II Samuel 19 Part 3

24. Now Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king. And he had not cared for his feet, nor trimmed his mustache, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he returned in peace.

Now Mephibosheth Saul’s son meets him. We might wonder about this name “the son of Saul,” since we know that he was actually Jonathan’s son and therefore Saul’s grandson. Yet we need to realize that there was no word for “grandson” in Hebrew, and “son” meant the representative of Saul’s family, which Mephibosheth certainly was at this time.

Mephibosheth must have been quite a sight. We read that he had not cared for his feet. This would not have been an easy task for him anyway, since he was lame in his feet, but still he must have been capable of caring for them, and he has not done so. Moreover he has not done any other toiletries, like trimming his mustache, or even washing his clothes. Moreover these are not things just done since it looked like things were turning back in David’s favor, but he has done this from the very day the king left Jerusalem even until this very day, when David returns in peace. Thus this seems to be what it must have been: a symbol and proof of great sorrow and regret.

25. So it was, when he had come to Jerusalem to meet the king, that the king said to him, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?”

This matter of him coming to Jerusalem seems strange, for David was not at Jerusalem but at the river Jordan. Perhaps what is most likely meant is that Mephibosheth had come to the delegation from Jerusalem that was going to meet David and had accompanied them to meet the king, now meeting him at the River Jordan. Either that or he met David at the Jordan, but he and David had no chance for a private conversation in which David could ask these questions until later when they had actually come back to Jerusalem. Either way, this is the conversation that took place between David and his best friend’s son.

David asks Mephibosheth the obvious question. That is, why he did not go with him when he fled? David’s other loyal men who cared for him had gone with him. Mephibosheth was lame, true, but David also must have had young and old, women and children with him. Surely Mephibosheth would not have been the only lame man in his company. Why, then, after all David’s kindness to him and the loyalty and gratitude he owed David for it, did he not join his king when he went into exile?

26. And he answered, “My lord, O king, my servant deceived me. For your servant said, ‘I will saddle a donkey for myself, that I may ride on it and go to the king,’ because your servant is lame.

Mephibosheth blames it all on his servant. We can have no doubt that by this he means Ziba, the one who came to the king and told the story about Mephibosheth thinking that David’s exile would mean he would be placed back on the throne. Mephibosheth says Ziba deceived him. He repeats his own words, but where Ziba comes in is not plain from the current Hebrew text translated here. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, probably preserves the right reading here. Instead of “I will saddle,” as the New King James has it here, the Septuagint reads this as a command to Ziba, “Saddle a donkey for me.” Since he was lame, it would have been much easier for Ziba to saddle the donkey than for him to do it himself, and he had commanded Ziba to do this.

27. And he has slandered your servant to my lord the king, but my lord the king is like the angel of God. Therefore do what is good in your eyes.

Yet it seems Ziba did not do what Mephibosheth commanded. He saddled up and took the presents that Mephibosheth would have brought, yet then he left without him. His plan no doubt was to attempt to usurp Mephibosheth’s place in David’s favor. As we remember from II Samuel 16:4, David had done just as Ziba must have hoped he would do. Upon finding Ziba there when Mephibosheth was not and hearing Ziba’s slander of his master, he had promised to transfer all that belonged to Mephibosheth to Ziba instead. Thus Ziba got back what he had lost when David promoted Mephibosheth: control over all that remained of the wealth of the house of Saul.

So Ziba not only left without him but has also slandered him, Mephibosheth claims. Indeed, it appears from his haggard appearance and the undeniable grief etched in every line of Mephibosheth that his claim is a true one. Ziba had claimed that Mephibosheth had so little cared for David that, when he went into exile, he saw it only as an opportunity to take the throne himself, forgetting all the kindness David had done him. Yet at this point we find that, thankfully, this had not been true. If Mephibosheth really had felt like that and been that ungrateful, he never would have shown the clear signs of grief that he now honestly and truly displays. His heart truly had been with David, and he had cared deeply that he was exiled. This cannot be denied from the unmistakable signs that he displayed, and the Spirit certainly does not deny it in writing for us this record.

