My son Jonathan has heard the story of his name before. In fact, of the three boys, he seems to be the most interested in the naming story. It was not so much the meaning of Jonathan that we selected as it was a quality of Jonathan that we desired. Jonathan, son of King Saul, was a loyal friend to David. Loyal to the point of losing what was rightfully his – as heir to the throne – so that God’s will could be accomplished through his friend David. My son Jonathan was the third son in three years and it was our hope as parents that he would bond well with his brothers. Thankfully he has.
Last night Jonathan brought up the fact that his name is not spelled with an “h” before the “n” even though my middle name is John. You see, he knows that we as parents also liked the fact that his name tied in loosely with other family names. My middle name comes from my mother’s father. Jonathan’s mother also has a grandfather named John – the father of her mother. So even though it loosely ties together, I found myself trying to explain that “John” and “Jonathan” are entirely different names. Today I began to dig into the name of Jonathan and found consensus with the meaning, “Yahweh has given.”
The first part of the name is the abbreviated form of Yahweh, and the verb “natan” means to give. Of course that made me wonder, what has Yahweh given? Because of the shuffling of my schedule, I found my answer: Mephibosheth.
Mephibosheth is the son of Jonathan (back to the Bible now, not my 9 year old) whose story is found in parentheses. Seriously. One of those names in the Bible that my father used to quiz us on – how old was he, etc. When Jonathan and Saul died in battle, Mephibosheth was a living heir to the throne. The only problem? He was five years old and David was already anointed as the next king. It would be common for David, as expectant king, to wipe out any remaining threats to the throne, i.e., family members of Saul. That helps to explain this account:
(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 crippled. His name was Mephibosheth.) 2 Samuel 4:4
There he is – an heir to the throne reduced to parentheses. A son of a prince now unable to even run on his own. Not only had he lost his place, he had become crippled in the process. And Mephibosheth was not even his given name. In 1 Chronicles 8:34, his name appears as Merib-Baal. The footnote indicates this explanation: “The name was originally Merib-Baal (apparently meaning ‘opponent of Baal’, see 1 Chron. 8:34), perhaps to be spelled ‘Meri-Baal’ (meaning ‘loved by Baal’), but was changed by the author of Samuel to Mephibosheth (meaning ‘from the mouth of the shameful thing’). See note on 2:8.”
Confused yet? I was. Now just imagine the confusion of Mephibosheth, or Meri-Baal. You enter life with a grandfather who is the king. Your father is a prince. Life is good. You run and play and enjoy the privileges of royalty. Then, in a 24-hour stretch, you lose your father, grandfather, mobility, royalty, and pride. Now at the ripe age of five you are an orphan, you are crippled, and you hide. The next time you want to complain about your day, first measure it against that one.
Poor kid. His father and grandfather died on the same day. His life is potentially in danger, and historians cannot seem to agree on his name and meaning. Even among present-day scholars there is disagreement on the meaning of his name. It seems to depend on the weight and meaning of the original name. One commonly noted meaning is “exterminator of shame, i.e., idols.” That definition hinges on the interpretation of “Baal” in his name. It is very likely that the use of Baal at that time still carried the meaning of “lord” or “Lord”, which would fit more appropriately with the life of the God-fearing Jonathan.
It would also seem likely that Jonathan would give his only son a name that means “loved by (the Lord)” – Meri-Baal.
Jonathan: Yahweh has given
Meri-Baal: Loved by the Lord
Mephibosheth: Exterminator of shame
That is us. All of us. Loved by the Lord, Yahweh has given an extermination of our shame. Let us go back to how I found my answer to “What has Yahweh given?” Today I was asked, unexpectantly, to pick up my sons from school. Since one had homework club, I brought Max Lucado’s book In the Grip of Grace, knowing I would have time to read. And who do I read about? Jonathan, Mephibosheth, and David. Consider the parallel to our own lives as drawn out by Lucado:
Just as David kept his promise to Jonathan, so God keeps his promise to us. The name Mephibosheth means “he who scatters shame.” And that is exactly what David intended to do for the young prince.
In swift succession David returned to Mephibosheth all his land, crops, and servants and then insisted that the cripple eat at the king’s table…
And I ask you, do you see your story in his?
Children of royalty, crippled by the fall, permanently marred by sin. Living parenthetical lives in the chronicles of earth only to be remembered by the king. Driven not by our beauty but by his promise, he calls us to himself and invites us to take a permanent place at his table. Though we often limp more than we walk, we take our place next to the other sinners-made-saints and we share in God’s glory. (p. 103, 104)
That’s a lot to take in. God’s grace always is. If you have not read Lucado’s book before, I highly recommend it. It is good to drink deeply from the fountain of grace. But drink slowly so you get it.
Before our shame ever was, Yahweh Has Given (Jonathan). When we entered the scene we were loved by (the Lord), Meri-Baal. But there was a price on our head. A price we could not ever pay. And our feeble attempt to escape leaves us crippled and ashamed. What do we do? What can we do? We accept the invitation of the King. The invitation not to simply come to the table, but to have everything restored to us. The invitation that he will exterminate, or scatter, our shame (Mephibosheth).
If you consider once again the parallel that Lucado suggests, you can see a deeper meaning for Jonathan. Jonathan willingly gave up his rightful, royal position so that God’s will could be accomplished. Jonathan knew who the king truly was. And, when he gave up his life, the king honored the promise to bring Jonathan’s family back to the palace. The king restored the family line and scattered the family’s shame. Do you see it?
Jesus willingly gave up his position of royalty. He gave up his life, knowing that the King would keep his promise. And he was right. The King of kings has sent out a decree, an invitation, for all those in the family of Jesus to come home. To reside as royalty with shame exterminated.
Have you accepted that invitation? Not with just a know-it-in-your-head acceptance, but a feel-it-in-your-soul “YES”? Yahweh has given. Grace. The King has promised. Mercy.
Do you accept, or will you continue to hide in shame?