2 Samuel 19
We continue to trace out the progress of David on his way back from Mahanaim to Jordan, and thence to Jerusalem. A number of incidents occurred which intimated the change in his fortunes. Many of those who forsook the king in the time of adversity, now flocked around him in the day of his prosperity. Yet these were not all fair-weather friends; some had rendered him real service when the storm burst upon him; others, who had been hindered from so doing, had nevertheless remained loyal to him and now came to welcome him as he returned from exile. Each of these incidents possesses a charm all its own. At the close of our last we viewed the lovely magnanimity of our hero unto Shimei, the man who had cursed him; next we behold his wisdom and fidelity.
"And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king, and had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came again in peace" (2 Sam. 19:24). This is wonderfully touching. Mephibosheth, it will be remembered, was the grandson of Saul, Davidís archenemy. For his father Jonathanís sake, Mephibosheth had received such kindness at the kingís hands that he was accorded a place at his table (2 Sam. 9). Mephibosheth was practically a cripple, being lame on both his feet (2 Sam. 9:3 and cf. 4:4). In the day of Davidís sore need, Mephibosheth had prepared an elaborate and serviceable present, and had ordered his servant to saddle an ass that he might ride unto the fugitive king. But instead of obeying orders, the servant, Ziba, had himself ridden to the king, offered the present as a gift from himself, and had then grievously slandered and lied about his master (2 Sam. 16:1-4). All through the time of his absence David had labored under a misapprehension of the loyalty of Mephibosheth; but now the truth was to be revealed.
What is recorded about Mephibosheth here in verse 24 clearly denoted his devotion to David in the hour of his rejection and humiliation. So real and so great had been his grief at the sorry pass to which the king had been reduced, that Mephibosheth had utterly neglected his own person. Instead of seeking to feather his own nest, he had genuinely mourned Davidís absence. This is beautiful, and is recorded for our learning, for everything in the Old Testament has a lesson for us if only we have eyes to see and a heart to receive. The practical lesson in this incident for the believer today is found in those words of Christís, "The days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast" (Matthew 9:15)óit becomes us to mourn during the Kingís absence! Note how the apostle rebukes the Corinthians because they were "full," "rich," and had "reigned as kings" (1 Cor. 4:8).
"The king said unto him, Wherefore wentest not thou with me, Mephibosheth?" (v. 25). First, let it be noted that David did not turn away from him in anger or disgust, refusing him a hearing. Probably the king was surprised to see him at all after the false impression that Ziba had conveyed to him. But the present condition of Mephibosheth must have made quite an impression, so the king gave him opportunity to explain and vindicate himself. An important lesson this for us to heed. We must ever seek to be fair and impartial, and ready to hear both sides. It is obviously unjust to give credence to a report received behind a personís back, and then refuse to hear his explanation face to face.
Mephibosheth gladly availed himself of the opportunity now given, and proceeded to make an unvarnished statement of the facts (vv. 25, 26). He employed the most respectful and effectionate languageóan example we also do well to heed if placed under similar circumstances, for nothing is gained, and our case is rather weakened than strengthened, if we hotly condemn our questioner or judge for being so ready to believe evil of us. "But my lord the king is as an angel of God: do therefore what is good in thine eyes" (v. 27). Herein Mephibosheth expressed his confidence in Davidís wisdom and justice. He was satisfied that once his royal master heard both parties and had time to reflect upon the merits of the case, he would not be imposed upon; and therefore he was not afraid to leave himself in Davidís hands.
Next, Mephibosheth owned the utter unworthiness of himself and family, and acknowledged the signal grace that had been shown him. "For all of my fatherís house were but dead men before my lord the king, yet didst thou set thy servant among them that did eat at thine own table. What right therefore have I yet to cry any more unto the king?" (v. 28). "This shows that Zibaís suggestion was improbable: for could Mephibosheth be so foolish as to aim higher, when he fared so easily, so happily, as he did?" (Matthew Henry). This was powerful reasoning. By the kingís clemency Mephibosheth had already been amply provided for: why, then, should he aspire unto the kingdom? It was not as though he bad been slighted and left portionless. Having been adopted into the kingís family circle, it had been utter madness to deliberately court the kingís displeasure. But he would refrain from any further self-vindication.
