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Outside The Gates

Eyes Wide Open

2nd Samuel 9:1-13

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2Sa 9:1-13 NIV David and Mephibosheth

David asked, "Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan's sake?" (2) Now there was a servant of Saul's household named Ziba. They called him to appear before David, and the king said to him, "Are you Ziba?"

"Your servant," he replied. (3) The king asked, "Is there no one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God's kindness?"

Ziba answered the king, "There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet." (4) "Where is he?" the king asked.

Ziba answered, "He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar." (5) So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel. (6) When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor.

David said, "Mephibosheth!"

"Your servant," he replied. (7) "Don't be afraid," David said to him, "for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table." (8) Mephibosheth bowed down and said, "What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?" (9) Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul's servant, and said to him, "I have given your master's grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. (10) You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master's grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table." (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.) (11) Then Ziba said to the king, "Your servant will do whatever my lord the king commands his servant to do." So Mephibosheth ate at David's [1] table like one of the king's sons. (12) Mephibosheth had a young son named Mica, and all the members of Ziba's household were servants of Mephibosheth. (13) And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king's table, and he was crippled in both feet.

The time in which David lived was rather “rough and ready.” The normal procedure upon becoming a king at a change in dynasty was to slaughter all family and friends of the previous regime. Indeed, the Bible has several such instanced recorded in the various dynasties of the northern Israel. It was, in a sense, political good sense to make sure there was no one around whom the rebels could gather.

David, for a variety of reasons, does the opposite. It is an excellent political strategy; Mephibosheth could hardly be viewed as a threat, but as an object of God’s kindness it would be hard to find better. Doing good to those who have reason to hate you is not only commanded, it often makes good political sense. In this instance, it will help unify a nation recently torn by civil war between David and Saul.

Sources of Compassion

This story gives us some of the motives for which David had compassion; we may note these:

  • Friendship. This compassion is rooted in David’s close friendship with Jonathan, Mephibosheth’s father. They were extremely close friends; in this way David can deal kindly with Jonathan, even after death.
  • Covenant. David and Jonathan made a covenant with each other.[1] Perhaps David felt he was fulfilling that covenant.
  • Hospitality. As king, David would naturally have fed many people at his table. It is the mark of a good king that he is hospitable, for hospitality was viewed as a sign of a righteous man.
  • Humility. Most kings would have felt that they had a right to the throne; David knew that God had selected him out of the shepherds to lead Israel. A pompous king might ignore the problem; a humble king is gracious and kind – and solves the problem.
  • Kindness. David asks to whom he can show “the kindness of God.” It is the measure of David’s kindness, but also a reflection of the God he serves.
  • Grace of God. David’s rise from sheepfold to king was due to the grace of God, and David did not forget that. If you need a reason for compassion, there is none better than the grace of God – if he gave so much to you, what then is your gift to others?

Training Your Emotions

Compassion, Noah Webster informs us, means “suffering with others.” He tells us that this is a “mixed passion;” it is comprised of love and sorrow. Love has its emotional aspect; sorrow is very much comprised of emotion. So this is rather an emotional thing.

But we must remember that the emotions of the Christian are to be trained to the will of Christ. If you belong to Christ heart, soul, mind and strength, your emotions are included. The Christian, therefore, must train his emotions to the will of Christ. That includes compassion.

Methods

So how does one properly train the emotion of compassion?

  • First, you must practice compassion at every opportunity. Some days you don’t feel very compassionate. No matter; control the emotion. Practice compassion at every opportunity, even when you “don’t feel like it.” We often think that controlling our emotions means stifling them; it is just as true that controlling the emotions means stimulating them.
  • Next, pray. Start by praying for open eyes, so that your compassion might know its opportunities. Then pray for the compassion and courage to act.
  • Join with others of like mind. Often enough you do not have the resources acting alone to be compassionate; therefore God provides the church.
Hindrances

It also helps to know what stands in the way – and needs to be cleared out.

  • “Our own intense selfishness.”[2] It creeps up on us, doesn’t it. Examine yourself; that which you have, you have as steward for God. He expects you to provide for yourself from this, but he also expects you to use what he has given for his purposes.
  • Sometimes, it is just custom and habit. We go where we go; if the unfortunate aren’t there, too bad. Perhaps our going isn’t going far enough.
  • Our ignorance of need (with no desire to find out). Out of sight, out of mind. Sometimes this is just a case of opening your eyes – and heart.
  • The fear of deception. God does expect you to behave prudently, winnowing out the chaff. But having taken all reasonable precaution against fraud, our compassion should still flow.

Compassion is…

Personal

Compassion changes you – as a human being. The best way to discover this is by experience. Permit me an example. Over the years my wife and I had reason to visit a prisoner several times. You cannot do that and remain unmoved. Prison is a nasty place (and he was guilty, and deserved it). A visit by someone who cares is highly valued, and highly emotional. If your church has a prison ministry, try it.

More than that, compassion touches the other person. Many in prison have not seen the love of God in person; a hospital visit can be a similar blessing. Hospital beds are nothing but medical prisons. When you have compassion on such people, there is a bond that grows between you – and changes both of you.

I am told that the Egyptian hieroglyph for charity consists of a naked child offering a bowl of honey to a bee which has lost its wings. See what this picture is:

  • It is given by a child – hence it is given in humility.
  • It is given by a naked child – thus it is given in innocence.
  • The child feeds a bee – an insect which is the model of hard work.
  • The child feeds a bee that cannot provide for itself.

It’s a picture for us – to be compassionate in humility and innocence, caring for those who are not professional beggars but those who simply can’t provide for themselves. Such provision may be material; it may be forgiveness; it may be simply a voice of cheer in a dreary world.

Practical

James puts it best:

Jas 2:15-16 NIV Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. (16) If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

Warm feelings don’t go well with cold charity.

You should note also that you may not be able to “solve the problem.” Compassion does not require a solution to the problem; it implies helping as you are able. Do what you can and pray God for the rest.

Unconditional

David had his mind made up; Mephibosheth was going to be cared for. Compassion has no strings attached. In the story of the Prodigal Son, we find the motive of the father who ran to his child:\

Luk 15:20 NIV So he got up and went to his father.

"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Before the boy has a chance to recite his confession, the father has compassion. Do not let your compassion become conditional; rather, imitate God in that he has compassion upon us before we repent.

I cannot forbear this little story. In researching this lesson, I came across a sermon by C. H. Spurgeon.[i] He was preaching on the topic of “Christian Sympathy,” which might well have been labeled “compassion.” A particular part of his appeal that Sunday in 1862 was for contributions for relief of the workers of Lancashire. The normal supply of cotton which supplied the mills had been cut off; thousands were thrown out of work into cruel poverty.

It would have been a simple matter for the British government to solve this problem. Britannia ruled the waves then; the Royal Navy could have easily broken the blockade imposed by the Union on the Confederacy. The aristocracy favored such actions.

But public opinion would not permit it. It had been only twenty years since the abolition of slavery in the British Empire; that was a treasured victory. So strong was the sentiment that the Workingmen’s Association sent a petition to President Lincoln (!) beseeching him not to waver on abolition, even though they themselves were suffering because of it.

These men, their wives and children were starving out of their compassion for the slaves in America. The church today has none like them.


[1] 1st Samuel 18:3

[2] I am indebted to C. H. Spurgeon for the phrase (among other things).


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