The battle was fierce and bloody. Israel was at war again with their arch enemies, the Philistines. It was among the toughest battles for the young nation, and things had gone very wrong. Three of Israel’s princes were dead, including the beloved Jonathan. The king himself lay in a muddy field, gasping for breath. King Saul had fallen on his own sword.
David and his small but fierce band of warriors continued to fight. They quickly overran their enemies and could see victory was close at hand. Word began to spread throughout the kingdom that David would save the nation yet again. Having been anointed as king of Israel when he was a little boy, David would finally assume the throne.
Many miles away, far from the gory battle scenes lived a little boy, about five years old, with an almost unpronounceable name. Mephibosheth. The life of Mephibosheth was easy and carefree. He lived in sumptuous surroundings inside the palace, while servants doted on him and satisfied his every whim. This is how it should be. After all, his grandfather was the king, King Saul, that is. His father, Jonathan, was a good man. Little did Mephibosheth know that both his father and grandfather were now dead and his life was about to change forever.
In eastern dynasties, it was the custom that when a new king took over, the previous king’s family was completely annihilated so as to prevent any possible revolt. When word reached the palace that Saul was dead, a scene of utter terror set in.
A Princely Fugitive
In a blink life would change for everyone. There was no time to prepare an escape. Panic spread throughout the palace. In the pandemonium, Mephibosheth’s nanny grabbed him and tried to run past the others who were pushing and shoving for the nearest exit. She stumbled but tried desperately to hold on to the young boy. They both fell hard and the boy screamed in agonizing pain as his back was crushed. The nanny quickly got back to her feet and ran for the exit. She tried to comfort the screaming child, but knew she would have to wait until they were safe to see if he was seriously hurt.
Mephibosheth saw his life change in an instant from paradisiacal bliss to fugitive status. To make matters worse, the young child’s injury was devastating. In the fall, both his legs were shattered and Mephibosheth could no longer walk. You can almost imagine him wondering, why?
After wandering for days, living in fear and on the verge of starvation, the nanny and Mephoibosheth eventually settled in a forsaken land known as Lo Debar. The word means “no pasture.” It was a desolate and lonely place that few ventured to visit, but it was home now.
With his powerful grandfather dead, his father killed in battle, alone and now facing a life of disability, it seemed Mephibosheth was doomed to die. Yet the kindness of a stranger gave him a glimmer of hope. A man named Makir took him in. Maybe he would make it after all.
A Royal Invitation
Some twenty years later, in the calm of palace life, David remembered his good friend Jonathan. David once promised Jonathan that he would do everything in his power to protect his family. So David wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything he could do for any surviving relatives. And that’s when he discovered Mephibosheth. Ironically, it was one of Saul’s old servants, Ziba, who betrayed him. For Mephibosheth, it was the day he dreaded all his life.
Can you imagine the fear the guy felt? I’m sure after all these years he must have assumed he was secure in his hiding place. Life was never easy, but at least he was alive; and now this. Ziba came with the news that King David wanted him at the palace right away. Mephibosheth probably felt a mix of relief and loathing. Though he couldn’t bear living in hiding anymore, he now also had a young son, Mica, to worry about. What would happen to Mica if David executed Mephibosheth? Was he destined to suffer like his father, living life with no parents? The thought was too much to bear for Mephibosheth.
A King’s Kindness
When Mephibosheth arrived at the palace and was presented before King David, he fell on his face and prostrated himself. Expecting the worst, he must have thrown aside any crutches he used to get around and begged for his life: “What is your servant, that you should regard a dead dog like me?” he cried.
David must have smiled as he motioned for servants to help Mephibosheth to his feet.
”Don’t be afraid!” David said. “I intend to show kindness to you because of my promise to your father, Jonathan. I will give you all the property that once belonged to your grandfather Saul and you will eat here with me at the king’s table!”...And from that time on, Mephibosheth ate regularly at David’s table, like one of the king’s own sons (2 Samuel 9:7-11 NLT).
Isn’t this amazing? This is why David was such a great man and why God loved him so much. Though David was far from being perfect, perhaps more than anyone else, he typified God’s boundless mercy and kindness.
The story of Mephibosheth is one of my favorite in the Bible. It illustrates so magnificently the mercy not only of David, but of God. After all, are we not broken before God? Do we not live out our existence in desolate places far away from God’s kingdom? And yet, the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. God always seeks us out. No matter how disfigured our souls become, God still invites us to his table. Just like David adopted the seemingly unworthy Mephibosheth and treated him like a son, God does no less for us. Though we deserve nothing, God gives us everything even his kingdom.
John Kapsalis is a graduate of Holy Cross Seminary.