Do you think it’s safe to say that no mere man or woman has ever out loved God or even matched God in love? I mean aside from Jesus, do you think it’s safe to say that no human being has ever been able to match God in grace and compassion and lovingkindness? Do you think it’s safe to say that all people fall short of God’s love? I think that’s safe to say.
Remember when a rich guy ran up to Jesus and said, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Before answering his question, the first thing Jesus said was, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” Compared to God we’re not good. We all fall short of God in our character.
Jesus said, Matthew 7:9-11, “ 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Compared to God, Jesus says, you’re evil. Even the love we have for our children doesn’t match God’s love for us. So if we give good gifts to our children when they ask us, then absolutely God is going to give what is good to His children who ask because His love surpasses ours.
Have you ever said to your kid or spouse or grandkid or someone, “I love you to the moon and back?” Well, God out does us. Psalm 103:11 says, “as high as the heavens are above the earth [that’s past the moon], So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.”
There are a couple verses in Isaiah 55 that we quote a lot whenever we don’t understand something about God or His word and I think we miss what the verses are actually saying in their context. It’s Isaiah 55:8-9, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’“ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.’“ In the context where He makes the statement, He’s pleading with sinful people to turn from their evil, to turn back to Him and He’s promising to have compassion on them and forgive them and bless them. In the context, when He says My ways and My thoughts are so much higher than yours, He’s saying I’m far more compassionate and merciful and forgiving and gracious than you are. You probably wouldn’t forgive and bless the likes of you, but I’m not like you. I really am that forgiving and gracious.
Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:18, “[I pray that you] may be able to comprehend… the breadth and length and height and depth [of the love of Christ, that you may] know the love of Christ [then do you remember what he said about that love? He said,] which surpasses knowledge…” You can’t really wrap your mind around it, it’s that big.
So I don’t think this ancient poem is too much of an exaggeration.
“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.”
Well, I’d like to skip ahead a little bit in our study of the life of David to the time when he’s finally been established as king of Israel. I want to look at a great act of kindness that king David did for a man. But I wanted you to know before we look at it that, though this is amazing kindness that we’ll see, God’s lovingkindness toward us in Christ surpasses it. This is but a shadow, a faded ‘water-damaged’ picture of God’s lovingkindness for us. The story is in II Samuel 9.
But let me first give you a little background to the story.
David’s Covenant with Jonathan
When king Saul was seeking to put David to death, David’s best friend in the whole world was Saul’s firstborn son, Jonathan. Jonathan, incredibly, was not jealous of David’s fame and success. And he wasn’t resentful over the fact that David would probably become king of Israel instead of him. It says Jonathan loved him as he loved his own life. And it’s says that the two of them made a covenant with each other, which they renewed on multiple occasions. A covenant was a binding agreement, it’s like a serious pact. It was a pact or a deal that obligated those involved to do or not do certain things. In ancient covenants, oaths were taken and usually an animal was killed and all those entering the covenant made some sort of contact with the blood, basically saying if I do not carry through with what I’m promising then may I be as this slaughtered animal. Well, David and Jonathan made a serious binding covenant like that with each other. In I Samuel 20:14-15 we find one of the things David promised Jonathan in their covenant with each other. “If I am still alive, will you not show me the lovingkindness of the LORD, that I may not die? You shall not cut off your lovingkindness from my house forever, not even when the LORD cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” In the ancient near east when a royal family was overthrown by another, the new family in power would often exterminate everyone in the old family to ensure that there would not be anyone trying to make a claim for the throne. But David made a covenant with Jonathan in which he promised not only to not kill Jonathan’s family and descendants, but to show lovingkindness to them.
Well, years later Saul and Jonathan and two of Jonathan’s brothers are all killed in a battle with the Philistines. Then the nation was divided as the tribe of Judah made David king over them but the other tribes made Saul’s last remaining son, Ish-bosheth, their king. Against David’s will, there was civil war and Ish-bosheth was eventually assassinated. And then all of Israel came to be established under David. Then David wanted to honor his friend Jonathan and keep his covenant with him. II Samuel 9:1, “Then David said, ‘Is there yet anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’ 2 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.” 3 The king said, “Is there not yet anyone of the house of Saul to whom I may show the [loving]kindness of God?” He’s saying, “I want to reflect God’s lovingkindness to a relative of Jonathan for Jonathan’s sake.”
