Some years ago now I came in to contact with a group of Christians who ministered predominantly on the importance and priority of the heart of The Father and the life changing message a personal experience of the Father’s Love brings. Through one of these, a man who later become a friend, my own life was changed from being somewhat religious and stagnant to a fresh relational experience of the love and grace of God our Father.
While on this new journey I heard many people talking about the “Orphan Heart” – but to be honest for some reason I found it difficult to comprehend. I can still remember the afternoon travelling home in my car and considering this subject when I heard that unmistakable “still small voice” saying – “Look at the life of Mephibosheth!“. I did – and from that revelation entered in to a new understanding of a place so many of us live – a place of orphan hopelessness. Not only so but, and far more importantly, in the days that followed – I saw for the first time the message of hope we can all find in the story of Mephibosheth.
I became caught up in the story, and I saw it as that – not a dry, boring account – but a living, exciting, life giving story of the journey from orphan to son. But it is also a brutally honest story, especially in its second half where the enemy attempts to destroy the freedom and acceptance Mephibosheth had found.
And so it was as a story I subsequently wrote it. I know it has been available in other formats before – but never shared on this blog – and I feel for some reason the time is right to share it here. It is split in to two parts – and part two will follow tomorrow.
The Orphan Heart – Part 1
In blind panic she burst in to the nursery and grabbed the child – he would be murdered as soon as they found him she was sure. Through the royal palace, downs the steps and in to the narrow streets of Gibeah she ran – carrying the child in her arms. Her heart pounded faster and faster – the city was in an uproar – people were everywhere. With each turn she expected to run in to a group of soldiers – her very life hung in the balance as well as that of the child’s. At the end of a narrow street a set of steps led to the path below – it would take them away from the city and immediate danger. But then it happened – as she half ran half walked down the uneven steps she tripped. Instantly she lost her grip on the child she held tightly against her body and he fell from her arms – crashing onto the hewn stone steps and tumbling to the bottom. Tears of anguish and fear rushed to her eyes. When she reached the bottom the child was lying in a heap – unconscious. Instantly she noticed that his legs were twisted at grotesque angles – they were broken – no doubt about it. But to seek help now would mean they would be discovered for sure. She had no choice but to pick up the broken bundle and get out of the city as quickly as possible.
He was only five years old when his father was killed. His memory of the event was faint – but he knew it was because of the death, in the battle of Mount Giboa, of his grandfather, King Saul and his father Jonathan – that his faithful nurse had fled with him in panic. She thought that the new King, in common with many others before him, would have the child murdered along with the rest of the royal household. But they had escaped – to a remote and barren place where they could hide. He had recovered slowly – but without medical attention his broken legs had never set properly – he would be a cripple for the rest of his life.
As a child Mephibosheth heard stories of how the soldiers of the new King had murdered his uncle Ish-bosheth as he lay sleeping in his bed. That was probably the kind of treatment he could expect at the hand of his grandfather’s successor if he were ever found – or so he thought. But there were circumstances surrounding this event that others thought it better he did not know – like the fact that the new King had executed those responsible for the brutal murder of his uncle – for he had no part in their scheme. He had also heard stories of how his grandfather – King Saul had tried repeatedly to take the life of King David who now ruled over all Israel – so what were his chances if he were ever discovered? But what he had not been told was that David had actually wept and mourned over the death of Saul – such was his love and respect for him.
THE PLACE OF DESPAIR
Months turned in to years in his hideout – a place called Lo-debar. Mepibosheth knew that this name came from two Hebrew words – lo, meaning “nothing” and dober meaning “no pasture.” He knew also that the root of the word “dober” is debar, which means “no promise.” These words were in reality a picture of his life. Not only was he separated forever from his loving family – but he lived in constant fear with nothing to look forward to except a life of exile in this barren place with no promise of restoration or freedom. The house in which he had found shelter belonged to a man called “Machir the son of Ammiel”. As Mephiboheth considered his plight even these names seemed to mock him. He knew for instance that the word for house is bayith, which can mean, “prison”. And that the name Machir can mean “to be sold”, or “to be given over to death.” Even the word – Ammiel held a mocking significance for it came the root word amam, meaning “to darken”, or “to be held in darkness.” Very often that is just how he felt – imprisoned, helpless, enslaved and held in darkness. Such is the spirit which veils and darkens the orphan heart. Life was hard – monotonous, but he just had to get on with it. Perhaps he would meet a girl and fall in love – something to take his mind away from the nagging fear and depression which haunted him – so he waited and longed for a better day.
