This is part-two of my three-part retelling of one of the most beautiful stories of grace in all of Scripture – the story of David and Mephibosheth. This week’s story comes from 2 Samuel 11-19 and Psalm 51.
There is much to be learned from this story of fear, loss, brokenness, betrayal, grace and forgiveness. It is fascinating how the relationships in a 3,000 year-old tale of political intrigue and family dysfunction can mirror 21st century experience. It is wonderful to know that grace is timeless because it is the gift of our God who lives and acts outside of time.
. . .
Never, ever think that I am not a grateful man. Every day the tablecloth of grace covers my lame and useless feet as I dine with the king. I remember how far I’ve come from Lo-Debar and I am thankful for the goodness of the Lord.
I was born into human wealth, power and glory. I learned all of that can go away so quickly. The people who you count on most for love and security can drop you and hurt you badly in a mere second of their mindless terror.
But the biggest lesson that I’ve learned so far is this: my hope is not in the blessing, but rather in the One who blesses. To lose sight of this is to lose sight of eternity. This truth was as good in the barren days of Lo-Debar as it is at the lavish banquets in the royal palace. It is never what you have, but who you know that counts, and even then, the only one who it truly matters to know is the Lord.
My grandfather Saul thought that being the king was everything. This thought compelled him to control everyone and everything. What he failed to realize is that insisting on being in charge put him in direct rebellion with God. My grandfather treated the blessing as an owner rather than as a steward. In the eyes of the Lord, my grandfather ended as a common embezzler, not a king.
I’ve watched King David wanting to avoid the mistakes of my grandfather. He’s made his own mistakes out of that desire. David doesn’t demand accountability from those closest to him in his household or his government.
David has grown complacent with success. He slept with Uriah the Hittite’s wife, Bathsheba. Jerusalem may be the capitol, but it’s not that big a town. Everyone soon knew this.
Bathsheba became pregnant. David arranged with Joab, the commander of the army, to post Uriah in harm’s way during battle. Uriah was killed. After that Joab “owned” David and there was no restraint on Joab’s bullying thuggery.
Then Ammon, David’s eldest son, raped Tamar his half-sister. David took no action. So Absalom got Ammon drunk and killed him in revenge. Absalom fled into exile. David accepted that Ammon was dead for unspeakable perversion, but seemed paralyzed on what to do about Absalom. Finally, David let him come back to Jerusalem, but he hasn’t spoken to him either to chastise or forgive him.
Absalom for his part sits at the gate everyday where he has attracted a following of malcontents and hotheads. David seemingly takes no notice as rebellion stirs.
I saw my own family’s rule disintegrate because of holding on too tightly. Now, David’s reign is in danger of falling because he holds on too loosely.
The only solution for both, it seems to me, is to submit to the Lord, daily, minute by minute, adhering to his word and following His lead. But ignoring the growing rift will lead to disaster.
How does the king love with the same mind with which he wields power? I’ve tried and I have failed. Power does not equate to wisdom. This seems obvious, but it is so easy to forget.
I am the king! God made me the king! Cannot, therefore, I do what I please as the king?
Ah, thinking like this led me to lust, adultery, deception and murder. I ended up a long, long way from God.
I tried to get back by being a paragon of religious devotion–going to the tabernacle daily, offering lavish sacrifices and praying on a set schedule. I set a better example for my family and people to repair the damage of my sins. But I found myself in no better place than the dry, empty Lo-Debar where I found Mephibosheth. I became as crippled in my soul as he is in his feet.
The Lord called me to account through my spiritual adviser, Nathan. He confronted my hypocrisy in exempting myself from my own high standards of conduct. My pride broke in that moment and in the breaking I glimpsed that honesty, not sacrificial effort, was the key to my relationship with the Lord.
The Lord had contempt for my gleaming piety, but he didn’t despise me for my broken spirit and my contrite heart. He would receive me, cleanse me and restore me if I would acknowledge the desperate condition of my spirit and heart to Him.
But still, how could I call Ammon and Absalom to account for what I wouldn’t do myself. So I tried to ignore Absalom and when he wouldn’t be ignored, he attacked me.
It doesn’t matter that the borders of Israel now encompass more territory than they ever have or ever will again. Nor does it matter that all the enemies of the nation are vanquished. My failure to insist on truth in my heart and in my relationships, my failure to discipline and cherish my family and to hold my closest aides accountable is rotting out my house from within.
Absalom has an army of the discontented and the unforgiven and he is on the march. My position in Jerusalem is untenable. My kingdom may be gone within the week. By tomorrow, I will have to abandon the city and lead my household to safety.
I am what I feared most from Saul’s example–a successful failure. I reached this place not by trying to control, but by neglecting the important things.
Ziba is smarter than I am. He was the chief steward for my grandfather Saul. He ran everything in the palace.
When Saul and Jonathan were killed in battle and Joab came after and destroyed the rest of the power structure, Ziba survived and thrived. By the time David ordered him to serve me, Ziba was a wealthy man with 15 sons and 20 servants.
David extended grace to me, but Ziba extends only contempt. I am crippled in body and I will never be anyone of importance beyond David’s kindness and the wealth of my grandfather’s lands. Ziba’s care for my family and me is malicious obedience. He honors the letter of David’s instruction, but not the spirit of grace behind it.
I’ve treated Ziba kindly and the scope and value of my holdings give him prestige and bring him wealth as well. But he wants it all.
He is coldly polite to me and more than once I have heard him refer to me as “The Gimp,” “The Idiot,” and “The Charity Case,” when he didn’t think that I could hear him.
