So David reigned over all Israel. And David administered justice and equity to all his people. Joab the son of Zeruiah was over the army, and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder, and Zadok the son of Ahitub and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar were priests, and Seraiah was secretary, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and David’s sons were priests.
And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “I am your servant.” And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. 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.” And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”
Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson. And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master’s grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master’s grandson shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba’s house became Mephibosheth’s servants. So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet. – 2 Samuel 8:15-9:13 ESV
I have chosen to link these two passages together because they provide a telling illstration of David’s approach to his power. At the close of chapter eight, we are told, “David reigned over all Israel. And David administered justice and equity to all his people” (2 Samuel 8:15 ESV). He was a good king and a fair one. He took his job seriously and ruled responsibly. And we see him surrounding himself with trustworthy men who will act as his official cabinet. He appointed Joab as his military leader. Jehoshaphat was his chief of staff. Zadok and Ahimelech were his spiritual advisors. Seraiah was secretary. Benaiah was a representative. And then we read that two of David’s sons were priests. This one should catch our attention, because as sons of David, they were not qualified to be priests. They were not of the tribe of Levi. And yet, the very same Hebrew word is used to describe their role as that used to describe Zadok and Ahimelech. Now, if David had appointed his sons priests, he would have been making a serious mistake; one which the Lord would have seen as an egregious affront to His law. But since there is no indication elsewhere in Scripture that David’s sons ever functioned as priests, many believe that an alternative meaning of the Hebrew word, kohen, must apply. That word could also refer to a chief ruler. In fact, the New American Standard Bible translates the word as “chief ministers.” The New Living Translation uses the term “priestly leaders.” More than likely, these two sons were not official priests, but acted as intermediaries between the priesthood and David’s administration.
David did not try to rule alone. He surrounded himself with wise and gifted men who could assist him in responsibilities as king. And it would seem that most of these men had proven themselves loyal to David over the years. He was comfortable with their advise because he could trust their character. He knew them well.
But one of the amazing things we see about David from these two passages is that he was also a loyal leader. He did not abuse his power or allow the significance of his role to go to his head. He was still the young shepherd boy at heart. He may have become the king of all Israel, but his character remained virtually unchanged. And chapter nine provides an insight into David’s heart. After he had solidified his rule over all Israel, he remembered a covenant he had made with Jonathan, the son of Saul and his best friend. When David had decided it was time to leave Saul’s employment for good, he and Jonathan met for the last time to say their goodbyes. At that emotional farewell, David and Jonathan made a covenant with one another. Jonathan pledged to David, saying,
“May the Lord be with you as he used to be with my father. And may you treat me with the faithful love of the Lord as long as I live. But if I die, treat my family with this faithful love, even when the Lord destroys all your enemies from the face of the earth.” – 1 Samuel 20:13-15 ESV
Just as they departed ways, Jonathan said to David once last thing:
“Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.’”And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city. – 1 Samuel 20:18 ESV
Now, years later, Jonathan was dead and David was the king. David remembered his covenant with Jonathan and asked if there was anyone left from the house of Saul. If David had been like any other king of that era, he would have been asking that question so that he could eliminate any possible claimants to the throne. Killing potential kingly candidates was a fairly normal practice. But David wasn’t looking to murder any descendants of Saul, he was wanting to keep his commitment to Jonathan. To David’s apparent surprise, he was told that Jonathan had a son, Mephibosheth. He had been crippled in a household accident at the age of five, and by this time was probably a young man. He had been under the care of a man named Ziba ever since Jonathan had died in battle. When David was informed of Mephibosheth’s existence, he commanded that he be brought to him. Can you imagine how this royal decree struck the young son of Saul? He was probably petrified. In fact, the text tells us he fell on his face before David. And David, sensing his fear, David attempted to calm him.
“Don’t be afraid!” David said. “I intend to show kindness to you because of my promise to your father, Jonathan. I will give you all the property that once belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will eat here with me at the king’s table!” – 2 Samuel 9:7 NLT
This was not what Mephibosheth had expected to hear. He most likely had thought that David would view him as an enemy and a threat. He probably knew well the stories of how his grandfather had treated David. He would not have been expecting a warm welcome from David, and yet, David showed Mephibosheth grace and mercy. He welcomed him with open arms and invited him to live in his home and eat at his table. He took complete responsibility for Mephibosheth’s care – all out of respect and honor for his friend, Jonathan. And Mephibosheth was so taken aback by all of this, that all he could do was bow before David and exclaim, “Who is your servant, that you should show such kindness to a dead dog like me?” (2 Samuel 9:8 NLT).
Mephibosheth became like a son to David. He ate at his table. He was treated with dignity, honor and respect. David even returned to Mephibosheth all the land and property that had belonged to his grandfather, Saul. This incredible kindness shown by David was not something he was required to do. He did it out of love for his friend, Jonathan. He had made a covenant and he was going to keep it. He didn’t let his new-found power and fame go to his head. He didn’t allow himself to justify or rationalize away his keeping of his word to Jonathan. He was a man of his word. Even if it cost him. Even if those who sat on his cabinet might not agree with his decision. He did the right thing, even if others might have viewed it as illogical and unnecessary. And Mephibosheth was the undeserving beneficiary of David’s mercy, grace and kindness.
Those of us who have placed our faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ have also been shown mercy and grace – from the King of kings and Lord of lords. In our weak and undeserving state, crippled by sin and condemned to death, we were invited to feast at the King’s table and made His sons and daughters. Paul tells us in Romans that we are God’s children and heirs (Romans 8:15-17). In his letter to Titus, Paul gives us a reminder of just how much Mephibosheth we all are.
When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. – Titus 3:4-5 NLT
David was a man of his word. And God is faithful to keep His promises to us. We are His sons and daughters, and one day we will inherit his kingdom. We will feast at His table and live in His presence. Not because we deserve it, but because of His grace, mercy and love.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.