Well, let me introduce you to…
We get some background about this guy in II Samuel 4:4. It tells us about a really bad day in this poor guy’s life. You may have had a bad day before, but I doubt you have ever had as bad a day as Mephibosheth had. He was five years old and the news came that his dad, Jonathan, and his granddad, Saul, and two of his uncles were killed by Philistines. Not only that, but now there was target on him. In that time, if an invading army killed the king of the nation they were fighting, they would then want to go kill all of the potential heirs to the throne, because the last thing they would want is for a boy with a claim to the throne to grow up and be able to rally the nation to himself and start a revolt against them. So this little boy has the entire Philistine army out to kill him. So that means he has to leave his home, presumably lose his inheritance, and go live in hiding somewhere. That’s a bad day. But then it gets worse. When little Mephibosheth’s nanny, the lady who cared for him, heard the news, she decided to pick up Mephibosheth and carry him so that they could flee quicker, and along the way, she tripped and he tumbled out of her arms. It doesn’t tell us what he landed on or how far he fell or if she landed on top of him or how exactly it happened, but the fall permanently disabled him. He was crippled in both legs as a result of the fall. And that was an even bigger deal in that culture because they actually had to work for a living. Not like me, I talk to people and pray, and read books, I type on my computer. But back then in that culture, manual labor was how most everybody earned a living. Mephibosheth has lost his inheritance and now there’s hardly anything he could do to work for a living. He is going to be desperately poor and dependent on others. Think about what a devastating day that was. He lost his father and other loved ones. He lost his home and inheritance. He had a death sentence on his life. And he lost the use of his legs. He became in that culture useless, with nothing to offer anybody.
As David rose to power over the years and became king over all Israel, Mephibosheth most likely also lived in fear of David. Because when a new family took the throne in that day and age, typically they would want to eliminate everybody from the old royal family so that there would be no rival for the throne. Not only for that reason would he expect David to want him dead but Mephibosheth’s grandfather spent the later years of his life trying to kill David, so surely David wants some revenge and he could take it out on Mephibosheth.
In II Samuel 9 when David is asking Ziba if there is anyone of the house of Saul left to whom he may show the lovingkindness of God, we find Mephibosheth is living in someone else’s house in a place called Lo-debar (9:4). Lo in Hebrew means no, natta, none. Debar means pasture. So he’s living in a place called no-pasture. Scholars are not sure where this town was except that it was east of the Jordan River somewhere. But the name of it probably suggests it was some barren, desolate, obscure place; no crops or pasture grew there. He is living there because he’s hiding in fear for his life and maybe also because he’s very poor and that’s where rent’s most affordable, because nobody wanted to live there. For many years, probably, he lived in Lo-debar poor, crippled, fatherless, fearful, feeling worthless, hopeless.
Now, I tell you all that not just so you can feel bad for Mephibosheth and then appreciate what David did for him. I tell you all that because…
You and I are Mephibosheth.
I’ll use Paul’s description in Romans 7 of what happened to us in our youth. Romans 7:9, “I was once alive apart from the Law…” I think he has to mean when he was a little boy. He had no responsibility to the Law of God. He didn’t understand right from wrong. He wasn’t accountable to God’s Law. At that early stage in his life he was alive. He doesn’t mean physically. He means spiritually. As a little bitty boy he was spiritually alive; he had a good relationship with God. If he were to leave this world at that stage he would go home to be with the Father. But then he goes on, “but when the commandment came [that is I think, came into his understanding. When he got to an age where he began to understand some right and wrong…], sin became alive and I died“. It’s like what happened to Adam and Eve in the beginning. At first, for a little while, they had this good relationship with their Father, they walked and talked in the garden. No shame, no guilt and they could live forever with the tree of life available to them. But then came that commandment, “You shall not eat of that tree in the middle of garden, that tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” And then sin came about and the death sentence was passed that day they disobeyed. That day they were denied access to the tree of life, and they lost their inheritance, they lost paradise and fellowship with God. We all have repeated that story in our youth. We lost our relationship with our father, we lost our inheritance, and we got a death sentence. That was a bad day.
