Who? You know, what’s his name

I dare you to try and say it three times fast! Mephibosheth. (Well, I’ll give you an “A” for effort.) Here is how to pronounce it phonetically. Muh-fib-uh-sheth. Now, say it three times slowly.

This man was the son of Jonathan and the grandson of King Saul. Jonathan and David had a very special friendship.

“… the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt. (1 Sam. 18:1-4 [NASB])

In the Old testament when a new king took over after the old king died, they might normally kill off all of the surviving relatives, in order to secure their leadership. (Sad, but true.) Saul and Jonathan died on the same day in battle. Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, was five years old when this took place. When his nurse heard the news, she picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became disabled in both of his feet. (2 Sam. 4:4)

Later, in 2 Samuel 9, there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?” Ziba said “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet.” So King David sent for him. When Mephibosheth (who is now 21 years old and has a son of his own) came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. David said, “Mephibosheth!” “At your service,” he replied. “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.” Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s steward, and said to him, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.” (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.) Then Ziba said to the king, “Your servant will do whatever my lord the king commands his servant to do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons. And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table.

Can you imagine living in hiding for 16 years? Then hear that the king is searching for you? Wiersbe’s commentary says this: “What were the lame prince’s thoughts when the summons came to appear before the king? If he believed what his grandfather had said about David, he would have feared for his life, but if he had listened to what his father told him about David, he would have rejoiced.”

Later in 2 Samuel 16, David is fleeing from his son Absalom, who wants to be king instead and is staging a coup. David and his family and servants flee the city for their very lives. When David had gone a short distance beyond the summit, there was Ziba, the steward of Mephibosheth, waiting to meet him. He had a string of donkeys saddled and loaded with two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred cakes of raisins, a hundred cakes of figs and a skin of wine. Ziba tells David he did this to “refresh those who become exhausted in the wilderness.” Then David asked where is Mephibosheth? Ziba replies“He is staying in Jerusalem, because he thinks, ‘Today the Israelites will restore to me my grandfather’s kingdom to me.’” Then the king said to Ziba, “All that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.” “I humbly bow,” Ziba said. “May I find favor in your eyes, my lord the king.”

At this point in reading this, I was disheartened. Really Mephibosheth? David took you in to his own home, treats you like his own son, lets you eat from the same table as the king, and you think this is your chance to take the throne?

I didn’t want to read on ahead as I’m doing the One Year through the Bible Plan before I go to bed at night. So I had a few days to ponder this before I got to 2 Samuel 19 when Mephibosheth, also went down to meet the king when he returned to Jerusalem. He had not taken care of his feet or trimmed his mustache or washed his clothes from the day the king left until the day he returned safely. David asked him, “Why didn’t you go with me, Mephibosheth?” He said, “My lord the king, since I your servant am lame, I said, ‘I will have my donkey saddled and will ride on it, so I can go with the king.’ But Ziba my servant betrayed me. And he has slandered your servant to my lord the king. My lord the king is like an angel of God; so do whatever you wish. All my grandfather’s descendants deserved nothing but death from my lord the king, but you gave your servant a place among those who eat at your table. So what right do I have to make any more appeals to the king?” The king said to him, “Why say more? I order you and Ziba to divide the land.” Mephibosheth said to the king, “Let him take everything, now that my lord the king has returned home safely.”

Here Wiersbe’s commentary says, “when David was escaping from Jerusalem, Ziba showed up without his master and brought help to David and his people. At that time, David made an impulsive decision and gave all the land to Ziba (16:1–4). Ziba also showed up to help David cross the river and return home (19:17) As David listened to Mephibosheth’s explanation, he realized that he had jumped to conclusions when he gave all the land to Ziba, but David didn’t have time to conduct a hearing to settle the matter. Mephibosheth made it clear that he wasn’t asking his king for anything. The king had given him life, so what more was there to desire? To paraphrase his speech, “I have more than I deserve, so why should I seek the throne? I was destined to die and you not only saved me but took me into your own family circle.” David’s response isn’t easy to understand. On the surface, he seemed to be saying, “There’s no need to go into the matter again. You and Ziba divide the land.” But was David the kind of man who went back on his word? How would that kind of decision be received by the thousand Benjamites who came to the Jordan to welcome David? After all, doing something kind to Mephibosheth would have strengthened David’s ties with both the tribe of Benjamin (Saul’s tribe) and also the ten tribes that had originally followed the house of Saul. Taking away half of Mephibosheth’s inheritance hardly fit into the joyful and forgiving atmosphere of the day, and yet by dividing the estate, David was also forgiving Ziba of his lies and treachery to his master. By dividing the land between Ziba and Mephibosheth, David was taking the easy way out. But Mephibosheth’s reply must have stunned David: “Rather, let him take it all, inasmuch as my lord the king has come back in peace to his own house” (v. 30 nkjv). But thanks to David’s impetuous judgment, Ziba already had it all! This situation reminds us of the “case of the dead baby” that Solomon had to solve (1 Kings 3:16–28). When he offered to divide the living baby, the child’s true mother protested, and that’s how Solomon discovered her identity. Unlike a living baby, land isn’t harmed when it’s divided, but perhaps David was testing Mephibosheth to see where his heart was. The text doesn’t tell us, but perhaps Mephibosheth did receive all the land as in the original contract. Either way, the lame prince was cared for as Ziba worked the land.

