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David's Treatment of Mephibosheth
2 Samuel 9:0
THE chapter opens with a question which we should have thought at one period of our study to have been utterly impossible. There is a most subduing melancholy in the inquiry. The voice sounds as if it were being uttered in a great sepulchre. The king's own sweet music is lost in that atmosphere. The question sounds hollow, dismal, like a poor voice struggling in a cave of wind. "Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul?" What do we remember of Saul? What but greatness and splendour? He was the first king of Israel; his name was famous; his warriors were victorious; his house was based upon broad and deep foundations, and the roof of it seemed to darken heaven. How great his pomp! How infinite his circumstance! Now the question is asked: "Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul?" Can such a house die? Are there influences at work which can crumble the pyramids? "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away," a very subtle suggestion of an infinite effect operating continually in human affairs. Not, He was destroyed, torn to pieces, struck by seven thunderbolts, overwhelmed by the aggregated forces of heaven; But, He passed away like a shadow as silently, as suggestively. Nor need we dwell upon the wickedness of Saul in applying this feature of transitoriness to our own circumstances. We remember the disobedience of Saul, and the penalty which fell upon the king; but, apart altogether from mere rebellion or disloyalty to Heaven, it is written upon all earthly things that they are doomed, that they must fade away, that kings and mean men pass on in the same eternal procession. If questions of this kind were not asked, the heart might sometimes at least secretly wonder whether God be not really partial to the rich and strong and great. He seems to spare the tempest from their roof, and to turn away the wind when it would strike their flocks or their lives. But it is not so. With God there is no respect of persons. The lesson to us is this that however sturdy our physical power, however large our public place, however deep our pecuniary resources, we too must decay and pass on. What are we to leave behind us? We can leave much: we can so live that the world will be the poorer for our going. It is there the lesson comes with great power, and yet with ineffable graciousness.
"That I may shew him kindness" ( 2Sa 9:1 ). Once leave David to himself, and he blossoms into wonderful grace of character. He never began a war. David was no aggressor. The shepherdly heart was David's he began at the sheepcotes, and he never left them as to all high moral pastoral solicitude and love. He was often in war, but always challenged, provoked, defied. Other kings have sprung from their thrones and said, Whom can we fight today? This man sits still on his throne and says, To whom can I shew kindness? In the next chapter he will hear of a man who has lost his royal father, and he will say, "I will shew kindness unto Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father shewed kindness unto me." Let some men alone and then in very deed their life runs out in kindness. They sometimes indeed turn aside to do things that are not wise and good; still, they are ruled by fine high sentiment, which makes one rather mourn than curse their degradation. Not that it is to be excused. A man may add a little to his own respectability by pronouncing judgment on the errors and sins of David. But remember that again and again when the hand of pressure is taken from him he wants to be a shepherd, to do acts of kindness, to go out after that which is lost until he find it. David always saw where another chair could be put to the banqueting-table. He observed how much food was taken away from the table that might have been consumed there by necessity, could that necessity have been discovered and urged by hospitable welcomes to partake of the feast. Wonderful human nature! sometimes so hideous that we are ashamed to belong to it. There are chapters in the Bible we cannot read aloud, and that even when we are alone we fly through rather than peruse: there are others we would read all day, and cause the sun to stand still that we might finish the tale of eloquence. This double aspect must be surveyed and realised by any who would attempt to estimate the full compass and proper value of that mysterious term Human Nature.
