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The Banquet of the Ages

Charles Martin
The Banquet of the Ages

Hang in there on this one.  It's one-cup-of-coffee-long but the payout is worth it.

King Saul stares down on the battle and watches in awe-struck amazement as this diminutive shepherd boy raises a sword that's nearly as long as he is tall and cuts off the head of the giant champion dead at his feet.  All Israel shouts and descends the hill -- swords drawn, battle axes swinging.  The Philistines flee in terror.  A complete and total rout.

Saul, a wrinkle between his eyes, turns to his second in command and whispers around the side of his hand.  "Who's son is this kid?"

Abner shrugs.  "No, idea."

Saul says, "Bring him to me."

Abner walks out of the tent, whistles and ushers David inside.  Scripture says "Abner brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand."

Ruddy-faced David, sling over his shoulder, sweat on his cheeks.  Four stones in a bag at his belt.  Elbow-deep in Goliath's blood, walks into Saul's tent still carrying a dripping head.  Note: he is holding -- better, he has decapitated -- the very thing that scared Saul to death.  Note who else is in the tent: Jonathan, Saul's son and the rightful heir to his throne.

David was not new to Jonathan.  In the months prior, he'd heard David play for his father when Saul was tormented by an evil spirit.  He had also been at the battle watching Goliath call out all of Israel and not one of Israel's finest warriors dared take on the champion.  Jonathan had been watching this play out across the weeks, he was privy to his father's private conversations and he was standing there in his father's tent when this sweaty shepherd, still huffing from chasing Philistines, walked in dripping blood on his momma's floor.

The enormity of this was not lost on Jonathan.  Scripture goes on to say, "when he (David) had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul."

Brothers from different mothers.

In the following verses, Jonathan and David make a covenant and as a result, Jonathan gives David his robe, armor, sword, bow and his belt.  In doing so, he visibly gives David the authority of his succession to his father's throne.
We don't know exactly why Jonathan did this except that Jonathan must have seen in David something he did not possess.  Whatever it was, it was enough to convince the would-be-king to hand over his crown.  I think it was the mantle that had come to rest on David when Samuel had anointed him but it's just my guess.  Saul must have seen it, too, because David's fortunes quickly change.

Saul becomes jealous and tries to kill David.  Several times.  Commands his servants to kill him.  Even tries to pin him to the wall with a spear.  

In the worst of times, when Saul was chasing David from one end of the land of Israel to the other, Jonathan and David meet in a meadow.  Scripture says they wept together.  But David more so. Then Jonathan said to David, “May the Lord be between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants, forever.’ ”  

David continues to outrun Saul, skirting the edges of Israel staying in the strongholds in the wilderness.  The rock crevices in En Gedi.  Here's how it plays out in scripture, "Saul sought him every day...And he (Jonathan) said to him, 'Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.' So the two of them made a covenant before the Lord."

That's twice.

Saul wanted David's head on a platter.  He pauses long enough to relieve himself.  While he is in that vulnerable place, David has a chance to kill Saul, doesn't -- spares his life -- and when Saul learns of this he makes David promise that he will not cut off his descendants after him.  "So David swore to Saul.".

Three times he gave his word to the King and/or his son.

Realizing Saul will not stop, David flees, the story twists, years pass, and eventually Saul brings about his own demise -- trying to match David's greatness in a battle against the Philistines.  David hears the news this way from a servant at the battle: “The people have fled from the battle, many of the people are fallen and dead, and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also.”

Jonathan died with his father.  Probably within arm's reach.  And I'm pretty sure when David heard the news, his heart broke.  Scripture doesn't say this but I think when he heard, he turned, hit his knees and puked.  Why I do I think that?  In the following days, he writes a song and tells the children of Judah to teach it to their children.  It's called the 'Song of the Bow.'  In it, he says: “How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan was slain in your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;"  The word for 'distressed' there means 'to cramp, be in anguish.' It paints a picture of a man doubled over in pain.  

Scripture also records something else at this time.  Almost an aside.  If you're reading quickly, you'll miss it.

