the lame will not get into the palace

Have you ever read a story in the Bible for the 10th time and all of a sudden you see something you hadn’t seen before? That happened to me last week as I was working my way through 2 Samuel.

Mephibosheth is a man with a disability. He’s the son of Jonathan, grandson of King Saul. In Old Testament terms, he was ‘lame’. As the story goes, when his caregiver learned of the deaths of King Saul and Jonathan, she left in a hurry with Mephibosheth, tripped and dropped him. Likely his legs or feet were broken and then he didn’t get proper medical attention. You can read about it in 2 Samuel 4, but the story goes like this: Jonathan had a son, he became disabled, his name was Mephibosheth.

If like me you knew the story, you know that later (in 2 Samuel 9) David, now King, wished to honour someone in King Saul’s family. He found Ziba, who had been a servant in King Saul’s household, and Ziba told him, “Jonathan has a son who is disabled.” Ziba didn’t even say Mephibosheth’s name.

Mephibosheth came to King David in humility and acknowledged his undeserving position, referring to himself as a ‘dead dog’. He considered himself less than worthless. David said, “Don’t be afraid, I will certainly show you kindness for your father Jonathan’s sake. I will give back to you all the land of your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.” (verse 7, GWT).

This was the part of the story I knew all along. As it is, it’s pretty powerful — both for those involved and for the imagery — someone forgotten becoming known, a place at the King’s table for someone with a disability. This stuff could preach quite nicely in our world of faith and disability.

Now for the part of the story I hadn’t notice before. It occurs between these two accounts, part two of a three part story. In between the first two times we read about Mephibosheth and his disability, there’s another story in 2 Samuel 5 — the account of King David’s capture of Jerusalem.

2 Samuel 5:6–10 (GWT):

The king and his men went to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived in that region. The Jebusites told David, “You will never get in here. Even the blind and the lame could turn you away” (meaning that David could never get in there). But David captured the fortress Zion (that is, the City of David). That day David said, “Whoever wants to defeat the Jebusites must reach the lame and the blind who hate me by using the water shaft.” So there is a saying, “The blind and the lame will not get into the palace.” David lived in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built the city ⌊of Jerusalem⌋ around it from the Millo to the palace. David continued to grow more powerful because the Lord God of Armies was with him.

Wait. What? In case you didn’t get it, here it is again in chronological order:

  • First, Mephibosheth becomes disabled as a boy (2 Sam. 4)
  • Second, there is a saying in Israel, “The blind and the lame will not get into the palace” (2 Sam. 5)
  • Third, Mephibosheth was welcomed into the palace and to the King’s table (2 Sam 9)

It is more than interesting to me that the authors of 2 Samuel deliberately included these three stories, highlighting Mephibosheth’s disability more than Mephibosheth himself. Not only did ‘the lame’ get into the palace, but he had a name — and “Mephibosheth ate at David’s table as one of the king’s sons” (verse 11, GWT).

King David may have intended on honouring someone in King Saul’s family, but he also became an example for others in Israel. He challenged the common view of the day towards people with disabilities by inviting Mephibosheth into the palace, into his home, and to his table.

Mephibosheth’s story doesn’t end there. Specifically he is mentioned three other times in 2 Samuel (chapters 16, 19 and 21), and each time has broad context. I reference this here only to acknowledge that my account isn’t exhaustive and one could mine more deeply his story. For example, it’s later in these later stories that Mephibosheth seems to recognized first by his name and second by his disability.

For now, I’m struck by King David’s example, intentional or otherwise. I recognize that today we are careful to talk about the gifts and talents that all people bring, but that doesn’t seem to be the emphasis in these stories. Here Mephibosheth seems to be an example of welcome and inclusion. These are first steps towards finding belonging. It was a deliberate part on King David to make this happen, in his own home and in his community.

King David’s example for you and me is personal. Am I deliberate in my own life to welcome someone with a disability to my table? Am I careful to recognize that person by name, who he or she is, rather than the label of disability?

Helping to create a community of belonging starts with me.

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