Grace in a Barren Place
This article, written by Chuck Swindoll, is one of the most heart touching illustrations of God’s grace found in all of the Bible. If you would like to understand the subject of grace more fully, you can really benefit from reading Grace in a Barren Place.
The word grace means many things to many people…
We refer to a ballet dancer as having grace. We say grace at meals. We talk about the queen of England bringing grace to events she attends. Grace can mean coordination of movement, it can mean a prayer, it can refer to dignity and elegance. Most importantly, grace can mean unmerited favor — extending special favor to someone who doesn’t deserve it, who hasn’t earned it, and can never repay it. Every once in awhile we come across a scene in Scripture where we see a beautiful illustration of that kind of grace, and we stand amazed at such amazing grace.
We find one of those moments in the life of David. It is, in my personal opinion, the greatest illustration of grace in all the Old Testament. It involves an obscure man with an almost unpronounceable name. Mephibosheth. It’s a beautiful, unforgettable story.
GRACE: SEEING AN EXAMPLE OF IT
… we saw an interlude of peace and quietness in David’s life during which he spent time thinking about his past and all the blessings that had been his. As he did so, I’m sure that David thought specifically about his love for his friend Jonathan, lost in battle, and about Jonathan’s father, Saul, David’s predecessor. While reflecting upon those two men and the impact they’d had in his life, David began to think about a promise he had made. He pondered it and then he addressed it.
The David said, “Is there yet anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” 2 Samuel 9:1
Actually, this is a rather unfortunate translation, because “kindness” often smacks of a soft tenderness, but what David was expressing was much deeper than that. The original Hebrew word here could be and should be rendered “grace”– “that I may show grace for Jonathan’s sake.”
Grace is positive and unconditional acceptance in spite of the other person. Grace is a demonstration of love that is undeserved, unearned, and unrepayable. So David ponders, “Is there anybody in this entire area to whom I might show forth that kind of positive acceptance, demonstrate that kind of love?”
Why did he want to do that? Well, he had made a promise. In fact, he had made two promises.
Back in 1 Samuel 20, when David is still running for his life from Saul but is obviously destined for the throne, Jonathan says,
“If it please my father to do you harm, may the Lord do so to Jonathan and more also, if I do not make it known to you and send you away, that you may go in safety. And may the Lord be with you as He has been with my father.
“And if I am still alive, will you not show me the lovingkindness [there’s that word again –the grace] of the Lord, that I may not die?”
1 Samuel 20:13-14
It was the custom in eastern dynasties that when a new king took over, all the family members of the previous dynasty were exterminated to take away the possibility of revolt. So Jonathan is saying here, “David, when you get to the throne, as you surely will, will you show my family grace? Unlike the common custom of other kings, will you preserve our lives? Will you take care of us and protect us, that we may not be forgotten?”
Without hesitation, David agreed. His love for Jonathan prompted him to enter into a binding covenant with his friend.
So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord require it at the hands of David’s enemies.” And Jonathan made David vow again because of his love for him, because he loved him as he loved his own life. 1 Samuel 20:16-17
Later, you may recall, after David had spared Saul’s life in the cave, Saul said to him,
“And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. So now swear to me by the Lord that you will not cut off my descendants after me, and that you will not destroy my name from my father’s household.”
And David swore to Saul… 1 Samuel 24:20-22
So David made the promise both to Jonathan and to Saul. Later (recorded in 2 Samuel 9) we find him thinking about that promise. He starts asking the people in his court, “Is there anyone?” He doesn’t ask, “Is there anyone qualified?”Or, “Is there anyone worthy?” He says, “Is there anyone? Regardless of who they are, is the ANYBODY still living who ought to be the recipient of my grace?” That’s unqualified acceptance based on unconditional love.
Well, they identified someone.
Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David; and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “I am your servant.”
And the king said, “Is there not yet anyone of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness of God?” And Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan who is crippled in both feet.” 2 Samuel 9:2-3
If you read between the lines here, you will feel an implication in the counsel Ziba was actually giving the king. I think he was implying, “David, you really better think twice before you do this, because this guy’s not going to look very good in your court. He doesn’t fit the surroundings, this throne room, this beautiful new home in the city of Jerusalem. You know, David, he has a serious disability.”
David asks, “Is there anybody?” And this counselor answers, “Yes, but he’s crippled.”
David’s response is beautiful. He moves right on and says, “Where is he?” He doesn’t ask, “How badly?” He doesn’t even ask how he happened to be in that condition. He just said, “Where’s the man located?”
That’s the way grace is. Grace isn’t picky. Grace doesn’t look for things that have been done that deserve love. Grace operates apart from the response or the ability of the individual. Grace is one-sided. I repeat, grace is God giving Himself in full acceptance to someone who does not deserve it and can never earn it and will never be able to repay. And this is what makes the story of David and Mephibosheth so memorable. A strong and famous king stoops down and reaches out to one who represents everything David was not!
