Finding Grace at the Father's Table (2 Sam. 9:1-14)
Happy Father’s Day! My name is Robin and I am the pastor of Living Hope, a ministry of EFC Chicago. It is a joy and privilege for me to open up God’s Word with you for a few minutes on this Father’s Day. Usually, as one pastor said, Mother’s Day sermons are about “Thank you moms. Keep up the good work!” while Father’s Day sermons are about “Step up Dad and do what God called you to do!” Perhaps some of us have had good dads or some of us not so good ones. Some of our dads may have departed this life. Regardless, I want to talk about our perfect Heavenly Father today and His grace.
I was reading a blog post this week from author Jon Acuff. He has an interesting book about how weird Christians are called Stuff Christians Like. Supposedly it is one the best books by a Christian on how funny Christians can be.
Anyway, he shared a story about the time he met Michael Jordan during the summer before eighth grade. Jordan, another famous basketball player named Dr. J and Dean Smith, the legendary coach of UNC were all playing golf in the same golfing range where Acuff’s uncle lived. That summer he happened to be visiting his uncle. He got all three of them to autograph the back of his t-shirt. Some time later that day, Acuff got the bright idea in his 12 year old mind to get another autograph from Jordan so that he could frame it. He writes, “The party had already finished golfing, and all the fans had gone home. I saw Jordan walking to his car in the parking lot. I ran out after him as fast as my little seventh grade legs would carry me and said, “Excuse me Mr. Jordan, can I please have your autograph?” He stopped in his tracks and turned, a golf bag resting high on shoulders that towered over me. With a look that froze opponents on basketball courts across the planet he said, “Didn’t I already sign you kid?” 
This is how our world is. This world has its own theology. The world tell us not to look for a break. Work hard and you will get what you deserve and what goes around, comes around. God helps those who helps themselves (by the way that is not in the Bible). We live in a world where we don’t get second autographs. Don’t ask for more than what you need.
Acuff observes, “Sometimes we think God is like that. Bothered by me, tired of my requests for His time, even if it’s just 3 seconds for Him to sign off on some prayer I’m saying or need I’m sure I can’t live without. He’s on His way somewhere important after a round of golf with Moses and Elijah or Elisha, whichever one plays. I’m chasing Him down in the parking lot. He turns with His big God golf clubs, and He looks down at me. And He says in that massive voice of His “Didn’t I already forgive you kid?” Sometimes we think we may have worn out God by our same old requests or frustrated Him by struggling with the same issues week after week. And so we stay away. He couldn’t possibly want me to bug Him again would he?
Today I want to question the world’s theology and perhaps our own theology as we look at the story about a king who demonstrated something outrageous and scandalous for his time and our time. This king was King David. And this King shocked his kingdom when he adopted an outcast into his family and made this child his very own son. That is an amazing act of fatherly love! I will go over the story, which is found in 2 Sam 9 and then quickly share some lessons for us.
To understand the context, we have to go back to 1 Sam 31. Saul was king and he and his sons marched to war against the Philistines. They really had no shot to win. Saul’s dynasty was doomed. Nevertheless, he marched into the battlefield of death with his family. Now back in the royal palace, people waited in silence to hear the news. Finally the messenger arrived. It was worse than they could have imagined. The battle? Utterly lost. The Israelite army? Slaughtered. King Saul and his boys? Gone. The Philistines? On their way to conquer the city with swords in their hands!
Suddenly, it was as if an anthill was unearthed. Everyone ran for their lives in all directions. Grabbing what they can, they fled the city. 2 Sam. 4:4 tells us that in the midst of all this commotion, there was a little boy, the five year old son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth. He was Saul’s only remaining grandson. He had a nurse watching him, but as she was running with him, she slipped, lost her footing and fell to the hard stones below. In the process, the little legs of the boy were crushed. There was no time to take care of him and that day was a day simply to survive. It may have been some kind of a spinal cord injury. It is also possible that he received (compound) fractures that either were not or could not be set properly. Nevertheless, this boy would eventually grow up a cripple, lame in both of his feet and live in obscurity and poverty in a remote corner of the kingdom. He lived up to his name, Mephibosheth, which meant “man of shame.”
Later, Israel had a new King: David. He united all the tribes into one glorious kingdom. Every enemy would be defeated one by one. It was Israel’s golden years. Israel was a power to be reckoned with in the world. Jerusalem was the new capital and God dwelt with His people and with their triumphant king.
Now in 2 Samuel 9, we find King David, having vanquished his foes and ruling God’s people in peace and prosperity, asking a question in v.1: “I wonder if there any descendants of Saul’s household who have survived?” He explained his motivation: “I want to show kindness for Jonathan’s sake.” David and Saul were enemies, but Saul’s son, Jonathan and David, were the closest of friends. They had a long-standing covenant relationship.
