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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Heb. Mephioo'sheth, מְפַיבשֶׁת [twice' defectively' מְפַבשֶׁת, 2 Samuel 19:24; 2 Samuel 21:8], exterminator of the shame, i.e. idols or Baal, see Simonis Lex. V. T. p. 160; Ewald, Isr. Gesch. 2:383; Sept. Μεφιβόσεθ v. . Μεμφονπσθέ, Vulg. Miphiboseth, Josephus Μεμφίβοσθος ), the name of two of king- Saul's descendants. "Bosheth appears to have been a favorite appellation in Saul's family, for it forms a part of the names of no fewer than three members of it — Ish-bosheth and the two Mephibosheths. But in the genealogies preserved in 1 Chronicles these names are given in the different forms of Esh-baal and Merib-baal. The variation is identical with that of Jerub-baal and Jerubbesheth, and is in accordance with passages in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 11:13) and Hosea (Hosea 9:10), where Baal and Bosheth appear to be convertible or, at least, related terms, the latter being used as a contemptuous or derisive synonyme of the former. One inference from this would be that the persons in question were originally named Baal; that this appears in the two fragments of the family records preserved in Chronicles; but that in Samuel the hateful heathen name has been uniformly erased, and the nickname of Bosheth substituted for it. It is some support to this to find that Saul had an ancestor named Baal, who appears in the lists of Chronicles only (1 Chronicles 8:30; 1 Chronicles 9:36). But such a change in the record supposes an amount of editing and interpolation which would hardly have been accomplished without leaving more obvious traces, in reasons given for the change, etc. How different it is, for example, from the case of Jerub-besheth, where the alteration is mentioned and commented on. Still the facts are as above stated, whatever explanation may be given of them." (See ISHBOSHETH).
W. Saul's son by his concubine Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah (2 Samuel 21:8). He and his brother Armoni were among the seven victims who were surrendered by David to the Gibeonites, and by them crucified in sacrifice- to Jehovah, to avert a famine from which the country was suffering. There is no doubt about this being the real meaning of the word יָקִע, translated here and in Numbers 25:4 "hanged up" (see Michaelis's Supplement, No. 1046; also Gesenius, Thesaur. p. 620; and Furst, Handwb. p. 539 b). Aquila has ἀναπήγνυμι, understanding them to have been not crucified but impaled. The Vulgate reads crucifixerunt (Numbers 25:9), and qui afixifuerant (Numbers 25:13). The Hebrew term is entirely distinct from תָּלָה, also rendered "to hang" in the AV., which is its real signification. It is this latter word which is employed in the story of the five kings of Makkedah; in the account of the indignities practiced on Saul's body, 2 Samuel 21:12; on Baanah and Rechab by David, 2 Samuel 4:12; and elsewhere.
The seven corpses, protected by the tender care of the mother of Mephibosheth from the attacks of bird and beast, were exposed on their crosses to the fierce sun of at least five of the midsummer months, on the sacred eminence of Gibeah. This period results from the statement that they hung from barley harvest (April) till the commencement of the rains (October); but it is also worthy of notice that the Sept. has employed the word ἐξηλιάζειν, "to expose to the sun." It is also remarkable that on the only other occasion on which this Hebrew term is used-Numbers 25:4 - an express command was given that the victims should be crucified "in front of the sun." At the end of that time the attention of David was called to the circumstance, and also possibly to the fact that the sacrifice had failed in its purpose. A different method was tried: the bones of Saul and Jonathan were disinterred from their resting-place at the foot of the great tree at Jabesh-Gilead, the blanched and withered remains of Mephibosheth, his brother, and his five relatives, were taken down from the crosses, and father, son, and grandsons found at last a restingplace together in the ancestral cave of Kish at Zelah. When this had been done, " God was entreated for the land," and the famine ceased. BC. 1053 -1019. (See RIZPAH).
2. The son of Jonathan and grandson of king Saul (2 Samuel 4:4; in which sense " the son of Saul " is to be taken in 2 Samuel 19:24; sec Gesenius, Thesaur. p. 216); called also by the equivalent name of MERIBBAAL (1 Chronicles 9:40). The following account of his history and character is sufficiently detailed to set forth the important relations which he held to the adventures and reign of his father's successor.
