Last night, we read 2 Samuel 9 with our daughter. It is the account of King David taking his successor’s grandson Mephibosheth into his care. It is a beautifully composed story that transcends times and cultures.
Here is David, king by divine appointment and public acclamation. He has successfully defeated or pacified all competitors. He has established his capital at Jerusalem and is working toward unifying the religious life of the Hebrews for the first time in their history. And yet his chronicler devotes and entire section of the story to his care for Mephibosheth.
According to 2 Samuel 4:4, Mephibosheth was crippled at the age of five. Hearing the news of the death of Saul and Jonathan (Mephibosheth’s father) at the Battle of Gibeah, his nurse was carrying him away when she fell on him and most likely broke his back and left him a perapaligic.
Although we cannot be completely certain, the story in 2 Samuel 9 takes place at least seven years later, and probably closer to twenty years later. David has the time to seek out Saul’s family, and he finds out that a servant named Ziba has been secretly sheltering Mephibosheth. David sends for the young man and seeing him, he grants him a special place in the kingdom because of the love David had for his father Jonathan (2 Samuel 2:25-26).
It is a truly touching story – one that is worth far more than the couple of minutes it will take you to read it. David extends something more than grace to someone who he could, by rights, have killed. Mephibosheth was a potential rival.
But David’s love for Jonathan overrode any thoughts of succession and rule. When Mephibosheth came before him, David did not see the grandson of his enemy Saul. He saw only the broken body of the son of his greatest friend. For Jonathan’s sake, David gives Mephibosheth far more than he should have expected from him.
In the same sense, God gives us grace for Jesus’ sake. The Great King forgives the sins of the many who deserve nothing from Him – but not for their own sake. It is the Other’s merits that God sees when he looks at our broken bodies and shattered existences. Although we are damaged and in hiding, he exalts us to his table.
When we read the words of Psalm 23, we should see this moment.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
For some reason, when I read that line about “prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” I always thought it was some kind of boastful moment. I saw it as God feeding me in front of people who hate me, and I would be able to look across at them and say, “I win.”
But that’s not what is in view at all. We are Mephibosheth – unworthy of a seat at the table. But God invites us to eat there, as one of the many gathered there. My enemies are not those who have something against me, but those I had something against. I was God’s enemy; and he invited me to His table.
Now, I picture David singing this song with Mephibosheth sitting beside him. He sings it knowing that he is as unworthy to be king as Mephibosheth is to sit at the king’s table. It becomes a celebration not of victory but of our humbled circumstance – paraplegics sitting at the table of the Mighty King.
It is a powerful story indeed.