A Promise is a Promise

We return this morning to our study of King David. At this point in the story David is the reigning King. It was a long journey but David took the reigns and immediately went to work securing the borders of Israel. It took several years but Israel was now secure, prosperous and blessed. In 2 Samuel 8:15 we read

David reigned over all Israel, doing what was just and right for all his people.

Make sure you hear these words. In the chapters to come our sterling picture of David is going to get tarnished. We will read about horrible sin and a truckload of family problems. These difficulties have a tendency to overshadow the full life of David. It’s easy to forget that for the vast majority of David’s life he was faithful and ruled with justice and righteousness.

Think about someone wearing a white shirt that has a small ink stain on the pocket. When you look at the shirt what do you see? Most of us are naturally drawn to the ink stain. As parents, when our children get their report card we often focus on the one low grade instead of the six good grades. When someone stumbles in their life we tend to dwell on the failure and forget all the successes a person has had. Even in reporting the news the focus tends to be on the bad things that are happening rather than the good things. We take the good for granted and focus on the bizarre. This human tendency distorts our perspective.

As we read Bible stories we need to remember that these are compressed accounts. David reigned for forty years. The outstanding or unusual events in his reign are the ones that have been recorded. Overlooked are many of the stories of steady consistency. We do the same thing when we relate to each other. We have a tendency to refer to someone as the person who

  • Cheated on their spouse
  • Served time in jail
  • Got pregnant before they were married
  • Was picked up for drugs when they were a kid
  • Were kicked off the team for drinking

We say things like this about people even years after the failure took place. Please keep perspective in the weeks ahead as we look at some of the failures of King David. This morning however we spotlight the true heart and character of David in 2 Samuel 9.

A Promise Kept

We all know that people make sometimes grand promises when they are trying to get elected, get a job, sell something, win someone’s heart, or trying to get out of trouble (we talk about foxhole believers because these people turn to God as a last resort and make great promises….until the crisis has passed).  Unfortunately, when the pressure is off the promises are often forgotten.

When David was being chased through the countryside by Saul, he promised Saul’s son Jonathan, that he would treat him and his descendants kindly when he became King. Later David also made a promise to King Saul himself. In 1 Samuel 24:21-22 Saul says,

21 Now swear to me by the LORD that you will not cut off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.” 22 So David gave his oath to Saul.

Since Saul and Jonathan both died in battle, no one was there to see if David kept his word. David knew that he made the promise before God and he understood (and wrote) that a man with clean hands and a pure heart, “keeps his oath even when it hurts.” (Ps. 15:4)  David knew that one test of a person’s character is whether or not that person is true to his word. David’s character was rock solid.

After the kingdom was secure, David finally had a few moments to reflect. He remembered his promise and asked if there were any descendants of Saul still alive to whom he could show “God’s kindness.”

To understand the significance of what David was about to do you need to understand that it was common practice, when a new King came to power, that the King would destroy any remnants of the previous King’s family in order to solidify his hold on the Kingdom. If you remember, right after Saul and Jonathan died, the country was divided because one of the sons of Saul (Ish-bosheth) laid claim to the throne. Most kings would make sure that didn’t happen again.

David took a different approach. He called for one of Saul’s servants, a man by the name of Ziba. He asked Ziba if he knew of any living relatives of Saul to whom he could show God’s mercy. Ziba told David that Jonathan had a son who was crippled and living in Lo Debar.

In 2 Samuel 4:4 we learn some background about Mephibosheth,

Jonathan son of Saul had a son who was lame in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became crippled. His name was Mephibosheth.

I don’t know whether Mephibosheth’s legs were fractured in the fall and they were never set properly, or whether there was some other problem. All we know is that this was a young man who was disabled. Apparently the disability was significant because it is underscored twice in the chapter. David could have concluded the man was not worthy of God’s kindness, but he did not. He saw past the broken body and saw the person of value within that body.

