David, Mephibosheth, and the Kindness of God

As a monk, Martin Luther was once asked whether he loved God. “Love him?” he cried, “Sometimes I hate him.” At that point, all Luther had seen was the severity of God. He hadn’t yet beheld his kindness. It’s hard to love someone you think is unkind. Perhaps this is why Satan has made it his goal from the beginning to call God’s kindness into question.

But that’s why chapters like 2 Samuel 9 are in the Bible. This is a story of David’s kindness. The words “show kindness” appear three times (2 Sam. 9:1, 3, 9), culminating with the comforting words, “Do not be afraid, for I will show you kindness.”

But this story is about more than just David’s kindness. Because Scripture tells us that David was “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). Indeed, this passage explicitly recognizes the connection between David’s kindness and God’s (2 Sam. 9:3).

So let’s look at four aspects of David’s kindness in this story, and then reflect on how they reflect God’s heart to us.

1. The Object of David’s Kindness

The object of David’s kindness was Mephibosheth, a crippled member of a rival house. As Saul’s grandson, it’s no wonder Mephibosheth needed David to quiet his fears (2 Sam. 9:7). Kindness from David must have been the last thing he expected. After all, it was common for new kings to kill off members of the previous dynasty.

His lameness was the result of a fall he’d experienced when his nurse dropped him at age five (2 Sam. 4:4; 9:3, 13). So this young man now labored under a double curse. Not only was he the king’s enemy, but he had been crippled by a fall, and was now totally unable to help himself.

This is the kind of person David chooses to show kindness to. A member of his enemy’s house, rendered helpless by a fall.

2. The Origin of David’s Kindness

Perhaps surprisingly, it wasn’t David’s love or pity for Mephibosheth that prompted this kindness—not originally. It was his love for someone else. There was one man in Saul’s house who had been his loyal friend, and that man was Mephibosheth’s father, Jonathan.

And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Sam. 9:1)

If we want to find the origin of David’s kindness, we have to go back to a time before Mephibosheth was born, all the way back to a bond of covenant-making love that existed between David and Mephibosheth’s father (1 Sam. 18:1–4). Despite posing a threat to his own claim to the throne, Jonathan had “loved David as his own soul,” defended him against his father’s murderous rage, and recognized David as the rightful heir. And eventually, he had asked David to show “steadfast love” (Hebrew, chesed) to his house when David finally became king (1 Sam. 20:13–17).

It’s that oath-bound request that David is honoring now when he asks “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness (Hebrew chesed) for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Sam. 9:1)

That’s the origin of David’s kindness. It wasn’t because Mephibosheth was worthy, or even because he was miserable. It was because of his love for Jonathan, and the covenant that love had led them to make with each other. Mephibosheth is simply an unworthy and unfortunate sinner who is now reaping the blessings of a covenant love that he had nothing to do with.

3. The Demonstration of David’s Kindness

David demonstrates his kindness to Mephibosheth in three ways. First, he calls him and welcomes him into his presence (2 Sam. 9:5–7). Mephibosheth didn’t come on his own initiative—David sought him, sent for him, and then welcomed him with words of assurance (2 Sam. 9:7).

Second, he restores his inheritance (2 Sam. 9:7, 9–10). Everything his father had lost is now returned to him. The inheritance alone would have made Mephibosheth a wealthy man. He could have sat around his own table and eaten his own food. But it gets better.

As a crowning act of kindness, David gives Mephibosheth a seat at his very own table. Four times this is repeated (2 Sam. 9:7, 10, 11, 13). It’s a permanent seat (three times we hear the word “always;” 2 Sam. 9:7, 10, 13). This isn’t a trial period, this is covenant security. Moreover, it’s a family seat. “Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons” (2 Sam. 9:11). Should anyone ever reproach him for being Saul’s grandson, David would have his back. David’s rod and his staff would comfort him, and he would dwell in the house of David forever.

4. The Response to David’s Kindness

The only question left is How do you respond to kindness like that? You wake up one morning with nothing ahead of you but a life of crippled exile, far away from the inheritance that your grandfather lost through his rebellion, and by the time you go to bed that night, you’re the lord of a vast estate and for all practical purposes a child of the king?

The answer is found in v. 8: “And [Mephibosheth] paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?’”

This is the language of humility. Who am I that you should be so kind to me? He might have responded with bitterness—You stole the crown from my father! Or pride– I’m sorry, but I can’t accept charity! Or entitlement—It’s the least you could do, since if it weren’t for you I might have been a king instead of a cripple!

Instead he gladly receives this unspeakable gift, thankful that a great King like David would stoop to show kindness to a wretch like him.

Beholding God’s Kindness

If all this sounds strangely familiar to you, it’s because you and I are Mephibosheth. This is more than a story of David’s kindness to Mephibosheth. It’s the story of God’s kindness to us in the gospel.

If we ask who are the objects of God’s kindness? The gospel’s answer is not his friends, but his enemies. Not the healthy, but the sick. Not the strong, but the weak who are crippled by the fall and unable to help themselves (Rom. 5:6, 10).

As with Mephibosheth, the roots of God’s kindness don’t lie in us—they go much deeper and are much more solid. Ultimately, God doesn’t show us kindness for our sake, but for the sake of Jesus, and the covenant they made together long before we were born. An eternal covenant in which the Father agreed to send his Son, the Spirit agreed to help him, and the Son agreed to come and die for hell-deserving sinners like us.

And having delivered up his Son for us, he now calls us and welcomes us into his presence, restores our inheritance, and gives us a seat at his family table. Because of Jesus we can now approach the throne of grace and expect to hear our Father say “Do not fear, for I will show kindness to you.”

And how should we respond? The same way Mephibosheth did. By beholding God’s manifold kindness to us—by looking at the food on our plate, the roof over our head, the clothes on our back—and most of all, by looking at the cross, and seeing God loving us so much that we can’t help but exclaim, “Who am I that a King would show kindness to a dead dog such as I?”

Do we deserve all this? No. But when a King wants to show you kindness, dead dogs don’t argue. Instead, we accept our inheritance, thank our new master, and pull up a chair at his table.

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