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In the story of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9:1-13, we learn about the covenant relationship between David and Mephibosheth’s father Jonathan, and how it foreshadows the ultimate significance and security we receive through Jesus’ covenant relationship with us.

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    Let me take a moment to remind us all of what we're trying to do this fall. We have been exploring the ancient question: “What is the good life?” through a close reading of the life of David in the Books of 1 and 2 Samuel. Part of the motivation behind this series was a book written by the University of Chicago Professor, Leon Kass, entitled, Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times. Kass writes as someone committed to Judaism, and he concludes the introduction of the book by writing this,

    “I have no idea whether I will someday have to answer for my life before the bar of judgment. I have never lived my life either in hope of heaven or fear of hell. But I have long liked the idea of having to give an account of my life when my time is up, not so much in terms of specific good deeds and bad, virtues and vices, kindnesses and sins, as to explain what I have done with the unmerited gift of a place on our planet, and, to boot, with all the advantages of living in America in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Yes, our circumstances have changed greatly. Our streets are no longer paved with cobblestones, and we do not travel by horse and buggy. We no longer write letters or go on dates, and we spend much of our lives in mediated existence before a mesmerizing screen, or two or three. Our culture no longer offers us authoritative guidance on how to live. But we still have our race’s age-old longings for love and friendship, meaningful work, understanding and wisdom, a place in our community, an opportunity to serve, and a relationship to something higher or beyond. Let us not sell them short.”

    The line that I'd like to highlight there is that despite all the changes that have taken place within our modern world, “we still have our race’s age-old longings for love and friendship.” That's what the passage that is before us today is all about. This is one of my favorite stories in the whole Bible, not only because it reveals something 

    important to us about how to live life well, but also because it provides us with a picture of the gospel that is inspiring as well as compelling. This story is about a man named Mephibosheth—someone perhaps that you have never heard of before—but after today, he probably will be someone you never forget. 

    Today, I'd like us to consider who he is, what happened to him, and why he matters. But I'm going to do something a little unusual. I'm going to delay the reading of the actual Scripture passage because I'd like to create a little sense of suspense. Instead, we'll begin by considering who he is. 

    Who Is Mephibosheth?

    We're first introduced to Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 4:4. Here's the backstory. Mephibosheth is the son of Jonathan, and he is the grandson of King Saul, the first king of Israel. At this point in the story, news has come to the palace that Saul and all of his sons, including Mephibosheth’s father, Jonathan, had been killed in battle by the Philistines. When word reaches the palace, there is only one word to describe how the people at court respond: panic. Total, absolute panic, and it's understandable why. The Philistines were ruthless. After killing Saul, they chop off his head and then hang his decapitated body on the wall of one of their major cities. There was no telling what they might do to any of the surviving members of Saul's court. 

    For all they knew, bands of soldiers could appear at any time in order to put them all to death. To make matters worse, they also knew that there was a man named David who was a rival claimant to the throne. What was to prevent him from doing the same if he wanted to wipe out any and all potential threats to his power? Remember, they were not living in a democracy. They were not living in a constitutional monarchy. No, they were living in a brutal Iron Age culture 3,000 years ago. 

    Mephibosheth was only five-years-old at the time, so his nurse, his nanny, did the only thing that she could think to do under the circumstances which was run. She runs for it. She takes Mephibosheth up into her arms and flees. But in her haste, somehow, someway, Mephibosheth falls, and he breaks both of his ankles. He will never be able to walk for the rest of his life. It's a terrible tragedy. After they escaped, he was sent to live across the Jordan River, in a small little village that is called Lo-debar, which in Hebrew literally means “no word.” There was no word for it. It was a no name, nothing place, so he grows up in obscurity. 

    Imagine that you're Mephibosheth. Imagine what your childhood is like. You know that you are the heir apparent. You know that your father, your uncles, and your grandfather have all been killed in battle, and there's a man named David who seizes the throne, which, as far as you're concerned, rightfully belongs to you. But instead of reigning over your land, in the lap of luxury, you're now crippled in both feet, living in exile, together with a small handful of other refugees from your grandfather Saul’s court. 

