🔼The name Mephibosheth: Summary
- One Who Destroys Shame, End Of Shame
- From (1) the verb פאה (pa'a), to cleave or break apart, and (2) the noun בשת (boshet), shame.
🔼The name Mephibosheth in the Bible
There are two men named Mephibosheth in the Bible, both direct descendants of king Saul and both rather unfortunate. The lesser known Mephibosheth was a son of Saul and his concubine Rizpah, daughter of Aiah, who was sacrificed to the Gibeonites, together with his brother Armoni and the five sons of Saul's daughter Merab and Adriel, son of Barzillai (2 Samuel 21:8).
The better known Mephibosheth was the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, whose name appears to originally have been Merib-baal (and is used as such by the Chronicler). This Mephibosheth was five years old when reports arrived that his father and grandfather had fallen in the battle of Mount Gilboa. In her haste to escape potential assassins, his nurse picked him up and ran off but dropped the boy and as a result he became lame in both feet for the rest of his life (2 Samuel 4:4), which might actually be a kind way of saying that he remained like a big child — see our article on the word פסח (piseah).
Much later, king David wondered if there were any survivors of the house of Saul whom he might honor, and a man named Ziba told him about Mephibosheth, who at that time was living in the house of Machir, son of Ammiel in Lo-debar. David had him brought in, consoled him, made him a landlord and invited him to dine with him and his sons frequently. Though lame and stripped of his honor, Mephibosheth appears to have managed to acquire himself a wife, because when David reinstated him, Mephibosheth had a young son named Mica. The author probably mentions him to indicate that the house of Saul was not wiped out but was allowed to continue (2 Samuel 9:12, see 1 Chronicles 8:35 and on).
Mephibosheth, however, appears to have been not so very grateful for all of this. When Absalom revolted against David and the latter chose to get out of his son's way, Ziba brought provisions to David and his men and also told him that Mephibosheth was back in Jerusalem, expecting that the kingdom of Saul would be returned to him (2 Samuel 16:1). But Absalom was killed and the peace reestablished, and Mephibosheth told David that Ziba had tricked all of them and that he had never been disloyal to David (2 Samuel 19:24-30). Whether David believed him or Ziba or both in equal degree isn't clear but it seems that he deems the matter not so important or else something for Mephibosheth himself to handle (2 Samuel 19:29). What is clear, however, is that when the Gibeonites demanded the execution of seven sons of Saul, David spared the life of Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan (2 Samuel 21:7).
🔼Etymology of the name Mephibosheth
The name Mephibosheth is mostly spelled מפיבשת. In 2 Samuel 16:1 and 16:4 it's spelled מפי־בשת and in 2 Samuel 19:24 and 21:8 it's spelled מפבשת. In each variation, the first part probably comes from a noun that was derived from the verb פאה (pa'a), meaning to cleave or break apart and (as formed from the prefix מ, mem) would literally mean either place or instrument of destruction:
The verb פאה (pa'a) means to cleave or break apart (what one does with a sword) and the derived noun פאה (pe'a) means corner or side.
Apparently related to the above is the otherwise inexplicable noun פה (peh) or פו (po) or פי (pi), meaning mouth. This word has a somewhat greater compass than its English counterpart, and also includes the edge of a sword (hence the sword protruding from the white horseman's mouth; Revelation 19:15). This word may also be used to mean extremity or end, which brings it in close proximity to the noun פאה (pe'a), corner or side.
A second word of similar form is the adverb פה (poh), which means here or hither. This adverb is alternately spelled פו (po) and פא (pa').
The second part of our name is the noun בשת (boshet), meaning shame:
The verb יבש (yabesh) means to wither (of plants or body parts). Adjective יבש (yabesh) means dry or dried. Nouns יבשה (yabbasha) and יבשת (yabbashet) refer to dry land.
The verb בוש (bosh) means to be ashamed and nouns בושה (busha), בושה (bosha) and בשת (boshet) mean shame. But although these words are usually translated with shame, humility might be a better word:
Noun מבוש (mabosh) is a rare word that appears to describe a man's private parts, but sexual modesty wasn't imposed upon society until modern times. Instead, our noun relates to the ebbing of bodily fluids from parts celebrated for their periodic retention of it.
A man's private and intuitive will was considered seated in his penis, and a flaccid and docile member demonstrated a considerate and cooperative man. This is also why Greco-Roman statues have such small willies: it reflects the understanding that men of modest private drives form the dry land upon which a society may build her glorious cities.
For a meaning of the name Mephibosheth, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads One Who Destroys Shame and Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) proposes the rather far-fetched Exterminating The Idol (the idol being Baal).
It may very well be that the name Mephibosheth was meant to convey not a destruction of shame (or a shameful idol) but rather the edge of its reach: Shame No More, in commemoration of the end of the persecution of the house of Saul.