Summary: Jonathan, son of King Saul, knew David would be king of Israel someday. This is one of several encounters where Jonathan helped David survive. This is the second message in the series, "go thy way".
Jonathan, the oldest son of Saul and crown prince of Israel, knew he would never be king. That didn’t stop him from being a true friend to God’s choice, namely, David. The book of 1 Samuel has several episodes, we could say, where Jonathan took David’s side and even protected him. This is the setting for this study, the second in a series for the phrase, “go thy way”.
The text is from 1 Samuel, chapter 20, verses 17 through 23, from the King James version:
17 And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul. 18 Then Jonathan said to David, To morrow [is] the new moon: and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty. 19 And [when] thou hast stayed three days, [then] thou shalt go down quickly, and come to the place where thou didst hide thyself when the business was [in hand], and shalt remain by the stone Ezel. 20 And I will shoot three arrows on the side [thereof], as though I shot at a mark. 21 And, behold, I will send a lad, [saying], Go, find out the arrows. If I expressly say unto the lad, Behold, the arrows [are] on this side of thee, take them; then come thou: for [there is] peace to thee, and no hurt; [as] the LORD liveth. 22 But if I say thus unto the young man, Behold, the arrows [are] beyond thee; go thy way: for the LORD hath sent thee away. 23 And [as touching] the matter which thou and I have spoken of, behold, the LORD [be] between thee and me for ever.
David faced a dilemma
David had the privilege and uncomfortable position of being a member of Saul’s staff. He had served at various times as armor-bearer (1 Sam 16:21); musician (to help Saul when an evil spirit would afflict him, 1 Sam 16:23), and, perhaps, commander in chief of the army (1 Sam 18:15). He had already married Michal, Saul’s youngest daughter, so he was Saul’s son-in-law (1 Sam 18:27). Regardless, Saul was jealous of David and at least twice tried to kill him!
So, David has been living on the run for some time. This gives us his dilemma, namely, he didn’t know what should he do—stay and risk being put to death by Saul, or leave and risk being, you guessed it, put to death by Saul? Remember that in chapter 19, David had to leave his wife because Saul’s men were after him, and even when David went to Naioth, Saul himself came down after him!
It’s in this context where chapter 20 begins. Verse 1 of 1 Samuel 20 has David’s question to Jonathan, basically, was “why is your father trying to kill me?” Jonathan gave all the assurance he could (see verses 2, 9, and 12-15 for these words of assurance) and, as we will see, lived up to the promises he made to David.
Jonathan acted on David’s behalf
Jonathan and David agreed to a plan of action, when Jonathan would find out for certain what Saul planned to do. Then, Jonathan would send word to David by a most careful means. Jonathan would shoot three arrows, just like aiming at a target, and would give verbal instructions to the youth (lad, in the text) as to what to do next. The lad would probably not make any kind of guess or suspicion; probably, he was just doing what he had been told to do.
Jonathan also gave David a clear message: the words to the lad would also be a message to David. If Jonathan told the boy that the arrows were beyond him, that would mean trouble and David would need to leave, or, as the text says, “go thy way”.
We can only imagine the thoughts and emotions going through each man here. In David’s case, even though he was Jonathan’s brother-in-law and best friend ever, I’m sure he had issues of trust. Understandably, David knew well what Saul had done and was capable of doing and David was going to be the king at some day—even though Saul was already king at the time! We can read about some of David’s concerns as recorded earlier in the chapter.
Jonathan wasn’t going to have an easy time of it, either. He not only had to honor his father, Saul, but had also promised to find out what Saul was going to do. At the very least, he wanted to intercede on David’s behalf, because David had never done anything less than honorable all the days he had served Saul.
The final outcome
Saul made it very clear what he intended to do. Take a look at the following verses: