What does it mean to show the kindness of God to another person? Let me tell you a story.
Israel’s King David had come to a point in his reign where he had defeated his enemies on all sides and had a strong system of controls in place to keep war from breaking out again – at least for awhile. That gave David time to consider other important matters in his life as king.
“Now David said, ‘Is there still anyone who is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” 2 Samuel 9:1
David remembered his covenant with Jonathan from many years before. Jonathan was the son of King Saul and David’s best friend. Saul hated David and tried to kill him many times, so David is on the run from Saul. That’s when David and Jonathan made a covenant with each other.
“Therefore you shall deal kindly with your servant, for you have brought your servant into a covenant of the LORD with you. Nevertheless, if there is iniquity in me, kill me yourself, for why should you bring me to your father?’ But Jonathan said, ‘Far be it from you! For if I knew certainly that evil was determined by my father to come upon you, then would I not tell you?’ Then David said to Jonathan, ‘Who will tell me, or what if your father answers you roughly?’ And Jonathan said to David, ‘Come, let us go out into the field.’ So both of them went out into the field. Then Jonathan said to David: ‘The LORD God of Israel is witness! When I have sounded out my father sometime tomorrow, or the third day,and indeed there is good toward David, and I do not send to you and tell you, may the LORD do so and much more to Jonathan. But if it pleases my father to do you evil, then I will report it to you and send you away, that you may go in safety. And the LORD be with you as He has been with my father. And you shall not only show me the kindness of the LORD while I still live, that I may not die; but you shall not cut off your kindness from my house forever, no, not when the LORD has cut off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.’ So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, Let the LORD require it at the hand of David’s enemies.” 1 Samuel 20:8-16
This was the covenant King David was remembering years later. Saul, Jonathan and two other brothers were killed in battle. Another brother, Ishbosheth, was murdered as he slept. David wondered if there was anyone left in the house of Saul that he could show kindness to “for Jonathan’s sake.”
If Samuel 9 was a play, there would be three main actors on stage: King David, Ziba and Mephibosheth. The theme of the play would be the kindness of God. David’s desire to show kindness to the house of Saul led to the introduction of the next character in the play, Ziba.
“And there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba. So when they had called him to David, the king said to him, ‘Are you Ziba?’ He said, ‘At your service!’ 2 Samuel 9:2
If Ziba seems a little too anxious to serve and please King David, we will learn later that he was the type of person who looks out for himself and stabs others in the back when it benefits him. But he does help David learn about Mephibosheth, the only remaining son of Jonathan, David’s dear friend from his youth.
“Then the king said, ‘Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, to whom I may show the kindness of God?’ And Ziba said to the king, ‘There is still a son of Jonathan who is lame in his feet.’ So the king said to him, ‘Where is he?’ And Ziba said to the king, ‘Indeed he is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, in Lo Debar.” 2 Samuel 9:3-4
We now meet the next character in our play, Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan and grandson of Saul. Mephibosheth was only five years old when his father, grandfather, and two uncles were killed in battle. The woman who took care of Mephibosheth believed they were in great danger, so she grabbed Mephibosheth and began to run, but she dropped Mephibosheth and he was seriously injured. He was crippled in both feet for the rest of his life.
Ziba told David he could find Mephibosheth in the city of Lo Debar. That was located many miles to the northeast of Jerusalem in a barren area of northern Gilead – a great place to hide from someone who might want him dead – like King David. David sent for Mephibosheth and Jonathan’s son traveled to Jerusalem to appear before the king.
“When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. David said, ‘Mephibosheth!’ ‘Your servant,’ he replied. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ David said to him, ‘for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.’ Mephibosheth bowed down and said, ‘What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me? Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, ‘I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.” (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.) Then Ziba said to the king, ‘Your servant will do whatever my lord the king commands his servant to do.’ So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons. Mephibosheth had a young son named Mica, and all the members of Ziba’s household were servants of Mephibosheth. And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table, and he was crippled in both feet.” 2 Samuel 9:6-13
What David did was unusual for an ancient king. He showed kindness to a potential heir to his throne, and not just the kindness of not killing Mephibosheth. David returned all of Saul’s land to Mephibosheth, told Ziba to farm the land for Mephibosheth and bring in the crops, and invited Mephibosheth to eat at the king’s table every day! King watchers would have seen David’s actions as foolish and risky. Mephibosheth was safely tucked away in a barren land many miles from Jerusalem, but David returned him to the property of his grandfather Saul which was only five or six miles from David’s palace. And – Mephibosheth would have daily access to the palace because that’s where he would eat his meals. But David was not thinking about himself. He wasn’t thinking about what others might think. David just wanted to show the kindness of God to the house of Saul “for Jonathan’s sake.”
What was this “kindness” that would cause a king to open himself to ridicule and danger? The Hebrew word for kindness is chesed and is used three times in 2 Samuel 9: verses 1, 3 and 7.
Verse 1 – “Now David said, ‘Is there still anyone who is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”
Verse 3 – “Then the king said, ‘Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, to whom I may show the kindness of God?
Verse 7 – “So David said to him, ‘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.”
Chesed is a very difficult word to translate into other languages. That’s because it had a very special meaning to the people of Israel – it was used for the covenant relationship God had with them. Defining it fully would mean understanding what the word meant to God and to the people of Israel through centuries of relationship. God asked one primary thing of Israel and that was to worship Him and Him only. Israel was not to bow down and worship any other gods. So, what did Israel do over and over again for hundreds of years? The people bowed down and worshiped other gods – the very thing God told them not to do. What did God do? He loved them with an everlasting love. That love included chastening, but always ended with forgiveness and a welcome back. The centuries of God’s faithfulness to His covenant with Israel brought deep meaning to the word chesed. God’s love for Israel is the highest example of unfailing love to an undeserving people. It was a love that would not give up.
Bible translators have always had difficulty coming up with a word in their language to define the full meaning of chased, which is used almost 250 times in the Old Testament. The majority of the uses of the word are found in the Book of Psalms. Some of the English words used to translate chesed are “love, unfailing love, great love, loving-kindness, mercy, pity, and grace.” The Greek word charis carries forward a key idea of the kindness of God: it is kindness without cause. The people of Israel did nothing to cause God to love them. In fact, they did everything possible for God to despise them and cast them away forever. The Lord’s kindness toward Israel through centuries of their disobedience is surely the epitome of kindness without cause.
God’s kindness is getting what you don’t deserve, and not getting what you do deserve. That’s also a good definition of God’s grace toward all of us. All of us who are Christians have received what we do not deserve – and have not received what we did deserve. I am a former atheist and fully aware of just how far away from God I used to be. I know my former way of believing and living and have no doubt that God has granted me the greatest gift that can be given – forgiveness and eternal life. I deserve death and hell – instead, God has given me life and Heaven. I would call that not getting what I deserved and getting what I do not deserve. Praise the Lord!
The kindness of God toward His chosen people demonstrates the deep nature of His moral character. We know that God is Eternal, Almighty, All-knowing, Everywhere Present, and Unchangeable, but that doesn’t tell us about His moral character. What kind of Almighty God is He? The Bible teaches that God is “holy, righteous, just, truthful, loving, good, kind, gracious, merciful, and faithful.” That’s Who He is and God cannot be anything but Who He is. Everything God believes and wants and wills and does is based on His moral character. You will never find God being unholy, unrighteous, or unjust. You will never find God lying, being unloving, evil, unkind, ungracious, merciless, or unfaithful. He cannot be those things because they are not part of His perfect moral character. God’s kindness toward His chosen people will always be consistent with Who He is.
I mentioned earlier that the majority of uses of the word chesed are in the Psalms. Here are three examples of how David and other writers of the Psalms used the word.
