The Orphan Heart – Part 2
Year had followed year in the Royal Palace. King David was constantly in demand as commander of his army, with the affairs of state and other matters. But scandal and intrigue had blighted his reputation – especially when he was implicated in the virtual murder of the innocent Uriah, one of his most faithful soldiers, in order that he could have his wife. How could a man who had displayed the pure Father Heart of God towards Mephibosheth a few years before fall so terribly and so publicly? For in all of this David had disgraced and displeased his God. He had repented, sought forgiveness and had been restored; yet his behaviour had proved a poor example to his family and as a result the curse of sexual scandal and murder would haunt him for the rest of his reign. His son Absalom would murder the King’s eldest son, his own half brother Amon – in revenge for the rape of his sister Tamar. As a result Absalom would be forced to flee and spent three years living in exile – separated from his heartbroken father. Then on his return the unthinkable would happen.
Mephibosheth was alarmed – but not entirely surprised when he began to hear rumours that Absalom was beginning to act as if he were King. David had been so busy he did not fully appreciate the strength of feeling that was beginning to emerge in the nation – nor did he realise how popular Absalom had made himself in certain strategic quarters. Yet, when the moment came, Mephibosheth too was caught unaware. He was speaking to his servant Zeba, arranging the storage of some produce from his farms, when news arrived that David was evacuating the city ahead of an army headed by his rebellious son – who was bent on the murder of his own father. Mephibosheth immediately instructed Ziba – “saddle my donkey so that I go with the King”. Zeba left, on the pretence of fetching the animal – but Mephibosheth did not see him again.
Ziba was not only a shrewd man but also politically astute. He had followed the rise of Absalom very carefully and could detect serious flaws in his plans. He could also see how pride and ambition had blinded him to the genius of his father. Ziba was hedging his bets on the insurrection being short lived – with David returning fairly quickly to power. But more importantly here was the perfect opportunity for him to discredit Mephibosheth, rob him of his inheritance, which after all he had worked for more than the cripple, and ensure once and for all that Mephibosheth, if he lived, would be banished once again to his orphan house.
Ziba caught up with David on the Mount of Olives – just outside the city – and presented him with two donkeys loaded with food and wine. David immediately enquired about Mephibosheth. “He stayed in Jerusalem, saying, today I will get back the Kingdom of my grandfather Saul” Ziba lied. David was incensed – how could Mephibosheth repay him in this way after the kindness he had shown him. In blind anger David said to Ziba – “In that case, I give you everything Mephibosheth owns”. It had been so easy – one lie and Mephibosheth had been disinherited of his lands – but, significantly, not of his position as a son – for that was not negotiable! Ziba was jubilant – he now had what he always wanted. Again this begs the question – how could a man like David, a man after the Father’s heart, and one who walked so close to his God, get it so wrong? Sadly, such is the frailty of being human for he was a man just like us – one day on the mountain, basking in the sunshine of God’s approval, the next operating according to the blind impulses of the flesh. In the heat of the moment there was no reflection, no questioning the agenda of Ziba, no prayer for guidance – just a knee jerk reaction to what he saw as complete unfaithfulness – but he was wrong. In fact if David had stopped for a moment to examine Ziba’s claim it would have appeared to be a highly unlikely proposition. Why would Absalom, who had plotted and schemed to gain control of the nation – wish to pass it all to Mephibosheth? It is perhaps not without significance that it would be on this same mount, generations later, that a man after the spirit of Zeba would betray his Lord in to the hands of those seeking his life. Judas also sold his master for material gain – in the same spirit of greed, self-deception and betrayal displayed by Ziba – servant of Mephibosheth.
SORROW AND PAIN
Hours passed before Mephibosheth admitted to himself that Ziba was not coming back. By that time there was nothing he could do – no one to turn to for everyone who was faithful to David had fled the city. He did not know what the cunning Ziba was up to – but he had a strong feeling that he would misrepresent him, whether that be to David or Absalom. What broke his heart most of all was that David would think ill of him – he would rather die than cause him pain. So he entered in to a prolonged period of mourning – neither washing his feet or clothes nor trimming his beard as a mark of his grief. Mephibosheth’s greatest fear was realised some days later when a smiling Ziba walked unannounced in to his house. “It’s all mine Mephicosheth – the King has given me all your lands”. He took great delight in announcing his betrayal – hoping that the news of David’s anger and disappointment would drive him to despair. But Ziba did not know the inner strength and faith of his master. Nor did he realise that Mephibosheth’s greatest pain was not the loss of his lands, property and wealth, but purely the thought that David regarded him as unfaithful. As will clearly be seen it was David he loved – not the wealth or gifts that he had bestowed upon him. When Ziba had gone, Mephibosheth went to a small room in the house where he kept his scrolls. He chose one of his favourite parchments, a song written by King David – that spoke so clearly in to is mind and emotions in these moment – “The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honour to his name. Even when I walk through the dark valley of death, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me”. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You welcome me as a guest, anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessing. Surely your goodness and unfailing love (Hesed) will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever”. Mepiibosheth gently closed the parchment. What God was to David – David had been to him. Had he not pursued him with covenant love, welcomed him as a guest and brought him in to his house? Had not his cup overflowed with all the blessings the King had bestowed upon him? Yet now it was as if he was walking through the valley of death – for he had lost his friend and King. Yet in these moments of reflections he experienced an overwhelming sense that his Father in heaven was, in the words of David’s song – “close beside him”. The peace of God flooded his heart and he felt afresh that supernatural assurance – the Lord was not only David’s shepherd – he was his too!
