And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king. He had neither taken care of his feet nor trimmed his beard nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came back in safety. And when he came to Jerusalem to meet the king, the king said to him, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?” He answered, “My lord, O king, my servant deceived me, for your servant said to him, ‘I will saddle a donkey for myself, that I may ride on it and go with the king.’ For your servant is lame. He has slandered your servant to my lord the king. But my lord the king is like the angel of God; do therefore what seems good to you. For all my father’s house were but men doomed to death before my lord the king, but you set your servant among those who eat at your table. What further right have I, then, to cry to the king?” And the king said to him, “Why speak any more of your affairs? I have decided: you and Ziba shall divide the land.” And Mephibosheth said to the king, “Oh, let him take it all, since my lord the king has come safely home.” – 2 Samuel 19:24-30 ESV
This short little vignette offers another example of David’s seeming inability to deal wisely and decisively with difficult situations. Here, he is confronted with a situation where he must discern the truth between what Ziba and Mephibosheth have told him. If you recall, when David was fleeing from Jerusalem, Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth showed up bearing provisions. When David asked him where his master was, Ziba told him, “He stayed in Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 16:3 NLT). Then he added a bit of news that would condemn Mephibosheth in David’s eyes. He informed David that when Mephibosheth had heard that Absalom was taking over the kingdom, he had replied, “Today I will get back the kingdom of my grandfather Saul” (2 Samuel 16:3 NLT). In other words, Ziba had inferred that Mephibosheth was siding with Absalom in the hopes of regaining the crown. But none of that should have made sense to David. Absalom was not going to hand the kingdom over to Mephibosheth, just because he was the grandson of Saul. And Mephibosheth had nothing to gain by Absalom becoming king. David had already given him all the land that had once belonged to Saul. Ziba and his 15 sons were ordered by David to care for the land on Mephibosheth’s behalf, while he ate all his meals with David in the palace. You can easily see why Ziba might want to paint Mephibosheth in a negative light and why he had showed up that day bearing gifts to David. And David had taken Ziba’s word concerning Mephibosheth as truth and rewarded him by giving him all of Mephibosheth’s property and possessions.
Then David returned to Jerusalem and found Mephibosheth in a disheveled state. When he questioned Mephibosheth about why he had not fled Jerusalem alongside him, Mephibosheth revealed that he had intended to, but had been betrayed by Ziba.
“My lord the king, my servant Ziba deceived me. I told him, ‘Saddle my donkey so I can go with the king.’ For as you know I am crippled. Ziba has slandered me by saying that I refused to come. But I know that my lord the king is like an angel of God, so do what you think is best. All my relatives and I could expect only death from you, my lord, but instead you have honored me by allowing me to eat at your own table! What more can I ask?” – 2 Samuel 19:26-28 NLT
David was faced with a dilemma. He had already awarded all the property and possessions of Mephibosheth to Ziba, which may explain why Mephibosheth “had not cared for his feet, trimmed his beard, or washed his clothes since the day the king left Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 19:24 NLT). Now David heard the other side of the story and found himself needing to make a determination as to what would be the just and wise thing to do. And David’s decision?
“I’ve decided that you and Ziba will divide your land equally between you.” – 2 Samuel 19:29 NLT
Mephibosheth’s response speaks volumes and should have opened David’s eyes as to what was really going on. Mephibosheth didn’t argue or appear shocked. He simply replied, ““Give him all of it. I am content just to have you safely back again, my lord the king!” (2 Samuel 19:30 NLT).
This whole exchange should bring to mind a similar story that took place during the reign of Solomon, David’s son. Renowned for his wisdom, one day he was confronted with a case involving two women who came to him for justice. It would require Solomon to determine the truth regarding which woman was the real mother of an infant boy. Here are the details provided by the women themselves, just as Solomon heard it:
“Please, my lord,” one of them began, “this woman and I live in the same house. I gave birth to a baby while she was with me in the house. Three days later this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there were only two of us in the house.
