April 11—II Samuel 19:24—Michael Osborn
The verse says, in the RSV: “And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king: he had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came back in safety.” The NRSV says: “Mephibosheth grandson of Saul came down to meet the king; he had not taken care of his feet, or trimmed his beard, or washed his clothes, from the day the king left until the day he came back in safety.”
The RSV follows the King James Version in calling Mephibosheth the son of Saul, although all the most recent translations call him Saul’s grandson. The king mentioned here is King David, and King David has just returned from an armed rebellion by his son Absalom (where David’s general Joab killed Absalom) and where it appeared that Mephibosheth was allied with Absalom in rebellion.
King David is heartsick about the whole situation, and Mephibosheth goes on to explain his conduct in this manner. I’m using The Message because in the NRSV it’s really unclear who Mephibosheth is talking about (when he says “your servant,” he’s not talking about some other servant of King David who maybe was delivering a message from the King; he’s talking about himself). He says to King David: King David knows you cannot forgive an former enemy and make peace (shalom) without treating him justly and in the spirit of forgiveness (while recognizing that Ziba still has rights and was transparently loyal). Mephibosheth shows he truly means to be peaceful by forswearing any claim to the lost property and throwing himself completely on the care of the king.
“My master the king,” he said, “my servant betrayed me. I told him to saddle my donkey so I could ride it and go with the king, for, as you know, I am lame. And then he lied to you about me. But my master the king has been like one of God’s angels: he knew what was right and did it. Wasn’t everyone in my father’s house doomed? But you took me in and gave me a place at your table. What more could I ever expect or ask?”
29 “That’s enough,” said the king. “Say no more. Here’s my decision: You and Ziba divide the property between you.” 30 Mephibosheth said, “Oh, let him have it all! All I care about is that my master the king is home safe and sound!”
King David had confiscated Mephibosheth’s land and holdings because of his alliance with Absalom and awarded the property to Ziba. King David is trying to make adjustments because, whereas it’s not clear to him that Mephibosheth’s telling the truth, he can accept his story as an assurance of future loyalty and peace. He sees the evidence of lack of self-care, in the same manner as a grieving widow dons sackcloth and ashes.