17. When Saul Slings His Spear, Jonathan Gets the Point (1 Samuel 20:1-42)
My wife is named after an aunt who died this past year, well into her nineties. I am not quite sure just how well into her nineties, but well enough. “Auntie J” (for Jeannette) was very spry and good-natured. In her last months, her memory began to fail. It was not as though she had forgotten everything, but more like her information had been filed in the wrong place. (For computer folks, it was as though her file allocation table became corrupted.) Pieces of information from one place in space and time were attached to other pieces of information from other places in space and time. This resulted in quite different versions of stories my wife also remembered.
When we were visiting Auntie J one day, the discussion turned to past times. Auntie J would recall a certain story, and my wife, Jeannette, would correct the details by saying something like, “No, Auntie J, don’t you remember that when I came to visit you, you were living in such and such a house in San Francisco?” Well, Auntie J did not remember it that way at all. This cycle of hearing Auntie J’s recollections and then hearing my wife’s editorial corrections went on for a while. Finally, after one story, my wife said, “No, Auntie J, it wasn’t this way, it was that way. . . .” Auntie J may have been old, and her mind may have been playing tricks on her, but she was still as sharp as a tack. Her response to my wife’s correction was, “I’d better not say. . . .” What a great answer! Although Auntie J didn’t remember the story accurately, her memory was very real to her. She didn’t want to hurt my wife’s feelings, but neither was she willing to agree to something she remembered in a different way. Her answer of “I’d better not say” was perfect; she was not willing to agree, but neither did she wish to disagree.
As I read chapter 20 of 1 Samuel, I am reminded of Auntie J and her answer. She reminds me of Jonathan and his response to David’s words in the opening words of the chapter. David goes to Jonathan convinced that his father, Saul, is intent on putting him to death. David is seeking to learn what he has done to cause Saul to feel this way toward him. Jonathan cannot believe his ears. It is simply inconceivable to Jonathan that Saul has actually gone back on his word, after he promised that he would not put David to death (19:6). David is determined to convince Jonathan that his fears are not paranoid delusions, as were Saul’s fears. So he takes an oath to assure Jonathan he is telling the truth. Jonathan’s response, like our Auntie J’s, was, “O. K., I’ll take your word for it. It must be the way you say it is.”
This is a sad chapter in the lives of Saul, Jonathan and David. It becomes abundantly clear that Saul is intent on killing David, and that he will even kill his own son if he gets in the way of Saul’s attempts. It is a significant turning point in the relationship between David and Jonathan and between David and Saul. It is the occasion for a confirmation of the covenant between David and Jonathan and also for a very sad parting. Yet there are some bright spots in this gloomy chapter, and some very important lessons for Christians today to learn from these inspired words.
David Proposes a Test
1 Then David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said to Jonathan, “What have I done? What is my iniquity? And what is my sin before your father, that he is seeking my life?” 2 And he said to him, “Far from it, you shall not die. Behold, my father does nothing either great or small without disclosing it to me. So why should my father hide this thing from me? It is not so!” 3 Yet David vowed again, saying, “Your father knows well that I have found favor in your sight, and he has said, 'Do not let Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved.' But truly as the LORD lives and as your soul lives, there is hardly a step between me and death.” 4 Then Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you say, I will do for you.” 5 So David said to Jonathan, “Behold, tomorrow is the new moon, and I ought to sit down to eat with the king. But let me go, that I may hide myself in the field until the third evening. 6 “If your father misses me at all, then say, 'David earnestly asked leave of me to run to Bethlehem his city, because it is the yearly sacrifice there for the whole family.' 7 “If he says, 'It is good,' your servant shall be safe; but if he is very angry, know that he has decided on evil. 8 “Therefore deal kindly with your servant, for you have brought your servant into a covenant of the LORD with you. But if there is iniquity in me, put me to death yourself; for why then should you bring me to your father?” 