David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” … Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.” (2 Samuel 9.1, 3)
Gone But Not Forgotten
Before David gains national attention for slaying Goliath, before he and Jonathan—Saul’s son and Israel’s heir apparent—forge their legendary friendship, before Saul’s paranoia ruins all hope of establishing a dynastic line, Israel’s prophet, Samuel, seeks out David and anoints him as the next king. This monumental, highly irregular event transpires soon after Samuel anoints Saul as Israel’s first monarch. Almost immediately, power goes to Saul’s head. In 1 Samuel 15.10, God admits to Samuel: “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” The very next chapter finds God sending Samuel to the village of Bethlehem, where he finds David and pronounces him Saul’s rightful successor.
After Samuel anoints him, 1 Samuel 16.13 says, “The Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward,” adding in the next verse, “But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.” In a moment’s time, a seismic shift occurs in Israel’s power structure that affects its destiny forever after. The spirit vexing Saul ensures his downfall. God floods Jonathan’s heart with love to shield David from Saul’s jealous attempts to kill him. But, sadly, Jonathan’s loyalty and obedience can’t spare him. He dies with the rest of his brothers when Saul’s house falls to the Philistines, clearing David’s ascension to the throne. Once David’s monarchy is in place, however, he wants to show his gratitude in a manner that confirms Jonathan is gone but not forgotten. He inquires, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9.1)
Forgotten But Not Gone
Saul’s survivors have vanished in a cloud of disgrace. When none of David’s advisors can identify who or where they are, they call for a royal servant, Ziba, to see if he’s aware of anyone left. Ziba informs David, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.” (v3) This explains why Jonathan’s son has dropped from sight. He’s an outcast twice over, shoved to society’s margins as Saul’s descendent and a physically disabled person deemed unworthy to mix with the general population. The son—saddled with a most unfortunate name, Mephibosheth—is forgotten but not gone. As a consequence of his grandfather’s insecurities and sins, he’s been catapulted from the comfort and safety of the palace to depend on the kindness of a provincial family that takes him in.
David summons Mephibosheth back to the palace, no doubt stirring trepidation in the young man’s heart. Being forgot has been a blessing in disguise. He lives with people who accept him, despite his persona non grata status as a social pariah. Now, he’s called to meet a king who may well intend to destroy him as the last of his kind—to hobble into the midst of people who despise him for nothing he’s done to earn their hatred and reproach. The first thing David says to him is, “Don’t be afraid.” (v7) Then he does something unprecedented. Because of Jonathan’s kindness, Davaid restores all of Saul’s property to Mephibosheth, securing his status among Israel’s landed gentry, and—as a royal peer—a permanent place at David’s table. Mephibosheth bows before David and says, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” One outstanding issue remains. Mephibosheth’s physical impairment prevents him from farming the land. So David charges Ziba with responsibility to see the land provides for Mephibosheth. With everything resolved, verse 11 informs us: “So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.”
Mephibosheth is an intriguing, truly inspiring character. Were any of us handed his fate, we might handle things much differently and, as a result, never know the full restoration he experiences. We might deny our past to escape bigotry and retribution. We might flee to a new place as he did, but once there, fabricate a new identity that severs any ties to our family history and personal background. We might adopt society’s views of us as unwholesome and unwelcome. We might sink into despair with other outcasts eking out an alternate life beneath our dignity. Mephibosheth’s triumph comes by staying true to who he is, persisting in spite of the hardships his self-integrity brings. “Is there anyone still left?” David asks. “There is still a son of Jonathan,” Ziba answers.
How many times, one wonders, does Mephibosheth ask why God chose him to be born into an angry, fearful environment—and, on top of that, burden him with a condition that marks him for prejudice and rejection? How many times have we asked, “Why am I here? Why am I as I am?” But Mephibosheth teaches us the crucial importance of still-ness. We’re still who we were created to be. We’re still confident God’s plan will lead to what’s best for us. As Romans 8.28 assures us, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We can’t falter in our faith God has a purpose for us. We can’t fail in our persistence to stay true to ourselves. To realize the fullness of what He intends for our lives, it’s our duty to see we’re still who we are, we’re still where we can be found. Although we may feel forgotten, we’re still far from gone.
Please comment: How has persistence worked in your favor?
We may feel isolated and forgotten because of circumstances we can’t control, but staying true through faith in God’s purpose will lead us to triumph.
(Tomorrow: Still-Ness: Standing Back)