But can Saul or Jonathan have left any man to whom kindness can be shown? Their sons will be wealthy. The inheritance of such men must be a boundless estate. Quite a sad thing is it to be in such circumstances that nobody can do us a kindness; and sadder still to be supposed to be in such circumstances when in reality we are not. We are effusive in our kindness to people who are lying in the street; but there are many men of really radiant face, and merry life, and joyous, happy, witty speech would be glad of the help of a little child's hand. They are the men who are to be inquired about. Persons are to be glad that the question may be put to them, Where are such men? They will require to be found at twilight, for they shrink from noonday, and their gloom would make midnight a darkness impenetrable. We lose so much when we so rise in life as to think we do not need any man's solicitude or help. Better be poor than be so foolishly proud. He who does the kindness receives the larger benefit. It is more blessed to give than to receive. These are the profound maxims of Christian doctrine which every man can put to a practical test Then who would refuse kindness even from the poorest? Take it, take it gladly take it all. I say not that to-morrow you may not in some way "fetch a compass" which will never be suspected as to its action, and place tenfold more in the poor giver's hands. If a child offer you anything, take it gladly, lovingly, as if you had been waiting for it all your life and now seized the chance with great thankfulness. What you are to do afterwards your own heart will tell you.
"For Jonathan's sake." It is an honest word. Not" for Saul's sake": there are some memories we cannot honour; but "for Jonathan's sake": there are some memories we can never forget. How the past lives and burns! We can never repay, in the sense of being equal with, any man who ever did us kindness. Kindness is not to be repaid, in the sense of being discharged, struck off the book of memory, and no longer constituting a pious recollection. Gratitude always says, There is room for another little flower, there is space for another genial demonstration of solicitude and sympathy. Men who suppose they have paid their benefactors are never to be trusted. We can only pay by instalments. Justice may draw a line, gratitude stretches out a horizon. If this is so amongst men of right spirit, what is it in relation to Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church, who bought the Church with his blood, and redeemed it by his unspeakable priesthood? In relation to him nothing has been given whilst anything has been withheld. We cannot pay for our salvation; silver and gold have no place in the region opened by that infinite word: they are terms unknown.
Nothing could be done for Jonathan: he had passed away; but there is always the next best thing to be done. Blessed are they whose quick ingenuity is inspired to find out the next best thing. Who does not long to have his father and mother back again, at least for one whole summer day, that he might load them with proofs of gratitude and love? They had such a weary time of it; they were but poor; they never saw splendid cities, or fine sights, or heard noble music, or looked upon things great but from a distance; they were always in the field ploughing, in the market place bartering, or in the sick-chamber suffering. To have them back one day, month, year, a whole round year! We should live in their delight and find heaven in their contentment. Yet see to it that this sentiment, so pure, like the dew of the morning, be critically examined. The value of it will be shown by what is done now to those who are alive. We cannot do the departed any good, for they have passed beyond the human touch; but we can do deeds to the poor, the ignorant, the out-of-the-way, the suffering, which will be a happy memorial to those we have lost. Take some poor child, open its way in life, and when you have done so set up in your heart's memory a stone bearing the inscription, "Sacred to the memory of a loving parent." So write the epitaph of the dead, and the writing shall never be obliterated. What we have to make up in this way! There are aspects of life, when we look in this direction, which simply appal us. We did not know at the time how neglectful we were. We took life roughly: the days came and went, and we paid but little heed to their inner story of detail; now that we have thought the matter over, our hearts are sore, because we see a thousand places where we might have been filial, tender, grateful, helpful, good, according to the measure of God's goodness.
"Then king David sent...." ( 2Sa 9:5 ). What has David to do with such matters now? He is the king. Why should kings stoop to look after obscure subjects? Does not elevation destroy responsibility? Does not a throne excuse from human solicitude and pity? Does not a great public position exonerate a man from care for those he has left behind? The man struggles up through the king: there is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding. David was first a man, then a shepherd, then a king; and in proportion as he was fit to be king he cared nothing for his kingship. Only they are overwhelmed with office who are unworthy of it The man knows within himself whether he can drive six-in-hand, whether he can control circumstances, whether he can "mount the whirlwind and direct the storm." David was worthy of his throne, and greater than his throne: he was a poet, and who can confer any favour upon a poet that will make him feel proud of mere investiture and prerogative? It is impossible. Let us keep our eyes steadfastly upon the humanity of David. He was so much of a man that he often got wrong as a man. It is a terrible thing to be too much a man. Better be limited, be just barely weight, scrupulously measured: fewer devils will assail us, fewer hells will open at our feet to swallow our ardent and all but uncontrollable life. It may be pious to sit in judgment upon David's errors, but it is at least human to remember David's goodness.