9 And Jonathan said, “Far be it from you! For if I should indeed learn that evil has been decided by my father to come upon you, then would I not tell you about it?” 10 Then David said to Jonathan, “Who will tell me if your father answers you harshly?” 11 And Jonathan said to David, “Come, and let us go out into the field.” So both of them went out to the field. 12 Then Jonathan said to David, “The LORD, the God of Israel, be witness! When I have sounded out my father about this time tomorrow, or the third day, behold, if there is good feeling toward David, shall I not then send to you and make it known to you? 13 “If it please my father to do you harm, may the LORD do so to Jonathan and more also, if I do not make it known to you and send you away, that you may go in safety. And may the LORD be with you as He has been with my father. 14 “And if I am still alive, will you not show me the lovingkindness of the LORD, that I may not die? 15 “And you shall not cut off your lovingkindness from my house forever, not even when the LORD cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” 16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “ May the LORD require it at the hands of David's enemies.” 17 And Jonathan made David vow again because of his love for him, because he loved him as he loved his own life. 18 Then Jonathan said to him, “Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed because your seat will be empty. 19 “When you have stayed for three days, you shall go down quickly and come to the place where you hid yourself on that eventful day, and you shall remain by the stone Ezel. 20 “And I will shoot three arrows to the side, as though I shot at a target. 21 “And behold, I will send the lad, saying, 'Go, find the arrows.' If I specifically say to the lad,' Behold, the arrows are on this side of you, get them, 'then come; for there is safety for you and no harm, as the LORD lives. 22 “But if I say to the youth, 'Behold, the arrows are beyond you,' go, for the LORD has sent you away. 23 “As for the agreement of which you and I have spoken, behold, the LORD is between you and me forever.”
I wish I could say I understand why David “fled” from Ramah to find Jonathan at what must have been Saul’s palace (verse 1). In Ramah, David is with Samuel the prophet. In Ramah, Saul cannot lay a hand on David. When Saul sends the three parties of men to arrest David, they are all divinely prohibited by the miraculous work of the Spirit of God. This happens to Saul as well (19:18-24). Why then does David “flee” to the place where Saul and Jonathan live? The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that this is where his beloved friend Jonathan can be found. David does not seem to be fleeing from Saul86 as much as he is fleeing to Jonathan, much like he fled to Ahimelech and Samuel earlier.
Unless David is hypocritical in what he is saying to Jonathan, he is humbly taking the most praiseworthy position. He does not begin by accusing or attacking Saul. He begins by focusing on his own sin. Notice the two-fold reference to sin (“iniquity,” “sin”) in verse 1. David seems to be genuinely interested in knowing if he has done something wrong which has brought about the treatment Saul has been dishing out to him.
Initially, Jonathan is a couple of steps behind David. He does not respond to David’s inquiry about iniquity, but instead challenges David’s assessment that he is in grave danger – from Saul! Jonathan challenges David’s statement that Saul is seeking his life rather than his question concerning his own sin. Jonathan is a little nave here, for he assures David that if his father is intent on killing him, he would surely tell him – his son – about it first.
David strongly disagrees with Jonathan’s assessment of the situation. He takes a solemn vow to underscore just how serious he is about this. Let Jonathan not brush his concerns aside so quickly. Now that Saul knows David and Jonathan are friends, bound together by a covenant, why would he be so foolish as to reveal his plans to kill David to Jonathan? Saul has purposely kept his plans to kill David quiet so that Jonathan will not know what he is doing.
David then affirms, in the strongest possible words, the fact that his life is in grave danger. He is but a hair’s length away from death. Jonathan now realizes how serious David is and how strongly he feels about this danger. He understands that David desperately wants him to take him seriously, and so Jonathan relents, assuring David that he will do whatever he wants. Jonathan may not yet be convinced of his father’s evil intentions, but he is convinced that David is both distressed and in fear of his life. Jonathan will take David at his word.
