I must confess that this lesson took an unexpected turn as I was preparing to preach. I had intended to focus once again on David and see what lessons we could learn from his example. While there are things to learn from David in 1 Samuel 18, there is also much to learn from Jonathan. Jonathan is a truly magnificent man. If David was a “man after God’s heart,” then so was Jonathan. In this lesson, I would like to focus on Jonathan and the crucial role he played in the process by which God made a leader of David.
To appreciate Jonathan as we should, we must turn back to 1 Samuel 14, where we are introduced to this magnificent man. As in chapter 17, Saul and the Israelite army seem to be at a standoff with the Philistines. Chapter 14 begins with Jonathan and his armor bearer leaving the safety of their fellow warriors and heading out into Philistine territory:
Then one day Jonathan son of Saul said to his armor bearer, “Come on, let’s go over to the Philistine garrison that is opposite us.” But he did not let his father know (1 Samuel 14:1).
Jonathan takes the initiative to wage some kind of attack on the Philistine outpost with only his armor bearer to accompany him.
Meanwhile, his father Saul is sitting in the shade of the pomegranate tree on the outskirts of Gibeah along with about 600 Israelite soldiers. It seems fairly clear that the author wants his readers to appreciate the stark contrast between Saul, who should have been leading his troops in battle, and Jonathan. Saul is sitting under the shade of “the” pomegranate tree. I doubt that you could fit all 600 men under that tree with him. He’s sipping his iced tea, waiting for an opportune moment to go to war. Jonathan is not a “shade tree” kind of soldier, and thus he and his armor bearer set out for the Philistine outpost, where they will engage the Philistines.
I suspect that Jonathan did not tell his father what he was doing1 because Saul was not really that interested in fighting, and he probably would have forbidden him. Jonathan and his armor bearer scaled the steep cliff to engage the Philistines. Jonathan’s words to his armor bearer reveal that he is truly a man “after God’s heart” just as David is:
Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “Come on, let’s go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will intervene for us. Nothing can prevent the Lord from delivering, whether by many or by a few” (1 Samuel 14:6, emphasis mine).2
Now bear in mind that these are but two men, only one of which is fully armed,3 and yet they are about to attack a Philistine outpost. Can you imagine Jonathan failing to rise to Goliath’s challenge in chapter 17? I cannot, and thus I am convinced that Jonathan was either not present (did his father station him elsewhere?) or that he was under strict orders not to fight. My point here is to call your attention to how similar Jonathan and David were.
Jonathan and his armor bearer scaled the cliff to confront the awaiting Philistines. Jonathan and his armor bearer killed around 20 men in this encounter.4 Killing these 20 men had about the same effect on the Philistines as Goliath’s death at the hand of David. God brought about an earthquake which, along with Jonathan’s victory, sent a shock wave of fear among the Philistines. They turned and fled in sheer panic. While this was taking place, Saul looked on from the shade of the pomegranate tree wondering what was going on. Saul knew that some of his men must be involved, and thus he ordered them to be mustered, which revealed that Jonathan and his armor bearer were missing.
Panic increased among the Philistines, so that they were killing one another with their swords. Isn’t this just like God? The Israelites have no swords, except for Saul and Jonathan, and so God orchestrates such chaos at the battle scene (by the earthquake?) that the Philistines were using their swords on each other. Once it becomes apparent to Saul that the Philistines are suffering defeat, he orders his men to engage.