Three times David uses the word “kindness” (2 Sam. 9:1, 3, and 7). It is the great Hebrew word hesed, which is hard to translate. Probably the best is “God’s loyal covenant-keeping love for His people.” Some translations call it “lovingkindness” or “mercy” or “kindness” or “steadfast love.” It is most often mentioned with God as the subject and His people or humanity as the object (3:1). It is found 246x in the OT and 127x (over half in the Psalms). If you made a covenant with someone, you were required to show hesed—“covenant loyalty,” no matter what. And Jonathan had asked David to always show hesed to his family, even when God raises David to be King (1 Sam. 20:14-16).
So here for the honor of Jonathan and the covenant made by David with him, David seeks to demonstrate hesed. In response to this question, David’s attendants tell him that there is a servant of Saul’s administration named Ziba. Ziba is summoned to come to David. This guy is probably trembling in his boots. He once worked for David’s enemy! So David asks in 2 Sam. 9:2: “Are you Ziba?” He quickly responds, “I am your servant.” In other words, “I am your servant now King David. I’ll do whatever you want. Please don’t kill me.”
David asks his question again to Ziba. It seems as though Ziba seems suspicious. Why was the king asking this? He says it’s to show kindness. Really? Who does that? Mike Fleischmann says, “Anyone knew that the top priority for a new king, once the kingdom’s security was certain, would be to exterminate any remaining descendants of the previous dynasty. As long as a spark of life from that family still smoldered, it was a threat to the throne.” So Ziba says, “Well, actually, there is one person I’m aware of…a young boy and he’s a cripple. Nobody really. He lives across the river, way out in no-man’s land. Not a big deal.”
David, probably to Ziba’s surprise, sends for Mephibosheth to be brought to him. Can you imagine Mephibosheth as he hears a knock on his door? He crawls over to the door, pulls himself up by the doorknob, peeks out through the curtain and sees horses and a chariot and a soldier in full battle gear. All he can think is, "This is it. I'm found out. I'm going to die." The soldier shouts, "Mephibosheth, King David sent us to fetch you to the palace. He wants to see you." They pick him up, put him in the chariot, and off they go. All he can think of is, "I'm going to die! I'm going to die!"
So in 2 Sam. 9:6, a hobbling, (probably about 12 by now cf. 2 Sam. 2:11) boy is now brought into the presence of the most powerful man on earth. The text tells us he was the grandson of Saul, so we will not forget who exactly he is. He is flesh and blood of the enemy, the lunatic Saul, who spent years obsessively trying to hunt David and kill him.
Can you picture the scene? Mephibosheth “fell on his face and paid homage,” the text says. This was no graceful bow. This was a clumsy, awkward, fearful adolescent, probably tumbling to the ground in front of the King. I picture King David getting off his throne, leaning forward and saying, “Mephibosheth!”
He calls him by name. As Mephibosheth lays there in his greatest moment of vulnerability, he is reminded again of his current status as a “man of shame.” He is helpless. He is hopeless. To be crippled in that society meant no future. Cut off from humanity. No joy. Nothing. No indication is even given that they even in the slightest considered that he could be the next king (before David got the throne). The text indicates he was in some form of house arrest. So laying at David’s feet, with a muffled cry, he says, “I am your servant.” Is it time for judgment? Is it time for execution because he was the King’s Enemy?
Shockingly, David replies, “Don’t be afraid. I’m not here to curse you or kill you. I am here to bless you because I knew your dad. And I want to give you back everything you lost, like your grandfather’s palace, the houses and farms, and everything that comes from them. All of it belongs to you now! Ziba, his sons and his servants will now be you servants. And one more thing. Even though all of this is yours, I want you to stay here with me. And it would be my honor if you would start calling yourself my son. Stay with me. And each night, when I eat dinner, come to my table and eat with me. Always.”
Wow! I picture Mephibosheth’s head slowly rising a bit, just enough for two dark, somber, lonely eyes to peer out. “Why would you care about a dead dog like me?” In the OT, dogs are not depicted as pets or man’s best friends. Fleischmann observes, “For Mephibosheth to call himself a ‘dead dog’ was to compare himself to the nastiest, foulest thing he could think of. For a Jew it was a double slam. To them, a dog was the most repulsive animal imaginable. On top of that, anything dead was vile and unclean. Labeling himself a dead dog graphically conveyed his estimation of himself as a stinking pile of garbage.”
Amazingly, a King takes a “dead dog” and makes him a son! Can you imagine the days following this? I can picture David having dinner. His table is decorated with royal linens and piled high with the richest of foods. Servants stand away ready to obey. Military officials and anyone important all trot in, one by one. Eventually the king comes. Everyone rises. He comes to the head of the table. They all sit down together. Just as the servants are about to serve the food, the King scans the table and stops them saying, “Wait! Not everyone is here yet.”
