2 Samuel 9
The resounding consensus regarding our beloved brother Gerald Draleau was, “He made me feel like I was the most important person in the world.” What a legacy! I know of a few people who have that kind of impact, but only a few. It’s a rare trait in our current culture to have the personal awareness to set aside the phone, take a break from busy schedules, and give your whole attention to the person in front of you. To treat someone this way is to treat them with honor. This week I would like to challenge you to take up Paul’s charge from Philippians 2:3, to “count others more significant than yourselves.”
2 SAMUEL 9
As you consider this, take for example the story of David and Mephibosheth (2 Sam 9). Upon establishing his reign over all Israel, David seeks an opportunity to bless Saul’s family. Saul. The man who made David’s life miserable. 2 Samuel 9:1 says, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” David’s kingship is finally solidified and he found an opportunity to use his position for good by aiding the family of a loyal friend in Jonathan. But Jonathan is gone, as is Saul his father. David learns of Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth. He was not, however, someone who was expecting help or honor from David—quite the opposite. He bore the shame, and risk, of being Saul’s grandson. In their ancient culture, family loyalty was assumed and political power inherited. So to avoid rival claims to the throne, kings vanquished relatives of the disposed king. As a descendant of Saul, Mephibosheth expects David to execute him, and thus cement David’s royal glory throughout Israel. David could get his final victory over Saul by ending his lineage once and for all. But that’s not how the story goes.
For Mephibosheth, however, being grandson of the defeated king was not his greatest shame in his ancient community. Mephibosheth was also severely handicapped. The first mention of him is not by name, but as “a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet” (2 Sam 9:3). His physical handicap defined him. Society viewed him as deformed and defective. His crippled feet were also a social stigma and basis of exclusion in ancient Israel. Anyone with a physical blemish, including a disfigured or broken limb, was excluded from making sacrifices and participating in festivals in the temple.
David’s social status
On the other hand, David’s social status is at peak levels; he is respected and feared by all at this point in the narrative. David has restored God’s presence to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6), established an eternal covenant with God (2 Sam 7), enjoyed great military success (2 Sam 8) and established his government throughout Israel. At this pinnacle of royal grandeur, the great king invites the handicap grandson of his archrival into his palace.
Upon entering David’s presence, Mephibosheth prostrates himself and pleads, “What is your servant, that you should look upon a dead dog such as I?” (2 Sam 9:8). The self-declared label of “dead dog” reveals Mephibosheth is keenly aware of his lowly status; he cannot erase the shame. But from that point, David’s actions drastically reverse Mephibosheth’s status.
David’s gracious act
David acts graciously to restore Mephibosheth to a notable place in Jerusalem. The first step is to transfer all of Saul’s possessions to Mephibosheth. This is a surprising move; people would have expected David to seize those assets for his own family. Then David establishes a system to provide for Mephibosheth’s long-term sustenance. David instructs Saul’s head servant and his fifteen sons and twenty servants to cultivate the land so that Mephibosheth may have food to eat. With Saul’s possessions and servants, Mephibosheth would lead a dignified life.
But most significantly, David says, “Mephibosheth shall always eat at my table” (2 Sam 9:10). Eating with the king, even if only one time as a guest, would have conferred great honor on any Israelite. But to eat regularly at the king’s table implies Mephibosheth is “like one of the king’s sons” (2 Sam 9:11). From a dead dog to a royal son at the king’s table! Such a reversal of status is reminiscent of David’s own exaltation from young shepherd boy to king of Israel.
David’s gracious acceptance erases Mephibosheth’s shame and gives him status. The honored one acts on behalf of the shamed. This is exactly the problem with a loss of honor or social standing in their culture–the only way to lift your position is if someone of higher status does it for you. One cannot restore a loss of honor on one’s own. David’s grace toward Mephibosheth mirrors the nature of God’s grace toward his people, doesn’t it? Before God we are shamed. Our only hope for removing shame and restoring honor comes from God—the one seated on high who comes down to us. Our God is the one royal King who lifts us from shame and provides a new identity—this is the good news!
Psalm 113:5-9 praises the exalted God who raises the shamed.
“Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.”
As David knew so well, his words could honor Mephibosheth, but his hospitality could do even more. For this reason, Scripture often uses the imagery of food and hospitality to communicate our spiritual status as guests welcomed by God. The language of feasting and hosting conveys an imputation of honor throughout Scripture.
In Psalm 23 God is our host (not only shepherd):
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. . . . I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long. (Ps 23:5-6)
BRIDGE TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
So as you reflect on this remarkable story of grace and selflessness, may we, of course, connect the dots to the way Jesus removes our shame and gives us the right to be children of God. He took our shame upon himself on the cross. The cross was certainly a torturous death. But perhaps worse than the pain itself was the disgrace of the public shaming of crucifixion. Jesus was mocked, stripped of his clothing, and hung in public display as a criminal. Sin separates us from God, but also creates social shame. The grace of the cross is not just an erasure of the chalkboard of one’s sins, but a transference of sin’s shame. Jesus restores us to right standing with God and allows us to stand in the assembly of the righteous.
The challenge, then, is to find your Mephibosheth. That’s not to say we should view ourselves as King David. The incredible thing about David is that although a king, he did not hoard honor, but shared it with someone who was disgraced. As, of course, does Jesus (Philippians 2). Find a way to elevate voices of those who cannot speak for themselves. Go out of your way to honor those who are difficult for you to deal with. Honor those dealing with difficulty–the sick, the suffering, or perhaps someone dealing with some unspoken difficulty. Use your social media to praise the good around you in your friends, family, and coworkers. Open your home for a meal with your neighbor. Honor God by honoring others.
Much of this discussion comes from a book I’m reading for grad school: Jayson George’s Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures, 2013, pages 82-85.