He Welcomed Mephibosheth

Mephibosheth knew what normally happened when a new King took power (that’s why he was taken away in the first place). When the knock came on the door and Mephibosheth heard it was a messenger from the King, I suspect Mephibosheth’s heart sank. I imagine that he said good-bye to his wife and son as if it was the last time they would see each other. I suspect he left with a sigh of resignation. He grabbed his crutches and made his way to the waiting horse.

When Mephibosheth (probably in his early 20’s now) hobbled into the throne room we are told he “came to David and bowed down to pay him honor.”  In my mind I picture David coming down from the throne as he said, “Mephibosheth!” I see him taking the man in his arms as if he were greeting Jonathan himself.  Perhaps David even saw a likeness to his dear friend.

Mephibosheth was undoubtedly surprised as he identified himself as “your servant”. I bet David could feel the fear in Mephibosheth’s body and said, “don’t be afraid for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan.” (v.7)

Can you picture the look of confusion and disbelief on the young man’s face? It would be like a person called into the boss’s office expecting to be fired but you get a promotion instead! Mephibosheth was about to become the recipient of undeserved mercy. He was going to be the beneficiary of a man who keeps his promises.

I love the story of the man who adopted a troubled teenage girl. The girl was destructive, rebellious, dishonest and uncooperative. One day she came home and ransacked the house looking for money. When he arrived home the house was in shambles. All of his friends advised that he not sign the final adoption papers. They told him to cut his losses because “After all, she’s not really your daughter.” His response was simply. “Yes, I know. But I told her she was.”‘[1]

David welcomed Mephibosheth as part of his family not because of his worthiness but because David had promised his friend. Do you see what a valuable lesson this is for us? Imagine what would happen if we kept our word like this even though

  • The business deal didn’t have the profit margin we expected
  • The marriage didn’t turn out the way we thought it would
  • The church didn’t move as quickly as we’d like
  • Our child was not cooperative
  • Our discipleship did not bring the blessing we desired
  • We didn’t have as much to pay a bill as we expected
  • An appointment was not convenient to keep

When we do things because we said we would do those things, we honor the Lord.

He Provided for Mephibosheth

Let’s continue with the story. David does three things for Mephibosheth.  First he offered Mephibosheth protection. He said, “I will surely show you kindness.” David assured Mephibosheth that he did not need to worry. David was not going to hurt him . . . instead he would protect him.

Second, David supplied provision for Mephibosheth. David gave to Mephibosheth all the land that had belonged to his Grand-father Saul. It was a generous gift. In a sense he restored to him the family fortune. Instead of having to live with another, he now could provide for his own family once again.

David did not have to give any of the land to Mephibosheth. He legally didn’t owe him anything. He not only restored the land but he also gave him a Ziba and his family to work the land and bring the profits to Mephibosheth. In one move Mephiboshethe’s dignity was restored.

He Honored Mephibosheth

The next thing David did was invite Mephibosheth to eat at the king’s table. In other words, Mephibosheth was not only provided for, he was made a member of the David’s family. For Mephibosheth it must have been like Little Orphan Annie being adopted by Daddy Warbucks in the story of Annie.

This boy who grew up handicapped, discarded as a remnant of an old administration, and certainly feeling like a second class citizen, suddenly was having dinner with the power brokers of Israel! The man who had been hiding from the King was now sitting next to him sharing a meal. David welcomed Mephibosheth as if he were Jonathan himself.

I wish I could have been there to see Mephibosheth come through the front door to greet his wife and son. He sees his wife’s surprised (but delighted) look and I wonder if his first words were: “You are not going to believe what happened to me.” One man’s life was changed because of another man’s faithfulness.

A Truth Illustrated

What makes the story of Mephibosheth so stirring is the fact that it is the story of every child of God. We are Mephibosheth!

The apostle Paul wrote these words in Romans 5,

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Allow me to paraphrase the text: “While we were crippled in our spiritual life; living distant from God because of our sin, Christ paid our debt and made it possible for us to be part of His family.”

