Expositor's Bible Commentary
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?CHAPTER XII.
DAVID AND MEPHIBOSHETH.
2 Samuel 9:1-13.
THE busy life which King David was now leading did not prevent memory from occasionally running back to his early days and bringing before him the friends of his youth. Among these remembrances of the past, his friendship and his covenant with Jonathan were sure to hold a conspicuous place. On one of these occasions the thought occurred to him that possibly some descendant of Jonathan might still be living. He had been so completely severed from his friend during the last years of his life, and the un-fortunate attempt on the part of Ishbosheth had made personal intercourse so much more difficult, that he seems not to have been aware of the exact state of Jonathan's family. It is evident that the survival of any descendant of his friend was not publicly known, and probably the friends of the youth who was discovered had thought it best to keep his existence quiet, being of those who would give David no credit for higher principles than were current between rival dynasties. Even Michal, Jonathan's sister, does not seem to have known that a son of his survived. It became necessary, therefore, to make a public inquiry of his officers and attendants. "Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?" It was not essential that he should be a child of Jonathan's; any descendant of Saul's would have been taken for Jonathan's sake.
It is a proof that the bloody wars in which he had been engaged had not destroyed the tenderness of his heart, that the very chapter which follows the account of his battles opens with a yearning of affection - a longing for an outlet to feelings of kindness. It is instructive, too, to find the proof of love to his neighbour succeeding the remarkable evidence of supreme regard to the honour of God recently given in the proposal to build a temple. This period of David's life was its golden era, and it is difficult to understand how the man that was so remarkable at this time for his regard for God and his interest in his neighbour should soon afterwards have been betrayed into a course of conduct that showed him most grievously forgetful of both.
This proceeding of David's in making inquiry for a fit object of beneficence may afford us a lesson as to the true course of enlightened kindness. Doubtless David had numberless persons applying for a share of his bounty; yet he makes inquiry for a new channel in which it may flow. The most clamorous persons are seldom the most deserving, and if a bountiful man simply recognizes, however generously, even the best of the cases that press themselves on his notice, he will not be satisfied with the result; he will feel that his bounty has rather been frittered away on miscellaneous undertakings, than that it has achieved any solid and satisfying result. It is easy for a rich man to fling a pittance to some wretched-looking creature that whines out a tale of horror in his ear; but this may be done only to relieve his own feelings, and harm instead of good may be the result. Enlightened benevolence aims at something higher than the mere relief of passing distress. Benevolent men ought not to lie at the mercy either of the poor who ask their charity, or of the philanthropic Christians who appeal for support to their schemes. Pains must be taken to find out the deserving, to find out those who have the strongest claim. Even the open-handed, whose purse is always at hand, and who are ready for every good work, may be neglecting some case or class of cases which have far stronger claims on them than those which are so assiduously pressed on their notice. And hence we may see that it is right and fitting, especially in those to whom Providence has given much, to cast over in their minds, from time to time, the state of their obligations, and think whether among old friends, or poor relations, or faithful but needy servants of God, there may not be some who have a claim on their bounty. There are other debts besides money debts it becomes you to look after. In youth, perhaps, you received much kindness from friends and relatives which at the time you could not repay; but now the tables are turned; you are prosperous, they or their families are needy. And these cases are apt to slip out of mind. It is not always hard-heartedness that makes the prosperous forget the less fortunate; it is often utter thoughtlessness. It is the neglect of that rule which has such a powerful though silent effect when it is carried out - Put yourself in their place. Imagine how you would feel, strained and worried to sleeplessness through narrow means, and seeing old friends rolling in wealth, who might, with little or no inconvenience, lighten the burden that is crushing you so painfully. It is a strange thing that this counsel should be more needed by the rich than by the poor. Thoughtlessness regarding his neighbours is not a poor man's vice. The empty house is remembered, even though it costs a sacrifice to send it a little of his own scanty supplies. Few men are so hardened as not to feel the obligation to show kindness when that obligation is brought before them. What we urge is, that no one should lie at the mercy of others for bringing his obligations before him. Let him think for himself; and especially let him cast his eye round his own horizon, and consider whether there be not some representatives of old friends or old relations to whom kindness ought to be shown.
To return to the narrative. The history of Mephibosheth, Jonathan's son, had been a sad one. When Israel was defeated by the Philistines on Mount Gilboa, and Saul and Jonathan were slain, he was but an infant; and his nurse, terror-stricken at the news of the disaster, in her haste to escape had let him fall, and caused an injury which made him lame for life. What the manner of his upbringing was, we are not told. When David found him, he was living with Machir, the son of Ammiel, of Lo-debar, on the other side of the Jordan, in the same region where his uncle Ishbosheth had tried to set up his kingdom. Mephibosheth became known to David through Ziba, a servant of Saul's, a man of more substance than principle, as his conduct showed at a later period of his life. Ziba, we are told, had fifteen sons and twenty servants. He seems to have contrived to make himself comfortable notwithstanding the wreck of his master's fortunes, more comfortable than Mephibosheth, who was living in another man's house.
