Surprised by grace

2 Samuel 9


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David and Mephibosheth

The memorable account of David and Mephibosheth is far more than the story of the kindness of a king to a poor cripple; it’s a stunning picture of the grace of God. For Christians, the story comes alive when we realise that we are just like Mephibosheth.

1. In what ways are we like Mephibosheth?
Who was Mephibosheth? He was the son of Jonathan, and the grandson of Israel’s first king, Saul. There’s one key day in his life, a day full of tragedy. We can read about it in 2 Samuel chapter 4. At the age of just 5, he hears about the death of both his father and his grandfather, Jonathan and Saul, who die at the hands of the Philistines, at a battle on Mount Giboah. Were that not enough, when his nurse picks him up (perhaps on a horse) she drops Mephibosheth, and as a result he becomes seriously disabled – lame in both feet.

Because of his family line, Mephibosheth is an enemy of the people of God, being in the line of Saul. He’s part of the old regime. Normally, when a new dynasty came to power, the old one would be wiped out. Consequently, Mephibosheth is in an unenviable position.

There’s a spiritual picture for us here. Before we become Christians, we are crippled by the disease of sin, unable to live lives pleasing to God. In fact, we rebel against his rightful rule. Mephibosheth lives in a place called ‘Lo Debar’ (verse 5), which was geographically far from the throne. This is the life we had before we became Christians, living in Lo Debar, which means ‘no pasture’; in other words, our lives were fruitless, and we found no ultimate satisfaction, even as we looked for it in the wrong places.

Like Mephibosheth, we are born as enemies of God, and are unable to change our position by ourselves. (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:3) In short, Mephibosheth’s life dramatically portrays the lives of those outside of Jesus Christ: we are crippled by sin; we are on the wrong side; and we don’t have the wherewithal to change this.

2. Surprised by Grace
This story begins with King David asking a surprising question: ‘Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’

David sends for Mephibosheth. It must have been terrifying for him to have received such a summons, and perhaps he thought he was going to be snuffed out. David is quick to put him at his ease: ‘Don’t be afraid.’ (Verse 7)

Mephibosheth must have been gobsmacked by the grace King David shows to him, not just sparing his life, but providing for him and treating him as one of his own sons. We must ask why?

The answer is found in 1 Samuel 20, where David enters into a solemn covenant with Jonathan, the father of Mephibosheth: ‘May the Lord be with you as he has been with my father. But show me unfailing kindness like the Lord’s kindness as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family—not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.’ So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, ‘May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.’ And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself. (1 Samuel 20:13-17)

This is what is driving the behaviour of King David – 20 years previously, he had made a solemn promise to Jonathan that he would deal with Saul’s line with covenant love, with grace; the word in Hebrew is ‘hesed’, which is a refusing-to-let-go love, a commitment.

In verse 1 David asked, ‘Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’
For David, a promise is a promise; an oath is an oath.
‘The promise made in the past directs fidelity in the present.’ (Dale Ralph Davis)

The way in which David deals with Mephibosheth is exactly how God deals with us. As Christians, God comes and shows this kindness to us, for Jesus’ sake. Even before the world was made, God the Father entered into a solemn covenant with God the Son to save and rescue and bless an undeserving people, for Jesus’ sake. This is a picture of God’s amazing grace. We were in the far country, crippled by sin, hopeless. And God comes to us and gives us a seat at his table, and gives us provision and security.

We don’t have this kind of security in human covenants, because humans can be unfaithful. However, how wonderful it is to think of God’s gracious love as a refusing-to-let-go love.

David says to Mephibosheth: ‘Don’t be afraid.’ (Verse 7) Our loving Father says to us: ‘You don’t need to be afraid: I’ll protect you and provide for you always.’

3. The lavish grace of God
Let’s consider God’s grace through the lens of David’s provision to Mephibosheth. What does David do for Mephibosheth? He restores to him a large piece of land, land which had belonged to Saul. Next, David instructs Ziba to farm the land for Mephibosheth, using his 15 sons and 20 servants! In other words, Mephibosheth would be generously provided for.

And there is more. ‘So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.’ (Verse 11) Amazing grace indeed! Mephibosheth is treated like the king’s sons. Why? For the sake of his father Jonathan. (Verses 1 & 7)

God’s grace to us is far more lavish than even that of King David. We don’t need to be afraid as God’s children. We are no longer under condemnation. The paradise our forefather Adam lost has been restored to us, as we look forward to the land of Heaven, which is our inheritance, along with God himself. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

We shall be taken right into the King’s house. (John 14:2) And we receive something better than being treated like the king’s sons; we become the King’s sons! ‘For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…’ (Ephesians 1:4-5)

When we become Christians, we are saved by God’s grace. However, the whole of the life of a Christian continues as one of grace. As Christians, we don’t need to earn God’s love. Rather, for the sake of Jesus, he protects us, and provides for us, both now and forever.

Surely, Mephibosheth ought to have been open-mouthed at all the generosity he received at David’s expense. Surely, we ought to be full of wonder when we consider all that WE, former enemies of God, have been treated so royally, at Jesus’ expense. (Romans 8:32)