Summary: Interwoven throughout Saul’s murderous plotting is the extraordinary friendship between David and Jonathan.
“Covenantal Friendship” I Samuel 18-20
It usually comes as a shock to discover that not everyone accepts us just the way we are. There is something about each of us that causes others to reject us. Yet we hope others will like us; after all, we think we’re likable! The fear of rejection is what causes us to not risk rejection. Several years ago John Powell wrote a book entitled, Why Am I Afraid To Tell You Who I Am? The reasons is, you might reject me. When we reach out to others, they don’t always reach back. So why risk trying to be someone’s friend when it hurts too much to be rejected?
David may have initially thought King Saul was his friend. He played music to soothe the king’s fits of depression. He defeated Goliath in battle. Yet Saul saw David as a threat and sought to kill him. We read about David’s popularity in ch. 18:5-9,
“Whatever Saul sent him to do, David did it so successfully that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the people, and Saul’s officers as well. When the men were returning home after David had killed Goliath the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes. As they danced, they sang: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.’ Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. ‘They have credited David with tens of thousands,’ he thought, ‘but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?’ And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.”
As far as Saul was concerned, David was his enemy. In the following verses we see that the next day as David played his harp instead of healing there was hate. Saul hurled his spear at David, yelling, “I will pin David to the wall” (I Sam 18:11). It was a one-sided, irrational hatred, as is often the case.
It’s always disorienting to be attacked when we’re doing something good—doing our best and then suddenly we’re violently opposed. We expect to get called on the carpet for doing wrong; we don’t expect it for doing right. David was caught in circumstances beyond his control. Have you ever had someone who disliked you for no apparent reason, or for reasons you couldn’t do a thing about? Some people dislike us because of our ethnic origins, our nationality, our faith, or our occupaion. All we can do is love them back—not an easy task, but love is required of believers.
Interwoven throughout Saul’s murderous plotting is the extraordinary friendship between David and Jonathan. Saul’s son Jonathan was David’s closest friend. In chapter 20 we’re told that David loved Jonathan as he loved himself (vs 17). Jonathan attempted to bring about reconciliation between his father and his friend. He appointed himself as mediator, representing David before Saul. He nearly lost his own life in the process. Saul was so angry at Jonathan for defending David that he hurled his spear at his son. In the middle of the king’s madness, these two friends sought to understand Saul through conversation and prayer. But it wasn’t easy.
Family and friendships involve loyalty. Jonathan’s relationship with God gave him the ability to face conflicting loyalties. Friendship with David complicated Jonathan’s life enormously. He remained loyal to his father, yet also loyal to David. At first, Jonathan found it hard to accept that his father wanted David dead. When he learned the grim truth, Jonathan did not desert his father, yet neither did he forsake David. In the process, he learned that close friendships can bring about challenging difficulties. Conflict can test the depth of our friendships; it can also strengthen these ties. Jonathan risked losing his father’s favor and his own future. He was the heir to the throne. Yet these friends drew closer together when their friendship was tested. This is because their friendship was based on commitment to God. After helping David escape, Jonathan lived out his friendship in circumstances that were anti-David, yet the circumstances did not cancel out the bond of friendship. Jonathan remained with his father, in hostile conditions, loyal to both, to the end.
Jonathan was committed to David, and in verse 4 he offers a tangible sign. In recognition of God’s choosing David as king, Jonathan handed David his royal robe and his sword, transferring to David his own status, to include the right of kingly succession (18:4). Jonathan had nothing to gain by this gesture, but everything to lose. He could have viewed David as his rival, yet his heart was united with David in tender affection. Jonathan understood that while his father was still nominally king, David was already Israel’s anointed leader. Jonathan realized that David was set apart by God. Rather than serve as king, he was ready to serve David. He wanted God’s will to be done; he wanted what was best for Israel. Yet no one would have been surprised had Jonathan chosen to be David’s enemy. But the way to destroy enemies is to make them your friends.