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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
2 Samuel 9

 

 

Introduction

DAVID KEPT HIS COVENANT WITH JONATHAN; BEFRIENDING MEPHIBOSHETH

This chapter and through 2 Samuel 21, according to many scholars, constitute a unit which even critical scholars accept as absolutely historical, an evaluation which should be applied to the whole Bible. Several names have been suggested for this section. "R. N. Whybray called it, `The Succession Narrative'; A. R. S. Kennedy named it, `The History of David's Court'; and G. W. Anderson labeled it, `The Court History.'"[1] "Many writers have consented to call this `The Narrative of the Succession.'"[2] Porter described this portion of the Bible as, "The supreme historical treasure of Samuel."[3]


Verse 1

"And David said, `Is there still any one left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake.'"

In answer to this question, David learned that a son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth, the five-year old lad who had been crippled in his feet upon the occasion of the family's flight following the death of Saul, was still living (2 Samuel 4:4). The events mentioned in this chapter took place long afterward, because, in the meanwhile, Mephibosheth had grown up, married and had become the father of a young son Mica (2 Samuel 9:12).

"For Jonathan's sake." The background of David's inquiry here was his remembrance of that solemn covenant he had made with Jonathan when both of them were young (1 Samuel 20:14-17). David's honoring his sacred promise to Jonathan is one of the most beautiful and touching episodes in the whole life of King David; and there is perhaps also a typical suggestion in this of our own salvation through Jesus Christ.

Sinners all, we mortals, like Mephibosheth, have been wounded, crippled, because of the "fall" of our progenitors in Eden. Like David did for Mephibosheth, God has honored and blessed us with the promise of eternal life, inviting us to feast at His table in His kingdom perpetually. Also, God does this, not because of any merit or righteousness upon our part, but "for Jesus' sake."


Verse 2

"Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David; and the king said to him, `Are you Ziba?' And he said, `Your servant is he.'"

It appears from this that nobody was able to answer David's question (2 Samuel 9:1); but someone told him about Ziba whose close relation to Saul would enable him to provide the information David wanted.

Ziba apparently was in full possession of all the vast properties of the former king, but as Machir had been caring for Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9:4), it seems likely that Ziba had made himself quite wealthy in those intervening years after Saul's death. It is not revealed whether or not Ziba was paying anyone for the lease or rental of all those lands. Some commentators suggest that Ziba was paying David, but the fact of David's not being acquainted with Ziba until this incident makes that doubtful.


Verse 3

"And the king said, `Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?' Ziba said to the king, `There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.'"

This crippled son, of course, was Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9:6), whose real name was Meribbaal (or Meribaal) (1 Chronicles 8:34; 9:40). This writer finds it impossible to agree with the position maintained by many scholars that, "Until the times of Jezebel, the name `Baal' retained its innocent meaning."[4] No, we do not believe that Saul's naming this son Meribbaal was a sign that Saul honored that pagan deity as God. We think the explanation lies in the meaning of such names. Gideon was called Jerubbaal, and Keil gave the meaning of that name as "Baal-fighter" (See our commentary on Judges). There are at least a dozen other alleged "meanings" of Jerubbaal, and thus we know that the assignment of "the meaning" of names compounded with Baal is a very uncertain business. Some scholars give the meaning of Meribbaal as "Baal's Fighter"; but it is just as likely that the name means "Fighter of Baal," or "Fighter Against Baal."

Our reluctance to receive the many allegations that the term "Baal," had innocent implications at first is founded upon the experience of the Israelites at Baal Peor (Numbers 25). In that light, we cannot believe that "Baal" was ever an innocent designation, except in instances, such as that of Gideon, who was quite properly called "Baal-Fighter." The fact that the change by later Jewish scholars in which "Baal" was replaced with the word [~bosheth], meaning "shame," might have been due to their uncertainty regarding the actual meanings of names compounded with "Baal."

The problem of explaining why Saul named two sons with names compounded with Baal requires the postulation (1) that Saul honored Baal as a pagan deity; (2) that the name was considered innocent; or (3) that the names thus compounded indicated hatred and antagonism against this popular Canaanite god; and to this writer the third of these postulations is by far the most acceptable.

Canon Cook gave the meaning of Mephibosheth, for example, as "scattering or destroying Baal."[5]


Verse 4

"The king said to him, "Where is he"? And Ziba said to the king, "He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel at Lo-debar."

"Lo-debar" is thought to have been located in northeastern Palestine east of the Jordan River and not far from Mahanaim, Ishbosheth's capital.

"Machir the son of Ammiel." Ammiel is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:5 as the father of Bathshua (Bathsheba) the mother of Solomon; thus Machir was Bathsheba's brother, making him a brother-in-law of King David. Machir was a very wealthy person who out of his love for Saul's family had taken Saul's grandson, the son of Jonathan (Mephibosheth), into his estate and cared for him. This identifies Machir as a faithful and generous person; and additional proof of this came during the rebellion of Absalom when Machir also supported and substantially aided David.


Verse 5

"Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar."