It is at this point that Saul issues a foolish order. He puts all of his men under an oath that they will not eat until they have given Saul vengeance on his enemies.5 Neither Jonathan nor his armor bearer were aware of such an oath, and thus when he came upon a honeycomb in the forest, he ate and was greatly strengthened. Saul’s men came upon the honey, but none of them dared to eat of it. The end result was that Saul’s men lacked the strength to press on in the battle. When someone informed Jonathan of the oath Saul had imposed on his men, his son saw the folly of his father’s actions:
28 Then someone from the army informed him, “Your father put the army under a strict oath saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food today!’ That is why the army is tired.” 29 Then Jonathan said, “My father has caused trouble for the land. See how my eyes gleamed when I tasted just a little of this honey. 30 Certainly if the army had eaten some of the enemies’ provisions that they came across today, would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?” (1 Samuel 14:28-30)
Worse yet, when the weary soldiers came upon the spoils of war – sheep and cattle – they were so famished that they slaughtered and ate them, blood and all.6 This was breaking the covenant on a large scale, and thus Saul was forced to build an altar (a first for Saul).7
Finally, Saul was ready to do battle again, but the priest urged him to consult God. So they did, but God did not respond. Saul concluded that this was due to sin, and so the lot was cast and Jonathan was indicated. Somehow I don’t get the impression that Saul was surprised.8 Saul seems a bit too eager to put his son to death; at least there is no indication of reluctance:
Saul said, “God will punish me severely if Jonathan doesn’t die!” (1 Samuel 14:44)
Saul’s men were not about to allow this to happen to Jonathan. They recognized that their victory over the Philistines was due to Jonathan’s leadership, and not Saul’s:
But the army said to Saul, “Should Jonathan, who won this great victory in Israel, die? May it never be! As surely as the Lord lives, not a single hair of his head will fall to the ground! For it is with the help of God that he has acted today.” So the army rescued Jonathan from death (1 Samuel 14:45).
Jonathan was spared, and the Israelites gave up their pursuit of the Philistines. One has to wonder if the confrontation with the Philistines and their champion, Goliath, would have been necessary if it had not been for Saul’s folly.
My purpose for reviewing 1 Samuel 14 is that this is where the reader is introduced to Jonathan. We are not really surprised at Saul’s actions, but we are amazed that his son could be so much like David. This chapter provides an interesting backdrop to 1 Samuel 17, where David kills Goliath. In chapter 14, it is Jonathan who takes the initiative, while Saul and the other soldiers passively wait. In chapter 17, it is David who takes the initiative, while Saul and the other soldiers tremble in fear. Both Jonathan and David believe that the uncircumcised heathen should not be allowed to defy the armies of the living God. Both Jonathan and David believe that God will give the victory no matter how overwhelming the odds may appear.
It is interesting to observe that we are told of four “loves” in reference to David. In each instance, the same Hebrew word is employed, and in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), the same Greek word (a verb form of agapao; the noun form would be agape9) is used.10 These “loves” are not all the same.
The first love is Saul’s “love” for David:
David came to Saul and stood before him. Saul liked him a great deal, and he became his armor bearer (1 Samuel 16:21).
And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer (1 Samuel 16:21, ESV).
The ESV has rendered the text more literally, while the NET has rendered it in a way that is closer to the reality. Saul’s “love” for David was temporary and fickle, at best. At this moment in time, David met a very real need in Saul’s life. His music calmed Saul’s troubled spirit. Saul’s “love” for David was because David “made him feel good.” We see a lot of this kind of love today. When the good feelings pass, so does this kind of “love.” By 1 Samuel 18:22, the most that can be said is that Saul is “pleased” with David, while in truth Saul looks upon David with suspicion and wants to kill him.
A second love is Michal’s love for David (1 Samuel 18:20, 28). It is not difficult to grasp that Michal would love David. He was a handsome young man, a musician, and a military hero. He was the prize “catch” of the kingdom for any woman. Her love was a romantic kind of love, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. It is a love that seems to grow cold, as we see in Michal’s response to David’s enthusiasm in dancing before the ark:
16 As the ark of the Lord entered the City of David, Saul’s daughter Michal looked out the window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him. . . . 20 When David went home to pronounce a blessing on his own house, Michal, Saul’s daughter, came out to meet him. She said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself this day! He has exposed himself today before his servants’ slave girls the way a vulgar fool might do!” (2 Samuel 6:16, 20)11
Third, we see the people’s love for David.
16 But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he was the one leading them out to battle and back. . . . 22 Then Saul instructed his servants, “Tell David secretly, ‘The king is pleased with you, and all his servants like [love] you. So now become the king’s son-in-law” (1 Samuel 18:16, 22).
