Capacity for friendship is a mark of a noble character. Jonathan’s love for David is one of the ideal friendships of history, especially when contrasted to Saul’s jealousy and treachery. Jonathan’s loyalty was a great encouragement to David during his years of rejection. History has no parallel to Jonathan’s renunciation of his throne in favor of David, his rival. The nobility of Jonathan’s character is seen in this: despite his loyalty to David, he did not pit David against his father, Saul, who was still “the LORD’s anointed.” He was the complete opposite of his father. While Saul hated David and made repeated attempts to kill him, Jonathan loved David and tried to help him and rescue him from Saul’s murderous intentions.
The brotherly love of David and Jonathan was based upon their common faith. Both were heroic warriors, but their courage came from knowing that God always helped His people (1 Sam. 14:6-17:47). Their friendship began on the day David defeated Goliath, and continued until Jonathan’s death, when David wrote of the depth of their friendship (2 Sam. 1:26).
Jonathan’s Great Faith
In 1 Samuel 14, Jonathan’s faith in God was revealed and he gained a major victory over the Philistines because of his great confidence in Him. He and his armor-bearer crossed behind enemy lines without the knowledge of his father, king Saul (14:1-5). “Then Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will work for us. For nothing restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few’” (14:6). Jonathan’s faith was based on his knowledge that God would save His people, for He had done so in the past. And the Lord, indeed, delivered the Philistines into Israel’s hands (14:12).
Jonathan And David’s Relationship
David and Jonathan’s friendship began after David killed Goliath. “Now when he (David) finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Sam. 18:1). Like Jonathan, we manifest our love and devotion towards Him who is the Son of David, who is greater than David, the Lord Jesus. Jonathan’s devotion was kindled by David’s slaying of Goliath. When we think of what Jesus has done for us, our love and devotion to Him increases (1 Cor. 15:54-58).
After David killed Goliath, Saul wanted to recognize his victory. Jonathan was Saul’s son, and therefore heir to the throne. But David had been appointed to that position by God. Instead of looking jealously upon David as his rival, Jonathan loved him. Here we see the matchless grace of God in His dealings with us. The love between David and Jonathan is to be attributed to Him in whose hand are all the hearts of men, and He can change them as He pleases.
Jonathan’s Covenant With David
“Then Jonathan and David made a covenant … And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt”(18:3-4). The covenant they made meant that they would stick together and help each other. It’s difficult to find a friendship equal to theirs. David, a shepherd boy, did not have the clothes befitting his new public life as a national hero. Therefore, Jonathan gave David his robe, sword, bow and belt. He stripped himself of all that he had for David’s sake. Shouldn’t we manifest such devotion and love towards Him who is greater than David?
Jonathan’s Intercession For David
In 1 Samuel 19:2-7, we read more about the true friendship between Jonathan and David. We also see how Jonathan warned David of the danger of being killed by King Saul, and counseled him to take measures against it. Jonathan acted as a peacemaker, interceding for David before Saul and entreating his father on David’s behalf. Jonathan reminded his father that David had delivered Israel from the Philistines, had saved the king’s throne, and had never wronged Saul. Jonathan told his father that it was wrong to shed innocent blood.
Jonathan’s intercession only had a temporary and transient effect upon his father. While he swore that David would not be killed, later he tried to kill David with his spear (18:6-10). This was written for our learning (1 Cor. 10:11). How often unsaved people are convicted to cease from their evil ways only to return to them after a short time. They are like a washed sow returning again to wallow in the mire (2 Pet. 2:22).
David And Jonathan’s Dialogue
First Samuel 20 contains a long dialogue in which David said: “What have I done? What is my iniquity, and what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” The repeated personal pronouns “I” and “my” show plainly the condition of his mind. God was now not in his thoughts at all. His next utterance shows plainly that unbelieving fears possessed him: “There is but a step between me and death” (20:3). These utterances reveal that David was not trusting God and was not acknowledging Him in all his ways as we are exhorted to do (Prov. 3:6). In fact, he was out of communion with the Lord.