There seems to have been a surmise among David's people that this Ziba could tell something of Jonathan's family; but evidently he was not very ready to do so; for it was only to David himself that when sent for he gave the information, and that after David had emphatically stated his motive - not to do harm, but to show kindness for Jonathan's sake. The existence of Mephibosheth being thus made known, he is sent for and brought into David's presence. And we cannot but be sorry for him when we mark his abject bearing in the presence of the king. When he was come unto David, "he fell on his face and did reverence." And when David explained his intentions, "he bowed himself and said, What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look on such a dead dog as I am?" Naturally of a timid nature, and weakened in nerve by the accident of his infancy, he must have grown up under great disadvantages. His lameness excluded him from sharing in any youthful game or manly exercise, and therefore threw him into the company of the women who, like him, tarried at home. What he had heard of David had not come through a friendly channel, had come through the partisans of Saul, and was not likely to be very favourable. He was too young to remember the generous conduct of David in reference to his father and grandfather; and those who were about him probably did not care to say much about it.
Accustomed to think that his wisest course was to conceal from David his very existence, and looking on him with the dread with which the family of former kings regarded the reigning monarch, he must have come into his presence with a strange mixture of feeling. He had a profound sense of the greatness which David had achieved and the honour implied in his countenance and fellowship. But there was no need for his humbling himself so low. There was no need for his calling himself a dog, a dead dog, - the most humiliating image it was possible to find. We should have thought him more worthy of his father if, recognizing the high position which David had attained by the grace of God, he had gracefully thanked him for the regard shown to his father's memory, and shown more of the self-respect which was due to Jonathan's son. In his subsequent conduct, in the days of David's calamity, Mephibosheth gave evidence of the same disinterested spirit which had shone so beautifully in Jonathan, but his noble qualities were like a light twinkling among ruins or a jewel glistening in a wreck.
This shattered condition both of mind and body, however, commended him all the more to the friendly regard of David. Had he shown himself a high-minded, ambitious youth, David might have been embarrassed how to act towards him. Finding him modest and respectful, he had no difficulty in the case. The kindness which he showed him was twofold. In the first place, he restored to him all the land that had belonged to his grandfather; and in the second place, he made him an inmate of his own house, with a place at his table, the same as if he had been one of his own sons. And that he might not be embarrassed with having the land to care for, he committed the charge of it to Ziba, who was to bring to Mephibosheth the produce or its value.
Every arrangement was thus made that could conduce to his comfort His being a cripple did not deprive him of the honour of a place at the royal table, little though he could contribute to the lustre of the palace. For David bestowed his favours not on the principle of trying to reflect lustre on himself or his house, but on the principle of doing good to those who had a claim on his consideration. The lameness and consequent awkwardness, that would have made many a king ashamed of such an inmate of his palace only recommended him the more to David. Regard for outward appearances was swallowed up by a higher regard - regard for what was right and true.
It might be thought by some that such an incident as this was hardly worthy of a place in the sacred record; but the truth is, that David seldom showed more of the true spirit of God than he did on this occasion. The feeling that led him to seek out any stray member of the house in order to show kindness to him was the counterpart of that feeling that has led God from the very beginning to seek the children of men, and that led Jesus to seek and to save that which was lost. For that is truly the attitude in which God has ever placed Himself towards our fallen race. The sight to be seen in this world has not been that of men seeking after God, but that of God seeking after men. All day long He has been stretching forth His hands, and inviting the children of men to taste and see that He is gracious. If we ask for the principle that unifies all parts of the Bible, it is this gracious attitude of God towards those who have forfeited His favour. The Bible presents to us the sight of God's Spirit striving with men, persevering in the thankless work long after He has been resisted, and ceasing only when all hope of success through further pleading is gone.
There were times when this process was prosecuted with more than common ardour; and at last there came a time when the Divine pleadings reached a climax, and God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake to the fathers by the prophets, spake to them at last by His own Son. And what was the life of Jesus Christ but a constant appeal to men, in God's name, to accept the kindness which God was eager to show them? Was not His invitation to all that laboured and were heavy laden, "Come unto Me, and I will give you rest"? Did He not represent the Father as a householder, making a marriage feast for his son, sending forth his servants to bid the guests to the wedding, and when the natural guests refused, bidding them go to the highways and the hedges, and fetch the lame and the Wind and any outcast they could find, because he longed to see guests of some kind enjoying the good things he had provided? The great crime of the ancient Jews was rejecting Him who had come in the name of the Lord to bless them. Their crowning condemnation was, not that they had failed to keep the Ten Commandments, though that was true; not that they had spent their lives in pleasing themselves instead of pleasing God, though that also was true; but that they had rejected God's unspeakable gift, and requited the Eternal Son, when He came from heaven to bless them, with the cursed death of the cross. But even after they had committed that act of unprecedented wickedness, God's face would not be wholly turned away from them. The very attitude in which Jesus died, with His hands outstretched on the tree, would still represent the attitude of the Divine heart towards the very murderers of His Son. "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men toward Me." "Unto you first, God, having raised up His Son Jesus, hath sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities." "Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out."
