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Lessons From The Life of David III: David & Mephibosheth: Shame & Honor

Have you ever had a relationship that meant more to you than family?

We’ve been looking at the life of David, specifically about his relationship to Saul and his family. Today’s passages focus on David’s relationship to Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson. The two had a unique relationship. 


II Samuel 9:1-13

(V.1) “For Jonathan’s sake.” This refers to a promise that David made to Jonathan (I Samuel 20:14-15) that he would not destroy his family when he became king. 

(V.1) The word translated “kindness” (hesed) refers to faithfulness, often in a covenantal context. It denotes loyalty and joint obligation. David was obligated to do good to Jonathan’s family because of the oath he swore to him to preserve his family.

(V.3) “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” Ziba brings up Mephibosheth, but Saul had two other surviving sons and five grandsons (II Samuel 21), that David could have shown kindness to. David knew of them (signified when David said, “Is there not still someone…”) and let them live because of his promise to Saul not to cut off his family from the earth (I Samuel 24:21-22). But it may also have been known that David had a special relationship with Jonathan, and that’s why Ziba brought up Mephibosheth. 

(V.6) “And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage.” This is our introduction to Mephibosheth and the first thing we see of him is the honor he pays to David as king. No doubt, Mephibosheth was fearful since he was of a competing family to David. 

(VS.7,10) David gave Mephibosheth all that Saul owned. But Saul had other surviving sons that the land would have gone to. This may be an expression of David’s love for Jonathan by giving Jonathan’s son all that Saul owned. The rest of Saul’s family lived in exile in Gilead, where Ishbosheth had his throne. But they were not killed (until later) in keeping his promise to Saul about not destroying his family.

(V.7) “You shall eat at my table always.” After declaring he would be kind to him for his father’s sake, David gives Mephibosheth a place of honor. He essentially makes Mephibosheth a member of his own family, like a son, to eat at his table. But notice Mephibosheth’s reaction.

How do you see Christ foreshadowed in the behavior of David?

(V.8) “A dead dog such as I?” He was as a dead dog, a twice unclean animal, being a dog, and being dead. Mephibosheth is lower than low. But David’s great love is like Christ, who elevates Mephibosheth to the level of a son. 

How do you see yourself foreshadowed in the behavior of Mephibosheth?

(V.11) After instructing Ziba and his servants and family to farm Mephibosheth’s land for him, the scripture repeats what David did for Mephibosheth. “So, Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.” 

In David and Mephibosheth’s interactions so far, there is a relational dynamic taking place called shame-honor. There are three ways that cultures are organized, guilt-righteousness, power-fear, and shame-honor. Israel, at this time, was organized around a shame-honor system. We see this begin to play out in David and Mephibosheth’s relationship. 

First, David wants to honor his promise to Jonathan. Then Mephibosheth pays honor to David (homage) in the midst of his shame (dead dog). Then David gives all of Saul’s land to Mephibosheth, elevating him above the rest of his surviving family. Then he makes him like one of his sons to eat at his table. All the while, the scripture notes that Mephibosheth was “lame in both his feet.” This is a reminder of his lowly status (shame) in society at that time, but David honors him anyway. 

II Samuel 16:1-4

(V.3) “Ziba said to the king, ‘Behold, he [Mephibosheth] remains in Jerusalem, for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will give me back the kingdom of my father.’” Here, we see a reversal in the shame-honor perspective. Ziba essentially tells David that Mephibosheth has dishonored David in seeking the kingdom for himself to elevate himself. Notice David’s response.

(V.4) “Then the king said to Ziba, ‘Behold, all that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.’ And Ziba said, ‘I pay homage; let me ever find favor in your sight, my lord the king.’” David rashly gives honor to Ziba for his kindness in bringing him food and donkeys. He transfers the honor he once gave to Mephibosheth to Ziba even though he has only heard one side of the story. But David gives Ziba honor above Saul’s family anyway. Essentially, from David’s perspective, Mephibosheth had greatly dishonored David’s kindness to him and piled greater shame on David while he was already in a state of great shame, running from his son, who was, like Saul, trying to kill him. David was brought low, and Mephibosheth was only making it worse. It’s no surprise to see how David reacts.

