Mephibosheth and the Covenant of Grace


Crutches

Introduction

The story of Mephibosheth is another Biblical example of God’s Grace bestowed on the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Mephibosheth, a Benjaminite, and grandson of Israel’s first king, king Saul, is used by God as an allegorical representation of all believers, who by nature should die (eternally) for their sins (as typified by his being “lame”), but, by the Grace of God alone, through the Covenant of Grace wrought through the Person and Work of the LORD Jesus Christ, but who can have eternal peace and security in Heaven with Jesus Christ. The story is also an interesting one, because it requires a bit of searching to unfold, and see, the whole picture.

In 1 Samuel 20:11-17 we read, “And Jonathan said unto David, Come, and let us go out into the field. And they went out both of them into the field. 12 And Jonathan said unto David, O Lord God of Israel, when I have sounded my father about to morrow any time, or the third day, and, behold, if there be good toward David, and I then send not unto thee, and shew it thee; 13 The Lord do so and much more to Jonathan: but if it please my father to do thee evil, then I will shew it thee, and send thee away, that thou mayest go in peace: and the Lord be with thee, as he hath been with my father. 14 And thou shalt not only while yet I live shew me the kindness of the Lord, that I die not: 15 But also thou shalt not cut off thy kindness from my house for ever: no, not when the Lord hath cut off the enemies of David every one from the face of the earth. 16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, Let the Lord even require it at the hand of David’s enemies. 17 And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.”

(NOTE to the reader, it should also be noted that King Saul later begged David to make a similar promise to King Saul that was also kept by David as we read in 1 Samuel 24: 20-22, : And now, behold, I know well that thou shalt surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thine hand. Swear now therefore unto me by the Lord, that thou wilt not cut off my seed after me, and that thou wilt not destroy my name out of my father’s houseAnd David sware unto Saul. And Saul went home; but David and his men gat them up unto the hold.“)

Mephibosheth is a son of Jonathan, the son of King Saul, to whom that “forever” covenant applies, but he is lame

In 2 Samuel 4:4 we read, “And Jonathan, Saul’s son, had a son that was lame of his feet. He was five years old when the tidings came of Saul and Jonathan out of Jezreel, and his nurse took him up, and fled: and it came to pass, as she made haste to flee, that he fell, and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth.” Mephibosheth in Hebrew means “Dispeller of Shame.” (It is not entirely clear what that means, but we do know that Saul was not a man who God loved, and because Miphibosheth was the only one of Saul’s line who found grace, he would have thereby have been viewed as having dispelled that shame.)

Mephibosheth (Dispeller of Shame): Lame in His Feet

2 Samuel 4:4 tells us the following: “And Jonathan, Saul’s son, had a son that was lame of his feet. He was five years old when the tidings came of Saul and Jonathan out of Jezreel, and his nurse took him up, and fled: and it came to pass, as she made haste to flee, that he fell, and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth.”

We also know now that he was lame in his feet (both feet, as the Bible later explains in 2 Samuel, chapter 9). To be lame is NOT a good thing…it is used in the Bible as being a “blemish” and as an allegory for being in a state of sin sickness that requires healing. We know this because it is specifically mentioned in God’s Law as a reason for which a person cannot approach God’s holy temple or an animal cannot be used as a sacrifice for sin. Here are the key examples (please read the chapters to see the full context).

Leviticus 21:18, “For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous,”

Deuteronomy 15:21, “And if there be any blemish therein, as if it be lame, or blind, or have any ill blemish, thou shalt not sacrifice it unto the Lord thy God.”

To be lame is treated in the Bible much like all such ailments /infirmities /blemishes /sicknesses that spiritually signify our natural state of sin, e.g., deafness, dumbness, blindness, broken bones, leprosy, demon possession, and even physical death from which there is a need of a cure. And the Bible makes clear that Salvation through Jesus Christ is the only eternal cure for our sins. The reality is that we are all by nature, “spiritually lame.”

With specific regard to being lame, it is interesting to note in 2 Samuel 5:6 & 8, “And the king and his men went to Jerusalem unto the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land: which spake unto David, saying, Except thou take away the blind and the lame, thou shalt not come in hither: thinking, David cannot come in hither.” And David said on that day, Whosoever getteth up to the gutter, and smiteth the Jebusites, and the lame and the blind, [that are] hated of David’s soul, [he shall be chief and captain]. Wherefore they said, The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.” These points are important for two reasons, 1) David later does let Mephibosheth into his house (as well as to eat bread at David’s table), and 2) David, as a type of Christ, shows how sinners can nonetheless enter the kingdom of God through Grace, based on a Covenant of Grace as established by God through Jesus Christ.

