The story of Saul’s family leaves us sick at heart: and yet there was one bright, bright ray of the Grace of God even there. Jonathan, meaning “The Lord gave,” Saul’s son, is one of the most lovely characters in all the Bible. His love for David is still a household word. After David had killed Goliath, “the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul…And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.” (I Samuel 18:1, 4.) And that loving heart was always true to his friend. In the face of his father’s bitter hatred, Jonathan was always faithful to him. Read that touching parting between these two, as David had to fly for his life: “They kissed one another, and wept one with the another, until David exceeded. And Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, The Lord be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed forever”. I know that as David turned his face towards shame and rejection, “Jonathan went into the city.” How much happier would he have been sharing David’s rejection! His heart was with David, however and he visits him in the wood, “and strengthened his hand in God.” (I Samuel 23:16.) But the same sad words follow: “David abode in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house.” They remind us of our Lord and Master: “Every man went unto his own house. Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.” (John 7:53; 8:1). Was it the attraction of his own house? Or was it loyalty to his father? Why, oh, why, did Jonathan not wholeheartedly share the rejection of the one he truly loved, and whom he owned as rightful king? I know not the motives: I only know he did not share the rejection. I think, I hope, it was not that his love failed. Peter once forsook his Lord, and I think it was not because his love failed. I, too, can recall times when I have not been willing to share my Lord’s rejection. I can remember times when I have not confessed Him before men. On more than on occasion I have had to sob our Peter’s words: “Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee!” even though the appearances were all the other way. On that dark night of Peter’s denial, there was not one who was willing to share his Master’s rejection, but “all forsook Him and fled”. When His servant Paul stood before Nero, he walked the same path as his Master, and must write: “No man stood with me, but all forsook me.” And today our Master is just as truly rejected as He was in those days of old. Think not, Beloved, it is a light thing to follow the “forgotten and rejected Jesus.” It is not; and few there are today who are in any position to blame Jonathan too hardly without condemning themselves.
It is a sad story. Instead of being “next unto” the king, (as I doubt not he would have been, had he shared his rejection), Jonathan, one of the loveliest characters, and one of the bravest soldiers, dies on Mount Gilboa; and his little son Mephibosheth is lamed for life from a fall while his nurse was trying to save him. He is brought up in Lodebar, “No Pasture”, as far from the king as ever he can get: in the rejection his noble father rejected.
But whose heart has not thrilled at Mephibosheth! David shows him “the kindness of God”, “for Jonathan thy father’s sake”, and brings that poor, lame, hopeless orphan to eat at his own table as one of the king’s sons: while his grandfather’s servant Ziba with his fifteen sons and twenty servants, tilled his land: for the king gave him as his inheritance, “all that pertained to Saul and to all his house.”
We may not stop to trace this beautiful story, much as I would love to: but we must look at the meeting between David and Mephibosheth, as the King returned from his exile: “Wherefore wentest not thou with me, Mephibosheth?” asks the king. For it was true, Mephibosheth had not gone out from Jerusalem with the King, and his wicked servant Ziba had lied about him, and poisoned the King’s mind toward him: while Mephiboseth was at home mourning, too lame to walk, and his servant had not brought the ass he had ordered to be saddled for him. All that time 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 again in peace.” I used often to be puzzled at the King’s unjust reply, “Thou and Ziba divide the land,” when Mephibosheth told the King he was loyal as ever. But now I know just that answer was needed to make the true, loyal and undivided devotion of Mephibosheth’s heart shine with the brightness it deserved, as he says: “Yea, let him take all, forasmuch as my lord the king is come again in peace unto his own house,” Houses and lands were nothing to Mephibosheth when he had the king he loved.
There are few sadder stories in the Bible than these two we have been pondering, but perhaps on the one hand, in none does the Grace of God, “the kindness of God”, shine more brightly; and on the other rarely do we meet with loving loyalty like that which filled the heart of Mephibosheth. Lord, give us hearts like his!
And Mephibosheth had learned the true Source from whence all his blessings came, for he “had a young son, whose name was Micha”; and the meaning of Micha is: “Who is like unto the Lord?” A most lovely climax to a most lovely story!