MEPHIBOSHETH WAS ONLY FIVE YEARS OLD when news came through that his father, Jonathan, and his grandfather, King Saul, had both been killed in battle. Terrified that the child might be next, his nurse snatched him up in her arms and started to run off with him when she tripped and fell in her panic, and the boy was so badly crippled that he never walked right again.
The new king, David, might very well have decided to get rid of him. It was standard procedure then to wipe out your predecessor's entire family when you came to the throne just in case any of them happened to have political ambitions; but maybe because Mephibosheth was a cripple and thus not likely to give him much trouble, or maybe because his father had been David's best friend, or maybe just because he felt sorry for him, or maybe some combination of all these, David decided to be generous. It was the kind of crazy, magnificent gesture he liked to make every once in a while, like the time some soldiers risked their necks breaking through the enemy lines to bring him a cup of cool water from Bethlehem, his hometown, and David won the hearts of everybody by saying, "Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?" (2 Samuel 23:15-17), and poured it out on the ground.
In any case, he had Mephibosheth brought to him, and the poor child fell on his face in terror at what for all he knew was going to be the ax, but David told him not to be afraid. He told him that he was to have all the property that rightfully belonged to him and a man named Ziba to look after him, and he also promised him that from then on he was to take all his meals at the king's table as if he was his own son.
Ziba was a sly one, as it turned out, and years later when there was a revolt against David, Ziba told him that Mephibosheth had defected to the other side. What motivated this lie was the hope that David would grant him not only his favor, but also all of Mephibosheth's real estate, and so David did.
After the revolt was successfully put down, however, Mephibosheth showed up and convinced David that Ziba had been lying and he had been on the right side all along, and David seemed to believe him. But poor David—he was so shattered by everything that had happened, especially by the death of his beloved if treacherous Absalom, that he couldn't give the matter his full attention and more or less brushed Mephibosheth off by telling him that he and Ziba could divide the real estate between them for all he cared and to stop pestering him.
It would be sad if the relationship had ended on such an unsatisfactory note—the old king too broken-hearted to care much about anything anymore, and Mephibosheth limping home to work things out somehow with Ziba. But that isn't where it ended.
Before David had a chance to leave, Mephibosheth said that he was so overjoyed that David had driven the rascals out and come through the battle safe and sound that just to celebrate he was prepared to let Ziba take the whole damn place. Whether or not he made good on the offer, or even intended to, hardly matters. It was a crazy and magnificent gesture to make, and maybe David was not too lost in his own grief to realize, however dimly, at whose knees he had learned to make it.
2 Samuel 9; 16:1-4; 19:24-30