1. His life seems to have been, from beginning to end, one of trial and discomfort. The name of his mother is unknown. There is reason to think that she died shortly after his birth, and that he was an only child. At any rate, we know for certain that when his father and grandfather were slain on Gilboa he was an infant of but five years old. BC. 1053. He was then living under the charge of his nurse, probably at Gibeah, the regular residence of Saul. The tidings that the army was destroyed, the king and his sons slain, and that the Philistines, spreading from hill to hill of the country, were sweeping all before them, reached the royal household. The nurse, perhaps apprehending that the enemy were seeking to exterminate the whole royal family, fled, carrying the child on her shoulder. This is the statement of Josephus (ἀπὸ τῶν ὤμων , Ant. 7:5, 5); but it is hardly necessary, for in the East children are always carried on the shoulder (see Lane's Mod. Egyptians, ch. i, p. 52, and the art. CHILD). But in her panic and hurry she stumbled, and Mephibosheth was precipitated to the ground with such force as to deprive him for life of the use of both feet .(2 Samuel 4:4). These early misfortunes threw a shade over his whole life, and his personal deformity-as is often the case where it has been the result of accident-seems to have exercised a depressing and depreciatory influence on his character. He can never forget that he. is a poor lame slave (2 Samuel 19:26), and unable to walk; a dead dog (ix. 8); that all the house of his father were dead (19:28); that the king is an angel of God (ib. 27), and he his abject dependent (9:6, 8). He receives the slanders of Ziba and the harshness of David alike with a submissive equanimity which is quite touching, and which effectually wins our sympathy.
2. After the accident which thus embittered his whole existence, Mephibosheth was carried with the rest of his family beyond the Jordan to the mountains of Gilead, where he found a refuge in the house of Machir ben-Ammiel, a powerful Gadite or Manassite sheik at Lo-debar, not far from Mahanaim, which during the reign of his uncle Ishbosheth was the head-quarters of his family. By Machir he was brought up (Josephus, Ant. 7:5, 5); there he married, and there he was living at a later period, when David, having completed the subjugation of the adversaries of Israel on every side, had leisure to turn his attention to claims of other and less pressing descriptions. The solemn oath which he had sworn to the father of Mephibosheth at their critical interview by the stone Ezel, that he "would not cut off his kindness from the house of Jonathan forever: no, not when Jehovah had cut off the enemies of David each one from the face of the earth" (1 Samuel 20:15); and again, that "Jehovah should be between Jonathan's seed and his seed forever" (1 Samuel 20:42), was naturally the first thing that occurred to him, and he eagerly inquired who was left of the house of Saul, that he might show kindness to him for Jonathan's sake (2 Samuel 9:1). So completely had the family of the late king vanished from the western side of Jordan that the only person to be met with in any way related to them was one Ziba, formerly a slave of the royal house, but now a freed man, with a family of fifteen sons, who, by arts which, from the glimpse we subsequently have of his character, are not difficult to understand, must have acquired considerable substance, since he was possessed of an establishment of twenty slaves of his own. From this man David learned of the existence of Mephibosheth. Royal messengers were sent to the house of Machir at Lo-debar, in the mountains of Gilead, and by them the prince and his infant son Michah (comp. 1 Chronicles 9:40) were brought to Jerusalem. The interview with David was marked by extreme kindness on the part of the king, and on that of Mephibosheth by the fear and humility which have been pointed out as characteristic of him. He leaves the royal presence with all the property of his grandfather restored to him, and with the whole family and establishment of Ziba as his slaves, to cultivate the land and harvest the produce. He himself is to be a daily guest at David's table. From this time forward he resided at Jerusalem (2 Samuel ix). BC. cir. 1037. See Kitto's Daily Bible Illust. ad loc.
3. An interval of about fourteen years now passes, and the crisis of David's life arrives. (See DAVID). Of Mephibosheth's behavior on this occasion we possess two accounts-his own (2 Samuel 19:24-30), and that of Ziba (16:1-4). They are naturally at variance with each other.
