A Royal Table: God Fills Our Emptiness with His Kindness
Life can change in an instant. It can change with an unexpected phone call, a sudden move, a single decision, a simple conversation. Many of us can look back and identify the moment when the course of our lives was altered, for good or for bad. Sometimes it resulted from a choice we made or an action we took. Other times it was the choice someone else made—the choice to drink and drive, the choice to turn and leave, the choice to stay and fight—that changed everything. And sometimes there is no place or no person at which we can point the finger of blame or responsibility. It just happened. It just is.
Life in this broken world can be cruel. Relentlessly cruel.
The Cruelty of Mephibosheth’s Life
Life was cruel to a little five-year-old boy named Mephibosheth. At first he had everything going for him. His grandfather was Saul, the mighty king of Israel, and his dad, Jonathan, was someone he could look up to and count on, a man who saw things as they really were and was willing to risk his life to do the right thing. Mephibosheth lived on the grand estate owned by the king. As a five-year-old boy he probably wasn’t thinking about what he stood to inherit or the possibility that he himself might be king of Israel one day; he simply enjoyed his life of comfort in the home of the king.
But then in one day, everything changed. A report came in from Jezreel that the Philistines had attacked Israel, and many soldiers were slaughtered on the slopes of Mount Gilboa, including his father and many of his uncles. His grandfather Saul fell on his sword in disgrace. Not only did this leave Mephibosheth without a father and grandfather, it left him without a home. As a member of the royal family in a moment when the throne was threatened, his life was immediately in danger, so Mephibosheth’s nurse grabbed him and fled to somewhere safe. But in the chaos and fear of the moment, she dropped him. He fell in such a way that both of his feet suffered permanent damage.
In that one cruel day, Mephibosheth lost his father, his uncles, and his grandfather. In another sense he lost his future as a member of the royal family and even the possibility of one day sitting on the royal throne. He lost his home. And he also lost his ability to walk, which meant a loss of mobility, a loss of independence, and a loss of dignity.
A friend of the family took him in, but his living conditions changed significantly. This family friend, Makir, lived in Lo-debar. Lo-debar was likely a good place to live if you wanted to stay off the radar of anyone looking to make sure there were no living descendants of Saul, the former king. It wasn’t just on the other side of the tracks; it was literally in the middle of nowhere. The capital of Nowheresville. The name of the place meant “no pasture.” There was no place for cattle to graze, no place to plant crops. It was a rocky wilderness, a long way from the lush gardens of the royal palace.
Mephibosheth was also a long way from his carefree days as a son of the future king. As he lived out his days in Lo-debar, his nights were likely restless. He was always listening for a knock on the door, convinced that his days were numbered. Lesson number one in royal rule is that when you become the king of a country, you wipe out all of the members of the previous royal family who might be a threat to your claim to the throne. So, Mephibosheth must have lived in constant fear of soldiers showing up in Lo-debar. For fifteen years or so, the knock never came. Nothing happened. Nobody visited Nowheresville.
But then one day, everything changed.
The Kindness of God to David
Mephibosheth’s father’s friend, David had become king of Israel. And God had made incredible promises to him. God promised to show steadfast love—or, in the Hebrew, hesed—to David and his descendants. Hesed is one of those Hebrew terms that simply can’t be captured by a single English word. Perhaps that is fitting, as what is being communicated is, in many ways, too magnificent to be captured in human language. It stands for a cluster of ideas—relentless and unlimited love, mercy, grace, and kindness. This steadfast or loyal love is essential to God’s very character.
David’s experience of God’s kindness in the promises made to him, combined with his remembrance of the promises he made to Jonathan to treat Jonathan’s family with the same kind of God-like lovingkindness, motivated David to ask a question in his royal court. And in that instant, though Mephibosheth knew nothing about it, everything about his life began to change.
One day David asked, “Is anyone in Saul’s family still alive—anyone to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” He summoned a man named Ziba, who had been one of Saul’s servants. “Are you Ziba?” the king asked.
“Yes sir, I am,” Ziba replied.
The king then asked him, “Is anyone still alive from Saul’s family? If so, I want to show God’s kindness to them.”
Ziba replied, “Yes, one of Jonathan’s sons is still alive. He is crippled in both feet.”
“Where is he?” the king asked.
