A king expressed one of the most beautiful acts of kindness to an outcast. For years the half-crazed lunatic Saul had obsessively hunted David like big game. Now that Saul was dead David had been crowned king of Israel. It was common practice in those days to exterminate all members of a previous dynasty to prevent any descendant from seeking the throne. As long as a spark of life from that family still smoldered, it was a threat to the new king. Yet David’s response was quite the contrary. He asked, “Is there anyone remaining from Saul's family I can show kindness to because of Jonathan?" (2 Sam. 9:1).
Kindness often smacks of softness. What David was expressing was a deeper demonstration of love that is undeserved, unearned, and unrepayable. David had made a promise to Jonathan, his beloved friend and the son of Saul, that he would show kindness to the remaining members of Saul’s household. (See 1 Samuel 20:15-16.) David now intended to keep that promise.
Finding the only remaining blood of Saul’s family was not a simple matter, but David located a grandson by the name of Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan. We first learn of him in 2 Samuel 4. “Saul's son Jonathan had a son whose feet were crippled. He was five years old when the report about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she was hurrying to flee, he fell and became lame. His name was Mephibosheth” (2 Sam. 4:4). He was crippled, living in obscurity and poverty in a remote and barren corner of the kingdom. Once found, the man with the near unpronounceable name hobbled into the throne room of the most powerful king. When he appeared before David, I’m sure he expected the worse, “I’m going to be killed because Saul was my Grandfather.”
But instead David said, “‘Don't be afraid,’ David said to him, ‘since I intend to show you kindness because of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all your grandfather Saul's fields, and you will always eat meals at my table’" (2 Sam. 9:7). David’s words were not just a token gesture; they were extravagant - symbolic of his love for Jonathan. His words were an act of grace - symbolic of God’s love for David. His was a demonstration of love toward a man who did not deserve it and could never earn it and would never be able to repay it. David, the strong and famous king, reached out to Mephibosheth, the cripple and outcast, and expressed kindness to him like he had never known before.
Mephibosheth must have felt the greatest release at that moment. Expecting a sword to sever his neck from his head, he heard the unbelievable words of acceptance from the King.
What can we learn about the words we can speak from this story?
I. Dignity is a most valuable asset
The crippled Mephibosheth was an outcast, a vestige of the previous dynasty. Upon hearing David gesture of grace “Mephibosheth bowed down and said, "What is your servant that you take an interest in a dead dog like me?" (2 Sam. 9:8). He called himself a dead dog, which was to compare himself to the nastiest, foulest thing he could think of. For a Jew it was a double slam. To them, a dog was the most repulsive animal imaginable. On top of that, anything dead was vile and unclean. He thought of himself as a pile of garbage - a man of shame. He reveals his low self-esteem and his astonishment at the grace being shown him.
As he lay prostrate before the king in his moment of greatest vulnerability, perhaps the name-calling of a lifetime came flooding over him. Maybe he heard again the humiliating taunts of those who found him worthless and despicable. Probably he expected the disdain with which he had become accustomed.
Crippled. An outcast. Dead dog. Man of Shame. David never spoke such words. Instead David said, “Where is this son?” (2 Sam. 9:4 NCV). One wonders how long it had been since Mephibosheth was called a son. Words have a way of changing us don’t they?
My Daddy traveled a lot buying shoes for the shoe store he and mother owned and operated. On some of his overnight trips he would take someone with him for company. Sometimes it was one of us children. Sometimes it was an African-American man named Willie.
On one overnight trip Daddy pulled into a motel to stay the night. Daddy and Willie walked to the front desk and requested a room for the two of them. Looking at Daddy the desk clerk said, “I can give you a room, but I will not give one to him (pointing toward Willie).”
“If he can’t stay then I won’t stay,” answered my father.
They walked out.
Out in the parking lot Willie said, “Mr. Ezell, you can stay in that room and I’ll sleep here in the van. I’ll be all right.”
“No,” replied Daddy. “If they won’t let you stay in that motel, then I won’t stay either. You are like family to me.”
They both slept in the van that night.