In verses 5 and following, David proposes a plan that will demonstrate Saul’s intentions toward him. This seems to be as much for Jonathan’s benefit as for David’s. The plan is simple. The next day is the new moon, and thus a time for Saul to make a sacrifice and share a sacrificial meal. David is a part of Saul’s household and thus expected to be present. If Saul does intend to kill David, he will be very upset to find that David is not present at this meal. If Saul has no plans to kill David, his absence should not be a problem to Saul. And so David plans to be absent, and by his absence to test Saul’s intentions toward him.
David’s absence will need to be explained in such a way that it appears reasonable for him to be absent. David has already worked out the explanation. Since Jonathan will be present at the celebration, he can make David’s excuse for him. If and when Saul asks about David’s absence, Jonathan can tell the king that David had asked him for permission to miss this celebration because he felt he should go to Bethlehem to be with his family for this celebration. It is a reasonable explanation, one that should not cause Saul any problems, unless indeed he is looking for an excuse himself – an excuse to kill David.
But why would David’s absence be such a big deal to Saul? I take it that David has not eaten many meals at Saul’s table recently. Twice already, Saul has attempted to kill David with his spear while he was in his house. David fled from Saul’s household and even from his own house, ending up in Ramah with Samuel. For some period of time, David has been absent. This festive meal must be something like Christmas is for us, a family time when family members are expected to be present . It does not matter that David has his own family, and they might want him to be with them. Saul expects David to be with him, which provides him another opportunity to finish him off. If David does not attend this meal, Saul has no idea when his next opportunity to kill him might come. David’s absence is therefore to be a test of Saul’s intentions toward him.
David appeals to Jonathan to carry out this plan to see whether still Saul really intends to kill him. The basis for his appeal is the love these two men have for each other and the covenant they have already made (see 18:1-4; 19:1). David speaks to Jonathan as to his master, as though he were the servant (20:8). In fact, this is true. Jonathan is, at that moment, the son of the king, and David is his subordinate. David appeals to the covenant the two have already made with each other and asks Jonathan to carry out the plan he has proposed. Rather than turn David over to Saul, David requests that Jonathan execute him himself, if indeed he is guilty of sin. Jonathan is appalled at such a suggestion. Does David really think he would betray his friend by turning him over to his father to be killed? If Jonathan were to learn of any plot against David by his father, does David suppose for a moment that his friend will not warn him rather than betray him?
Jonathan makes it very clear that he will warn David of any plot against him. If his father really intends to kill David, he can be assured that Jonathan will warn him. There is, however, a possibility the plan will backfire. Suppose King Saul does intend to kill David, and that he kills Jonathan for trying to learn what his intentions toward David are? If Saul kills Jonathan for trying to help David, who will warn David then? What I have spelled out more bluntly, David says much more delicately:
“Who will tell me if your father answers harshly?” (verse 10b).
At this point, Jonathan does something strange and quite unexpected. He says no more to him about this matter until they are standing out in the middle of the field (verse 12). This seems to be the field where Jonathan reasons with his father, as David looks on (19:1-6). I believe Jonathan is beginning to realize just how serious this situation has become. If Saul is insanely jealous, and scheming to put David to death, it is likely that someone overhearing the conversation between David and Jonathan might report it to Saul. The two of them are not going out into the field to get a breath of fresh air. They are going out into the field where curious eyes and finely tuned ears cannot discern what is being said between these two friends. Since this is also the place where Jonathan will communicate the outcome of the “test,” they are able to point to the places each person will take.
If the test shows that Saul has changed his mind about David, and his intentions are favorable, then Jonathan will send to David to make this known (verse 12). But if Saul’s intentions toward David are still hostile, then Jonathan will convey this news to David so that he can make his getaway. If this is the case, and David has to flee (as Jonathan now seems to fear), then let David know that he goes with Jonathan’s blessing and love (verse 13).