"Jonathan, Saul’s son, had a son who was lame in his feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel; and his nurse took him up and fled. And it happened, as she made haste to flee, that he fell and became lame. His name was Mephibosheth." (II Samuel 4:4 NKJV)

Funny name isn't it.  Don't let the spelling scare you.  Just say it slowly.  Sounds like this -- "Me-fib-oh-sheth."  Once you get used to it, it kind of rolls off your tongue.  Try it.  "Mephibosheth."   Now, to make it easier on us, we're going to call him, "Bo."

We don't know much about him.  Only that his grandfather was the mighty King Saul -- anointed by Samuel himself. His father, Jonathan, was next in line.  That makes Bo of a royal bloodline, and -- as the only named son of Jonathan -- heir to the heir of the king.

At an early age, Bo knew a life of comfort.  Security.  Warmth.  A full stomach.  He knew the honor due royalty and the benefits of it.  Scripture doesn't say this but I see him dancing around his house without reason.  Why?  Because, in my experience, kids dance without reason.

While he's playing as a five year old, his grandfather and dad were engaged in a battle against the Philistines.  Which they lost.  Upon hearing the news of their death, Bo's nurse picked him up to flee the house.  Panic.  Fear.  Chaos.  The beginnings of mourning.  Heartfelt cries.  The king and his son are dead.  It's the crumbling of Bo's Edenic world.
Watch as it plays out.  "She (the nurse) took him up and fled."  Later, it says, "she made haste to flee."  From here, we know she is carrying him.  Running with the soon-to-be-crowned-King.  We don't know exactly what happened next.  Scriptures simply says "in her hurry to flee, he fell and became lame."  The very one tasked with his care, dropped him -- crippling him forever.  In the blink of an eye, his entire world -- his family, his health, his birthright -- is ripped from him.  

David returns to Jerusalem, assumes the throne that is rightly his, dances before the ark as he brings it into Jerusalem, writes the incomparable Psalm 24 about "This King of Glory!" and then tells his unimpressed wife Michal, "I will become even more undignified than this."

David, the 'man after God's own heart,' becomes the great King.  

At the pinnacle of his life, with the crown on his head, and for reasons we don't know, in a time of rest, maybe even of reflection, David remembers his promise.  And don't miss the subtlety --  no one would have blamed him had he not.  Despite the fact that Saul tried for years to kill him, scripture says something amazing.  David turns and asks a question of those around him, “Is there still anyone who is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

Ziba, a servant who had worked in the house of Saul says,  “There is still a son of Jonathan who is lame in his feet.”

Where is he?”

He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, in Lo Debar.”

Chances are good that David had never met Bo.  He didn't call for him by name or feature so I'm thinking he'd never heard of him.

Look at how Ziba refers to him.  "Lame in both his feet."  Being crippled was his identifying mark.   The connotation was 'outcast.'  'Disqualified.'  'Less than the rest.'

Think about this dynamic.  Bo has lived with two lame feet -- we know he is married and has a son -- crawled around the earth on his belly cause he can't walk.  How does a man like that go to the bathroom by himself without going all over himself?  He has grown up living with the physical reminder that his grandfather's sin caused his deformity and make no mistake about it.  He was deformed.  I think it's safe to assume that Bo had gone through life on a physical level lower than others either due to crawling or hobbling -- hence he was always looking up -- and was known throughout as 'the lame son of the slain king.'  Certainly that had some long term effect on his soul.

Think he was haughty?  Full of himself?

Not likely.  Bo had been broken in both feet and my guess is that brokenness had trickled down into his spirit.  Now -- for some unexplained reasons -- he's been brought before the king.  In his mind, he's about to die.

Bo crawls into the King's court, dragging his legs.  I'm tempted to say he pulled himself up to David's throne, but I don't think David let him get that far.  I see David coming down off his throne and squatting before Bo.  When presented with the King, Bo buries his face in the dirt.

David says, “Mephibosheth?”

Nose in the carpet, Bo says, “Here is your servant!”

Think back to David and Jonathan's friendship.  The friend he wept with is dead, killed with the sword, and here, crawling on the ground, lies the only living reminder of that.  What if Bo had Jonathan's eye?  How do you think David responded to that?  Think he was reserved?  This is the same king that danced in a loin cloth before the ark.  Wrote Psalms.  Pretty good musician.  I don't find him unfazed or indifferent.