“Lame” in the New Testament

We can see other accounts in the New Testament where someone is lame and is subsequently miraculously cured by Jesus and his disciples. See for example, Matthew 15:30,31, “And great multitudes came unto him (Jesus), having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus’ feet; and he healed them: Insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel. Also, Matthew 21:14 “And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. This is reiterated in Jesus testimony to be passed to John the Baptist, “Luke 7:22, “Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached.” and later in Acts Chapter 3 we read where Peter healed the lame man seeking alms to whom Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. 7 And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.8 And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God:” Again in Acts 8:7 we read the account of the disciples healing infirmities that include lameness, “For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.”

David comes to power and fulfills the covenant to Jonathan by showing mercy to Mephibosheth

When David was anointed king of Israel, in theory, any living male heir of King Saul could have tried to challenge David’s throne and would in general be quite fearful of being killed by the king for that sole reason (we later read that the male heirs considered themselves “dead men”). In fact, all but one of king Saul’s male heirs were slain, one way or another (only Mephibosheth was spared as we will see). We read in 1 Samuel 31:2, “And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Melchishua, Saul’s sons.” But several grandsons of Saul did live on for a time, that included Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul.

 In 2 Samuel chapter 9 (verses 1-13) we read the account where David remembers his covenant with Jonathan (that covenant is in 1 Samual 20:12-17), “And David said, Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may shew him kindness for Jonathan’s sake? And there was of the house of Saul a servant whose name was Ziba. And when they had called him unto David, the king said unto him, Art thou Ziba? And he said, Thy servant is he. And the king said, Is there not yet any of the house of Saul, that I may shew the kindness of God unto him? And Ziba said unto the king, Jonathan hath yet a son, which is lame on his feet. And the king said unto him, Where is he? And Ziba said unto the king, Behold, he is in the house of Machir, the son of Ammiel, in Lodebar. Then king David sent, and fetched him out of the house of Machir, the son of Ammiel, from Lodebar. Now when Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, was come unto David, he fell on his face, and did reverence. And David said, Mephibosheth. And he answered, Behold thy servant! And David said unto him, Fear not: for I will surely shew 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. And he bowed himself, and said, What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?  Then the king called to 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.  Thou therefore, and thy sons, and thy servants, shall till the land for him, and thou shalt bring in the fruits, that thy master’s son may have food to eat: but Mephibosheth thy master’s son shall eat bread alway at my table. Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.  Then said Ziba unto the king, According to all that my lord the king hath commanded his servant, so shall thy servant do. As for Mephibosheth, said the king, he shall eat at my table, as one of the king’s sons.  And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Micha. And all that dwelt in the house of Ziba were servants unto Mephibosheth.  So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem: for he did eat continually at the king’s table; and was lame on both his feet.

However, the account of Mephibosheth does not stop there…for in 2 Samuel 16:1-4 we later read where Mephibostheth is falsely accused of treason and his possessions are taken from him and given to the accuser,And when David was a little past the top of the hill, behold, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him, with a couple of asses saddled, and upon them two hundred loaves of bread, and an hundred bunches of raisins, and an hundred of summer fruits, and a bottle of wine. And the king said unto Ziba, What meanest thou by these? And Ziba said, The asses be for the king’s household to ride on; and the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat; and the wine, that such as be faint in the wilderness may drink. And the king said, And where is thy master’s son? And Ziba said unto the king, Behold, he abideth at Jerusalem: for he said, To day shall the house of Israel restore me the kingdom of my father. Then said the king to Ziba, Behold, thine are all that pertained unto Mephibosheth. And Ziba said, I humbly beseech thee that I may find grace in thy sight, my lord, O king.” Ziba, originally the servant of Saul (and hence also Jonathan), falsely accused Mephibosheth to King David, for Mephibosheth never said this, and Ziba must have evidently coveted Mephibosheth’s inheritance from king Saul.

