(A Reflection on I Samuel 18:1 and II Samuel 19:24-30)
Charles G. Dennison


shadow deepens with age

typing patterns in my spirit;

boasting weakens,

posting lanterns—

how? it isn't clear.


He stands before me speaking his name;

I know him—the fair son

who foregoes his rule

and looks the fool,

whose kingdom David would claim.

Squinting now I'm blurry-eyed;

they are knit with me outside

and they the truth of Israel.


Later lamentation

marches me in crippled steps

since that fair son's heir

strides along the Jordan

into view;

not even a limp,

not even a trace,

he walks outright—

and that by grace—

to see his father's hope.


But what of me?


Stumbling at the horror,

shunning the goal

since earth weds my flesh

and determines my soul.

Left behind,

betrayed, I feel

with cause to rage—

his coming again must mean

for me a half at least;

but having him, the King,

only that and leave the rest,

is the heart of this Mephibosheth.




Commentary by Tin L. Harrell

The first stanza propels the reader into David's eyes, striving to see beyond the shadows of a long life, striving to capture illumination as he looks back to a distant moment. The memory comes in the second stanza, "He stands before me speaking his name"—a memory heard in the voice of his friend, Jonathan, son of Saul and heir apparent, "the fair son who foregoes his rule, and looks the fool, whose kingdom David would claim." With this remembrance of a covenant bond between the House of David and the House of Jonathan, we are introduced to Jonathan's physically crippled son, Mephibosheth, who like his father is content to sit at David's table rather than claim the throne of Israel.

But while David has kept covenant with Jonathan and his crippled son, the roles are now reversed. David is now "knit" in covenant with their earthly humiliation. His kingship, his house, his covenant promise is now in the grip of his Geshurite son. For Absalom, David's pride and joy, his handsome favorite, his beloved heir, his cunning manipulator, his arrogant demigod, his rebellious usurper has driven the King, the beloved of God, across the Jordan outside the city gates of Jerusalem, outside the kingdom, outside the inheritance of the land, outside the temple. The Canaanite borders of Israel have advanced into Jerusalem and stolen the heart of it; and "blurry-eyed" with weeping, David must make his bitter exodus across the Jordan and into the desert. David, a politically crippled king, must now flee and suffer "outside" in humiliation as Mephibosheth once did.

In the fourth stanza, we follow the "later lamentation" of David. He who once lamented in crossing the Jordan when losing his throne, now laments in re-crossing the Jordan when regaining his throne. David's mourning "marches [him] in crippled steps"—crippled by selfish grief for his dead son Absalom, who was fair in form but not fair in grace. Crippled, he meets the crippled son of Jonathan at the crossroads of the Jordan River.

At the Jordan, a juxtaposition of vision and image takes place—David's eyes meet Mephibosheth and Mephibosheth's eyes meet David. Inside David's line of sight, we see "the fair son's heir" striding into view along the Jordan. Mephibosheth "walks outright" with "not even a limp, not even a trace," all disheveled appearance and physical impediment aside. Mephibosheth's upright stature is the substance of things unseen, for it is the reality of a godly grace. And by grace, we are inside Mephibosheth's line of sight too. Not fair in form but fair in grace, he is "walking outright" in his joy "to see his father's hope" return from across the Jordan. It is enough for him to see the return of the living King.

The forceful opening lines of the fifth stanza, "But what of me? Blinded!" recalls the reader from the wondrous vision at the Jordan and unites him once again to David's dimness in the first stanza. In his mourning, David is "stumbling" over the dead son, the dead hope of his sinful flesh. He is "shunning the goal" as he weeps for that physically attractive "earth wed" to his flesh, for that political progeny whose throne is overthrown by death's devastating finality. David's hope, much less his soul, can never be determined by the earthly things which are seen. The Davidic covenant promise cannot be fulfilled by confidence in the flesh.

But illumination appears in the last stanza, for here David and the reader are brought inside the eyes of Mephibosheth. Like Mephibosheth, crippled in the flesh, unjustly betrayed by close companions (even a blind king), stripped of worldly possessions, David and we all might indeed have "cause to rage." But we are knit to Mephibosheth's heart, "but having him, the King, only that and leave the rest"—a heart which considers all things loss for the surpassing greatness of gaining the living King.

"Mephibosheth" brings us into yet another perspective—an eschatological one which unites truth with sight. In the background of this poem, there is a covenant loyalty to yet another Davidic Son and King who will come along the Jordan (Is. 9:1-7; Mt. 4:12-17), who will be betrayed, who will suffer humiliation outside, who will rise from the dead and reign eternally on a heavenly throne. Of this greater Son of David, the apostle says, "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him . . . ." (Phil. 3:7-9).

[Many thanks to Ms. Kristin A. Dennison for sharing her notes (based on the comments of Charles G. Dennison in 1996) and insights into this poem.]