Hesed and the Table

Hesed and the Table

In Acts 9, Ananias shows us that baptism is where fear and hostility go to die. We say the same for the table. It’s hard to remain fearful and hostile toward someone when you’re eating together. There’s something disarming about sharing good food. In 2 Samuel 9, we find David encountering one who could be considered an enemy, but choosing kindness over hostility. And how does David show this kindness? With the table.

By the time we get to 2 Samuel 9, David’s path to the throne as king of Israel has been full of drama and danger. His predecessor, king Saul, knows that God’s will is to make David king. So Saul reacts by attempting to kill David, and nearly succeeding on more than one occasion. But for as much as Saul hates David, Saul’s son Jonathan is David’s best friend in the world, someone who provides love and refuge for him. Eventually, Saul and David are killed in battle, and David does what he does best: he writes a song. “Jonathan lies slain. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me.” (2 Samuel 1:25-26)

Later, David wants to honor his friend, so in 2 Samuel 9, he asks for anyone who might have an answer, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Immediately we’re struck that David could ask such a question in the first place. David wants to show kindness to the family of the man who repeatedly tried to kill him? Yes. That’s what Jonathan’s friendship meant to him. That’s how transformative Jonathan’s love was for him, enough so that Saul is not merely an object of hatred or resentment in David’s heart, but an object of affection, the symbol of a family he can’t help but love. A former servant of Saul named Ziba enters the story to give an answer. There is a son of Jonathan named Mephiboseth who lost the use of his legs at a young age. He’s the last of Saul’s lineage. David decides to give Mephiboseth his family’s land back, with Ziba and his family to work and maintain it. David sees to it that Mephiboseth is to never be without livelihood. And on top of that, he makes sure Ziba knows that “Mephiboseth shall always eat at my table?” And we find out that “Mephiboseth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons.”

David casts aside any fear and hostility he ever felt toward Saul and replaces it with unrestrained kindness. And how does David do this? With the table. This “kindness” David desires to show to Saul’s family, this is the Hebrew word hesed. It’s translated in a variety of ways (kindness, mercy, steadfast love); just one translation doesn’t do it justice. It’s the Old Testament’s favorite word for the merciful, forgiving, unfailing love and fierce loyalty of God toward his people (hesed is the “mercy” of Psalm 23 that pursues us every day of our lives). That’s what David wants to embody for Mephiboseth; that will be their common reality moving forward.

There are no enemies at the table. There is only the merciful, forgiving, unfailing love of God. The table is where this hesed finds its greatest expression. There’s simply something disarming about sharing good food.

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