I Samuel 19:11-24
20 Then David fled from Naioth at Ramah and went to Jonathan and asked, “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to kill me?” 2 “Never!” Jonathan replied. “You are not going to die! Look, my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without letting me know. Why would he hide this from me? It isn’t so!” 3 But David took an oath and said, “Your father knows very well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he has said to himself, ‘Jonathan must not know this or he will be grieved.’ Yet as surely as the Lord lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death.”4 Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.” 5 So David said, “Look, tomorrow is the New Moon feast, and I am supposed to dine with the king; but let me go and hide in the field until the evening of the day after tomorrow. 6 If your father misses me at all, tell him, ‘David earnestly asked my permission to hurry to Bethlehem, his hometown, because an annual sacrifice is being made there for his whole clan.’ 7 If he says, ‘Very well,’ then your servant is safe. But if he loses his temper, you can be sure that he is determined to harm me. 8 As for you, show kindness to your servant, for you have brought him into a covenant with you before the Lord. If I am guilty, then kill me yourself! Why hand me over to your father?” 9 “Never!” Jonathan said. “If I had the least inkling that my father was determined to harm you, wouldn’t I tell you?” 10 David asked, “Who will tell me if your father answers you harshly?” 11 “Come,” Jonathan said, “let’s go out into the field.” So they went there together. 12 Then Jonathan said to David, “I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, that I will surely sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow! If he is favorably disposed toward you, will I not send you word and let you know? 13 But if my father intends to harm you, may the Lord deal with Jonathan, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away in peace. May the Lord be with you as he has been with my father. 14 But show me unfailing kindness like the Lord’s kindness as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, 15 and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family—not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.” 16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.” 17 And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself. 18 Then Jonathan said to David, “Tomorrow is the New Moon feast. You will be missed, because your seat will be empty. 19 The day after tomorrow, toward evening, go to the place where you hid when this trouble began, and wait by the stone Ezel. 20 I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I were shooting at a target. 21 Then I will send a boy and say, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to him, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you; bring them here,’ then come, because, as surely as the Lord lives, you are safe; there is no danger. 22 But if I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then you must go, because the Lord has sent you away. 23 And about the matter you and I discussed—remember, the Lord is witness between you and me forever.”
The lofty friendship of Jonathan for David comes like a breath of pure air in the midst of the heavy-laden atmosphere of hate and mad fury, or like some clear fountain sparkling up among the sulphurous slag and barren mud of a volcano. There is no more beautiful page in history or poetry than the story of the strong love of the heir to the throne for the young champion, whom he had so much cause to regard as a rival, but loved as a brother. What a proof of the victory of love over self lies in Jonathan’s statement which he will later make to David without bitterness: “You will be king over Israel and I will be second to you” (I Sam. 23:17). When Jonathan was killed in battle, truly did David sing, “I grieve for you Jonathan, my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful,” (II Sam. 1:26).
The influence of Saul’s prophesying among the prophets and for a day and a night lying before the Lord, was all too brief and superficial. Meanwhile, David made his escape from Naioth in Ramah and next flees to his friend Jonathan. But in this chapter we notice David understandably shows signs of a weakness of his faith. Gone is the triumphant cry, “The battle is the Lord’s.” God could have protected David from Saul as He did from Goliath. Yet, David is pardonably and obviously absorbed in himself while Jonathan bends all his efforts to cheer and reassure his friend.
It was happy for David that he had such a friend at court, when he had such an enemy on the throne.
If there be those that hate and despise us, let us not be disturbed at that, for there are also those that love and respect us. God has placed both of these types in our lives.
Jonathan was a friend that loved at all times. He loved David as well now in his distress and welcomed him as boldly into his embrace as he had when David was in his triumph.
The conversation has four exchanges: David speaks and Jonathan responds four times.