David was the kind of person the people wanted as their king. Not only was David handsome and courageous, but he was successful in giving Israel victory over the Philistines. He succeeded in the dangerous missions even though Saul assigned him hoping they would bring about his death. And we are also told that David “went out and came in before the people” (1 Samuel 18:13b, NASB, ESV, KJV, NKJ). I think the author is telling us more than just the fact that David “led the army out to battle and back.”12 I think that the author is telling us that David had a presence with the people, whereas Saul probably was more aloof and distant, not too different from what we will later see in David, in contrast to the presence of Absalom (2 Samuel 15:1-6). Absalom will turn the people’s hearts from David to himself – so much for their “love” for David.
Fourth, we read of Jonathan’s love for David. Now here is true love,13 the kind of love we should desire to imitate:
1 When David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan and David became bound together in close friendship [literally, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David]. Jonathan loved David as much as he did his own life. 2 Saul retained David on that day and did not allow him to return to his father’s house. 3 Jonathan made a covenant with David, for he loved him as much as he did his own life. 4 Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with the rest of his gear, including his sword, his bow, and even his belt (1 Samuel 18:1-4).
Jonathan and David were kindred spirits. We can see that by comparing Jonathan’s faith and courage in fighting the Philistines in chapter 14 with David’s response to Goliath in chapter 17. Both trusted in God. Both knew that God was great and that He would give them victory, no matter what the odds. Both recognized the battle with the Philistines as a matter of God’s covenant relationship with His people. Both saw Saul for what he was, and yet they would lay down their lives to protect the life of the king.
Chapter 18 begins with a statement that Jonathan’s soul was knit to David’s soul as a result of David’s conversation with Saul. The question is, “When and where did this conversation take place?” We are told this in chapter 17, a few verses earlier:
57 So when David returned from striking down the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul. He still had the head of the Philistine in his hand. 58 Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” David replied, “I am the son of your servant Jesse in Bethlehem” (1 Samuel 17:57-58, emphasis mine).
When did David return from killing Goliath? We know several things that must all be taken into account:
1. There are three “returns” mentioned: (a) the return of the Israelite soldiers from chasing the Philistines (1 Samuel 17:53); (b) the return of David after killing Goliath (1 Samuel 17:57); and, (c) the return of the Israelite army, apparently led by Saul (1 Samuel 18:6).
2. We do not know for sure that after killing Goliath David went with the Israelite army in pursuit of the Philistines. We do know that after killing Goliath, David did take Goliath’s head to Jerusalem, and he also put the giant’s weapons in his tent (1 Samuel 17:54), perhaps at his home in Bethlehem (Where else would David have pitched “his tent”?).
3. The chronological sequence is not entirely clear, but it would appear that David’s conversation with Saul (1 Samuel 17:57-58) takes place after his return from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
If these assumptions are correct, then David’s conversation with Saul may not have been immediately after Goliath was slain (the Israelite army was now in hot pursuit of the Philistines), but rather sometime later, after David had gone to Jerusalem with Goliath’s head and weapons. David’s conversation with Saul could well have been at Saul’s home or in Jerusalem.
Notice that Jonathan’s soul is not said to have been knit to that of David as a result of David’s conduct on the battlefield, or even as a result of David’s words to Goliath. Jonathan’s soul was knit to David’s soul as a result of a conversation he overheard (perhaps at his home or in Jerusalem) between his father and David. I do not think David’s words, recorded in 1 Samuel 17:57-58, are the bulk of what Jonathan overheard. I would suspect David reiterated to Saul what he had said to him before he did battle with Goliath. Thus, it would be David’s faith in God and his courage that drew Jonathan’s soul to David.
Note that the first verses of 1 Samuel 18 do not focus on David’s love for Jonathan,15 but on Jonathan’s love for David. Jonathan, we are told, loved David as himself.16 We recognize that this is the fulfillment of the law.17 As a reflection of this love, Jonathan made a covenant with David. We are not told the details of this particular covenant, but from what we read in chapter 20, it seems as though this covenant is bilateral:
12 Jonathan said to David, “The Lord God of Israel is my witness. I will feel out my father about this time the day after tomorrow. If he is favorably inclined toward David, will I not then send word to you and let you know? 13 But if my father intends to do you harm, may the Lord do all this and more to Jonathan, if I don’t let you know and send word to you so you can go safely on your way. May the Lord be with you, as he was with my father. 14 While I am still alive, extend to me the loyalty of the Lord, or else I will die! 15 Don’t ever cut off your loyalty to my family, not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth 16 and called David’s enemies to account.” So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David. 17 Jonathan once again took an oath with David, because he loved him. In fact Jonathan loved him as much as he did his own life (1 Samuel 17:12-17).
