David’s kindness to the sons of his allies proves almost detrimental to his own ambitions. While the one who was lame, subdued himself to David for a seat at his table but the one who had an army of his own looked at David’s offer of peace with suspicion. The latter’s arrogance resulted in a multi-country war and the loss of countless lives.
Mephibosheth: The Lame Prince
David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”2 Samuel 9:1 (NIV)
After things had settled in David’s kingdom and he had established his throne in Jerusalem, he wanted to return the favour that his friend Jonathan showed him while he was on the run. He asked his people to find any living relative of Jonathan or Saul so that he can show them kindness. David and Jonathan actually made a covenant to look out for each other’s best interests (1 Samuel 20:15). Jonathan had made David promise that he would show kindness to his family, when he was in power as the king of Israel. So, David’s men went and found Ziba, the faithful chief servant of Saul and he was presented before David at his court.
The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”2 Samuel 9:3 (NIV)
Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet.”
Ziba was quick to mention that Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth was lame in both feet, signalling that he was not a threat to David’s throne. However, we know that there were other relatives of Saul still living (2 Samuel 21) but Ziba chose only to mention the lame son of Jonathan whom David loved more than any woman. Perhaps, Ziba also wanted to help out the crippled son of Jonathan, rather than the healthy remaining relatives of Saul. Mephibosheth, being the sole heir of Jonathan was in line for his father’s inheritance and the king’s kindness. While the other descendants of Saul are still plotting their revenge against the king, David chose to honour Jonathan and his son by giving him a seat at his table.
“Where is he?” the king asked.2 Samuel 9:4 (NIV)
Ziba answered, “He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar.”
Perhaps Mephibosheth was hiding in the vicinity of the town of Mahanaim, a place across the river Jordan in the territory of Gad (2 Samuel 17:27). The Royal lineage was usually eradicated upon the arrival of a new regime. Given the heated battles between the house of Saul and David, Mephibosheth would have remained in an undisclosed location for fear of the same fate that his family members had faced. Even if Mephibosheth did not fear David himself, there were plenty of reasons to remain in hiding, as David did not have control over his own men as they kept on killing people from Saul’s family to gain his favour, like Joab killing Abner (2 Samuel 3:27).
So Mephibosheth was brought before the king and was promised that the land belonging to his grandfather and father would be restored back to him. He would even eat at the table of the king like one of his sons. David summoned Ziba and instructed him to farm the land that belonged to Mephibosheth and give his master the proceeds rather than bringing them to the royal treasury. Mephibosheth had a young son named Mika who had descendants of his own as mentioned in the book of Chronicles. So the house of Jonathan lived on peacefully in Israel, at least throughout David’s reign.
Hanun: The Influential Prince
After some time, Nahash, the king of the Ammonites, died, with his son Hanun succeeding on his throne. When David heard about Nahash’s passing, he wanted to show the same kindness that the king of the Ammonites had shown him many years back. So, he sent a delegation from his capital of Jerusalem to Hanun to express his sympathy at the death of his father.
When David’s men came to the land of the Ammonites, the Ammonite commanders said to Hanun their lord, “Do you think David is honoring your father by sending envoys to you to express sympathy? Hasn’t David sent them to you only to explore the city and spy it out and overthrow it?”2 Samuel 10:2-3 (NIV)
The Ammonite commanders would have surely heard about the inhuman way in which David had killed the Moabites (2 Samuel 8:2). Hanun would have been cautious knowing that after the death of his father, vultures would be gathering to take his throne. Thus, David’s offer of friendship was suspiciously scrutinised and Hanun took the advice of his commanders as he proceeded to humiliate the king of Israel.
So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved off half of each man’s beard, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away.2 Samuel 10:4 (NIV)
People always judge others based on their own characteristics. Given the evil intentions of the Ammonites, they could not fathom the peaceful gesture of friendship that David was extending to them. There is something also to be said about how Hanun did not know about the mutual respect between his father and David. Rather he sought the counsel of his commanders who gave him bad advice.