Yet Mephibosheth now throws himself on the mercy of his lord the king. He well knows that David has taken everything he owns from him and given it to Ziba. Yet he does not use his signs of grief or his true report of what Ziba did to beg for all his grandfather’s possessions to be returned to him. Instead, he gives David the true credit he was due. He says that the king is like an angel of God. An angel is not the name of a heavenly being, but is just the word for a messenger. David is like a messenger of God, and thus he will know, Mephibosheth is sure, by inspiration of God what to do. Therefore Mephibosheth honestly submits, and is ready to accept whatever David judges in this case. The king, he says, should do as he sees fit.

28. For all my father’s house were but dead men before my lord the king. Yet you set your servant among those who eat at your own table. Therefore what right have I still to cry out anymore to the king?”

Mephibosheth recognizes that he and all his father’s family were as good as dead before his lord the king. The common practice of all the nations around Israel was that, when one dynasty took over from another, the king of the new dynasty wiped out the family of the previous dynasty, not wanting anyone to arise from that house to threaten his grip on the throne. Mephibosheth recognizes that David could have done the same. He had all the power, and Israel’s favor was behind him and not behind the family of Saul. Yet though David could have wiped out his family, he did not do this. He did not execute Mephibosheth, the one remaining male descendant of Jonathan, the firstborn of Saul. Instead, he took him into his care and supported him among those who were part of his government, even like one of his own children. In light of this, Mephibosheth says, he does not have any right to ask more of the king than he already has.

29. So the king said to him, “Why do you speak anymore of your matters? I have said, ‘You and Ziba divide the land.’”

I suppose, after reading Mephibosheth’s response and seeing the obvious evidence for the genuineness of it in his haggard appearance, we might have expected David to react with anger toward Ziba upon learning that he had deceived him about Mephibosheth. We might think that he would immediately reverse his previous judgment, give Mephibosheth all the land of his grandfather, and perhaps even have Ziba punished. If that is what we are expecting, then we will find David’s actual response puzzling and disappointing. For David does not act this way at all. He does not seem to accept Mephibosheth’s words at face value, and he does not completely reverse his former judgment against him. Instead, he asks a very simple question of Mephibosheth. He asks him why he speaks anymore of his matters? It would seem that Mephibosheth had even more to say, perhaps. David implies that he thinks Mephibosheth protests too much. Then, he tells Mephibosheth that he will partially reverse his former decision. He and Ziba will divide the land.

Yet surely this was a strange thing, considering Ziba had deceived him and lied about Mephibosheth! David acts like he trusts Mephibosheth no more than he does Ziba now. He thinks Mephibosheth is guilty about something, for that is why one would speak too much about his matters in a case like this. But why might Mephibosheth feel guilty?

To answer this question we might well go back to David’s original question to Mephibosheth. After all David’s kindness to him, after he had shown him such grace and love, why did he not go with him into exile? Of course, Ziba deceived him and left without him. But where was Mephibosheth while Ziba was getting ready? Why was he not around when Mephibosheth left? And were there no other donkeys in Jerusalem? Mephibosheth, thanks to David’s kindness, was a man of means. He owned all that had formerly belonged to the house of Saul, which after he became king must have increased considerably. Surely Mephibosheth could have afforded to buy a donkey. And it does not matter if a man is lame or not once he is on the back of a donkey. Surely, if he had wanted to, Mephibosheth, once he discovered Ziba’s treachery, could have been mere minutes behind him. So that raises the question: why wasn’t he?

We might also ask ourselves why Ziba thought he could get away with going to David like this? How could he be sure Mephibosheth would not follow behind him just this way, put the lie to his story, and bring on Ziba a curse instead of a blessing? How was it that Ziba was so sure Mephibosheth would not follow, if he truly loved David so much? The fact is that Ziba must have been able to see the truth very plainly: that Mephibosheth had no real desire to go into exile with David. He loved David, true. He was sorrowful, even crushed, by what was happening to David. He would like nothing better than to see David return in peace. However, he had no desire to go into exile with David. He really did love his king, but he loved his comfortable life more. He would gladly see David return, but he had no desire to go with him himself. Ziba could see this, and he calculated, as it turns out quite rightly, that if he left without Mephibosheth, his master would gladly take this as sufficient excuse for him to remain behind. He was looking for just such an excuse. He simply did not want to go.

