U2 sing a song called ‘Grace’ in which they say, ‘It’s a name for a girl. It’s also an idea that changed the world. Grace finds beauty in everything.’ Charles Swindoll defines grace as kindness to someone who has not earned it and can never repay it. He suggests that the story of Miphiboseth is the greatest illustration of grace in the Old Testament.
David’s offer of grace reflects God’s heart
It was during a peaceful time in King David’s reign when he started to look back on his past. He remembers promises he made to King Saul (1 Samuel 20:42) and his son Jonathan (1 Samuel 24:21-22). He had promised that not to destroy Saul’s descendants and that there would remain a bond of kindness between Jonathan’s people and his own. In that culture when a dynasty changes the new king might have wiped out the whole family of the old king in case one of the old king’s family made a claim for the throne.
In light of these promises David asks, ‘Is there anyone left in the house of Saul, that I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’ Apparently the word translated kindness can also be rendered ‘grace’. ‘Is there anyone … that I might show grace for Jonathan’s sake?’ Grace is a demonstration of love that is unearned, undeserved and unrepayable. King David longs to show grace!
When a servant of Saul, called Ziba, is brought to David, the king puts the question to him in a slightly different way. ‘Is there not still someone in the house of Saul, that I might show the kindness of God to him?’ At that moment in time David wants to act in a manner that reflects the heart of the God he loves.
In one of the Psalms, David explains that, ‘The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and steadfast in love … he does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him … as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion to those who fear him.’
Grace enables us to move from fear to faith
Ziba tells David about a son of Jonathan who is crippled in both feet.
Now there is backstory here. In the panic that had followed the death of Saul and Jonathan—as they fought the Philistines—a tragedy befell one of Jonathan’s children. ‘Jonathan, the son of Saul, has a son who was crippled in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel, and his nurse took him and fled, and as she fled in her haste, he fell and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth’ (4:4). The nurse was running, presumably because she feared that a new king would want to kill the family of the old.
Now, Mephibosheth is an adult with a family of his own. He is not looking for King David. In fact he has kept his existence hidden from the king. It is the king who is seeking him, in order to bless him. I am reminded of words from Isaiah where God declares that, ‘I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me, I was found by those who did not seek me’ (65:1a). God truly is the hound of heaven who seeks to pour his love on people.
The last thing Mephibosheth wants is a lock on the door saying, ‘the king wants to see you.’ He would have assumed that this was a summons to his death. When he arrives before David he falls at his feet and pays homage. He cries out, ‘Behold, I am your servant’ (6).
Imagine the relief as David replies, ‘Do not fear, for I will show kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you will eat at my table always’ (8). Mephibosheth may have expected a sword to fall on his head. Instead he hears words of amazing kindness. He is moved from a place of fear to a place of favour.
The one who is called ‘Son of David’, King Jesus, says to those who draw close to him, ‘Do not fear!’ In fact that apostle John writes, ‘perfect love casts out fear because fear has to do with punishment’ (1 John 4:18). Those who have fallen on their face in submission to him have nothing to be frightened of. He has taken our punishment and is determined to show kindness to us.
On Monday morning, when I sat down to work on this text, I asked myself, ‘how does this story help us think about what Jesus has done for us?’ I came up with three suggestions (you may be able to come up with a few more).
Firstly, this story reminds us of our inability. You see, to be crippled in that culture rendered you helpless. Mephibosheth came helplessly to the king. Similarly, we are brought to God dead in transgressions and sin (Ephesians 2:1). We were running from God. Christ came running to us. We could not purchase God’s favour. All we can offer are self-righteous deeds that are stained like filthy rags. Christ lived and died to clothe us in righteousness.
Secondly, this story reminds us that we have been shown kindness for the sake of another. David wanted to show kindness for the sake of Jonathan. Similarly, God shows kindness to us for the sake of Jesus. God the Father, out of love for his Son, and because of the penalty his Son paid for our guilt, delights to show infinite kindness to us.
Finally, we have been given a place of privilege. David says, ‘I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father’ (7). I love the ‘restore’. In our sin we have forfeited what we were designed to be. We were hiding from God and had no real purpose in life. Our world had become small—rotating upon the axis of self. However, God restores us to a life that is full of purpose and pleasure as we live in a large hearted-world that rotates upon the axis of divine love.
‘Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons’ (11c). God goes further with us. We are not seated at the king’s table ‘like’ one of the king’s sons, but actually as one of his sons. ‘God sent forth his Son, to redeem us, that we might receive adoption as sons’ (Galatians 4:5).
God has shown us infinitely more grace that David poured out upon Mephibosheth. Like him we should be amazed. ‘What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?’ (8).