Jonathan gives David his robe. As early as Genesis 37 and Joseph’s “coat of many colors,” we are aware of the significance of a man’s robe. Joseph’s robe was a symbol of his authority and his father’s favor, and that is why the first thing his brothers did when the opportunity presented itself was to strip the robe from him (Genesis 37:23). I believe that a royal robe was one of the garments Pharaoh gave to Joseph as a symbol of his authority (Genesis 41:42). So too were the royal robes of Ahab and Jehoshaphat.18 Thus, when Jonathan gives David his royal robe, he is symbolically surrendering any claim to the kingdom as Saul’s son in deference to David, who was God’s choice. Thus, when David wore Jonathan’s robe, it was Jonathan’s public testimony to his private commitment to David.
But this is not all. In addition to the robe Jonathan, gave David his armor, including his sword, his bow, and his belt.19 Once again we need to recall that from 1 Samuel 13:22 we know that only Saul and Jonathan possessed swords and spears. Jonathan did not go to the military supply depot to acquire replacement weapons. When he gave David his weapons, he had to do without. Three times we are told that Jonathan loved David as he loved his own life.20 Here, it would seem that he loved David even more than his own life, for he gave David the weapons that could mean the difference between life and death for him.
Never before in the Old Testament have I seen a man like this, a man so devoted to serve, to defend, and to promote another. And the great wonder is that this man – David – is the one God appointed to take the place that would seem to be Jonathan’s as the son of the king. Jonathan is an Old Testament Barnabas, or perhaps an Old Testament John the Baptist.
22 After this, Jesus and his disciples came into Judean territory, and there he spent time with them and was baptizing. 23 John was also baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming to him and being baptized. 24 (For John had not yet been thrown into prison.) 25 Now a dispute came about between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew concerning ceremonial washing. 26 So they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you on the other side of the Jordan River, about whom you testified – see, he is baptizing, and everyone is flocking to him!” 27 John replied, “No one can receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but rather, ‘I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. This then is my joy, and it is complete. 30 He must become more important while I become less important” (John 3:22-30, emphasis mine).
One can hardly miss the contrast between Saul and his son Jonathan when it comes to their relationship with David. In the beginning, Saul loved David greatly, and he is grateful for David’s service to God by killing Goliath. At this point, Saul saw David as a contributor to his kingdom, but once David became popular with the people, Saul saw David as a competitor for the throne. None of this has any substance in fact, for David always sought to serve Saul by protecting and promoting his interests. Even when the opportunity came to kill Saul and to seize the kingdom, David refused. Aside from a few occasions when Saul temporarily repented, this man became a virtual Herod, who was ruthless in his efforts to be rid of anyone who might replace him.
Jonathan was the opposite of Saul in terms of his relationship with David. Jonathan was one in spirit with David in his love for God and in his desire to promote the glory of God. He loved David as himself and entered into a covenant relationship with him. He literally and symbolically surrendered any claim to the throne and supported David as Israel’s next king.