We are crippled by sin. The Bible says we are unable to do what is right. Our hearts are compromised and deceitful. We cannot live up to God’s standards. On our own we are cast away, isolated and forced to hide from the righteous gaze of God.

Like Mephibosheth we have been granted grace because of another. David did not bless Mephibosheth because he was a deserving fellow. He blessed him because of his regard for Jonathan. In a similar way we are not granted God’s favor because of our goodness, we are granted favor because of the work of Christ on our behalf. Because of His sacrifice, God has looked with favor upon those who believe.

Like Mephibosheth we have been provided what we need. We have been given forgiveness to wipe away our debt. We have also had the righteousness of Christ applied to our account. (It’s better than having Bill Gates as the co-signer of your loan). We will never have to worry about being in spiritual debt ever again. The resources of Christ are sufficient for our every need past, present and future.

God has given us His Spirit to help us grow in grace and truth. He’s given us the Holy Spirit so we would not only be freed from the consequences of sin but so we could be free from actual sin in our day to day living. The Holy Spirit guides us, strengthens us, warns us, and comforts us. The Holy Spirit helps us to recognize error and understand the truth. The Holy Spirit is given to us so that we might know what it means to be spiritually healthy.

Like Mephibosheth we have been invited to the table of the King. The book of Revelation uses the picture of our being invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb. As believers we are invited to enter into an intimate relationship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We are part of God’s family.

Understandably, Mephibosheth responded with gratitude and wonder. How much more grateful should we be? God does not treat us as our sin deserves. Instead He extends mercy and grace. It is an astounding grace.


Let me draw some conclusions from all of this. First, the story of David reminds us to look beyond the faults and failures of others. Just as we are drawn to a dark spot on a white piece of paper, so we tend to be drawn to the sin in the life of another. It is too often true that we are defined by the mistakes we make.

If we live with the heart of Christ we need to see past the mistakes a person has made (or is making) and see the potential God has created in that person. In other words, we need to try to see the person through the eyes of their parents . . . or better yet, though the eyes of God.

The good news of the gospel is that though God does not in any way minimize our sin,  He focuses on what we could be if the stain of sin would be erased. He sent Jesus for that very purpose: so that you and I could begin again. As the old gospel song says, “He looked beyond my fault and saw my need.”

Let me encourage you to choose to

  • Focus on a person’s rehabilitation rather than their failure
  • Focus on a person’s value rather as a child of God rather than focusing on their income, appearance or title
  • Focus on the successes rather than the mistakes
  • Believe someone to excel rather than expecting them to fail

As we have been blessed, so we should bless others.

Second, as we think about David with Mephibosheth, we need to ask ourselves: is there a promise I need to fulfill? Is there a loan you need to pay back? Is there something you borrowed that you need to return? Is there some commitment you need to keep (to your spouse, children, church, employer, friends)? Is there a job you promised to do? Integrity does not come from only doing what is best for us . . . it comes from doing what is right – even if it costs us.

If there is some promise you have forgotten, I urge you to do what you can (even if it was a long time ago) to make things right. It may necessitate an apology, it might involve a refund, it might mean giving up something, or it might involve some time. Whatever it takes, show people that you are a person of your word.

Third, let me ask: Have you received the gift of grace that God has offered to you? What if, after this great offer by David, Mephibosheth looked at David and said, “Leave me alone”? We would shake our head in disbelief. Why would someone walk away from such love and kindness?

Surprisingly, people do it every day. The offer of forgiveness and new life through Jesus Christ is presented by friends and neighbors, in churches, in books and magazines and on the airwaves. Yet many simply ignore the words or turn and walk away.

What about you? Have you embraced His invitation? Have you decided to stop hiding and live in the light of His new and abundant life? You can know His provision, and the fullness of His life. You have the chance to be called one of His children. Mephibosheth ate at the king’s table. He accepted the King’s gracious offer. It was the right choice, the smart choice, and the choice I hope you make as well.

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