“In Lo-debar,” Ziba told him, “at the home of Makir son of Ammiel.” (2 Samuel 9:1-4)
Out of the overflow of kindness he had received from God, David wanted to show kindness to someone else. But he was not interested in doing some sort of “random act of kindness.” No, this was much deeper and far more significant. He said specifically that he wanted to show God’s kindness to any living member of Saul’s family. God-style commitment to that person’s good is what David had in mind. It would be risky. It was going to cost him.
David put no qualifiers on his question. He didn’t ask, “Is there anyone who is worthy, anyone trustworthy, anyone who deserves this kind of kindness?” What David had in mind was God-like kindness that is lavished on those who don’t deserve it, those who have done nothing to earn it, those who have nothing but need to offer.
When you and I become aware of how much kindness we’ve received from God, when we savor it instead of taking it for granted, it changes us. It changes our perspective. It changes our interactions. Instead of always being so concerned about how we are being treated, how we are being included, how our needs are being met, we’re increasingly concerned about how others are being treated, whether or not they are being included, whether or not their needs are being met.
We’re able to look up from our own circumstances and situations and begin asking the question, “Whom can I show kindness to?” We find that the place inside us that once seemed so empty has become a reservoir for kindness that overflows onto the people around us.
The Kindness of David to Mephibosheth
Mephibosheth had spent years dreading the day when David’s soldiers would knock on his door. And finally, that day came.
So, David sent for him and brought him from Makir’s home. His name was Mephibosheth; he was Jonathan’s son and Saul’s grandson. When he came to David, he bowed low to the ground in deep respect. David said, “Greetings, Mephibosheth.”
Mephibosheth replied, “I am your servant.” 2 Samuel 9:5-6
Mephibosheth must have come limping or on crutches into the presence of the king. With his disability it must have been difficult or perhaps uncomfortable to bow low to the ground before David. Perhaps his eyes were squeezed shut in anticipation of a sword coming down on his neck. But instead, words of kindness, promises of provision, and assurances of a future fell on his ears.
“Don’t be afraid!” David said. “I intend to show kindness to you because of my promise to your father, Jonathan. I will give you all the property that once belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will eat here with me at the king’s table!” 2 Samuel 9:7
Mephibosheth could hardly believe it. My pastor, Nate Shurden put it this way: “Mephibosheth had been falling all of his life. He fell from his nurse’s arms at the age of five and then fell into seclusion, insecurity, and insignificance in Lo-debar. What a fall from grace. But then he came and fell on his face before the king. And instead of ending up at the other end of a sword, Mephibosheth found that he had fallen once again. This time, he had fallen into grace.”
This grace came to Mephibosheth because of a promise—a promise David made many years before to Mephibosheth’s father, Jonathan, that he would show kindness to his children. As David rolled out the ways in which he intended to show this kindness, it began to dawn on Mephibosheth that this was going to change everything about his life. David’s promises were not token kindnesses; these were pervasive, ongoing kindnesses.
David told Mephibosheth that he was going to give him all the property that had belonged to his grandfather Saul. We might easily rush through this point, but imagine how much property Saul, the first king of Israel, must have acquired over the many years of his reign. So surely it was a grand estate. Think Downton Abbey or Biltmore Estate, or the Ponderosa Ranch (and yes, I realize I’m dating myself with that one).
In this one day, Mephibosheth became a wealthy man. He not only had land, he had a staff of servants to work the land and mind the cattle. No longer would Mephibosheth live in the land of nothing with nothing. He was going to have a place to call home, a share in the land of promise, an inheritance to pass along to his children.
In giving Mephibosheth a home of his own, David was not sending him away. Far from it. Instead, he was making Mephibosheth part of the family. “You will eat here with me at the king’s table,” David told Mephibosheth. He wanted Mephibosheth to come in close. He wanted to know him, share life with him. He wanted to see him every night at the dinner table and hear about his day.
Imagine what Mephibosheth’s diet had been like living in “no pasture.” Now imagine what it meant to eat at the king’s table. Imagine the bounty; imagine the grandeur; imagine the guests, the conversation. The food at this table was going to be good, but the fellowship would be even better. Mephibosheth had been without a family for so long, and now he was being adopted into the king’s family. “And from that time on, Mephibosheth ate regularly at David’s table, like one of the king’s own sons” (9:11) He’d been an enemy of the state, and now he’d become an adopted son of the king. He didn’t have to be afraid anymore. He didn’t have to hide anymore. The kindness of the king had undone the lifetime of cruelties he had experienced.