Now, if David must flee, Jonathan has a request of him, a request based upon the covenant these two have made with each other. If Jonathan survives this test,87 then let David spare his life, just as he has sought to protect David’s life. Jonathan knows that David will survive and that he will become Israel’s king. When David becomes the King of Israel, Jonathan asks that David spare his life. He knows all too well that when one king replaces another, the prevailing king kills off any rivals for the throne, including their heirs. Jonathan wants David’s assurance that he and his descendants will not be annihilated, as is normally the case. The two men refine and reaffirm their covenant with each other, as a manifestation of their love. There is a very critical difference between this clarified, refined covenant and the one made earlier. The former was a covenant between two men, David and Jonathan. This covenant is a covenant between two houses, two dynasties. This covenant between David’s descendants and Jonathan’s descendants.
A subtle change has taken place which can be clearly seen in verses 18-23. Jonathan has taken the lead in this whole matter. At first, it was all David’s initiative. David fled from Ramah and sought out Jonathan. Jonathan is reluctant to believe what David is telling him about his father. Then, seeing how serious David is about this matter, he agrees to help him however David thinks is best. David proposes a plan that will reveal Saul’s plans with respect to David. Then, in verse 11, Jonathan takes David out into the open field where they continue their conversation. I would argue that from this point on in our text, Jonathan has taken charge. He is no longer a reluctant hearer or a compliant assistant to David; he is the leader.88
In verses 18-23, Jonathan carefully spells out a plan by which he will convey the outcome of David’s test to him. David is to hide out for three days while the test is being conducted. Then, at the end of this period, he is to come to the field where they are presently standing. There, Jonathan will signal the outcome of the test to him. Jonathan will shoot three arrows, as though aiming for a target. Then, Jonathan will send a servant boy to retrieve the arrows. If Jonathan directs the young lad to seek for the arrows in Jonathan’s direction, then David should understand that Saul’s intentions toward him are good, and thus he can come out of hiding. But if Jonathan directs the lad to seek the arrows beyond where the lad is, then David is to understand that Saul intends to harm him, and he should flee.
Once again, the covenant between David and Jonathan is mentioned in connection with this whole plan. Jonathan assures David that he will do all that he has promised, because of their covenant. The use of the term forever in verse 23 indicates that this covenant is now viewed as being between Jonathan and his descendants, and David and his descendants. This extended covenant is the basis for their mutual trust and their mutual kindness.
Saul Fails the Test
24 So David hid in the field; and when the new moon came, the king sat down to eat food. 25 And the king sat on his seat as usual, the seat by the wall; then Jonathan rose up and Abner sat down by Saul's side, but David's place was empty. 26 Nevertheless Saul did not speak anything that day, for he thought, “ It is an accident, he is not clean, surely he is not clean. “ 27 And it came about the next day, the second day of the new moon, that David's place was empty; so Saul said to Jonathan his son, “Why has the son of Jesse not come to the meal, either yesterday or today?” 28 Jonathan then answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem, 29 for he said, 'Please let me go, since our family has a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to attend. And now, if I have found favor in your sight, please let me get away that I may see my brothers.' For this reason he has not come to the king's table. “ 30 Then Saul's anger burned against Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you are choosing the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother's nakedness? 31 “For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Therefore now, send and bring him to me, for he must surely die.” 32 But Jonathan answered Saul his father and said to him, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” 33 Then Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him down; so Jonathan knew that his father had decided to put David to death. 34 Then Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did not eat food on the second day of the new moon, for he was grieved over David because his father had dishonored him.
The next day, Jonathan sits at the table with his father and others just as he always has. King Saul sits with his “back to the wall” (verse 25), which offers him greater security (no one can stab or shoot someone in the back this way). Jonathan gets up, and Abner sits beside the king. Everybody seems to be seated in their customary places. David’s place at the table is conspicuously empty. Saul says nothing. He reasons to himself that David has somehow become unclean, so that he cannot partake of the meal.
