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David, part 12

David Cherishes Jonathan's Son.

2 Samuel 9

David, having subdued his enemies, began to make inquiry after his friends. True to the generous sentiment which he had constantly manifested towards him who had been, almost from first to last, his deadly enemy, "David said, Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?" That this inquiry should not have been made until fifteen years after the death of Saul is assumed to have been because not till then could David feel sure that his kingdom was securely established. It seems singular, however, that David should have been ignorant of the very existence of one in whom, had he known of him, he must have felt the liveliest interest, and to whom he had bound himself by a solemn covenant to show kindness. One reason of this may have been, that the descendant of Saul, whom he now discovered, lived in retirement, perhaps in seclusion, lest, as some suppose, he might be treated as a possible rival to the throne. Yet there is some difficulty even here; for David's noble conduct on the death both of Saul and of Ish-bosheth, with the tolerance, at least, which he had hitherto manifested towards Saul's sons, might have inspired confidence in his clemency if not in his friendship. There are, however, deeper reasons than any that the circumstances themselves suggest for no one of the house of Saul having been discovered till this time. The sequence of events in sacred history represents the sequence of states in the regenerate life. And evil is to be subdued before good can be attained or brought into manifest existence.

Ziba, a servant of Saul, being brought into David's presence and interrogated respecting Saul's family, answered, "Jonathan has yet a son, which is lame on his feet." When fetched from the house of Machir, in Lo-debar, which was in Gilead, on the other side Jordan, where he had been long and no doubt lovingly cherished, Mephibosheth fell on his face before David, and he did reverence. And David said to him, "Fear not: for I will surely show you kindness for Jonathan your father's sake, and will restore you all the land of Saul your father; and you shall eat bread at my table continually."

This son of Jonathan we have had occasion to speak of once before. In the fourth chapter we read that he was five years old when the tidings came of Saul and Jonathan out of Jezreel, and his nurse took him up and fled; and it came to pass as she made haste to flee, that he fell, and he became lame.

The origin of Mephibosheth's lameness, which had some influence on his fortunes, and has something to do with his representative character, has an interest for us, which invites us to consider it.

In the Scriptures a nurse, as one who nourishes and suckles an infant, properly signifies one who nourishes innocence with the milk of the Word, which is the good of truth. Of this spiritual nourishment, which unites the qualities and virtues of goodness and truth, milk is a beautiful emblem; for it is at once food and drink, and contains all the elements required for the support and growth of the body, in all its constituent parts. Its provision is a striking instance of the wise beneficence of that Being who created and sustains us; as His Holy Word is of His love in so mercifully providing for the nourishment and growth of our souls. It is not, therefore, by a figure of speech, but by an exact and beautiful analogy, that the nourishers of the Church are called her nursing fathers and nursing mothers, and that the Church herself is spoken of as the nursing mother of her children. "Rejoice you with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all you that mourn for her: that you may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that you may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory" (Isa 66:10, 11).

But a nurse has another function besides that of suckling the children. She takes care of them after they are weaned. And, although children were suckled to a comparatively advanced age in olden times, yet such we may suppose was the office which the nurse held when she fled with her young charge after the fatal battle of Jezreel; as it was that of Rebekah's nurse, when she accompanied her young mistress, on leaving her father's house to become the wife of Isaac; and of whom we have the honourable memorial, that when she died, they buried her under an oak, which was called the oak of weeping (Gen 35:8). But even while a nurse is suckling a child she contributes to the nourishment and growth of his mind as well as of his body. This is mental nursing, and is represented by physical nursing, which it accompanies.

In mental growth there are two different elements that are nourished and, for a time, grow up together. All infants are born in a state of innocence; and the proper function of those who nurse the mind is to nourish and support that infantile innocence. But while all infants are born in a state of innocence, they are also born with hereditary inclinations to evil, that is, with the natural inclination to love themselves and the world inordinately, or with what may be called ambition and covetousness. However carefully the young may be nurtured, these natural inclinations will increase and strengthen. They are the tares that grow up together with the wheat. We cannot pluck them up, nor would it be wise in us to do so if we could. To the human wisdom that would attempt it, Divine wisdom has said, "Nay; lest while you gather up the tares, you root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather you together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into My barn "(Matt 13:29, 30). Not till man comes under the regenerating influence of the Lord's Spirit can this separation be effected, and then angels, not men, are the reapers. When this change of state comes, then, where there was the natural ambition to be great and be envied by others, there is the spiritual principle, "He that would be greatest among you let him be your servant; "and where natural covetousness grew there is the heavenly plant of the Father's planting, "Covet the best gifts."

