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Who is Mephibosheth in the Bible? Story and Meaning

Mephibosheth had every reason to believe that the king of Israel would kill him... but something happened he could never predict.

Contributing Writer
Updated Apr 19, 2024
Who is Mephibosheth in the Bible? Story and Meaning

Born into riches, position, and power, Mephibosheth stood to inherit a kingdom. Instead, he lived impoverished, disabled, and dependent on others. How had his life been altered so significantly?

Mephibosheth is a figure from the Old Testament in the Bible, appearing primarily in the Second Book of Samuel. He was the son of Jonathan, the son of King Saul, and the grandson of Saul himself. Mephibosheth's story is intertwined with King David's, highlighting themes of loyalty, kindness, and the complexities of political and familial obligations.

Who was Mephibosheth in the Bible?

Here's a brief overview of Mephibosheth's story:

Background and Injury: Mephibosheth was only five years old when his father, Jonathan, and grandfather, Saul, died in battle. During the chaos following the defeat, Mephibosheth’s nurse fled with him, but in her haste, he fell and became lame for both feet.

David’s Kindness: Years later, after David became king of Israel, he sought out any surviving relatives of Saul to show kindness to them for Jonathan's sake, as he had sworn friendship with Jonathan. When David learned of Mephibosheth, he summoned him to his court.

Restoration of Land: David restored to Mephibosheth all the lands that had belonged to Saul and took Mephibosheth into his own household, treating him kindly. Mephibosheth was given a place at the king's table, essentially treating him as one of his own sons.

During Absalom's Rebellion: During the rebellion of David’s son Absalom, Mephibosheth was accused by his servant Ziba of betraying David. Ziba told David that Mephibosheth was hoping for the restoration of Saul’s kingdom, which made David grant all of Mephibosheth's land to Ziba.

After the Rebellion: When David returned to Jerusalem after quashing Absalom's revolt, Mephibosheth met him, having not cared for his personal appearance during David's absence, which was a sign of mourning and loyalty. He explained that his servant Ziba had deceived him and David. Acknowledging the misunderstanding, David reversed his earlier decision, dividing the land between Ziba and Mephibosheth.

Who Was Mephibosheth’s Grandfather?

Mephibosheth’s future shifted long before his birth.

His grandfather was Saul, the first king of Israel. His father was Jonathon, the heir to Saul’s throne, making Mephibosheth the likely eventual heir. But God rejected him because of Saul’s unfaithfulness and pride (1 Samuel 15:26).

Soon after God renounced Saul’s leadership, Saul grew suspicious of others. He distrusted even those in his inner circle… including his armor bearer, a shepherd boy and giant slayer named David. Even though Saul had a deep affection for David (Samuel 18:1), jealousy plagued him. One of his attempts to get David killed—setting an extreme bridal price before David married Saul’s daughter, Michal—backfired, and David became even more renowned.

Saul’s fall from humility led him on the path toward destruction. Spiraling out of control, he refused to repent. He pursued David and his supporters for years. Once a man who prophesied as the Holy Spirit “rushed upon him” (1 Samuel 10:10 NASB), Saul lived under the weight of an “evil spirit that terrified him” (1 Samuel 16:14 NASB).

Wounded in his final battle against the Philistines, Saul died of suicide (1 Samuel 31:4-6).

Who Was Mephibosheth’s Father?

Jonathan inherited his father’s vitality and skill on the battlefield but none of his animosity or bitterness. 1 Samuel 18:1 tells us, “the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (KJV). The Hebrew word qashar, translated here as “was knit,” is also used in Genesis 44:30 as “bound up.” The Genesis verse references Jacob’s love and affection for his son, Benjamin: “his life is bound up in the lad’s life.”

Like Jacob’s love for Benjamin, Jonathan’s love for David extended beyond self. Beyond a throne. Beyond momentary circumstances.

Instead, the prince conveyed his devotion to David by removing his royal garments and weapons and presenting them to his friend—a great presentation considering David would step into the position of power Jonathan had been raised to expect.

Throughout their friendship, Jonathan continued to protect and intercede on David’s behalf, sometimes risking his own life (1 Samuel 20:18-34).

In his final act of love and friendship, Jonathan uncovers his father’s murderous plot against David and warns his friend to flee. Sealing a final covenant, “Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, since we have both sworn in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘May the Lord be between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants, forever.’” (1 Samuel 20:42 NKJV).

Jonathon could not have known that his father’s sins would also cost him. When Mephibosheth was five years old, Jonathon died in the same battle where Saul died (1 Samuel 31:2). After news of their deaths came, Mephibosheth’s nurse panicked. She fled with him but dropped him as she ran. From five years old onward, Mephibosheth couldn’t walk.

