Forge True Friendship
Week of June 11, 2017
The Point: Strong friendships thrive because of shared commitment.
David and Jonathan’s Friendship: 1 Samuel 18:1-4.
[18:1] As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.  And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house.  Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.  And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. [ESV]
“A Covenant of Love [18:1-5]. First Samuel, like the Bible’s historical narratives in general, often makes a point by means of comparison and contrast. We see here the contrast between King Saul’s calculating spirit with the warm spiritual fervor of his son Jonathan. Instead of giving David warm thanks and a joyful embrace for the killing of the Philistine Goliath, Saul sizes David up, looking upon the hero as little more than a piece on a chessboard. How different was his son Jonathan, whose heart burned with a fervent faith, a love for God’s people, and a zeal for the Lord’s glory. Jonathan’s soul, rejoicing in David’s victory over Israel’s enemy, whom he and Saul’s other champions had trembled to face, leapt up at the sight of young David and saw neither a political asset nor a threat but a fellow believer who was worthy of his highest love and devotion. In considering Jonathan’s remarkable expression of love for David, we should examine both his attitude and his actions. Concerning his attitude, we first observe the spiritual priorities that governed Jonathan’s response. First Samuel 18:1 says that as soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. There are several reasons why this was a most unlikely response from someone in Jonathan’s position. Saul’s son stood in the second position of the kingdom as the royal prince, having well earned his stature and the admiration of the people through his prior faith and valor. Moreover, he and David were of different ages, from different tribes and backgrounds, and with different past experiences. Jonathan would have understandable reasons for resentment and jealousy toward David’s sudden rise. In such situations, it is common for a man in Jonathan’s position to subtly undermine and criticize a David, making things difficult for him, turning him a cold shoulder, or leading him astray. Yet Jonathan’s attitude toward David was completely different from what we might expect. Instead of resenting David, he loved him as his own soul. Instead of standing aloof from the upstart, his soul was knit to the soul of David. Undoubtedly, Jonathan was simply responding to the evident grace in David’s conduct. Six times in chapter 18 we read that someone loves David. But Jonathan’s response to David’s success revealed the prince’s commitment to spiritual principles and values instead of worldly and self-serving priorities. In particular, it is evident that Jonathan’s passion was devoted to the well-being of God’s people and the upholding of God’s honor. He had not been fighting in Saul’s army to gain a reputation for himself or to win riches and honor. Jonathan was burdened for Israel and for Israel’s Lord. This had been the case in the earlier passage where Jonathan’s exploits were highlighted. Jonathan remained faithful to his duty and freely gave himself in service to the cause that he loved. Even when Saul’s foolish vow had threatened Jonathan’s life [1 Sam. 14:43-45], so that the soldiers rose up in defense of Saul’s son, Jonathan himself did not oppose his father’s will. The lesson is that envy, resentment, and hatred spring from worldly and selfish priorities, whereas godly love springs from a concern for the kingdom of God and His gospel. Jonathan’s attitude inspires us, but we should also consider his actions. It is well observed that love is not ultimately a feeling but an action. Love in its active sense is a verb: it is something we do and bestow on others. In this respect, Jonathan’s love for David sets an example that we can follow in our love for others. The love between these men was that of companionship and brotherhood, the love of close friends. The manner in which Jonathan responded to David shows that his love rejoiced in David’s faith and achievements. How do we react when someone comes along who exceeds us in ability, faith, or gifts? Do we become sour in spirit and find petty ways to undermine him or her? Jonathan’s was not only a love that rejoiced, but also a love that gave. What a remarkable scene it was when Israel’s prince and captain approached David after his victory and stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt [18:4]. In doing so, Jonathan gave David his endorsement before the army. How easy it would have been for the soldiers to respond as had David’s brothers [17:28], who resented being shown up by this young upstart. Jonathan thus declared his personal fidelity to David in friendship, a pledge that he kept to the day of his death, often at considerable risk and cost to himself. Jonathan models the way a believer is knit in a bond of covenant faith with Jesus Christ. Saving faith not only involves assenting to truths regarding Jesus, but includes the gift of our allegiance and the surrender of our will to His sovereign reign. How much more worthy is the Lord Jesus Christ of our covenant fidelity and love than David was, and how much more blessed will our fellowship with Him be, not merely for this life but for eternity to come. The passage concludes with a simple statement of David’s immediate success in service to Saul, which was in part the result of Jonathan’s love blessing his friend [18:5]. In no small part because of Jonathan’s encouragement, endorsement, and ongoing loyalty, David was able to succeed in meeting difficult demands. Our love should likewise seek to enable others to fulfill the calling that we all share as followers of Christ, as well as to find blessing in the fulfillment of the particular callings that God has placed on our own lives. Faced with many challenges in life, what a blessing the love of such friendship is to any of us.” [Phillips, pp. 314-324].
