Cool to be kind!   Leave a comment

Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness

2 Samuel 9: David and Mephibosheth

Oliver Cromwell, by Samuel Cooper (died 1672)....

‘Cruel to be kind’ was an expression I used to hear a lot as a child. Not so much in my own home, the manse, but certainly at school and occasionally at church. It was sometimes accompanied by the first part of the proverb, ‘spare the rod…(and spoil the child.’) It used to puzzle me then, and it puzzles me even more now. I think it was Martin Luther King who wrote that the ends never justify the means, but the means are always inherent in the ends. Oliver Cromwell’s ‘cruel necessity’, the execution of Charles Stuart, ‘that man of blood’, found guilty of tyranny and war crimes against his own people was, for others, a brutal act of regicide, making the Stuart King a martyr for his divine right to rule. There was nothing ‘necessary’ about it, but, of necessity, it led to a brutal dictatorship which only ended with the restoration of the Stuart monarchy and the reaffirmation of its ‘divine right’ to rule.

Rowan Atkinson as Lord Edmund Blackadder

In British society, the idea that stoicism can only be taught through suffering has, thankfully been replaced, but the idea which has replaced it also seems to have its limitations. Whereas generosity characterised much of British behaviour in the war-time generation, more recently it has seemed that the prevailing wisdom is that it isn’t  ‘cool to be kind.’ The most popular situation comedies of recent years have used ‘dark humour’ if not ‘black comedy’ to portray the long-suffering character of the British in sit-coms.  To be successful over five series, the character of Edmund Blackadder needed a ‘butt’ to kick sideways in the mis-shapen turnip-nosed  Baldrick, who was never given a Christian name except for ‘Sodoff’, because that was what the other children in the playground told him to do! Tony Robinson’s character became the perfect ‘foil’ for the hapless Blackadder, with Baldrick taking on all the blame for Rowan Atkinson‘s woes. The only time that Blackadder speaks to Baldrick without a barbed remark is at the end of the last series when they all face the ultimate cruelty of going ‘over the top’ into the barbed wire together. ‘Cool to be cruel’ often seems to be the basis of a lot of British humour, both on screen and of, so that we are encouraged to laugh at latter-day clown figures, rather than with them, or through their suffering.

Even Christians in Britain, though generous in deed towards the poor and the sick, often seem to find it difficult to affirm each other in Church. Non-Christians have sometimes misinterpreted  what may be traditional ‘reserve’ for coldness, even cruelty. Occasionally, preachers seem to regard it more important to make fun of themselves, or to gently mock others, rather than to express a kind word to their congregations. Perhaps they worry that they might be seen as courting popularity rather than confronting truths. But it concerns me greatly when I read in the social media that Christians are seen as going  to Church because we think we’re better than others and that we then carry on behaving badly towards others at work or more broadly in our six-day lives.

One such social media site is called ’Random Acts of Kindness’, giving suggestions and examples as to how we might improve the atmosphere around us by helping others. The site asks, ‘what acts have you encountered recently?’ When I read this, often nothing springs very readily to mind. Even more difficult to bring to mind are specific acts of kindness I might have performed for others, whether pre-medidated or spontaneous. The latter are generally more prevalent, which is perhaps as things should be, but I wonder if, sometmes, I don’t actually block the flow of God’s kindness into my life by not being more pro-active in identifying need in others.

The anger of Saul with David.

The anger of Saul with David. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The early chapters of 2 Samuel give us an interesting comparison and contrast in their pen-portraits of Saul and David as early Kings of Israel and Judah. Saul allows jealousy, envy and bitterness to block the flow of kindness, twice tries to kill David. Jonathan, Saul’s eldest by his only wife (1 Sam 14:49-50), comes to David’s rescue, out of friendship and loyalty…and also perhaps because he realises that his father is mentally ill and will destroy himself by destroying David.

