by Jodi Hiser
The early morning sun shone through Mephibosheth’s open window, glowing a bright orange annoyance upon his eyelids. Rising for the day was a tedious task. With his hands extended out to his sides, he pushed his torso up to a sitting position. As he sat, he gathered his linen blanket and folded it neatly, placing it to the side of his pallet. He reached over to collect his foot coverings, something that his father-in-law had made for him many years before. They were made of leather, and looked like stocking-shoes in which to cover the deformities that were supposed to be his feet. Long ago, his ankles, feet, and toes had ceased looking like anything normal. He reached over his legs and slipped them on. Groaning and wincing at the pain of touch, his brows furrowed in dismay. Usually the clubs he had for feet radiated in pain towards the end of the day, when he had been moving and dragging himself for hours. But to start the morning with pain—well, that was not a good sign for the day ahead.
With his deformities now covered, Mephibosheth used the strength of his arms to lift his body and the dead weight of his feet onto a movable wooden board that matched the height of his pallet. Just six inches above the ground, this board rolled around by wooden wheels that were constructed to fit at each corner. Once situated on the center of his board, he reached his arms over both sides and pushed against the cold stone floor. He scooted his way out of the quiet bedroom and across the lower level of the house, moving into the common area to gather his basket of work. Even though Mephibosheth’s deformed feet had made his legs completely useless, His father-in-law, Machir, had generously employed Mephibosheth in his artisan leather business. Machir had taught him to sew together the pieces of leather that his workshop had produced.
Mephibosheth took in a deep breath and sighed. It was woman’s work, but he mustn’t complain. The hours and hours of sewing earned his keep, helping him contribute something to the man who had so generously given him a home and a life since his childhood.
As he sat sewing during this first hour of the day, he heard the goats bleating and the chickens scratching in the dusty courtyard from across the common area. His village in Lo-debar was known for its arid climate and scorched ground. Nothing seemed to grow well in its parched land, and the courtyard animals that Machir kept depended on the servants’ diligence in feeding them scraps from the morning’s food preparations. Mephibosheth listened to the small bells of the goats jingling as they sauntered in and out of their stalls. He knew that once the animals had been fed, the servants would bring him his morning meal.
Above him, a light pounding of feet pattered from the second-floor living quarters. Mephibosheth looked up. He could hear that his son Mica was awake for the day. He wondered if his wife would bring the boy downstairs to see him. He picked up his first piece of leather and thumbed through his tools, choosing an ivory-and-bone needle.
He heard a child’s voice calling from behind him.
Mephibosheth looked up and saw his wife Tirzah coming down the steps with their son cradled on her hip. Tirzah’s black curls cascaded around her face, framing her dark eyes with softness. The eastern sunlight from the windows illuminated her silky skin against her saffron-colored tunic. She looked up at Mephibosheth with a pleasant but pitying smile. “I see you are busy at work today,” she said softly. “Your morning meal should be coming soon.”
She bent down and opened her arms to let their son play with homemade blocks in the corner of the common area. While Mica was occupied, Tirzah collected the water pitcher and an earthenware cup from a shelf, pouring a drink for her husband. “Here you are,” she said kindly. “It is hotter than usual this morning, isn’t it?”
Dearest Tirzah, thought Mephibosheth. She had always been kind to him. But her kindness could only stretch so far. He knew she didn’t look at him the way a wife usually looked at a husband; she looked at him as a brother. How could she respond differently? He had been pitied for twenty years by her family and by her father Machir, who took him in as an orphaned child, deformed and alone.
Mephibosheth’s marriage to Tirzah was nothing more than a convenience. When he came of age, he was unable to move away and start his own household. Not a single father had approached Machir with marriage interest for their daughter with Mephibosheth. As a dependent invalid, he would rely greatly on the generosity of Machir for all his days.
As Machir aged, he needed someone to care for him as well. What better way to care for both men than to have Tirzah, Machir’s youngest daughter, manage the household and see to their needs? “Besides,” Machir had once said, “We’ve got to keep the royal line going, even if the world doesn’t even know about it!”
But the marriage was not a convenience for Mephibosheth. For him, it was a gut-wrenching, heart-crushing event that happened daily; an event that put him face to face with his passionate love for a woman that didn’t love him back—who couldn’t love him back.