Saul Tries to Kill David: 1 Samuel 19:4-7.
[19:4] And Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you.  For he took his life in his hand and he struck down the Philistine, and the LORD worked a great salvation for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced. Why then will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without cause?”  And Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan. Saul swore, “As the LORD lives, he shall not be put to death.”  And Jonathan called David, and Jonathan reported to him all these things. And Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as before. [ESV]
“To Kill David [19:1-7]. Psalm 2 presents in poetic form the response of God’s sovereign majesty to mankind’s pathetic attempts to thwart His will. If ever there was a biblical example of God’s mocking rebuke of man’s pretension in sin and unbelief, it is that of Israel’s King Saul. Mad though he may have been, Saul possessed all the power the world can offer. He was crazed by a jealous desire to kill David, his own faithful servant and the anointed one of the Lord. Saul’s hatred was ultimately directed against the gospel of God’s grace, that he might snuff out God’s kingdom so as to preserve his own. In this way, Saul is the direct precursor to the Pharisees and other religious leaders in Jerusalem who later sought so madly to take the life of Jesus Christ, God’s true anointed Messiah. Like them, Saul would learn just how able God is to preserve His Anointed One. Saul’s downward-spiraling rage against David shows the peril of an unrepentant heart. No doubt the thought of repenting of his obviously evil disposition was repulsive to Saul, but how much trouble it would have spared him! Instead, as his mad plans failed, he merely devised new schemes for destroying his righteous nemesis. So it was that Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David [19:1]. This direct appeal was remarkably imprudent on Saul’s part. He knew that Jonathan had sworn a covenant of loyalty and friendship to David and that his heart was knit to the younger hero. Moreover, Saul must have realized how greatly all Israel admired David’s virtues and accomplishments. How could he expect his staff to enter a league to murder David? The answer is that those who are gripped by evil often imagine that others are as easily corrupted as themselves. The appeal to Jonathan was obvious, Saul would have reasoned, since David’s popularity endangered Jonathan’s ascent to the throne. Likewise, Saul’s officials stood to lose their prestige in any regime change, and a man such as Saul could only imagine that such a thought overrode all other considerations. Jonathan’s faithfulness to David was tested by Saul’s advance, and such was his heart that he passed the test easily. For him, the grace of God at work in the life of David was far more compelling than any worldly advancement for himself. For this reason, Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David [19:1]. As a result, Jonathan immediately gave a warning to David, giving little thought to his own well-being and providing yet another example of true friendship [19:2]. Meanwhile, Jonathan would seek to reason with his father, still hoping for Saul’s return to sanity. With this goal in mind, Jonathan spoke to his father. His approach provides a positive example of how a child of God should respond with truth and grace to conspiracies of sin and unbelief. Jonathan’s address to his father was simultaneously courteous and bold, offering counsels of prudence together with direct appeals to the Word of God. His sole purpose was to press upon Saul the evidence of David’s innocence, along with the sinful folly of his murderous plan. We might classify Jonathan’s initial approach to Saul as an appeal to common grace. This term refers to the way that God works in the world in a common or preservative way, promoting virtue and truth so as to restrain evil for the sake of His gospel. Jonathan was relying on God’s common grace when he appealed to Saul’s better judgment [19:4-5]. Under the influence of God’s moral order, and faced with a general appeal to prudence, Saul’s evil was restrained, though not conquered. Christians should likewise reason with the sinful world on the basis of common morality and the obvious blessings of right thinking. But it will also be necessary to confront evil with direct appeals to the Word of God. In our response to evil today, Christians should unveil the naked warnings of God in the Bible, seeking to thwart the plans of evil with divine rebuke. God made this world, which continues under His providential rule even in sin, so it is not surprising that Jonathan’s appeal had an initial success in turning Saul from his sinful intent. Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan. Saul swore, “As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death [19:6]. God preserves His gospel and His church today by similar means. God primarily preserves His cause through His children testifying of the grace of God to a dark world. In response to Saul’s vow not to put his servant to death, David returned to the king’s service. Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as before. And there was war again. And David went out and fought with the Philistines and struck them with a great blow, so that they fled before him [19:7-8]. Thus Saul was richly rewarded for heeding the counsel of his son, as God continued to work salvation for Israel through the sword of David. Undoubtedly, however, this produced a renewed outbreak of praise for the young hero, the result of which was the swift return of Saul’s mad jealousy. Saul’s part in the story of David displays the corruption and torments of a man in rebellion versus God. Notice Saul’s inconsistency. Under the influences of his godly son, Saul had recently taken a vow not to seek David’s life. But when David returned from the war and, with remarkable humility, resumed his ministry of music in Saul’s presence, he would surely have noticed a telltale sign of trouble [19:9]. Consumed by fear of phantoms that existed only in his mind, Saul found that his fear and jealousy made him a torment to himself.” [Phillips, pp. 337-341].
