Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner Again

Read: 2 Samuel 9

David said to [Mephibosheth], “Do not be afraid, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan; I will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul, and you yourself shall eat at my table always” (2 Samuel 9:7, NRSV).

How would you feel if you received the following invitation: The honor of your presence is requested expected for dinner at the royal palace tonight and every night for the rest of your life.

It’s one of those good news/ bad news situations, isn’t it. On the one hand, you’ll never need to worry about where your next meal is coming from. You’ll eat, and you’ll eat very well. But on the other hand, you can say goodbye to your freedom. There will be no weekend getaways or evenings at home with take-out.

Did you notice there was no R.S.V.P. on that invitation? It assumes that you’ll be there. In fact, it’s more of a summons than an invitation.

We don’t know for sure what Mephibosheth’s feelings were when David issued that perpetual dinner invitation, but one can imagine they must have been mixed. Still, as the grandson of David’s predecessor, King Saul, Mephibosheth must have been relieved to escape with his life. (Notice that David’s first words to him were, “Be not afraid.”) The life expectancy of rivals to any throne can be notoriously short. So, for Mephibosheth, a perpetual dinner invitation plus the restoration of his grandfather’s lands may have seemed like a real reprieve.

This story is the first in a section of the Bible called the “Succession Narrative.” The focus—as the name implies—is on who will succeed David as king. Even this opening scene hints that we as readers have stumbled into something that’s much more subtle than what’s come before. This is written by someone who sets out the details and then invites us to draw our own conclusions.

David’s stated motivation for his act of generosity is to show “kindness” to anyone left of the house of Saul. In Hebrew, that’s an important word. One can argue that it is THE most important word in the Old Testament. It means to show “steadfast love”—that is, love that does not waver or calculate. It’s the love that God is known and praised for. (See Psalm 136, for instance.) Here, David anchors that kind of love in his deep friendship with Mephibosheth’s father, Jonathan. On the face of it, that’s as strong a promise as Mephibosheth could wish for.

And yet…did you notice the detail at the end of the chapter? Just after the author tells us that Mephibosheth “ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons,” he mentions that “Mephibosheth had a young son whose name was Mica” (v. 12). This is not an insignificant detail. Mephibosheth may not have been considered a strong contender for the crown due to his disability (see 4:4 and 9:4), but Mica presumably was young and fit. And he was of the line of Saul. Even with all the steadfast love in the world, David must felt a frisson of fear about that.

If you like your stories simple and your characters straight-forward, go read something else. This author—who has been dubbed the Shakespeare of the Old Testament—will always leave you wondering. Can we take David at his word, or is there something more brewing beneath the surface?

Tune in next week for more questions than answers. This may not be the David you met in Sunday School.

Ponder: Think about your own words and actions. Are your motives ever pure?

Pray: Help us to see ourselves and others as the complicated people we are…and then help us to show steadfast love to ourselves and others.

Introducing a New Series: “The Crown”

Back before Netflix, people binged on Bible stories. In calling this series “The Crown” I’m hoping to encourage that same sort of “can’t watch just one” feel that I got when I watched the Netflix series of the same title.

Over the next few months we’ll be working our way through the fourteen chapters devoted to the struggle to succeed King David (2 Samuel 9-20; 1 Kings 1-2). Scholars refer to it as the “Succession Narrative,” and it’s a stunning piece of literature. The characters are complex and their motivations are mixed. Just when you think you have the measure of them, they up and do something completely unexpected. And the biggest surprise of all is when they say or do  something that speaks straight across the centuries with a word for our day.

Be warned. There are a lot of characters to keep straight. But I’ll do my best to help you keep track of them. For your part, just settle in for a good old-fashioned Bible story binge.


Carol M. Bechtel