    The one thought that you can't get out of your mind is that there is really one person to blame for all of this. This is all David's fault. None of this would have ever happened if it hadn't been for David. The name Mephibosheth actually means in Hebrew “seething dishonor,” or “one who scatters shame.” Mephibosheth’s biggest problem was not only that he was crippled in his feet, but he was crippled by shame. It was debilitating, and he would later refer to himself as nothing but a dead dog. He thinks of himself as being absolutely worthless. 

    Put yourself in Mephibosheth's shoes for a moment. Do you feel like you've been unfairly treated? Do you feel like you have been denied something that is rightfully yours? Do you feel like you have been shut out and excluded? You're on the wrong side of the door. You're on the outside looking in. Perhaps you can identify one person who is responsible for all of your troubles. Just think of the bitterness and the resentment that might build up in your heart over time. What might that do to a 

    person? Perhaps you could identify with David. Like David, you feel like you have been blamed for someone else's problems, but you really didn't have a whole lot to do with it. This story of David and Mephibosheth is all too human. 

    What Happened To Mephibosheth?

    What exactly happened to Mephibosheth? Years later, his worst nightmare comes true. He has been found out. David has established himself as the king, and then he suddenly summons Mephibosheth to come to his court. He has found Mephibosheth in what he thought was his undisclosed location, the undisclosed location of Lo-debar—no word, no place. Mephibosheth probably assumed that this could only mean one thing: David was going to finally execute any and all remaining members of the household of Saul. Or at the very least he was going to keep them all under house arrest and steady surveillance. 

    Picture the scene, Mephibosheth is dragged back to Jerusalem, where he is forced to appear before David—a man whom he had never met, a man who had stolen his throne, and a man who had ruined his life. He's forced to present himself to David and when he does, he immediately throws himself at David's feet. Think about this. That would have been not only an awkward, but an incredibly painful thing for a man like him in his physical condition to do. But he assumes that this is necessary. It's an extravagant gesture in order to make a desperate plea for his life, but nothing could have prepared Mephibosheth for what happens next. He thought that he was there to be killed. He could never have guessed that he was there to be loved. That's where we pick up the story. If you'd like, please open up a Bible to 2 Samuel 9. I'll be reading verses 1-13.

    1And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?” 2Now 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, “I am your servant.” 3And the king said, “Is there not still someone 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.” 4The 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 Lo-debar.” 

    5Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. 6And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” 7And 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.” 8And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”

    9Then 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 grandson. 10And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master's grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master's grandson shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. 11Then 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. 12And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba's house became Mephibosheth's servants. 13So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king's table. Now he was lame in both his feet.

    This is God's word. It's trustworthy, and it's true, and it's given to us in love. 

    What happened to Mephibosheth? Let's consider David's motivation, David’s action, and the result. This is a rather remarkable reversal. Mephibosheth never saw this coming. Why does David do what he does? What Mephibosheth didn't know is that years before he was born, David and Mephibosheth’s father, Jonathan, had made a covenant with one another. A covenant was simply a relationship based on promises—more personal, more relational than a contract, and yet more binding, more committed than a mere friendship. The reason why they entered into this covenant was because they shared the same vision for the future. Even though Jonathan was the crown prince, the heir to the throne, he was convinced that God had called David rather than himself to become the next king of Israel. Jonathan willingly gave up his right to the throne in order to make way for David. 

    But this was a rather dangerous thing to do. Given Saul's hostility towards David, you can understand why they had to enter into a covenant with one another. They were caught within the clash of two political dynasties: the house of Saul on the one hand, and the house of David on the other. Jonathan sides with David over and against his own father. So they enter into this promise of love and loyalty. And the essence of that covenant was one of faithfulness. They promise that they will protect one another, and one another's families, even if one of them should die. They pledge to be loyal to one another no matter what. 

    Of course, after all of these years, David clearly could have forgotten the promise. It would have been so easy to ignore it. Jonathan was the one who had initiated the covenant in the first place. No one would ever know if David actually followed through on the promise or not, but instead he goes out of his way to keep it. He finds Ziba, this man who had served within king Saul's court and he asks, first in verse 1, and then again in verse 3, “‘Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?’”

