Read: 2 Samuel 19:16-43
Mephibosheth grandson of Saul came down to meet the king; he had not taken care of his feet, or trimmed his beard, or washed his clothes, from the day the king left until the day he came back in safety. When he came from Jerusalem to meet the king, the king said to him, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?” He answered, “My lord, O king, my servant deceived me…he has slandered your servant to my lord the king” (2 Samuel 19:24-25, 26a & 27a. NRSV).
What a difference a day makes. Just yesterday King David was on the run from his rebellious son, Absalom. Now, Absalom is dead, and David and his entourage are making their way back to Jerusalem, victorious.
Three people rush to welcome him, but you couldn’t ask for a more diverse welcoming committee. See if you can sort out who is a friend and who is an enemy.
First out is Shimei son of Gera. You may remember him as the malcontent who scuttled along throwing stones and curses when David fled the city in 16:5-8. Back then he couldn’t wait to hurl his maledictions on David, calling him a “man of blood.” Now, Shimei realizes that he has backed the wrong horse in this rebellion. He runs to meet David, begging for forgiveness.
You’ve got to give Shimei credit. He’s guilty and he admits it. Instead of stones, he throws himself on David’s mercy. Maybe that’s why David decides to spare his life—that and the fact that it’s a king’s prerogative to grant pardons, and David is enjoying having that power back.
Barzillai the Gileadite is also part of the welcoming committee, but he is the exact opposite of Shimei. Barzillai had supported David when the chips were down, bringing him supplies as David fled before Absalom (see 17:27-28). Now he comes to welcome David back, wanting nothing as a reward for his loyalty. I’m in my 80’s, he tells David. There’s nothing I need. So, David settles for rewarding Barzillai’s son instead. Whatever, says Barzillai, and shuffles back home to his rocking chair.
So, let’s take stock. One member of David’s welcoming committee is guilty but begs for his life. Another member is loyal but asks for nothing in return. Sandwiched between these extremes is the third member of the committee: Mephibosheth. His loyalties will be significantly harder to sort out.
Mephibosheth, remember, is Saul’s grandson. Instead of executing him (as would have been the usual practice at that time), David had allowed him to live, and even provided him with a perpetual dinner invitation at the palace. When David fled Jerusalem, however, Mephibosheth’s servant, Ziba, had told David that Mephibosheth was celebrating David’s downfall (16:1-4). David had believed Ziba’s bad report and rewarded him with all of Mephibosheth’s worldly goods.
Now David has a dilemma. Mephibosheth says that Ziba is a liar—that in fact, Mephibosheth had wanted to leave town with David, but that Ziba had left his master behind and hurried out to take all the credit for bringing provisions to the king in his hour of need. Even now (19:17-18) Ziba is scurrying around, acting the loyal servant, assisting David as he returns to Jerusalem.
Who is telling the truth? David can’t seem to decide, so he splits their possessions down the middle, returning half to Mephibosheth and letting Ziba keep the rest.
What do you think? I think there are two very good reasons for taking Mephibosheth at his word. First, there is his reaction to the 50/50 split. “Let him take it all,” he says to David, “since my lord the king has arrived home safely” (v. 30). That’s either sincere, or a very clever attempt to look sincere.
But there’s another reason to believe Mephibosheth. Did you notice that the storyteller was careful to tell us that when Mephibosheth came down to meet the king, “he had not taken care of his feet, or trimmed his beard, or washed his clothes, from the day the king left until the day he came back in safety” (v. 24). Those are all signs of mourning, and the beard, especially, would have been hard to fake.
It’s a tough call, but I like to think Mephibosheth is telling the truth. In any case, it won’t be the last time David will have to make a decision like this. I know you’re supposed to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but nobody ever tells you what to do with your frenemies.
Ponder: Do you think Mephibosheth was telling the truth? Why or why not? How do you tell if someone is a friend or an enemy?
Pray: Help us to be loyal and truthful friends, O God, and to judge well when we can’t decide whether others are returning the favor