Here, my friends, is the most glorious feature of the Christian religion. Happy those of you who have apprehended this attitude of your most gracious Father, who have believed in His love, and who have accepted His grace! For not only has God received you back into His family, and given you a name and a place in His temple better than that of sons and daughters, but He has restored to you your lost inheritance. "If children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ." Nay, more. He has not only restored to you your lost inheritance, but He has conferred on you an inheritance more glorious than that of which sin deprived you. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last day."
But if the grace of God in thus stretching out His hands to sinful men and offering them all the blessings of salvation is very wonderful, it makes the case of those all the more terrible, all the more hopeless, who treat His invitations with indifference, and turn their backs on an inheritance the glory of which they do not see. How men should be so infatuated as to do this it were hard to understand, if we had not ample evidence of it in the godless tendencies of our natural hearts. Still more mysterious is it to understand how God should fail to carry His point in the case of those to whom He stretches out His hands. But of all considerations there is none more fitted to astonish and alarm the careless than that they are capable of refusing all the appeals of Divine love, and rejecting all the bounty of Divine grace. If this be persevered in, what a rude awakening you will have in the world to come, when in all the bitterness of remorse you will think on the glories that were once within your reach, but with which you trifled when you had the chance! How foolish would Mephibosheth have been if he had disbelieved in David's kindness and rejected his offer! But David was sincere, and Mephibosheth believed in his sincerity. May we not, must we not, believe that God is sincere? If a purpose of kindness could arise in a human heart, how much more in the Divine heart, how much more in the heart of Him the very essence of whose nature is conveyed to us in the words of the beloved disciple - "God is love"!
There is yet another application to be made of this passage in David's history. We have seen how it exemplifies the duty incumbent on us all to consider whether kindness is not due from us to the friends or the relatives of those who have been helpful to ourselves. This remark is not applicable merely to temporal obligations, but also, and indeed emphatically, to spiritual. We should consider ourselves in debt to those who have conferred spiritual benefits upon us. Should a descendant of Luther or Calvin, of Latimer or Cranmer or Knox, appear among us in need of kindness, what true Protestant would not feel that for what he owed to the fathers it was his duty to show kindness to the children? But farther back even than this was a race of men to whom the Christian world lies under still deeper obligations. It was the race of David himself, to which had belonged "Moses and Aaron among His priests, Samuel with them that called on His name," and, in after-times, Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel; Peter, and James, and John, and Paul; and, outshining them all, like the sun of heaven, Jesus of Nazareth, the Saviour of men. With what models of lofty piety has that race furnished every succeeding generation! From the study of their holy lives, their soaring faith, their burning zeal, what blessing has been derived in the past, and what an impulse will yet go forth to the very end of time! No wonder though the Apostle had great sorrow and continual heaviness in his heart when he thought of the faithless state of the people, "to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God"! Yet none are more in need of your friendly remembrance at this day than the descendants of these men. It becomes you to ask, "Is there yet any that is left of their house to whom we may show kindness for Jesus' sake?" For God has not finally cast them off, and Jesus has not ceased to care for those who were His brethren according to the flesh. If there were no other motive to induce us to seek the good of the Jews, this consideration should surely prevail. All did the world requite its obligation during the long ages when all manner of contumely and injustice was heaped upon the Hebrew race, as if Jesus had never prayed, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do." Their treatment by the Gentiles has been so harsh that, even when better feelings prevail, they are slow, like Mephibosheth, - to believe that we mean them well. They may have done much to repel our kindness, and they may appear to be hopelessly encrusted with unbelief in Him whom we present as the Saviour. But charity never faileth; and in reference to them as to other objects of philanthropic effort, the exhortation holds good, "Let us not be weary in well-doing; for in due season we shall reap if we faint not."
Such kindness to those who are in need is not only a duty of religion, but tends greatly to commend it. Neglect of those who have claims on us, while objects more directly religious are eagerly prosecuted, is not pleasing to God, whether the neglect take place in our lives or in the destination of our substance at death. "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good mc: sure, pressed down and shaken together and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal, it shall be measured to you again."