Jonathan was a kindred spirit who remained loyal to David to the very end, when he died on the battlefield with his father and brothers. David’s love for Jonathan continued after his death:
1 Then David asked, “Is anyone still left from the family of Saul, so that I may extend kindness to him for the sake of Jonathan?” 2 Now there was a servant from Saul’s house named Ziba, so he was summoned to David. The king asked him, “Are you Ziba?” He replied, “At your service.” 3 The king asked, “Is there not someone left from Saul’s family, that I may extend God’s kindness to him?” Ziba said to the king, “One of Jonathan’s sons is left; both of his feet are crippled.” 4 The king asked him, “Where is he?” Ziba told the king, “He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar. 5 So King David had him brought from the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar. 6 When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed low with his face toward the ground. David said, “Mephibosheth?” He replied, “Yes, at your service.” 7 David said to him, “Don’t be afraid, because I will certainly extend kindness to you for the sake of Jonathan your father. You will be a regular guest at my table.” 8 Then Mephibosheth bowed and said, “Of what importance am I, your servant, that you show regard for a dead dog like me?” 9 Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s attendant, and said to him, “Everything that belonged to Saul and to his entire house I hereby give to your master’s grandson. 10 You will cultivate the land for him – you and your sons and your servants. You will bring its produce and it will be food for your master’s grandson to eat. But Mephibosheth, your master’s grandson, will be a regular guest at my table.” (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.) 11 Ziba said to the king, “Your servant will do everything that my lord the king has instructed his servant to do.” So Mephibosheth was a regular guest at David’s table, just as though he were one of the king’s sons (2 Samuel 9:1-11).
Years ago I was privileged to hear Dr. J. Oswald Sanders speak to a group of men in Fort Worth, Texas. His topic, like the title of one of his many books, was spiritual leadership. Here was a Christian statesman, now into his senior years, speaking to a group of younger men about what he had learned about leadership. As I recall, he summarized his message to us with these points:
Sovereignty. Sanders told how God worked in his life to make it clear that he had a new and challenging ministry for him. He was an instructor and administrator at a Bible College in New Zealand, and he was asked to become the director of the China Inland Mission (now known as the Overseas Missionary Fellowship). It was not really his desire or inclination, but both he and his wife became convinced that this was God’s will for him, and so he took the position. He submitted to what he believed was the sovereign will of God.
As I think of Jonathan and David I am reminded of what Dr. Sanders shared with us years ago. Of course God made it clear to David that he would be king of Israel, but I am more interested at the moment with Jonathan and how he seems to have graciously accepted God’s sovereign will for him. Jonathan seems to have known that he would not be king of Israel in his father’s place, and that David was Saul’s replacement.21 Jonathan never questioned God’s sovereign will, but joyfully submitted to it.
I believe that Jonathan illustrates the fact that it is God who sovereignly raises up those whom He has chosen to lead. I think of the way Jesus chose His disciples, rather than to ask for volunteers. I think of the way that God set apart Barnabas and Saul for missionary service.22 I am reminded that Paul told the Ephesian elders that the Holy Spirit had made them overseers of the church in Ephesus.23 I think of Peter, James, and John, the three men who composed the inner circle of our Lord.24 All three had the same experiences. Two of the men – James and John – were brothers,25 and yet James died first,26 and John died last.27 How do you explain this other than to acknowledge that it was God’s sovereign will?
How do we explain the fact that God requires men to lead in the church, rather than women? While the Scriptures provide us with various reasons, I believe that in the final analysis we must simply submit to the Scriptural commands as the sovereign will of God. How do we explain why one gifted man rises to a position of prominence and great responsibilities while another Christian, equally gifted and spiritually committed, remains relatively obscure? I believe that we must acknowledge that this was the sovereign will of God. Jonathan recognized that it was God’s will for David to lead the nation Israel as its king, and he joyfully submitted to God’s sovereign will. More than merely passively accepting this as God’s will, Jonathan actively worked to help bring this to pass, even at the risk of his own life (at the hand of his father).28
David submitted to the sovereignty of God is a somewhat different way. David knew that he was to become Israel’s next king. He was also convinced that God would remove Saul when the time came for him to assume the throne. On two separate occasions29 David refused to take Saul’s life (or to allow one of his men to do so). Since David’s becoming king was God sovereign will He would remove Saul in His way and in His time.
Suffering. Dr. Sanders shared with us an experience he had early in his preaching ministry (nearly 60 years earlier, as I recall his comments). He had preached a sermon in a small church, and afterward he retreated to the office, which was off to the side of the church. From his office he could not help but overhear a conversation between two women outside the door. “What did you think of his sermon?” one older woman asked the other. “Not bad,” she replied, “but he will get better after he has suffered.” He then went on to tell how he nursed his first wife till she died, and later his second wife as well. Finally he cared for a niece (as I recall) who had helped him care for his wife, for she, too, died of some ailment.
