Tough Promises Kept by Max Lucado
All the passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “Facing Your Giants” published in 2006.
KING DAVID’S life couldn’t be better. Just crowned. His throne room smells like fresh paint, and his city architect is laying out new neighborhoods. God’s ark indwells the tabernacle; gold and silver overflow the king’s coffers; Israel’s enemies maintain their distance. The days of ducking Saul are a distant memory.
But something stirs one of them. A comment, perhaps, resurrects an old conversation. Maybe a familiar face jars a dated decision. In the midst of his new life, David remembers a promise from his old one: “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).
Confusion furrows the faces of David’s court. Why bother with the children of Saul? This is a new era, a new administration. Who cares about the old guard? David does. He does because he remembers the covenant he made with Jonathan. When Saul threatened to kill David, Jonathan sought to save him. Jonathan succeeded and then made this request: “If I make it through this alive, continue to be my covenant friend. And if I die, keep the covenant friendship with my family—forever” (1 Sam. 20:14-15 MSG).
Jonathan does die. But David’s covenant does not. No one would have thought twice had he let it. David has many reasons to forget the vow he made with Jonathan.
The two were young and idealistic. Who keeps the promises of youth?
Saul was cruel and relentless. Who honors the children of a nemesis?
David has a nation to rule and an army to lead. What king has time for small matters?
But, to David, a covenant is no small matter. When you catalog the giants David faced, be sure the word promise survives the cut and makes the short list. It certainly appears on most lists of Everestish challenges.
The husband of a depressed wife knows the challenge of a promise. As she daily stumbles through a gloomy fog, he wonders what happened to the girl he married. Can you keep a promise in a time like this?
The wife of a cheating husband asks the same. He’s back. He’s
sorry. She’s hurt. She wonders, He broke his promise…. Do I keep
Parents have asked such a question. Parents of prodigals. Parents of runaways. Parents of the handicapped and disabled.
Even parents of healthy toddlers have wondered how to keep a promise. Honeymoon moments and quiet evenings are buried beneath the mountain of dirty diapers and short nights.
Promises. Pledged amidst spring flowers. Cashed in February grayness. They loom Gulliver-size over our Lilliputian lives. We never escape their shadow. David, it seems, didn’t attempt to.
Promises. Pledged amidst spring flowers.
Cashed in February grayness.
Finding a descendant of Jonathan wasn’t easy. No one in David’s circle knew one. Advisers summoned Ziba, a former servant of Saul. Did he know of a surviving member of Saul’s household? Take a good look at Ziba’s answer: “Yes, one of Jonathan’s sons is still alive, but he is crippled” (2 Samuel 9:3 NLT).
Ziba mentions no name, just points out that the boy is lame. We sense a thinly veiled disclaimer in his words. “Be careful, David. He isn’t—how would you say it?—suited for the palace. You might think twice about keeping this promise.”
Ziba gives no details about the boy, but the fourth chapter of 2 Samuel does. The person in question is the son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth. (What great names! Needing ideas on what to name your newborns? Try Ziba and Mephibosheth. They’ll stand out in their class.)
When Mephibosheth was five years old, his father and grandfather died at the hands of the Philistines. Knowing their brutality, the family of Saul headed for the hills. Mephibosheth’s nurse snatched him up and ran, then tripped and dropped the boy, breaking both his ankles, leaving him incurably lame. Escaping servants carried him across the Jordan River to an inhospitable village called Lo Debar. The name means “without pasture.” Picture a tumbleweed-tossed, low-rent trailer town in an Arizona desert. Mephibosheth hid there, first for fear of the Philistines, then for fear of David.
Collect the sad details of Mephibosheth’s life:
- born rightful heir to the throne
- victimized by a fall
- left with halting feet in a foreign land
- where he lived under the threat of death.
Victimized. Ostracized. Disabled. Uncultured.
“Are you sure?” Ziba’s reply insinuates, “Are you sure you want the likes of this boy in your palace?”
David is sure.
Servants drive a stretch limousine across the Jordan River and knock on the door of the shack. They explain their business, load Mephibosheth into the car, and carry him into the palace. The boy assumes the worst. He enters the presence of David with the enthusiasm of a death-row inmate entering the lethal injection room.
The boy bows low and asks,
“Who am I that you pay attention to a stray dog like me?”
