Mephibosheth- Surprised by Grace
1 John 3:1- “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
Continuing our series on Unknown Faces from the Bible, remember that there are unknown characters in the Bible whose names and faces we may not recognize, but whose stories are significant in God’s plan and purpose in history. Today, we will look at a man named Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, a man who was totally surprised by grace. He expected judgment and death- but, received grace and adoption as a son. And, truly, he is a picture of the grace and adoption as sons that we have received through Jesus Christ.
The Bible seems to abound in difficult names- names like “Ne-bu-chad-nez-zar” and “Sen-nach-e-rib” and “Abel-beth-ma-a-cah”. My favorite is from Isaiah 8:1 & 3- “Ma-her-shal-al-hash-baz” (could you imagine naming your son “Mahershalalhasbaz”?) Today’s featured character has an unusual name- a real “tongue-twister”- “Me-phi-bo-sheth” (say that 3 times fast!) His name means “from the mouth of the shameful thing”- but, as we will see today, his life did not end in tragedy and shame. Mephibosheth was a special person, a son of Jonathan, David’s special, loyal friend. David made a covenant with Jonathan (a “binding agreement”), and along with that covenant, there was a promise that David gave to Jonathan- 1 Samuel 20:15- that he would “not cut off his kindness to the house of Jonathan forever.”
David always showed that kindness to his entire house. He went out of his way to prove his loyalty to Jonathan’s father, King Saul. He protected his family as far as possible. After Saul’s death, David was anointed king, and he took the throne- and, his house and his support grew stronger. And, Saul’s son, Ishbosheth, also took the throne- and, his house and his support grew weaker. The result was civil war. Even then, because of David’s respect for King Saul and his love for Jonathan, David went out of his way to try to make peace, but it was impossible. Ishbosheth continued to fight David, but he was defeated and killed.
After the civil war was over, David remembered that he had made a covenant of friendship with Jonathan and with his family. And, so, he searched for members of Jonathan’s family to bless and make good on his covenant. Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, was introduced- 2 Samuel 4:4- “Jonathan son of Saul had a son who was lame in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became crippled. His name was Mephibosheth.” Mephibosheth had a life of much hardship and suffering. When he was only 5 years old, he had received word that he had become an orphan-both his father and his grandfather had died. Not only that, but he had every reason to believe that he was the king’s enemy, and would be the next one killed. The usual practice at that time in the Middle East was that the new heir to the throne would take the entire family of the displaced king and have them put to death, to eliminate the possibility of any future opposition and rebellion.
So, Mephibosheth was a fugitive, living in fear, constantly harboring the dread that one day he would be found and put to death himself. Not only that, but we read that as he was fleeing as a young child, being carried by his nurse, she dropped him and he was crippled for life as a result of this accident.
Now, as Mephibosheth reflected on his life at this point, his response must have been, “Why me?” He saw his grandfather go practically insane and lose control of himself and his kingdom. He may not have completely understood what was happening at the time, but he knew that something was desperately wrong in the palace. “Why me?”
He received the news that both his father and his grandfather had died. His home was shattered. He had no father to guide him, no grandfather to shower him with love and affection. Who would take care of him? Who would feed him, clothe him, or put him to bed at night? Imagine how alone he must have felt. Imagine the pain of the memory of his father and grandfather. Imagine the insecurity of no more home that he could call his own. “Why me?”
Imagine the pain of the memory of being in the arms of the only one he knew and trusted, fleeing with his nurse. Then, in the rocky hills in the Mahanaim area, she slipped and dropped him. He came crashing down on his feet, and severe pain overtook him. Both of his feet were broken. But, they could not think about getting to a doctor at this time. They must only think about survival. She picked him up and continued to carry him. The bones never mended correctly. He would never walk again. Imagine his pain inside as he watched the other boys and girls his age running and jumping and playing- and, he knew that he would never be a part of that. He would be dependent upon others just to transport him from place to place. And, as he reflected on his misfortune, one wonders if he thought to himself again and again, “Why me?”
