LESSON ELEVEN - Jonathan Passes Intelligence to David Who Escapes

I Samuel 20:24 – 42

24 So David hid in the field, and when the New Moon feast came, the king sat down to eat. 25 He sat in his customary place by the wall, opposite Jonathan,[a] and Abner sat next to Saul, but David’s place was empty. 26 Saul said nothing that day, for he thought, “Something must have happened to David to make him ceremonially unclean—surely he is unclean.” 27 But the next day, the second day of the month, David’s place was empty again. Then Saul said to his son Jonathan, “Why hasn’t the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?” 28 Jonathan answered, “David earnestly asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem. 29 He said, ‘Let me go, because our family is observing a sacrifice in the town and my brother has ordered me to be there. If I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away to see my brothers.’ That is why he has not come to the king’s table.” 30 Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? 31 As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!” 32 “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Jonathan asked his father. 33 But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David. 34 Jonathan got up from the table in fierce anger; on that second day of the feast he did not eat, because he was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David. 35 In the morning Jonathan went out to the field for his meeting with David. He had a small boy with him, 36 and he said to the boy, “Run and find the arrows I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. 37 When the boy came to the place where Jonathan’s arrow had fallen, Jonathan called out after him, “Isn’t the arrow beyond you?” 38 Then he shouted, “Hurry! Go quickly! Don’t stop!” The boy picked up the arrow and returned to his master. 39 (The boy knew nothing about all this; only Jonathan and David knew.) 40 Then Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said, “Go, carry them back to town.” 41 After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most. 42 Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.

1. The Deceitful Plan to Detect Saul’s True Feelings 24 – 29

There may have been some kind of temporary reconciliation between Saul and David after the Naioth incident at Ramah in chapter 19 and before these events of chapter 20, or else it makes no sense for David to have been expected at the feast at Saul’s house.

Jonathan is at last completely convinced of the sad news he was not eager to know—that his father Saul hated and would kill his good friend David if it were in his power. Jonathan paid a very dear price to obtain this information at the risk of his life.

Saul sat at a feast—a celebration—and yet was full of envy, malice, and hatred against David. If he had the advantage of New Testament teachings he would know to be reconciled to David, and then offer his gift, but instead he intended to drink David’s blood. He did not know that jealousy and bitterness and the anger to which it leads will only destroy himself.

What an abomination that sacrifice (probably there was a sacrifice) was which was brought with such a wicked mind as this. “The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable—how much more so when brought with evil intent!” (Pr.21:27).

David’s place was empty. It did not used to be so. No one was more consistent than David in attending to duties of state and battle. Nor would he be absent even now were it not that his life was in danger by his host—Saul. Self-preservation required David to be absent at the king’s home. Jesus Himself moved through the crowd at Nazareth and on several other occasions escaped from danger because it was not yet his time. We ought not throw ourselves into the mouth of danger and David did not.

Saul knew David valued the law and how he honored and kept it and how he would rather keep away from a holy feast than to come to it unprepared or unclean. The contrast for us is that no uncleanness restrains us from attending the “feasts” of the Lord. By repentance and faith we can be washed in the cleansing fountain from all uncleanness. “I wash my hands in innocence, and go about your altar, O Lord,” (Ps. 26:6).

2. Saul’s True Feelings Become Abundantly Clear 30 – 34

Saul broke out into a most extravagant passion, and raged like a lion disappointed of his prey. David was out of his reach, so Saul’s rage fell upon Jonathan instead.

Saul used very crude and vulgar language, not fit for a gentleman or prince, not for any man, especially his own son and heir apparent to his crown, a son that served him, the greatest hope and ornament of his family. Furthermore, this was in front of a large company, at a sacred feast, when all should be in good humor, at which all anger or grudges should be controlled and subdued. Saul calls him a:

Bastard—according to the foolish filthy language of Saul’s brutish anger, Jonathan had given the world cause to suspect he was not the legitimate son of Saul, because he loved David whom Saul hated and supported the one who would be the destruction of their family—“son of a perverse and rebellious woman” (v 30). Traitor—“sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame” (v 30). Fool—“as long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established” (v 32).

But in fact, Jonathan had acted very wisely and well for himself and family to guarantee safety with David whom heaven had destined to the throne. Yet for this wisdom he is branded a bastard, traitor and fool.

In Saul’s twisted mind, David is making a rebellious attempt on the royal throne and Jonathan, bound to him in intimate friendship, is therefore a rebel. He called this rebellion “perverse” because as long as the son of Jesse lived, Jonathan and his kingdom would not be established. Saul is determined to slay David as a rebel. God and Saul saw this quite differently. God and we often see things differently and I want to learn to see it God’s way.

In spite of this outbreak of rage on his father’s part, Jonathan tried with mild and quiet words to demonstrate David’s innocence and the injustice of putting him to death. Earlier Saul was able to bring his rage under some limited and temporary control, but this time he raged on.

Saul spoke of the relation of Jonathan to David, and his indirect declaration that David was a rebel against him, the king, and therefore deserved death, was shame and insult enough. That Jonathan thought this was an insult is clear from his question: “Why should he be put to death? What has he done (vs. 32)? Jonathan was grieved by his father’s wild passions and this all the more because the loving, trusting son had higher expectations of his father than this, as we learned from verse 2 of this chapter, Jonathan kept quiet and made no retort as long as Saul railed only on Jonathan. With meekness and quietness he tried to extinguish Saul’s wrath and passion. But generous spirits can much more easily bear to be abused themselves than to hear their friends abused. Jonathan spoke up again for his friend David.