"And the king said unto him, Why speakest thou any more of thy matters? I have said, Thou and Ziba divide the land" (v. 29). it seems strange that the commentators completely miss the force of this, considering that David was quite unconvinced by Mephiboshethís defence, yea, themselves regarding it as weak and unsatisfactory. We feel, then, we must labor the point a little. First, the words of David on this occasion cannot possibly mean that his previous decision remained unaltered, that the verdict he had given in the past must stand. And for this simple but conclusive reason: David had given no such orders previously! If we turn back to the occasion when the servant had deceived the king, we find that he said, "Behold, thine are all that pertained unto Mephibosheth" (16:4).
But now: since David did not confirm here the order he had given in 16:4, how are we to understand his words? Was he so puzzled by the conflicting statements of Ziba and Mephibosheth that he knew not which to believe, and so suggested a division of the land as a fair compromise? Surely not; for that had been grossly unjust to both of them. What then? This: David said what he did not in any harshness, but in order to test Mephiboshethís heart and draw out his affections. Obviously a false and mercenary Mephibosheth would have cried out, Yes, yes, that is a very satisfactory settlement. But not such was the language of the true devoted Mephibosheth.
Have we not a similar case in the puzzling situation presented to Solomon by the two harlots? Both of those women gave birth to a child: one overlying and smothering hers, and then stealing the remaining one. When the two women appeared before the king, each claimed to be the mother of the surviving child. What did Solomon say? This, "Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other" (1 Kings 3:25)óthe very proposal David made unto Mephibosheth! And how did the suggestion work out? Why, the imposter was quite willing to the arrangement, but the actual mother of the living child at once cried out, "O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it" (v. 26). And so it was here, as the sequel shows.
"And Mephibosheth said unto the king, Yea, let him take all, forasmuch as my lord the king is come again in peace unto his own house" (v. 30). How clearly that evidenced the unfeigned and disinterested character of his love! All he wanted was Davidís own company. Now that the king was restored, nothing else mattered. To be in Davidís own presence meant far more to Mephibosheth than any houses or lands. A later incident confirms the fact that Mephibosheth had not been cast out of the kingís favor, for when seven of Saulís descendants were slain as a satisfaction for his sin in the slaughter of the Gibeonites, it is expressly recorded that "The king spared Mephibosheth" (21:7)! And what of the wicked Ziba? He was allowed to go away unpunished, as Shimei had been, for David marked his appreciation of his restoration by the gracious remission of the injuries done to him.
"And Barzillai the Gileadite came down from Rogelim, and went over Jordan with the king, to conduct him over Jordan. Now Barzillai was a very aged man, even fourscore years old: and he had provided the king of sustenance while he lay at Mahanaim; for he was a very great man" (vv. 31, 32). This befriending of the king in the hour of his need came before us as we pondered the closing verses of chapter 17. There is no doubt that in ministering so freely to David and his men, Barzillai had done so at considerable risk to himself, for had Absalom prevailed there is little doubt that he had been made to suffer severely for his pains. It is touching to see him here, in his feebleness, taking such a journey to conduct his beloved monarch across the Jordan.
"And the king said unto Barzillai, Come thou over with me, and I will feed thee with me in Jerusalem" (v. 33). Deeply did the king appreciate the loyalty, generosity and welcome of his aged subject, and accordingly desired that he should participate in the feast which was to mark his restoration. But Barzillai had other thoughts. He felt, and rightly so, that one so near to death should be engaged in more serious and solemn exercise than festive jollifications. Not but there is a time to feast as well as a time to fast, yet such was hardly a suitable occupation for a man so close to the brink of eternity. The aged should be done with carnal pleasures, and set their thoughts and affections on something more enduring and satisfying than the best this earth has to offer.
"But behold thy servant Chimham; let him go over with my lord the king, and do to him what shall seem good to thee" (v. 37)óapparently this was one of his sons or grandsons. Barzillai was no austere cynic who cherished a dog-in-the-manger attitude toward the rising generation. "They that are old must not begrudge young people those delights which they themselves are past the enjoyment of, nor oblige them to retire as they do" (Matthew Henry). If on the one hand those of experience should do what they can to warn and shield their juniors from carnal follies and the snares of this world, on the other hand they must guard against that extreme which would deprive the young of those lawful pleasures which they themselves once participated in. It is easy for some dispositions to develop selfishness and crabbedness under a supposed concern of protecting those under their charge. Such, we take it, is one of the lessons here inculcated in Barzillaiís response to the kingís invitation.