Does this hurt me? Yes, it does. I am royalty by birth and by adoption. But regardless of your title or your power and regardless of how hard you try, you can’t make someone love you. At some point, you have to quit trying and simply be yourself as the Lord made you. I treat Ziba with kindness because that is the right thing to do. I am gracious because I have been shown grace.
No one but God made me, so no one but God can define me. This is the foundational truth of my life and of your life, if you stop to think about it. Human carelessness crippled me. Human pride sent me to a dry, empty humiliation. Love found me and brought me to the table of grace so I choose to love.
Knowing that I am loved by a God who never forgot me and caused his servant David to send for me means that I am not dependent on Ziba, or even David, for what I really need.
Even as Absalom is coming with a threat to destroy everything that David has built, I am at peace for myself. I know what I can afford to lose, because I’ve already lost it. I’ve been dropped, rejected and permanently injured by the fear and panic of another, but I have lived through it, praise the Lord.
It is difficult for me to move quickly, but I will go with David. I love him like my father did. He is not perfect but God comes alive in his heart and he has shown me a new and complete life. He is a man worthy to be king and a wonderful friend to me. He is God’s man and my benefactor. He was loyal to me when I had nothing. His kindness has won my heart and I will follow him in his hour of need.
I call Ziba in. “Please load up two donkeys with supplies for the king and I will take it to him,” I said. “When you let me know that you have done that, I will come out and saddle my own donkey and we will be off.”
“As you wish,” is Ziba’s reply.
More time passes than it should take. I hobble out to the stable to see what the delay is about. It is empty. The donkeys are gone. Ziba is nowhere to be found.
I suspect that Ziba has seized the opportunity to be rid of me. I don’t know whether he is going to David or to Absalom, but I am sure it is to whoever he thinks will offer him the best deal.
What is clear to me is that I cannot go to the king without help. I call my wife and my son to my side. I tell them that we are alone. We offer a prayer for protection and give thanks to the Lord for He is good and His steadfast love endures forever. Then we wait for what will come.
I’ll remember the faces, forever, staring and silent, as we leave the city and start over the mountain of sacrifice. Some people join us but most seem to be confused. They have known security for many years under my rule and rely on it as an entitlement rather than a privilege earned with blood. Now when their security is threatened they freeze like a bird fascinated by the snake that will consume it.
There are no shouts of “David has slain his ten thousands” as in yesteryear when I returned victorious from wars fought on their behalf. They love a winner, but I am no winner now, on the run from my own rebellious son.
My heart breaks afresh. It isn’t the loss of my capitol or my kingdom that tears at my heart. It is the hatred of my son, Absalom, who hates me so. I was so foolish in my inaction, so proud in my strength. I, who write songs about the blessings of justice, mercy and forgiveness did not see the need to extend these myself until it is now too late.
I am passing by the landmarks of my beloved mountain where I worship but I hardly see them. My thoughts are turned inward. How can I worship when I have not forgiven? My heart is divided within me.
Just past the summit, Ziba is standing in the middle of the trail and our column comes to a halt. There is a flash of memory in my heart of better days long ago, of the friend of my heart, Jonathan. His cheerful, gracious son, Mephibosheth, always encourages me, but where is he?
Ziba has donkeys with him loaded with clusters of raisins, loaves of bread, bags of fruit and a large goatskin of wine.
“Why have you brought these?” I ask him abruptly without greeting. There is no time for pleasantries.
Ziba answers smoothly. “The donkeys are for your people to ride, the bread and the fruit are to provision your guard, and the wine is to protect you against dehydration in the desert.”
“Where is your master?” I ask.
“Mephibosheth is staying in Jerusalem. I heard him say, ‘Today, the house of Israel will give me back the kingdom of my father.'”
Treason! The bile rises in me. I can taste my disgust and anger. Enough treachery! I am the king! I will not be deceived!
My reaction is hot and fast. “Alright, everything that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.”
Ziba flashes a quick smile. “How can I ever thank you. I am forever indebted to you, my lord and my king. May you always find me pleasing to you.”
I know that something is wrong when I see that smile. It is too quick and too sly. Ziba has taken advantage of me somehow in my anger and my grief, but there is no time to figure out how and to set it right. There are much bigger issues to deal with. I give the order to move on.
Later, I will remember that God says, “Wait, and I will help you” but moving on, taking action is what I do, every time I focus on myself instead of God. Following the instincts of my flesh blinds me to his grace. I think I am the one helping God, by helping myself, but this is the same place where I fall every time.
. . .
Next time, our story reaches its surprise ending when the tables turn on who gives grace and who receives grace.
Under the mercy of Christ,
Please note that the content and viewpoints of Mr. Hansen are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.
Kent Hansen is a Christian attorney, author and speaker. He practices corporate law and is the managing attorney of the firm of Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen in Corona, California. Kent also serves as the general counsel of Loma Linda University and Medical Center in Loma Linda, California.
Finding God’s grace revealed in the ordinary experiences of life, spiritual renewal in Christ and prayer are Kent’s passions. He has written two books, Grace at 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Places published by Review & Herald in 2002 and Cleansing Fire, Healing Streams: Experiencing God’s Love Through Prayer, published by Pacific Press in spring 2007. Many of his stories and essays about God’s encompassing love have been published in magazines and journals. Kent is often found on the hiking trails of the southern California mountains, following major league baseball, playing the piano or writing his weekly email devotional, “A Word of Grace for Your Monday” that is read by men and women from Alask