David and those loyal to him fled through the wilderness to the town of Mahanaim ten miles east of the Jordan River, where he made his headquarters. The soldier King had lost none of his military prowess – and soon appointed generals and captains to lead his troops. Yet in isolation, fleeing from the murderous intentions of the son he loved – David felt deep pain. In addition the alleged disloyalty of his friend Mephibosheth grieved him deeply. Alone one evening, in heaviness and introspection he called a scribe – and dictated a song – which included the verse – “Even my best friend, the one I trusted completely, the one who shared my food, has turned against me”. I cannot help but think that this verse, which so many have taken only as a prophetic Messianic reference, was in fact originally written by David with Mephibosheth in mind. During his residence in Mahanaim one of the men who provided essential supplies for David and his troops was Machir from Lo Debar – the very man in whose house Mephibosheth had taken refuge and where he had lived for so many years. It is almost inconceivable to think that the King and Ammiel did not speak of their common friend – and that David did not share with him something of the grief he felt over Mephibosheths’s alleged betrayal.
DEFEAT AND VICTORY
Absolom’s bitter rebellion appears to have been relatively short lived – possibly lasting only a few weeks. It ended with his ignominious death when he, caught his beautiful hair, in the branches of a tree, was found by David’s soldiers – one of whom killed him – significantly, against the express wishes of the King, for he loved his son, even although he was a rebel tying to kill him. Following the victory over the armies of Absolom, David and his troops began returning to Jerusalem. News spread like wildfire. Ziba, his sons and servants quickly rushed to the Jordan River to congratulate the King and welcome his return. Ziba’s hunch had paid off – and much more quickly than he could ever have hoped. Now he could take control of all the land he had been gifted by the King. Mephibosheth was sitting at home in Jerusalem when he heard the city in an uproar. Grabbing his walking sticks he went out in to the street to find out what was going on. He could hardly take in what he was hearing – David was returning. Joy flooded his heart and with almost super human strength he went to the stable and mounted a donkey – heading immediately out of the city.
Mephibosheth arrived at the Jordan as the soldiers and people who had left the city with the King weeks before were, with great rejoicing, music and singing crossing over the Jordan on their return journey. He asked among the crowds for David and was soon led to the place where the King was directing operations. As their eyes met Mephibosheth could see pain and disappointment. There was no anger now. That had long gone, but the King still believed Mephibosheth had betrayed him. “Why didn’t you come with me, Mephibosheth?” David blurted out. Mephibosheth could hear the emotion and pain in his voice. He replied – “My lord the King, my servant Ziba deceived me. I told him, ‘saddle my donkey so that I can go with the King.’ For as you know I am crippled. Ziba has slandered me by saying that I refused to come. But I know that you are like an angel of God, so do what you think is best. All my relatives and I could expect only death from you, my lord, but instead you have honoured me among those who eat at your own table! So how can I complain?” Mephibosheth could have pled the terms of the covenant between his father and David – a covenant which guaranteed his protection but he did not even mention it – rather he pled his love and loyalty for the King. David was shocked. How could he have been so deceived? How could he have doubted the faithfulness of his friend? His mind had been in a turmoil he knew – but now it appeared that his judgement had been so clouded he had made a terrible mistake – a mistake that had caused both he and Mephibosheth so much pain and anguish . But this was a day for rejoicing – a day of grace and mercy. David directed that the land he had promised to Ziba should be divided equally between him and Mephibosheth. Then, in a statement that revealed the true heart of Mephibosheth, he said – “Give him all of it – I am content just to have you back again, my lord!” Mephibosheth was more interested in the giver than in his gifts. He loved, not for the wealth or position the King might give him – but simply because he loved – loved everything about this man who has sought him, restored him and adopted him as a son to his family. To have him back as King and friend was the sum total of his hearts desire – nothing else mattered.
And so Mephibosheth fades from the biblical record. That he and David continued to live in covenant love is without doubt. It was impossible for Mephibosheth ever to be the orphan again – he was and would always be a son.
The story of Mephibosheth and David has many spiritual parallels. I trust many of these will have been seen behind the thin veil of the human story which reveals them. Chief among these is, of course, the orphan heart or orphan spirit. This is a condition which affects millions in our world today – sometimes as a result of being a natural orphan. However, it is just as likely to be found in its spiritual form – even amongst thousands who profess to live as children of The Kingdom.
Behind the orphan heart lurks a spirit of fear, separation and rejection. Spiritual orphans have no assurance of covenant love, reconciliation or sonship. Many people live with another form of fear which springs from the orphan spirit – that to please God they must “perform” – whether that be in the realm of adherence to a set of religious rules and regulations or simply to “do” rather than to “be”.
This story is also very clearly a picture of covenant love (Hesed). For the Jew, to enter a covenant was as binding as death – not something which, as in our culture, could be broken and abused at will. Covenant love is one of the major themes of the Bible – and here again it is clearly portrayed as David, in covenant love pursues Mephibosheth – bringing him to a place of restoration and blessing. Is this not a picture of how the Holy Spirit pursues us – longing to bring us in to relationship with the Son, Jesus, and bring us home to Father and to his table of abundance?
There is only one further reference to Mephibosheth in the Bible – one which relates to him being protected from harm – because of covenant love! On the other hand I suggest Ziba can be seen as a picture of Satan who attempts to keep people in his orphan house of separation and fear – ignorant of the fact that they are loved by The Father who seeks for them, and longs to restore them as sons and daughters to His Kingdom of love.
In addition Ziba is a picture of The Accuser who will continue in his attempts to misrepresent covenant sons and daughters to the Father – his aim being to discourage, destroy and rob them of their assurance in his unfailing love. In contrast David, by his loyal love, seeking and restoring an orphan to the full status of a son – is a pure picture of the Father heart of God. He does what our Father longs to do for each and every member of the human race – to restore them to a position of true sonship and covenant blessing.