Mephibosheth & the Gospel

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It’s no secret to anyone that the biblical David and Jonathan shared a powerful friendship, perhaps something that a modern TikToker would even call a bromance. In 1 Samuel 18, shortly after David’s triumph over Goliath, Jonathan forged a covenant with him, and although the terms of the agreement are not specified there exactly, it appears to be a pledge of mutual loyalty and submission (as Jonathan seems to recognize the call on David’s life to be the future king). Later, in 1 Samuel 20:16-17, the two forged a covenant under God to be allies in military and brotherhood, and further in that chapter, Jonathan reiterates that the two had “sworn friendship” with each other in the name of the Lord (verse 42).

Tragically, Jonathan was killed in a ferocious battle against the Philistines.

As an aside—you guys!—the most recent time I read 1 Samuel 31, which records that Jonathan died and the cruel way the Philistines treated his dead body, I audibly gasped—even though I knew it was coming! It’s still just so difficult for me to get past!

Well, years went by, and David eventually became king, but he didn’t forget his covenant with Jonathan. In 2 Samuel 9:1, he asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

As it turned out, Jonathan had a single (recorded) son who had survived the merciless years. His name was Mephibosheth, which means “from the mouth of the shameful thing” or “from the mouth of shame.” According to 1 Chronicles 8:34, Mephibosheth was also known as Merib-Baal, or possibly Meri-Baal depending on the translation, which could mean either “loved by Baal” or “Baal contends.” Yikes. A shameful boy, proceeding from shame, who may have had some measure of involvement with demonic deities… 

The author of the books of Samuel goes on to elaborate how unfortunate Mephibosheth’s life was by stressing that he resided in the land of Lo Debar. In King David’s day, Lo Debar was considered a ghetto town that probably was home to outcasts, the financially bankrupt, and the destitute. Even the name “Lo Debar” means “without pasture.” In Amos 6:13, because of a possible Hebrew play on words, Lo Debar may have been synonymous with “nothingness” or “emptiness” or even mockingly called “Nothing Town”; perhaps today we might use the expression “in the middle of nowhere.”

And lastly, Mephibosheth was crippled. An ill-fated accident when he was five years old left both his legs inoperable for the rest of his life (see 2 Samuel 4:4). His contemporaries may have thought of him, then, as cursed by God.

Well, when David learned of his dear friend’s son, he sent for him and said, “Don’t be afraid, for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan” (2 Samuel 9:7).

Damaged, shameful Mephibosheth, by no merit of his own, was suddenly catapulted into the favor of the king! The Bible tells us that he abruptly inherited at least 36 servants who were instructed to provide food for him and tend to his needs, as well as the property that once belonged to his father Jonathan and grandfather Saul. He was relocated to Jerusalem, an enormously special city under King David’s reign. And what’s more, he received a standing invitation to join King David and his family for dinner each night.

As incredibly enriching a story this is on friendship, loyalty, and rags-to-riches, what does this mean for modern readers? What does this mean for the people of God?

Get ready for the Gospel, friends!

1. God is enthusiastic to welcome us.

It was not a chore for King David to extend kindness to the poor outcast Mephibosheth. He was honored to do it, because of his covenant of love with Jonathan. Similarly, because of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross, it is God’s great delight to welcome us into His presence. He doesn’t plug His nose at some metaphorical stench of ours, He’s not rolling His eyes in condescension, and He’s not reaching out in some sort of obligatory pity. He loves us. It is His great delight—yes, His great delight—to call us out of Lo Debar and lavish excessive kindnesses on us!

2. God will redeem our lives.

Without the mercy of God, all of us are in a condition like Mephibosheth’s. Perhaps we don’t live in a ghetto, and maybe our limbs all function normally, but spiritually we are paralyzed without Him. Oh! Our sin problem has cast us out of the Garden and into the darkness, rendering us unable to fix ourselves, heal ourselves, and restore ourselves. But if we will respond to His invitation to “leave Lo Debar,” He will carry us all the way into His palace! He will rebuild us! He will restore us! He will love us into life!

3. God invites us into His family.

Not only does God delight to carry us out of Lo Debar and restore to us all that the enemy and our sin nature had destroyed, but He excitedly welcomes us to His table. He warmly welcomes us into His family. He is thrilled to give us each a new name. You and I are no longer outsiders to the blessings, provision, and friendship of God—when we trust in the Lord for full salvation, you and I are insiders. We belong!

So, friends, let the Lord carry you out of your Lo Debar. Let Him crown you with loving-kindness. No matter how good you’ve heard that the King is, it can only scratch the surface. He is thoroughly good! He is thoroughly kind! He is thoroughly merciful!