It is probable that Saul knew that David was anointed to the kingdom by the same hand that had earlier anointed his own head. If so, he, not Jonathan, was the fool to think he could defeat the counsels of God. Yet nothing would serve him but that David must die and Jonathan must bring him in for execution. Anger is madness. Anger makes us unreasonable. We must control our feelings or they will control—and ruin—us.

Saul seemed to be in great care that Jonathan should be established in his kingdom, and yet now he himself aims at Jonathan’s life. Anger make men such fools, such savage beasts and worse. How blind anger makes a man—how it carries him out of himself, so that he does not even know what he is doing; how it makes a man like a beast, so that he ceases to be himself, and falls under the power of darkness.

Jonathan was now fully satisfied that evil was determined against David. He would (could) eat no more at that feast.

Israelites were not to eat of holy things while mourning. All the guests, we may imagine, were alarmed and frightened and the merry-making, jokes, music, and entertainment of the feast were entirely spoiled.

The love of Jonathan for David is put to a severe test by a three-fold discovery, a wake-up call, and reality check. He got a glimpse of (1) the real disposition cherished by his royal father towards the heroic youth his friend, (2) the high destiny which God designed for his beloved friend, (3) the danger which threatened himself through his connection with David.

3. The Results Communicated by Secret Code 35 – 40

Jonathan faithfully performed his promise to give David information gleaned from his dangerous experiment. He went to the place David and he had agreed upon.

“Isn’t the arrow beyond you” (vs. 37)? The question and the next command, “hurry, go quickly, don’t stop,” places the focus of attention on the boy’s action, distracting any attention from being given to David who was safe in his hiding place. Evidently, this was done three times and with each arrow Jonathan spoke as he had agreed with David.

The word “beyond” had much more meaning to David than to the errand boy to whom it simply meant Jonathan had shot the arrow beyond him. Jonathan and David had agreed concerning “arrows,” but the boy brought back an “arrow.” An arrow was possibly shot three times beyond the boy to give extra force to the communication between Jonathan and David. After the boy returned the third time and was dismissed with the arrow(s) and equipment, David and Jonathan determined the coast was clear and met in the field.

4. Two Friends Lovingly Separate and Go Their Ways 41 – 42

David rose from the “south” side of the rock where he had been hiding while the action and conversation between Jonathan and the boy took place on the north side of the rock. The boy returned to the city to the north, leaving David safe on the south side of the rock. David’s next destination was Nob, which was to the south. These details testify to the fact that this is a real story. The scene concludes with David going his way south to Nob and Jonathan returning in the opposite direction to the city.

This was a sorrowful parting of two dear friends, who never met again except the one time secretly in the hills of the desert of Ziph. (I Sam. 23:14-18)

David conducted himself with the reverence of a servant rather than the freedom of a friend. He bowed to the ground three times perhaps demonstrating his profound gratitude to Jonathan for risking his life to obtain and then transfer valuable information. Three arrows for thoroughness, then three bows for thoroughness; a clear message and clear gratitude.

The separation of the two faithful friends was grievous to both of them, but David had greater reason to be sad. He was leaving all comforts, society, God’s sanctuary, and family to go into the barren deserts, caves, and wooded areas. He became a fugitive and a vagabond. David’s greater loss and more tender spirit caused him to weep more than Jonathan.

In misfortune the love of true friends must rather increase than decrease.

Have you been separated from a dear friend? When we are separated from friends, it is our consolation if we are not separated from God, that we have Him for a friend. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:25).

The unions that are made in God are for that reason the strongest of all. Nothing human forms their bond. Presence does not increase them, just as little as absence diminishes them.

What blessing rests upon friendship among the servants of God? It teaches un-envying joy with them that rejoice, and faithful mourning and empathy with them that mourn.

In verse 41 we see strong men weeping. It is a great occasion of: (1) personal separation, (2) mad injustice of the father, and (3) prospect of a bitter conflict. Weeping is not wrong at appropriate times. It is compatible with (1) manly courage and spirit—David and Jonathan were both brave military heroes, (2) with great self-control 17:29; 18:14; 20:32. and (3) with living trust in God’s help.

Did David and Jonathan have a right to swear that their descendants also would keep their covenant? Do parents, for good or bad, have the right to make decisions for children? Are descendants obligated to keep their father’s covenant? Do parents have a right to give their children to the ministry? Parents can teach, encourage, commend, and rehearse history, but each person must decide for himself and is rewarded or punished accordingly (Ez.18). On the other hand, we each are an eternal being and while we are at home in the body and absent from the Lord, this is our comfort that God has made an everlasting covenant with us—a covenant which lasts from this life into the next. We can and should be faithful in the covenants we make.

The emotion of the parting is due partly to the strong friendship and affection the two men had for each other, but also on account of the great danger and sufferings that David saw, and that Jonathan realized would be due to his own father’s shameful treatment of David. Josephus’ record of this history says “he did obeisance and called him the savior of his life.”

David hid in the field and the king sat down to eat in his house (vs. 24). Where would you rather be, eating your dry crust of bread in the field or feasting in the palace? “Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife” (Pr. 17:1). Never was this truth more clearly demonstrated than in this text.