Last week we talked about David being anointed king and then the famous story of David vs. Goliath. Today we’re going to back up a little bit, because we’re going to talk about someone else, someone who is about to be critical in David’s life. That is, Saul’s oldest son, Jonathan.
If Saul had remained king in good standing in God’s eyes, Jonathan would have been his heir and king after him. But we know God selected another to be king after Saul, David. You would think this would set up for David and Jonathan to be mortal enemies, rivals for the same throne. But we’ll see that’s not the case.
However, before we talk about Jonathan and David together, we need to back up and talk about Jonathan. So we’re going to flip back to a section in the Bible that’s actually before the section we read this week. Please turn to 1 Samuel 14:6-10.
The set up here is that Jonathan is out with his armor-bearer—the guy who carries his armor and helps him put it on. Nearby there is a Philistine garrison, and Jonathan is feeling bold so he wants to attack it. But he doesn’t want to tell anyone. He doesn’t tell Saul or any other of the troops. It’s just him and his armor-bearer. Alright someone please read 1 Samuel 14:6-10.
6 Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will act for us; for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” 7 His armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that your mind inclines to. I am with you; as your mind is, so is mine.” 8 Then Jonathan said, “Now we will cross over to those men and will show ourselves to them. 9 If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up; for the Lord has given them into our hand. That will be the sign for us.”
So Jonathan has this crazy idea, he’s like “Let’s the two of us attack this fully armed garrison, because you know what? God has our back!” And his armor-bearer instead of saying, “Dude, you’re crazy. God may have your back but there is two of us against a lot of them” instead he says “I am with you all the way, whatever you do, I will do.”
Jonathan suggests this crazy plan that’s basically like, “We’ll show ourselves to them. If they say “wait” we won’t do anything, but if they say “come in” we’ll know it’s a sign from God and we’ll go in and take them all down.”
A crazy plan.
And yet it works. Jonathan and the armor bearer go up to the Philistine garrison and they’re immediately recognized as Israelites. And the Philistines, assuming that this will be an easy kill, just invite them in. And then as Jonathan predicted, God hands the Philistines over to them. These two guys—a prince and an armor-bearer—kill twenty men and that throws everyone else into a panic.
Now Saul has no idea his son did this crazy thing. He just sees this like panic of Philistines leaving this town. Can someone read 1 Samuel 14:17-23
17 Then Saul said to the troops that were with him, “Call the roll and see who has gone from us.” When they had called the roll, Jonathan and his armor-bearer were not there. 18 Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God here.” For at that time the ark of God went with the Israelites. 19 While Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the camp of the Philistines increased more and more; and Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.” 20 Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and went into the battle; and every sword was against the other, so that there was very great confusion. 21 Now the Hebrews who previously had been with the Philistines and had gone up with them into the camp turned and joined the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. 22 Likewise, when all the Israelites who had gone into hiding in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were fleeing, they too followed closely after them in the battle. 23 So the Lord gave Israel the victory that day.
The battle passed beyond Beth-aven, and the troops with Saul numbered altogether about ten thousand men. The battle spread out over the hill country of Ephraim.
So Saul knows something is going on and he’s wondering if it was one of his men who called it, so he basically does this massive roll call. They realize that it’s Jonathan and his armor-bearer that are missing. And then Saul, being in this scenario a good king and dad, is basically like “Let’s go support him and wipe these Philistines out of existence!” So he calls for the priests and the arc of the covenant, and calls for the army and they defeat the fleeing Philistines. It’s a great victory for Israel.
Now the Bible does this weird flashback in the next section. It flashes back to before the battle. Can someone read 1 Samuel 14:24-26?
24 Now Saul committed a very rash act on that day.[a] He had laid an oath on the troops, saying, “Cursed be anyone who eats food before it is evening and I have been avenged on my enemies.” So none of the troops tasted food. 25 All the troops[b] came upon a honeycomb; and there was honey on the ground. 26 When the troops came upon the honeycomb, the honey was dripping out; but they did not put their hands to their mouths, for they feared the oath.
So before the battle Saul basically makes this crazy oath. He’s like “We will not eat until we win!” People make oaths like this all the time, and it’s not always crazy. Sometimes you might say “I won’t watch another episode of this show I’m marathoning until I’ve finished doing all my homework!” That’s a reasonable oath to yourself to like motivate you to get your homework done! Sometimes though we make silly oaths over things we can’t control. Like we really want to win a sports game, so we say something like, “I won’t read another book for fun until we’re through playoffs!” While you’re trying to motivate and hype yourself, those things are actually sort of unrelated. Your reading time and your sports time are unrelated and one doesn’t affect the other.