Until the human being can acquire and act from these higher and purer motives, he must act from the lower and grosser. All that can be done and ought to be attempted, is to bring the higher, as they acquire strength, to bear upon the lower, so as to moderate them by their influence. But to attempt to root out all hereditary inclinations that have regard to self and the world, which inspire them, to root out, for instance, youthful emulation, would be equally vain and mischievous. Rather should such inclinations be nursed, by being supplied with their proper food, and directed, as far as possible, in their exercise, to useful results.

In the more interior sense, in which persons represent principles, a nurse means hereditary evil itself. "Thus hereditary evil yields the young nourishment, until they are able to judge for themselves, and then, if they are regenerated, they are led by the Lord into a state of new infancy, and at length into celestial wisdom, thus into true infancy, or into innocence, for true infancy or innocence dwells in wisdom. The difference is, that the innocence of infancy is without and hereditary evil within, but the innocence of wisdom is within and hereditary evil without. Hence it is that hereditary evil performs as it were the part of a nurse, from first infancy up to the age of new infancy. Hence it is that a nurse signifies hereditary evil, and also the insinuation of innocence through the celestial spiritual principle."

Such a nurse was represented by Rebekah's nurse, and such a nurse was represented by her who fled with the young son of Jonathan, who, by falling in her panic-stricken flight, became lame in both his feet.

What, in the spirit of its meaning, is this lameness? and why should it have happened to the son of Jonathan? The feet are important members of the human body. They are so often spoken of in Scripture in a religious sense, and their analogy is so plain, that no one can mistake their general meaning. "I turned my feet to Your testimonies. I refrained my feet from every evil way. Your Word is a lamp to my feet" (Ps 119:59, 101, 105). To walk in the Lord's truth (Ps 86n); to walk in His paths (Isa 2:3); is it life according to the teaching of His Word, and thus in the path of righteousness.

Lameness is also spoken of in a religious sense. "Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way" (Heb 12:12, 13). One of the blessings promised by the Lord's coming was that the lame man should leap as an hart (Isa 35:6); and although this was literally fulfilled, yet both the prediction and the act have a spiritual meaning. Lameness is cither partial or complete; on one side or on both. Our Lord said, "If your hand or your foot offend you, cut them off, and cast them from you: it is better for you to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire" (Matt 18:8). The hand and the foot are, in this instance, offending members; and from a similar statement it would appear, that it was the right hand or foot that was to be rejected (Matt 5:30). Divine wisdom must have had a meaning in this symbolic teaching. The right and the left sides and members of the human body correspond to what may be called the two sides of the human mind and character, the moral and the intellectual. The right corresponds to the moral side, the left to the intellectual. How beautifully instructive the Lord's teaching is! Not the intellectual error but the moral evil is to be cut off and cast from us. Not that error is a matter of indifference, but all serious error has a moral ground, and when that ground is removed, root and branch, the error withers away. But the feet of Mephibosheth, which were lame, do not mean evil and error, but goodness and truth. His lameness was an accident and a misfortune, and represented the loss both of moral and intellectual power, so as to be unable to walk in the ways of truth and goodness.

After the death of the king and his three sons, Mephibosheth, as the son of Jonathan, was the natural representative of the house of Saul. But the battle of Jezreel ended Saul's temporary kingdom, and commenced the enduring kingdom of David. This is described in the Divine promise given to David respecting Solomon: "My mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be established for ever before you: your throne shall be established for ever'; (2 Sam 7:15, 16). All the power of the house of Saul was now, therefore, departed from it, and transferred to the house of David. Mephibosheth, in his state of physical lameness and impotence, represented the house of Saul in its powerless condition. But this accidental and natural analogy is itself representative; and must be viewed in other than natural light before it can disclose its true Scriptural meaning. For only in the light of God can we see the light of His Word.

