THIS charming idyll of faithful love to a dead friend and generous kindness
comes in amid stories of battle like a green oasis in a wilderness of wild
rocks and sand. The natural sweetness and chivalry of David’s disposition,
which fascinated all who had to do with him, comes beautifully out in it,
and it may well stand as an object-lesson of the great Christian duty of
regarded, the narrative brings out first the motives of true kindliness.
Saul and three of his four sons had fallen on the fatal field of
the fourth, the weak
Ishbosheth, had been murdered after his abortive
attempt at setting up a rival kingdom had come to nothing. There were only
Saul’s daughters and some sons by a concubine. So low had the proud house
sunk, while David was consolidating his kingdom, and gaining victory
wherever he went.
But neither his own prosperity, nor
the absence of any trace of Saul’s legitimate male descendants, made him
forget his ancient oath to Jonathan. Years had not weakened his love, his
sufferings at Saul’s hands had not embittered it. His elevation had not
lifted him too high to see the old days of lowliness, and the dear memory
of the self-forgetting friend whose love had once been an honour to the
shepherd lad. Jonathan’s name had been written on his heart when it was
impressionable, and the lettering was as if ‘graven on the rock for ever.’
A heart so faithful to its old love needed no prompting either from men or
circumstances. Hence the inquiry after ‘any that is left of the house of
Saul’ was occasioned by nothing external, but came welling up from the
depth of the king’s own soul.
That is the highest type of
kindliness which is spontaneous and self motivated. It is well to be
easily moved to beneficence either by the sight of need or by the appeals
of others, but it is best to kindle our own fire, and be our own impulse
to gracious thoughts and acts. We may humbly say that human mercy then
shows likest God’s, when, in such imitation as is possible, it springs in
us, as His does in Him, from the depths of our own being. He loves and is
kind because He is God. He is His own motive and law. So, in our measure,
should we aim at becoming.
But David’s remarkable language in
his questions to Ziba goes still deeper in unfolding his motives. For he
speaks of showing ‘the kindness of God’ to any remaining of Saul’s house.
Now that expression is no mere synonym for kindness exceeding great, but
it unfolds what was at once David’s deepest motive and his bright ideal.
No doubt, it may include a reminiscence of the sacred obligation of the
oath to Jonathan, hut it hallows David’s purposed ‘mercy’ as the echo of
God’s to him, and so anticipates the Christian teaching, ‘Be ye merciful,
even as your Father is merciful.’ We must receive mercy from Him before
our hearts are softened, so as to give it to others, just as the wire must
be charged from the electric source before it can communicate the tingle
and the light.
The best basis for the beneficent
service of man is experience of the mercy of God. Philanthropy has no
roots unless it is planted in religion. That is a lesson which this age
needs. And the other side of the thought is as true and needful; namely,
that our ‘ religion’ is not ‘ pure and undefiled’ unless
it manifests itself in the service of man. How serene and lofty, then, the
ideal! How impossible ever to be too forgiving or too beneficent! ‘As your
heavenly Father is,’ — that is our pattern. We have not shown our brother
all the kindness which we owe him unless we have shown him ‘the kindness
II. The progress of the story brings
out next the characteristics of David’s kindliness, and these may be
patterns for us.
Ziba does not seem to be very. communicative, and appears
a rather unwilling witness, who needs to have .the truth extracted bit by
bit. He evidently had nothing to do with Mephibosheth, and was quite
content that he should be left obscurely stowed away across Jordan in the
house of the rich Machir (2Sa 17:27 28 29).
Lo Debar was near
Mahanaim, on the eastern side of the river, where Ishbosheth’s short-lived
kingdom had been planted, and probably the population there still clung to
Saul’s solitary representative. There he lived so privately that none of
David’s people knew whether he was alive or dead. Perhaps the savage
practice of Eastern monarchs, who are wont to get rid of rivals by killing
them, led the cripple son of Jonathan to ‘lie low,’ and Ziba’s reticence
may have been loyalty to him. It is noteworthy that Ziba is not said to
have been sent to bring him, though that would have been natural.
At any rate, Mephibosheth came,
apparently dreading whether his summons to court was not his
death-warrant. But he is quickly featured. David again recalls the dear
memory of Jonathan, which was, no doubt, stirred to deeper tenderness by
the sight of his helpless son; but he swiftly passes to practical
arrangements, full of common-sense and grasp of the case. The restoration
of Saul’s landed estate implies that it was in David’s power. It had
probably been ‘forfeited to the crown,’ as we in England say, or perhaps
had been ‘squatted on’ by people who had no right to it. David, at any
rate, will see that it reverts to its owner.