Suffering prepares us for leadership. Saul doesn’t seem to have attended God’s school of suffering. He appears to have been born with a “silver spoon” in his mouth. It looks as though he was the only child of a successful rancher. When Samuel anointed Saul as Israel’s first king he almost immediately assumed the throne. David, on the other hand, was the last of eight sons, and his family was not among the elite. It would be years before David would assume the throne, after Saul’s death. During his years of service to his father and to Saul in his youth David would be refined in God’s school of suffering. He faced dangers in the field as he cared for his father’s small flock of sheep.30 In addition to this he endured those horrible seasons when Saul was troubled by the “evil spirit from the Lord.”31 And then there were those dangerous missions that David undertook for Saul, missions that Saul hoped would be the end for David,32 not to overlook those times when Saul attempted to kill David directly.33 David’s time spent in the wilderness and fleeing from Saul was like the Israelites sufferings in Egypt – these prepared him to be the shepherd God intended him to be.
It was during David’s times of suffering that Jonathan proved to be such a faithful friend. Jonathan interceded with his father, persuading him (temporarily) that David was not an enemy but a valued ally. For doing so, Jonathan put himself on his father’s “hit list”:
30 Saul became angry with Jonathan and said to him, “You stupid traitor! Don’t I realize that to your own disgrace and to the disgrace of your mother’s nakedness you have chosen this son of Jesse? 31 For as long as this son of Jesse is alive on the earth, you and your kingdom will not be established. Now, send some men and bring him to me. For he is as good as dead!” 32 Jonathan responded to his father Saul, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” 33 Then Saul threw his spear at Jonathan in order to strike him down. So Jonathan was convinced that his father had decided to kill David. 34 Jonathan got up from the table enraged. He did not eat any food on that second day of the new moon, for he was upset that his father had humiliated David (1 Samuel 20:30-34).
Servanthood. I believe that it was God’s desire for every king of Israel to become a true servant, a man who had the interests of his fellow-Israelites at heart, a man who would use his position and power to benefit the weak and the vulnerable:
18 When he sits on his royal throne he must make a copy of this law on a scroll given to him by the Levitical priests. 19 It must be with him constantly and he must read it as long as he lives, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and observe all the words of this law and these statutes and carry them out. 20 Then he will not exalt himself above his fellow citizens or turn from the commandments to the right or left, and he and his descendants will enjoy many years ruling over his kingdom in Israel (Deuteronomy 17:18-20).
It is not surprising that David would become such a servant, for he was a man after God’s own heart. Thus, David remained loyal to Saul to the very end. But it is most instructive and encouraging to observe that Jonathan became a servant to David. As Jonathan’s father had said,34 to support David was to surrender his claim and his hopes of ever becoming Israel’s king. This Jonathan willingly did. This kind of servanthood is extremely rare. Jonathan’s mission in life was to strengthen David’s hand, to encourage and to facilitate his rise to power, and yet in doing so he never forsook his father. You will remember that Jonathan died at his father’s side:
1 Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel. The men of Israel fled from the Philistines and many of them fell dead on Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines stayed right on the heels of Saul and his sons. They struck down Saul’s sons Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malki-Shua (1 Samuel 31:1-2).
I have no doubt that had Jonathan survived, he would have become one of David’s most faithful supporters. In God’s sovereign plan, Saul and all of his heirs (to the throne) would perish. There was not one survivor who could sustain Saul’s dynasty. David would now have a fresh start.
Let me now turn to some specific areas of application.
First, I find that genuine commitment does not resist expressing that in the form of a covenant. Jonathan and David had a great love for each other – not a sexual love, but a genuine manly love between two brothers in faith. They did not hesitate to formalize their commitment35 to each other in the form of a covenant. Expressing their love and commitment is not without precedent, for God had expressed His love and commitment to Abraham and his descendants in the form of a covenant.36
Why is it, then, that men and women are not willing to formalize their love and commitment to each other in the form of marriage vows?37 Marriage is a covenant, as we see from Malachi 2:14. And yet I’ve heard something like this said:
“We don’t need to geta marriage license and a ceremony. We don’t need a piece of paper to prove our love and commitment.”
