Mephibosheth: A Portrait Of The Sinner

“Then David said, “Is there yet anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1)

Last time, we took a look at the great civil war between Israel and Judah with the armies of the House of Saul fighting against the armies of King David. I would like to look now at a single person from Saul’s family and the kindness that David the king showed him.

As Chapter 9 of Second Samuel opens, we find King David sitting on the throne of a united Israel and Judah with the civil war over and most of the other enemies of David conquered. He had moved his capital from Hebron to Jerusalem, after capturing it from the Jebusites, and had defeated Israel’s perpetual enemy, the Philistines. The Ark of the Covenant had been brought into Jerusalem and, although God had decreed that it would be built during the reign of his son, Solomon, David had sought to begin construction of the Temple. God blessed David and promised that his kingdom would endure forever (2 Sam. 7:16) and that the lovingkindness of the Lord would not depart from him as it had from Saul.

Success tests the character of the most virtuous of men and, in the words of the First Baron of Acton, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But King David was a man “after God’s own heart” and we are repeatedly told throughout the narrative that he “showed kindness” to various people; a trait seldom found in rulers. Sitting upon his throne in Jerusalem, his mind not distracted by the demands of government nor the strategies of war, he reflects upon his late friend Jonathan, son of Saul, and he wonders if there is anyone left alive within Jonathan’s family to whom he may show kindness.

It turns out that there was a son of Jonathan still alive. We are first told about Mephibosheth back in Chapter 4 where we find him as a little five-year-old boy being rushed from his house by his nanny after hearing the news of the death of his father Jonathan and his grandfather Saul (1 Sam. 31:1-6). Urgently escaping as quickly as possible before the Philistines could finish off any surviving sons of the House of Saul, Mephibosheth fell and injured his feet, leaving him crippled (2 Sam. 4:4).

A Dead Dog Like Me

Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and prostrated himself. And David said, “Mephibosheth.” And he said, “Here is your servant!” David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will surely show kindness to you for the sake of your father Jonathan, and will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul; and you shall eat at my table regularly.” Again he prostrated himself and said, “What is your servant, that you should regard a dead dog like me?” (2 Samuel 9:6-8)

Within the relationship that develops between David and Mephibosheth, we find a wonderful illustration of God’s mercy to the sinner. When the two men first meet, King David offers Mephibosheth gifts and honors that are truly astounding to the son of Jonathan. A vain and prideful man might have been ungrateful, feeling that this was the least that the king who ruled where his own grandfather once had could do for him. But, no, Mephibosheth was neither vain nor proud. He prostrated himself before the king in humility and was keenly aware that this act of grace and mercy was unmerited.

Mephibosheth’s words echoed David’s own words to God when he marvelled in the Eighth Psalm,

“What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?” (Psalm 8:4)

Like the sinner who first comes to Christ, Mephibosheth was blown away by the mercy that the King was showing him. And as is for all who are humble at heart, he recognized who he was compared with who the king was and that he in no way deserved the kindness he was being shown. Remember Peter’s reaction when Jesus miraculously provided an overwhelming catch of fish where he himself was unable to bring in a single one. Falling before the Lord he shouted, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Or Isaiah’s reaction to his vision of God’s glory filling the Temple:

“Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5 KJV)

The heart that is most receptive to the grace and mercy of God is the heart that acknowledges just how undeserving it is. Mephibosheth referred to himself as a “dead dog” and the sinner, too, must recognize that he is dead in his sins (Ephesians 2:1).

For The Sake Of Jonathan

David showed kindness to Mephibosheth, not because of who Mephibosheth was or what Mephibosheth had or had not done, but for the sake of Jonathan. God the Father shows mercy and grace to us, sinners, for the sake of Jesus. It is because of our relationship to Christ that we are invited to eat at the King’s table.

When David looked upon Mephibosheth, he saw Jonathan and it was his love for Jonathan that compelled him to treat Mephibosheth with kindness and mercy. God the Father does love us, but it is our relationship to Jesus Christ that compels Him to show us grace and mercy. God loves all the people of the world (John 3:16), but He only shows grace and mercy to those who are covered by the blood of Jesus.

It is noteworthy that David never mentions anything about the feet of Mephibosheth. His feet were broken, lame, and crippled just as we are broken, lame, and crippled by our sin.  God does not look upon the sinful flesh of those whom Christ has redeemed, but sees us through the lens of the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:19, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Philippians 3:9). Crippled feet did not exclude Mephibosheth from the king’s table, neither does sin exclude us. If we are in Christ, then that sin has been removed from us to be remembered no more (Psalm 103:12).

Verse 11 of Second Samuel 9 tells us that Mephibosheth ate at the king’s table as one of the king’s own sons. Passages such as Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:5, and Ephesians 1:5 remind us  who are in Christ Jesus that we, too, have been adopted as sons and daughters of God. Like Mephibosheth, we will take our place at the table of the King with the same privileges and benefits of any other child of the King. One day, we will live in that place where our own King lives, the New Jerusalem, just as Mephibosheth moved to the city of David to be where he was. And God will show us great kindness and mercy for the sake of Jesus, not looking upon our sins and lame feet, but seeing us with the same love that He has for the Son.

