A PARAPLEGIC In 2004, the Paralympic Games took place after the Olympic Games in Athens. We saw handicapped athletes in six disability groups, including paraplegics – those paralyzed in both legs – from around the world competing for gold, silver and bronze medals in a wide variety of sports. The emphasis was on the participants’ athletic achievements, rather than on their disabilities. One of the most exciting team events was wheelchair football, in which mixed teams of male and female paraplegics competed aggressively in their attempts to get the ball over their opponents’ goal line. FACING A GRIM FUTURE That was 2004. For Mephibosheth, who lived over 10 centuries before Christ, life was no game. He was not born a paraplegic; he became one after he was dropped by his nurse, resulting in severe damage to his feet and ankles. He was a boy of five, and she was trying to carry him and escape, after hearing the terrible news that his father, Prince Jonathan, and his grandfather, King Saul, had both been killed in battle against the Philistines, at Jezreel (2 Sam. 4:4). As the heir to the throne, Mephibosheth’s own life was now in danger.
He became a paraplegic as a result of his injury, and his future was grim. He had few chances in life. Because of his handicap he would be unable to work, and as a cripple he was also shut out of the temple worship. His own assessment of himself as a “dead dog” was not too far off the mark (2 Sam. 9:8 NIV). Even his name means “shame”.
Because of his disability, he couldn’t speak out for his rights and demand equality and accessibility to services as the handicapped can today. In those days such disability rights didn’t exist. Under normal circumstances he might have expected to become king. Now he was an outcast, a rejected member of society.
But he had two things going for him, or rather two people – King David and his servant, Ziba. After the passage of many years, these two come on the scene, each with their own agendas. We read the whole intriguing story in 2 Samuel 9.
Although Ziba does not fare too well in the subsequent narrative for his thoroughly self-serving behavior (when Mephibosheth was nearing middle-age), at least he had kept in touch with Mephibosheth, and knew where he was living when King David inquired concerning him (2 Sam. 16:1-4).
The day came when grace sprang into action, and David asked if there was some member of the royal family of Saul to whom he could do a favor, for Jonathan’s sake. Mephibosheth turned out to be the only one left. David and Jonathan had been very close friends before Jonathan died in battle; this favor was the outcome.
There is a great lesson in this Old Testament picture. In spite of all the handicaps and distance caused by sin in our lives, God loves us unconditionally, for the sake of another, the Lord Jesus Himself. We are spiritually crippled like Mephibosheth, at a distance, “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12), with no claim to Him whatsoever. But out of pure grace, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
IN FROM THE COLD
David didn’t have to do anything for Mephibosheth. He was under no sense of obligation. He could well have “eliminated” him as a possible threat to his throne. But he didn’t. He sought him out carefully and invited him to the royal palace.
Mephibosheth probably came in trepidation, thinking that perhaps his last days had finally come; that King David had discovered his existence and was about to get rid of his last rival to the throne from the previous dynasty. Bowing down before the King, as his humble servant, he heard some amazing news. King David said he was going to show him kindness rather than judgment, grace rather than punishment, all for the sake of his father Jonathan. “I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul,” David says, “and you will always eat at my table.”
How like God’s gracious attitude to us! Once, like Mephibosheth, we were at a distance from God, as the result of a broken relationship. Now we have been brought right into the royal household: “In Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). This applied specially to the believers in Ephesus, who were not Jews by birth, and lived far away from Jerusalem – but it applies to us as well.
This new position, with all the spiritual inheritance that goes with it, is nothing we deserve, nothing we could work for, nothing we could even have expected. It is pure grace on the part of God, divine love in action. Now we, in our turn, can offer to God nothing more than our humble loyalty. Mephibosheth responded to David’s greeting by referring to himself as “Your servant,” and I’m sure he was not just being polite. He meant it. And it should be the same with us. Paul wrote to the believers in Rome: “Now … we have been released from the Law … so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit” (Rom. 7:6). So for us, too, the Law only shows us what cripples we are in God’s sight. Our new spirit, the Holy Spirit, enables us to give Him acceptable service.
FEET UNDER THE TABLE
Then came an even more remarkable consequence for Mephibosheth. Not only had he been recompensed by the return of all his confiscated property, but he was invited to be a permanent guest at the king’s royal table. And when he was sitting at that big table, his crippled feet didn’t show. They were underneath, out of sight. Mephibosheth’s twisted, misshapen and useless limbs were no longer a visible embarrassment to him – no longer a poignant reminder of his past.
As far as we are concerned, too, when we accept God’s invitation to come to Him, entirely because of Christ, our handicap of sin is no longer seen. God says of His earthly people, the Jewish nation, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered” (Rom. 4:7), and the same applies to all today who are restored to Him. We enjoy spiritual feasting at His banquet table, and our past inadequacies are no longer visible. We are dealt with in pure grace, because of the loving relationship that exists between the Father and His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Even though some of Ziba’s subsequent actions were less than honorable (2 Sam. 16:1-4; 19:24-30), in the end David was wise enough to see through Ziba’s misrepresentation and slander. Convinced by Mephibosheth’s genuine loyalty – even when David himself was rejected as king and on the run after his son Absalom’s coup – he did all he could to maintain Mephibosheth in his privileged position. There is no doubt that Mephibosheth wanted to stay close to the king who had shown him such grace, enjoying the overwhelming warmth of his undeserved welcome, and happy in his new-found inheritance.
Are your feet under the table of the King?
By Ian Livingstone
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org