The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from 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 lame in both feet.”
2 Samuel 9:3 (NIV)
King David’s throne had been made secure after the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, and he wanted to do an extraordinary thing. He wanted to show kindness toward his former opponent’s family. It was expected that he would slaughter those who might be rivals for the rule of the nation. Such was the way of ancient kings in the Middle East. But David wanted to show God’s sort of kindness in this situation.
When Ziba told him of Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, who was therefore King Saul’s grandson, David decided to restore the grandfather’s property to him, including the peasants who would work the land. He also made Mephibosheth a “friend of the king,” which meant he would be treated as an honored courtier in David’s household and even take his meals at the king’s table. This was done, despite the fact that he was lame in both feet because of a fall while he was fleeing from a Philistine attack when he was five years old. David received double credit for kindness because he helped his enemy’s descendent and because he was generous to someone who was impaired.
Although David later stripped half of his grandfather’s property away from Mephibosheth, he is not faulted for unkindness, because he was duped by the same Ziba who introduced him to Jonathan’s surviving son. Still later, when Saul’s sons were slaughtered to offer an olive branch to the Gibeonites, David kept Mephibosheth safe. David was a harsh warrior, but he was also capable of great kindness and loyalty.
As I think about the nature of kind behavior, I see that it is possible for a person who is cruel in some circumstances to be kind in different ones. In other words, kindness and cruelty have contexts; they can be practiced in measurements that are required by the people, places, and politics involved. Desperate times demand desperate procedures. Or do they? Isn’t it self-justifying to say that this circumstance allows me to be cruel or rude or nasty? Why can’t I be kind in a situation that others would use to justify ruthless or spiteful actions?
To do unto others as you would have them do unto you—Jesus Christ’s measurement of human action—demands kindness from me even when others would counsel a sterner conduct. Although a particular context may allow cruel behavior, it doesn’t rule out kindness, sympathy, and gentleness. What would happen if I chose not to retaliate evil with evil? Why can’t I press kindness beyond the limits of human expectation?