Fit for the Feast

When shame says we don’t belong at the table, mercy extends an invitation anyway.

In the 23rd psalm, David writes, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Imagine the tension at such a dinner, each person suspicious of the others, poised to attack without provocation—it doesn’t sound peaceful or safe. But what if after rivals are seated together, enmity dissolves and only humanity remains? With one invitation, David intends to find out.

 

Read

To get the most out of this study, read 2 Samuel 4:4 and 2 Samuel 9. But first, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth available in these passages. Give yourself permission to ask questions that may not have answers. Wonder aloud, imagine the scene, and take note of anything that surprises, confuses, or even offends you. Above all else, trust the Lord. He’s the best teacher.

Key Passage: 2 Samuel 9:1-13

 

Background

Jonathan, David’s close friend and the son of King Saul—David’s enemy—was next in line to Israel’s throne. Also in the royal lineage was Jonathan’s 5-year-old son Mephibosheth. When word reached the king’s household that both Jonathan and Saul had died during battle, Mephibosheth’s nurse feared for the boy’s life, as a new regime might consider any heir to be a threat. She picked up the child and fled, but in the rush to escape, he fell and sustained permanent injury to his legs.

Years after David became king over all of Israel, we see him again prioritizing relationship over risk by seeking to fulfill a vow he once made with Jonathan—to treat his dear friend’s family with lovingkindness (1 Samuel 20:14-15). Inquiring whether any of Jonathan’s descendants are still alive, David learns that Mephibosheth, by this time a father himself, is still disabled and living in an out-of-the-way place known as Lo-debar.

 

Reflect

We can’t determine how many years have passed since Jonathan’s death, but it’s obvious that the covenant David made with him still echoes in the king’s heart and mind.

  • Look at 2 Samuel 9:1 and consider that it is unlikely anyone besides David knew about his covenant with Jonathan, much less that anything could be done to enforce the king’s compliance with his years-old promise. Yet it is David himself who initiates the search. What does that reveal about his character? Think about the nature of mercy—it is more reactive or proactive in this situation?

 

Continuing the Story

As Jonathan’s only remaining son, Mephibosheth is David’s opportunity to continue showing kindness to his friend’s family. After consulting Ziba, a servant from Saul’s household, David locates Mephibosheth and has him brought to the royal residence. But there’s undoubtedly more tension simmering between these two than is readily apparent.

We see David again prioritizing relationship over risk by seeking to fulfill a vow he once made with Jonathan.

  • Remember that Mephibosheth was disabled at age 5 as a direct result of fleeing the very palace David now inhabits. (See 2 Sam. 4:4) How do you think it felt to enter his old home, a place he likely associates with both the physical pain he still endures and the disintegration of his family? Consider also that on account of his disability, Mephibosheth is probably unable to resist or flee this royal summons. Put yourself in his shoes—how would you feel?

 

Reflect

Read 2 Samuel 21:1-9. Some scholars agree that, though placed later in the book of Samuel, the events of chapter 21 occurred before those recorded in chapter 9. It was likely after his life was spared from the Gibeonites’ revenge that Mephibosheth went to live in Lo-debar, a place whose name means “no pasture.” By then he no doubt has already been thoroughly traumatized, having lost his family, physical autonomy, royal status, and inheritance.

  • David doesn’t even know if there are any living members of Jonathan’s family (2 Samuel 9:3), let alone whether Mephibosheth might harbor resentment for his losses or perhaps still feels the throne should be his. Yet David does not let fear prevent him from fulfilling his pledge. What does this show us about his values? about his trust in the Lord? In what way does this situation demonstrate how mercy requires vulnerability­—even for those in positions of power?

  • The Hebrew word ben, translated “son” or “grandson,” occurs 12 times in this short passage. What does that say about how mercy connects the generations through redemption?

  • Reread 2 Samuel 9:11, paying particular attention to the last phrase, “as one of the king’s sons.” Keep in mind that Mephibosheth was a royal son of Jonathan, Saul’s heir apparent, and therefore would have been entitled to a place at the king’s table. Yet with the death of his father and grandfather, he’s been stripped of all privilege associated with that position. Now David not only restores his status as a royal son but also gives back Saul’s land and fortune. How does David’s display of chesed—that is, mercy and lovingkindness—right this wrong? How might you apply chesed in your life?

REMEMBER Mercy restores.

 

Revisit

Over the next several weeks, use this section to review the study and consider how its message applies to your life.