What Saul does is even worse than that, because his oath is endangering all of them. You don’t want hungry and faint troops before a battle! That’s like fasting going into a big sports event, that’s a recipe for disaster! People are going to be passing out all over the place!
These troops are starving and they come across like honey everywhere. But they’re afraid to eat it, because an oath isn’t a thing to be broken lightly. It’s a promise, not just between Saul and his troops, but usually the association of the word oath also means it’s before God. That’s why you take an oath of office, or you say an oath before getting on the witness stand. If you break that oath you don’t just have the judge or the people to answer to, you have to answer to God.
Which means no food for the troops.
Can someone read 1 Samuel 14:27-30?
27 But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the troops with the oath; so he extended the staff that was in his hand, and dipped the tip of it in the honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes brightened. 28 Then one of the soldiers said, “Your father strictly charged the troops with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food this day.’ And so the troops are faint.” 29 Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land; see how my eyes have brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. 30 How much better if today the troops had eaten freely of the spoil taken from their enemies; for now the slaughter among the Philistines has not been great.”
But Jonathan didn’t know this oath was made, because he was out fighting Philistines by himself before he joined back up. So he sees all this honey and he’s hungry so he eats it.
The other guys are all like, “GASP. Your dad said we can’t eat!” To which Jonathan responds by basically saying, “That’s stupid. Eating will make you feel better.”
Night begins to fall and Saul is trying to figure out his next move. As a good king should, he takes it to God. Can someone read 1 Samuel 14:37-42?
37 So Saul inquired of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into the hand of Israel?” But he did not answer him that day. 38 Saul said, “Come here, all you leaders of the people; and let us find out how this sin has arisen today. 39 For as the Lord lives who saves Israel, even if it is in my son Jonathan, he shall surely die!” But there was no one among all the people who answered him. 40 He said to all Israel, “You shall be on one side, and I and my son Jonathan will be on the other side.” The people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.” 41 Then Saul said, “O Lord God of Israel, why have you not answered your servant today? If this guilt is in me or in my son Jonathan, O Lord God of Israel, give Urim; but if this guilt is in your people Israel, give Thummim.” And Jonathan and Saul were indicated by the lot, but the people were cleared. 42 Then Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.” And Jonathan was taken.
So Saul asks God what he should do and God doesn’t answer. And Saul is like “If God’s not answering it’s because of some sin. So we’re going to figure out whose sin it is!” And then he gets really dramatic because he’s like “Whoever that sin belongs to will die, even if it’s my oldest most favorite son!” Now I’m pretty sure here Saul is just bringing Jonathan into this for like dramatic purpose, trying to give people confidence that everyone is being held to the same law, so that when a random soldier is the one with the sin Saul would be like “I’d do this even if you were my own son.” I don’t think Saul was actually expecting it to be his son.”
But it was his son that was indicated as having been the one to commit the sin.
Someone please read 1 Samuel 14:43-46.
43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand; here I am, I will die.” 44 Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan!” 45 Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great victory in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground; for he has worked with God today.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, and he did not die. 46 Then Saul withdrew from pursuing the Philistines; and the Philistines went to their own place.
Saul is all like, “Jonathan! What did you do???” And Jonathan is honest so he tells him that he ate the honey, which was technically breaking the oath that Saul laid on all the troops. And Saul is distraught because by his own words now Jonathan must die.
But when this is announced the army is like, “Heck, no. You can’t kill Jonathan! Look at this great victory he has given us! And if you touch one hair on his head, you’ll answer to us.”
This is like mutiny. The people rise up against Saul to protect Jonathan, and Jonathan doesn’t die. But it also means Saul backs down from chasing after the Philistines, because he’s unsure what to do. So the Philistines gain a foothold again.
I want to stop here for a moment because I think this story of Jonathan, a story that takes place before David is even on the scene tells us everything we need to know about Jonathan going forward. It baselines the most important quality of him.
Jonathan is a person that inspires a level of loyalty in people that we rarely see outside of fairytales, the kind of loyalty that the Knights of the Round Tables or the Fellowship of the Ring are known for. Jonathan says to his armor bearer “Let’s just the two of us go attack a whole garrison” and his armor bearer basically says “Where you go I go.” When his life is threatened by his own father, the people rise up against their king to defend.