Mephibosheth was worthy, too, of his father. He quietly accepted his degradation. He was not one of the men who had a grievance and was continually fomenting the people in order to have that grievance remedied. There was no little philosophy in Mephibosheth. He saw how history had gone; he recognised Providence in events, and he had rest in proportion as he had true piety. There are many men in obscurity who ought not to be there when looked upon from a certain point of view. They could easily establish a grievance, and bring an accusation against public policy or social justice. Mephibosheth waited until he was sent for. Joseph only got wrong in one instance, then hardly wrong; at the time we almost rejoiced in it, for it showed him to be a man after all, and not an angel the time when he said to the prisoner who was about to be discharged, "When thou comest into thine office, remember me." He ought not to have said that. An interpreter of dreams should not be indebted to the butler of a king. Yet it is well when great men turn aside from their greatness but for one little inch, for then we can take hold of them and cry, "Brothers are we." Mephibosheth waited until he was sent for, without asking anybody to plead for him with king David. Blessed are they who can accept their fortunes, and who can call fate by the name of Providence. The great, the eternal truth underlying all this is, that there comes a time when sonship rises above accident. Mephibosheth had come to that happy time. He was Jonathan's son. True, he was lame; true, he was in an obscure position; true, he had counted himself as little better than a dead dog: but there came a time when sonship was the principal fact of his life. So it shall be in the great search which God makes in his universe for the obscure and the lost, the woebegone and the friendless. He will recognise his own image; he will remember his own creation; the very remembrance of this indeed is the explanation of the quest for lost humanity. We are still children. We are indeed broken down, but the fragments are majestic, the ruins are grand. Christ has come to seek and to save that which was lost. "Ho, every one that thirsteth," saith he, "come ye to the waters, and drink." It is said of him everywhere, "This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them." So he does, and when he breaks their bread he shows his Deity.
Almighty God, we bless thee for all uplifting of heart; its meaning is more than we can now express. We thank thee for all religious desire: for the tender longing of the heart for further light, for deeper peace and for tender communion with others. This is the miracle of grace in the heart of man. We are dissatisfied, because of the image in which we are made, with all things that are merely of the earth and of time. We can receive more than earth can give; the whole firmament is too small for us: we would see beyond, even into the higher skies where the brighter stars burn. This cometh forth from the Lord of hosts. We do not die as the beasts die; we die in hope: being rooted in the Christ and identified with all the mystery of his cross, we feel, we know, that death is not stronger than Christ; we are assured, though we cannot explain all the reason of the assurance, that we are more than earth, that we were not meant for time alone; there is a purpose divine in our very feebleness, and our infirmity shall not disguise the greatness of thy purpose respecting us. We are weighed down by many burdens. Sometimes we are befooled by our very tears, and think that tears are walls through which no man can see, barriers and boundaries, the end of things. Yet sometimes our tears are as instruments through which we can see far and read all the higher writing which now concerns us; then we bless God for our tears because they have been the medium of revelation to the soul. We would that all our life, poor, short as it is, might be spent in high uses, so that when the time of vision comes we may behold the purpose and see the answer to the mystery, and accept the destiny which grace has provided for ransomed and trustful souls. Let thy blessing be upon us in the perusal of thy word; make it a new word to us, old as eternity, yet new as our present need, far back in the infinite solitude of thine own nature, yet round about us and within us in tender and familiar companionship and conference. Thus we shall live with the patriarchs and with the prophets, with the minstrels and the apostles of Christ; and we shall know that law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, yet that Moses and Christ are one, and the song in heaven is the song of Moses and the Lamb. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 9". The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34