The Butler Did It

Then the king said, “And where is your master’s son?” And Ziba said to the king, “Behold, he is staying in Jerusalem, for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will restore the kingdom of my father to me. ‘”  So the king said to Ziba, “Behold, all that belongs to Mephibosheth is yours.” And Ziba said, “I prostrate myself; let me find favor in your sight, O my lord, the king!” (2 Samuel 16:3-4 NASB)

Ziba is described as the servant of Saul’s household in 2 Samuel 9:2.  The details about Ziba given in the chapter bring a few things to light, and help understand what he does right here.  First, he is the servant to Saul’s household but only Mephibosheth, a cripple living across the Jordan with another family, is left or is he?  At first it looks like Ziba’s essentially been living off Saul’s household.  On the other hand, in chapter 21 they find seven other sons.  So David’s choice of Mephibosheth had more to do with Jonathan than Saul.

The second thing we learn about Ziba in chapter 9 is that he was socially and culturally considered successful.  He had fifteen sons and twenty servants.  So when Ziba is told that all Saul’s land now is to support Mephibosheth, the family outcast, I’m pretty sure his status went down a few pegs.  Such a statement probably was more disruptive than it seems on the surface, and may even have made it more difficult on the other people in the ‘clan’.  So, reading these first verses of chapter 16, keep these two things in mind: 1) Ziba was over the household of Saul and Mephibosheth was the family cripple outcast, and 2) Ziba had status over all of Saul’s household, but David restructured everything so that he was back to being a servant, and that for the cripple outcast Mephibosheth, not the rest of Saul’s family.

Why Is He Believed?

Ziba brings quite a few things to support the king on his travels, even the transport themselves are at the king’s disposal.  So, Ziba’s arrival is very timely.  David and the people could use the things Ziba brought, especially when the worst part of their trip lies before them.  But David wants to know why Mephibosheth doesn’t come.  I’m interested why the cripple who would have slowed everyone down didn’t opt to stay in Jerusalem, and send stuff to David instead.  But Ziba takes responsibility for the goods, and tells David that his master, Mephibosheth, thinks he’ll be made king.

Not only is this story hard for me to believe would come from Ziba’s lips, it’s even more astonishing to me that David believes it for a second.  I guess in such a climate of rebellion and faithlessness, David just throws one more conspirator on the pile of the others against him.  And it’s very possible there were a lot more words said than just these, and all of them together were more convincing than just the distilled summary we have here.  In any case what Ziba says is accepted, along with the gift brought.

Why Did He Do It?

Considering what Ziba lost back in chapter 9, it’s possible that this maneuver on his part right here might make him a ‘hero’ with the Saul son-of-Kish clan back home.  In any case, it puts him back on top when David says that now everything he gave to Mephibosheth is now his.  Of course that doesn’t mean he will then support the remainder of Saul’s family either.  He’s no longer the ‘servant’ but the ‘master’.  David could have simply caused another disruptive upheaval in a family where such events seem to be the rule rather than the exception for the past fifty years.

So what’s the writer’s point here?  What’s the lesson to be learned, or understood either about David, or God, or our relationship with God?  It’s a small view through this particular knothole, and the wider context of chapter 9, chapter 19 and then chapter 21 are truly necessary round out the knothole.  But the perspective of others here is crucial.  The cultural setting over two thousand years ago is difficult to imagine.  Details can be missed by one, to be picked out by others.

The details that stick out to me are that Ziba brings stuff to David, and tells him a ridiculous story which is believed and rewarded.  I think the motivation behind Ziba is ambition (what he claimed was true for Mephibosheth).  And I think David was motivated both by gratitude for the goods, and his pain and sadness at being betrayed by so many.  I think for David at that moment, any act of kindness would be magnified in his mind and heart, being in such stark contrast to everything else going on.


What these details teach me is that truth about my situation and my Master is rarely illuminated by my emotions.  I know that they typically tell me what’s wrong or right within me, rather than help me understand what’s going on the outside.  David wasn’t insightful right here, he wasn’t his usual discerning self, wise and cunning.  Perhaps he was also tired, emotionally and physically.  These are also things that I need to be wary of in my own situations.

If my relationship with my Master and my interpretation of His work in my life is driven and based on how I feel, then I’m probably wrong in my conclusions.  My emotions will be wrong a lot of the time.  Instead I need to be aware of what I’m feeling, then why I’m feeling that.  Chances are better than even that the emotion is wrong, or came from something else rather than the situation.  What remains constant is the character of my Master.  So what is needed to know more of what He has revealed of Himself in His Scripture, and then filter my understanding of my circumstance through that.  Then my emotions will follow in this corrected pattern.  Without that, and in the first reaction/response, my emotions are likely to have come from all sorts of places, events, people and things.  And the relation of those emotions to what’s happening is always tenuous at best.

Easy to say, but very hard to do.  That’s my view through this knothole.  What’s yours?


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