'A dead dog like me.' A king, a disabled grandson of his enemy, and mercy

About a thousand years before the birth of Christ, a five-year-old boy named Mephibosheth lost both his father, Jonathan, and his grandfather, King Saul, on the fields of battle.

Hearing the tragic news of their defeat, the little boy’s nurse picked him up to flee, but she accidentally  dropped poor Mephibosheth, leaving  him crippled in both legs. It was tragedy upon tragedy for the young child – especially in the ancient Near East, where a lifelong injury was seen as a divine curse, and an excuse for the community’s ongoing rejection and judgment.

Following Saul’s death, King David rose t0 power. David knew the family – in fact, he had been best friends with Jonathan. Their friendship was so close that, in their younger years, David had made a promise to Jonathan that he’d always show kindness t0 the family of Saul and Jonathan.

A long time after these events, as 2 Samuel 9 recounts, King David remembered that promise. He summoned an old servant of Saul, asking him, “Is anyone still alive from Saul’s family? If so, I want t0 show God’s kindness t0 them.”

”Yes, one of Jonathan’s sons is still alive. He is crippled in both feet,” the servant replied, without adding any further details. That Mephibosheth’s injury was more worthy of mention than his name was a stark reminder of the low social standing he had.

Each of us is a Mephibosheth in our own way, broken and dejected as we are – whether by other people, life circumstances, or our own choices.

Mephibosheth was tracked down and brought before King David. When he arrived, Mephibosheth bowed low to the ground. “Greetings, Mephibosheth,” David said, addressing him by name, “I intend t0 show kindness to you because of my promise to your father, Jonathan. I will give you all the property that once belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will eat here with me at the king’s table.”

This benevolence was strange and unexpected for Mephibosheth, who had grown accustomed to a very simple and forgotten life.

Unworthy as he felt, Mephibosheth formulated his response, bowing still lower to the ground. ”Who is your servant that you should show such kindness t0 a dead dog like me?”

But these words didn’t deter King David. David fulfilled his promise by giving t0 Mephibosheth everything that had belonged to Saul and Jonathan’s family. David even organised for Mephibosheth’s land to be farmed for him so that he and his family would be provided for. And Mephibosheth himself was given the honour of always eating at the king’s table, like one of David’s own sons.

The rise of Mephibosheth from forgotten cripple* to beloved son of the king is an amazing picture of the gospel.

Each of us is a Mephibosheth in our own way, broken and dejected as we are – whether by other people, life circumstances, or our own choices. More than this, we are morally broken and entirely undeserving of God’s kindness. But God has loved us anyway and sent Jesus as the proof and the promise of his saving love for us. “When I look at myself I don’t see how I can be saved,” confessed Martin Luther, reflecting on these eternal truths. “But when I look at Jesus I don’t see how I can be lost.”

This is what makes the message of Jesus so life-changing. Like the story of Mephibosheth, it has nothing t0 do with us and everything t0 do with the kindness of the King. The gospel isn’t good advice: it’s good news – it’s an announcement about events that have already happened on our behalf. As Luther discovered for himself and rediscovered for a whole civilisation, salvation is a pure gift t0 everyone who has put their faith in Jesus. Moreover, the salvation Jesus offers is not just a ticket to a better place, but as in the story of Mephibosheth, it is an invitation to relationship with the Father: “To all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

I am convinced that this is the key to the identity crisis so many are facing throughout the Western world. In the absence of any transcendent meaning, and with problems piling up inside and around us, so many feel lost for purpose and are unconvinced of their worth and value. The opinions of others and even our own self-assurance have shown t0 be a weak foundation for human identity. This has led us to two equal and opposite reactions – narcissism and self-loathing – both of which are on the rise, and both of which only serve t0 highlight the West’s growing despair.

What’s fascinating about these two qualities is that, as opposite as they seem t0 be on the surface, they actually share a lot in common. As an example, we might speak of people who have a “low self-esteem” or who “hate themselves” for not being more talented or good-looking – a feeling that we can all surely relate to at times. But often, what’s really going on underneath these thoughts is a form of self-affection that says, “I deserve t0 be more talented or beautiful and it’s unfair that this is the hand I have been dealt.”

Extreme vanity and extreme shame are not so different from each other, and the reason for this is that they both arise from a place of intense self-preoc­cupation. They are both a manifestation of selfism – that creed of ours that says to took inward for our identity and sense of worth. C.S. Lewis was correct t0 point out that while thinking less of ourselves won’t solve these problems, thinking of ourselves less is certainly a good start.

An extract from

Cross and Culture: Can Jesus save the West?

by Kurt Mahlburg

Australian Heart Publishing 2020

Unanderra, NSW

Available at Koorong

Used by Permission.


*Eternity would normally avoid this description – the author has used terminology similar to NKJV/KJV/ESV Bible versions so we left it untouched. We prefer the NIV on this one.

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Cross and Culture: Can Jesus save the West?

Kurt Mahlburg

Available from Koorong

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