    That word “kindness” is used three times. Verse 1, verse 3, and again in verse 7. At first glance we might wonder: What does it even mean to show kindness? To our ears, this might sound like a sort of vacuous word. This is the sort of thing that we tell our children, “You should really be kind to one another.” What is David doing here? He's not just following some bumper sticker slogan. David is not trying to practice "random acts of kindness." No, he is doing something quite deliberate because that word 

    kindness in Hebrew is the word “hesed,” and it means far more than mere kindness. It's not a vapid word. No, it's a word of incredible substance. It's the word that describes the love and the loyalty that stands behind any covenant, whether that's a covenant between human beings or a covenant between God and us. That love and loyalty inspires merciful, gracious, compassionate action towards those who are in need. When David asks, “‘Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness,’” what he's really looking to do is to put that covenant love and loyalty that he had promised Jonathan into action. What is Mephibosheth’s biggest problem? Given the challenges that he faced in life, he felt insignificant and insecure. But David takes action to address both. 


    First, he fills Mephibosheth life with significance. The first word out of David's mouth when he sees Mephibosheth is his name. “Mephibosheth!” He calls him by name. He treats him as a person. He gives him his dignity back. He's not a dead dog, from a no name, nothing place. He might have viewed himself that way, but no, David treats him with honor. Then he gives him a seat at his own royal table. He says in verse 7 that, “‘You shall eat at my table always.’” David essentially adopts Mephibosheth into his own family. He treats him as if he were one of his own sons. He gives him a permanent position, a permanent status, a permanent place within his kingdom that nothing and no one can ever take away. 


    David not only gives Mephibosheth significance, but he also gives him security. Mephibosheth spent his entire life in the shadows and on the margins, but David promises to return to him the whole estate, all the lands that had previously belonged to his grandfather Saul. Can you imagine? Talk about winning the lottery. That's astounding! This is a dramatic change in Mephibosheth’s circumstances, but all of this comes at a significant cost to David himself. 

    There is of course, the financial cost. Now this property must have been worth far more than we can even begin to comprehend because it will require all of Ziba’s 15 sons and 20 servants to manage. And David gives it all up. He gives it all back. 

    There's also a political cost as well because in restoring Mephibosheth to this place of honor, by allowing him to come back to court, restoring his honor and his dignity, and then giving him back his grandfather's lands, David is actually running the risk that members of the house of Saul could reestablish a claim. Stage a coup. Turn on David. Mephibosheth may not have represented that much of a threat in and of himself because of his physical condition, but a future son could. The narrator here hints at the potential danger by telling us in verse 12, that Mephibosheth had a son named Mica. It's an astounding reversal of fortune. 

    Why Does Mephibosheth Matter?

    You might say, that's a heartwarming story, but why does Mephibosheth really matter? He seems to be a rather inconsequential, background character in the divine drama. But no, looks can be deceiving because he is far more important than we may realize. Mephibosheth’s two greatest needs were significance and security. And I would suggest that those are two of our greatest existential needs as well. 

    Years ago, C.S. Lewis gave a sermon entitled, “The Weight of Glory,” and this is how he once put it. He said, 

    “We should hardly dare to ask that any notice be taken of ourselves. But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret.”

    You see what Lewis is saying? He's saying that as human beings we long, we ache, we pine for someone, something outside of ourselves to tell us that we matter, that our life counts for something, that we’re significant, and that we have value. At the same time, we likewise need someone, something outside of ourselves to tell us that we're going to be secure, that will be OK, that our future is taken care of, that we will be alright, no matter what the world throws at us. 

    David remembered his covenant with Jonathan. He showed love and loyalty to Mephibosheth in ways that absolutely transformed his life. What I want you to see is that we have something far better. Someone far greater than David has sacrificed far more in order to shower even more significance and security upon us. Verse 3 provides us with a little bit of a clue. Do you notice that there when David repeats his request to Ziba, he says, “‘Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show [not merely kindness, but] the kindness of God?’” What David is showing us here is that his love and loyalty is merely a reflection of God's love and loyalty, of God's hesed. 

