If you’ve heard a sermon on friendship, then undoubtably you’ve either learned about Ruth and Naomi, or David and Jonathan. Jonathan is a beautiful example of a true friend who doesn’t allow age difference, social status, wealth, tribal ties or a high risk of violent parental disapproval, hold him back from loving and supporting David without reserve.
It is easy to treat Jonathan as a satellite of David, but he is an valiant man and amazing spiritual role model in his own right. He is smarter than his father, King Saul, and is a self-determining man of action, who gets tough jobs done using his own initiative. I have a special place in my heart for Jonathan, because of his bravery and his outstanding faith.
1. A Lifestyle of Faith
Jonathan was not only a highly accomplished warrior, but also a man of strong faith and courage from before David’s time. He may very well have been one of David’s strongest role models. He obviously knew the Word of God (Torah) and his belief in God was far greater than anything that his father, Saul, possessed or was willing to develop.
“To reach the Philistine outpost, Jonathan had to go down between two rocky cliffs… “Let’s go across to the outpost of those pagans,” Jonathan said to his armour bearer. “Perhaps the LORD will help us, for nothing can hinder the LORD. He can win a battle whether He has many warriors or only a few!” 1 Samuel 14:4-6
Jonathan doesn’t have a quiet, personal faith either. He not only demonstrates his belief, but he uses it to build David up. He fully intends to serve the Lord alongside David, and his faith in God’s provision in David’s life never wavers.
In 1 Samuel 23:16-18 David is desperately seeking sanctuary from Saul’s zealous plans to have him dead: “One day near Horesh, David received the news that Saul was on the way to Ziph to search for him and kill him. Jonathan went to find David and encouraged him to stay strong in his faith in God. “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan reassured him. “My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware.” So the two of them renewed their solemn pact before the LORD. Then Jonathan returned home, while David stayed at Horesh.”
This is the kind of support we need to give to each other. In times of pain, fear and stress, it’s an invaluable gift and David must have been comforted by those words of assurance in the hard years to come. It is little wonder he grieved so heavily when Jonathan died. Close friends who lift you up are more valuable than all of a king’s wealth. Having a backbone of support from someone within the royal family, who was convinced of David’s future and fully supportive of it, (despite the sacrifice he’d personally have to make), must have played a strong part of David becoming the man of God he became. Jonathan would have given me great courage.
2. An Attitude of Submission and Obedience to God
As Crown Prince (heir to King Saul’s throne), Jonathan’s selflessness is particularly outstanding. He recognises that David is God’s choice for the King of Isra’el, and he is bravely willing to give David that place without hesitation, regardless of the rift it created between him and his father, Saul. His disobedience was no small thing. Saul had tried to kill Jonathan in the past for disobeying an oath he knew nothing about, so you can image how the following act of rebellion went over. [Ref. 1 Samuel 14]
“Saul boiled with rage at Jonathan. “You stupid son of a *perverse and rebellious woman!” he swore at him. “Do you think I don’t know that you want him to be king in your place, shaming yourself and your mother? As long as that son of Jesse is alive, you’ll never be king. Now go and get him so I can kill him!” 1 Samuel 20:30-31 Jonathan stuck up for his friend and God’s choice of King, no matter what.
It’s remarkable to me, that Jonathan made a clear decision about the quality of David’s character so early. He was a man who looked at life through discerning eyes of faith and ran on God’s priorities. There is no equivalent in history to match Jonathan’s willing submission to the Lord’s choice of king, especially as princes have a well-earned reputation for wealth and power seeking, spoiled behaviour. I studied historical abdications and no other royal has ever matched Jonathan’s determined heart. Kings stepped down because of illness, revolts against their reign, or because they were forced out. Nowhere was I able to find a reference to a king giving up his throne to someone who was not their son. Jonathan knew there was something special about David, from the moment he saw Goliath defeated.