People want to follow Jonathan, and as heir-prince of Israel, Jonathan could have easily become their king.
But that’s not what happens.
What happens next is actually the story of David and Goliath, which we talked about last week. Jonathan sees the events of that story and is basically like “Who is this David guy? I have to get to know him.”
Someone please read 1 Samuel 18:1-5.
18 When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2 Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. 5 David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him; as a result, Saul set him over the army. And all the people, even the servants of Saul, approved.
What does the word soulmates mean to you guys? [Let them answer.]
The word soulmate has a really romantic connotation in America, doesn’t it? But the definition of a soulmate is “a person ideally suited to another as a close friend or romantic partner.” So yes, it can mean romantic, but it doesn’t have to.
A soulmate is simply someone that fits with you so incredibly well that it’s like you found a part of yourself. And for Jonathan, that’s what he found in David. You can think of this like King Arthur and Lancelot, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, Sherlock and Watson, or Captain American and Bucky Barnes. People whose friendship runs deep, deeper than almost any other relationship in their life. Friendships can be deep, meaningful, and life changing.
In American culture we tend to idolize romantic relationships as the supreme type of relationship, but that’s just not true. Friendships can be more lifechanging than romantic relationships, more steady than romantic relationships, and sometimes more fulfilling. Friendship is incredibly important, and David and Jonathan’s friendship—as we’re going to see--changes the course of history.
Because Jonathan was supposed to be king after Saul—if everything went in the normal way of sons inheriting from fathers. But David was the one God chose. That makes them rivals for the same throne. And Jonathan is beloved by the people. He could fight against David if he wanted to.
But Jonathan isn’t like that.
Meanwhile in wake of David’s victory over Goliath, Saul brings David into the court and makes him a leader in the army.
Someone please read 1 Samuel 18:6-9?
6 As they were coming home, when David returned from killing the Philistine, the women came out of all the towns of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. 7 And the women sang to one another as they made merry,
“Saul has killed his thousands,
and David his ten thousands.”
8 Saul was very angry, for this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands; what more can he have but the kingdom?” 9 So Saul eyed David from that day on.
So one day David and Saul are coming home from battle and people come out to greet them and basically call David a better warrior than Saul. This makes Saul jealous and angry, because Saul is king! Not David! People shouldn’t be praising him more than they praise Saul!
From that day forward, Saul basically starts planning on how to get rid of David, how to remove this interloper. He’s like “if I send David to more battles, the Philistines will kill him for me.” On the other hand, David has a habit of winning those battles and coming back a greater hero than when he left. Saul is getting more and more frustrated with him, and is basically to the point where he’s almost ready to just kill David himself.
Can someone please read 1 Samuel 19:1-7?
19 Saul spoke with his son Jonathan and with all his servants about killing David. But Saul’s son Jonathan took great delight in David. 2 Jonathan told David, “My father Saul is trying to kill you; therefore be on guard tomorrow morning; stay in a secret place and hide yourself. 3 I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you; if I learn anything I will tell you.”
4 Jonathan spoke well of David to his father Saul, saying to him, “The king should not sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have been of good service to you; 5 for he took his life in his hand when he attacked the Philistine, and the Lord brought about a great victory for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced; why then will you sin against an innocent person by killing David without cause?” 6 Saul heeded the voice of Jonathan; Saul swore, “As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death.” 7 So Jonathan called David and related all these things to him. Jonathan then brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as before.
So Jonathan hears his father talking about killing David, and what does Jonathan do? A politically smart move would be to let his father kill him off, then David would no longer be a threat to Jonathan politically. But Jonathan doesn’t care about politics, he cares about David. So he goes to David and says, “my dad wants to kill you, stay away until I tell you it’s cool to come back.”
Jonathan then goes to his dad and is basically like, “David has done nothing wrong, if anything he’s been very helpful to you. So why are you so mad at him?” And at this time, Saul listens to him, and is like “You know you’re right. I’m not going to kill him that would be crazy.”
So David gets to come back, and for Jonathan all is right in the world. Or at least his dad isn’t trying to kill his best friend anymore.
But it doesn’t last long. Just a few short verses later, Saul wants to kill David again. David escapes again.
Now you would think if you were David and the king was trying to kill you, you would no longer trust the king’s son. But David knew he could trust Jonathan. So eventually Jonathan and David meet up to discuss this rather chaotic and unsettling situation.
Someone please read 1 Samuel 20:1-4.