Yay! Mephibosheth was not treacherous!

Fast forward to 2 Samuel 21. During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the Lord. The Lord said, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.” The king summoned the Gibeonites and spoke to them. (Now the Gibeonites were not a part of Israel but were survivors of the Amorites; the Israelites had sworn to spare them, but Saul in his zeal for Israel and Judah had tried to annihilate them.) David asked the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? How shall I make atonement so that you will bless the Lord’s inheritance?” The Gibeonites answered him, “We have no right to demand silver or gold from Saul or his family, nor do we have the right to put anyone in Israel to death.” “What do you want me to do for you?” David asked. They answered the king, “As for the man who destroyed us and plotted against us so that we have been decimated and have no place anywhere in Israel, let seven of his male descendants be given to us to be killed and their bodies exposed before the Lord at Gibeah of Saul—the Lord’s chosen one.” So the king said, “I will give them to you.” The king spared Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, because of the oath before the Lord between David and Jonathan son of Saul.

Here Wiersbe says, “David knew that the Jews were forbidden to offer human sacrifices (Lev. 18:21; 20:1–5; Deut. 12:29–32; 18:10), nor did he see the deaths of the seven men as sacrifices with atoning value. We today who have the New Testament and understand the gospel of Jesus Christ view this entire episode with mingled disgust and dismay, but we must keep in mind that we’re dealing with law, not grace, and Israel, not the church. The law of Moses required that an unsolved murder be atoned for by sacrifice (Deut. 21:1–9), so how much more a known slaughter perpetrated by a king! However, we must keep in mind that the death of the seven men was not atonement but legal retribution. Though David didn’t commit the crime, he had to choose the seven men who would die, and that wasn’t an easy thing to do. Because of his vow to Jonathan to protect his descendants (1 Sam. 20:12–17),4 the king avoided naming Mephibosheth and chose two sons of Saul’s concubine Rizpah as well as five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab, who was married to Adriel (v. 8 niv). We aren’t told how the seven men were executed, although “fell together” (v. 9) suggests they were pushed off a cliff.”

He further states, this happened during barley harvest in the middle of April, and the seven corpses were exposed for about six months, until the rains arrived and the drought ended in October. To hang up a corpse was to disgrace the person and put him under a curse (Deut. 21:22–23). The law required exposed bodies to be taken down by sundown and buried. To be sure that Saul’s crime was sufficiently dealt with, David allowed the bodies to remain exposed until the rains came, signifying that the Lord was blessing His people again. During that time Rizpah protected the bodies of her sons and nephews, an act of love and courage. But David went a step further. He had the bones gathered up, along with the bones of Saul and his sons that the men of Jabesh-Gilead had interred (1 Sam. 31), and brought the whole family together in their family tomb (vv. 12–14). To have proper burial with one’s ancestors was the desire of every Israelite, and David granted this blessing to Saul and his family. Whatever questions remain concerning this unusual event, this much is true: one man’s sins can bring sorrow and death to his family, even after he is dead and buried. We must also give credit to David for dealing drastically with sin for the sake of the nation, and yet for showing kindness to the house of Saul.

So next time you read about what’s his name, you’ll now know the whole story.

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9 thoughts on “Who? You know, what’s his name

  1. Such an interesting story. I too believe that Ziba was self-serving and took advantage of the situation. God did give David wisdom to solve the problem and he did so in a way that rewarded Ziba for his work for his master. God is so good isn’t He? My heart broke for the woman who stayed by the bodies. What a woman. Again, God worked through David. Praise His Holy Name!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I thought I was familiar with the whole story of Mep (not even going to try and spell his name). The betrayal of Ziba is disheartening. Why did King David believe him without evidence? Then, when he discovered Ziba’s treachery, he still gives the lying fox half of Mep’s property!? This is soap opera worthy material. Apparently, the secret is not have nothing anyone can covet.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great lesson! You write: “one man’s sins can bring sorrow and death to his family, even after he is dead and buried.” Indeed they can and one man… John 11:49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” One man saved us all.

    Liked by 1 person

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