Summary: Here is the story of a friendship that transcends personal ambition, family differences and even the circumstances of war. It’s a friendship based on a recognition of God’s will for his people Israel, expressed through one man, David. It’s a friendship th
Well, it’s been 3 weeks since we looked at the story of David and Goliath and a lot has happened since then. If you remember David came along at just the right time for Saul and the Israelite army. The Israelites were being humiliated by the Philistines and their champion Goliath, but David, with God’s help brought about a stunning victory.
Now you might think that King Saul, would be fairly grateful to David for that sort of victory, and so he was, for a while. He gave David command over some of his troops, until David began to develop a reputation for military skill. So much so that he rose quickly through the ranks. But then one day Saul hears the young women in one of the towns singing a popular ballad. "Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands." And that little green imp, envy, rises up in Saul’s mind so that, from that day on, David is in trouble. Saul is out to get him.
You see, Saul thinks David is a threat to his kingship. He’s becoming more and more popular, the more battles he fights, so as time goes on Saul becomes more and more afraid of him; afraid that the people might decide to change their allegiance to David. Remember that Saul is a king by popular acclaim. And so, on a number of occasions when an evil spirit takes hold of him, he attempts to kill David.
Now in fact David poses no threat to Saul at all. One of the signs of David’s godliness is that he’ll have nothing at all to do with overthrowing the king that God has put in place. He’s thoroughly consistent about this throughout his conflict with Saul. He will do nothing to harm him, even when the means lies close at hand. Nor will he let any of his men harm him. So Saul has it all wrong. It’s his paranoia speaking, not his reason.
But at the same time there’s another scenario being acted out in the royal court. Saul’s son, Jonathan, has also seen David’s exploits and realises that here is someone who has something special. Now, we’re not told what it is that Jonathan sees in him. All we’re told is that after listening to David talking to Saul (at the end of ch17) "the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. (18:1)" Jonathan develops such a respect for David in that first encounter that from that day on Jonathan counts David as his greatest friend, as what we would call a soul mate. In fact we’ll see when we get to ch 20 that its Jonathan who suggests a covenant of undying friendship between them.
You have to admire Jonathan as you read through this account. He’s the one who’s going to lose out if David becomes king, not Saul. Yet he never shows any hint of jealousy or resentment. In fact he comes across as a totally godly man, just like David in fact, willing to give up his rights for the one that God has chosen and gifted for the kingship.
I’m reminded here of John the Baptist. We read it in the Gospel reading this morning. When told how Jesus had started baptising and everyone was going to him, he likened himself to the best man whose job is to stand with the bridegroom rejoicing at his good fortune in marrying the bride. He sums up his position in the simple sentence: "He must increase but I must decrease. (Jn 3:30)" So too, Jonathan is prepared to give up his rights for the sake of the one God has anointed as the future king of Israel.
As a result, what happens as these few chapters develops is that a great friendship develops between Jonathan and David that transcends personal ambition and family circumstances. Jonathan may be the King’s son and David the probable usurper, but Jonathan can see in David the spirit of God at work and is more interested in that than in his own personal ambition. And in that he’s a great contrast to his father.
We noted back in chapter 2 how sometimes good fathers produce bad sons, but the opposite is equally true: sometimes bad fathers produce excellent children.
In fact Saul has a love hate relationship with David. In his good moments he loves him and appreciates all that he’s doing for Israel; so much so that he offers him his daughter in marriage and eventually David accepts and marries Michal. But then in his bad moments he reverts to a paranoid fear of David that leads him in the end to attempted murder. And that’s the situation that leads us to today’s passage.