The following day, David’s place is still empty. With what may be a feigned casual manner, Saul asks Jonathan why “the son of Jesse”89 is not present the last two days. Jonathan gives Saul the excuse he and David have rehearsed. David, Jonathan replies, has asked permission of him to be absent so that he can celebrate with his family in Bethlehem. David’s brother pressured him to attend, so he asked permission to be absent from Jonathan, and Jonathan granted it. It is as simple as that -- no big problem.
It most certainly is a problem to Saul! He goes into a rage, and his anger focuses on Jonathan. It is all Jonathan’s fault, Saul concludes. He calls his own son a most offensive name. All of Saul’s accusations are essentially true and based upon the covenant that Jonathan and David have made. Jonathan is Saul’s first-born, the heir to his throne. Jonathan is throwing all this away by pledging his love and allegiance to David. If David lives, the throne will be his and not Jonathan’s. Because of this, Saul commands Jonathan to bring David to him to be killed.
Saul’s reasons are self-serving and not at all godly. Saul avoids the fact that God indicated through Samuel that his kingdom would be taken away from him (13:13-14; 15:22-23). He sets aside the fact that Samuel has anointed David as Israel’s next king (16:13). To kill David will be to kill God’s anointed. While David would not do this to Saul, Saul most certainly intends to kill David. Jonathan presses his father to think in terms of biblical justice. If David is to be killed, just what sin is he to be executed for committing? What sin of David’s deserves the death penalty? If there is no scriptural (i.e., the Law of Moses) reason for killing David, then Saul is the one who is sinning, not David.
Now Saul is really mad. He picks up his spear, always nearby, and hurls it at his own son Jonathan. Saul hurls his spear, and Jonathan gets the point. He is not hit. Fortunately Saul has gotten no better at hitting his target with a spear.90 There is no longer any doubt in Jonathan’s mind. Now there are two empty places at that table, David’s and Jonathan’s. How appropriate. Jonathan is deeply grieved. His grief, you will note, is not due to the humiliation his father has heaped upon him at the dinner table, but due to the way his father has dishonored David (verse 34). David has been right all along, dead right. Saul does intend to kill him, and he will also kill anyone who tries to stop him from doing so.
A Sad Farewell
35 Now it came about in the morning that Jonathan went out into the field for the appointment with David, and a little lad was with him. 36 And he said to his lad, “Run, find now the arrows which I am about to shoot.” As the lad was running, he shot an arrow past him. 37 When the lad reached the place of the arrow which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan called after the lad, and said, “Is not the arrow beyond you?” 38 And Jonathan called after the lad, “Hurry, be quick, do not stay!” And Jonathan's lad picked up the arrow and came to his master. 39 But the lad was not aware of anything; only Jonathan and David knew about the matter. 40 Then Jonathan gave his weapons to his lad and said to him, “Go, bring them to the city.” 41 When the lad was gone, David rose from the south side and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed three times. And they kissed each other and wept together, but David more. 42 And Jonathan said to David, “Go in safety, inasmuch as we have sworn to each other in the name of the LORD, saying, 'The LORD will be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever.' “ Then he rose and departed, while Jonathan went into the city.
It is now time for Jonathan to carry out their plan completely. He must convey to David that he was right, that Saul does intend to kill him. As agreed, Jonathan goes out to the field where he knows David is hiding and watching. He sends his young servant out into the field to retrieve his arrows. He shoots his first arrow past the young lad, and then calls out to him that the arrow is beyond him. Now David knows. Saul is trying to kill him. He must make his escape as quickly as possible. When the young lad brings the arrow back to him, Jonathan sends him back to the city.
If the plan is for David to escape unnoticed into the forest, it is not carried out. These two men know that from this point on their lives will never be the same. They may never see each other again, and if they do, it will only be in secret, and for a brief time. And so David comes out of hiding to approach Jonathan and bid him a tearful farewell. The two kiss and weep, David more than Jonathan. This is going to be a great loss to him, and he knows it. As they part, Jonathan speaks of the covenant he has made with David and his offspring and reaffirms his commitment to keep it. David arises and leaves, and Jonathan returns to the city. Things will never be the same again, and they both know it.