But beyond the veil of darkness, the lies and half-truths, which overshadowed the life of this young man, was something no one around him wanted him to know. Perhaps they didn’t know the whole story – but they knew enough to have given him some hope. However, they chose, for their own reasons, to keep him in ignorance. The staggering truth was that Mephibosheth was the child of a covenant that had been eternally sealed between King David and his father Jonathan – a covenant of love, protection, privilege, position and abundance – but he did not know it.
COVENANT OF LOVE
The relationship between these two men had been strong and binding. At their first meeting there was that rare unity of spirit that fused them together in an eternal bond of friendship, for we are told that –“The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul…. then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armour, even to his sword and his bow and his belt.” Neither was the love between Jonathan and David a secret – for at the time of Saul and Jonathan’s death David had written a lament, that he later taught the whole nation, which included the following verses – “How the mighty heroes have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies dead upon the hills. How I weep for you, my brother Jonathan! Oh, how much I loved you! Oh, how much I loved you! And your love for me was deep, deeper than the love of women!” Mephibosheth was a child of this covenant – but as we have said, he lived in total ignorance of it – an ignorance in which some powerful people would rather he remained.
He was something of a political animal – knowing how to endear himself to whoever happened to be in power. Although he had held a high position in the household of Saul – things these days were not that bad for him. He has retained his own retinue of servants and something of his own prestige. He could read the political landscape well – a great advantage if you want to stay ahead of the game in any culture. He knew of Mephibosheth – even knew the remote location of his hideout and that is just where he wanted him to stay – out of sight and out of mind – especially from the sight and mind of the new King. He suspected something of how the new King would deal with Mephibosheth – and that could well upset his own way of life. Out in his land one day Ziba heard the sound of approaching horses. On looking up, he saw a unit of the King’s guard approaching. What could this mean? His mind began to race as the soldiers dismounted a few yards away. At least their expression appeared friendly enough – and his mind was soon put at rest – at least to some degree. The King wanted some information that he thought Ziba could help him with. Some of his darker secrets began to flash before his mind – but he was quite sure he could talk his way out of anything that was put to him. Standing before the King Ziba felt unusually nervous. “Saul’s family” began the King – “is there anyone left – I want to show them God’s kindness in any way I can?” He really was as strange as people had reported – wanting to show kindness to the descendants of a man who had tried to kill him – what kind of man was this? His mind raced – he could not lie – that might prove disastrous for him – so he answered truthfully but with hesitation in his voice – “Yes, one of Jonathan’s sons is still alive”. Then he added – “but he is a cripple”. He deliberately did not mention Mephibosheth by name – it was best to keep him as impersonal as possible, using his disability as the thing that marked him out as being of no real worth. His insinuation was clear – of what use was a cripple to a King – he will want nothing to do with him – he would just be a liability and a burden. What Ziba did not immediately see was the look of excitement and anticipation on the King’s face. “Where is he?” David asked excitedly. And so the story came out – there was no way Ziba could avoid telling the full truth. He would have to flow with the tide – and wait for an opportune time to reverse what he now knew was inevitable.