But why not formalize a man’s love for the woman he professes to love, and a woman’s love for her man? True love and commitment is worthy of a covenant. Commitments which cannot be put in covenant form are hardly commitments at all.
Jonathan loved David as himself, just as Christians are to love others as themselves.
1 When David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan and David became bound together in close friendship. Jonathan loved David as much as he did his own life. 2 Saul retained David on that day and did not allow him to return to his father’s house. 3 Jonathan made a covenant with David, for he loved him as much as he did his own life (1 Samuel 18:1-3).38
In loving David as himself, Jonathan fulfilled the Old Testament law39 and the teachings of Jesus and His apostles in the New:
9 For the commandments, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet,” (and if there is any other commandment) are summed up in this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:9-10).40
Do we wish to know what it means to love one’s neighbor as one’s self? Then let us consider Jonathan’s love for David.
Jonathan also models what it looks like to be of one heart and soul – that is, to live in Christian unity. We are familiar with Paul’s instruction in Romans 12 and Philippians chapter 2:
Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited (Romans 12:16).
1 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, 2 complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose (Philippians 2:1-2).
Does this mean that Christians must agree on every point? I think not. I believe that the unity of heart and soul that we see between Jonathan and David illustrates what Paul was talking about. It means that they were of one mind that God had taken the kingdom from Saul and had given it to David. It means that they both loved God more than anything, and shared a common faith in God’s power and goodness. It means that they both sought to glorify God more than to seek glory for themselves.
Which leads to my next point: Jonathan and David were of one heart and mind in that the supreme goal of their life was to glorify God. When person’s highest goal is to seek to glory for himself every other person becomes the competition. When two or more people share the supreme goal of glorifying God, they can work together in harmony. Saul started out humbly, but he soon came to love the glory, and to do anything necessary to prevent its loss. This included killing David, and even killing his own son if need be. Saul is something like Herod when he killed the babies of Bethlehem in an effort to protect his rule.41 Saul was like the Jewish religious leaders, who sought to kill Jesus in order to protect their status.42 Jonathan, on the other hand, was willing to lay down his life to protect David and to promote his kingdom. Sharing the same highest goal is the key to unity, and there is no higher goal than seeking the glory of God:
So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. 20 My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether I live or die (Philippians 1:19-20).
And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).
Whoever speaks, let it be with God’s words. Whoever serves, do so with the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God will be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:11).
From the lives of Jonathan and David in the Old Testament and the instruction of the New Testament we can conclude that the key to Christian unity is to have a common passion for the glory of God. When our all-consuming passion is to glorify Him, we will find that this unites us with others who hold the same passion.
Finally, Jonathan and David were of one heart and soul because both were men of humility. Since we are focusing on Jonathan at this moment, I believe that it is safe to conclude that he not only understood what Paul was saying by these words, but that he practiced it as well:
1 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, 2 complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. 3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well (Philippians 2:1-4).
The relationship we see between Jonathan and David should serve to give us pause for thought about our relationships with others in the body of Christ. Are we truly loving others as ourselves? Are we so committed to bringing glory to God that we can forsake the foolish pursuit of glory for ourselves? Are we able to rejoice when God elevates a Christian brother or sister above us? Do we promote God’s work in the lives of others and rejoice in doing it? Do we come alongside a brother or sister when they are experiencing danger, opposition, or apparent defeat? That is what Jonathan did, and it is what we are commanded to do as well.
This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on April 1, 2007. Anyone is at liberty to use this edited manuscript for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel. Copyright 2006 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081.
1 1 Samuel 14:1.
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
3 1 Samuel 13:22.
4 1 Samuel 14:13-14.
5 1 Samuel 14:24.
6 1 Samuel 14:32.
7 1 Samuel 14:35. The point seems to be that his was not so much a voluntary act of true piety as much as it was an expedient action, designed to ward off divine judgment, and thus assure victory.
8 1 Samuel 14:39.
