Sermon preached on 2 Samuel 9 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 2/28/2016 in Novato, CA.
2 Samuel 9
“To Whom I May Show the Kindness of God”
This is not the first time we’ve heard about Mephibosheth. We heard about him very briefly back in chapter 4. That was about when he was young and first got crippled. Remember back with me to that time. Put yourself in Mephibosheth’s shoes for a moment. Imagine you are in his place. You are a five-year-old boy, and not just a boy, but a prince. One day, you are at home with your nanny, happily playing as a typical five-year-old prince does, when all of a sudden messengers show up, and chaos breaks out. In the midst of it all, you hear scattered announcements. The Philistines have defeated us! Your Dad has been killed. Your grandfather and your uncles have also died. The next thing you know everyone is shouting, “You need to go now! Get out of here! Flee!” And so your nanny picks you up and starts running. Then all of a sudden you hit the deck hard. You don’t know what happened but there is pain all over, and you can’t move your legs. When the dust finally clears, you’ve ended up across the Jordan river, away from the Philistine battlefront, in the town of Mahanaim.
And then a couple years go by, but chaos and uncertainty still seems to be there. Your late grandfather’s military commander Abner appoints your uncle Ishbosheth as king. Yet there is still no peace. You’re still fairly young, but what you do know is that your extended family is continually fighting the family of someone named David. And as years continue to go by, and the fighting continues, it seems that when your family members go out to fight David’s family, that less and less of them come back each time. Finally, even your uncle Ishbosheth and Abner are killed. You know the official word is that David wasn’t responsible for their deaths, but you also know that it was people supposedly loyal to David that did kill them. You can’t help but have a great fear for this man named David. And then finally David himself takes over the entire kingdom. You are a prince no more.
And so you move farther north. Farther away from your home country of Benjamin. Farther away from the new capital of Jerusalem. You know how many died in your family in the conflicts with both David and the Philistines, and so you set this great distant between them both. You end up in Lo Debar, a place in the more distant north-east of Israel. More time passes. You get married, and even have a son. Things seem to be improving for this crippled former prince.
And then one day you get a knock at the door. It’s the servants of David. You think, “They’ve found me!” The day you dreaded for so long seems to finally be here. And so you make the sixty or so mile trek with David’s men from Lo Debar to Jerusalem. And then you find yourself, there, before King David. You bow down in great respect before this King and Judge of all Israel. Surely you are trembling in fear. You are probably wondering if your death is imminent. It was not the custom of the ancient Near East to allow the descendants of displaced kings to live; they might otherwise become future rivals to the throne. And then David speaks. Mephibosheth! In deference, you reply, “Behold, I am your servant.” But then what comes from David’s mouth is surprising in a wonderful way. It probably seemed hard to believe. “Do not fear,” David says. “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.”
Think of what this meant for Mephibosheth. He could return home, back to his family’s original lands in Benjamin. And since he was crippled, he couldn’t care for those lands, but that too was provided for, as he would have a team of servants to care for his land. But none of that even really mattered compared to the other promise of David. He would eat at the king’s table. Mephibosheth, crippled and humbled Mephibosheth, was a prince again. What joy for Mephibosheth! What a story of restoration and redemption out of such great loss and trial and difficulty. And what undeserved hesed that David showed him.
Yes, that’s right, I said, hesed. David showed hesed to Mephibosheth. What is hesed? Well maybe you recall from previous sermons. Hesed is a very rich word and concept in the Old Testament. It’s a Hebrew word that is often translated as kindness or loving-kindness. And it also tends to be connected with the idea of covenant loyalty. And so hesed is often used in the Bible as the kindness and love that you show in being faithful or loyal to a covenant. And that is clearly how David uses this word here. We see it three times. Our pew bibles translate it as kindness in each occurrence. Verse 1, David asks, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Verse 3 he asks again, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” And verse 7 to Mephibosheth he says, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan.”
This is the big theme in this passage. In the midst of all the troubles Mephibosheth has faced, David shows this great kindness, this great hesed, to him. And the reason for this kindness, is because of the covenant that he had made in the past with Mephibosheth’s father, Jonathan. Recall, that as we studied 1 Samuel, we actually saw three main occasions that David and Jonathan expressed their love for each other in the form of a covenant. The one most specific to today’s passage is found in 1 Samuel 20. There, we find Jonathan having David swear in covenant that David would not cut off his kindness from Jonathan’s house forever. There, that word for kindness is this same word for hesed as in today’s passage. And for Jonathan to speak of his house, refers to his descendants, which of course would include Mephibosheth.