"And the king answered, Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do to him that which shall seem good unto thee: and whatsoever thou shalt require of me, that will I do for thee" (v. 38). David at once fell in with Barzillaiís suggestion, for he was anxious to repay his kindness. It is our duty to do what we can in assisting the children of those who befriended us, when we were in need. It is beautiful to read how that when the aged David was giving instruction to Solomon, he made special mention of the descendants of Barzillai: "But shew kindness unto the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be of those that eat at thy table: for so they came to me when I fled because of Absalom thy brother" (1 Kings 2:7). Nor was this all that David had done, as the sequel will show.
In his remarkable little work, "Scripture Coincidences," J. J. Blunt points out how that Chimham is mentioned by the prophet Jeremiah, and in that incidental manner common to hundreds of similar allusions in the Word which so evidently bear the stamp of truth upon them. This argument for the divine inspiration of the Scriptures produces a stronger conviction than any external evidence. There is an exact coincidence observable by allusions to particular facts which demonstrates perfect consistency without contrivance or collusion. As we have seen, Chimham accompanied David to Jerusalem, but what the king did for him, beyond providing a place for him at his table and recommending him to the care of Solomon, does not appear. Nothing further is said about him in the historical books of the Old Testament. But in Jeremiah 41 his name again appears. An account is there given of the murder of Gedaliah, the officer whom Nebuchadnezzar had left in charge of Judea as its governor, when he carried away captive the more wealthy of its inhabitants. The Jews, fearing the consequences of their crime, and apprehending the vengeance of the Chaldeans, prepared for flight: "And they departed, and dwelt in the habitation of Chimham, which is by Bethlehem to go to enter into Egypt" (Jer. 41:17).
"It is impossible to imagine anything more incidental than the mention of this estate near Bethlehem, which was the habitation of Chimham; yet how well does it tally with the spirit of Davidís speech to Barzillai some four hundred years before! What can be more probable, than that David, whose birth-place was this very Bethlehem, and whose patrimony in consequence lay there, having undertaken to provide for Chimham, should have bestowed it in whole, or in part, as the most flattering reward he could confer, a personal, as well as a royal, mark of favour, on the son of the man who had saved his life, and the lives of his followers in the hour of their distress; and that, to the very day when Jeremiah wrote, it should have remained in the possession of the family of Chimham and be called after his own name" (J. J. Blunt).
"Then the king went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him: and all the people of Judah conducted the king, and also half the people of Israel. And, behold, all the men of Israel came to the king, and said unto the king, Why have our brethren the men of Judah stolen thee away, and have brought the king, and his household, and all Davidís men with him over Jordan?í (vv. 40, 41). By the time that David had crossed the Jordan many of the elders and people of Israel came to bring back the king, only to discover they had been anticipated. The officers of Judah had taken the lead in this, and had failed to notify the Ten Tribes of their intentions. This omission was strongly resented, for those of Israel felt they had been slighted, yea, that a serious reflection was cast upon their loyalty to the king.
"And all the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, Because the king is near of kin to us: wherefore then be ye angry for this matter? have we eaten at all of the kingís cost? or hath he given us any gift? And the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, and said, We have ten parts in the king, and we have also more right in David than ye: why then did ye despise us, that our advice should not be first had in bringing back our king? And the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel" (vv. 42, 43). Alas, what is poor human nature. If these Israelites were so desirous that the king should be honored, why be peeved because others had preceded them? O what mischief issues from pride and jealousy. How quick many are to take umbrage at the least seeming slight. How we need to watch against the workings of our own pride, and endeavor to avoid giving offence to the pride of others. But let us, in closing, contemplate a deeper significance possessed by the incidents which have been before us.
"But here again some glimpses may be discerned of the glorious character and kingdom of Davidís Son and Lord. Being anointed by the Father to be His King upon His holy hill of Zion, He reigns over a willing people, who deem it their privilege to be His subjects. Once indeed they were rebels (and numbers of their associates perish in rebellion): but when they became sensible of their danger, they were fearful or reluctant to submit unto Him; till His ministers, by representing His tender love, and His promises of pardon and preferment, through the concurring influences of His Spirit, bowed their hearts to an humble willingness that He should reign over them; then He readily pardoned and accepted them, and upon no account will He cast out or cut off the greatest offender who cries for mercy. He will recompense those, who from love to Him, feed His servants; He will assign them a place in His holy city. Alas that it must be added, that while the king himself is so plenteous in mercy, many of His professed subjects are envious and contentious with each other, and quarrel about the most trivial concerns, which prevent much good, and does immense mischief" (Thomas Scott).