David then called in Ziba, Saul’s right-hand man, and told him, “Everything that belonged to Saul and his family, I’ve handed over to your master’s grandson…. from now on [he] will take all his meals at my table.” (9:8-10 MSG)
Faster than you can say Mephibosheth twice, he gets promoted from Lo Debar to the king’s table. Good-bye, obscurity. Hello, royalty and realty. Note: David could have sent money to Lo Debar. A lifelong annuity would have generously fulfilled his promise. But David gave Mephibosheth more than a pension; he gave him a place—a place at the royal table.
Look closely at the family portrait hanging over David’s fireplace; you’ll see the grinning graduate of Lo Debar High School. David sits enthroned in the center, flanked by far too many wives. Just in front of tanned and handsome Absalom, right next to the drop-dead beauty of Tamar, down the row from bookish Solomon, you’ll see Mephibosheth, the grandson of Saul, the son of Jonathan, leaning on his crutches and smiling as if he’s just won the Jerusalem lottery.
Which indeed he had. The kid who had no legs to stand on has everything to live for. Why? Because he impressed David? Convinced David? Coerced David? No, Mephibosheth did nothing. A promise prompted David. The king is kind, not because the boy is deserving, but because the promise is enduring.
For further proof, follow the life of Mephibosheth. He beds down in the bastion and disappears from Scripture for fifteen years or so. He resurfaces amidst the drama of Absalom’s rebellion.
Absalom, a rebellious curse of a kid, forces David to flee Jerusalem. The king escapes in disgrace with only a few faithful friends. Guess who is numbered among them. Mephibosheth? I thought you’d think so. But he isn’t. Ziba is. Ziba tells David that Mephibosheth has sided with the enemy. The story progresses, and Absalom perishes, and David returns to Jerusalem, where Mephibosheth gives the king another version of the story. He meets David wearing a ragged beard and dirty clothing. Ziba, he claims, abandoned him in Jerusalem and would not place him on a horse so he could travel.
Who’s telling the truth? Ziba or Mephibosheth? One is lying.
Which one? We don’t know. We don’t know because David never asks. He never asks, because it doesn’t matter. If Mephibosheth tells
God sets the standard for covenant keeping.
the truth, he stays. If he lies, he stays. His place in the palace depends, not on his behavior, but on David’s promise.
Why? Why is David so loyal? And how? How is David so loyal? Mephibosheth brings nothing and takes much. From whence does David quarry such resolve? Were we able to ask David how he fulfilled his giant-of-a-promise, he would take us from his story to God’s story. God sets the standard for covenant keeping.
As Moses told the Israelites:
Know this: God, your God, is God indeed, a God you can depend upon. He keeps his covenant of loyal love with those who love him and observe his commandments for a thousand generations. (Deuteronomy 7:9 MSG)
God makes and never breaks his promises. The Hebrew word for covenant, beriyth, means “a solemn agreement with binding force.”1 His irrevocable covenant runs like a scarlet thread through the tapestry of Scripture. Remember his promise to Noah?
“I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (Genesis 9:11-13 NIV)
Every rainbow reminds us of God’s covenant. Curiously, astronauts who’ve seen rainbows from outer space tell us they form a complete circle.’ God’s promises are equally unbroken and unending.
Abraham can tell you about promises. God told this patriarch that counting the stars and counting his descendants would be equal challenges. To secure the oath, God had Abraham cut several animals in
God’s irrevocable covenant runs like
a scarlet thread through the tapestry of Scripture.
half. To seal a covenant in the Ancient East, the promise-maker passed between a divided animal carcass, volunteering to meet the same fate if he broke his word.
As the sun went down and it became dark, Abram saw a smoking firepot and a flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses. So the LORD made a covenant with Abram that day and said, “I have given this land to your descendants, all the way from the border of Egypt to the great Euphrates River.” (Genesis 15:17-18 NLT)
God takes promises seriously and seals them dramatically. Consider the case of Hosea. Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, God commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer. (If her profession didn’t get you, her name would.) Still, Hosea obeyed. Gomer gave birth to three children, none of whom were Hosea’s. Gomer abandoned Hosea for a life equivalent to a call girl at a strip club. Rock bottom came in the form of an auction pit, where men bid on her as a slave. Lesser men would have waved her off. Not Hosea. He jumped into the bidding and bought his wife and took her home again. Why? Here’s Hosea’s explanation.