What Happened When David Found Out about Mephibosheth?

The years passed. After several years of fighting Mephibosheth’s uncle Ish-bosheth, David became the unchallenged king of Israel. He set up his throne in Jerusalem.

Perhaps while wandering the palace grounds, David remembered how often he and Jonathan strolled the garden pathways. And he longed for his friend.

Memories stirred, and the promise from years past thrust David into action. “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul, so that I could show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1 NASB)

Inquiries told him that Mephibosheth was still alive. David immediately summoned him.

Doubt and fear no doubt clouded Mephibosheth’s mind as he neared the king’s estate. Too often, rival kings disposed of their enemies. His nurse had fled with him, fearing someone would come to kill them. That escape cost him the use of his legs. Would he lose his life this time?

Trembling, Mephibosheth entered a massive foyer and gazed at the rich carvings. The statues. The tapestries. Vague images of early childhood wavered on the brink of recognition as a man beckoned to him.

His voice gentle, King David said, “Do not be afraid... I will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul; and you yourself shall eat at my table regularly” (2 Samuel 9:7 NASB).

From that day, Mephibosheth dined with the king like one of David’s sons.

What Happened to Mephibosheth When David Fled Jerusalem?

About 14 years later, David’s son Absalom threatened the throne. The king fled while Mephibosheth remained behind.

Saul’s servant, Ziba, took advantage of Mephibosheth’s disability and manipulated circumstances. Visiting David, he claimed that Mephibosheth remained behind to get power with David gone. Casting a shadow on Mephibosheth’s loyalty, Ziba secured the orphan’s property for himself (2 Samuel 16).

When David returned to Jerusalem, he met with Mephibosheth. The text mentions that Mephibosheth had neglected his appearance while David was away (2 Samuel 19:24). This may indicate he struggled with depression while David was away, neglecting to take care of himself. Perhaps it means that Mephibosheth was lamenting losing David, like the Old Testament kings who tore garments and wore sackcloth, letting themselves look terrible to show their grief.

Either way, Mephibosheth clarified that he remained behind because he worried he would keep David back. David said he would return half the property he had given to Ziba. Mephibosheth replied, “Let him take everything, now that my lord the king has returned home safely” (2 Samuel 19:30).

He desired nothing more.

What Can We Learn from Mephibosheth Today?

While we may not relate to Mephibosheth’s experiences, his story teaches us several beautiful lessons about God’s love and the value He places on us.

1. God redeems our stories. After his father’s death, Mephibosheth lost everything. Jonathan’s beloved boy grew up unknown—and unable to walk, in a culture that gave no value to people with disabilities. But God chose to show an orphan his lovingkindness (his chesed) through David (2 Samuel 9:1).

In the same way, our heavenly Father extends unmerited grace to us by calling us to Himself. Jesus invites us with the beautiful words, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NASB).

Though we stumble and fall, He longs to draw us close. If you remain far from Him today—even in your own Lo-Debar—can I encourage you to accept the King’s invitation? He waits with anticipation to redeem your story and mine.

2. There is room at the table. Mephibosheth expected reparations when he arrived at the palace. Instead, he received a place at the table. Overlooking Saul’s cruel misdeeds, David treated Mephibosheth like one of his children. He invited the one cast out to feast at the banquet for the rest of his life.

God is in the business of accepting outcasts. He forgives our sins when we accept Christ as Lord. And as He does to Jesus, the Father calls us His children (John 1:12).

3. Lineage is less important than personal loyalty. Some of us grew up with family members like David and Jonathon, who provided godly role models. Others grew up with family members like Saul, who proved less than devoted to God. Acceptance as God’s child does not depend on the actions of family members.

Like Mephibosheth’s devotion to David, our decision to follow Jesus is personal.

Though orphaned, Mephibosheth inherited a great treasure—adoption by a king and his wealth reinstated. As members of God’s family and followers of Christ, we obtain the riches of the eternal kingdom and adoption by the King. No one needs to remain a Mephibosheth any longer.

Read more: Who Is Mephibosheth and What Does His Life Teach Us about Unexpected Blessings?

Photo Credit: Getty Images/batuhan toker

Tammy KenningtonTammy Kennington is a writer and speaker familiar with the impact of trauma, chronic illness, and parenting in the hard places. Her heart is to lead women from hardship to hope. You can meet with Tammy at her blog www.tammykennington.com where she’ll send you her e-book, Moving from Pain to Peace-A Journey Toward Hope When the Past Holds You Captive.

This article is part of our People of Christianity catalog that features the stories, meaning, and significance of well-known people from the Bible and history. Here are some of the most popular articles for knowing important figures in Christianity:

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