2 Samuel 9:1–13 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions
“David and Mephibosheth”
We've likely never been in David’s shoes — a newly-crowned king looking to gain and maintain power. But we may have been in Mephibosheth’s, feeling like a lonely outcast. Mephibosheth (Jonathan's son) was the crippled grandson of fallen-King Saul; all tradition and expectation would have been for David to ignore him at best, to kill him at worst. But the victorious and powerful covenant-keeping King David, remembering his promise to Jonathan and Saul, instead searched for Mephibosheth and honored him. He restored the family land to him, and invited him to feast at his table. Even Mephibosheth couldn’t believe it: “What is your servant that you take an interest in a dead dog like me?” (v. 8).
David’s kindness wasn't shown on the spur of the moment, either. He sought Mephibosheth to offer him “hesed,” the Hebrew word for "lovingkindness," "loyal love." This word is found all over the Old Testament, used to describe God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to his people. In Exodus, God himself uses hesed to describe his own character: “The Lord passed in front of Moses, proclaiming 'The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness'” (Exodus 34:6).
What we see David give to Mephibosheth is the same lovingkindness that God offers us through an inherited sonship with Jesus. David invited Mephibosheth to "become one of the king’s sons.” It’s impossible to read this story and not see ourselves, crippled in spirit with nothing to give, yet completely welcomed into the Lord’s family because of God’s lovingkindness to every one of us.
David’s Covenants and Promised Commitment (2 Samuel 9:1–4)
David was a man who made promises that he kept. Before becoming Israel's king, he made promises to Jonathan and Saul: To Jonathan, he promised to protect his life and show lovingkindness (hesed) to his house forever (1 Samuel 20:12–17); to Saul, he vowed not to cut off his descendants after him (1 Sam. 24:21–22). At this point, Saul and Jonathan are dead and David is king of all Israel. How easy it would have been for David to neglect his promised commitments.
We'll soon see that David not only remembered his commitment to Saul, he went far beyond keeping it. To Saul, David promised that he'd not harm his descendants. To Jonathan, David covenanted to show lovingkindness. It seems as though all of Saul's descendants were dead; no descendant of Saul approached King David, seeking his favor. David was also in a position to carry out his promise to Jonathan. All he needed was a descendant of Jonathan. David inquired as to whether there was a descendant of Saul to whom he may show kindness for Jonathan's sake (v. 1). David did this because he remembered his relationship and covenant with Jonathan. His actions weren't based only on feelings but also on the promise of a covenant. In v. 3, David speaks of this act of kindness as “God's kindness." This phrase is key to understanding David's motivation in this chapter. He wanted to show someone else the same kindness that God showed to him. That certainly was a God-honoring act of kindness!
Perhaps today's account about Mephibosheth was placed here because the author had just been talking about those whom David had named members of his cabinet (revealed here). Mephibosheth hadn't become a member of the ruling council but became a member of the royal household.
You might recall that David and Jonathan had made a covenant with each other (1 Sam. 18:3), renewing it when David had to flee from Saul (1 Sam. 20:14–17; 20:42). Jonathan knew very well that David would become king, so he asked of David: "Do not ever cut off your kindness from my family — not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth" (20:15).
Covenants were extremely important! Jonathan had kept his promises to protect David from Saul's anger. And David didn't forget his promises to Jonathan. David even honored his promise to Saul not to kill his offspring when he had the chance. Apparently, David was recalling his sweet friendship with Jonathan, which prompted him to ask his staff the question shown here. . .
David and Mephibosheth
9 1David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”
2Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”
“At your service,” he replied.
3The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”
Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet” (2 Sam. 9:1–3).
No one among David's servants was aware of any living descendant of Saul, however, a servant of Saul's household, named Ziba, was remembered and summoned to David. Presumably, Ziba had been a capable part of Saul's paid household staff, for Ziba appears to have been a wealthy man with 15 sons and 20 servants (v. 10). You can imagine his uneasiness at being told to appear at King David's palace. Was David like other kings who sought to remove any vestige of a previous king's kingdom? Was David intending to execute Ziba and his family? Those thoughts likely crossed Ziba's mind, more than once on route to the palace.
How relieved he must have been to hear David ask him, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?” (v. 3). There was indeed; Ziba remembered Mephibosheth, Jonathan's son. This means that, according to the prior dynasty of Saul, Mephibosheth had the right to the throne. He was a son of the first-born son of the king, and other potential heirs were dead. In a political sense, David could have seen Mephibosheth as a rival or a threat. Further, Ish-Bosheth was Mephibosheth's uncle who waged a bloody war against David for the throne of Israel. There was at least an outside chance that Mephibosheth might do the same.