At my Daddy’s funeral, Willie related this story to me. He said that my Daddy’s words changed his life. For years he had thought of himself as second class and second rate. But when my Daddy said, “You are like family to me,” it raised his esteem and his dignity.
I suspect that David’s words changed Mephibosheth’s life, too. Words have a powerful way of bringing healing and restoration. A kind word can restore one’s dignity, setting one on an esteemed path. Whoever said “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” lied. Unkind words can damage, while kind words can lead one to wholeness.
II. Acceptance is a most wonderful feeling
Mephibosheth’s life had been one of rejection. When disaster came and Saul and Jonathan had been killed in battle, the nurse who was to care for him fled in fear. Mephibosheth suffered a fall and was left crippled for the rest of his life. He lived in obscurity and in fear. He felt lost, forgotten, and unimportant.
David in one magnificent gesture of kindness reached out to him and restored him to an exalted position. “You can eat at my table,” David invited. Notice that four times in this short chapter we are made aware that Mephibosheth ate at David’s table. “ . . . you will always eat meals at my table." “Mephibosheth, your master's grandson, is always to eat at my table." “So Mephibosheth ate at David's table just like one of the king's sons.” “Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem because he always ate at the king's table. He was lame in both feet” (2 Sam. 9:7,10,11,13).
To eat at the king’s table was not a temporary honor; it meant he would have a pension from the king for the rest of his life. Mephibosheth would “always” eat at the king’s table. David’s kindness would continue throughout Mephibosheth’s life. The castaway knew the wonderful feeling of acceptance. He knew the joy of being drawn into a family. He knew the warmth of love. He knew the contentment that comes when someone cares.
While traveling in Switzerland I was sitting at a crowded bus stop. People were milling around waiting on the next bus to come along. Since the Swiss are perfectionists, everyone knew that the bus would be right on time.
As I was waiting, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a little boy about six or seven years old ambling toward the bus stop. He appeared to be walking aimlessly without a care in the world. When he looked behind him he realized that he was walking alone. Fear came over him. And he began to cry out, “Somebody! Somebody!” The closer he got and the words he spoke confirmed that he was a Down-Syndrome child. The louder he called for “Somebody!” the wider the people parted to avoid this child. He began to look around at the people almost as if he were a cornered animal with the attacking force surrounding him. “Somebody! Somebody!” he shouted, as his face grew whiter with fright.
I thought to myself, “Somebody ought to do something.” Finally the bus pulled up and people started to get on while this boy kept yelling “Somebody!” Then out of the crowd came a young woman who answered “Somebody.” She gathered him up in her arms, held him tightly, and quieted him by whispering, “Somebody. Somebody.”
By now I had boarded the bus. As I waited for the bus to pull away from the curb, I saw another woman running toward the lady holding the Down-Syndrome child. At that moment I realized that the second lady was the mother of the child while the first lady was just a kind person who saw someone hurting and in need and reached out in love.
What an unbelievable response.
Isn’t it funny that we tend to stay away from the Mephibosheth’s of the world - the crippled, the handicapped, and the marginalized. Yet they need to be held in the same esteem and respect as anyone else. God sees them no different than anyone else. They, like all people, matter to God.
David restored Mephibosheth from a place in the wilderness to a place at his table. From a place of barrenness to a place of honor. From a place with no pastureland to a place of plenty. He brought him into the very palace of the king. For years he had been crying out “Somebody! Somebody!” Now that somebody who reached out to him was none other than the king. He not only helped him; he embraced him in his arms adopting him as a son.
Think about life in the kingdom of God for a moment. Why does the king of heaven adopt us into his family? Is it because of our personal goodness? Our likable personality? Our compelling charm? Our stupendous talents? Well, think again. My place and your place at the King of King’s table now, and for all eternity, will serve as a constant reminder of how God takes a person others would have abandoned and reaches out to and grants a place in his presence.
