Notes for teaching on 2 Samuel 9, which is featured in Explore the Bible, Summer 2018, Session 5.
David honors Jonathon’s son, Mephibosheth, for Jonathan’s sake.
The passage is applicable today because it invites us to consider how me are called to honor others for Jesus’ sake.
Background to the Text
John Goldingay notes that it is in 2 Sam 8-10 that “David reaches the height of his achievements.” In chapter 8, he is the conquering king who carves out a small empire for Israel. More than this, he was a good and fair ruler. As 2 Sam 8:15 says: “David reigned over all Israel, doing what was just and right for all his people.” When we come to 2 Sam 9, we see this “doing what was just and right” on a micro scale with Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan. (This last insight also from Goldingay.)
Here are a few background passages to be aware of:
- David and Jonathan’s friendship: 1 Sam 18:1-4; 19:1-6; 20:1-42
- The promise of friendship between David and Jonathan: 20:42
- David’s lament for Jonathan: 2 Sam 1:19-27
- The story of how Mephibosheth became crippled: 2 Sam 4:4
Notes on the Text
(Quotations taken from the NIV)
1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”
As with so much in David’s career, his move to show kindness to anyone left in the house of Saul can be read both personally and politically. From a vantage point of political cynicism, we might see David moving to further consolidate his power against Saul’s descendants. Though he doesn’t intend to kill them, he may wish to keep a close eye on them. Personally, David can be seen as showing kindness for “Jonathan’s sake,” as the text says.
Because we know that a deep friendship existed between David and Jonathan (including an oath of friendship that extended to their descendants – 1 Sam 20:42), I prefer the personal understanding of this scenario. Add to this the idea that this account is an example of David doing what is “just and right” on a micro-level as described above, and I think that we can trust David’s motives.
2 Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”
“At your service,” he replied.
3 The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”
Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet.”
4 “Where is he?” the king asked.
Ziba answered, “He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar.”
5 So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel.
While ETB argues that finding Ziba probably took a great amount of time, the text does not indicate that this was the case. Rather, Ziba seems to have been a known associate of Saul who would have inside knowledge concerning the fate of Saul’s family members. When he stands before David, he tells the king of Mephibosheth, whom he is quick to announce is lame in both feet. As ETB notes, Ziba probably mentions this detail as a protection for Mephibosheth. He is in effect saying, “There is one son of Jonathan left, but he is not a threat to your throne.” Walter Brueggemann notes that Ziba doesn’t even say Mephibosheth’s name in his answer, perhaps for the same reason.
David summons the son of Jonathan, and Mephibosheth answers the call.
6 When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor.
David said, “Mephibosheth!”
“At your service,” he replied.
7 “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”
8 Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?”
Notice the deference that Mephibosheth shows David in these verses. He (1) bows before David as soon as he enters, (2) answers David by saying “at your service,” which is the same response Ziba, who has no claim to the throne, gave earlier in the chapter, and (3) calls himself a servant and a “dead dog” in response to the king’s generosity. Mephibosheth is being careful to give David the impression that he – Mephibosheth – is not a threat to David’s position and authority. David seems to be aware of Mephibosheth’s wariness, as he quickly tells Mephibosheth not to be afraid.
Regarding David’s generosity to Mephibosheth, he (1) gives him the private estate of Saul and (2) offers him a place at David’s own table, which by extension means that Mephibosheth will have a place in the royal court. Remember that up to now Mephibosheth has been dependent on the hospitality of Makir. Now Mephibosheth has land of his own and enjoys the hospitality of the king himself. This is quite a reversal of fortunes! All of this is done for Jonathan’s sake, and we are reminded again that David is honoring his friend by honoring his friend’s son.
9 Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s steward, and said to him, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. 10 You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.” (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.)
11 Then Ziba said to the king, “Your servant will do whatever my lord the king commands his servant to do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.
David’s generosity has created a problem in that Mephibosheth now owns land that he will only ever visit due to his place in the royal court. He himself will not be able to oversee it. David solves this problem by naming Ziba the steward of Mephibosheth’s estate. There is a certain symmetry in this move – Ziba, formerly Saul’s steward, will now be the steward of Saul’s grandson. At the same time, we are not given any insight into Ziba’s thoughts on the matter. Rather, we only know that Ziba is obedient to the king and that he is a wealthy patriarch of a large family (15 sons) with many servants. Whatever his life has been, it will now be devoted to providing for Mephibosheth by tending the land. (An interesting aside is that Ziba seems to have betrayed Mephibosheth later on. See 2 Sam 16:1-4; 19:24-30.)