2 Samuel is a ’history’ book about David; 1 Sam is about the transition to monarchy under Saul, picking up from ’Judges’ in which the continual attacks on the Hebrews from surrounding tribes make the people ask for king (as a necessity, NOT as an ideal form of government, you’ll notice). David is a shepherd boy, youngest of eight sons of Jesse, a skilled musician and composer. The second book begins in civil war after Saul’s death in battle and ends with the rivalry of David’s sons over the succession. David establishes Jerusalem as capital, Solomon succeeds him (1 Kings) and builds the Temple; the kingdom is then split in two under Rehoboam, King of Israel (the ten tribes in North) and Judah (the two in south). This is ‘His’ story told from special point of view – God’s plan at work in the Jewish nation. It is therefore highly selective and deliberately biased, as much history is. However, this is NOT legend or mythology, nor is it  propaganda – its reliabity is testified to contemporary documents and archaeology, in addition to older wrtings, records, and genealogies. Looking forward, Jesus is seen as David’s descendant, the ‘Messiah’ (Hebrew), ‘Christ’ (Greek), or ’anointed one.’ Just as a king or queen is anointed. It’s no ‘fluke’ that the oldest crown jewel in Britain, is also one of the smallest – the anointing spoon, with which the Archbishop of Canterbury anoints the monarch as s/he turns to the High Altar. The Coronation anthem, Handel’s ‘ Zadok the Priest’ reminds us of  2 Samuel 8:17, in which the High Priest appointed by Solomon helps to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem (1 Ki 2:26-35).

"Death of King Saul", 1848 by Elie M...

“Death of King Saul”, 1848 by Elie Marcuse (Germany and France, 1817-1902) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the beginning of 2 Samuel, David returns to Ziklag following his victory over the Amalekites, a nomadic tribe who lived in the desert south of Judah. They had been at continual war with the Israelites from the time of the exodus. A survivor of Saul’s defeat at the Battle at Mount Gilboa by the Philistines arrives with the news of the death of the king and his three sons, including Jonathan. He is an Amalekite, and therefore tells lies in saying that he agreed to Saul’s request to kill him before the Philistines captured him (in fact, Saul fell on his own sword),  thinking David would be pleased. However,  since  he has killed ’the Lord’s anointed’, David has him killed. He then writes an elegy for Saul and Jonathan which includes the following verse:

’How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights. I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.’ 

When Saul’s remaining son is murdered, David has his murderers killed. He is then made king, first by the tribes of Judah and then by the whole of Israel. He makes a ’contract’ or ’covenant’ with them, and is anointed king at the age of thirty, reigning for forty years in all. He begins with a series of victories over the Philistines. Then the Ark of the Covenant is brought to Jerusalem.

What kind of king is Jesus compared with his ancestor? His entry to Jerusalem is not on warhorse, with soldiers, but on a donkey, with children and pilgrims. Power struggles among the leaders of Israel had allowed Rome to take control in 63 B.C., and rulers like Herod ‘the Great’ were anything but that, for they were approved and appointed by Rome. They were not seen as ’anointed’ by God and weren’t popular with the people. They therefore used methods of terror to keep control, and savagely put down any support for alternative authorities, such as prophets and ’messiahs’. 

By contrast, in his relationship with Jonathan, David shows great faithfulness, giving his commitment to Jonathan’s descendants, something unusual for a king to do, upholding another king’s dynasty, which was normally seen as a threat and banished (at the very least).

But David determined to end the feuding as well as keep his promise never to ’cut off his kindness’ from Jonathan’s family. (1 Sam 20, vv 15, 42). He also makes the same promise to Saul, on oath, even after Saul tries to kill him (1 Sam 24: 20-22). Even after Saul loses God’s favour, David treats him with respect and even spares his life (’from evildoers come evil deeds’). David only takes lives ’in cold blood’ where justice is served, despite brutality of the times.

Did David keep his promise?

Read 2 Samuel 9:

David asked, ’Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’

Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They called him to appear before David, and the king said to him, ’Are you Ziba?’

’Your servant,’ he replied.

The king asked, ’Is there no-one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?’

Ziba answered the king, ’There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.’

’Where is he?’, the king asked.

Ziba answered, ’He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel, in Lo Debar.’

So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel.

When Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honour.

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.’

Mephishobeth 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 Mephishobeth, 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 Mephishobeth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.