She had done what was expected of her. She had given what was required of a wife to give, but she could not give her heart and soul. Although she would never say it, she was repulsed by his deformities. And he couldn’t blame her. He was half a man without the strength of his legs. He couldn’t stand tall, pull her to himself, and dance across the stone floor. He couldn’t bounce his son and play games of horse-and-rider. He couldn’t work on the land in which they lived, being the one to bring in the food from the crops. He was simply a heap of existence, sitting upon his movable board, sewing leather pieces for his father-in-law, trying to earn his keep.
But in his whole life, he had done one good thing: he had fathered a son. And, as he watched Tirzah fondly caress their son and hold him close to her heart, Mephibosheth felt a comfort that in some way, he himself received vicariously the love that she gave to Mica.
“Don’t you agree, Mephibosheth?” Tirzah said. Her voice was as smooth as buttercream.
“Hmm? Oh, yes, Tirzah, it is, it is.” He took the cup she handed to him and thanked her before he drank.
“I plan to take Mica to the market today,” she said, taking the cup and placing it back on its shelf. “Do you need me to purchase anything for you?”
A squeeze tightened inside his chest, making it hard to breathe. An old longing arose up inside of him that never seemed to be quenched. Oh, how he had yearned to be the one to provide for all the things she needed; to be the one she could depend on, instead of being the feeble weakling that needed provision.
“I have all I need, thank you,” he said. He picked up his sewing and continued.
“Daddy, can we play kings and soldiers when I get back?” asked Mica, wandering over to a basket where small wood carvings of toy soldiers were kept.
“Of course, Son. How about during the afternoon meal hour?” Mephibosheth answered.
“This time I will beat all your soldiers before you take my king!” he said, knocking down his tower of blocks with an imaginary sword.
Mephibosheth smiled at his son. A vivid memory of his own youthful years flashed across Mephibosheth’s mind. He remembered playing with a wooden sword in the presence of the king and queen, with noble courtiers surrounding them. He remembered the deep laugh of his grandfather Saul. He remembered being told that one day, he would be a king even taller than his grandfather.
He looked at the nubs that had become the ends of his legs and laughed to himself at the absurdity. His kingly blood had seeped out of him the day his father and grandfather died in battle; every lasting drop of royalty had hemorrhaged out of him on that dreadful day of his accident.
As Tirzah collected her coin pouch and head covering for the market, a faint rattling noise rumbled in the distance.
Mica looked up with round eyes. “Mother, are we taking a chariot to the market?” he asked, rushing to the window to see carts with horses coming near.
Mephibosheth scooted himself to the doorway and looked out. Two carts were traveling towards them with galloping horses whose hooves thundered across the packed, dry ground.
Mephibosheth squinted in the morning sun to get a closer look. His heart skipped a beat and he felt a stabbing pain of fear inside his chest. The carts bore the emblem of King David.
With a gasp, he looked at his wife. “It is King David’s men, I am sure of it.” He scooted himself out of the doorway and looked up at Tirzah.
“They must have found me—after all these years,” he cried. “Quick! You must hide yourself and our son!”
Tirzah looked down at Mephibosheth with frightened eyes.
Machir came out of the adjoining workshop and bellowed, “What is making all the racket out here?!?”
Within a split second, Machir also knew the truth. King David’s men were headed their way.
“Quick Tirzah!” boomed Machir in his deep baritone voice. “You must hide Mica! Up on the roof! Go now!”
Tirzah scooped up Mica from the corner of the common area and tucked up her long tunic in her belt and ran up the stairs. Mica began to cry; she placed her hand over his mouth while she kept running. “Quiet my son! You must be quiet! It is for your very life!” she cried.
Mephibosheth saw his wife and son scuttle upstairs. She would scale one flight of steps, go past the second floor, and up another staircase onto the rooftop to hide in a storage room between the roof tiles. They had practiced this before. They had a feeling it would come to this one day.
With his heart pounding, Mephibosheth sat upon his pallet by the doorway like a hunted bird with nowhere to fly. He knew this was the end. He had been found out. And now they were coming to finish the job they had begun twenty years ago.
The horses pulled their carts to the front of Machir’s home and stopped abruptly. Dust from the road and valley swirled around them like a cyclone cloud. A soldier nearly twice the size of Machir both in height and breadth stepped out of the first cart with his right hand holding a spear and his left hand resting on the pommel of a sword. He marched toward the front door where the two men waited in mute silence. The soldier looked downwards at Mephibosheth and curled his lip.