20 David fled from Naioth in Ramah. He came before Jonathan and said, “What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin against your father that he is trying to take my life?” 2 He said to him, “Far from it! You shall not die. My father does nothing either great or small without disclosing it to me; and why should my father hide this from me? Never!” 3 But David also swore, “Your father knows well that you like me; and he thinks, ‘Do not let Jonathan know this, or he will be grieved.’ But truly, as the Lord lives and as you yourself live, there is but a step between me and death.” 4 Then Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you say, I will do for you.”
David doesn’t understand why Saul wants to kill him, and basically asks Jonathan what he’s done wrong. Jonathan is like, “Nothing, man, as far as I know, and my dad hides nothing from me! He would tell me if you had done something wrong.” David on the other hand is like “But your dad knows we’re friends, so if I’d done something horrible, he may not tell you to like protect you from that knowledge.”
Jonathan basically thinks that’s ridiculous but recognizes that David is in real danger. So he’s basically like, “What do you want me to do?”
So David makes a plan, and basically tells Jonathan that he’s going to skip a couple of meals and that if Saul misses him, Jonathan is just to tell Saul that David is visiting with his family in Bethlehem. Then if Saul is like “Okay cool,” David knows it will be okay for him to come back, but if Saul freaks out, David knows there is no place for David in Saul’s court.
Someone read 1 Samuel 20:12-17.
12 Jonathan said to David, “By the Lord, the God of Israel! When I have sounded out my father, about this time tomorrow, or on the third day, if he is well disposed toward David, shall I not then send and disclose it to you? 13 But if my father intends 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, so that you may go in safety. May the Lord be with you, as he has been with my father. 14 If I am still alive, show me the faithful love of the Lord; but if I die,[a] 15 never cut off your faithful love from my house, even if the Lord were to cut off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” 16 Thus Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord seek out the enemies of David.” 17 Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him; for he loved him as he loved his own life.
Jonathan and Dave make a covenant. What’s important here is that Jonathan is basically pledging his loyalty to David over his father in the coming battle. But more than that, in saying “May the Lord with you, as he has been with my father” Jonathan is basically recognizing that it will be David and not Jonathan who will be king one day. Jonathan is basically ceding his right to the throne to David, because of his love for David and because he sees that David is the man God has chosen for this task.
In return Jonathan really only asks for one thing, that David not kill him or his descendants, as would’ve been common practice for new kings to do—to ensure their claim to the throne is secure. And well since David loves Jonathan just as much as Jonathan loves him, he promises that easily and more importantly David means it.
After this Jonathan goes to the feast and tries to feel out whether his father is still angry with David. To the surprise of no one Saul is still furious. And Saul for his part doesn’t understand why Jonathan is still defending David—why Jonathan can’t see what Saul does—that David means to supplant Jonathan as the next king.
The truth is Jonathan does see that David is meant to be king. He just doesn’t care about being king himself. He knows David being king is God’s plan.
So Jonathan leaves his father to go let David know what’s up. Jonathan has this whole scheme to let David know they can meet, which involves a boy shooting some arrows, which is the boy at the beginning of the next verse. Can someone please read 1 Samuel 20:41-42?
41 As soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He bowed three times, and they kissed each other, and wept with each other; David wept the more. 42 Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, since both of us have sworn in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants, forever.’” He got up and left; and Jonathan went into the city.
Why are David and Jonathan so upset here? [Let them answer.]
Basically they can’t be friends anymore. Jonathan is loyal to David, but if he leaves his father for David that would (a) just anger his father more and (b) keep Jonathan from being able to temper his father’s anger and advise him against war to David’s benefit. Jonathan needs to stay at court and with his father. And from this point on David must be on the run.
They do actually meet one more time much later while basically Saul is hunting David down. We’re going to take about David and Saul’s battles next week but I want to touch on this last encounter between these two men. Can someone please read 1 Samuel 23:17-18?
17 He said to him, “Do not be afraid; for the hand of my father Saul shall not find you; you shall be king over Israel, and I shall be second to you; my father Saul also knows that this is so.” 18 Then the two of them made a covenant before the Lord; David remained at Horesh, and Jonathan went home.
Jonathan meets with David and basically says point blank, “I know you will be king, and that’s fine. I’m happy playing second-fiddle to you.”
This is Jonathan. Loyal to the point of willing to give up his own claim to power for his best friend, who he knows God has chosen to lead Israel. He’s truly remarkable, and we should all aspire to be as loyal and selfless.
Next week we’ll see how this David vs. Saul thing starts to play out.