Mephibosheth had Two Dads

Mephiboseth was the son of Jonathan.

Jonathan son of Saul had a son who was lame in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became disabled. His name was Mephibosheth. (2 Samuel 4:4, NIV)

After the turmoil surrounding David’s accession had calmed down, he asked “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1). David was able to trace Mephibosheth and summoned him to court.

“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.” (2 Samuel 9:7)

David showed kindness to Mephibosheth for Jonathan’s sake. Why would he do this? It was because of the covenant between David and Jonathan, as Jonathan mentioned in 1 Samuel 20:42:

Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.

As I mentioned in my talk, the word “friendship” is one that is introduced by the translators of the NIV.

David and Jonathan’s families were united by the covenant between them. When Jonathan was killed, David took his son under his wing and treated him as his own son. Was this adoption? And did Mephibosheth have two dads?

Not Quite Adoption

No, this is not quite adoption in the sense that we know it in the modern world. By the time Mephibosheth was ‘adopted’ by David, he was old enough to have a son of his own (2 Samuel 9:12), and in the modern Western world by the time someone is old enough to have children of their own they are usually too old to be adopted.

However, David did look after Mephibosheth in a fatherly way, so I think it is safe to say that David was a father to him. Mephibosheth did have two dads.

Definitely Not Political

The real significance of David’s adoption of Mephibosheth, of course, is that it shows that David and Jonathan’s relationship was one based on love and partnership, not politics. Politically it was a foolish idea to have any of Saul’s heirs around, and on one occasion there were rumours that Mephiosheth was trying to usurp David (2 Samuel 16:3).

But if David and Jonathan formed a relationship based on love, a spousal-type relationship, then this makes perfect sense.  David looked after Jonathan’s sole surviving heir because Jonathan was his spouse, making Jonathan’s children his step children.

About Andrew McFarland Campbell

I'm Andrew. Belfast-born, Cambridge-educated, working in Ireland. Married to Michael (who is occasionally known as John). I earn my living by writing, mainly documentation, but I write fiction as well. My pronouns are he/him/his.

Posted on 19 August, 2011, in Affirmation, David and Jonathan. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Is there anything here not consistent with David and Jonathan being symbolically brothers, rather than spouses?

    After all, one would certainly look after one’s nephew in such a way if one’s nephew’s father were to die.

    Especially in royal households, where politics dictates that one (openly at least) supports one’s relatives, even (especially?) if it might seem unwise to one’s own claim to do so: there’s a rather famous example of a Danish prince whose uncle tried to take good care of him after his father’s death, and even when the uncle decided the nephew had to go he had to do it surreptitiously.

    • Andrew McFarland

      There is nothing in this specific incident that requires David and Jonathan to be spouses rather than symbolic brothers, but in the whole context of their relationship a spousal relationship makes much more sense than a symbolic brother relationship.

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