But then things got even worse. As we continued to choose sin and developed habits of sin, it’s like we fell, and stumbled and became broken, disabled, handicapped, crippled when it comes to walking the path of righteousness and godliness. In Romans 7:14, Paul puts himself in the place of a typical Jewish man who doesn’t know Christ. He speaks as one who is fleshly in the bondage of sin and a prisoner of the law of sin (7:23), not as he actually was at the time a spiritual man in Christ free from sin (6:2-7,16-18) and free from the law of sin and death (8:2). He speaks as a typical Jew outside of Christ. And listen to it, “I am fleshly, sold into the bondage of sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” That’s a man who sees the goodness and rightness and beauty of the way God tells us to live, and he so wants to be that kind of man and live that way, but he can’t seem to do it. He’s disabled. It’s like he’s trapped in a body that does the things he hates and he cannot make it just act and speak the way he wants it to, and in this sin serving body he’s on his way ultimately to nothing but death. That’s where we were, weren’t we? That’s where some of you may still be, you so want to be a righteous honorable man or woman but you find it so hard to be so. It’s like you’re disabled.
And that’s a miserable existence of shame and guilt and fear. It’s like living in desolate Lo-debar in fearing that your king is going to find you.
Of course the story doesn’t end there. It doesn’t end there for us or Mephibosheth, because the king wanted to honor his friend Jonathan by showing the lovingkindness of God to those who belonged to his friend, and he made a covenant with his best friend to do so. And God wants to honor the one with whom He was well pleased, Jesus, by forever pouring out the riches of His lovingkindness on Jesus’ family, and He has bound Himself in a covenant to do just that, a covenant sealed with Jesus’ own blood. Remember when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and He took the cup and gave thanks and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is the new covenant in my blood.” God has bound Himself in a covenant to forgive and bless and never cease to pour out His abundant lovingkindness on those who belong to Christ. Remember when Jesus’ mother and brothers wanted to meet with Jesus but couldn’t get to him because of the crowd, and people were saying to him, “Jesus, your mother and brothers are standing over there wanting to see you.” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Matt 12:46-50). If we hear the gospel, the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and Lordship and gracious offer of salvation from our slavery to sin and from death, and we believe and with the help of the Spirit of God we repent, and we’re baptized and we become doers of the will of God, if we become disciples of Jesus, then we are the family of God’s best friend with whom He’s made a covenant to bless, in the greatest way, those who are His.
So, II Samuel 9:5, “Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, from Lo-debar. 6 Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and prostrated himself. [He’s probably thinking he’s about to be executed.] And David said, “Mephibosheth.” And he said, “Here is your servant!” 7 David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will surely show kindness to you for the sake of your father Jonathan, [I’m not just going to spare your life.] and will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul…” His grandfather Saul was the king. Surely it was no small piece of property. And this is costly kindness on David’s part. That’s like if there was a king over Montana and he said to you, “Here’s the Flathead Valley. It’s yours.” He gets this huge inheritance back. David commands Ziba and Ziba’s family and servants to be Mephibosheth’s servants to help him manage and cultivate all this land. But David doesn’t stop there. He says, “and you shall eat at my table regularly [or “always”, as other versions have it].” To eat at the king’s table is to be like a member of the king’s family, it is to be like one of his sons. On this day Mephibosheth gains his inheritance back and he gains a father and he gains royalty and wealth and power and hope and dignity and status and love. “8 Again he prostrated himself and said, “What is your servant, that you should regard a dead dog like me?” Why would you do all this for me? I’ve done nothing for you. I don’t deserve this. And I am worthless. I cannot repay you. I have nothing to offer.”
Have you ever asked God that? Why me? Why would you do such things for a dead dog like me? Because God does the same thing and more for us poor, disabled, unworthy people who come to be in Christ. He doesn’t just forgive us and not destroy us. Jesus said, talking about us, “Many will come from east and west and north and south and recline at the table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the prophets in the kingdom of heaven.” When He calls us from Lo-debar down here up to meet Him, that’s where we’re going, to the royal palace of all creation. We’re going to eat at the royal family table. Can you imagine that: “Abraham pass the gravy. Gabriel can you please refill my drink. Noah, after we eat, I’d like to play this new game I found, it’s like uker, but a thousand times better than what we played on earth…” Many of you are like me, and you’ve said that your favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. And why do we love Thanksgiving, it’s not just because of the delicious food, but it’s because you’re surrounded by family and people that you love and it’s the conversation and atmosphere of acceptance and love and peace. And I think that’s maybe just a little taste of what God has in store for His people. And Peter said (II Peter 3) that like the ancient world was destroyed by water in the days of Noah, this present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. The heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. It’s our inheritance.
I think God excels every man who’s ever lived in His loving kindness. We are Mephibosheth, but God’s going to do far more for us than even David did for Mephibosheth.
To end here, let’s read Psalm 117: “Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! 2 For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!”