The practice of kingly succession typically involved extreme bloodshed. When a king died or was overthrown, the one who rose to power wanted to cement his authority and prevent any possible contenders for the throne. As such, the new king would execute all members of the family of the prior king. He would kill the sons and anyone else he deemed problematic to his continued ability to rule uncontested.
Because this is the way things had always been done, this general thinking prevailed, even to the point that someone would try to curry favor with the new king by showing supposed allegiance.
Events like this happened at least a couple times upon the death of Saul with David taking his anointed place as king. The first occurred immediately following Saul’s death. He had actually killed himself to prevent his enemies the satisfaction. However, an Amalekite who witnessed Saul’s demise took it upon himself to brag to David that he had killed Saul so that he wouldn’t be taken by this man’s fellow Amalekites.
That didn’t go well with David. We know his attitude toward the Lord’s anointed such as Saul. David had taken the position that he would do nothing to raise his hand against Saul while he lived; that it was all up to God as to when David should come to power. This young Amalekite crossed that line by lying that he was responsible for Saul’s death, as merciful as it might have been. For that transgression, David had him killed (2 Samuel 1:15).
It didn’t stop there. Saul had another son besides Jonathan by the name of Ish-bosheth. He was a weak man, but Abner, Saul’s commander at the time, loyally raised this son to king in Saul’s place. A couple of men who looked at this situation attempted to right it in their own eyes. Apparently they knew of David’s place as rightful king after Saul, so they took it upon themselves to kill Ish-bosheth.
This was another drastic misreading of David and his Godly approach to the throne and those from Saul’s family. If he wouldn’t touch Saul or those related to him, he certainly would have nothing to do with another who took such action. David viewed Ish-bosheth as an innocent man, and the taking of his blood was wrong. He likewise had these men killed (2 Samuel 4:12).
The effect of David’s actions in this regard was extremely positive to those in the kingdom who had continued to support Saul. They saw that David was righteous and had nothing to do with this murder, and it actually cemented the kingdom for him with the people’s loyalty.
Once David had secured many victories, he thought again of Saul and asked if there was anyone else related to him that he could bless. He learned of his grandson, Mephibosheth, who had been crippled earlier when his nurse had tried to flee with him to prevent his death upon kingly succession when she heard of Saul’s death (2 Samuel 4:4).
David had no obligation to this young man. Mephibosheth with his crippling injury had little to look forward to in life; neither was he a threat to David in any way because of his condition. His father the king was dead, and any power or authority he might have had through that relationship was gone.
Can you imagine what went through Mephiboseth’s mind when he learned that David wished to see him? Knowing how a dead king’s family was treated in those days, he likely feared for his life, despite hearing how David had acted in the other circumstances.
But David was different. He was a man after God’s own heart. The Lord is a merciful and loving God who is righteous in all His ways. David exhibited this trait toward Mephibosheth. In 2 Samuel 9:1 we learn:
And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”
David wanted to show this broken man kindness when he likely expected nothing but violence toward him. Upon bringing Mephibosheth into his presence, David blessed him, as we see in 2 Samuel 9:13:
So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet.
This was an act of unmerited grace. David had no obligation to do anything for him, and Mephibosheth could certainly do nothing whatsoever for the man who was now king in place of his grandfather.
This is a picture of our helpless condition before God. In our sins, we are broken and deserve nothing but death. We can’t do anything about our situation, and we bring nothing to God that He wants or needs. Yet, in his mercy He extends to us unmerited grace.
He sent His One and only, His unique Son, to die for us that we might be redeemed from the grave, even as David gave Mephibosheth this miraculous reprieve.
How grateful Mephibosheth must have been! How grateful we should be!
The beauty of the Bible is that God shows us His character through accounts such as this event with David and Mephibosheth. God is good. We can count on Him.
How blessed we are to know the Lord!