2 Samuel 9:1
And David said, Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
2 Samuel

DAVID AND JONATHAN’S SON

2 Samuel 9:1 - 2 Samuel 9:13
.

This charming idyl of faithful love to a dead friend and generous kindness comes in amid stories of battle like a green oasis in a wilderness of wild rocks and sand. The natural sweetness and chivalry of David’s disposition, which fascinated all who had to do with him, comes beautifully out in it, and it may well stand as an object lesson of the great Christian duty of practical mercifulness.

I. So regarded, the narrative brings out first the motives of true kindliness. Saul and three of his four sons had fallen on the fatal field of Gilboa; the fourth, the weak Ishbosheth, had been murdered after his abortive attempt at setting up a rival kingdom had come to nothing. There were only left Saul’s daughters and some sons by a concubine. So low had the proud house sunk, while David was consolidating his kingdom, and gaining victory wherever he went.

But neither his own prosperity, nor the absence of any trace of Saul’s legitimate male descendants, made him forget his ancient oath to Jonathan. Years had not weakened his love, his sufferings at Saul’s hands had not embittered it. His elevation had not lifted him too high to see the old days of lowliness, and the dear memory of the self-forgetting friend whose love had once been an honour to the shepherd lad. Jonathan’s name had been written on his heart when it was impressionable, and the lettering was as if ‘graven on the rock for ever.’ A heart so faithful to its old love needed no prompting either from men or circumstances. Hence the inquiry after ‘any that is left of the house of Saul’ was occasioned by nothing external, but came welling up from the depth of the king’s own soul.

That is the highest type of kindliness which is spontaneous and self-motived. It is well to be easily moved to beneficence either by the sight of need or by the appeals of others, but it is best to kindle our own fire, and be our own impulse to gracious thoughts and acts. We may humbly say that human mercy then shows likest God’s, when, in such imitation as is possible, it springs in us, as His does in Him, from the depths of our own being. He loves and is kind because He is God. He is His own motive and law. So, in our measure, should we aim at becoming.

But David’s remarkable language in his questions to Ziba goes still deeper in unfolding his motives. For he speaks of showing ‘the kindness of God’ to any remaining of Saul’s house. Now that expression is no mere synonym for kindness exceeding great, but it unfolds what was at once David’s deepest motive and his bright ideal. No doubt, it may include a reminiscence of the sacred obligation of the oath to Jonathan, but it hallows David’s purposed ‘mercy’ as the echo of God’s to him, and so anticipates the Christian teaching, ‘Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful.’ We must receive mercy from Him before our hearts are softened, so as to give it to others, just as the wire must be charged from the electric source before it can communicate the tingle and the light.

The best basis for the beneficent service of man is experience of the mercy of God. Philanthropy has no roots unless it is planted in religion. That is a lesson which this age needs. And the other side of the thought is as true and needful; namely, that our ‘religion’ is not ‘pure and undefiled’ unless it manifests itself in the service of man. How serene and lofty, then, the ideal! How impossible ever to be too forgiving or too beneficent! ‘As your heavenly Father is,’-that is our pattern. We have not shown our brother all the kindness which we owe him unless we have shown him ‘the kindness of God.’

II. The progress of the story brings out next the characteristics of David’s kindliness, and these may be patterns for us. Ziba does not seem to be very communicative, and appears a rather unwilling witness, who needs to have the truth extracted bit by bit. He evidently had nothing to do with Mephibosheth, and was quite content that he should be left obscurely stowed away across Jordan in the house of the rich Machir {2 Samuel 17:27 - 2 Samuel 17:29}. Lo-debar was near Mahanaim, on the eastern side of the river, where Ishbosheth’s short-lived kingdom had been planted, and probably the population there still clung to Saul’s solitary representative. There he lived so privately that none of David’s people knew whether he was alive or dead. Perhaps the savage practice of Eastern monarchs, who are wont to get rid of rivals by killing them, led the cripple son of Jonathan to ‘lie low,’ and Ziba’s reticence may have been loyalty to him. It is noteworthy that Ziba is not said to have been sent to bring him, though that would have been natural.

At any rate, Mephibosheth came, apparently dreading whether his summons to court was not his death-warrant. But he is quickly reassured. David again recalls the dear memory of Jonathan, which was, no doubt, stirred to deeper tenderness by the sight of his helpless son; but he swiftly passes to practical arrangements, full of common-sense and grasp of the case. The restoration of Saul’s landed estate implies that it was in David’s power. It had probably been ‘forfeited to the crown,’ as we in England say, or perhaps had been ‘squatted on’ by people who had no right to it. David, at any rate, will see that it reverts to its owner.