Year had rolled in to year for Mephibosheth. He had met a girl – and was now the father of a beautiful little boy – Mikha. But oppression still haunted him. In his quiet moments the old fears drifted from nowhere to the forefront of his mind clouding everything for days – sometimes weeks – until the darkness was replaced by what had become normality, if he could call it that. How could things ever be normal for him in his prison house of fear, separation, doubt and anxiety? But he had learned to push all these things to the back of his mind – at least for the most part. One day Mikha ran excitedly into the house calling for his father – “Daddy, daddy there are soldiers outside”. Mephibosheth grabbed his two sticks – his heart pounding as he did so. The day he had dreaded for so long had probably arrived. He struggled to the door just in time to see the soldiers ride up to the front of the house. There was nothing he could do – nowhere he could run – even if he was able to. Mephibosheth noticed that the soldiers appeared to have a spare horse – possibly on which to take him away – so death might not be as instant as he had so often feared. The journey from Lo Debar to Jerusalem was uneventful – but Mephibosheth sensed that the soldiers were being unusually friendly towards him. There were no taunts about his disability or his family background – no coarseness in their conversation. Perhaps they were trying to lull him in to a false sense of security – in reality he did not know what to think.
One soldier helped him from his horse while another handed him his sticks – they even made sure he could walk unaided after the long journey on horseback. But he was independent – he had learned to be that – so at least he would walk into the presence of the man who would decide his fate. As this strange young cripple, flanked by some of David’s most trusted men hobbled through the courts of the King, people stopped to stare. Who could he be – what would the King want with a cripple? As the soldier who stood in front of a large door threw it open – Mephibosheth saw a man standing with his back to them. Instantly he turned and, for the first time, his eyes fell on King David. He was as striking as people had reported – ruddy, good-looking, weather beaten yet regal and dressed in robes befitting the King of the nation. Mephibosheth dropped to the floor – his sticks landing noisily on the marble tiles, as he prostrated himself before the King. In addition to the pain this caused him he could feel a knot of fear in his stomach – this was the moment he had dreaded most. Lying there in front of King David, in great fear and anguish – like a man awaiting the sentence of death, he heard something he did not expect, one word spoken in a tone of compassion and love that instantly dispelled his fear – “Mephibosheth”. The King had called him by name – and in a tone that breathed deep compassion. He replied immediately – “I am your servant”. David’s next words reinforced the peace that was beginning to flood his heart. “Don’t be afraid! I have asked you to come so that I can be kind to you because of my vow to your father, Jonathan.” Mephibosheth could not believe what he was hearing. He glanced up and as he did so saw tears running down the King’s face. His eyes burned with a love and compassion he had never seen in any man before. But what he could not see was the heart of love from which all of these emotions flowed – a heart that would do anything to restore and bless the young crippled who lay on the floor in front of him. Gently David knelt down beside Mepibosheth and helped him to his feet. A nearby soldier picked up his sticks and handed them to him. But what did all this mean – what vow was the King talking about? His mind raced back to his childhood – he had a vague recollection that his father had held a special place in his heart for David – but no one had ever told him how deep was the affection David had held for his father – in fact all he had ever heard since was of the danger King David posed to the house of Saul. David continued – “I will give you all the land that once belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you may live here with me at the palace!”. To live in the palace with the King? That was a privilege belonging only to the King’s family! The full implications of all of this would take some time to sink in to his spirit. Not only had he been pardoned and gifted his lost inheritance but also been adopted in to the family of the King – to be a son! No more was he orphan! Could this be true, could this be possible? It would have been enough to be accepted as a servant of the King – but to become a son, with all the privileges that would mean? This was beyond comprehension. All of this was too much for Mephibosheth to take in – he was overwhelmed. In an instant he saw his own unworthiness. Unworthy that the King should set his love and affection upon him – unworthy of this outpouring of grace – unworthy that his lost inheritance should be restored, unworthy most of all that he should be called a son of the King. “What is your servant that the King should look upon such a dead dog as I?” – Mephibosheth blurted out. But David did not see Methibosheth as unworthy – for he was a child of the covenant with his beloved Jonathan – and he loved this son of the covenant every bit as much as he had loved Jonathan.