In our lives also, people try to sow seeds of doubt in our minds. We should discern things for ourselves using the guidance of the Holy Spirit and not take people’s opinions at face value. David himself was faced with this dilemma when his commanders were cajoling him to take the life of his enemy Saul. But David stood tall and only listened to God’s voice to lead him through his troubles. Similarly, we should take a stand for ourselves and do what is right in the sight of God rather than following the voice of this world.
The Bloodbath Ensued
When David saw how Hunan had humiliated his messengers and by extension the throne of Jerusalem, he was enraged. He asked the men to remain in seclusion in the ancient unoccupied city of Jericho till their beards grew back. David probably wanted to spare these men any further shame (and himself) by asking them to stay in Jericho. David went back to his capital in Jerusalem and plotted to take revenge for the disrespect that Hanun had shown him.
When the Ammonites realized that they had become obnoxious to David, they hired twenty thousand Aramean foot soldiers from Beth Rehob and Zobah, as well as the king of Maakah with a thousand men, and also twelve thousand men from Tob.
On hearing this, David sent Joab out with the entire army of fighting men. The Ammonites came out and drew up in battle formation at the entrance of their city gate, while the Arameans of Zobah and Rehob and the men of Tob and Maakah were by themselves in the open country.
Joab saw that there were battle lines in front of him and behind him; so he selected some of the best troops in Israel and deployed them against the Arameans. He put the rest of the men under the command of Abishai his brother and deployed them against the Ammonites…
Then Joab and the troops with him advanced to fight the Arameans, and they fled before him. When the Ammonites realized that the Arameans were fleeing, they fled before Abishai and went inside the city. So Joab returned from fighting the Ammonites and came to Jerusalem…
Hadadezer had Arameans brought from beyond the Euphrates River; they went to Helam, with Shobak the commander of Hadadezer’s army leading them.
When David was told of this, he gathered all Israel, crossed the Jordan and went to Helam. The Arameans formed their battle lines to meet David and fought against him. But they fled before Israel, and David killed seven hundred of their charioteers and forty thousand of their foot soldiers. He also struck down Shobak the commander of their army, and he died there.
When all the kings who were vassals of Hadadezer saw that they had been routed by Israel, they made peace with the Israelites and became subject to them.2 Samuel 10:6-19 (NIV)
In both instances, David had the same intention, he simply wanted to honour the son of his close ally. However, it was interpreted differently at the receiving end, causing an immense contrast in the consequence of David’s generosity. Both the princes did not fully understand the bond their fathers had shared with king David. And because they had not experienced David’s generosity firsthand, they found it hard to trust him.
Even Mephibosheth would have had his doubts about David’s intentions when he first heard that the king had called for him. He was lame since he was a child and people around him would have constantly reminded him of the unrest that David had caused in his family. They would have even put the reason for Saul and Jonathan’s death and even Mephibosheth’s lameness on David’s head. But since Mephibosheth was not in a proper state to run and evade the king’s men, he obliged and went to Jerusalem to meet David. However, Hanun was a king himself and had his own army. He chose to listen to his officials and took their bad advice which resulted in the loss of countless lives of his and other foreign armies, as David ended up routing these rules and annexing their kingdoms.
In our lives also, God has extended his generous hands by giving us His Son and is even willing to honour us in His Kingdom by giving us a seat at His table. But we have someone constantly giving us bad advice and preventing us from taking up the offer of the Lord’s salvation. People around us are actively being used by satan to deter or divert us from the road that leads to our eternal Jerusalem. Whose voice are we listening to? Do we depend on God completely or like these princes doubt God’s generosity as we do not have first-hand experience of it for ourselves.
- 9:1 – Why does David want to show kindness to the house of Saul?
- 9:3 Why did Ziba mention only Mephibosheth’s name when Saul had other living relatives?
- 9:7 – Why was Mephibosheth afraid of David and hiding at Makir’s place?
- 10:3 – What should we do when people around us try to sow seeds of doubt in our minds?
- 10:5 – Why does David ask the humiliated men to stay at Jericho till their beards grow back?
- Summary question: What can we learn from the two similar incidents that had contrasting outcomes?