“After David had finished talking with Saul, he met Jonathan, the king’s son. There was an immediate bond between them, for Jonathan loved David. From that day on Saul kept David with him and wouldn’t let him return home. And Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, because he loved him as he loved himself. Jonathan sealed the pact by taking off his robe and giving it to David, together with his tunic, sword, bow, and belt.” 1 Samuel 18:1-4 (Exchange of clothing was a part of sealing a pact, please don’t read anything else into it.)
We see little of it described, but Jonathan’s relationship with the Lord was one of depth, which enabled him to be the kind of friend that each of us needs in our corner. It is only by knowing the ways of God and communing with Him, that any of us achieve this kind of character. Jonathan’s actions are something that only the presence of the Lord in someone’s heart can achieve.
3. A Friend Who Inspires You to be the Best Version of Yourself
In a time when male friendship seems to be too often characterised by drinking together, pranks, competition, reckless behaviour and dirty jokes, the manner in which David and Jonathan interact is quite a contrast, and speaks volumes about the Godly character of both men.
“Then David bowed three times to Jonathan with his face to the ground. Both of them were in tears as they embraced each other and said good-bye, especially David. At last Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn loyalty to each other in the LORD’s name. The LORD is the witness of a bond between us and our children forever.” Then David left, and Jonathan returned to the town.” 1 Samuel 20:41-42
True friends inspire us to be the best version of ourselves that we can be, and Jonathan had that affect on David. For someone you love and respect, you will go the extra mile to ensure you’ve done the right thing by them. David did this to fulfil his promise to Jonathan which was made in 1 Samuel 20:13b when Saul was trying to kill David.
“Jonathan said, “May the LORD be with you as He used to be with my father. And may you treat me with the faithful love of the LORD as long as I live. But if I die, treat my family with this faithful love, even when the LORD destroys all your enemies from the face of the earth.” So Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, saying, “May the LORD destroy all your enemies!” And Jonathan made David reaffirm his vow of friendship again, for Jonathan loved David as he loved himself.” It hasn’t escaped me that Jonathan’s words included his father, Saul. Again, I wonder what Saul put Jonathan through as a father, and what, if any, respect and faith Jonathan had left in him.
2 Samuel 9:1-11 speaks of the fulfilment of that vow. “One day David asked, “Is anyone in Saul’s family still alive—anyone to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake? … His name was Mephibosheth; he was Jonathan’s son and Saul’s grandson. When he came to David, he bowed low to the ground in deep respect. David said, “Greetings, Mephibosheth.” Mephibosheth replied, “I am your servant.” “Don’t be afraid!” David said. “I intend to show kindness to you because of my promise to your father, Jonathan. I will give you all the property that once belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will eat here with me at the king’s table!” … And from that time on, Mephibosheth ate regularly at David’s table, like one of the king’s own sons.”
Even in 2 Samuel 19:24-30 when I am not entirely sure of Mephibosheth’s true loyalty to David, (David had to flee Jerusalem to save it from Absalom), David does not let the pact down. “Now Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson, came down from Jerusalem to meet the king. He had not cared for his feet, trimmed his beard, or washed his clothes since the day the king left Jerusalem. “Why didn’t you come with me, Mephibosheth?” the king asked him. Mephibosheth replied, “My lord the king, my servant Ziba deceived me. I told him, ‘Saddle my donkey so I can go with the king.’ For as you know I am crippled. Ziba has slandered me by saying that I refused to come. But I know that my lord the king is like an angel of God, so do what you think is best. All my relatives and I could expect only death from you, my lord, but instead you have honoured me by allowing me to eat at your own table! What more can I ask?” “You’ve said enough,” David replied. “I’ve decided that you and Ziba will divide your land equally between you.” “Give him all of it,” Mephibosheth said. “I am content just to have you safely back again, my lord the king!”
4. A Note on the Depth of the Friendship
“Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen in battle!
Jonathan lies dead on the hills.
How I weep for you, my brother Jonathan!
Oh, how much I loved you!
And your love for me was deep,
deeper than the love of women!”