But there is another reversal to come.

II Samuel 19:24-30

(V.24) Most Westerners usually want to know who was right and who was wrong. Did Ziba lie or did Mephibosheth lie? But the scripture’s primary concern in this relationship was the shame-honor dynamic. But here’s the indication of who was telling the truth. “[Mephibosheth] had neither taken care of his feet nor trimmed his beard nor washed his clothes from the day the king departed until the day he came back in safety.” If Mephibosheth had really hoped to receive the kingdom, he would not have let himself go like this. Mephibosheth was concerned for David’s safety. Why do you suppose that is?

(V.27) Now the honor-shame dynamic becomes more obvious. “He has slandered your servant.” Dishonor. “But you set your servant among those who eat at your table.” Honor. 

(V.29) “I have decided: you and Ziba shall divide the land.” If David discovered that he was lied to, why did he allow Ziba to retain any of the land? There are four options.

  1. Half-half arrangement. Normally, Ziba as the land cultivator would have received half the crop as his payment. So, this may mean that the old arrangement was restored.
  2. David may be drawing out Mephibosheth to see who lied, just like Solomon did to the two women who claimed the same baby. 
  3. He was duped by Ziba, but like others who did wrong, David did nothing about it (Amnon raped his sister, Absalom killed Amon, Joab murdered Abner and Absalom). David had a history of letting serious offenses go.
  4. David was restoring his honor. And Mephibosheth gave him his honor back by declaring in verse 30, “Let him take it all.” I.E., Mephibosheth is saying, I don’t want the land; I just want you.

Mephibosheth shows he wants to protect the honor of David as well as reclaim his honor with the king, who had made him like a son. His honor and David’s honor are tied together. The order to divide the land revealed the true loyalist: Mephibosheth. 


David didn’t wait for someone from Saul’s house to make himself known to show him kindness. David wasn’t responsive; he was proactive and initiated a search. Why do you suppose he did that?

“The feeling that led him [David] to seek out any stray member of the house in order to show kindness to him was the counterpart of that feeling that has led God from the very beginning to seek the children of men, and that led Jesus to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Expositor’s Bible, Volume 2, page 150).

David was likely more than Mephibosheth’s benefactor. He may have also been his protector. Mephibosheth had two uncles and five cousins. After he received all of his grandfather’s estate, Mephibosheth’s uncles may have been mad enough to do him in as a traitor. Staying at the palace would have protected him from harm. So, too, when we come to faith in Christ, we stay forever in his presence as the Holy Spirit resides in us, and later, when we join Jesus in Heaven.

Mephibosheth is a picture of us. He was a dead dog, a twice unclean animal. Being a dog and dead, Mephibosheth is lower than low. But David’s great love is like Christ, who elevates Mephibosheth to the level of a son. This is what God’s love does to us in Christ. We are adopted as sons and co-heirs with Jesus. Though we are like a dead dog in our sin, we have received forgiveness, sonship, and honor through Christ. 

Mephibosheth is a model in this passage about what we should be like. Mephibosheth wasn’t concerned with the land, the riches, and the status. He was concerned that David viewed him with shame. He wanted his honor with David restored, and he paid honor to David. This is how we should be with Christ. We get to have many benefits by being part of the kingdom. Indeed, the scripture says that we are co-heirs with Christ, and Jesus has become as a brother to us. However, our desires should not be focused on the benefits of the kingdom but on the king of the kingdom. Let me paraphrase it this way: Lord, let the world have it all. I only want you!


Do you seek out others whom you can honor?

The greatest honor we can pay to a person is to value their person rather than their purse or possessions. 

We must be willing to give up our purse and possessions, like Mephibosheth did, in order to be in relationship with others, but especially with Christ.

When was the last time you told the Lord, “I don’t want what the world offers; I only want you!”

Tom Terry is head of Global Broadcast Strategy for JESUS Film Project and serves as General Manager of The Better FM, an online radio station for Asia. Tom is also the author of several books, including Bible studies and "Like An Eagle," his biography about living in Mongolia for ten years.
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