(1.) Ziba meets the king on his flight at the most opportune moment, just as David has undergone the most trying part of that trying day's journey, has taken the last look at the city so peculiarly his own, and completed the hot and toilsome ascent of the Mount of Olives. He is on foot, and is in want of relief and refreshment. The relief and refreshment are there. There stand a couple of strong he-asses ready saddled for the king or his household to make the descent upon; and there are bread, grapes, melons, and a skin of wine; and there-the donor of these welcome gifts-is Ziba, with respect in his look and sympathy on his tongue. Of course the whole,. though offered as Ziba's, is the property of Mephibosheth: the asses are his, one of them his own riding animal (חֲמוֹר, both in 17:2, and 19:26); the fruits are from his gardens and orchards. But why is not their owner here in person ? Where is the "son of Saul?" He, says Ziba, is in Jerusalem, waiting to receive from the nation the throne of his grandfather, that throne from which he has so long been unjustly excluded. Such an aspiration would be very natural, but it must have been speedily dissipated by the thought that he at least would be likely to gain little by Absalom's rebellion. Still it must be confessed that Ziba's tale at first sight is a most plausible one, and that the answer of David is no more than was to be expected. So the presumed ingratitude of Mephibosheth is requited with the ruin he deserves, while the loyalty and thoughtful courtesy of Ziba are rewarded by the possessions of his master, thus reinstating him in the position which he seems to have occupied on Mephibosheth's arrival in Judah.
(2.) Mephibosheth's story which, however, he had not the opportunity of telling until several days later, when he met David returning to his kingdom at the western bank of the Jordan — was very different from Ziba's. He had been desirous to fly with his patron and benefactor, and had ordered Ziba to make ready his ass that he might join the cortege. But Ziba had deceived him, had left him, and not returned with the asses. In his helpless condition he had no alternative, when once the opportunity of accompanying David was lost, but to remain where he. was. The swift pursuit which had been made after Ahimaaz and Jonathan (2 Samuel 17) had shown what risks even a strong and able man must run who would try to follow the king. But all that he could do under the circumstances he had done. He had gone into the deepest mourning possible (the same as in 12:20) for his lost friend. From the very day that David left he had allowed his beard to grow ragged, his crippled feet were unwashed (Jerome, however, pedibus infectis-alluding to false wooden feet which he was accustomed to wear, Quaest. Hebrews ad loc.) and untended, his linen remained unchanged. That David did not disbelieve this story is shown by his revoking the judgment he had previously given. That he did not entirely reverse his decision, but allowed Ziba to retain possession of half the lands of Mephibosheth, is probably due partly to weariness at the whole transaction. but mainly to the conciliatory frame of mind in which he was at that moment. "Shall, then, any mall be put to death this day ?" is the key note of the whole proceeding. David could not but have been sensible that he had acted hastily, and was doubtless touched by the devotedness of his friend's son, as well as angry at the imposition of Ziba; but, as he was not wholly convinced of Mephibosheth's innocence, and as there was at the time no opportunity to examine fully into the matter, perhaps also actuated by the pride of an already expressed judgment or by reluctance to offend Ziba, who had adhered to him when so many old friends forsook him, he answered abruptly, "Why speakest thou any more of thy matters? I have said Thou and Ziba divide the land." The answer of Mephibosheth was worthy of the son of the generous Jonathan, and, couched as it is in Oriental phrase, shows that he had met a better reception than he had expected: "Yea, let him take all; forasmuch as my lord the king. is come again in peace unto his own house" (2 Samuel 19:24-30). BC. cir. 1023.
4. We hear no more of Mephibosheth, except that David was careful that he should not be included in the savage vengeance which the Gibeonites were suffered to execute upon the house of Saul for the great wrong they had sustained during his reign (2 Samuel 21:7). BC. cir. 1019. Through his son Micah the family of Saul was continued to a late generation (1 Chronicles 9:40 sq.).
On the transaction between David and Mephibosheth, see J. G. Elsner, Ueb. die gerechte Unschuld u. Redlichkeit Mephiboseths (Frankf. u. Leipz. 1760); Niemever, Charakt. 4:434 sq.; Kitto's Daily Bible Illust. ad loc.; Blunt, Undesigned Coincidences, ad loc.; Hall, Contemplations, ad loc.; H. Lindsay, Lectures, 2:102; Doddridge, Sermons, 1:177; Ewald, Hist. of Israel (Engl. transl. 3:191). (See ZIBA).