“Are you Mephibosheth, grandson of Saul, and son of Jonathan?” he asked, resting the bottom of his spear upon the ground.
Mephibosheth gulped. “I am,” he said with a quavering voice, ashamed he couldn’t even be man enough to go to his death with some dignity.
“What’s this all about,” said Machir. “I’ll have you know that this young man—“
“Silence!” bellowed the soldier. “I do not come to talk. I come to collect. Mephibosheth, you are hereby ordered by the king to come with me.”
Machir raised an arm in protest, but the soldier picked up his spear and pointed it right at the elderly man. Machir stepped back into the room shaking his head.
Mephibosheth looked at the soldier. “I am ready,” he whispered.
The soldier reached down, scooped up Mephibosheth as if he weighed no more than a child, and carried him to the cart. Before he knew it, Mephibosheth was seated inside the cart, watching the dust swirl behind them as they sped across the arid plains of Lo-debar.
The bumpy roads jostled Mephibosheth backwards and forwards, rattling him from his teeth to his deformed toes. The sounds of the cart wheels over the hard-packed earth jarred his memory straight back to that traumatic night. He tried to think of something else; he willed himself to think of the words he might offer to the king in a feeble plea. But he could not think. The noise and the rattles of the cart were simply too much.
In a completely different life, twenty years ago, he had been awakened from his palatial bed in the middle of the night in the house of King Saul. His nurse had stolen into his room and whispered at his bedside.
“Your father and grandfather have been killed, my dear boy,” she had said. “Anarchy is all around us. If we do not run, you will be next! We must go! We must go now!”
He remembered the horse she had chosen for their escape. It was his personal horse, Tamir, the one who was most gentle, but also the biggest and clumsiest of horses. She buckled his harness in place, connecting him to the smallest cart she could find. They took the route of the grassy hills, as that was quieter than the rocky roads. But she had forgotten how quickly the grassy hills turned into mountainous hazards. Gibeah’s terrain was not altogether pleasant.
He remembered the noises of the wheels and the rattles of that small cart. She had yanked the reins, imploring Tamir to “go faster!” The aged equine wasn’t used to running in the fashion of chariot horses, and must have been frightened at the nurse’s yells and commands. In a confused state, the horse pitched and kicked, not knowing his purpose on that cold, dark night. In that moment, Mephibosheth had lost his grip and was flung out of the cart, hurled onto the road before them. His ankles and feet had been crushed under the massive wheel of the cart.
Nurse picked him up, cradled his bleeding feet, and whispered in his ear. ”We must get to safety, and then I will tend to your feet. I promise.” She picked him up and placed him gently back inside the cart. “We will make everything right.”
But nothing had turned out right. Neither one of them knew at the time that Mephibosheth’s feet were so badly ruined, that there was no hope of recovery. The nurse simply rushed out of the city towards a place that no one would suspect to look for them: a dusty village in the parched town of Lo-debar.
Back in the cart with King David’s soldier, Mephibosheth watched the stony ground whiz by. Would it have been better that night if he had just been executed?
The life he lived now was degrading. He couldn’t work the land or produce his own food. He couldn’t be the husband and father he wished he could be. He couldn’t enter into the temple of worship, or participate in the rituals with the other men. He couldn’t make his own food or gather his own water. He merely existed.
He closed his eyes and thought of his son and wife. He hadn’t even been able to tell them goodbye, and that he loved them, and that, even if they only pitied him and did not love him in return, he wished them nothing but safety and love and joy.
Maybe his death would free Tirzah to marry a man who could truly provide for her and their son. They would be free from him and the burdens he created.
He wished he could have thanked Machir for stepping in when his nurse didn’t know where else to go. He wished he could have shown his gratefulness for taking in a five year-old invalid, with no family and no financial assistance; for treating him like a person, even if the outside world looked at him as less than human; for gifting him with Tirzah, even though he didn’t deserve her, knowing that without such a gift, his precious Mica would never have entered this world.
All the would-haves and could-haves of his life seemed to weigh upon him as if his old horse Tamir was sitting on his shoulders.
The armed men continued to look straight ahead, not talking to him, not even acknowledging his presence. But he was used to that. To the world, he was simply invisible.
After several hours of driving, Mephibosheth finally saw the palace of David come into view. It loomed at the top of the hills of Jerusalem with beautiful columns, decorated with angles and curves carved into the palace walls.