Jonathan Warns David: 1 Samuel 20:10-13.
[20:10] Then David said to Jonathan, “Who will tell me if your father answers you roughly?”  And Jonathan said to David, “Come, let us go out into the field.” So they both went out into the field.  And 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 he is well disposed toward David, shall I not then send and disclose it to you?  But should it please my father to do you harm, the LORD do so to Jonathan and more also if I do not disclose it to you and send you away, that you may go in safety. May the LORD be with you, as he has been with my father. [ESV]
[20:1-17]. “Chapter 20 returns our focus to Jonathan, Saul’s son and David’s covenant friend. Jonathan finds himself trapped in what many people would consider a terrible vise, with his faith and godliness competing against ambition and personal gain. Jonathan shows us how a man of God approaches a situation apparently governed by lust, fear, and hatred, but in fact governed by his faith and by the bonds of covenant fidelity. Seeing David at the beginning of this chapter, it is hard to remember that this is the young champion who boldly faced Goliath in the name of the Lord. Different threats take differing tolls on people, and while David could fearlessly face an uncircumcised warrior such as Goliath, he was unnerved by the open hostility of the king of God’s own covenant people. Therefore, when Saul came to Ramah, David fled back in panic to Gibeah. Seeking out his friend Jonathan, he asked why he deserved such ill-treatment: What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life [20:1]. David’s panicked attitude is explained at least in part by the absence of prayer in this chapter. We get a sense that David had allowed his thoughts to dwell on the injustice of his situation and the temporal threat posed by King Saul, forgetting the reality of sin in the world as a sufficient explanation for injustice and not remembering God’s sovereign care over his life. Jonathan responded to David’s appeal with dismay: Far from it! You shall not die, he answered [20:2]. He reminded David that he was present for Saul’s councils and would know of any plot against his friend. This attitude seems incredible, since Saul had already made several direct attempts on David’s life and Jonathan had recently rebuked his father’s stated intent to have David killed [19:1-5]. No doubt Jonathan was not merely being naïve or overly charitable in denying Saul’s intention: more likely, he was still coming to grips with the terrible situation and his mind had not yet accustomed itself to the evidence about his father. David was not persuaded by Jonathan’s rosy assessment, and he answered insightfully: Your father knows well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he thinks, ‘Do not let Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved.’ But truly, as the Lord lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death [20:3]. David’s oath signals his loss of nerve before the prospect of Saul’s violence. Seeing David’s distress, Jonathan asked what he could do to help. David answered by reminding him that Saul’s court would celebrate a monthly ritual meal, at which David was expected to attend. But let me go, he said, that I may hide myself in the field till the third day at evening. Jonathan was to cover for David’s absence with a falsehood, claiming that David’s family had required him to return home briefly for a sacrifice. If he says, ‘Good!’ It will be well with your servant, David concluded, But if he is angry, then know that harm is determined by him [20:5-7]. It was Jonathan’s covenant faithfulness to which David appealed in his despair. Therefore deal kindly with your servant, he pleased, for you have brought your servant into a covenant of the Lord with you [20:8]. This is an excellent way for believers to pray to our covenant God. David urges Jonathan not to hand him over to his father, and if David had committed a sin worthy of death and must be brought to justice, Jonathan should be the one to slay him: If there is guilt in me, kill me yourself [20:8]. David knew that he would find justice in a covenant friend, just as believers who have appealed to the blood of the new covenant in Christ may confidently seek justification in the presence of God.” [Phillips, pp. 349-355].
Questions for Discussion:
- Compare and contrast the way Saul and Jonathan treated David after David killed Goliath. What does their treatment of David tell us about the condition of their heart? What controlled Saul’s heart; what controlled Jonathan’s?
- Describe Jonathan’s attitude and actions toward David. What was Jonathan giving up with his actions in 18:4? Why was Jonathan willing to give up these things? What do we learn from Jonathan’s actions? How do we react when someone comes along who exceeds us in ability, faith, or gifts? Do we become sour in spirit and find petty ways to undermine him or her? Or do we encourage them and help them develop and use their gifts?
- What do we learn from the covenant between Jonathan and David that can guide us in our covenant relationship with our Lord? What was the motivating factor that enabled Jonathan to remain faithful to his covenantal bond with David even in the midst of having to be unfaithful to his father, the king?
1, 2 Samuel, Robert Bergen, NAC, B & H Publishers.
1 Samuel, Dale Davis, Christian Focus.
The Message of Samuel, Mary Evans, Inter Varsity.
1 Samuel, Richard Phillips, REC, P & R Publishing.