Just then, the room becomes quiet and all eyes look and they see a little boy hobbling in. I am not sure if he had help or some sort of crutches, but nevertheless he is there. One of the visiting dignitaries asks the guard, “Who is this?” And the guard says, “That’s Mephibosheth. The King’s adopted son. This crippled kid was born an enemy of the king, but King David has now chosen to make the boy his son.” The dignitary remarks puzzled, “I don’t get it.” The guard says, “Neither do we. It’s amazing. Isn’t he a great King?” A couple of lessons here for us today:
I. Be amazed at the gospel of grace
This story illustrates to us the story of a greater King and a greater example of hesed. The gospel of grace tells us that we are all Mephibosheths. We are all crippled by sin. We are sinners by choice and by nature. We are dead dogs because of our sin. The Bible says breaking one of the 10 commandments is like breaking them all (Jam. 2:10). The just payment for our sin is eternal death in hell (Rom. 6:23). But while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8), outcasts, enemies, foreigners, away from God’s grace, hiding in our shame and guilt, God, like King David, extended His love toward us.
God Himself volunteered and gave Himself up in the person of His Son, dying for our sins. And He did not just call himself a dead dog, but He truly became a dead dog. He was treated like we deserved, considered vile and unclean for our sins. He was crippled under the weight of our sin. But that’s not the end of the story. After fully paying for our sin by His death on the cross, He rose again. And today He lives, offering you this free gift of salvation to anyone who recognizes his/her lameness and falls before His feet. He became a dead dog so you can be treated as a son. He became an outcast so that you can stay with the King of Kings. Listen to Ephesians 2:4-7: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our tresspases…[and] raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms…in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
No, don’t get new legs and come before God the Father. Come humbling yourself, just as you are, with your lameness before Him. Confess your sin and He will forgive you, restore you and treat you like Jesus deserves, as a son, worthy of honor, to sit always before Him at the table of grace. The gospel of grace is the good news that God treated Jesus the way I deserved and he daily treats me the way Jesus deserves!
If you truly confess your sin before Him, He too will touch you gently and say, “Don’t be afraid.” He too will lift you up and say, “Everything you lost because of sin I will restore. I am going to give you an inheritance, blessing, riches in Christ.” But even more, God the Father says, “I want to give you access to me all the days of your life. I want you sit at my table before me. You are always welcome here.”
And once you are totally amazed by that grace and fall before Him and say, “Why do you treat such a worthless loser like me in this way?” He will say, “It is because of Christ. When I see you, I see Him. And for His sake, I’ll do it all on your account.” Do you know Christ as your Savior? Have you believed that He has paid for your sin? He extends His grace toward you. Come and believe! Secondly and lastly,
II. The gospel of grace is an invitation to continually feast at the Father’s table despite our lameness
The gospel of grace tells us that we are always welcome at His table, despite our lameness. I was thinking that the one body part that you cannot see when you are sitting at a table is your feet! I don’t know how the tables were in those days, but I do know that God’s grace is the tablecloth that covers our lame feet. Are you sitting in shame looking at your lameness and wondering if your Father is tired of having you limp to Him again and again? Think no more! Come to His table. There is always a spot for you. And even better than King David, He will be your legs as He carries you on His back if you let Him! And though our lame feet will always be there until we see our great King who will then give us feet like a deer, there is nothing better than enjoying His presence now! This is grace is so wild! Listen to Doug Wilson: “Grace is wild. Grace unsettles everything. Grace overflows the banks. Grace messes up your hair. Grace is not tame. In fact, unless we are making the devout nervous, we are not preaching grace as we ought.”
The only reason our Father King invites you continually at the table is because of the covenant He has made with His Son Jesus. Our Father King can never forsake you, because His Son was already forsaken for you. Our Father King can never reject you, because His Son was already rejected for you. It’s a covenant. He is faithful to it. He exchanged our shame for His honor. Come to the table again. It is insulting to God not when you stay away because of your lameness and unworthiness, but when you refuse to believe that our Father has loved you and adopted you to be His very own child.
No, there is no “Not you again kid” disapproval at us like Jordan said to a young Jon Acuff. There is the opposite. There is a grand welcome. A party. A love. A celebration every time we, dead dogs, believe in this gospel of grace more. Mephibosheth was rocked by David’s love, but I think later he realized how amazing God the Father’s love is as well. The text tells us that Mephibosheth would eventually have a son named Mica (2 Sam. 9:12). And do you know what that name means? It means: “Who is like our God?” See, all of His grace in our lives is not so that we feel better. It is so we will continually say, “Who is like our God?” Praise His name!
Acuff, Jon. “Thinking God will run out of welcome home banners,” http://www.jonacuff.com/stuffchristianslike/2011/06/thinking-god-will-run-out-of-welcome-home-banners/ accessed 16 June 2011.
Using an excellent article from Fleischmann, Mike. “A Place at His Table,” Paul Westervelt, P. ed. (2000; 2006). Discipleship Journal, Issue 116 (March/April 2000). NavPress.
Walton, J. H. (2009). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament) Volume 2: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel (427). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Baer, D.A., and R.P. Gordon. “Hesed.” NIDOTTE, 2:211-18.
Anderson, A. A. (2002). Vol. 11: Word Biblical Commentary : 2 Samuel. Word Biblical Commentary (142). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
As quoted in “Love Redeems-the Story of Peach,” http://journeytobeloved.blogspot.com/2011/06/love-redeems-story-of-peach.html accessed 18 June 2011.