David simply asks, “Where is he?”
And Ziba said to the king, “Behold, he is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel in Lo-debar.” 2 Samuel 9:4
That last geographical term is interesting. Lo in Hebrew means “no,” and debar is from the root word meaning “pasture or pastureland.” So this descendant of Jonathan is in a place where there is unimaginable desolation. He lives out in some obscure, barren field in Palestine.
Since the custom was to kill anyone from a previous dynasty, such individuals were either exterminated or they hid for the rest of their lives. And that’s what this man had done. He had hidden himself away, and the only one who knew his whereabouts was an old servant of Saul named Ziba.
David doesn’t ask how this man became crippled in both feet, but we are curious, and we find the answer in chapter 4. It’s quite a story and only adds to the pathos of the situation. Let’s go back for a few moments.
Now Jonathan, Saul’s son, had a son crippled in his feet. He was five years old when the report of [the death of] Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel, and his nurse took him up and fled. And it happened that in her hurry to flee, he fell and became lame. His name was Mephibosheth.
2 Samuel 4:4
When she heard that Saul and Jonathan were dead, the nurse picked up the boy who was in her charge and fled, to protect him. As she hurried, she probably tripped, and the boy tumbled out of her arms. As a result of that fall, he was permanently disabled and had been hiding away ever since, fearful of his life. The last thing he wanted was to see an emissary from the king rap on his door. But that was exactly what happened.
Can you imagine the man’s shock! We don’t know how old Mephibosheth was, but he probably had a family of his own by now, for later we read that he had a young son named Mica. After answering the knock at his door, Mephibosheth is looking into the faces of David’s soldiers, who say to him, “The king wants to see you.”
He most likely thought, Well, this is the end.
Then these men take him to Jerusalem, into the very presence of the king himself. I love scenes like this portrayed so vividly in the Bible!
And Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and prostrated himself. And David said, “Mephibosheth.” And he said, “Here is your servant!”
2 Samuel 9:6
What a moment that must have been. This frightened man throws aside his crutches and falls down before the king who has all rights, sovereign rights, over his life. And the king says, “Are you Mephibosheth?” And he said, “It’s true; I’m Mephibosheth.” He had no idea what to expect. Surely, he expected the worst.
And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will surely show kindness [grace] to you for the sake of your father Jonathan, and will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul; and you shall eat at my table regularly.” 2 Samuel 9:7
Can you imagine what Mephibosheth must have felt at that moment? Expecting a sword to strike his neck, he hears these unbelievable words from King David.
To illustrate, [Dr. Karl Menninger, in his book, The Vital Balance ] tells the story of Thomas Jefferson, who was with a group of companions riding horseback cross-country when they came to a swollen river. A wayfarer waited until several of the party had crossed and then hailed President Jefferson and asked if he would carry him across on his horse. Jefferson pulled him up onto the back of his horse and carried him to the opposite bank. “Tell me,” asked one of the men, “why did you select the president to ask this favor of?” “The president?” the man answered. “I didn’t know he was the president. All I know is that on some of the faces is written the answer ‘no’ and on some faces is written the answer ‘yes.’ His was a ‘yes’ face.”
As I mention in my book, The Grace Awakening, people who understand grace fully have a “yes” face. I want to suggest that when Mephibosheth looked up, he saw a “yes” written across David’s face. Don’t you wish you could have been there at that magnificent moment?
David looked at him and said, “Oh, my friend, you’re going to have a place of honor like you’ve never had before. You will become a member of my family … you will eat regularly at my table.”
And it gets better. Look at it.
Again he prostrated himself and said, “What is your servant, that you should regard a dead dog like me?”
Then the king called Saul’s servant Ziba, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson. And you and your sons and your servants shall cultivate the land for him, and you shall bring in the produce so that your master’s grandson may have food; nevertheless Mephibosheth your master’s grandson shall eat at my table regularly. Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.
Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant so your servant will do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table as one of the king’s sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son whose name was Mica. And all who lived in the house of Ziba were servants to Mephibosheth. So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate at the king’s table regularly.
Now he was lame in both feet. 2 Samuel 9:8-13
What a fantastic account of grace! Every time I read it I get a “yes” face written across mine, because I see a demonstration of what grace is all about.
Picture what life would be like in the years to come at the supper table with David. The meal is fixed and the dinner bell rings and along come the members of the family and their guests. Amnon, clever and witty, comes to the table first. Then there’s Joab, one of the guests–muscular, masculine, attractive, his skin bronzed from the sun, walking tall and erect like an experienced soldier. Next comes Absalom. Talk about handsome! From the crown of his head to the soles of his feet there is not a blemish on him. Then there is Tamar–beautiful, tender daughter of David. And, later on, one could add Solomon as well. He’s been in the study all day, but he finally slips away from his work and makes his way to the table. But then they hear this clump, clump, clump, clump, and here comes Mephibosheth, hobbling along. He smiles and humbly joins the others as he takes his place at the table as one of the king’s sons. And the tablecloth of grace covers his feet. Oh, what a scene!