Then GOD ordered me, “Start all over: Love your wife again, your wife who’s in bed with her latest boyfriend, your cheating wife.
Love her the way I, God, love the Israelite people, even as they flirt and party with every god that takes their fancy.”
I did it. I paid good money to get her back.
It cost me the price of a slave. (Hosea 3:1-2 MSG)
Need a picture of our promise-keeping God? Look at Hosea buying back his wife. Look at the smoldering pot passing between the animals. Look at the rainbow. Or look at Mephibosheth. You’ve never introduced yourself as Mephibosheth from Lo Debar, but you could. Remember the details of his disaster? He was
- born rightful heir to the throne
- victimized by a fall
- left with halting feet in a foreign land
- where he lived under the threat of death.
That’s your story! Were you not born as a child of the King? Have you not been left hobbling because of the stumble of Adam and Eve? Who among us hasn’t meandered along the dry sand of Lo Debar?
But then came the palace messenger. A fourth-grade teacher, a high school buddy, an aunt, a television preacher. They came with big news and an awaiting limo. “You are not going to believe this,” they announced, “but the King of Israel has a place for you at the table. The place card is printed, and the chair is empty. He wants you in his family.”
Why? Because of your IQ? God needs no counsel.
Your retirement account? Not worth a dime to God.
Your organizational skills? Sure. The architect of orbits needs your advice.
Sorry, Mephibosheth. Your invitation has nothing to do with you
Your eternal life is covenant caused, covenant secured,
and covenant based.
and everything to do with God. He made a promise to give you eternal life: “God, who never lies, promised this eternal life before the world began” (Titus 1:2 GoD’s WORD).
Your eternal life is covenant caused, covenant secured, and covenant based. You can put Lo Debar in the rearview mirror for one reason—God keeps his promises. Shouldn’t God’s promise-keeping inspire yours?
Heaven knows you could use some inspiration. People can exhaust you. And there are times when all we can do is not enough. When a spouse chooses to leave, we cannot force him or her to stay. When a spouse abuses, we shouldn’t stay. The best of love can go
When you love the unloving,
you get a glimpse of what God does for you.
unrequited. I don’t for a moment intend to minimize the challenges some of you face. You’re tired. You’re angry. You’re disappointed. This isn’t the marriage you expected or the life you wanted. But looming in your past is a promise you made. May I urge you to do all you can to keep it? To give it one more try?
Why should you? So you can understand the depth of God’s love.
When you love the unloving, you get a glimpse of what God does for you. When you keep the porch light on for the prodigal child, when you do what is right even though you have been done wrong, when you love the weak and the sick, you do what God does every single moment. Covenant-keeping enrolls you in the postgraduate school of God’s love.
Is this why God has given you this challenge? When you love liars, cheaters, and heartbreakers, are you not doing what God has done for us? Pay attention to and take notes on your struggles. God invites you to understand his love.
He also wants you to illustrate it.
David did with Mephibosheth. David was a walking parable of God’s loyalty. Hosea did the same with Gomer. He wardrobed divine devotion. My mother did with my father. I remember watching her care for him in his final months. ALS had sucked life from every muscle in his body. She did for him what mothers do for infants. She bathed, fed, and dressed him. She placed a hospital bed in the den of our house and made him her mission. If she complained, I never heard it. If she frowned, I never saw it. What I heard and saw was a covenant keeper. “This is what love does,” her actions announced as she powdered his body, shaved his face, and washed his sheets. She modeled the power of a promise kept.
God calls on you to do the same. Illustrate stubborn love. Incarnate fidelity. God is giving you a Mephibosheth-size chance to show your children and your neighbors what real love does.
Embrace it. Who knows? Someone may tell your story of loyalty to illustrate the loyalty of God.
One final thought. Remember the family portrait in David’s palace? I doubt if David had one. But I think heaven might. Won’t it be great to see your face in the picture? Sharing the frame with folks like Moses and Martha, Peter and Paul … there will be you and Mephibosheth.
He won’t be the only one grinning. [121-131]
1. Fred Lowery, Covenant Marriage: Staying Together for Life (West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing, 2002), 44.
2. Lowery, Covenant Marriage, 45.