The last day of the year is a good day to reflect on the glories of Christ and on His unlimited merit before God, and how He came from heaven to earth so that unworthy sinners who merited nothing but God’s wrath could be saved and seated at the Lord’s table through faith in Jesus. The story of David and Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9 is always fascinating to me.
HIDING IN LO-DEBAR – A STORY
The day dawned just like every other day in Lo-debar had dawned, probably since time began. His name was Mephibosheth, which in Hebrew meant “dispeller of shame.” “What a twist of cruel irony!” he thought to himself, as he dragged his crippled feet off the cot and onto the floor. “The great ‘dispeller of shame,’ the man from Lo-debar!”
It would be difficult to find a less likely ‘dispeller of shame.’ Mephibosheth was the grandson of Saul, Israel’s first king. Saul had failed as a man and failed as a king. He was defeated by the Philistines and then, in defeat, had committed suicide on the battlefield. Saul, his grandfather, was then beheaded by his enemies, and his body was nailed to the wall of Beth-Shan in an act of ultimate humiliation (1 Samuel 31). Jonathan, Mephibosheth’s father, was also killed by the Philistines and nailed to the city wall alongside Saul. All Mephibosheth’s worldly inheritance vanished that day, dying with his father and grandfather, and he was left humiliated and destitute. The only thing that he inherited from his father was defeat and shame.
As if adding insult to injury, when Mephibosheth’s nurse heard that Israel had been defeated and that Jonathan was dead, she had fled with Mephibosheth to find refuge. As they were fleeing, he fell and was crippled in both feet (2 Samuel 4:4). Thus, on one day when he was five years old, Mephibosheth had become an orphan and a cripple, and the course of his life was set.
Now, years later, Mephibosheth is far away from Jerusalem, safely forgotten and hiding out in a desolate village in Gilead, in the town of Lo-debar. The town’s name means “no pasture,” which accurately describes the dusty village and its forlorn surroundings. Each today in Lo-debar is like yesterday, and tomorrow will be more so. In Lo-debar there is no future and there is no hope, but the village’s desolate obscurity provides Mephibosheth with a strange sense of security. No one asks about his past, so he does not need to deal with the shame of his family’s failures. The fact that he is crippled is actually an asset, because while he cannot work and cannot be a soldier, he can receive alms from people out of their pity for his misery. Most of all, he will never be found by the great warrior, King David. The misery of the monotonous life of Lo-debar is a small price to pay to remain hidden from the eyes of the great king in Jerusalem. Mephibosheth could not bear the thought of having to face the great king.
Then suddenly Mephibosheth’s safety is shattered. Messengers have come all the way from Jerusalem to Lo-debar and they have come looking for him. Ziba, the faithful family servant, has betrayed his location and has told David exactly where he has been hiding (2 Samuel 9:3-4). The messengers take Mephibosheth and bring him all the way to Jerusalem, into the very presence of the man he fears most, King David. Of course, David will kill him. He is the only remaining heir from the line of Saul, and conquering kings do not long tolerate rivals, even rivals as pathetic as Mephibosheth. So, no doubt David has brought him to Jerusalem to slaughter him personally. As he is brought into the king’s presence, Mephibosheth falls on his face and prostrates himself before King David. Perhaps the king will feel some sense of pity and will show him a moment’s compassion before he dispatches the miserable Mephibosheth.
EXALTED ON THE BASIS OF ANOTHER MAN’S MERIT
But Mephibosheth does not receive the king’s wrath and he does not experience the king’s vengeance. King David does not speak of the fact that Mephibosheth is crippled in both feet nor does he remind Mephibosheth of his shameful past, that he is the lone survivor of a failed monarchy. Instead of trying to find Mephibosheth so that he can kill him, David has made a diligent search for Mephibosheth and has called him by name (2 Samuel 9:6) so that he can bless him and show him the kindness of God (2 Samuel 9:3).
And why does Mephibosheth receive all these blessings? Is it because he is really a pretty spectacular guy and deserves to be showered with blessings? Were all his thoughts of humiliation and shame just the results of poor self-esteem, and has David seen that Mephibosheth is really a “diamond in the rough?” Despite being physically crippled and emotionally damaged and financially destitute, isn’t Mephibosheth basically good?
No. Mephibosheth’s assessment of himself was accurate. There is nothing in Mephibosheth himself that merits anything from David except contempt. If Mephibosheth got what he deserved, then he would be destroyed at once.
Mephibosheth receives grace and blessing from King David, the Lord’s anointed king, because of the merits of another. You see, Mephibosheth was Jonathan’s son, and David loved Jonathan as his own soul (2 Samuel 1:26). David goes in search of Mephibosheth because Mephibosheth was related to Jonathan. Because of Jonathan, David summons the “dead dog (2 Samuel 9:8)” from Lo-debar in the wastelands of Gilead to his own house to eat at his own table as one of his own sons. Because of Jonathan, all that belonged to Saul and to Saul’s house is restored to Mephibosheth. Because of Jonathan, all of Mephibosheth’s weaknesses and shame and faults are concealed under Jonathan’s merits and worth. Mephibosheth is treated as if he himself possessed all the merits of Jonathan, because he is associated with Jonathan. David pours out his favor on Mephibosheth not because of anything in Mephibosheth, but because David loved Jonathan. Mephibosheth can offer nothing to King David. He has no merits. He can only bring his lame feet and his shameful past, and he can plead for mercy based on his father, Jonathan. And that plea for mercy based on the merits of another will place him at the king’s table to eat regularly as one of the king’s sons.
A MODERN-DAY MEPHIBOSHETH
Like Mephibosheth, I, too, once dwelt in Lo-debar, far from the King, hiding in my shame and fear. I was ashamed of my sin and my weakness and failures, and I was fearful of God’s judgment and His punishment. Oh no, of course I did not know these things at the time. I only knew the misery of my wretchedness, being convinced of having ghastly, oozing flaws which, though invisible to me, were immediately and glaringly obvious to others, and these flaws caused others to be repulsed by me.
But then the King sought me out. The One who owned everything and who knew everything, including all my sin and shame, the King who ruled the universe from His eternal, heavenly throne began His search for me. “Is there someone for whom My Son has died whom I can now bring into My house to dwell with Me forever?”
Then the King sent messengers to me in “Lo-debar” to tell me about the Lord Jesus, the one who was worthy of all glory and honor, the one who had merited God’s perfect favor based on His perfect life. I saw the beauty and the power and the glory of Jesus, but I could not understand how that had anything to do with me. “Surely, O King, You do not mean for me to dwell with You! I am flawed and full of shame. I could never merit Your love.” But the King said, “I do not need for you to merit my blessing, for Jesus, My Son, is the favored one. He has merited My favor, and if you will love Jesus, then His merits will be credited to you. You see, you could never get to heaven on your own merits, so I have sent My Son to earth to give you His righteousness. He is the great ‘dispeller of shame.’ Believe in Him, and His merits become your merits and His righteousness becomes yours. Because of Jesus, you can be fully accepted. By believing in Jesus, you can put on His perfect robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). Because of Jesus, you can eat at My table as one of My adopted sons. Because of Jesus, you can dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Because of Jesus, even though you are lame in both feet (2 Samuel 9:13), you will live with me as My child.”
And so, this “dead dog” was raised up with Jesus and seated in the heavenlies with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-7).
AS WE END 2020
As we end 2020 and head into a new year, I would encourage us to think more deeply about all that God has accomplished for us through the Lord Jesus. He has done the impossible. He has brought those who deserve His wrath into His presence as adopted sons and daughters based on faith in the Lord Jesus.
“that He may be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).” SDG rmb 12/31/2020