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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The King's Favor is the Best Heritage

 David asked, "Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan's sake?" --2 Samuel 9: 1 NIV
 Jonathan, the expected future king of Israel and David's closest friend had died tragically in battle.  Mephibosheth, Jonathan's only surviving son, was crippled in both feet, destitute, and living in someone else's home.  The tables had turned.  Before, David had been the poor young man who had been invited to eat with the king's son; now, Jonathan's household was poor and David had a chance to invite Mephibosheth to eat with him.  He went beyond that, raising Mephibosheth out of poverty and giving him his ancestral share of the land in the tribe of Benjamin and a servant to work it for him.

This is the kind of Cinderella story that most people enjoy, but it doesn't show the nature of the man who was Mephibosheth.  Was he grateful?  Did he share the humility and godliness of his father Jonathan, or was he wicked like his grandfather?  I recently reread a later story about Mephibosheth that seemed to reveal to me the answers to these questions, and I thought I'd talk about that here, today.

Who is Telling the Truth?

When David was forced to flee Jerusalem to escape Absalom and his rebelling army, Ziba, the man who was appointed to tend Mephibosheth's land for him, met David with supplies and an ugly story about Mephibosheth.  According to Ziba, "[Mephibosheth] is staying in Jerusalem, because he thinks, 'Today the house of Israel will give me back my grandfather's kingdom' " (2 Samuel 16: 3 NIV). 

At this point, Mephibosheth sounds a whole lot like Saul--cunning, power-hungry, and full of envy.  We can imagine how this hurt David, because it probably reinforced a sense of betrayal in light of his immediate circumstances.  Several people close to him, including his son and one of his close advisers, had secretly plotted against him and were coming to kill him.  Why not believe the worst about Mephibosheth (this was, after all, the kind of threat that made so many kings kill off the previous royal family when they gained power).  In that moment, Ziba seemed to be acting in good faith, so he believed him, and rewarded him with all the land that belonged to Mephibosheth.

Later, when David was returning to the throne, Mephibosheth approached him and bowed down to him.  He was a physical mess, having not taken care of himself the whole time that David had been away from Jerusalem.  According to Mephibosheth, he had told Ziba to saddle his donkey for him, so he could ride out of town with David when the city was evacuated, but Ziba had abandoned him.  He had one thing to add, which was not a Saul-like thing to say: "My lord the king is like an angel of God; so do whatever pleases you.  All my grandfather's descendants deserved nothing but death from my lord the king, but you gave your servant a place among those who eat at your table.  So what right do I have to make any more appeals to the king?"(2 Samuel 19: 27b-28 NIV).  He does not appear to be trying to manipulate the situation in his favor.   He actually suggested that David had every cause to put him to death, and he was underscoring his own vulnerability.

What did Mephibosheth have to gain?  Was he just trying to get his land inheritance back?  When David heard Mephibosheth's explanation, he didn't know who to believe.  He told Mephibosheth to divide his land in half with Ziba, but Mephibosheth answered to that, "Let him take everything, now that my lord the king has arrived home safely" (2 Samuel 19: 30 NIV).  This is not the statement of a power-hungry man who had a sense of entitlement.  Should David die or lose interest in him, he and his son would go back to their former destitute state, so his statement shows to me that he believed David to be a man of his word, and that he respected him as his father had.

Had Mephibosheth betrayed David but repented?  We do not really know.  We do know that if Ziba lied, it seemed to gain for him a lot of land for himself and his many sons.  However, after that incident, we never hear of him again.

In rereading the story, I get the impression that Mephibosheth got a better deal than Ziba, because he regained David's favor.  He was unable to work the fields for himself anyway, so if he had gone back to his half of the fields, he probably would have lived in poverty and obscurity all of his life.  Because he gave up his inheritance and returned to the king's court, he and his son would be protected and cared for throughout the rest of their lives.  His decision had one more beneficial result; the last time Mephibosheth is mentioned in Scripture, David has issued an edict that seven descendants of Saul would be handed over to the Gibeonites to be put to death for Saul's genocidal crusade against them--but Mephibosheth was spared (2 Samuel 21: 7).  If he had turned his back on David, I doubt that any such special treatment would have occurred.

What is the moral of Mephibosheth's story, for me?  The king's favor is a richer inheritance than any amount of power or property.  Solomon, David's son, shared an apropos proverb: "When a king's face brightens, it means life; his favor is like a rain cloud in spring" (Proverbs 16: 15 NIV).  The fact is, if you please the king, you are not only safe but also honored.  Mephibosheth had lost the argument between himself and Ziba, but he had gained something that proved more valuable in the end.

How Does That Apply To Me?

Most parts of the world today do not have kings, and the children of former presidents don't appear to be at any personal risk from their fathers' successors.  If we look deeper at this story, however, we can see a symbolic significance to everything.  David has been called a "type of Christ," because so many of the events in his life, and so many of his writings, parallel what happened to Christ.

Looking at it this way, we can see that Mephibosheth set an example for Christians to follow.  It was more important to him to know that David was victorious and to have David's favor than it was to have land and carry on as his forefathers had.  Similarly, we should seek God's favor in our lives rather than looking for prosperity that may not last.  Just as Mephibosheth was powerless and by all accounts unworthy of the king's favor, we too should not try to justify ourselves before God.  Instead, we should humbly acknowledge the unmerited favor God has showered upon us.  In the end, like Mephibosheth, we who fall on the King of king's favor will be spared from destruction.  Isn't it a greater thing to live in the hands of God and at the end, inherit eternal life?

This is what I hope for, and I have faith that God will keep His promise, which He made long before I knew Him.  How about you?  Are you confident today that you have the King's favor, and that He has secured your future?  If you haven't asked Him yet, take Mephibosheth's example.  It is never too late to fall on God's mercy, and those who do will receive a sure reward.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. -- 1 Peter 1: 3-5 NIV


Kamal Singarapu said...

Rachel, This is the first time I have read this story in such a wonderful detail. Very insightful. My favorite line was "Mephibosheth had lost the argument between himself and Ziba, but he had gained something that proved more valuable in the end." To be in the King's [God's] presence is undoubtedly a greater blessing than to experience the provision from the King [God] and be away from Him [God.]

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence,with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11

Rachel said...

Thank you again for your faithfulness in commenting, Kamal! You've summed up my "take away" point very well. So often we value God's provision for us, that is, all the things that we have, over His presence in our lives. In reality, if God is with us, we have every good and perfect gift (James 1: 17)! Christ is the best gift God ever gave. Hallelujah, God is with us!
The faith of men like Mephibosheth always amazes me, because their faith models and foreshadows for us what our faith should be. I want faith like that!