THE UNSEEN MOMENT
In heaven at that moment, as David, full of compassion and love held the weeping Mephibosheth, as they embraced and their tears mingled, I see the Father of eternity rising from his throne and looking at his beloved Son – Jesus. There were no words – just a communication of spirit. Here was a picture, on earth, of the covenant love between the Father and the Son. Here was a picture of how Father would redeem an orphaned humanity to himself, of how he would not only restore their lost inheritance – but restore them as full sons and daughters of the Kingdom – by means of a love covenant. At that same moment on earth David heard the voice of The Father speaking silently – “That’s my boy”. He knew what that meant – his Father was delighted in him for he reflected the passion of his heart towards Mephibosheth. This was David’s purpose in life – to be a man after the Fathers heart. At the same time Mephibosheth heard words that he knew came from the throne room of heaven, words that would not be written down for many years, but were his in that moment – “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour…. You are precious to me. You are honoured, and I love you.”
THE SHAMEFUL ONE
Standing in an adjoining room – waiting to be summonsed by the King was Zeba. His contacts in the palace had briefed him and he was prepared for what he was about to hear. He knew he would, by default, have become servant to Jonathan had he lived and become King – so now David would appoint him as servant to Mephibosheth. “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family – you and your sons and servants are to farm the land for him to produce food for his family. But Mephibosheth will live here at the place with me.”, David said to Ziba. Ziba – the man who had once denied him his destiny, who was by default responsible for keeping him in his prison house of fear, despair and hopelessness was now Mephibosheth’s servant! Mephibosheth’s name meant – “Exterminator of the Shameful One” – but he had never known the reality of it – until now. No more would he have to hide, no more would he feel the sting and shame of being known as “The Orphan” – for the King had adopted him as his own son. Not only so, but his father King was also now his friend, his protector, his provider, his source of security and the guarantor of his freedom. It was worse than he had expected – Mephibosheth would be untouchable – under the constant protection of the King – but he could wait, he had learned to be good at that and, at an opportune moment, he would have his revenge. In the meantime there was little he could do but accept the instruction of the King – he, his fifteen sons and twenty servants would serve Mephibosheth – maintaining his restored estates.
In the realm of the unseen raged an angry spirit. Ziba had been his tool, his channel, and his man. Through him he had kept Mephibosheth in the orphanage of his dark lord – Satan. But no longer did he exercise any control over Mephibosheth – no more could he subject him to fear, uncertainty, despair and depression. He had been freed from the prison in which he had kept him so safely all these years – he was lost to the Kingdom of darkness – set free by a son of the Kingdom of light – his lord would not be pleased – but he would wait for another opportunity! In the meantime he had plenty of other work to do. A man called Absalom – the handsome son of the King had caught his attention. He had detected in him ambitions far beyond his station – that could prove so very useful and, if he could arrange it, might even be the downfall of Mephibosheth – but he had plenty of time to work on that – for now he must face the wrath of his master – he did not like loosing one of his orphans.
Mephibosheth’s first meal at the King’s table came later that evening. As he walked awkwardly towards the banqueting room he felt nervous even though two of the King’s servants had been sent to assist him. He fully realised the awesome privilege that was his –for to be invited to the Kings table was a great honour but to eat regularly was a privilege few outside the Kings family ever enjoyed. Family members has already begun to gather in the room and stood around chatting – waiting for the King to arrive before they all sat down. The men and women around him would become familiar figures – but for now he felt a stranger. They were all dressed in the finest of clothes – beautiful people without exception. His disability seemed all the more obvious in their presence and for a moment he felt out of place – unworthy to be amongst such people – but then, was he was not there by royal invitation? Moments after his arrival the King walked in to the room and called for attention. The idle chatter faded quickly and the King spoke. He introduced Mephibosheth and then, one by one, introduced those present – his son Absalom, commonly regarded as the most handsome man in the land – with strikingly long hair which he only cut once a year – and then only because of its weight. Absalom’s mother and wife of the King – Maachah, daughter of King Talmai of Geshur and his sister the beautiful Tamar. Other wives of the King – all strikingly beautiful – Ahinoam and her son Amon, the King’s oldest son, Abigail with her son Daniel, Haggith and her son Adonijah, as well as a number of others. King David then turned to introduce a woman who stood alone. Mephibosheth thought she looked vaguely familiar – as if he had seen her before. “My wife Michal, your aunt – daughter of King Saul” – David said. Mephibosheth was stunned – here was his father’s sister – but she stood silent and distant, showing little emotion. There were no sons or daughters standing by her side – as with most of the other women. He would later discover the tragic truth of Michael, how see had mocked David for his abandonment in worship – and so lost her place in his heart and affection – but for now the King beckoned him to the table. As they sat down the King spoke briefly – but emotionally of his love for Jonathan and the unique bond between them. The King reminded them that Mepibosheth, as a restored son of his covenant with Jonathan, would be treated with dignity and respect. Mephibosheth felt embarrassed – but around him many smiled – obviously entering in to the joy and emotion of the King. However, there were others who appeared less than impressed.