A question I see debated is whether or not David was bisexual or homosexual. Despite many opinions to the contrary, I am going to say, no. Why? Because of his cultural manner of communication and because both men are of outstanding God-fearing character. Thirdly, homosexual acts (not people) are openly stated as being an abomination in the Bible. God could not have allowed someone undertaking those acts to lead a nation, as the spiritual head of the nation, which the Jewish kings were. In addition, every one of David’s sins came with a penalty which involved life being lost. He did not get to build the temple, due to his earlier violent behaviour in life (no lives were lost here, this is the only exception). He was confronted and punished for his sin with BathSheba and their son died and he was confronted and punished for the census he never should have ordered and thousands of people died as a result. King-sized sins had king-sized repercussions which were harsh.
Homosexual acts incurred the death sentence, which he narrowly escaped because of BathSheba. Had David had an affair with Jonathan, he would have been severely dealt with, if not, dethroned and killed. The Davidic Covenant which led to the Messiah coming from his line could not have been established from David, under such circumstances. This is spiritual common sense. A covenant is a serious matter, especially one of such magnitude and the Lord would not have been able to slacken his discipline of David and compromise the law.
What I see here is David being too honest for our western ears. It is well worth noting the figurative and poetic language that David used in the Psalms was traditional to his culture and when reading verses such as these, Western society easily misinterprets the meaning based on our current norms. This part of the Song of the Bow sounds as though David is describing his relationship with Jonathan in a way which indicates sexual intimacy. This is a cultural misunderstanding.
In **Manners and Customs of Bible Lands by Fred H. Wight, Fred points out that “The Oriental frequently makes statements that to the Westerner sound like uncalled-for exaggeration…. (we) must remember the fondness of the Oriental for the hyperbole.” and “The Oriental considers it to be perfectly proper to talk about anything that is natural in the presence of men, women, and children. And this is done in refined circles. A respectable woman (or man) from the Holy Land cannot understand why some critics of the Bible have condemned the Scriptural mention of certain matters deemed wrong for Westerners to talk about.” *** I have written before about how David never held back from expressing his emotions, which is in line with his culture. In his time, a friendship between men could be expressed with as much affection without raising eyebrows.
The Bible always calls out homosexual acts as wrong. Had David been in a physical relationship with Jonathan, by the precedents already set in David’s story, he would have been called out for it by a prophet and punished. God never let David’s most severe sins go unpunished.
As for the wording, “…your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women.” Like any husband, David would have felt let down and harassed at times, by the complications of his relationships with his wives; and like many men, he would have felt a strong bond with other men who tend to be less demanding and complicated. How many men do you know who go to a friend’s place to watch sport when the heat is on with the Mrs? Men, especially on the battlefield, bond very deeply. They rely on each other for survival and that can build connections which are equally as strong as those of husband and wife, if not more so. If you doubt this, research why veterans miss war and watch this video by Sebastian Junger on TED Talks. It is exceptionally helpful. https://www.ted.com/talks/sebastian_junger_why_veterans_miss_war?language=en Romans 5:7 says “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.” In combat, men shield their comrades in this way. Don’t underestimate that bond’s power.
David was very normal for the type of life he lived. Close friends are more valuable than all of a king’s wealth and Jonathan was one of them.
To learn more about the consequences of David’s sexual sins and his time on the battlefield, please read this article: Was David Bisexual? It will also explain this issue further. http://articles.faithwriters.com/reprint-article-details.php?article=32246
*This text is taken from the New Living Translation, but this wording is from the Hebrew translation of this passage.
**Manners and Customs of Bible Lands by Fred H. Wight, Copyright 1953 Read it here: http://www.baptistbiblebelievers.com/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=qDQAYzDf0WM%3D
*** When You Just Lose It – Masculinity and Keeping it Real
– The Trouble With Saul: Mental Illness or Tormented by Fear?
– This is What Emotional Exhaustion Looks Like: Running Away from Problems and the Consequences http://articles.faithwriters.com/reprint-article-details.php?article=32875
– How Gentle Kings Become Killers: David as a Warrior and Psalmist
– Does Absolute Power Corrupt Absolutely?
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