The Life of David, Vol. I.
by A. W. Pink
His Kindness to Mephibosheth
2 Samuel 9
Behind the noble magnanimity exercised by David toward the last descendant of his archenemy Saul, we may perceive the shining forth of the glory of God’s grace unto His fallen and sinful people. Alas, how feeble are our apprehensions of this wonderful attribute of God, how altogether inadequate our best efforts to set forth its excellency! Those who are the most indebted to the divine favor, are most conscious of the poverty of their language to express the gratitude and praise, the admiration and adoration which is due from them. When the poor outcast and crippled son of Jonathan was brought from Lodebar to Jerusalem, and was received not only with kindness, but accorded a place in the king’s family and given a seat at David’s own table, he must have found words to utterly fail him. And when a slave of sin and captive of Satan is not only set free by Christ but made a joint heir with Him, he is lost in wonderment. Eternity will be required to render unto God that worship to which He is entitled.
Grace is the opposite of justice. Justice gives to each his exact due: it shows no favor and knows no mercy. It gives impartially to all precisely by the wages which thy have earned. But grace is free favor, unwarranted and unmerited by the recipients of it. Grace is the very last thing to which rebellious sinners are entitled; to talk of deserving "grace" is a contradiction in terms. Grace is purely a matter of charity, exercised sovereignly and spontaneously, attracted by nothing praiseworthy in its object. Divine grace is the free favor of God in the bestowment of mercies and blessings upon those who have no good in them, and concerning whom no compensation is demanded from them. Nay more: divine grace is not only shown to those who have no merit, but who are full of positive demerit; it is not only bestowed upon the ill-deserving, but the hell-deserving.
How completely grace sets aside every thought of personal desert, may be seen from a single quotation of Scripture: "Being justified freely by His grace" (Rom. 3:24). The word "freely" gives intensity to the term "grace," though the Greek does not convey the thought of abundance, but rather emphasizes its gratuitousness. The same word is rendered "without a cause" in John 15:25. There was nothing whatever in the Lord Jesus to deserve such vile treatment from the hands of His enemies, nothing whatever that He had done warranting such awful enmity on their part. In like manner, there is nothing whatever in any sinner to call forth the favorable regard of a holy God, nothing done by him to win His love; instead, everything to the contrary. Grace, then, is gratis, a free gift.
The very expression "the grace of God" implies and denotes that the sinner’s condition is desperate to the last degree, and that God may justly leave him to perish; yea, it is a wonder of wonders that he is not already in hell. Grace is a divine provision for those who are so depraved they cannot change their own nature, so averse from God they will not turn to Him, so blind they can neither see their malady nor the remedy, so dead spiritually that God must bring them out of their graves on to resurrection ground if ever they are to walk in newness of life. Grace is the sinner’s last and only hope; if he is not saved by grace, he will never be saved at all. Grace levels all distinctions, and regards the most zealous religionist on the same plane as the most profligate, the chaste virgin as the foul prostitute. Therefore God is perfectly free to save the chiefest of sinners and bestow His mercy on the vilest of the vile.
In our last, we got as far as Mephibosheth being actually brought into the presence of David. What a meeting was that! For the first time in his life this man now sees the one whom his grandfather had so mercilessly and unrighteously persecuted. "Now when Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, was come unto David, he fell on his face, and did reverence" (v. 6). Fitting position was this to take for one whose very life hung upon the mere mercy of the king. What could he expect but to hear from his lips the sentence of death! There he lies, aptly portraying a trembling sinner, who, in his understanding and conscience, is brought, for the first time, face to face with the thrice holy God, with the One whom he has so long slighted, so wickedly ignored, so grievously offended. It was thus with Saul of Tarsus when the Lord first appeared to him: "he fell to the earth" (Acts 9:4). Reader, have you ever taken your place before Him in the dust?
Most probably David had never before seen Mephibosheth, yet he now addressed him in the most intimate terms: "And David said, Mephibosheth" (v. 6). It is blessed to see that the king was the first one to break the silence, showing us in type how God takes the initiative at every point in connection with the saving of His people. This recalls to us that word of the apostle to the Galatians, "But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God" (4:9). A single word was all that David yet uttered—"Mephibosheth"— yet how much was expressed by it! How it reminds us of that precious declaration from the lips of the good Shepherd, "He calleth His own sheep by name" (John 10:3). When, at the burning bush, the Lord first revealed Himself to Israel’s deliverer from Egypt, He said, "Moses, Moses" (Ex. 3:4). The first word of the Saviour to the one in the sycamore tree was "Zaccheus" (Luke 19:5). When He made known Himself unto the tear-blinded seeker at His sepulcher, it was by the single word, "Mary" (John 20: 16). His first word to the persecutor of His church was "Saul" (Acts 9:4). Thus it was in our present incident. "And Mephibosheth answered, Behold thy servant."