1. I am in big trouble.
“He is trying to take my life” (1-2). David’s first question presupposes that his friend knows that his death is determined, and knows Saul’s thoughts. If David had been less harassed, he would have done Jonathan more justice than to suppose him capable of knowing everything without telling him anything; but fear is suspicious.
When Saul earlier first entertained murderous purposes, Jonathan had not waited to be asked, but had disclosed the plot to David, and periled his own life by rebuking his own father. David should have trusted his friend Jonathan. His question breathes conscious innocence of hostility to Saul, but also unconsciously betrays some defect in his confidence in Jonathan. Jonathan’s answer is magnanimous in its silence as to the accusation, though the subsequent story seems to imply that Jonathan felt it.
Jonathan too had experienced Saul’s spontaneous fury. He too had narrowly escaped it at an earlier time (I Sam 14:44). Jonathan was not only a loyal friend to David, he was also a loyal son to his father Saul. Even though Saul was introverted and solitary, he too needed some heart to pour itself out to and this poor king found one in Jonathan.
Jonathan, from a principle of filial respect to his father, was hesitant to believe that Saul designed or would ever do so wicked a thing as David suggested (vs. 2). Jonathan rather hoped the best because he knew nothing of any such design, and had usually been aware of Saul’s thoughts. Jonathan, as the dutiful son, tried to cover his father’s shame, as far as was consistent with justice and loyalty to David. Love is not eager to think bad things, especially of a parent.
The loyalty of Jonathan to his father made it all the harder, then, for Saul when his trusted son and confidant had taken up the cause of the friend whom his father considered an enemy. How Jonathan’s heart must have been torn asunder. On the one side was the lonely father who clung to him; on the other, the hunted and innocent friend to whom he clung. It is a sore trial when relatives are on one side and friends are on the other. But there are ties more sacred than those of flesh and blood; and putting family ties second, which is sometimes needed in obeying God, we do well to entertain our heavenly Friend first.
Jonathan’s soothing assurances, however, did not satisfy David.
2. “There is only a step between me and death.” 3
This was a low point for David. If he had been walking by faith, he would have recalled Samuel’s anointing or drawn argument from the victory over Goliath, for trust in victory over Saul, as he had done when preparing to kill Goliath, when he argued for victory over Goliath from his victory over the lion and the bear. But faith does not always keep the high-water mark; we can easily sympathize with this momentary ebb of its waters.
Nevertheless, David’s fear was unworthy of him and showed that the strain of his anxious position was telling on him. His fear made him not only suspect his earthly friend, but half forget his heavenly One.
There was but a step between him and death, but if he had been living in the serenity of trust he would have known that the narrow space was as good as a thousand miles, and that Saul could not force him across it, for all his hatred and power. If God’s angels of protection stand between us and death, some of God’s angels are very skinny.
“Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you” (vs. 4). Jonathan did not argue with David, but made a pledge which addresses the need of the hour; he pledged himself to do whatever David desires. It was an unconditional desertion of his father and alliance with David. It is the true voice of friendship which answered David’s thought, not his words. He will not discuss anymore whether he or David is right; in any event, he is his friend’s friend.
The touchstone of friendship is practical help and readiness to do what the friend wishes. It is so in our friendships here which are cemented by help in times of need. It is also so in the highest degree in our friendship with the true Friend and Lover of us all. The sweetness and power of our friendship with Jesus can also be cemented by using the words of Jonathan the loyal friend of David: “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.” This is our best response to Jesus’ words, “If you love me keep my commandments.” Furthermore, Jesus, our best Friend, says to us, “You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it” (Jn. 14:14).