But what is a lame man to do with
it? and will it be wise to let a representative of the former dynasty
loose in the territory of Benjamin, where Saul’s memory was still
cherished? Apparently, David’s disposition of affairs was prompted partly
by consideration for Mephibosheth, partly by affection for Jonathan, and
partly by policy. So Ziba, who had not been present, is sent for, and
installed as overseer of the estate, to work it for his new master’s
benefit, while the owner is to remain at Jerusalem in David’s
establishment. It was prudent to keep Mephibosheth at hand. The best way
to weaken a pretender’s claims was to make a pensioner of him, and the
best way to hinder his doing mischief was to keep him in sight.
But we need not suppose that this
was David’s only motive. He gratified his heart by retaining the poor
young man beside himself, and, no doubt, sought to win his confidence and
love. The recipient of his kindness receives it in characteristic Eastern
fashion, with exaggerated words of self-depreciation, which sound almost
too humble to be quite sincere. A little gratitude is better than whining
professions of unworthiness.
And how did Ziba like his task? The
singular remark that he had ‘fifteen sons and twenty servants’ perhaps
suggests that he was a person of some importance; and the subsequent one
that ‘all in his house were servants to Mephibosheth may imply that
neither they nor he quite liked their being handed over thus cavalierly.
But, however that may be, we may
note that common-sense and practical sagacity should guide our
mercifulness. Kindly impulses are good, but they need cool heads to direct
them, or they do more harm than good. It is useless to set lame men to
work an estate, even if they get a gift of it. And it is wise not to put
untried ones in positions where they may plot against their benefactor.
Mercifulness does not mean rash trust in its objects. They will often have
to be watched very closely to keep them from going wrong. How many most
charitable impulses have been so unwisely worked out that they have
injured their objects and disappointed their subjects! We may note, too,
in David’s kindliness, that it was prompt to make sacrifice, if, as is
probable, he had become owner of the estate. The pattern of all mercy, who
is God, has not loved us with a love which cost Him nothing. Sacrifice is
the life-blood of service.
III. The subsequent history of Mephibosheth and Ziba is somewhat
Usually the former is supposed to have been slandered by the
latter, and to have been truly attached to David. But it is at least
questionable whether Ziba was such a villain, and Mephibosheth such an
injured innocent, as is supposed. This, at least, is plain, that Ziba
demonstrated attachment to David at the time when self-love would have
kept him silent. It took some courage to come with gifts to a discrowned
king (2Sa 16:1 2 3 4); and his allegation about his master has at
least this support, that the latter did not come with the rest of David’s
court to share his fortunes, and that the dream that he might fish to
advantage in troubled waters is extremely likely to have occurred to him.
Nor does it appear clear that, if Ziba’s motive was to get hold of the
estate, his adherence to David would have seemed, at that moment, the best
way of effecting it.
If we look at the sequel (2Sa 19:24,
25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30) Mephibosheth’s excuse for not joining David seems almost
as lame as himself. He says that Ziba ‘deceived him,’ and did not bring
him the ass for riding on, and therefore he could not come. Was there only
one ass available in Jerusalem? and, when all David’s entourage were
streaming out to Olivet after him, could not he easily have got there too
if he had wished? His demonstration of mourning looks very like a blind,
and his language to David has a disagreeable ring of untruthfulness, in
its extreme professions of humility and loyalty. ‘Methinks the cripple
doth protest too much.’ David evidently did not feel sure about him, and
stopped his voluble utterances somewhat brusquely: ‘Why speakest thou any
more of thy matters?’ That is as much as to say, ‘Hold your tongue.’ And
the final disposition of the property, while it gives Mephibosheth the
benefit of the doubt, yet looks as if there was a considerable doubt in
the king’s mind.
We may take up the same somewhat
doubting position. If he requited David’s kindness thus unworthily, is it
not the too common experience that one way of malting enemies is to load
with benefits? But no cynical wisdom of that sort should interfere with
our showing mercy; and if we are to take ‘the kindness of God’ for our
pattern, we must let our sunshine and rain fall, as His do, on ‘the
unthankful and the evil.’
2 Samuel 9:1-13 In Depth Expositional &