But the next word of David’s was yet more blessed: "Fear not" (v. 7) he said to the cripple prostrate before him. There was no rebuke for his having so long kept away from him, no reproaching him because he was of the house of Saul; but instead, a word to assure him, to put him at his ease. O how this should comfort every contrite soul: we have nothing whatever to fear, once we take our place in the dust before the Lord. "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6). Was it not thus with the Father, when the penitent prodigal cast himself on His mercy! No word of censure left His lips: instead He quickly assured him of His love. How this "fear not" of David to Mephibosheth reminds us of the same language found so often on the lips of the Redeemer when addressing His own! Wondrous is it to observe that, when the glorified Saviour appeared unto John in Patmos, when that apostle fell at His feet as dead, it was the same old familiar "Fear not" (Rev. 1: 17) which reassured him.
Not only did David address Mephibosheth by name, and quiet his heart with a "Fear not," but he also added, "For I will surely show thee kindness for Jonathan thy father’s sake, and will restore thee all the land of Saul thy father; and thou shalt eat bread at My table continually" (2 Sam. 9:7). This was grace pure and simple, wondrous grace, the "exceeding riches of grace." There was no contingency here, no bargain made, no conditions stipulated; but instead "I will surely show thee kindness." David did not say "If you do this or that" or "if you will keep your part of the contract, I will adhere to mine." No, no; it was free favor, gratuitous mercy, unmerited bounty; everything for nothing. David acted royally, like a king, for it becomes not a monarch to barter. How much more is this the case with the King of kings: He is "the God of all grace" (1 Peter 5:10), and eternal life is a gift (Rom. 6:23) wherever He is pleased to bestow it. To preach salvation by works is not only to mock impotent sinners, but is to grossly insult the ineffable Jehovah.
And what effect did this astonishing kindness have upon Mephibosheth? Did it puff him up with self-importance, and cause him to act as though he was other than a poor cripple? No, indeed; such is never the effect of divine grace applied to the heart, though often it is the ease where airy notions of it sink no deeper than the head. "And he bowed himself, and said, What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?" (v. 8). Is not that truly beautiful? The exceeding kindness of David did not work in him self-elation and sell-exaltation, but self-abasement: it wrought in him a deeper consciousness of his utter unworthiness before such un-thought-of favors. He was amazed that the king should even notice, much less favorably regard, such a worthless creature as he felt himself to be. Did he not now conduct himself in suitable accord with his name, when he called himself "a dead dog;" for "Mephibosheth" signifies "a shameful thing." And what is the name which Scripture gives to me?—sinner!: do I, by my attitude, own the truthfulness of it?
This line in our picture calls for particular notice in such a day as we are living in, wherein there is so much self-esteem, creature boasting, Laodicean complacency and Pharisaic self-righteousness. O what a stench in the nostrils of the Almighty must be the reeking pride of modern Christendom. How little practical exemplification of that principle, "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves" (Phil. 2:3). How few feel, like Paul did, that they are "the chief of sinners." And why is this? Because the hearts of so very few are really touched and affected by the grace of God. Grace ever humbles. The goodness of God leadeth to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Where the kindness of God is truly felt in the soul we are "little in our own eyes." Just as the royal magnanimity of David bowed Mephibosheth before him, causing him to own that he was but "a dead dog," so when the love of God melts our hard hearts, we realize and own what unworthy wretches, vile creatures, and corrupt worms we are.
We must now consider the wondrous portion which was bestowed upon Mephibosheth as the result of the great kindness which David showed him, for this was a striking figure of the "riches" which divine grace imparts to those who are blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ. First, there was life for him, for the king refused to slay him when he was in his power. That his life was spared him was a notable act of clemency on the part of the monarch. Blessedly did this illustrate the abounding mercy of God unto those who have flouted His authority, broken His laws, and deserved naught but unsparing judgment at His hands: though the wages of sin is death, yet the gift of God is "eternal life" through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Second, there was peace for him: David’s "Fear not" was designed to allay his terror, quiet his heart, and set him at perfect ease in the presence of the king. So it is with the believer: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God" (Rom. 5:1).