We can see that this chapter is a significant turning point in terms of David’s relationship with Saul and with Jonathan. Previously, David has fled from Saul’s presence, but this has always been temporary. Now, it is permanent. David will never again sit at Saul’s table, never again play his harp to soothe the king’s troubled spirit, never again fight for Saul in the Israelite army. David will become a fugitive who is constantly on the run from Saul who seeks to kill him. Because of this, the fellowship David has been able to enjoy with Jonathan will never be the same either. And so David and Jonathan say their sad farewells in our text. They will meet again, but it will not be often, or for long.
One word sums up what this chapter is all about, and that word is covenant. David flees to Jonathan, at a very desperate moment in his life, because they have a covenant relationship which assures David of Jonathan’s love and support. This covenant of mutual love and good will is the reason Jonathan takes David so seriously that he is willing to carry out David’s test. It is also why Jonathan takes such elaborate security precautions (going out into the field, communicating to David through a kind of signal). This covenant is actually clarified and extended in our text. What was originally a covenant between two men has now become a covenant between two families. What was once a vague, general covenant made at a time when there was no animosity on Saul’s part toward David, now is clarified to deal with Saul’s hostility and his intent to do violence to David. The covenant between Jonathan and David is also a good part of Saul’s anger toward both David and Jonathan. The covenant that bound these two men and their families incited Saul’s wrath toward David and his son Jonathan. Saul could not oppose one without also opposing the other. .
This covenant between David and Jonathan is the basis and guiding principle of the relationship between these two men. It gives both a sense of security and expresses both men’s submission and servanthood to each other. This is such an important matter that we should to pause to reflect on it. We should first discuss this covenant as it bears upon our relationships with others. We will then conclude by exploring the way in which a “covenant” governs our relationship with God.
A Covenant Governs Our Relationship With Others
Even the land in which we live is governed on the basis of a covenant which men made with one another. The Declaration of Independence was penned, in part, because the people of this nation felt England had broken their covenant with those they governed. Our Constitution is a kind of covenant, which binds us together as a nation. Whether written or oral, implied or stated, government is based upon a covenant made by men.
I believe marriage is one of the most important covenants a man can make with a woman. It is still popular for some who live together without being married to say: “We love each other, so we don’t need a piece of paper to keep us together.” Our text makes it very clear that a covenant is the outgrowth of love, an expression of love. David and Jonathan made a covenant with each because they loved each other. In their minds, it would have been inconceivable for them not to enter into a covenant. Why would two men, who love each other as brothers, not be willing to make commitments that they vow to keep forever?
A covenant is proof of love. A covenant is a mutually agreed upon definition of how love will be reflected in a relationship. I think it is also safe to say that a covenant relationship grows. As Saul’s jealousy of David becomes apparent, both David and Jonathan modify (or clarify) their covenant to take these new circumstances into account. But their commitments to each other do not diminish because hard times come upon their relationship; hard times prompt these two men to further commit themselves to each other.91 The same thing applies to marriage vows. When a man and a woman come together to become husband and wife, they express vows which are really the definition of a covenant that is being made. This covenant is not to be broken. This covenant is the foundation and mainstay when troubles come, even when love seems to be lacking. A covenant gives stability to a marriage that romantic feelings cannot provide, because they are not constant.
For all believers in Jesus Christ, there is not only a covenant between the individual believer and Christ, there is also a covenant relationship between all believers. We become a covenant community, bound together by a covenant. Notice how the prophet Malachi rebukes the Israelites of old for failing to keep their covenants:
10 “Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers? 11 “Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD which He loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 “As for the man who does this, may the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob everyone who awakes and answers, or who presents an offering to the LORD of hosts. 13 “And this is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 “Yet you say, 'For what reason?' Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 “But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then, to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. 16 “For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously” (Malachi 2:10-16, emphasis mine).
