. You may feel as if no one cares about your lonely existence. The good news of the gospel is that God is not waiting for you to come and find him. He is looking for you! He is not waiting for you to qualify in some way, to measure up so that perhaps, one day, you can earn your way into his presence. The good news is that God, in the person of Jesus, takes the initiative to find you—wherever you are.
Close your eyes for a minute. Picture Mephibosheth sitting at King David’s table. Can you see him? He’s all cleaned up now—he’s dressed in fine, expensive clothing—he looks like he belongs at the table, with everyone else! And he does! No one can see his crippled legs under the table.
God, in Christ, is involved in A Great Grace Give-Away. In summary, here are four absolutes about God’s grace I want to leave you with:
1) God’s grace is his unmerited goodness and generosity—his love and favor we can never deserve or earn.
2) God’s grace is his kindness and mercy. God’s grace is his reprieve, his pardon and his rescue. God’s grace is a gift of such magnitude that no repayment on our part is possible, let alone required.
3) God’s grace is the fact that he will relentlessly, forever, search out and pursue you and me with his love and amazing generosity. God’s grace means that he will never, ever give up on anyone.
4) God’s grace is a description of the state/environment/condition in which God’s children live. When we receive his grace we sit at his table, with him, every day of our lives and in eternity beyond.