Mephibosheth also lived with the constant fear for his own life, because David was getting stronger as king. Mephibosheth’s family was getting weaker and dying off. Would he be next? Any day he could receive a knock on the door and be taken away to be executed or tortured or both. His uncle, Ishbosheth, was killed. Mephibosheth must have wondered, “Will I be next? Why me?”
2 Samuel 9- He finally did get that knock on the door that he dreaded. He knew nothing of David’s intent (to show kindness to Jonathan’s family). All that he knew was that that fatal knock came one day. A servant named Ziba told him that he would be taken to the king’s palace. Why? He was not told. But, he had a good idea that it would not end up well for him and those who cared for him. And, all the way to the palace, he may have thought- “Why me?”
Finally, in David’s inner court, vs. 6- Mephibosheth fell on his face, and David called his name- “Mephibosheth!” And, he responded, “Your servant!” He expected the king’s wrath and judgment. And, I wonder if he was not thinking, “Here it comes. It’s all over. Why me?”
Vs. 7- “’Don’t be afraid,’ David said to him, ‘for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.’”
He expected the king’s wrath; instead, he got grace- unbelievable grace. David would show him kindness; he need not fear anything. He would be under his protection. David would restore to him all the land of his grandfather, Saul. Best of all, he would eat at David’s table regularly with all of his family.
One wonders if David did not see the resemblance of his beloved friend, Jonathan, on his face-
-the same smile
-the same look in his eyes
-the same expressive face
-that same quality in his voice
-perhaps some of the same mannerisms.
Maybe Mephobosheth’s character and nature reflected some of the strength that David had seen in his father, Jonathan. David may have missed his friend now most of all. And, so, to demonstrate his love, David did not just receive him as a friend, but as his son- one who could enjoy the constant companionship of the king and eat at his table.
How did Mephibosheth respond? Vs. 8- “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” Or, in other words, “Why me?” The kindness he had received from the king was overwhelming. His love for him because of the faithfulness and loyalty of his father, Jonathan, was an unexpected, unanticipated joy. He expected the king’s wrath; instead, he got the king’s unconditional love and acceptance. He still was lame- but, he was no longer an orphan, no longer living in fear- for now, he was sitting at the king’s table, as one of his own sons.
Why me? Have you ever said or thought that? At first, you may have been disappointed by some of life’s tragedies:
-You lost your job, and you are not sure of your prospects for the future
-You were abandoned by family members, and you feel like an orphan
-Serious illness has touched you or someone you love
-Someone that you felt close to has now rejected you
-You have lost your sense of direction and purpose in life
-You experienced the death of a family member, or a close friend
-A gripping fear has overwhelmed you- fear of the future, fear of death, fear of ridicule, fear of suffering.
And, you like Mephibosheth may be asking the Lord, “Why me?” Perhaps your troubles have made you spiritually lame. You cannot walk in the Lord the way you used to. Your support systems are broken. Your spirit, your life is out of joint. Maybe you wonder if God has become your enemy. You fear Him. You are awed by His power. And, so, in your helplessness, you are running from Him, fleeing from His presence. Like Adam in the garden, you have said to the Lord, “I heard you in the garden, Lord- but, I was afraid…so I hid.” (Genesis 3:10) In other words, “I was ashamed, Lord. I was lame and out of joint and I fear you. I have no business being in your presence.”
And, then you heard his call to you- “Come stand before me- come before my throne.” You expect the worst- judgment, wrath; and, you are totally surprised by His grace. He shows you a cross- a man- His own Son, dying in your place- suffering for you. And, all the wrath of God for your sin falls upon Him, and to you, God says, “Come- eat at my table- become as one of my sons.” And, we find ourselves bowing down before Him, saying in awe and wonder, “O my Lord- O my precious Lord- my Beautiful Savior- why me?”
Might you be asking God the same thing at this time? “Lord, why me?” Don’t look for an answer you expect; look for an answer you don’t expect- be “surprised by His grace”- hear his call- “Come, eat at my table- be to me as one of My sons”. Jesus said, John 16:22- “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”
And, upon hearing this invitation, see if you, too, will respond in absolute awe and wonder, as one totally surprised by His grace- “O my Lord—Why me?”
Pastor Pete Amerman
Hillside Lutheran Brethren Church