And so in light of the great love and support and loyalty that David and Jonathan had for each other, they made a covenant. Part of that covenant looked to how David should forever show this great kindness to Jonathan’s house. And so, I love how David didn’t forget this. You know, after all the time that went past, after all the trouble David had with the house of Saul, after all the other battles he had to fight, it would have been easy to understand if he had forgotten about this covenant. But David remembered. And David acted. And I love the two parts of how he acted. The first I get. I understand why it is right and good and kind for David to restore the family lands and Saul’s servants to Mephibosheth. Those are essentially his family inheritance in the Promised Land that otherwise should have been his in the first place. When David took over from the house of Saul, probably Saul’s property became crown lands, and thus under David’s control. But now, in remembering his covenant with Jonathan, and in showing kindness to Jonathan’s house, he restores all this to Jonathan’s surviving son. This makes sense, and surely was kindness, hesed.
But it’s the other part that is especially amazing to me. He essentially adopts Mephibosheth into his house. Now to be clear, it’s not put in quite those terms. He doesn’t seem to be officially adopting him. But he is certainly effectively adopting him. By having him eat at the king’s table, he is essentially being brought into the royal family. David himself says in verse 11 that this is so he would be treated like one of his own sons. This isn’t just kindness, it’s extravagant, prodigious, kindness.
And yet this makes so much sense for David to do. Because notice the type of hesed that David wanted to show. It’s there in verse 3. David didn’t want to just show kindness, he wanted to show the kindness of God. And God’s covenantal kindness is not a meager kindness. It is an extravagant, prodigious, kindness. And so David’s kindness reflects a bit of how David himself has known God’s kindness. Just think of a few relevant examples. Think of the kindness God had shown David all the way back in that relationship with Saul and Jonathan. Early on, God had placed David at King Saul’s table. And when later Saul began breathing murderous threats against David, God rose up Saul’s son Jonathan to be so very loyal and kind to him. Jonathan freely acknowledged that the throne was to be David’s, not his own. Jonathan only hoped that one day he’d be able to be next to David when David became king. Surely all this kindness David knew in all that, was of the Lord. And then it only got better from there. For we remember back to two chapters ago. We reflected on all the other kindnesses God had shown David in establishing his kingdom and giving him rest from all his enemies, and then God says that was just the start. God then proceeded to make covenant with David and his house, that God would show his kindness to David’s house forever. That was 2 Samuel 7:15. God used that same language of hesed there. God promised David that he would never take his hesed away from David’s house. Do you see the point? David’s great kindness to Mephibosheth mirrors the great kindness God had already shown David.
And so brothers and sisters, as we consider this passage today, I can see two main points of application that come from this. I see two big ideas where this story looks forward to some aspects of our own Christian life. The first is as we put ourselves in Mephibosheth’s shoes, we recognize David as a type of the Christ to come. And that means the first application is to see how God in Jesus Christ has so wonderfully reached out to us and shown us such extravagant and prodigious kindness. I mean think about it. We already said that Mephibosheth didn’t do anything to earn David’s kindness like this. His reception of it was for the sake of Jonathan’s relationship with David. So, it was a family connection for Mephibosheth that put him in that position. On the other hand, it was also his family connection with the house of Saul that put him in such a bad position in the first place. It’s why he became crippled at such a young age. It’s why he surely feared for his life when a new king took over. But the bottom line is that nothing that Mephibosheth did earned him this great kindness from David. It was unearned, unmerited.
And that gets us to think about our application to God in Christ. God has shown us such covenantal kindness in Christ. We have not earned it or deserved it. It’s for Christ’s sake, and God’s covenant, that he shows us this kindness. And not only have we not earned it, we’ve actually earned or deserved the opposite. That’s where our story is different than what we have here with Mephibosheth. The Bible doesn’t tell us here about the character of Mephibosheth, if he was generally a righteous person or not. But we know our stories when God in Christ reached out to us. We were “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). It’s not just that we hadn’t done anything good to deserve God’s kindness, it’s that we had done so much to deserve God’s hatred. But that’s not what he’s given us. If all Mephibosheth could say to David in light of his kindness that he was but a dead dog and undeserving of David’s kindness, how much more is that the case for us! How much more are we but dead dogs in Christ Jesus’ sight for all our sin and wickedness!