We are the losers when we fail to acknowledge the Lord in all our ways. When fellowship with God is severed, we yield to temptation and sin. David then asked Jonathan to tell a deliberate lie on his behalf. David was expected at the palace at mealtime, but was afraid to go. So he asked Jonathan’s permission to disappear for three days: “If your father misses me at all, then say, ‘David earnestly asked permission of me that he might run over to Bethlehem, his city, for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family’” (20:6). May this speak to each of us, warning us of the sad result of broken communion with the Lord.
Jonathan Seeks To Help David
When Jonathan saw David so distraught, he did not have the moral courage to acknowledge that his father wanted to slay David. He sought to pacify him by evading the truth and saying: “You shall not die! Indeed my father will do nothing either great or small without first telling me” (1 Sam. 20:2). This was a lie because Saul had spoken openly to Jonathan and all his servants that they should kill David (1 Sam. 19:1). Jonathan was not ignorant of Saul’s having thrown the javelin at David, of the instructions given to the servants to kill him (19:11), of the messengers sent to arrest him (19:20), and of his going after David in person (19:22). Although Jonathan knew that his father thirsted for David’s blood, he said to him, “If I knew certainly that evil was determined by my father to come upon you, then would I not tell you?” (20:9).
Jonathan Communicates With David
These two friends made plans to communicate. The plan called for Jonathan to practice with his bow and arrows. This would arouse no suspicion because he was a warrior and went out often for archery. David would be hiding in the field. If he shot the arrow way beyond David, it meant that he was in danger and should flee. But if he shot the arrow in front of David, he would know it was safe for him to return.
On the third day Jonathan went out into the field with his bow. There was no way for Saul to know that his son was about to deliver a message to David. Saul had made it very clear that he wanted to slay David. The arrow went flying through the air and landed way on the other side of David. That meant he was to flee. Jonathan then told his armor-bearer to take his bow and arrows into the city. Then Jonathan spoke with David and reminded him of their covenant. Jonathan kept his part and was faithful and true to David to the very end of his life. David was also faithful and true to Jonathan and his descendants.
Saul’s Anger With Jonathan
Saul sat down to eat on two different days, but David’s place was empty (1 Sam. 20:24-27). So the king asked his son why David did not come to the king’s table. Jonathan’s reply was that David asked permission from him to go to Bethlehem for a family sacrifice. Saul’s anger was kindled against his son and he verbally abused him and abused his mother (20:30-31). The words of the God-forsaken and melancholic king to his son were vicious, and in wrath he threw a spear at him to kill him (20:33). This illustrates Satan’s hatred against all who are one with God’s anointed, just as Jonathan was one with David.
The next morning the parting of the two friends took place. Jonathan and David met, kissed and wept together. From that day on, David was in danger.
A Biblical Example Of True Friendship
The relationship between David and Jonathan stands out as a model of true friendship forged between two men in the midst of great difficulties. In 1 Samuel 23, we read what they did as close friends: “David stayed in strongholds in the wilderness, and remained in the mountains in the wilderness of Ziph. Saul sought him every day, but God did not deliver him into his hand. So David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. And David was in the wilderness of Ziph in a forest. Then Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him ‘Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.’ So the two of them made a covenant before the LORD” (23:14-18). In this passage we see three things Jonathan did for his friend.
First, Jonathan went to where David was hiding in the wilderness, and strengthened him. David was discouraged and headed for bitterness and resentment. Jonathan neither said that David’s problem was nothing to worry about, nor did he act as though he had all the answers. He did not use human arguments to encourage David, but strengthened his hand in God.
Second, Jonathan encouraged David: “You shall be king over Israel.” He affirmed God’s call on David’s life. Being the eldest son of King Saul, he was the heir to the throne. But he was not jealous or vengeful. Instead, he helped David realize God’s purpose for his life, which is the highest form of friendship.
Third, Jonathan and David declared their loyalty and commitment to each other. They made a covenant before the Lord. They were committed to true friendship. They would stick together and would help each other to the end. Such was the wonderful relationship between David and Jonathan.
May the Lord give us the grace to be such a friend. A faithful friend is a strong shelter; the man who has found one has found a treasure. There is no substitute for true friendship, and there is no way to measure its value.
By Maurice Bassali
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org