Mephibosheth—an Appreciative Man
MEPHIBOSHETH or Merib-baal was the son of Jonathan and the grandson of King Saul. However, his being a member of Israel’s first royal family gave him no promise of a glorious future. He was born after his grandfather Saul had forfeited the kingship. Then, when Mephibosheth was five years of age, his father and grandfather were killed in battle. On hearing the news about this, Mephibosheth’s nurse became panicky and fled, taking the boy with her. During the course of the flight, Mephibosheth fell and became crippled for life, lame in both feet. About seven years later, his uncle Ish-bosheth was murdered in cold blood. (2 Sam. 4:4-8) Truly, Mephibosheth was a victim of tragedy. But this did not make him bitter. He grew up to be an appreciative man.
Mephibosheth got married early in life and fathered a boy named Mica. With his family, Mephibosheth made his home with Machir, a prominent, wealthy man residing at Lo-debar, a city in Gilead.—2 Sam. 9:4, 12; compare 2 Samuel 17:27-29.
In time, this son of Jonathan was given favorable attention by King David. After David had been firmly established in the kingship over all Israel for a number of years, he gave thoughtful consideration to the oath-bound promise that he had made to his friend Jonathan. (1 Sam. 20:42) For the sake of Jonathan, David desired to extend kindness toward anyone who might remain of Saul’s house. From Saul’s servant Ziba, David learned about Mephibosheth and did not delay in summoning the son of Jonathan. In humility, Mephibosheth prostrated himself before David. “Then David said: ‘Mephibosheth!’ to which he said: ‘Here is your servant.’” Likely the voice of Mephibosheth reflected fear, for David immediately assured him: “Do not be afraid, for without fail I shall exercise loving-kindness toward you for the sake of Jonathan your father; and I must return to you all the field of Saul your grandfather, and you yourself will eat bread at my table constantly.”—2 Sam. 9:1-7.
Why was Mephibosheth fearful? It must be remembered that his uncle Ish-bosheth ruled as a rival king of David, and so Mephibosheth might be viewed as having a claim to rulership. Since it was common for Oriental rulers to make their position secure by killing all possible rivals, Mephibosheth may have feared for his life.
It must have come as a real surprise to Mephibosheth to be given favorable consideration by the king. First of all, there was the matter of the land that had belonged to Saul. It may be that David, on attaining the kingship over all Israel, gained control over this land. Or, after the death of Saul, others may have taken possession of it. In either event, David determined that the estate should be returned to the rightful heir, Mephibosheth. But this was not all. Mephibosheth was to enjoy a position of honor in the court of David. It was to be his privilege to eat regularly at the royal table. This was a favor usually bestowed, not on helpless cripples, but on men who distinguished themselves by deeds of valor.
Deeply appreciative, Mephibosheth prostrated himself before David, saying: “What is your servant, that you have turned your face to the dead dog such as I am?” (2 Sam. 9:8) He was overwhelmed by David’s kindness. In his own estimation, Mephibosheth was totally undeserving of this. And in speaking of himself as a “dead dog,” he was acknowledging that he occupied the lowest possible position.
David then arranged for Ziba to cultivate the field that was being returned to Mephibosheth. The produce was to serve as the means for supporting Mephibosheth’s family and servants. The tract of land must have been sizable, as it required the labor of Ziba, his 15 sons and his 20 servants.—2 Sam. 9:9, 10; 19:17.
Ziba followed through on David’s orders but apparently was looking for an opportunity to gain full possession of Mephibosheth’s property. This opportunity came during the revolt of David’s son Absalom. While David was fleeing from Jerusalem, Ziba met him with needed supplies. In answer to David’s question about Mephibosheth, Ziba slanderously replied: “There he is dwelling in Jerusalem; for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will give back to me the royal rule of my father.’” (2 Sam. 16:3) Sadly, David accepted the slander without question. Pursued as he was by his own son Absalom, David evidently was sufficiently confused to believe that Mephibosheth had become disloyal. So David promised to give Ziba Mephibosheth’s land.
During the entire period that David was forced to live away from the capital city, Mephibosheth, in expression of grief over David’s distressing plight, neglected his personal appearance. After Absalom’s revolt was crushed, Mephibosheth, in this obvious state of mourning, met David at Jerusalem. He was greeted with the words: “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?” (2 Sam. 19:25) In view of what Ziba had said, it was natural for David to ask this question. Mephibosheth replied:
“My lord the king, it was my servant that tricked me. For your servant had said, ‘Let me saddle the female ass for me that I may ride upon it and go with the king,’ for your servant is lame. So he slandered your servant to my lord the king. But my lord the king is as an angel of the true God, and so do what is good in your eyes. For all the household of my father would have become nothing but doomed to death to my lord the king, and yet you placed your servant among those eating at your table. So what do I still have as a just claim even for crying out further to the king?”—2 Sam. 19:26-28.
On hearing this, David must have realized his wrong in accepting Ziba’s words, and this evidently irritated him. He did not want to hear anything more about the matter, for he said to Mephibosheth: “Why do you yet keep speaking your words? I do say, You and Ziba should share in the field.”—2 Sam. 19:29.
Mephibosheth did not take offense at David’s handling matters in this way. He was not concerned about material loss. To him the important thing was that David had returned unharmed to Jerusalem. Hence, Mephibosheth said: “Let [Ziba] even take the whole, now that my lord the king has come in peace to his house.”—2 Sam. 19:30.
While Mephibosheth could have been bitter about his lot in life, he appreciated life itself. In view of the circumstances of the time, he could have been killed by David. This made him deeply grateful to be privileged to eat at the royal table, and he humbly and loyally submitted to the decisions of King David. Mephibosheth thus is a sterling example of a man who valued what he had and did not bemoan what he did not have. May we, too, be appreciative like Mephibosheth.