    That word “hesed” appears 250 times in the Old Testament, and more often than not, it is used to describe not the love and loyalty between human beings, but the love and loyalty that God shows to us because of the covenant that he has made with us. When this word is used, it's often translated as “loving kindness,” or “covenant faithfulness,” or especially, “steadfast love.” How often have you come across those two words in your Bible, “give thanks to the Lord for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever.” That is his "hesed," his covenant faithfulness, his loving kindness. 

    In Exodus 34, Moses asked God to see his glory. God says, “No one can see my glory and live, but I'll do this: I will let my goodness pass before you. And I will proclaim My name.” When God does, he proclaims that his name is the Lord, Yahweh. He goes on to explain that he is a God who is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding." Abounding in what? "Hesed"—steadfast love and faithfulness. By sheer grace God has bound himself to us in a covenant of love and loyalty, and nothing will ever stop him from fulfilling the promises that he has made to you in his covenant when you receive that covenant by faith. 

    What does "hesed" mean? Here I think is a better working definition. It is the radical, relentless, undeserved, demerited, unstoppable, unbreakable, always-faithful, never failing, death-defeating, constantly pursuing, love of God. Whenever you read "steadfast love" in the Bible, replace it with that. That is God's steadfast love, his loving kindness, his covenant faithfulness, and it is not merely an emotion or a feeling. No! That is what inspires the merciful, gracious, compassionate action on God's part to meet the needs of those to whom he has made his promise. 

    Who are we in this story? We might think that we're David, but we are not David. We are Mephibosheth. We are the ones who have been broken and bruised by humanity's fall into sin and into misery. We are the ones who have lost our inheritance. We've been cast out from the royal presence. We've been forced to live in exile where it is far too easy for us to harbor feelings of bitterness or resentment toward the one that we regard as a stranger and an enemy. 

    But what happens when God remembers his covenant of love and loyalty to us? He takes action. He takes action by sending his Son, Jesus, to live the life that you should have lived, to die the death that you deserve to die, and to rise again so that he might share his new life with you. That is God's radical, relentless, undeserved, demerited, unstoppable, unbreakable, always-faithful, never failing, death-defeating, constantly pursuing, love. And now Jesus summons you. He summons you to appear before him through the proclamation of the gospel. And the only appropriate thing to do is to throw yourself down at his feet and to plea for your life. And yet, when you do, he lifts you up. Jesus exchanges your exclusion for embrace. Why? Because Jesus's legs were nailed helpless to a cross so that you might be welcomed in. 

    Jesus was excluded, he was excluded by being crucified outside the city, so that you might be brought in. And now he provides you with a permanent seat at his table, that no one, no thing can ever take away. He adopts you into his family. He treats you like royalty. He shares his inheritance with you. He makes you a co-heir with him of all of the riches of the gospel. 

    Do you see the significance and the security that Jesus offers? He takes away not only your guilt, but also your shame because he did not merely die in your place, he was shamed in your place. And now he calls you by name. He calls you out of obscurity. You might think you're a nobody from a no name, nothing place, but now you are a somebody who has a place, a permanent place within his kingdom. Now you know that you're significant. Talk about significance. Now you know who you are. Now you know that you matter. Now you know that you count. Now you know that your life has value because Jesus would never give his life for someone or something that is valueless. And talk about security. Now you know that you will be OK, that everything will be alright, no matter what the world throws at you because your future is ultimately secure. Nothing can ever touch it. That's why C.S. Lewis said in that very same sermon: 

    “Apparently then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.”

    Here's the question—in light of the love, the loyalty, that God has radically demonstrated towards us through the gospel—can we be the kind of church where we demonstrate love and loyalty to one another as a church, as a covenant community, despite the differences that exist among us, despite the things that we've done, despite the things that have happened to us? God not only unites us to himself, but he also unites us to one another with radical, relentless, undeserved, demerited, unstoppable, unbreakable, always-faithful, never failing, death-defeating, constantly pursuing, love. And it all begins right here. You always have a seat at this table. 

    Let me pray for us. 

    Father, we acknowledge that oftentimes, it is hard for us to believe and to accept the depth of your love for us. Help us to see it afresh through the story of David and Mephibosheth. Help us to see that you have given us a place of ultimate significance and security at your table. Now we pray that you would give us the ability to move out in love because of the ways in which you have first loved us. We ask in Jesus' name. Amen.