9 I make a point of this because I believe that some make too much of the Greek word agape, assuming that it always conveys the highest form of love. It may, of course, but not without a number of exceptions. For example, Amnon’s “love” for Tamar (certainly not the highest kind of love) was depicted by the same Hebrew and Greek words that we find in our text (see 2 Samuel 13:1, 4, 15).
10 This would be with the exception of 1 Samuel 18:1, because this verse is not included in the Septuagint.
11 My friend Gordon Graham pointed out that this was a marriage that had undergone a great deal of adversity. Michal put herself at risk to save David (1 Samuel 19:11-17), and then Saul gave her to Palti as his wife (1 Samuel 25:44). After Saul’s death, David became the king of Israel, and then he demanded of Abner that Michal be given back to him as his wife -- this after she had lived with Palti for some time. It would appear that Palti loved her a great deal and did not wish to lose her (2 Samuel 3:14-16). In the meantime, Gordon reminded me, David had married a number of other wives who have begotten children. It may have looked to Michal that David’s motivation was more a matter of pride than of love. David does seem to have reaffirmed his love for Michal. Gordon could be right. David may not have been as easy to love as we might wish to think.
12 So the NET Bible, and in essence along with others such as the NIV, NJB, NLT.
13 I hope it is not necessary for me to go to great lengths to prove that the “love” we see between Jonathan and David was not the perverted and immoral relationship some would seek to find in our text.
14 I must confess that one of the more perplexing aspects of my study has been dealing with the chronological sequence of events in 1 Samuel. In the first half of 1 Samuel 16 we encounter David as a young boy, it would seem, but in the second half of the chapter he is described as a “man,” indeed, “a mighty man of valor,” and he becomes Saul’s armor bearer. We are also told that Saul loved David greatly (1 Samuel 16:21), and yet in 1 Samuel 17 we find Saul asking Abner (verse 55) and then David (“young man”) who his father is (verse 58). In chapter 17 there is no mention of Jonathan, yet in the first verse of chapter 18 it sounds as though Jonathan had overheard the conversation between David and Saul on the battlefield (17:57-58). In chapter 18 we are told what the women sang who came out to greet Saul (verse 7), and that this made Saul angry, and yet it could appear that this happened immediately upon David’s return from killing Saul (verse 6), while David is still very popular with Saul. While we do not have sufficient data to resolve all of these matters, I believe that a reasonable explanation exists, and that these accounts are accurate and reliable. For this moment in time I have concluded that the author had no interest in chronological sequence, as often seems to be the case with the human authors of the Scriptures. It is because of my predisposition to think in terms of chronological sequence that I have these difficulties.
15 Though we shall surely see this later – see 2 Samuel 1:25-26.
16 1 Samuel 18:1, 3; 20:17.
17 Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19; 23:39; Romans 13:9.
18 See 1 Kings 22:20, 30-33.
19 1 Samuel 18:4.
20 1 Samuel 18:1, 3; 20:17.
21 See 1 Samuel 23:16-18.
22 See Acts 13:1-4.
23 See Acts 20:28.
24 See, for example, Matthew 17:1.
25 See Matthew 4:21; Luke 5:10.
26 Acts 12:2.
27 John 1:1, 4.
28 1 Samuel 20:30-34.
29 1 Samuel 24:1-7; 26:6-12.
30 1 Samuel 17:34-36.
31 1 Samuel 16:14-23.
32 1 Samuel 18:17, 25.
33 For example, 1 Samuel 18:10-11.
34 See 1 Samuel 20:30-34 above.
35 I am convinced that this commitment was one of mutual support that would extend to their offspring. It was a commitment most specifically related to the kingdom which God was about to take from Saul and give to David.
36 See, for example, Genesis 12:1-3; 15:12-21.
37 I wish to be clearly understood here. What I am saying is an extension of a principle I see in our text, namely that true commitments are a covenant. I do not in any way wish to imply that the covenant commitment between David and Jonathan was anything like the “same-sex” commitments being made in our day.
38 See also 1 Samuel 20:17.
39 Leviticus 19:18, 34.
40 See also Matthew 22:39; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8.
41 Matthew 2:1-18.
42 John 11:47-53.