GRACE: UNDERSTANDING THE EXTENT OF IT
But that isn’t the end of the story. Not really. That story is still going on, reflected in the lives of all God’s children. I can think of at least eight analogies to indicate this.
1. Once Mephibosheth enjoyed uninterrupted fellowship with his father, son of King Saul. So with Adam, who walked with the Lord in the cool of the evening and enjoyed an uninterrupted fellowship with his Creator-Father. Like Adam, Mephibosheth once knew what it was like to be in close relationship with the king.
2. When disaster came, the nurse fled in fear and Mephibosheth suffered a fall. It left him crippled for the rest of his days. Likewise, when sin came, Adam and Eve hid in fear. The first response of humanity was to hide from God, to find reasons for not being with God. As a result, mankind became a spiritual invalid and will be so forever on earth.
3. David, the king, out of sheer love for Jonathan, demonstrated grace to his handicapped son. So God, out of love for His Son, Jesus Christ, and the penalty He paid on the cross, demonstrates grace to the believing sinner. He’s still seeking people who are spiritually disabled, dead due to depravity, lost in trespasses and sins, hiding from God, broken, fearful, and confused. We are walking with God today because He demonstrated His grace to us out of love for His Son.
4. Mephibosheth had nothing, deserved nothing, could repay nothing . . . in fact, didn’t even try to win the king’s favor. He was hiding from the king. The same is true of us. We deserved nothing, had nothing, and could offer God nothing. We were hiding when He found us.
Some of you can look back to a time when you were addicted to drugs, when you were involved in a futile life, moving from one skirmish to another, from one guilt experience to another, spending one confusing night after another, in one sexual encounter after another, wondering where it all was going to lead. You offered nothing to God. You had nothing that you could give to Him, not one good work that you could say genuinely revealed righteousness. And yet the King set His heart on you. Isn’t that great? No–better than that–it’s grace. That’s what God does for us, demonstrating love and forgiveness we can’t earn, don’t deserve, and will never be able to repay. Yes, that is grace. There’s something freeing about grace. It takes away all of the demands and it puts all of the response on God’s shoulders as He comes to us and says, “You’re Mine. I take you just as you are, crutches and hang-ups and liabilities, and all.”
5. David restored Mephibosheth from a place of barrenness to a place of honor. He took this broken, handicapped person from a hiding place where there was no pasture land and brought him to the place of plenty, right into the very courtroom of the king. The analogy is clear. God has taken us from where we were and brought us to where He is–to a place of fellowship with Him. He has restored us to what we once had in Adam.
6. David adopted Mephibosheth into his family, and he became one of the king’s sons. This is what God has done for the believing sinner–adopted us into the family of the heavenly King. He has chosen us, brought us into His family, and said, “You sit at My table, you enjoy My food, I give you My life.” Every Christian is adopted as a family member of God.
7. Mephibosheth’s disability was a constant reminder of grace. He had nothing but crutches, yet he was given the plenty of the king. Every time he limped from one place to the next, from one step to the next, he was reminded, “I am in this magnificent place, enjoying the pleasures of this position because of the grace of the king and nothing else.”
That’s the way it is with the Father. Our continual problem with sin is a continual reminder of His grace. Every time we claim that verse, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us,” we remind ourselves that grace is available. That’s when the Lord covers our feet with His tablecloth and says, “Have a seat. You’re Mine. I chose you simply because I wanted to.
8. When Mephibosheth sat down at the table of the king, he was treated just like any other son of the king. That’s the way it is now . . . and the way it will be throughout eternity when we feast with our Lord. Can you imagine sitting down at the table with Paul and Peter and John . . . and perhaps asking James to pass the potatoes? And talking to Isaac Watts and Martin Luther, Calvin and Wycliffe? To break bread with Abraham and Esther, Isaiah and, yes, King David himself? Along with Mephibosheth, remember. And the Lord will look at you and He’ll say with that “yes” face, “You’re Mine. You’re as important to Me as all my other sons and daughters. Here’s the meal.”
It will take eternity for us to adequately express what this truth means to us–that He chose us in our sinful and rebellious condition and in grace took us from a barren place and gave us a place at His table. And, in love, allowed His tablecloth of grace to cover our sin. I end this chapter with a smile. A “yes” face that says, “Thank You, Father, for finding me when I wasn’t looking . . . for loving me when I wasn’t worthy . . . for making me Yours when I didn’t deserve it.”
Grace. It really is amazing!
This article was used with the permission of Word Publishing, Nashville, Tennessee, and was taken from David, A Man of Passion & Destiny , by Charles R. Swindoll from pps. 169 – 178. Copyright 1997, All Rights Reserved.
We wish to thank Word Publishing, and Charles R. Swindoll, for granting permission to use this article on the VisdaPoint.com website.
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