III. Restoration is a most cherished need
David was not through with Mephibosheth. He gave him a new identity and a new position. Now he was going to provide for his needs - food, shelter, and financial resources. David said, “I will restore to you all your grandfather Saul's fields” (2 Sam. 9:7). Restore means to bring back into existence or use or to put someone back in a proper position. What David did for Mephibosheth is what the Father in Jesus parable did for the prodigal son. He inherited the riches of his grandfather. It was like winning the lottery and having a rich uncle leave you his fortune all in a single day. It was too good to be true.
David could have ignored Mephibosheth. Who would have blamed him? Who would have confronted him if he had? But David did not ignore him.
What about the people like Mephibosheth all around us? Some with broken hearts, others with damaged emotions, a few with crushed spirits, many with wounded bodies, others with shattered souls, and a lot with physical needs. Are we ignoring them like a ding in our car door? Like garbage in the dumpster?
IV. Kindness is a most godly trait
In every walk of life it is important to follow that old Texas maxim: “Hug your friends tight, but your enemies tighter - hug ’em so tight they can’t wiggle.” That’s what God does for us. God is kind because he cannot be otherwise. It is essential to his nature. And likewise that kindness becomes a part of our new nature that comes to us through the Holy Spirit. Kindness becomes a part of our conduct because our character is rooted in God. The poet Robert Burns stated: “The heart benevolent and kind The most resembles God.”
Let’s not overlook the verse where David asked, “Is there anyone left of Saul's family I can show the kindness of God to?" (2 Sam. 9:3). The word for kindness is that great biblical word hesed. It means loving faithfulness. God had demonstrated grace and kindness to David in so many ways. His life had been spared on numerous occasions. He fought the giant Goliath and won. He had escaped the snares and dangers of wild beasts. His life had been redeemed from the pit of pain and hunger and desertion more than a few times. Now, David wanted to reciprocate that kindness. Those who have been touched by the grace of God want to pass it on.
Solomon wrote, “Anxiety in a man's heart weighs it down, but a good word cheers it up” (Prov. 12:25).
“I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow-creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again,” goes the old saying. Kindness is not an inconvenience to be avoided, but a characteristic to be embraced. Sometimes it is as simple as a pleasant smile, or a warm handshake, or sending a thank you note, or assisting a neighbor with a household project, or being with a friend in distress.
Someone once said, “The greatest thing a man can do for his heavenly Father is to be kind to his other children.” Kindness originates from the heart of God. God is kind because he cannot be otherwise. It is essential to his nature. And, likewise, that kindness becomes a part of our new nature that comes to us through the Holy Spirit. Kindness becomes a part of our conduct because our character is rooted in God.
The poet Robert Burns said that the kind heart most resembles God.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote
William Wordsworth was right when he wrote
As you live each day - at home, at school, at work, at church - wherever you are, you will find yourself in situations where you are asked to comment, to speak, to use your words. Often the volatility of the situation can ignite or dissipate merely on the words you utter. Think of it this way. That situation is like a little fire - not big, not out of control, not destructive, yet. And you have a bucket in each hand. In one bucket is water; in the other is gasoline. At that point you are given a choice, you can pour the bucket of water on the fire and put it out or you can pour the bucket of gasoline on the fire and see it spread out of control. Your choice.
In every situation, you can utter words that bring dignity or words that demoralize; words that show acceptance or words that communicate rejection; words that restore a person to wholeness or destroy them to pieces; words that are kind or words that hurt. David chose to utter words that built up rather than tore down Mephibosheth. We carry around both buckets everyday in every situation. From which bucket do you draw your words?
One last thought. What David did for Mephibosheth, God does for us. Just as the king brought the outcast into the palace and made him a son, God adopts us into his family. You and I are Mephibosheths, too. The similarities between his life and ours are astounding. Before we came into a relationship with the Father, we spent our lives distancing ourselves from him because of our brokenness and shame. We feared that entering his presence would bring judgment upon our heads. When finally we lay trembling at his feet, he touched us and said, “Don’t be afraid.” He lifted us up and said, “I’m going to give back to you everything you ever lost because of sin. I’m going to give you an inheritance, blessings, and riches in the heavenly places. But more than that, I want you forever in my presence eating at my table, and I’m going to call you my child.”