With this logistical problem now solved, we are told that Mephibosheth did indeed eat at King David’s table. Verse 11 goes one step further, though, in saying that Mephibosheth ate at David’s table “like one of the king’s sons.” David is treating his good friend’s son as if he were David’s own.
12 Mephibosheth had a young son named Mika, and all the members of Ziba’s household were servants of Mephibosheth. 13 And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table; he was lame in both feet.
The narrative ends with a summary of Mephibosheth’s good fortune. He has a son, servants, and lives in Jerusalem eating at the king’s table. The last reminder that Mephibosheth was “lame in both feet” seems an odd addendum to this positive list. This description is often applied to Mephibosheth, however, and may just be an identifier. Brueggemann suggests that the author is reminding the reader/listener that Mephibosheth is not a threat to the throne.
Notes for Teaching
Once again, the David narrative gives us a story that seems true to life. Mighty King David is driven by his friend’s memory to honor his friend’s son. We see this kind of sentiment on display in society today as people seek to honor the deceased in various ways. These include donations (money, park benches, etc.) given in a person’s honor, inscriptions on car windows, and yearly rituals that we engage in like placing flowers on our loved ones’ graves. I recently saw a TV show where a policeman acted as a father figure to his fallen partner’s son much like David does for Mephibosheth. All this to say, the sentiments that drive the story are readily relatable today.
In seeking application, I would focus on how our devotion to Jesus drives us to honor others. The idea here is to zero in on the “for Jonathan’s sake” part of the story. David’s relationship to Mephibosheth is shaped by his relationship to Jonathan. Indeed, David’s relationship with Jonathan defines David’s treatment of Jonathan’s son who is also Saul’s grandson and a possible rival for the throne. Of course, Jesus is not dead (he is risen, ascended, and sits at the right hand of God!) like Jonathan. Our relationship to Jesus does, however, shape and even define our relationships to the other people in our lives. The question becomes, Who should we honor and how should we honor them for Jesus’ sake?
A Possible Teaching Plan
- How do people honor loved ones who have passed away in our culture today?
- Would anyone like to share any personal examples?
Explain: Explain that we will see David honoring his deceased friend Jonathan in the passage today.
- What do we know/remember about David and Jonathan’s relationship?
Explain: Fill in blanks as needed.
For Jonathan’s Sake
Read: 2 Sam 9:1
- According to the text, what is David intent on doing? Why?
Read: 2 Sam 9:2-6
- Who is Ziba, and why is he called before the king?
- Why do you think Ziba makes a point to mention that Jonathan’s son is “lame in both feet”?
- How do you think Mephibosheth felt when he learned that the king wanted to see him?
Explain: If needed, remind students that Mephibosheth is a possible rival to the throne, which makes his position with David precarious.
Read: 2 Sam 9:7-8
- How would you describe Mephibosheth’s attitude toward David?
- How would you describe David’s attitude toward Mephibosheth?
- How does David end up honoring Mephibosheth?
- What does it mean that Mephibosheth will always eat at the king’s table?
Read: 2 Sam 9:9-11
- Why does Ziba reenter the story now?
- How do you think Ziba felt about being ordered to steward Mephibosheth’s new property?
- What new do we learn about David’s treatment of Mephibosheth in 9:11b?
Read: 2 Sam 9:12-13
- How would you describe where Mephibosheth is at the end of the story versus where he was at the beginning of the story?
- Why do you think we are reminded in the end that Mephibosheth was lame?
For Jesus’ Sake
Explain: Explain that just as David honored Mephibosheth for Jonathan’s sake, so also do we honor others for Jesus’ sake.
- Who do we honor/treat well because of our relationship to Jesus?
- Possible answers:
- People in general (our neighbors): Luke 10:25-37
- Other Christians in general: John 13:34-35
- Other Christians who are not like us: Col 3:8-11
- Our enemies: Matt 5:38-42; Rom 12:17-21
- Those who have something against us: Matt 5:23-24
- Those who don’t meet our moral standards: Mark 2:13-17; Luke 15:1-32
- The socially marginalized and tormented: Mark 1:40-45; 5:1-20
- Is this easy or hard? Why?
- Are there any people who might be afraid of us Christians (like Mephibosheth was afraid of David) who need to hear words of peace and kindness for Jesus’ sake?
- How can we keep Jesus in mind as we interact with others?
- Possible answers:
Walter Brueggemann’s 1 and 2 Samuel in the Interpretation commentary series
John Goldingay’s 1 and 2 Samuel for Everyone
Explore the Bible curriculum