“But her baby died during the night when she rolled over on it. Then she got up in the night and took my son from beside me while I was asleep. She laid her dead child in my arms and took mine to sleep beside her. And in the morning when I tried to nurse my son, he was dead! But when I looked more closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t my son at all.”
Then the other woman interrupted, “It certainly was your son, and the living child is mine.”
“No,” the first woman said, “the living child is mine, and the dead one is yours.” And so they argued back and forth before the king. – 1 Kings 3:17-22 NLT
What would Solomon do? How would he decide which one was telling the truth. Interestingly enough, his initial decision was similar to that of David. He determined to divide the disputed “property” between the two of them.
Then the king said, “Let’s get the facts straight. Both of you claim the living child is yours, and each says that the dead one belongs to the other. All right, bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought to the king.
Then he said, “Cut the living child in two, and give half to one woman and half to the other!” – 1 Kings 3:23-25 NLT
And Solomon’s decision achieved exactly what he was looking for. The real mother, shocked at the thought of her son being put to death, pleaded with Solomon to let him live and to give him to the other woman. The other woman, driven by jealousy and not by love for the baby, callously replied, “All right, he will be neither yours nor mine; divide him between us!” (1 Kings 3:26 NLT). Solomon had heard all he needed to hear. He wisely ruled, “Do not kill the child, but give him to the woman who wants him to live, for she is his mother!” (1 Kings 3:27 NLT).
So, what does this have to do with David, Ziba and Mephibosheth? The responses of the real mother and that of Mephibosheth were evidence of the veracity of their story. Solomon was wise enough to see through the lies of the other woman. But David, having already given all of the land of Mephibosheth to Ziba without giving him the benefit of a doubt or having heard his side of the story, decided to split the difference and give each of them half. But one of them was lying. One deserved nothing. When Mephibosheth told David, “Give him all of it”, he should have known who was telling the truth. He should have reinstated all the lands of Saul back to Mephibosheth. But instead, he rewarded Ziba for his deception.
David was in a conciliatory mood. He didn’t want to offend anybody. He was making peace with everybody. At this point in his life, just getting along was more important than justice. Winning friends and influencing enemies was first and foremost on his mind. But he was the king. It was his duty to dispense justice. It was his God-given responsibility to rule righteously and justly, not based on expedience or convenience. It would be David’s son, Solomon, who would later write these powerful words, that stand in stark contrast to the actions of David.
Give your love of justice to the king, O God,
and righteousness to the king’s son.
Help him judge your people in the right way;
let the poor always be treated fairly.
May the mountains yield prosperity for all,
and may the hills be fruitful.
Help him to defend the poor,
to rescue the children of the needy,
and to crush their oppressors.
May they fear you as long as the sun shines,
as long as the moon remains in the sky.
Yes, forever! – Psalm 72:1-5 NLT
The prophet, Isaiah, speaks of a future day when a righteous king will reign. He tells of a king who will rule justly and righteously.
Look, a righteous king is coming!
And honest princes will rule under him.
Each one will be like a shelter from the wind
and a refuge from the storm,
like streams of water in the desert
and the shadow of a great rock in a parched land.
Then everyone who has eyes will be able to see the truth,
and everyone who has ears will be able to hear it.
Even the hotheads will be full of sense and understanding.
Those who stammer will speak out plainly.
In that day ungodly fools will not be heroes.
Scoundrels will not be respected. – Isaiah 32:1-5 NLT
That king will be Jesus. He will rule on this earth from the throne of David in Jerusalem. He will not be swayed by the lies of ungodly fools or motivated by the deceptive actions of scoundrels. He will be anything but politically correct. He will not rule selfishly or short-sightedly. He will always be concerned with the glory of God and the good of the people. David would ultimately prove to be a good king, some might even say, a great king. But he was nothing compared to the King to come. He was a man, marred by sin and easily influenced by the falsehood within his own heart and the deceptive motives of those around him. But what we can learn from the life of David is the desperate need we all have of God’s help in leading well. Without His assistance, we are easily deceived, by our own hearts and by the schemes of others. We are easy prey to the enemy. Only God can provide us with the wisdom we need to lead our families, employees, churches, and lives well.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.