THE BOOK OF THE COVENANT
The next morning David called again for Mephibosheth. He wanted to know was there anything he needed, anything he wanted to know, and anything that could be done for him. There was only one burning question in Mephibosheth’s mind – “please” he said, “tell me about my father”. Mephibosheth could see the emotion in the King’s face as, beckoning him to sit down, he began to relate the story of his first meeting with Jonathan, their bond of friendship, the standing in which he was held and his fame as a warrior. Pausing in the middle of a sentence at one point, David directed a servant to go to the room of Jehosaphat the Royal Historian and bring “the scroll” and “box”. Several minutes later two servants arrived carrying a large chest while another carried a scroll – immediately handing it to the King. The King opened it at a particular part – and in turn handed it to Mephibosheth. “Read it” – the King said gently. Mephibosheth’s eyes fell on the following words – “Then David bowed to Jonathan with his face to the ground. Both of them were in tears as they embraced each other and said good-bye, especially David. At last Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have made a pact (covenant) in the LORD’S name. We have entrusted each other and each other’s children into the LORD’S hands forever.” Then David left, and Jonathan returned to the city.” Mephibosheth wept as he read – not only with emotion but also with the realisation that the covenant of which he had just read was his – written for ever in to the history of the nation. Glancing back in the scroll his eyes fell on another passage that impacted him again as to just how much his father and David had loved one another – “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul…. then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armour, even to his sword and his bow and his belt.” Glancing up at that moment Mephibosheth’s eye caught the chest lying open on the floor in font of him. He could not believe what he saw inside – a beautiful royal robe, the armour of a warrior prince, a magnificent sword, bow and belt. “Yes” said the King; “these were covenant gifts from your father to me”. Mephibosheth put the scroll aside, rose from his seat and walked towards the open chest. He dropped his walking sticks for a second time in the King’s presence and overcome with emotion knelt painfully beside the chest – weeping. Here was visible proof of the binding love between his father Jonathan and King David – a love in which he was, by default, now enveloped – for he was a child of their covenant. His life would never be the same again.
LIVING IN THE PRESENCE OF THE KING
Life in Jerusalem and the Palace soon began to take on an air of normality for Mephibosheth. David had provided him with a house near to the palace – but he was free to come and go as he pleased. Feasting at the King’s table became a regular occurrence and the personalities of the royal household became well known to him – along with something of the intrigue that involved. His lands were cared for by the house of Ziba and David kept a close watch on Saul’s old servant, ensuring he was kept up to date with all Mephibosheth’s business affairs – and ensuring everything was being done according to his command. Mephibosheth was always conscious of the fact that he was a now regarded as a son of the King and, by default, an ambassador of the Kingdom. Consequently was careful and circumspect in all he did.
It would be tempting to leave the story at this point and say that from now on life for Mephibosheth was happy ever after. But that would be dishonest, for in reality he will face disappointment, rejection and misunderstanding. He will become the subject of a cunning smear campaign, be misrepresented, and experience loss pain and hard times. Yet through all of these his love and loyalty will prevail – and the covenant will stand!
To be continued …