A Covenant Governs Our Relationship With God
What I have said about covenants governing the relationships men have with one another is the outgrowth of a higher truth: God governs man’s relationship with Him by means of a covenant. When God destroyed all mankind, because of their sin, He established a covenant with Noah and his descendants. When God entered into a relationship with Abram (soon to be name Abraham), He did so by means of a covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3, etc.). When God delivered the nation Israel from the bondage in Egypt, He entered into a new relationship with them, and this relationship was governed by the Mosaic Covenant. God’s actions toward Israel in the Old Testament can be seen as the outworking of this covenant. God acted in accordance with His covenant.
All of God’s dealings with men can be seen as the outworking of His covenant with them. But while God has always kept His covenant commitments, man has consistently demonstrated that he is a covenant-breaker. If our salvation depended upon our keeping of God’s covenants, we would never be forgiven of our sins and enter into the Kingdom of God. God knew that while men promised to keep His Mosaic Covenant, they would never do it:
28 “And the LORD heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the LORD said to me, 'I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken. 29 'Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:28-29).
Later on in Israel’s history, when Joshua spoke his parting words to the Israelites, they once again promised to keep this (Mosaic) covenant. Joshua knew better:
19 Then Joshua said to the people, “You will not be able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgression or your sins. 20 “If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you after He has done good to you.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the LORD.” 22 And Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen for yourselves the LORD, to serve Him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 “Now therefore, put away the foreign gods which are in your midst, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the LORD our God and we will obey His voice.” 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem (Joshua 24:19-25).
There was only one solution. There must be a salvation which did not depend upon man’s perfection and performance. There must be a salvation which depended upon God’s perfection and performance. And so it was in the Old Testament that God began to speak of a “new covenant” He would make with men which would result in eternal salvation:
31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them, “declares the LORD. 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 “And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
This “new covenant” was brought about by the promised Messiah, the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.
19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:19-20).
4 And such confidence we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6 who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, 8 how shall the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. 10 For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory on account of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory (2 Corinthians 3:4-11).
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:11-15; see all of chapter 8 as well).
It all comes down to this. God has always dealt with men in terms of a covenant. In every case, men have failed to keep God’s covenant, even though God has faithfully kept His covenant commitments and promises. In order to save men from their sins and give them entrance into His kingdom, God has set aside the old covenant(s) for a new and better one. This covenant is not dependent upon our performance, but on God’s. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live a sinless life, to perfectly fulfill the old, Mosaic Covenant. And then, when He died on the cross of Calvary, He bore the penalty for man’s sins. When He rose from the dead, He demonstrated God’s satisfaction, and His (Christ’s) righteousness. By Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, God provided men with a new covenant, whereby man could be assured of the forgiveness of sins and eternal. In order to be saved, we need only embrace this covenant as our only hope and provision for salvation. This covenant has been secured, once for all. It cannot be set aside or nullified. It needs only to be embraced as one’s own. By acknowledging our inability to please God by our own efforts, and by trusting in the work Christ has done on our behalf, we enter into this new covenant and all of its benefits. Have you entered into this covenant? I urge you to do so today. What a great God we have, who has offered us this covenant relationship with Him.
87 It certainly seems as though Jonathan is becoming more and more realistic about his father’s attitude and actions toward David and himself. This, “If I should die. . .” seems to indicate that Jonathan has begun to come to grips with the reality of the situation.
89 Then, as today, the way we refer to another person says a lot about our state of mind. When a mother calls her son, Johnny, “Jonathan,” we all know things have become more serious. And when his father comes home that night and the mother says to him, “Your son . . . .,” we have the same impression.
91 It may seem unnecessary to say, but the relationship between David and Jonathan is not romantic, sexual, or homosexual. These are two men, who love each other as men, and as brothers. How sad that I feel obliged to say this.