2 Samuel 19: 24-43
This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily reading
24 Now Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson, came down to meet the king. From the day the king had left until the day he safely returned, Mephibosheth had not cared for his feet nor trimmed his mustache nor washed his clothes.
25 When he came from Jerusalem to meet the king, the king asked him, “Why didn’t you go with me, Mephibosheth?” 26 He replied, “My lord the king, my servant deceived me! I said, ‘Let me get my donkey saddled so that I can ride on it and go with the king,’ for I am lame. 27 But my servant has slandered me to my lord the king. But my lord the king is like an angel of God. Do whatever seems appropriate to you. 28 After all, there was no one in the entire house of my grandfather who did not deserve death from my lord the king. But instead you allowed me to eat at your own table! What further claim do I have to ask the king for anything?”
29 Then the king replied to him, “Why should you continue speaking like this? You and Ziba will inherit the field together.” 30 Mephibosheth said to the king, “Let him have the whole thing! My lord the king has returned safely to his house!”
31 Now when Barzillai the Gileadite had come down from Rogelim, he crossed the Jordan with the king so he could send him on his way from there. 32 But Barzillai was very old—eighty years old, in fact—and he had taken care of the king when he stayed in Mahanaim, for he was a very rich man. 33 So the king said to Barzillai, “Cross over with me, and I will take care of you while you are with me in Jerusalem.”
34 Barzillai replied to the king, “How many days do I have left to my life, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? 35 I am presently eighty years old. Am I able to discern good and bad? Can I taste what I eat and drink? Am I still able to hear the voices of male and female singers? Why should I continue to be a burden to my lord the king? 36 I will cross the Jordan with the king and go a short distance. Why should the king reward me in this way? 37 Let me return so that I may die in my own city near the grave of my father and my mother. But look, here is your servant Kimham. Let him cross over with my lord the king. Do for him whatever seems appropriate to you.”
38 The king replied, “Kimham will cross over with me, and I will do for him whatever I deem appropriate. And whatever you choose, I will do for you.”
39 So all the people crossed the Jordan, as did the king. After the king had kissed him and blessed him, Barzillai returned to his home. 40 When the king crossed over to Gilgal, Kimham crossed over with him. Now all the soldiers of Judah along with half of the soldiers of Israel had helped the king cross over.
41 Then all the men of Israel began coming to the king. They asked the king, “Why did our brothers, the men of Judah, sneak the king away and help the king and his household cross the Jordan—and not only him but all of David’s men as well?”
42 All the men of Judah replied to the men of Israel, “Because the king is our close relative! Why are you so upset about this? Have we eaten at the king’s expense? Or have we misappropriated anything for our own use?” 43 The men of Israel replied to the men of Judah, “We have ten shares in the king, and we have a greater claim on David than you do! Why do you want to curse us? Weren’t we the first to suggest bringing back our king?” But the comments of the men of Judah were more severe than those of the men of Israel.
David has been told of Mephibosheth’s treachery by his slave, Ziba, so he has him at a disadvantage. He shows him mercy, for the sake of Jonathan; nd also keeps his promise to Ziba. Then he wants to reward Barzillai, who shows modesty in declining a life at court, but realism in advancing the merits of his younger family member, Kimhan. All this shows good practice in the opinion of the narrator, who then inserts an incident which shows how necessary good practice is. The people of Israel (10 tribes) and the people of Judah (2 tribes) who have shared the rule of David, quarrel over matters of royal protocol. This unrest, as we see in the next chapter, provides a pretext for rebellion.
The reader begins to see the author’s purpose, which is to depict David as a flawed but faithful king whose largeness of heart encourages all his people to live peacefully with each other, under his rule. The books of Samuel are much more than a textbook of wise and creative leadership but their lessons are still relevant. The characters in the David saga are brought to life in their difficult humanity, some fostering peace and some violence, but none are patronised or reduced to the part they play in the story; the author presents them as revealing something, but only something, of themselves by their actions and words. His respect for his own creation is a reflection of what he believes is God’s attitude to his world.
There’s nothing in this author’s version of God’s rule over his people that could result in a theocracy like Calvin’s in Geneva or the Taliban’s in Afghanistan; on the contrary, it leaves room for both the goodness and the evil of people.