The carts came up to the palace entrance and stopped. Immediately, groomsmen and servants came from all directions unharnessing the horses, taking them towards the stables, retrieving the spears from the soldiers, and carrying their satchels and helmets.
Four servants ran forward with a litter in their arms, stopping in front of Mephibosheth and bowing before him.
Mephibosheth was confused. Was the litter for him? But why? Weren’t they going to take him to the execution courtyard and throw their spears at him? The last soldier scooped him up. “You are going to see the king,” he said.
“Oh, I see,” said Mephibosheth. But he really didn’t understand. “To taunt me before he kills me?” he thought. “To laugh at what I’ve become? To make sure the deed is done by doing it himself?” Mephibosheth couldn’t stop his legs from shaking in terror.
When the litter arrived in the throne room, two servants picked up Mephibosheth and placed him upon a cushioned seat before the king.
Gasping in fear, Mephibosheth slid out of the seat and lay prostrate on the floor in front of David. Sweat trickled down his back and over his head, dripping onto the floor.
“Mephibosheth!” boomed King David, standing to greet the invalid who lay crumpled on the royal carpets.
“I am your servant,” quavered Mephibosheth, talking to the floor. He knew he was visibly shaking, which sent a shooting pain from his feet straight up his legs and into his spine. His forehead radiated heat. He wished the end would come sooner. The dread grew exponentially with every second.
David bent down and tapped Mephibosheth on the shoulder. Looking down into the quivering man’s eyes, David smiled. “Do not be afraid. I summoned you here out of kindness, not malice.” David helped Mephibosheth to a sitting position. “For the sake of your father Jonathan, I am restoring to you all the land of your grandfather Saul.” He looked down at Mephibosheth and smiled again. “And you shall have a regular place to eat at my royal table.”
Could this be a cruel joke? Maybe a test? A test of loyalty to see if Mephibosheth would be true to his king? A diagnostic tool to see if he was a threat to David’s throne?
Again, Mephibosheth fell prostrate and bowed his head, talking to the floor. “Who am I, that you should be concerned with a dead dog like me?” His heart beat wildly, practically jumping out of his throat. If he could only convince the king that he desired no part of the royal throne, maybe he could be allowed to go back to his mobile wooden pallet, sewing pieces of leather and catching glimpses of smiles from his family. Now that he faced death, he realized that he valued his life, even though it was not the life he had imagined as a young boy.
“Nonsense,” said David, picking up Mephibosheth in his own muscular arms. “Today you shall be seated with me, and begin a new life,” he said, placing him back on the cushioned chair.
Mephibosheth watched in a daze as David summoned the head servant Ziba, giving him instructions to finalize the transfer of land ownership to Mephibosheth’s name. David sent servants to go immediately and start working the land, with plans to bring forth all the food that it yielded.
“You shall move into the villa at the top of Mount Zion. It used to be Saul’s residence of restoration, a place for him to get away from the palace when he was…not feeling himself,” said David. “You shall also have Ziba and his family of servants to work in your home and on your land….all for you!”
“But my lord,” said Mephibosheth hesitantly, “I fear you may not desire this when you hear…that I have…a son.” Mephibosheth’s heart fluttered wildly again, giving him no rest. “I know that this threatens your kingdom. But if you could simply grant me…the ability to go back to Lo-debar, I could live there quietly with my family. You would have my solemn vow that neither I nor my son would ever attempt to usurp what God hath put on the throne. Only please, let me be with my family. They are all I have, Sire.”
David swiveled his head. “You have…a son?” he asked.
“Yes, my lord,” said Mephibosheth, bowing his head.
David’s smile broadened and a laugh bubbled up from inside him. “I do not fear, Mephibosheth! This throne was established by the power of my sovereign Lord, and it will remain, as God has promised. Come, bring your wife and son, and whomever you choose to live with you in your new home. We will send for them tonight. You may write the message yourself, so they are assured of your safety and well-being!” David waved his hands and two more servants entered the room. One carried papyrus and reeds dipped in ink. The other was dressed for travel, ready for the long journey to deliver the message.
“And tonight, while we wait for your family, you shall feast with me!” David said. “We dine at sunset.”
David clapped his hands again, and four more servants arrived before Mephibosheth, carrying him back to his litter.
“We must prepare you for a banquet with the king,” said the servant, bowing at Mephibosheth.