But what is a lame man to do with it? and will it be wise to let a representative of the former dynasty loose in the territory of Benjamin, where Saul’s memory was still cherished? Apparently, David’s disposition of affairs was prompted partly by consideration for Mephibosheth, partly by affection for Jonathan, and partly by policy. So Ziba, who had not been present, is sent for, and installed as overseer of the estate, to work it for his new master’s benefit, while the owner is to remain at Jerusalem in David’s establishment. It was prudent to keep Mephibosheth at hand. The best way to weaken a pretender’s claims was to make a pensioner of him, and the best way to hinder his doing mischief was to keep him in sight.

But we need not suppose that this was David’s only motive. He gratified his heart by retaining the poor young man beside himself, and, no doubt, sought to win his confidence and love. The recipient of his kindness receives it in characteristic Eastern fashion, with exaggerated words of self-depreciation, which sound almost too humble to be quite sincere. A little gratitude is better than whining professions of un worthiness.

And how did Ziba like his task? The singular remark that he had ‘fifteen sons and twenty servants’ perhaps suggests that he was a person of some importance; and the subsequent one that ‘all in his house were servants to Mephibosheth’ may imply that neither they nor he quite liked their being handed over thus cavalierly.

But, however that may be, we may note that common-sense and practical sagacity should guide our mercifulness. Kindly impulses are good, but they need cool heads to direct them, or they do more harm than good. It is useless to set lame men to work an estate, even if they get a gift of it. And it is wise not to put untried ones in positions where they may plot against their benefactor. Mercifulness does not mean rash trust in its objects. They will often have to be watched very closely to keep them from going wrong. How many most charitable impulses have been so unwisely worked out that they have injured their objects and disappointed their subjects! We may note, too, in David’s kindliness, that it was prompt to make sacrifice, if, as is probable, he had become owner of the estate. The pattern of all mercy, who is God, has not loved us with a love which cost Him nothing. Sacrifice is the life-blood of service.

III. The subsequent history of Mephibosheth and Ziba is somewhat enigmatical. Usually the former is supposed to have been slandered by the latter, and to have been truly attached to David. But it is at least questionable whether Ziba was such a villain, and Mephibosheth such an injured innocent, as is supposed. This, at least, is plain, that Ziba demonstrated attachment to David at the time when self-love would have kept him silent. It took some courage to come with gifts to a discrowned king {2 Samuel 16:1 - 2 Samuel 16:4}; and his allegation about his master has at least this support, that the latter did not come with the rest of David’s court to share his fortunes, and that the dream that he might fish to advantage in troubled waters is extremely likely to have occurred to him. Nor does it appear clear that, if Ziba’s motive was to get hold of the estate, his adherence to David would have seemed, at that moment, the best way of effecting it.

If we look at the sequel {2 Samuel 19:24 - 2 Samuel 19:30} Mephibosheth’s excuse for not joining David seems almost as lame as himself. He says that Ziba ‘deceived him,’ and did not bring him the ass for riding on, and therefore he could not come. Was there only one ass available in Jerusalem? and, when all David’s entourage were streaming out to Olivet after him, could not he easily have got there too if he had wished? His demonstration of mourning looks very like a blind, and his language to David has a disagreeable ring of untruthfulness, in its extreme professions of humility and loyalty. ‘Me thinks the cripple doth protest too much. David evidently did not feel sure about him, and stopped his voluble utterances somewhat brusquely: ‘Why speakest thou any more of thy matters?’ That is as much as to say, ‘Hold your tongue.’ And the final disposition of the property, while it gives Mephibosheth the benefit of the doubt, yet looks as if there was a considerable doubt in the king’s mind.

