In the 23rd psalm, David writes, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Imagine the tension at such a dinner, each person suspicious of the others, poised to attack without provocation—it doesn’t sound peaceful or safe. But what if after rivals are seated together, enmity dissolves and only humanity remains? With one invitation, David intends to find out.
To get the most out of this study, read 2 Samuel 4:4 and 2 Samuel 9. But first, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth available in these passages. Give yourself permission to ask questions that may not have answers. Wonder aloud, imagine the scene, and take note of anything that surprises, confuses, or even offends you. Above all else, trust the Lord. He’s the best teacher.
Key Passage: 2 Samuel 9:1-13
Jonathan, David’s close friend and the son of King Saul—David’s enemy—was next in line to Israel’s throne. Also in the royal lineage was Jonathan’s 5-year-old son Mephibosheth. When word reached the king’s household that both Jonathan and Saul had died during battle, Mephibosheth’s nurse feared for the boy’s life, as a new regime might consider any heir to be a threat. She picked up the child and fled, but in the rush to escape, he fell and sustained permanent injury to his legs.
Years after David became king over all of Israel, we see him again prioritizing relationship over risk by seeking to fulfill a vow he once made with Jonathan—to treat his dear friend’s family with lovingkindness (1 Samuel 20:14-15). Inquiring whether any of Jonathan’s descendants are still alive, David learns that Mephibosheth, by this time a father himself, is still disabled and living in an out-of-the-way place known as Lo-debar.
We can’t determine how many years have passed since Jonathan’s death, but it’s obvious that the covenant David made with him still echoes in the king’s heart and mind.
Look at 2 Samuel 9:1 and consider that it is unlikely anyone besides David knew about his covenant with Jonathan, much less that anything could be done to enforce the king’s compliance with his years-old promise. Yet it is David himself who initiates the search. What does that reveal about his character? Think about the nature of mercy—it is more reactive or proactive in this situation?
Continuing the Story
As Jonathan’s only remaining son, Mephibosheth is David’s opportunity to continue showing kindness to his friend’s family. After consulting Ziba, a servant from Saul’s household, David locates Mephibosheth and has him brought to the royal residence. But there’s undoubtedly more tension simmering between these two than is readily apparent.
We see David again prioritizing relationship over risk by seeking to fulfill a vow he once made with Jonathan.
Remember that Mephibosheth was disabled at age 5 as a direct result of fleeing the very palace David now inhabits. (See 2 Sam. 4:4) How do you think it felt to enter his old home, a place he likely associates with both the physical pain he still endures and the disintegration of his family? Consider also that on account of his disability, Mephibosheth is probably unable to resist or flee this royal summons. Put yourself in his shoes—how would you feel?
Read 2 Samuel 21:1-9. Some scholars agree that, though placed later in the book of Samuel, the events of chapter 21 occurred before those recorded in chapter 9. It was likely after his life was spared from the Gibeonites’ revenge that Mephibosheth went to live in Lo-debar, a place whose name means “no pasture.” By then he no doubt has already been thoroughly traumatized, having lost his family, physical autonomy, royal status, and inheritance.
David doesn’t even know if there are any living members of Jonathan’s family (2 Samuel 9:3), let alone whether Mephibosheth might harbor resentment for his losses or perhaps still feels the throne should be his. Yet David does not let fear prevent him from fulfilling his pledge. What does this show us about his values? about his trust in the Lord? In what way does this situation demonstrate how mercy requires vulnerability—even for those in positions of power?
The Hebrew word ben, translated “son” or “grandson,” occurs 12 times in this short passage. What does that say about how mercy connects the generations through redemption?
Reread 2 Samuel 9:11, paying particular attention to the last phrase, “as one of the king’s sons.” Keep in mind that Mephibosheth was a royal son of Jonathan, Saul’s heir apparent, and therefore would have been entitled to a place at the king’s table. Yet with the death of his father and grandfather, he’s been stripped of all privilege associated with that position. Now David not only restores his status as a royal son but also gives back Saul’s land and fortune. How does David’s display of chesed—that is, mercy and lovingkindness—right this wrong? How might you apply chesed in your life?
REMEMBER Mercy restores.
Over the next several weeks, use this section to review the study and consider how its message applies to your life.
Mephibosheth means “dispeller of shame” (blueletterbible.com), yet his life has been defined by shame—from having crippled legs to being the grandson of a deceased and disgraced king to living incognito, perpetually in fear of retribution. Then comes King David’s summons.
David does not let fear prevent him from fulfilling his pledge.
In 2 Samuel 9:8, Mephibosheth calls himself “a dead dog” which speaks to his deeply internalized shame. Thinking about your life, do you ever use derogatory language to describe yourself? If so, do you feel justified using such terms on account of past sins either committed by you or perpetuated against you? Considering the command to love others as we love ourselves, in what ways do you see a connection between how you address yourself and how you address others?
Compare how Ziba identifies Mephibosheth in verse 3 with how David does in verse 6. Has someone ever labeled you according to your deficits? How did it feel? In contrast, how does it feel when you’re acknowledged by name? With this in mind, how can you talk to and about people in a way that elevates their human dignity?
Mephibosheth had no reason to think that he would ever have his inheritance restored to him, much less by David, of all people. As you think about the plot twist that awaits him at the palace, how does your perspective change with regard to unresolved trials in your life?
We all carry shame of one sort or another. But what if instead of hiding our humiliation, we brought it into the King’s presence? Exposing what we feel makes us unworthy might seem frightening, but God’s mercy answers our fears, restoring us to a place of honor. He has set a table and sent for you—are you brave enough to take your seat?
Illustration by Adam Cruft