Consider, then, how typical this was for one of the house of Saul. Is this not exactly how Jonathan, Mephibosheth’s own father, had acted? His love was with David, all his sympathies were with David, when David had to go into exile. Where, however, was Jonathan when David actually went? Back home with his father, living as a prince in luxury. He loved David, but not enough to join him in exile. The same thing was true of Mephibosheth’s aunt and David’s own wife Michal. She loved David, her sympathies were all with David, but her actual person was not with David when he went into exile. She stayed home in her luxury as a princess. So Mephibosheth acted just as the family of Saul always acted when it came to how they treated David.

David has seen this all before. Think how many times the house of Saul has disappointed him. We know that David was a very loving, loyal, and open-hearted man. He had opened his heart to the house of Saul, his master and the king of his country. He had saved Saul and his army from defeat at the hands of the Philistines and Goliath. He had cheerfully joined Saul’s army and become one of his powerful young commanders. He had no doubt loved Saul and been as loyal to Saul as any Israelite could be. Then he had become best friends with Jonathan, Saul’s son. He had opened his heart to this Godly older man, and he had felt closer to Jonathan than any other person he knew. Then, he had found that Jonathan’s sister Michal was in love with him, and he had been pleased to actually marry into the house of Saul. He had won her by his bravery, and they had been happy together. He must have opened his heart to her as well, and no one in the kingdom could have said he was closer to the house of Saul than David was. He must have rejoiced, too, how perfectly Jehovah had set up His promise for David to take the throne after Saul. He was now the king’s son-in-law, actually part of the family. Jonathan, who would have been the heir, was his best friend, was loyal to God, and would not have stood in the way of David taking the throne when he knew it was God’s choice. In fact, he would have been one of David’s most loving and loyal supporters. With Michal as his wife, how could anyone, even from the house of Saul, have been too angry at his ascending to the throne?

But then it had all fallen apart. Saul, instead of bowing to what he came to see was God’s choice, responded in anger, bitterness, and rejection of God’s plan. He gave in to jealousy and paranoid fears and attempted to assassinate David, not once, but multiple times, finally becoming so set in his mania against him that David was forced permanently to flee into exile. So David was disappointed by Saul, the man he had loved and been loyal to.

Then there was Jonathan, his best friend. Jonathan had pled with his father for David, had helped David escape, had said his sympathies were all with David and that he realized that God had chosen David, not him, to be the next king, and he was fine with that. Yet somehow, when David went into exile, instead of him going with his best friend to be with him and be his most loyal and faithful friend and fellow commander of his forces, David found himself going into exile alone and Jonathan returning home to his life of a prince in luxury. How had this come about? Jonathan, for all his love and loyalty, had disappointed David as well.

Then there was his wife, Michal. She discovered her father’s decision to kill David, and warned him of it. She helped him plan his escape. Yet somehow, when he was running out of the city to escape Saul’s men, he found himself doing it alone. Michal must remain behind, of course, to cover David’s escape. So he was alone and cold in the wilderness while his loving wife remained behind in her luxury as a princess. She was forced by her father to remarry, and so while David was cold and lonely in the caves in the wilderness, his wife was enjoying her status as a princess in another man’s bed. This was perhaps the major blow that led David to accept the kingly practice of polygamy which so stained his life and his future from then on. So David was disappointed in his wife Michal as well.

Thus three times David had been disappointed by those he loved from the family of Saul. Yet like the gracious and loving man he was, he had opened his heart one last time to the house of Saul and loved Jonathan’s crippled son Mephibosheth. He had shown him completely unexpected and amazing kindness. He had promoted him to a position no different from that of one of his own sons. He had done everything he could to win this young man’s love and loyalty. Yet then the time came when he must go into exile again. And what did Mephibosheth, the latest representative of the house of Saul in David’s life, do then? He loved David, his sympathies were all with David, and yet somehow he himself remained behind in his comfortable life in Jerusalem. So now and for the final time David was disappointed by the house of Saul. They had one last opportunity to sacrifice for the man who loved them, and one last time they failed, as they had always done.

