Humility is hard to come by.
I have been reading through the Old Testament historical books about the kings of Israel. In my reading, I have come across a “supporting role”, someone who is not a king, a priest, or anyone seemingly significant to the overall theme of the Israelite monarchy; his name is Mephibosheth. You can read about him in 2 Samuel, chapters 9-21. I’ll summarize it.
The year is roughly 1000 BC. King Saul’s 20-year reign over Israel has just ended. David has been anointed by the prophet Samuel to be Saul’s successor. While Saul has become David’s worst enemy, his son Jonathan has become David’s best friend. Mephibosheth is the one of Jonathan’s sons.
We begin the story with Saul and Jonathan dying tragically in battle against the Philistines. David is set to take his place at the throne of Israel. This angers Saul’s nephew Abner, who tries to establish himself as king instead. Unfortunately for Abner, David has God on his side (as well as a tough army leader, Joab). Disregarding David’s wishes, Joab murders Abner. At this point, David seeks to have peace with Saul’s family, and even be gracious to them.
David asks, “Is there still any one left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”
Mephibosheth’s servant, Ziba, informs David, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.”
Political Lesson #1:
Be suspicious of anyone who identifies people by their disability. What kind of servant would identify his master by speaking first of his disability without any mention of his character? One wonders whether or not Ziba informed David that it is socially just for him to favor Mephibosheth. Ziba may have argued that David’s dining room ought to meet a quota of disabled eaters in order to “better reflect the plight of the disenfranchised minorities of Judah”.
Regardless, David asks to see him.
Mephibosheth comes to David.
“Mephibosheth!” David exclaims, at the sight of his best friend’s son.
“Behold, your servant,” Mephibosheth responds.
“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.”
“What is your servant, that you should look upon a dead dog such as I?”
I hope you can see Mephibosheth’s humility at this point.
We read that Mephibosheth “ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons.”
Unfortunately, this beautiful story of reconciliation takes a turn for the worse with Ziba, the backstabbing servant of Mephibosheth. He reappears in 2 Samuel 16:1 bearing bread, raisins, fruit, wine, and asses for King David. Why? Well, David has just been forced to flee Jerusalem by his corrupt son, Absolom. David accepts the gift, but is suspicious of Ziba, asking him, “Why have you brought these?”
Political Lesson #2:
Don’t trust government officials just because they appear to be helping you out in some way. Ziba is latching onto David’s weakness in order to gain favor. He isn’t a genuinely good guy. A lot of politicians today attempt to cater to people’s weaknesses in order to gain their support. A good leader has an agenda based on principles about the function of good government, not on attending to the whims of special interest groups.
After hearing Ziba’s answer, he inquires about Mephibosheth, “And where is your master’s son?” Ziba apparently was a hand-me-down from Jonathan. This may not be severely important, but it does show that Ziba has a long history with Saul’s family, and may serve to foreshadow the fact that he’s got a hidden agenda to usurp David’s reign.
Ziba responds, “Behold, he remains in Jerusalem; for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will give me back the kingdom of my father.'”
David falls for the deception: “Behold, all that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.”
Political Lesson #3:
People lie. I suppose it’s not quite fair to completely attack this decision of David’s; he is under a lot of stress at this point. Perhaps taking issue with a servant of your best friend’s son wasn’t the first item to be addressed on the royal agenda that day. Regardless, King David was duped!
Regardless of David’s dupability, the truth becomes clear in 2 Sam 19:24. At this point, David has successfully recovered the throne. As he treks back to Jerusalem, we read that Mephibosheth “came down to meet the King”.
Mephibosheth “had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came back in safety. And when he came from Jerusalem to meet the king, the king said to him:
‘Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?'”
“My lord, O king, my servant deceived me; for your servant said to him, ‘Saddle an ass for me, that I may ride upon it and go with the king.’ For your servant is lame. He has slandered your servant to my lord the king. But my lord the king is like the angel of God; do therefore what seems good to you. For all my father’s house were but men doomed to death before my lord the king; but you set your servant among those who eat at your table. What further right have I, then, to cry to the king”
The following makes me really want to distance myself from the name “David” as an indicator about any parallel between myself and this king:
David (carelessly) responds, “Why speak any more of your affairs? I have decided: you and Ziba shall divide the land.”
Political Lesson #4:
Don’t compromise on principle. David doesn’t want to figure out what exactly happened. He ought to investigate the matter until he figures out that Mephibosheth is righteous and Ziba is a liar. Instead he tries to be a moderate. Bad move.
In his study Bible, MacArthur writes, “It was, in any case, a poor decision to divide the estate between the noble-hearted son of Jonathan and a lying deceiver.”
BUT, put that aside for just one minute! Listen…just LISTEN to Mephibosheth’s response!
“And Mephibosheth said to the king, “Oh, let him take it all, since my lord the king has come safely home.'”
I love Mephibosheth. What a guy.
I want a heart like Mephibosheth’s. His servant completely exploits him for his disability…and he has no desire for vengeance! Even a lazy judgment from David isn’t enough to stifle his whole-hearted love for God and God’s anointed king.
(All quotes are from the RSV)
Thanks for reading all this, too.