And yet God has shown us such kindness. And think of how David’s kindness to Mephibosheth mirrors what God has done for us in Jesus. David restored Mephibosheth’s inheritance in the Promised Land. And God in Christ has given us an inheritance. According to Ephesians 1 we have the glorious riches of a heavenly inheritance in store for us. And so God in Christ has forgiven our sins, and given us this wonderful inheritance.
And wouldn’t that alone have been enough? Wouldn’t that alone have been a sufficient amount of kindness for God to show someone like us? But just as David went on to effectively adopt Mephibosheth and bring him into his own household, that is exactly what God has done for us in Christ. Again, Ephesians 1 speaks both of our divine adoption and that we are members of God’s household now. That is so amazing. I remember what we talked about last week. How we saw a picture in advance of how God would include the Gentiles into his kingdom. We saw how in the Old Testament the nations could accept an offer of peace given by Israel and become Israel’s servants. But in the extravagant kindness of God under the new covenant, us outsiders are received into the kingdom as something more than servants; we are received as sons and daughters; co-heirs with Christ! Praise be to God!
And of course, what we have in Christ, is actually better than what David gave Mephibosheth. Sadly, we’ll find later in a moment of the bad judgment late on from David that he’ll take back half of the land he gave Mephibosheth here, and give it to Ziba, his servant. But this won’t happen with our inheritance. And secondly, David clearly makes Mephibosheth like one of his sons, but that’s subtly different than actually adopting Mephibosheth. But God actually adopts us, and gives us the full rights and privileges as sons of the Most High. Praise the Lord!
And so the application is to be struck brothers and sisters again today at the wonder of our God’s kindness to us, in our salvation. And be struck again at the unconditional nature of it! Just as Mephibosheth did nothing to earn this kindness from God, there is nothing at all we can do to earn it. We are simply called to put our trust in the Christ. We do nothing to earn this salvation. And I love how we see a picture of this further even with how David went and brought Mephibosheth to him. That too is a wonderful picture for our salvation. Like David, God has taken the initiative with us. God first sent Christ to this world to the cross to save us. God first sent his Word and Spirit to you, to convert you. God has taken the initiative. We in turn are called to respond in faith and repentance. Let us then in humility believe and receive the kindness, the hesed of God which he had covenantal promised in the Bible multiple times, and now has brought it about through sending Jesus into this world. Praise the Lord!
So that’s our first application today: we are encouraged again today in the gracious kindness of God to us in Jesus Christ. Know this kindness of God through faith in Jesus! The second application is this. We should respond the way David did to the kindness God has shown him. In other words, we should be kind toward others because of the kindness God has shown us. We already mentioned the connection that seems to be here with David’s kindness to Mephibosheth and God’s kindness to David. That is such an important principle we see in the New Testament taught by Jesus and the apostles. The point is that in light of how much God has done for us, it is quite fitting and appropriate that we show a similar kindness to our fellow man. I think a great verse that sums this application up is Ephesians 4:32. That verse says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
And so saints be kind to others. Because of what God has done for you, be kind. Show the hesed to others that God has shown to you. Take the initiative to show this to others. Not because they deserve it. Not for some other hidden agenda or motive. But in light of what God has done for you, show this kindness to others. And may your kindness be the extravagant, prodigious, sort of kindness. Now, yes, we need wisdom and discernment and discretion in how we show that kind of kindness. What I mean is that some people have bankrupted themselves and their family by showering others with gifts that they didn’t have. That might sound like an obvious point, but this is far too common of a thing I see. People in the name of generous kindness get into major credit card debt buying gifts for people with money they don’t have. That’s not actually being generous with your money; that’s being generous with the credit card company’s money, and is foolish. Likewise, none of us have unending amounts of time, so there are limits in how we show kindness with our time too. So my point is that when we try to be extravagantly kind to others, we have to do that within the reality of our limited resources as humans. God has shown us a kindness in a far more abundant way than we have the ability to show that to others.
Now, I don’t add that disclaimer to take away your zeal in showing kindness. Rather, I give it to hopefully excite you all the more. When we realize our limitations in this, we are free to consider in what ways we can show kindness to others, and then go and do so. Let us delight in doing so, knowing how much we have delighted in the kindness God has shown us in Christ. Let us pray to that end even now. Amen.
Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.