I find him undone.

In my mind -- the Charles Martin translation -- he either lies on the ground next to Bo, or better yet, he lifts his chin to see his eyes and then picks up Mephibosheth and sets him in the chair next to his because read what he says next:  “Do not fear, for I will surely show you kindness for Jonathan your father’s sake, and will restore to you all the land of Saul your grandfather; and you shall eat bread at my table continually.”

I love that part.

Bo is incredulous.  Can't believe it.  "But King, what is your servant, that you should look upon such a dead dog as I?”

Bo's own words give a revealing glimpse into his heart.  "Dead dog."  But scripture holds a tender place for dogs.  Remember the Canaanite woman at the feet of Jesus?

David summons Ziba, Saul’s servant, and says, “I have given to your master’s son all that belonged to Saul and to all his house. You therefore, and your sons and your servants, shall work the land for him, and you shall bring in the harvest, that your master’s son may have food to eat. But Mephibosheth your master’s son shall eat bread at my table always.”

I used to wondered why Bo's story was included in the Bible.  At first, he struck me as an also-played.  A footnote.  Some unlucky bloke who got dropped.  Then I started thinking about it and can't believe I missed it.

Bo's story is my story.  Yours.  

The ruler of this world fears you and he understands your birthright probably better than you do.  As a result, he wants your head on a platter.  He's trying to pin you to the wall.  Through no fault of your own, you were born into this war.  Somewhere back in your past, he attacked -- waged war -- you were rushed from the table, dropped, maimed and crippled. Been crawling around on your belly most of our life.  Nothing but a dead dog.  Nibbling scraps from the dumpster.

And while that may describe your or my circumstances, it is not the truth of our identity.  

 The truth is this: You're heir to the king.  Royal lineage.  Born to eat meals fit for a King.  

'But --"  You protest, looking at your feet.  At all the places where you're broken.  You poke yourself in the chest.  Your voice raises.  "I don't feel royal!'

I don't blame you but your qualification is not based on what you feel.  Not based on your emotions or your perception of yourself.  It's got nothing to do with you.  It's based on His promises:

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we would be called Children of God, for that is what we are...now we are children of God."    (1 Jn 3:1)

"You are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." (Gal 4:7)

"The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and joint heirs of Christ..." (Rom 8:17)

Then there's this one -- God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah says this, "But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit and who trembles at my word." (66:2)  You see that word, 'contrite?'  It means 'maimed.  Lame.'  Strong's dictionary actually says, 'like Mephibosheth.'

Jesus held a special place in His heart for the lame.  Remember the paralytic lowered through the roof?  The man beside the pool at Bethesda.  Remember what Jesus told the messengers from John the Baptist, 'the blind see, the lame walk.'  His care for the crippled is proof of His divinity.  The mark of a King.  If feet didn't matter to Him, then why was His last act of service on this planet to wash his best friends' feet?

I write fiction so let me plane paint you into this scene.

-- Somehow, you ended up here at the front door of the banquet hall.  You're pressing your nose against the glass.  Fogging it up.  Inside, the place is packed. Standing room only.  You can smell the food.  Hear the laughter.  See the people dancing.  Oddly, everyone is barefoot and, unlike yours, their feet are so beautiful.  

Somewhere in the back of your mind, you hear a faint whisper and sense a knowingness that some part of your life was once like that.  That you once ate at a table like that.  But, that was before the Fall.  You pull your feet beneath you.  Out of sight.  You don't belong there.  You can't even walk.

Turning, dragging your legs, ashamed at the sight and smell of yourself, you slither off.  Your exit catches His eye.  He is The King and this is His party.  He has many names.  One of which is the Root of Jesse -- Jesse was David's father.  During His time on earth, Jesus was known as the "Son of David."  (Still is.)  Another outcast, Bartimaeus, shouted it at the top of his lungs.  It was a messianic claim.