Mephibosheth means “dispeller of shame” (blueletterbible.com), yet his life has been defined by shame—from having crippled legs to being the grandson of a deceased and disgraced king to living incognito, perpetually in fear of retribution. Then comes King David’s summons.

David does not let fear prevent him from fulfilling his pledge.

  • In 2 Samuel 9:8, Mephibosheth calls himself “a dead dog” which speaks to his deeply internalized shame. Thinking about your life, do you ever use derogatory language to describe yourself? If so, do you feel justified using such terms on account of past sins either committed by you or perpetuated against you? Considering the command to love others as we love ourselves, in what ways do you see a connection between how you address yourself and how you address others?

  • Compare how Ziba identifies Mephibosheth in verse 3 with how David does in verse 6. Has someone ever labeled you according to your deficits? How did it feel? In contrast, how does it feel when you’re acknowledged by name? With this in mind, how can you talk to and about people in a way that elevates their human dignity?

  • Mephibosheth had no reason to think that he would ever have his inheritance restored to him, much less by David, of all people. As you think about the plot twist that awaits him at the palace, how does your perspective change with regard to unresolved trials in your life?

  • We all carry shame of one sort or another. But what if instead of hiding our humiliation, we brought it into the King’s presence? Exposing what we feel makes us unworthy might seem frightening, but God’s mercy answers our fears, restoring us to a place of honor. He has set a table and sent for you—are you brave enough to take your seat?

 

Illustration by Adam Cruft

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What happens to my notes

4 Now Jonathan, Saul's son, had a son crippled in his feet. He was five years old when the report of Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel, and his nurse took him up and fled. And it happened that in her hurry to flee, he fell and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth.

1 Then David said, Is there yet anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?"

2 Now 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."

3 The king said, Is there not yet anyone of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness of God?" And Ziba said to the king, There is still a son of Jonathan who is crippled in both feet."

4 So the king said to him, Where is he?" And Ziba said to the king, Behold, he is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel in Lo-debar."

5 Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, from Lo-debar.

6 Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and prostrated himself. And David said, Mephibosheth." And he said, Here is your servant!"

7 David said to him, Do not fear, for I will surely show kindness to you for the sake of your father Jonathan, and will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul; and you shall eat at my table regularly."

8 Again he prostrated himself and said, What is your servant, that you should regard a dead dog like me?"

9 Then the king called Saul's servant Ziba and said to him, All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master's grandson.

10 You and your sons and your servants shall cultivate the land for him, and you shall bring in the produce so that your master's grandson may have food; nevertheless Mephibosheth your master's grandson shall eat at my table regularly." Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.

11 Then Ziba said to the king, According to all that my lord the king commands his servant so your servant will do." So Mephibosheth ate at David's table as one of the king's sons.

12 Mephibosheth had a young son whose name was Mica. And all who lived in the house of Ziba were servants to Mephibosheth.

13 So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate at the king's table regularly. Now he was lame in both feet.

14 If I am still alive, will you not show me the lovingkindness of the LORD, that I may not die?

15 You shall not cut off your lovingkindness from my house forever, not even when the LORD cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth."

1 Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David sought the presence of the LORD. And the LORD said, It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death."

2 So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them (now the Gibeonites were not of the sons of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites, and the sons of Israel made a covenant with them, but Saul had sought to kill them in his zeal for the sons of Israel and Judah).

3 Thus David said to the Gibeonites, What should I do for you? And how can I make atonement that you may bless the inheritance of the LORD?"

4 Then the Gibeonites said to him, We have no concern of silver or gold with Saul or his house, nor is it for us to put any man to death in Israel." And he said, I will do for you whatever you say."

5 So they said to the king, The man who consumed us and who planned to exterminate us from remaining within any border of Israel,

6 let seven men from his sons be given to us, and we will hang them before the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the LORD." And the king said, I will give them. "

7 But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of the oath of the LORD which was between them, between David and Saul's son Jonathan.

8 So the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, Armoni and Mephibosheth whom she had borne to Saul, and the five sons of Merab the daughter of Saul, whom she had borne to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite.

9 Then he gave them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the mountain before the LORD, so that the seven of them fell together; and they were put to death in the first days of harvest at the beginning of barley harvest.

3 The king said, Is there not yet anyone of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness of God?" And Ziba said to the king, There is still a son of Jonathan who is crippled in both feet."

11 Then Ziba said to the king, According to all that my lord the king commands his servant so your servant will do." So Mephibosheth ate at David's table as one of the king's sons.

8 Again he prostrated himself and said, What is your servant, that you should regard a dead dog like me?"

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