It is not hard to imagine what Mephibosheth might have thought when the royal chariots with their liveried retainers of the king rolled up in front of the house of Machir. Sure, David had said, "That I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake (2 Samuel 9:1)"; but the universal custom of those times was that any king searched out and slew every relative of any previous king. And in the light of that custom David's promise of kindness might well have been discounted. To those of Saul's household, "David's promise of kindness might have sounded remarkably like Herod's remark,"[6] when he said to the wise men concerning Jesus, "When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him" (Matthew 2:8). We may be certain that the appearance of David's messengers before the place where Mephibosheth lived struck great fear and apprehension into his heart.


Verses 6-8

MEPHIBOSHETH AND KING DAVID FACE-TO-FACE

"And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David, and fell on his face and did obeisance. And David said, "Mephibosheth"! and he answered. "Behold, your servant." And David said to him, "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." And he did obeisance, and said, "What is your servant, that you should look upon a dead dog such as I"?"

"Mephibosheth fell on his face ... did obeisance" (2 Samuel 9:6). This, of course, was the customary way of showing respect and submission to ancient kings. David no doubt recognized the fear in Mephibosheth's heart and moved at once to reassure him.

"I will restore to you all the land of your father Saul" (2 Samuel 9:7). Of course, Saul was Mephibosheth's grandfather, not his father. "Here, as in other O.T. texts, the term `father' means `grandfather.'"[7] The Biblical usage of the terminology signifying family relationships is quite elastic. In the genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3), for example, the word 'son' is used for literal son, Levirate son, adopted son, grandson, descendant of, son-in-law, or son by creation. (Adam is called the son of God). The first verse of the N.T. (Matthew 1:1) states that Jesus Christ was the son of David, the son of Abraham! (See our commentary on Luke (Vol. 3 of the N.T. Series), pp. 78-81.)

"What is your servant that you should look upon a dead dog such as I" (2 Samuel 9:8). This type of hyperbole and self-derogation was characteristic of Orientals during that era. David used similar language referring to himself when he said to Saul, "After whom has the king of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! After a flea! (1 Samuel 24:14)."

This extravagant type of language was prevalent in Biblical times, especially in the Orient.

In the East, when your host assures you that everything he has to his last dime is yours, he nevertheless expects you to pay twice the value of everything you procure from him! For example, Ephron offered the Cave of Machpelah to Abraham as a free gift; but he took care to obtain for it an exorbitant price (Genesis 23:11,15).[8]


Verse 9-10

DAVID'S INSTRUCTIONS TO ZIBA

"Then the king called Ziba, Saul's servant, and said to him, "All that belonged to Saul and all his house I have given to your master's son. And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him, and shall bring in the produce, that your master's son may have bread to eat; but Mephibosheth your master's son shall always eat at my table. Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants."

Note the elastic use of the word "son" in this passage, where Mephibosheth, Saul's grandson, is referred to repeatedly as the "son" of Ziba's master (Saul).

"That your master's son may have bread to eat" (2 Samuel 9:10). "The size of Saul's estate is indicated by the number of men required to cultivate it, that is, the fifteen sons and twenty servants of Ziba."[9]

In the same breath David indicated that Mephibosheth would always eat at the king's table, just like the members of the king's family. Why then, was it necessary for Ziba to bring all that wealth to Mephibosheth? Again from H. P. Smith, "The presence of Mephibosheth at court would increase rather than diminish his expense."[10] Besides that, Mephibosheth had a family to support, and the maintenance of an appropriate establishment in keeping with the customs of royalty would be possible only by the collection of such revenues from Ziba.

It is of interest that Mephibosheth, through his son Micah, became the head of an extensive clan in Israel, continuing all the way to the days of the Captivity.


Verse 11

"Then Ziba said to the king, "According to all that my Lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do." So Mephibosheth ate at David's table, like one of the king's sons."

In view of Ziba's treacherous conduct during Absalom's rebellion, we may perhaps make a judgment here that Ziba was far from pleased with this new arrangement. His solemn promise to carry out the commandments of the king was evidently made with reluctance; and he rebelled at the first opportunity.

Before leaving this study, we should note that two of Saul's sons were named Mephibosheth (Meribbaal): (1) the son of Jonathan whom David befriended here, and (2) another Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 21:7-9) who, along with six other sons of Saul, was executed by King David to avenge King Saul's heartless slaughter of the Gibeonites.


Verse 12-13

MEPHIBOSHETH ESTABLISHED AT KING DAVID'S COURT

"And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica (Micah). And all who dwelt in Ziba's house became Mephibosheth's servants. So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem; for he ate always at the king's table. Now he was lame in both his feet."

"So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem" (2 Samuel 9:13). The word "so" in this passage is significant. It means "in this manner," carrying the thought of impressive stability and magnificence, a picture that was enhanced by the addition of the whole household of Ziba. It must have taken a considerably large palace to accommodate such a large household.

"The offspring of Mephibosheth became leading men in the tribe of Benjamin until the Captivity (1 Chronicles 8:35-40; 9:40-44)."[11]

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 9:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/2-samuel-9.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, August 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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