We may take up the same somewhat doubting position. If he requited David’s kindness thus unworthily, is it not the too common experience that one way of making enemies is to load with benefits? But no cynical wisdom of that sort should interfere with our showing mercy; and if we are to take ‘the kindness of God’ for our pattern, we must let our sunshine and rain fall, as His do, on ‘the unthankful and the evil.’2 Samuel 9:1. And David said, Is there any left of the house of Saul — Having ended the wars in which he had been engaged, and settled his kingdom and court, and enjoyed a short interval of peace and tranquillity, like a gleam of sunshine in the intermittings of a storm, he now begins to consider what private obligations he was under, especially to the house of Saul, and above all to Jonathan. His prosperity had, hitherto, in no degree overset him; on the contrary, the blessings God had bestowed upon him appear to have been followed by an increase of gratitude and love to his divine benefactor, and zeal for his glory. These pious dispositions had lately given birth to a resolution of building a most magnificent temple to God’s honour. And he had already made a noble provision for the work. Religion was his first care, and friendship now became his second. He recollected the strong and solemn ties thereof between him and Jonathan, confirmed by the most sacred oaths and engagements; and his present retirement from the hurry and din of war left him at leisure to reflect upon, and take proper measures to fulfil them. That I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake — He does not say, Is there any left of the house of Jonathan? for he seems to have had no idea that he had left any son or descendant; but thought his kindness and obligation were to pass to the next of his kindred. As for Mephibosheth, he was very young and obscure, and probably concealed by his friends, lest David should cut him off, according to what had been the usual practice of princes in like cases.9:1-8 Amidst numerous affairs we are apt to forget the gratitude we owe, and the engagements we are under, not only to our friends, but to God himself. Yet persons of real godliness will have no rest till they have discharged them. And the most proper objects of kindness and charity, frequently will not be found without inquiry. Jonathan was David's sworn friend, therefore he shows kindness to his son Mephibosheth. God is faithful to us; let us not be unfaithful to one another. If Providence has raised us, and our friends and their families are brought low, we must look upon that as giving us the fairer opportunity of being kind to them.The Cherethites and the Pelethites - See the marginal reference note.

Chief rulers - The word כהן kôhên, here rendered a "chief ruler," is the regular word for a priest. In the early days of the monarchy the word כהן kôhên had not quite lost its etymological sense, from the root meaning to minister, or manage affairs, though in later times its technical sense alone survived.

CHAPTER 9

2Sa 9:1-12. David Sends for Mephibosheth.

1-7. David said, Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul—On inquiry, Saul's land steward was found, who gave information that there still survived Mephibosheth, a son of Jonathan who was five years old at his father's death, and whom David, then wandering in exile, had never seen. His lameness (2Sa 4:4) had prevented him from taking any part in the public contests of the time. Besides, according to Oriental notions, the younger son of a crowned monarch has a preferable claim to the succession over the son of a mere heir-apparent; and hence his name was never heard of as the rival of his uncle Ish-bosheth. His insignificance had led to his being lost sight of, and it was only through Ziba that David learned of his existence, and the retired life he passed with one of the great families in trans-jordanic Canaan who remained attached to the fallen dynasty. Mephibosheth was invited to court, and a place at the royal table on public days was assigned him, as is still the custom with Eastern monarchs. Saul's family estate, which had fallen to David in right of his wife (Nu 27:8), or been forfeited to the crown by Ish-bosheth's rebellion (2Sa 12:8), was provided (2Sa 9:11; also 2Sa 19:28), for enabling Mephibosheth to maintain an establishment suitable to his rank, and Ziba appointed steward to manage it, on the condition of receiving one-half of the produce in remuneration for his labor and expense, while the other moiety was to be paid as rent to the owner of the land (2Sa 19:29).David, for Jonathan’s sake, sendeth for his son Mephibosheth, 2 Samuel 9:1-6; entertaineth him at his table; and restoreth him all that was Saul’s; appointing Ziba to be his servant, 2 Samuel 9:7-13.

David’s wars being ended, he set himself to the administration of justice to all his people, 2 Samuel 8:15; and, amongst others, he minds his just debt and obligation to Jonathan and his family.

Of the house of Saul; he saith not of the house of Jonathan, for he knew not of any son which he had left, and therefore thought his kindness and obligation was to pass to the next of his kindred. As for Mephibosheth, he was very young and obscure, and possibly concealed by his friends, lest David should cut him off from jealousy of state, as hath been usual among princes in like cases, and therefore was unknown to David, as well he might be, especially when David’s head and hands were full of war with divers and potent enemies, as they had hitherto been.

And David said,.... To some of his courtiers:

is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul? which question was put by him, not in order to destroy them, lest they should disturb his government, as was usual with other princes, and especially such who got their crowns by usurpation; but to prevent any suspicion of that kind in the persons he inquired of, he adds:

that I may show him kindness, for Jonathan's sake? not for Saul's sake, who had been his implacable enemy, though he had sworn to him that he would not cut off his seed; but for Jonathan's sake, his dear friend, whose memory was precious to him. Some of the Jewish writers have thought, because this follows upon the account given of the officers of David, both in his camp and court, that this question was occasioned by a thought that came into his mind, while he was appointing officers, that if there were any of Saul's family, and especially any descendant of Jonathan, that was fit for any post or office, he would put him into one; but this seems to be a long time after David had settled men in his chief offices; for Mephibosheth, after an inquiry found out, was but five years of age when his father was slain, and so but twelve when David was made king over all Israel, and yet now he was married, and had a young son, 2 Samuel 9:12; so that it was a long time after David was established in the kingdom that he thought of this; which is to be imputed to his being engaged so much in war, and having such a multiplicity of business on his hands.