When He sees you, He jumps from His seat and rushes to the door, flinging it off its hinges.  Kneeling along side you, down in the muck and mire, he lifts your chin.  For a moment, he is just speechless.  Finally, he presses his forehead to yours.  "Hey, I've been waiting on you.  I'm so glad you made it.  I've missed you."  He pushes the hair out of your face.  "Let me look at you."   A knowing nod.  He shouts over his shoulder, "Dad, he has Your eyes."  He returns to you.  A single shake.  "They're just...wow."  He turns, scoops his arms under your noodle legs, carries you inside, down long rows of smiling people, to the head table where He gently places you in a seat next to His that has your name on it.  A ten-million member band is playing music.  He is laughing.  Exuberant.  With one hand He is conducting.  First, the horns.  Then strings.  Percussion.  Finally, the organ -- with more than a hundred thousand pipes.  He is so excited that He begins to dance.  Spontaneously.  Unashamed crowds join in.  Countless angels fill the heavens -- shooting across the sky like comets.  

He is not reserved.  He is not collected.

He is undone.

Returning to you, He drapes a napkin across your lap, clinks His glass with His fork and quiets the crowd.  He speaks across the Heavenly Host.  Silence.  "If I could have your attention please..."  A chuckle spreads across the heavens.  He puts his hand on your shoulder.  Your picture flashes on the JumboTron seen by the hundreds of millions in attendance.  He continues, "Everyone, please welcome the guest of honor to dinner."  Then He turns to you.  Just you.  You have the undivided attention of the God who spoke the universe into existence and breathed life into you lungs -- who knit you together from dust and clay, who's love for you is higher than the heavens.  "Child."  He palms your face in his hands.  "I'm so glad you made it.  I've been praying that your faith would not fail."  He raises His glass.  The applause is raucous.
More dancing erupts.  The tables empty.  Your eyes dart.  You're not really comfortable with all this.  You desperately want to join in but the sight of your feet draws you away.  Ashamed, you tuck them under the table and straighten your silverware, dab the corners of your mouth, refold your napkin, and stare through the legs of your wine glass.
But, He's not finished.  He's clued into this -- into you.  Breaking ranks, He appears at your feet.  He's kneeling.  A bowl.  Warm water.  A towel.  He holds your twisted feet in His hands. Studying your scars where the bones once poked through the skin.  Tracing them with his thumb he shakes his head.  "I know you've lived with this a long time.  I'm so sorry this happened."  Tears spill off His face.  Slowly, He dips your feet into the water.  You want to recoil but the water is so warm and His hands, so tender.  So, you take a chance, dip them in the bowl and for reasons you can't explain the God of the Universe -- 'who upholds all things by the Word of His power' -- washes your feet.  The kid sitting to your left, fist-deep in a ginormous bowl of ice cream, whispers, "He does that for everybody.  He's just got a thing for feet."  The high-def 3D screen above you, five miles square, captures your amazement and delight.  When He is finished, you wiggle your beautiful toes and can find no scars.

While He has fixed your feet, one wound remains and it is the deeper of the two.  Don't worry.  This is why He's brought you here.

He lifts you to your feet.  The dance stops.  All eyes on Him.  You stand eye to eye with the Faithful and True Witness, the Firstborn from Among the Dead, the One who's name is Holy, who holds the keys to death and Hades, the One who's eyes are fire, hair is white, who's voice sounds like rushing waters or Niagara, His feet are burnished bronze, His sword is girded on His thigh, He is the Lion of Judah, the Alpha and Omega, the Lamb Upon the Throne, He is radiant.  He is shining like the Sun.  He is the one who hand-crafted your very feet from the dust. His soul is knit to yours.

And He is making good on His promise.

He  speaks.  "I want to correct a lie that was spoken to you long ago.  Erase its memory from your DNA."  He lifts your chin.  "You --"  He places His hand on your chest.  Directly over your heart.  A slight chuckle.  "Yes, you."  He inches closer.  His breath on your face.  "I remember the day I made you.  Fashioned you.  You were then and are now, perfect in every way.  You are My Child.  My Chosen.  Heir to my throne.  Co-ruler with me.  All that I have is yours.  And I will feed you here.  Forever."  His foot begins to tap.  The music rises.  "Come."  He beckons.  "Dance with me."

Welcome to the Banquet of the Ages.

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