Third, there was an inheritance for him. "Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said unto him, I have given unto thy master’s son all that pertained to Saul and to all his house" (v. 9). What a truly wonderful line in our typical picture is that!—one, we are again constrained to say, which no merely human artist could have drawn. How it portrays to us the bounty of our God in bestowing upon poor bankrupt paupers the riches of His grace. Though we come to Him empty-handed, He does not suffer us to remain so. But there is something there yet more definite: Mephibosheth had restored to him the forfeited inheritance. The heritage which had originally belonged to Saul had been lost to his family. In like manner, through our first father’s apostasy, we lost our primitive heritage, even the life, image, and blessing of God. Nor could we possibly do anything to regain it. But as David "for Jonathan’s sake" restored unto Mephibosheth the estate of his father, so God for Christ’s sake gives back to His people all that they lost in Adam.
Fourth, there was a wondrous portion granted him. Said David to Mephibosheth, "Thou shalt eat bread at my table continually" (v. 7). What a tremendous contrast was that from being an outcast at Lodebar—"the place of no pasture": now to feast at the king’s own table, and that, not merely for once, but "continually"! Truly it was the "kindness of God" which David showed unto him. How forcibly this reminds us of what we find at the close of the parable of the prodigal son, when he who, having been "in want" in the far country, after his return in penitence, is feasted by his Father with the "fatted calf." Nothing short of giving us His best will satisfy the great heart of "the God of all grace": and what is His "best" but fellowship with Himself, of which eating at His table is the symbol.
Fifth, there was an honored position for him: "As for Mephibosheth said the king, he shall eat at my table, as one of the king’s sons" (v. 11). He eats not as an alien or stranger, but as a member of the royal family. Not only was he sumptuously fed, but highly honored: a place in the king’s own palace was now his, and that, not as a servant, but as a son. How this makes us think of "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (1 John 3:1)! O what a marvellous place does divine grace give unto those that are the objects of it: all believers stand accepted as the children of God, the subjects of His everlasting favor. That is something which Saul never enjoyed, but for Jonathan’s sake Mephibosheth now gained more than he had previously lost. So through Christ the believer obtains far, far more than he lost in Adam. Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound. "That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 5:21). Under the king’s table the crippled feet of Mephibosheth were lost to sight: in Christ all our deformities are hid!
There is a sequel, both pathetic and blessed, recorded in the later chapters of 2 Samuel which we will here briefly notice, for it provides a lovely completeness to all which has been before us. First, in 2 Samuel 16:1-4 we learn that when David fled from Absalom, Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, met the king with a liberal provision of food for his men. When David inquired where Mephibosheth was, Ziba answered him, "Behold, he abideth at Jerusalem: for he said, Today shall the house of Israel restore me the kingdom of my father." This is one of many warnings given to the saints in Scripture that they must be prepared for calumny and unkind treatment: often—as was the case here—by those from whom it should be the least expected.
Second, after Absalom’s death, there went forth a company to do honor to the returned king. Among them was Mephibosheth, of whom it is said, that he "had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came again in peace" (2 Sam. 19:24). What a lovely picture does that present to us of a loyal soul, whose heart had remained true to the (temporarily) rejected king! How clearly Mephibosheth’s condition evidenced where his affections had been during David’s absence! David now repeated the tale which Ziba had told him, and is informed it was utterly false. Mephibosheth then cast himself on the spiritual discernment and sovereign pleasure of his royal master (vv. 27, 28). The king then put his heart to the test, suggesting that the land be divided between Mephibosheth and his servant—the same in principle as Solomon’s proposal that the living child be divided between the two women who claimed it as hers.
Had Mephibosheth been the false-hearted wretch which Ziba has painted him, he had acquiesced promptly to David’s suggestion, glad to escape so easily: "a wise settlement" he would have exclaimed. Instead, he nobly replied, "Yea, let him take all, forasmuch as my lord the king is come again in peace unto his own house" (2 Sam. 19:30). How that gave the lie to Ziba’s accusation: how it demonstrated he was clear of any carnal covetousness. It was not land which he wanted: now that his beloved master had returned, he was quite satisfied. O how this should speak to and search us: are our affections set upon the Person of the absent King? Is it His presence that we long for above everything else?