And David said, Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may shew him kindness for {a} Jonathan's sake?

(a) Because of my oath and promise made to Jonathan, 1Sa 20:15.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1. that I may shew him kindness for Jonathan’s sake] In fulfilment of his oath to Jonathan. See 1 Samuel 20:14-17; 1 Samuel 20:42.Verse 1. - Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul? As Mephibosheth was five years old at his father's death (2 Samuel 4:4), but now had a son (ver. 12), a sufficient time must have elapsed for him to grow up and marry; so that probably the events of this chapter occurred seventeen or eighteen years after the battle of Gilboa. As David was king at Hebron for seven years and a half, he had been king now of all Israel for about nine years. But during this long period he had been engaged in a weary struggle, which had left him little repose, and during which it might have been dangerous to draw the house of Saul out of obscurity. But he was at last firmly established on the throne, and had peace all around; and the time was come to act upon the promise made to Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:14, 15), and which we may be sure David had never forgotten. "And David made (himself) a name, when he returned from smiting (i.e., from the defeat of) Aram, (and smote Edom) in the valley of Salt, eighteen thousand men." The words enclosed in brackets are wanting in the Masoretic text as it has come down to us, and must have fallen out from a mistake of the copyist, whose eye strayed from את־ארם to את־אדום; for though the text is not "utterly unintelligible" without these words, since the passage might be rendered "after he had smitten Aram in the valley of Salt eighteen thousand men," yet this would be decidedly incorrect, as the Aramaeans were not smitten in the valley of Salt, but partly at Medeba (1 Chronicles 19:7) and Helam (2 Samuel 10:17), and partly in their own land, which was very far away from the Salt valley. Moreover, the difficulty presented by the text cannot be removed, as Movers supposes, by changing את־ארם (Syria) into את־אדום (Edom), as the expression בּשׁבו ("when he returned") would still be unexplained. The facts were probably these: Whilst David, or rather Israel, was entangled in the war with the Ammonites and Aramaeans, the Edomites seized upon the opportunity, which appeared to them a very favourable one, to invade the land of Israel, and advanced as far as the southern extremity of the Dead Sea. As soon, therefore, as the Aramaeans were defeated and subjugated, and the Israelitish army had returned from this war, David ordered it to march against the Edomites, and defeated them in the valley of Salt. This valley cannot have been any other than the Ghor adjoining the Salt mountain on the south of the Dead Sea, which really separates the ancient territories of Judah and Edom (Robinson, Pal. ii. 483). There Amaziah also smote the Edomites at a later period (2 Kings 14:7). We gather more concerning this war of David from the text of the Chronicles (2 Samuel 8:12) taken in connection with 1 Kings 11:15-16, and Psalm 60:2. According to the Chronicles, it was Abishai the son of Zeruiah who smote the Edomites. This agrees very well not only with the account in 2 Samuel 10:10., to the effect that Abishai commanded a company in the war with the Syrians and Ammonites under the generalship of his brother Joab, but also with the heading to Psalm 60:1-12, in which it is stated that Joab returned after the defeat of Aram, and smote the Edomites in the valley of Salt, twelve thousand men; and with 1 Kings 11:15-16, in which we read that when David was in Edom, Joab, the captain of the host, came up to bury the slain, and smote every male in Edom, and remained six months in Edom with all Israel, till he had cut off every male in Edom. From this casual but yet elaborate notice, we learn that the war with the Edomites was a very obstinate one, and was not terminated all at once. The difference as to the number slain, which is stated to have been 18,000 in the text before us and in the Chronicles, and 12,000 in the heading to Psalm 60:1-12, may be explained in a very simple manner, on the supposition that the reckonings made were only approximative, and yielded different results;

(Note: Michaelis adduces a case in point from the Seven Years' War. After the battle of Lissa, eight or twelve thousand men were reported to have been taken prisoners; but when they were all counted, including those who fell into the hands of the conquerors on the second, third, and fourth days of the flight, the number amounted to 22,000.)

and the fact that David is named as the victor in the verse before us, Joab in Psalm 60:1-12, and Abishai in the Chronicles, admits of a very easy explanation after what has just been observed. The Chronicles contain the most literal account. Abishai smote the Edomites as commander of the men engaged, Joab as commander-in-chief of the whole army, and David as king and supreme governor, of whom the writer of the Chronicles affirms, "The Lord helped David in all his undertakings." After the defeat of the Edomites, David placed garrisons in the land, and made all Edom subject to himself. 2 Samuel 8:15-18. David's Ministers. - To the account of David's wars and victories there is appended a list of his official attendants, which is introduced with a general remark as to the spirit of his government. As king over all Israel, David continued to execute right and justice.

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