To God goes all glory. In service to Him,


**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

Abraham And David: Saved By Grace

“For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness…Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works” (Romans 4:3,6)

Chapter 3 of the Book of Romans concluded with the statement, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” (3:31)

In Chapter 4, we will see why. Paul is going to illustrate that justification has always been by faith with the examples of Abraham and David.

Justification Is Not By Works

First of all, the argument is made that Justification does not come by works. Three reasons are given:

1.) Justification By Works Glorifies Man

“For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.” (4:2)

The first and most important issue is that if a man is justified through his own effort, then he has something in which to glory and boast. We saw back in Romans 3:27 that Justification by faith excludes boasting. There is absolutely nothing in which we can glory before God. If it was our good works and deeds that justified us, we would have something in which to take pride. One person could honestly say that they had done more to earn God’s favor than somebody else. But in the presence of God Almighty there is no room for anyone else’s glory. God will not share His glory with anyone (Isaiah 42:8). Since every single person who is saved will be saved solely by what Jesus Christ has done on their behalf, then all the praise and glory rightfully belongs to Him. We are all on equal ground and have nothing else in which to glory.

“That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:29-31)

We all have something, or Someone, to boast about when it comes to being justified in the eyes of God, but it’s not ourselves and it’s not our own efforts.

2.) What Saith the Scripture?

This should be the first question that anyone who places their faith in God should ask regarding any doctrinal, moral, or ethical matter. There was a time when more people honestly believed that the Bible is what it says it is: the Holy written Word of God. It is so sad that today there are those even within the Church who do not give any more authority to the Word of God than they give to the words of Shakespeare. When a verse of Scripture is brought to their attention that overturns something they are believing or something they are doing, they can come up with the most outlandish reasons why they are right and the Bible is wrong. But at least Paul’s Jewish readers were willing to concede the authority of the Word of God and he could appeal to it to prove the details of the Gospel.

“And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)

Paul quotes this verse in Romans 4:3. He can show by the Word of God that Abraham was counted as righteous by his faith.

The Greek word translated here as “counted” (logizomai, also rendered as “reckon” and “impute” in this chapter) is significant. It is a legal and financial term used to describe things that are credited to someone’s account. In other words, Abraham’s account was “balanced” by what God credited to it, not by what he himself was able to “put on the books.”

3.) Justification By Works “Earns” Salvation

“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” (Romans 4:4)

If Justification comes through our own effort, then it is not a gift. It is a wage earned. When someone’s employer pays them for the work that they have done, it cannot be described as a “gift.” If we can work for our Salvation, then God owes us that Salvation for the works we have done. Again, God does not receive the glory, we do.

What About Those Who Lived Under The Law?

OK, all of this is fine, but the objection might be raised that Abraham lived before the Law was ever given to Moses. Maybe a special exception was made for him since he did not actually live under the Mosaic Law. Well, what did David, who did live under the Law, have to say?

“Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” (4:6-8)

Abraham and David were not randomly selected by Paul to illustrate Justification by faith in the Old Testament. These two men were more revered than any other men by the nation of Israel because of the close relationship they had with God . No Jew would have argued that these men were not justified before God.

But what did David claim was the basis for his Justification before God? Certainly not works or strict adherence to the Law. David had committed murder and adultery (2 Samuel, Chapter 11). Yet in Psalm 32, quoted here, he described the blessed man not as the one who was without sin, nor the one who had worked to earn God’s favor, but the one whose iniquities were forgiven and whose sins were covered.

Sin is the problem that separates man from God. Sin is what must be completely dealt with before a man can be justified before God. We cannot hope to outweigh our sinfulness with deeds of righteousness, we’ll never be justified on that basis. The only thing that we can do is put our faith in Jesus Christ and what He has done for us and let God put that on our account for righteousness.

Mingling Faith With Works

It is hard for human nature to accept the fact that there is nothing that we can offer to God so that we can be justified. Some people are willing to accept the fact that they cannot be justified with God based entirely on their own works, but they still feel that somehow God must demand some works for their Salvation. So they attempt to add their works to the equation, believing that God will make up the difference by His Grace.

But the problems pointed out in this passage still remain. We try to magnify our own goodness by bringing our works to God for Salvation, but all we really do is de-magnify God’s goodness. Salvation is a gift paid for entirely by the Lord Jesus Christ when He bore our sins on the Cross. By thinking that it is necessary for us to pay even a small part of that price is to say that what Jesus has done is not enough. Wouldn’t it be insulting if someone gave you a million dollar house as a free gift and you offered them $5 so that you could “pay for part of it?” Especially if you proceeded to brag to other people, “Yes, this house was a gift but I paid for some of it myself.” This would be bad enough, but all of our “good works” wouldn’t even make 5 cents compared to what God has done.

God deserves all of the glory, let’s give it to Him.

In service to Him,