The Gospel According to Mephibosheth

The Old Testament contains many stories of intrigue.  It’s no small wonder  the early years of Hollywood brought many of these ancient stories to the wide screen.  In recent days, I’ve watched three of them: Victor Mature played Samson (Samson and Delilah); Yul Brenner played Pharaoh (The Ten Commandments), and Gregory Peck played David (David and Bathsheba). While their directors practiced poetic license, their portrayals of biblical characters were heart-warming.  


I wish Hollywood would take a long, hard look at the story of Mephibosheth, an obscure account found in 2 Samuel 9.  Let me summarize the plot.  


As you may recall, King Saul and his son, Jonathan were killed in battle against the Philistines.  Although Jonathan was heir apparent to the throne, it was widely known that David was God’s choice.  In those days, remaining family members became fearful for their lives, as survivors were typically seen as threats to the throne and subsequently executed.  When it became known that Jonathan was dead, members of his household fled in fear.  


“Now Jonathan, Saul’s son, had a son crippled in his feet.  He was five years old when the report of Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel, and his nurse took him up and fled.  And it happened that in her hurry to flee, he fell and became lame.  And his name was Mephibosheth” (2 Samuel 4:4). His name literally means, “From the mouth of shame.”  There’s a story here!


Who would name their kid “Mephibosheth?”  Say that five times quickly!  But I digress!  His nanny picked him up and in her haste to escape, dropped him and the Bible says he became lame in both feet.  This is mentioned two times in this brief narrative — for a good reason.  It describes our spiritual condition before God.  


Mephibosheth became a lame refugee.  But after a period of time we discover that David’s love for Jonathan transcended the grave.  One day when thinking about his beloved and sadly missed friend, David asked, “Is there yet anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness, for Jonathan’s sake” (2 Samuel 9:1)?  Verse 3 continues, “The king said, ‘Is there not yet anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness of God?”  Then Ziba, the former servant of King Saul and now Mephibosheth, told David about the lame prince.  And this is where the story really unfolds and the plot becomes emotionally-charged.  The Holy Spirit uses this story to illustrate how a crippled refugee shows us the Gospel.


With David’s kingdom firmly established, his family settled into power and luxury.  His sons were educated and privileged, growing up with every advantage.  Meanwhile, Mephibosheth grew up in a place called Lo-Debar The name literally meant “pastureless.”  Another source says it was in the middle of “Nowhere!”  The town name inspires thoughts of dead grass, decay and the absence of life.  Aren’t you glad you’re not from “Nowhere?”


Imagine Mephibosheth daily hobbling on his crutches out to his porch to sit quietly because the pain in his legs was too much for him to stand for very long.  And as he gazed out at the land of Lo-Debar, the pastureless plain, I wonder how many times he reflected on his situation.  He looked down at his deformed and lifeless legs and wondered what life might have been had his father lived.  After all, he had been groomed to be the prince of Israel.  
This pitiful man was now doomed to a life of hopelessness. 


But his circumstances changed! And yours can, too!


Rather than punishing the descendants of Saul, David remembered his intense friendship with Jonathan, and he actively sought out anyone left from the family so that he could show kindness.  


“Then King David sent and brought him…from LoDebar.  And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage.  And David said, ‘Mephibosheth!’  And he answered, ‘Behold, I am your servant.’  And David said to him, ‘Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always’” (2 Samuel 9:5).


Mephibosheth was crippled.  Cast out.  Helpless.  Without hope.  “But David..” (verse 7).


We too were broken.  Hopeless.  Dead in our sin.  Cast out. “But God…”
(Romans 5:8)


Two parties without hope and living under a dramatically uncertain future.  And two extravagant displays of grace, both based on the merit of someone else.  For Mephibosheth, it was David.  For us, it is God’s own Son.  


And in both cases, the outcome involves a meal!  Mephibosheth ate at David’s table for the rest of his life.  And it is comforting and exciting to think that at the end of history, we too are headed for a meal — the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  The meal where the marriage of Christ and His Church will be celebrated.  


The “Gospel according to Mephibosheth” is a story of God’s grace.  You’d be hard-pressed to find another story in the Old Testament that portrays the Gospel in such a beautiful way.  You see, I am Mephibosheth.  In my sin I have fallen from grace, and in my brokenness, unable to stand before the Lord.  In my shame I run from God.  I hide myself from His gaze.  I fear His judgment.


While far from God — while living in Lo-Debar — His Spirit comes to me like the faithful servant, Ziba, and brings me before His throne.  While I ought to be condemned, God shows me His undeserved kindness.  God shows me grace, not because of anything I have done, not because of any potential He sees in me, but because Jesus has died in my place.  He sets a place for me at His table as one of His sons.  This my friend, is the Gospel!  



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