Psalm 25:6-10 (Psalm of David)
“Remember, O LORD, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, For they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; According to Your mercy remember me, For Your goodness’ sake, O LORD. Good and upright is the LORD; Therefore He teaches sinners in the way. The humble He guides in justice, And the humble He teaches His way. All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth, To such as keep His covenant and His testimonies. For Your name’s sake, O Lord, Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.”
Psalm 36:5-10 (Psalm of David)
“Your mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the great mountains; Your judgments are a great deep; O LORD, You preserve man and beast. How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures. For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light. Oh, continue Your lovingkindness to those who know You, And Your righteousness to the upright in heart.”
The chapter that uses the word chesed most is Psalm 136. It has 26 verses and the word is used once in every verse. However, before we look at the Psalm let me tell you a story about it. We don’t know who wrote this Psalm, but we do know that it was very special to the people of Israel. Here’s how we know.
When King Solomon (David’s son) was dedicating the temple and the priests carried the Ark of the Covenant into the Most Holy Place in the temple, the Shekinah glory of God filled the house of the Lord. What did the priests and the people do? They sang from Psalm 136. Many years later, when Jehosophat was King of Judah (Judah and Israel were divided kingdoms at that time), a great army of Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites gathered to attack Judah. King Jehosophat was afraid and prayed to God for wisdom about what to do. God told the king and the people of Judah to take their praise and worship team into battle and leave the army behind. God was going to win the battle for Judah as they sang songs of praise to His Name. What Psalm did they repeat as they marched toward the battlefield? Psalm 136. What happened in battle that day? The armies of the Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites killed each other so that no one escaped. King Jehosophat and the people of Israel spent three days gathering the spoils of war from the battlefield.
Now, let’s read Psalm 136 and remember the greatness of God and His chesed (mercy) that endures forever.
“Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. Oh, give thanks to the God of gods! For His mercy endures forever. Oh, give thanks to the Lord of lords! For His mercy endures forever: To Him who alone does great wonders, For His mercy endures forever; To Him who by wisdom made the heavens, For His mercy endures forever; To Him who laid out the earth above the waters, For His mercy endures forever; To Him who made great lights, For His mercy endures forever— The sun to rule by day, For His mercy endures forever; The moon and stars to rule by night, For His mercy endures forever. To Him who struck Egypt in their firstborn, For His mercy endures forever; And brought out Israel from among them, For His mercy endures forever; With a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm, For His mercy endures forever; To Him who divided the Red Sea in two, For His mercy endures forever; And made Israel pass through the midst of it, For His mercy endures forever; But overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, For His mercy endures forever; To Him who led His people through the wilderness, For His mercy endures forever; To Him who struck down great kings, For His mercy endures forever; And slew famous kings, For His mercy endures forever— Sihon king of the Amorites, For His mercy endures forever; And Og king of Bashan, For His mercy endures forever— And gave their land as a heritage, For His mercy endures forever; A heritage to Israel His servant, For His mercy endures forever. Who remembered us in our lowly state, For His mercy endures forever; And rescued us from our enemies, For His mercy endures forever; Who gives food to all flesh, For His mercy endures forever. Oh, give thanks to the God of heaven! For His mercy endures forever.”
Christian, God loves you with an unfailing love. His loving-kindess is always with you, around you, behind you, and before you. You walk every day in His chesed – His loving-kindness. Whether you are experiencing great spiritual highs like King Solomon and the people of Israel at the dedication of the temple – or great spiritual lows like King Jehosophat and the people of Judah who faced horrific enemies with only a song in their hearts and simple faith in God, the kindness of God is with you.
And let us not forget what brought us here – King David’s desire to show God’s kindness to the house of Saul for Jonathan’s sake. Who can you show the kindness of God to this week? Think beyond your friends and those who are easy and safe to show kindness. Take a risk like David did. Who in your life needs an extraordinary demonstration of the kindness of God? May we all have a week like we’ve never had before as we receive and show the chesed, the amazing kindness of God.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”