Saul, we have seen, represented truth Divine. In its widest sense this includes all Divine truth as received by finite minds, in heaven and in the Church, and even as it was in the mind of the Lord Himself, in the earlier period of His life on earth, while He was making His humanity truth Divine. In a less extended sense, Saul represented truth Divine such as this in the letter of the Word, and specifically the apparent truths of the letter, Jonathan representing its real truths. Jonathan's son now represented both. The letter of the Word consists, of necessity, in a great measure of apparent truths. Everything that comes from God into nature must put on nature. The human soul cannot live and act in the natural world without a natural body. Revelation cannot come from God into the natural world but by clothing itself with a natural sense, adapted to the understandings of men. The letter of the Word is, in the truest sense, a body, in which its spirit dwells, analogous to our own body, as the dwelling-place of the soul. All that in the Word concerns love to the Lord constitutes the heart, all that relates to faith in the Lord forms the lungs, or the spirit. These are the two vital principles which pervade and animate the whole Word, and on which all its truths depend. The highest of these truths, those which relate to God, are the head; secondary truths, which relate to the neighbour, are the trunk; and the moral precepts and laws of duty are the hands and the feet. When all these parts are preserved in their order, connection, and integrity, the Church herself has a sound mind in a sound body. But this is far from being always the case. When the Lord was in the world, He declared to the leaders of the Jewish Church, that they had made the commandment of God of none effect by their tradition (Matt 15:6), and that they taught for doctrines the commandments of men (Mark 7:7). With them the moral and intellectual power of the Word was gone. They neither walked in the truth nor in the good of religion; they neither performed their duties to God nor to man; they neither practised sincerity nor integrity; they devoured widows' houses and for a pretence made long prayers (Matt 23:14). The foundations were removed, and the kingdom of God among men was threatened with dissolution. In truth, the kingdom as it had been established among the Jews, provisional and temporary as it was, like that of Saul, had come to its end, when a new foundation was to be laid, and an everlasting kingdom established, which was typified by that of David. "Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone, a sure foundation" (Isa 28:16). "I will raise to David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgement and justice in the earth" (Jer 23:5). "Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish, it with judgement and with justice from now on even for ever" (Isa 9:7).

There is a profound significance in the Lord being called a foundation and a foundation-stone. The Church on earth is the foundation of the Church in heaven, the literal sense of the Word is the foundation of its spiritual sense, the religious virtues are the foundation of the religious graces. The higher rest upon the lower, unsupported by which they are unsubstantial and evanescent. At the time of the Incarnation all these foundations had given way. The Lord came into the world to lay these foundations anew, and to lay them in such a way that they should never be moved. He laid them deep and sure in the human nature He assumed and glorified. For, in truth, all these foundations exist in man, and have no existence out of him. The Church on earth has no abstract existence. Nor does it exist in creeds and formularies. It has no actual existence but in the hearts and lives of men. This is equally true of the Word itself. As a book it is a mere dead letter. Only when its truths are received into the understanding and hearts of man, as principles and laws of life, has it any actual existence as a power on earth. The religious graces, as love to God and love to man, have no abstract existence, nor can they exist in the mind alone; they have no positive existence but in the virtues of a religious life. When these ultimates are wanting, or exist only in a perverted form, the Church and religion, and even the Word itself, as received in the human mind, is as a house built upon the sand, or as a man without the power to walk. This is the condition of truth Divine as represented by the son of Jonathan, who was lame in both his feet.

But David took this child of misfortune under his care and protection, as David's Lord took our infirmities and carried our sorrows; so that He, as the Word made flesh, became the Word as flesh had made it, perverted and enfeebled. For what do we understand by the Word being made flesh? That He clothed Himself with a fleshly body? He assumed human nature, not merely a human body. And man's nature is human from his having the capacity of knowing and doing the will of God. Yet even this does not, strictly speaking, constitute humanity, but is only the capacity of becoming human. Humanity consists in knowing and doing the will of God. It is this that makes man human. The Lord took upon Him human nature, but He took it, as it had become through sin, maimed and distorted. "His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men" (Isa 52:14). That only mars and deforms humanity which mars and deforms that which constitutes humanity.

But the Lord took humanity marred and deformed, that He might restore it to more than its original beauty of visage and perfection of form. He made humanity, not only as it is in its greatest possible perfection in men and angels, a form of truth, but He made it the Truth itself in form. This is glorification, and that for which the Lord prayed when He said, "Father, glorify You Me with Yours own self with the glory which I had with You before the world was" (John 17:5). The Lord restored and glorified His humanity in two ways, one external, the other internal. Knowledges, especially the truths of His Word, entered from without, and the life of His indwelling Divinity entered from within; as Mephibosheth had restored to him all the land of Saul, and was fed continually at the king's table. Our Lord pointed out this distinction regarding Himself. His disciples were gone away into the city to buy food, and on their return, when they pressed Him to eat, He told them that He had meat to eat that they knew not of (John 4:32).

Mephibosheth, who represented the Lord's frail humanity, as truth Divine, was not indeed restored to soundness; for the account of his better fortunes closes with the words, "So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem: for he did eat continually at the king's table; and was lame on both his feet." But although not restored himself, he was restored in his Son; for he "had a young son whose name was Micha." And so far as we can rely on the meaning of names, those, in this instance, of parent and child have a happy significance; for the father's name means "Exterminating the idol," and the son's, "Who is like the Lord?"

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