Mephishobeth had a young son named Mica, and all the members of Ziba’s household were servants of Mephishobeth. And Mephishobeth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table, and he was crippled in both feet.

(New International Version)

 1. What characteristics of David stand out?

He shows respect for Saul and Jonathan, behaving honourably, wanting to show God’s ’exceptional kindness’, or ’grace’, towards them. It includes forgiveness.

 2. What steps did David have to take to find Mephibosheth?

Ziba, Saul’s servant  was sent to find Mephishobeth in Lo Debar. Wherever this was, it was a considerable distance from Judah.

3. What reasons might David have had for not being kind to Mephibosheth?

His disability – because he was dropped by his nurse, (2 Sam 4). Also because his  his uncle, Ish-Bosheth, had been made king over large part of Israel, while David was king of Judah only for first 7 years, so there had been a bitter civil war between the House of Saul and the House of David. It wasn’t just that Saul had tried to kill him, but that many ’brothers’ had died in the War.  David’s actions remind me of how Henry Tudor united the Houses of York and Lancaster through marriage and the symbol of the Tudor Rose, combining the red rose of Lancashire with the white rose of Yorkshire, whilst at the same time dealing harshly with ‘pretenders’ to the throne.

 4. What was David’s kindness based on?

On his love for Jonathan, on his promise made to him;  on his forgiveness for House of Saul and on his promise to Saul.

 5. In what specific, practical ways did David show kindness to Mephibosheth?

The way he greeted him, as Jonathan’s son, with enthusiasm, though they had never met; the granting of Saul’s land, the settling of Ziba’s family to farm the land; the protection of him at the Royal Court in Jerusalem (as a disabled person he was unable to defend himself and his lands directly, but his position at court enables him to have a son and therefore continue the House of Saul.)

6. What thoughts or feelings do you think Mephibosheth had when called before David?

As last surviving member, he probably feared for his life, especially after having fled before uncle’s murder by men at his own court, even though David had executed the men responsible, which he may not have known.

7. What would he have felt as he heard the words contained in verse 7?

Mightily relieved? Reconciled, recognised, restored and reaffirmed.  No longer a refugee. Justified by the Restitution of his family.

 

A Hymn/ Psalm:

 Praise my Soul

The King of Heaven

To his feet

My tribute bring

Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,

Who like me his praise would sing.

The Challenge:

Think of those who have been especially kind to you.  How have you been blessed by their kindness?

How can you repay their kindnesses? How can you affirm and encourage them?

What is an affirmation? How can we make one?

It’s not simply a general, positive statement, but a promise to do something specific for someone.

Christians have been showered with blessings from the King. Can you count your blessings while you may? There are two great songs, one British and the other a Salvation Army chorus, popular in the USA, which charge us with doing just this:

Count Your Blessings (#1; British):

 

Count your blessings one by one,

When dawn appears and day has just begun.

They will light your heart with happiness,

Make each hour bright

And bring you gladness.

 

 Count your blessings one by one,

When twilight falls and toil of day is done,

And in sweet dreams they’ll come again to you,

If you will count your blessings

Each day through.

 

Count your blessings while you may,

For we are here but little time to stay.

All around are hearts sincere and true,

Lovely things abound just waiting for you.

 

Count your blessings while you may,

For big or small, whichever come your way.

For then you’ll find this world a place of love,

If you will count your blessings from above.

 

Count Your Blessings #2 (American):

Chorus:

Count your many blessings, name them one by one.

Count your many blessings, see what God  has done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you, what the Lord has done.

 

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you, what the Lord has done.

 

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?

Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?

Count your every blessing and each doubt will fly,

And you will be singing as the days go by.

 

When you look at others, with their lands and gold,

Think that Christ has promised you his wealth untold.

Count  your many blessings; wealth can never buy

Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

 

So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,

Do not be disheartened, God is over all.

Count your many blessings, angels will attend,

Help and comfort give you till your journey’s end.

 

So, Remember….

Don’t lose sleep,

Counting sheep;

When you’re stressing out,

Count your blessings out!

And don’t forget to bless others….


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