Ziba informed David, "There is still a son of Jonathan." But he was handicapped; crippled in both feet. When he was a boy of five (as revealed in Week 37's summary), word came to the palace that Saul and Jonathan had been slain. In order to protect the little prince from the Philistines, who were expected to overrun the capital at Gibeah, his nurse gathered the boy and fled in haste at the news of Saul and Jonathan's death. She rightly feared that the leader of a new royal dynasty would execute every potential heir of the former dynasty. Alas, she dropped him while hurrying to flee; he became crippled from that fall (4:4).
David Bestows Unexpected Mercy on Mephibosheth (vv. 5–13)
We find David having searched for a descendant of Saul and of Jonathan to whom he could show favor. The only candidate was Jonathan's crippled son. David then summoned him (vv. 4–5), learning from Ziba that he was living "at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar," a city east of the Jordan. This speaks of Mephibosheth's low station in life. He didn't have his own house but lived in another man's house. Apparently, Mephibosheth was living as far away from David and Jerusalem as was possible, feeling like a marked man who'd be put to death if he ventured too close to Jerusalem.
When Mephibosheth presented himself to King David, he was probably terrified. As the rightful heir of the previous king, he could be considered in line for the throne. Such offspring from a former dynasty were usually killed to insure the security of the new king (2 Sam. 19:28). Mephibosheth prostrated himself before him as his servant (v. 6). David noted the man's fear and immediately put his mind at rest by telling him, "Don't be afraid." He intended no harm for Mephibosheth; he wanted only to show him kindness for the sake of his father, Jonathan. Motivated by his love for Jonathan, and his honor in keeping the covenant he'd made with him, David promised to restore to Mephibosheth all the land (v. 7) that had been his father's and which he'd evidently lost sometime after Saul's and Jonathan's deaths.
David simply promised that Mephibosheth would receive what was his. Mephibosheth knew that he was the heir to these lands all along but he was afraid to take possession of them because it would expose him before the king. David went against all custom in showing such kindness to an heir of the former dynasty. Not only would David restore everything to which Mephibosheth was the heir, he'd make him his regular guest at the palace. This goes far beyond giving Mephibosheth what was rightly his. He was given the honor of a close relationship with the king.
Mephibosheth was overcome with gratitude and relief, falling prostrate before David once again and calling attention (v. 8) to the fact that he was nothing but a “dead dog,” meaning a worthless, insignificant person. All the years of hiding from the king, and living in fear and poverty, made Mephibosheth think of himself as worthless.
It's interesting to realize that David used that same expression to refer to himself when he spoke to King Saul outside a desert cave (1 Sam. 24:14). Then, David was attempting to convince Saul that he posed no real threat, no matter what others might have told him. It seems fairly clear that Mephibosheth was calling attention to his physical handicap. After all, a man who couldn't walk could hardly serve as a king who was expected to always bring his army into battle. But David didn't want Mephibosheth to sit at the king's dinner table as a subjected foe but as an honored guest, the son of his beloved friend, Jonathan. This was for David one amazing act of grace!
The privilege of eating at the king's table was a high honor (19:28) that Saul had once bestowed upon David (1 Sam. 20:5, 18). Now David accorded this honor to the son of his best friend.
David then issued orders to Ziba, instructing him that everything that once belonged to Saul now belonged to Mephibosheth and should be restored to him outright. So David restored all of Saul's land to Mephibosheth (which, presumably had become David's when he became the new king). He also commanded Ziba to manage those farmlands for him. In addition to the land, David gave Mephibosheth servants to work on it. The food from the land was for Mephibosheth's young son, Mika, and his family, because Mephibosheth would eat continually at David's table. Ziba may not have liked this change in his status, but he wisely obeyed David's edict. In effect, David made Ziba and his sons (who apparently have been freed by Saul's death and his sons') Mephibosheth's servants (v. 10). From that time onward, Mephibosheth was David's honored guest who ate regularly at his table, not as a defeated or humiliated foe, but as one of David's sons (v. 11).
Looking at the closing verse we see that "Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem," no longer hiding in fear of the king; this descendant of Saul now lived openly among the people of God. No longer in poverty and estranged from the king, he now had great privilege before the king: "He always ate at the king’s table." Remaining "lame in both feet," his weakness didn't vanish but his life became far better, despite his immobility.
David not only spared Mephibosheth from death, he honored and blessed him. That's how David kept the spirit of his covenant with Jonathan (Psalm 15:4). When David looked upon this boy, he did not see a cripple; he saw Jonathan.
The mercy and grace and hesed that David had bestowed on Mephibosheth ought to be a hearty reminder for us. May we never be hesitant or unwilling to serve and minister lovingly to those in great need.
Intro Video: “The Second Book of Samuel”
† Watch this introductory video clip created by The Bible Project on bibleproject.com.
- Q. 1 What are a few reasons why David honored Mephibosheth as he'd done?
- Q. 2 What does David's honoring his covenants with Saul and Jonathan teach you about David's character?