For this reason David had plenty of history to fall back on when he considered Mephibosheth’s actions. And we notice the brevity of David’s words next to the elocution of Mephibosheth. Why did you remain behind and not go with me, Mephibosheth? And cannot we hear David’s heart asking, why have you disappointed me this time, house of Saul? Of course Mephibosheth had his excuses, just like Jonathan and Michal must have had. But of course they were all nonsense. The real reason, as it always was, was that the house of Saul loved David, but they loved themselves and their comfortable lives more. That is why all Mephibosheth’s excuses failed to deceive David. He shows his perception in his next brief answer to Mephibosheth. Why is he talking so much about what he did? David can see into Mephibosheth’s heart and see that he knew that he ought to have gone with David, that he ought to have sacrificed, that he ought to have let his love and loyalty lead him to leave his place of comfort to show his solidarity with his lord. David must have seen the same guilty excuses in his best friend Jonathan and his wife Michal long before Mephibosheth. Now, he must be almost weary with it. He knows all about these excuses. He has heard them from the house of Saul before.

I do not think we can doubt that Mephibosheth hoped that David would restore to him all that he had given back to Ziba. Yet I think perhaps we can now understand why David was not ready to do this. He had given one last chance to the house of Saul and they had failed him, as they always had. Mephibosheth had acted like his own father Jonathan and like his aunt Michal, though even she must have gone into exile with David this time, if she still lived. Yet he had done what they did and stayed behind in comfort, in spite of his real love and concern for David. He loved him, but he loved his comforts more, and David well knew it. And what of Ziba? For all his ambition and treachery, at least he had been there when David needed him. At least he had come out to help him. At least he had declared himself on David’s side by open and obvious support. And in doing so he had shown his faith in David and in God’s choice of him, that he would eventually be restored. He was seeking his own good at the same time and slandering his master, true. Yet was his half-hearted support of David not reflected in the half-hearted support of his master? What real difference was there between them? Were they not two of a kind?

So of course David was not going to reward Mephibosheth for his self-centered failure to join him in exile. He was shown up by David’s six hundred mighty men, all of whom did not hesitate to leave their lives of luxury to join their lord in exile. He was shown up by every loyal follower who went with David. He was even shown up by his servant Ziba, who when David needed him at least was there. So Mephibosheth, though he loved David, loved him only half-heartedly. The rest of his heart was given to himself. So he will get half of his father’s wealth back, and Ziba will also keep half. Let these greedy and self-centered men split what was in reality more important to them. This was a fitting judgment, and just as David ought to have done. Jehovah did not leave David to make a mistake in judgment here. This was just exactly the decision David ought to have made.

30. Then Mephibosheth said to the king, “Rather, let him take it all, inasmuch as my lord the king has come back in peace to his own house.”

I think Mephibosheth must have been disappointed in this result. Surely he expected David to show anger at Ziba and to restore to him all that he had taken from him. Yet David was more perceptive than that, and besides he had been through this with the house of Saul before. But Mephibosheth covers well his disappointment. Surely he must have realized deep down why David did what he did, and his conscience must have told him that he deserved it. So he says, probably not truly, that he would be happy for Ziba to have all, he is so glad now that David his lord and king is back at his own home.

These words certainly sounded like those of a loving and loyal man. Like the words of the house of Saul always did. But Mephibosheth’s actions spoke louder than his words. He loved himself more than David. That being the case, he must have been bitterly disappointed to lose half of his wealth. Yet he really has no choice or recourse in the matter, and he at least accepts his disappointment graciously.

So we see that the second man who meets David at his return is not as hypocritical and treacherous as the first. No, he is half-hearted. His love for David is not all pretended, but it is exaggerated. He came to David, not just out of love, but out of desire to get his own back again. He loved his king, but he loved himself more. Such is the second significant man to meet David upon his return from exile.