Later, in 2 Samuel 19:24-30, we read the following where Mephibosheth has the opportunity to explain himself to king David: “And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king, and 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. And it came to pass, when he was come to Jerusalem to meet the king, that the king said unto him, Wherefore wentest not thou with me, Mephibosheth? And he answered, My lord, O king, my servant deceived me: for thy servant said, I will saddle me an ass, that I may ride thereon, and go to the king; because thy servant is lame. And he hath slandered thy servant unto my lord the king; but my lord the king is as an angel of God: do therefore what is good in thine eyes.  For all of my father’s house were but dead men before my lord the king: yet didst thou set thy servant among them that did eat at thine own table. What right therefore have I yet to cry any more unto the king?  And the king said unto him, Why speakest thou any more of thy matters? I have said, Thou and Ziba divide the land.  And Mephibosheth said unto the king, Yea, let him take all, forasmuch as my lord the king is come again in peace unto his own house.” Here we (and king David) can plainly see that Mephibosheth is a faithful servant who loves David, had a servant (Ziba), who lied about him, and that Mephibosheth places his relationship with David above all worldly material possessions. But with Ziba it is not so. (We are not told the end faced by Ziba, but we can be sure that his sins found him out, and that was judged accordingly, if not in this life, then eternally.)

King David continued to show grace to Mephibosheth as we later read in 2 Samuel 21. In 2 Samual 21:1, we read this, “Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David enquired of the Lord. And the Lord answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites. And the king called the Gibeonites, and said unto them; (now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; and the children of Israel had sworn unto them: and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah.) Wherefore David said unto the Gibeonites, What shall I do for you? and wherewith shall I make the atonement, that ye may bless the inheritance of the LordAnd they answered the king, The man that consumed us, and that devised against us that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the coasts of Israel, Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the Lord in Gibeah of Saul, whom the Lord did choose. And the king said, I will give them.” Then we are given the account in verses 8 and 9, where two of Saul’s sons and five grandsons were turned over by king David to Gibeonites to appease them (because, as we can find in 1 Samuel 22:18,19… 85 priests of God were slain by Doeg, the Edomite, a servant acting under the orders of king Saul…”And Nob, the city of the priests, smote he with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen, and asses, and sheep, with the edge of the sword.”)

The Gibeonites killed (actually “hanged”**) those seven men (including an uncle of Mephibosheth who was also named Mephibosheth). However, most notably we read in verse 7, “But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of the Lord’s oath that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul.” 

The Message

Just like David, God remembers his Covenants…God’s Covenant of Grace and Mercy is sealed by the precisous blood of His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and will endure forever. In 2 Timothy 1:8-9, we read, “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” God remembers His covenant and will seek and save those who are His sheep…the sheep of His calling.  In 1 Peter 2:25 we read, “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” And this brings us to Hebrews 13:20, “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant.

May we all be blessed as Mephibosheth and learn from his example to be humble servants willing to forsake all to serve our Lord, King, and Savior, Jesus Christ.  May we all, like Mephibosheth, eat “Bread” continually (forever) at the King’s Table in the King’s House.  (and please note how much this is reminiscent of the forgiveness shown by Joseph (another “Type” for Jesus Christ) to his brothers who threw him into a pit and left him for dead where, instead of punishing them, he gave them bread to eat in his house during the great seven year famine in Genesis chapters 43-45).

*2 Samual 20: 12-17, And Jonathan said unto David, O Lord God of Israel, when I have sounded my father about to morrow any time, or the third day, and, behold, if there be good toward David, and I then send not unto thee, and shew it thee; The Lord do so and much more to Jonathan: but if it please my father to do thee evil, then I will shew it thee, and send thee away, that thou mayest go in peace: and the Lord be with thee, as he hath been with my father.  And thou shalt not only while yet I live shew me the kindness of the Lord, that I die not: But also thou shalt not cut off thy kindness from my house for ever: no, not when the Lord hath cut off the enemies of David every one from the face of the earth. So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, Let the Lord even require it at the hand of David’s enemies. And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.

** The Bible teaches that anyone who is hanged is cursed by God. Galatians 3:13, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:” The Old Testament specified that in Deuteronomy 21:23, “His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God; ) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.”  What this would seem to teach us is that all of Saul’s grandsons were cursed by God (except for Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, and not his cousin Mepibosheth born of the woman Rizpah).  Hence, to at least some degree, “Mephibosheth”, the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, “dispelled the shame” of his grandfather, Saul.

Other relevant verses to ponder:

Psalms 51:5  “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

Psalm 58:3   “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.

Jonah 2:9    “But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.”

John 10:27  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:

John 6:44   “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

Matthew 15:27. “And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.

Mark 7:28  “And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.

And remember when, after Joseph revealed himself to his brothers in Egypt, we read in Genesis 47:12 “And Joseph nourished his father, and his brethren, and all his father’s household, with bread, according to their families.

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