They took him to a room with a luxurious bath where he was lowered in hot steamy water to wash for the special occasion. Mephibosheth sunk into the bath like wax before a flame. Even his hopeless limbs responded to the delicious warmth, releasing the throbbing aches and stabbing pains for a welcomed moment of relief.
Once he was bathed and dried, the servants gently dressed him, spritzed him with rose water, and carried him to the king’s dinner hall.
Situated in the east wing of the palace, the king’s dinner hall was filled with low, clothed tables interlocking into the shape of a three-sided square. Large cushioned pallets filled the floor around the tables, ready to hold the guests around the dining area. King David entered the room and sat in the exact middle of the tables, in the very center of the room. The noblemen followed closely behind with Mephibosheth, carried upon a litter by four servants.
“Friends,” bellowed King David at the tables. “The seat to my right is reserved for Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, my beloved friend! Welcome him as my son!”
A chorus of cheers and salutations rang around the great hall, happy to oblige their king in welcoming an old soul back to the royal court.
Servants lowered Mephibosheth onto the cushion of David’s right hand. Mephibosheth surveyed the table before him, laden with a feast reminiscent of the days from his early childhood. Upon his plate, servants heaped veal slices, wood-fired grouper, cucumbers with yogurt, cooked legumes, bread with olive oil, grapes, apricots, raisins, cheeses, and fig cakes with wine served in golden goblets.
The noblemen and family of David ate and talked loudly. Some clapped Mephibosheth on the back. Others talked with him and asked where he had come from. No one treated him like a repulsion; no one ignored him. By order of the king, Mephibosheth was treated like a royal son.
Mephibosheth looked around him. And then he looked down at his stocking-covered deformities and shook his head. He didn’t fit in here! How could a weak invalid deserve such a seat of honor? Such a blessed new life?
“For the sake of your father Jonathan…” King David had said to him. But what did that mean?
King David caught a glimpse of Mephibosheth glaring at his own feet. “What is it, Mephibosheth?” he said with a gleeful laugh. “You look as if the worries of the world sit upon your shoulders!”
Mephibosheth swallowed hard and looked into the eyes of the king. “Forgive me, Sire, but I am struggling with the purpose of it all. I know I do not belong here. I haven’t belonged since my father and grandfather were alive.”
“Mephibosheth, you are welcomed and beloved because your father is beloved,” said David. “I made a covenant with your father when you were just a small boy, and I vowed to show favor and love to his descendants forever. And now that I found you, I plan to keep my word as long as I have life!”
Mephibosheth let out a long breath that he didn’t realize was bottled up inside of him. “For the sake of your father Jonathan…” King David had said.
Mephibosheth awoke to the sound of a far-off rooster, announcing the start of a new day. He opened his eyes and looked out the vast window that spanned before him. Pulling himself up to a sitting position, he closed his eyes and felt the tranquil breeze that fanned his face and chest. He breathed in the smell of wild roses that bordered the walls of his new home. As he opened his eyes again, he thanked God for the gift of the green land that sprawled over acres and acres outside his window.
Land that was his.
A new life that was his.
Finally, he was providing for his wife and son, and even his father-in-law Machir. He had brought them all to live here, at the villa that had belonged to his grandfather Saul.
He silently sat on his pallet in stunned wonder, watching muted colors of pinks and oranges floating across the light blue sky. Within minutes, streaks of color appeared in all directions, illuminating the rolling hills of lush farmland. He watched with a smile as his eyes followed the herd of cattle over to the north, and the roaming sheep towards the south. It was a wonderful way in which to start his day.
A knock on the door interrupted his reverie. Two servants entered, carrying a cushioned litter.
“Are you ready for your morning meal, my lord?” one said with a bow. “We are ready to take you to the breakfast porch.”
“Your family is already there,” said the other. “Your son and your wife are asking for you.”
“I am ready,” he said, moving his body towards the end of the pallet. “Did you bring in our orchard’s figs and pomegranates that I asked for?”
“Yes, my lord,” said the second servant. “Your wife says they are most delectable, and she is grateful for your thoughtfulness and provision.”
Mephibosheth’s chest swelled with joy at the sound of his wife’s approval.
“King David plans to dine this evening at sunset, and requests your presence,” said the first servant.
“I will be ready for that too,” said Mephibosheth, as they hoisted him carefully upon the litter. “Perhaps I will wear the new set of clothes that King David made for me,” he said.
“Excellent choice, my lord,” said the first servant. “Your new clothes are most fitting for the occasion of a banquet with the king!”