The Kindness of the King to You and Me
Just as life changed in a moment for Mephibosheth, so life changed in an instant for a young woman living many years later in Nazareth. The angel Gabriel told her that she was going to have a son. “He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
So, what kind of king was this Son of the Most High? He was kind. The Gospel of Matthew tells us, “A vast crowd brought to him people who were lame, blind, crippled, those who couldn’t speak, and many others. They laid them before Jesus, and he healed them all.”
We get a sense of the heart of King Jesus in the story he told about a man who was preparing a great feast. He sent out invitations for the banquet, but the invitees began making excuses for why they would not come. So, he sent his servant into the streets and alleys of the town to invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.
When you read about these people, maybe your first thought is that Jesus was describing somebody else. You may have your struggles, but you certainly don’t see yourself in the category of poor, crippled, blind, or lame. But “lame” is one way the Bible describes the spiritual condition of every person apart from an encounter with Jesus. We can’t come to him unless he draws us to himself. We’re poor, with nothing to offer. We’re blind. We can’t see him until he reveals himself to us. None of us stride with self-confidence into the presence of our King. We all limp our way in.
And none of us deserve to get in. In fact, we deserve just the opposite. We deserve to be treated as enemies because that’s what we were. If you are joined to Christ by faith, it is because God sought you out when you were hiding from him, when you were his enemy. He came looking for you out of a desire to show his lovingkindness to you because of the covenant he made before the foundations of the world. Paul writes in Ephesians 1: “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. . . . He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding” (Ephesians 1:4-5, 8).
Our King has summoned us to his table. He’s calling us to feed on his atoning death as our life. He’s calling us to drink in his salvation benefits. As we regularly share a meal at the Lord’s Table with our brothers and sisters, we find that our hearts’ longing for belonging is being met. We’re strengthened for serving others rather than being so concerned about being served. We’re strengthened to ask the question “Is there anyone I can show kindness to for Christ’s sake and for his honor and glory?”
We’re also strengthened for the waiting. When we follow Jesus as our King, it doesn’t mean that we can expect to receive an estate or servants or a seat at the best of tables in the immediate present. It doesn’t mean our crippling injuries will be immediately healed or that the hurts of the past will be easily forgotten. At least not yet.
Life can be cruel. It can leave us crippled by financial catastrophe, crippled by difficult circumstances, crippled by the cutting words of someone whose opinion mattered. But God has not abandoned us to the cruelty of life in this world under a curse. He has not forgotten us. He has not forgotten his covenant promise to show loving-kindness. He is, even now, seeking out those to whom he can show his kindness. If you have so far lingered away from his presence, hear him say to you, “You don’t have anything to be afraid of in my presence. On the cross, my Son, Jesus, became my enemy so you could be my friend. He was put out of the family so you could be adopted into it. He feasted on my wrath and anger so that you can feast forever on my love and mercy.”
My friend, if you have come before this King and bowed before him in humility, realizing that you have nothing but need to offer to him, the day is coming when everything about your life will change. It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye: Our King will come for us. The greater David is going to spread a table at which we’ll be welcomed to sit and feast forever.
Perhaps you sit alone tonight. Perhaps you see yourself as nobody living a nothing life in Nowheresville. I want you to know that the day will come when you will be gathered with a multitude of brothers and sisters. There will be a place for you to call home, a place for you at the table. Jesus said, “Many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 8:11). This is the expansive nature of our King’s kindness.
God has not forgotten you. More significantly, he has not forgotten his covenant, made before you were born—before the foundations of the world—to show his loving-kindness to you. When you were not looking for him, when you were hiding from him, fearful that any interaction with him would only add to your shame, he sought you out to draw you to himself, saying, “Don’t be afraid! I intend to show kindness to you because of my promise to Abraham, your father. I will give you a place to call home, an inheritance in my heavenly land, and there, you will eat with me at the King’s table in a heavenly banquet that will never end.”
Adapted from God Does His Best Work with Empty by Nancy Guthrie. Copyright © 2020. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.