3. Let’s use this Plan of Deceit to try to get the Truth by Trickery. 5 – 9
David, with all his nobility, had a streak of craftiness and stood on the moral level of his times and country—he devised a story to force Saul to disclose his true intentions. It was a shrewd idea to make Saul betray himself by the way in which he took David’s absence, but the lie was a lie, and cannot be justified, though it may have seemed right in the tellers’ view. It is right, we observed earlier when David fled from his home, for Michal to lie about David in order to save David’s life, but was it right for David to ask Jonathan to tell a lie just to try to discover Saul’s intent? Of course, David was in a hard situation and the moral level of his times differs from ours, but does that justify his lie—or his request for a lie to be told in his behalf? The impartial narrative simply tells the story and leaves it for us to draw lessons from it. The same lack in his faith that left him afraid also made him crooked. These are two different, yet sometimes related problems. No honest man will urge his friend to do a dishonest thing for his sake.
We learn here in passing that they had feasts at new moons and that families had annual feasts and sacrifices—neither of which was instructed in the laws of Moses. Why did they observe these feasts?
At the feast Saul either had his children sit with him and David had a seat as one of them, or Saul had all his great officers sit with him and David had a seat as one of them. Whichever it was, David decided that his seat would be empty and asked Jonathan to watch carefully to observe and inform him of Saul’s reaction to David’s absence.
Perhaps there is a slight hint of suspicion again in David’s words in verse 8. Does David think Jonathan is in the plot and means to carry him off as a prisoner? David does not say “we made a covenant,” but “show kindness to your servant, for you have brought him into a covenant with you before the Lord. Why hand me over to your father?” (vs. 8). Is David accusing Jonathan? “If I am guilty, then kill me yourself!”
All this was beneath true friendship and it hurt Jonathan who next speaks with unusual emotion, asking David to clear all this fog out of his heart and to believe in the genuineness and depth of his love and in the frankness of his speech.
Jonathan bore with the suspicion and veiled accusation of his fearful friend in his moment of weakness. May we not think of a yet higher love, which bears with our suspicions and faithless doubts and always answers our unbelief by His gentle, “If it were not so, I would have told you” (Jn. 14:2).
4. How will I get the answer? 10 - 23
David naturally wanted to know how is he to know Saul’s mind? In the privacy of the open country the two friends discuss how the message is to be secretly communicated if they are not free to speak with each other.
Note the final words of Jonathan and the rich meaning, emotion, and unselfishness in his recognition of David as the inheritor of the kingdom that had dropped from his own grasp. It was so sad in it’s clear-eyed assurance of his father’s abandonment, so deeply filled with faith in God’s plan, and so fully resigned to what it implied for the manly, bold, and honest prince who would never be a king.
In the purity of his friendship and in the strength of his faith and submission, Jonathan stands here above David, and is far surer than David himself is of the high destiny and final triumph David will eventually experience.
In David’s moment of weakness, Jonathan helped send him safely away whether from the evil of a real danger or the fear of evil if it were by imaginary. Later, David lives to gain a more positive attitude toward danger whether real or imagined as shown by a verse from his most famous poem: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4).
Can you imagine how hard it would be for Jonathan to believe in the victory which was to topple his own family from power, harder still for him to rejoice in it for his friend without one trace of bitterness or jealousy mixed with the strength of his love, and hardest of all for him to actively help it by necessarily taking sides against his father? But all these difficulties Jonathan’s unselfish heart overcame. He stands for all time as the noblest example of human friendship. He is worthy to remind us of the perfect love of the Firstborn Son of the true King, who has loved us all with a yet deeper, more patient, more self-sacrificing love, who quiets our fears and calms our anxieties.
If we humans could learn to love each other as Jonathan loved David, how might we learn to love Jesus who has loved us so much? And what injustice do we do to our close and noble Friend, Jesus, when we work so hard to gain favor from humans by pouring our treasures out to them in the vain pursuit of their favor, if we are slow to give our heart’s first love to Jesus in a fruitful pursuit of His favor? “He rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6).
Christian leaders should be Christian friends. Just as Jonathan was not jealous of David, took his side and helped him even though it meant that he himself would have no chance to ascend the throne, so friends today, whatever their positions or possible future positions, should be more eager for the good of others and the whole body of believers than they are for their own promotion. In honor prefer one another.