Summary: David put his covenant friendship with Jonathan to the test. He does so by putting his life in Jonathan's hand. It is the occasion for a confirmation of the covenant between them & also of a very sad parting.

The Life of David: David's Early Years

1 SAMUEL 20:1-23


This is a sad chapter in the lives of Saul, Jonathan and David. David goes to Jonathan convinced that Saul is intent on putting him to death. David is seeking to learn what he has done to cause Saul to feel this way toward him. Jonathan cannot believe his ears. It is simply inconceivable to Jonathan that Saul has actually gone back on his word, after he promised that he would not put David to death (19:6). David is determined to convince Jonathan that his fears are not paranoid delusions, as were Saul's fears. So he takes an oath to assure Jonathan he is telling the truth. The seriousness of the situation finally sinks into Jonathan.

As the Lord works on Jonathan it becomes abundantly clear that Saul is intent on killing David. This intent is so gripping that Saul might even kill his own son if he gets in the way. This acceptance of reality is a significant turning point in the relationship between David and Jonathan and between David and Saul. David put his covenant friendship with Jonathan to the test. He does so by putting his life in Jonathan's hand. It is the occasion for a confirmation of the covenant between David and Jonathan and also of a very sad parting. Yet there are some bright spots in this gloomy chapter, and some very important lessons for Christians today to learn from these inspired words [Deffinbaugh, Bob. Quicknotes. 1 Samuel- 2 Kings. Vol. 3. 2009. Barbour Publ. Uhrichsville, OH. p. 41 & Bob Deffinbaugh.].




Having become persuaded of the deadly nature of Saul's hostility toward him, David sought out Jonathan hoping to learn its reason and to determine if there might be a means of reconciliation in verse 1. "Then David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said to Jonathan, "What have I done? What is my iniquity? And what is my sin before your father, that he is seeking my life?"

[I don't understand why David "fled" from Ramah to find Jonathan at what must have been Saul's palace (verse 1). In Ramah, David is with Samuel the prophet. In Ramah, Saul cannot lay a hand on David. When Saul sends the three parties of men to arrest David, they are all divinely prohibited by the miraculous work of the Spirit of God. This happens to Saul as well (19:18-24). Why then does David "flee" to the place where Saul and Jonathan live? The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that this is where his beloved friend Jonathan can be found. David does not seem to be fleeing from Saul as much as he is fleeing to Jonathan, much like he fled to Ahimelech and Samuel earlier.]

David begins is conversation with Jonathan by humbly asking if he is at fault. He doesn't begin by accusing or attacking Saul. David asks, "What have I done?" Like David, oftentimes we think trouble comes our way because of something we've done. Perhaps God is indeed disciplining, chastening, correcting us. But hard times are not always about punishment. Sometimes they're about preparation. As the story unfolds we see God chipping more rough edges off David as He prepares him for the calling on his life.

The same thing is true for you and me. Tribulation brings about patience and patience brings about maturing (Romans 5:3; James 1:4). [Courson, Jon: Jon Courson's Application Commentary: Vol 1. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005, S. 870]

Next David focuses on his own sin. Notice the compound reference to "iniquity" and "sin" in verse 1. David seems to be genuinely interested in knowing if he has done something wrong which has brought about the treatment Saul has been stabbing out to him.

In verse 2 Jonathan is confidence that his father would do no such a thing without first telling him. "And he said to him, "Far from it, you shall not die. Behold, my father does nothing either great or small without disclosing it to me. So why should my father hide this thing from me? It is not so!"

Jonathan doesn't quickly accept or grasp what David is saying for he doesn't respond to David's inquiry about iniquity. Instead Jonathan challenges David's assessment that he is in grave danger – from Saul! His father Saul had entered into a solemn oath that he would not harm David (19:6). So Jonathan challenges David's statement that Saul is seeking his life as he knew David's innocence concerning the question of his own sin. Jonathan is nave here, for he assures David that if his father is intent on killing him, he would surely tell him – his son – about it first.

Jonathan was right about David not dying by Saul's hand. God's plan would not be thwarted, even by a raving mad king. And the same is true for you. God has a plan and nothing can cause that plan to come undone. As long as you're walking with Him, nothing will derail you.

David though was not reassured by Jonathan and suggests in verse 3 why Jonathan is not aware of it or out of the loop. "Yet David vowed again, saying, "Your father knows well that I have found favor in your sight, and he has said, 'Do not let Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved.' But truly as the LORD lives and as your soul lives, there is hardly a step between me and death."

David strongly disagrees with Jonathan's assessment of the situation. He takes a solemn vow to underscore just how serious he is about this. Don't brush my words aside so quickly. For Saul knows David and Jonathan are friends, bound together by a covenant, why would he be so foolish as to reveal his plans to kill David to Jonathan? Saul has purposely kept his plans to kill David quiet so that Jonathan will not know what he is doing. My life is in the most imminent danger. Your father has, most assuredly, determined to destroy me.

David then affirms, in the strongest possible words, a vow, the fact that his life is in grave danger. He is but a hair's length away from death. "There is but a step between me and death."

What a great truth. Because we are truly but one step away from eternity, we should live our life so that we are ready to step into God's glorious presence.

While visiting a SPACE EXHIBIT at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., Great Britain's Princess Anne was introduced to Neil Armstrong. During her tour she noticed a display of spacesuits. Turning to Armstrong, she asked, "Is there any danger of a rip?" The one who had taken great risks in being the first to walk on the moon replied, "Yes, the difference between life and death up there is only one-hundredth of an inch of rubber!"

The same is true down here on earth-a very fine line separates life from death, time from eternity. Centuries ago, David realized this when he expressed the imminent peril that attended his ever step. King Saul, in his jealous rage, was seeking to end the life of his rival; whom God had chosen for the throne of Israel.

Realizing the brevity of life, David later wrote this sequel to the words of desperation found to the words "Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am" (Ps. 39:4).

Having an awareness of the brevity of life will motivate us to, live each day totally for the Lord. And that will enable us to take that final step without fear. For none of us know how long we have till time for us is past and we breathe our last. It has been said that We are not ready to live until we are ready to die. Are you?

Jonathan began sensing his friend was right and offered to do whatever was necessary to help him in verse 4. "Then Jonathan said to David, "Whatever you say, I will do for you."

Jonathan now realizes how serious David is and how strongly he feels about this danger. He understands that David desperately wants him to take him seriously. So Jonathan relents, assuring David that he will do whatever he wants. Jonathan may not yet be fully convinced of his father's evil intentions, but he is convinced that David is both distressed and in fear of his life. Jonathan will take David at his word. The exchange recorded reminds us that friendships face tests.

There was in Jonathan that rare and prized ability to trust people and to believe the best about their motives and intentions. The same spirit that made it easy for Jonathan to believe in his friend's innocence made it difficult for him to believe his father's guilt. It is encouraging to know that in a home where the father was suspicious of everyone there could grow up a son who trusted everyone [Chafin, Kenneth. The Preacher's Commentary Series, Vol 8: Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1989, S. 151]. David's life was ennobled by Jonathan's attitude toward him, as are all who have such a friend to enrich their lives.

In verses 5-8 David proposes a plan that will demonstrate Saul's intentions toward him. A test would be Saul's response to David's absence from the New Moon feast [held on the first day of every month (Num. 28:11-15)] as verse 5 discloses. "So David said to Jonathan, "Behold, tomorrow is the new moon, and I ought to sit down to eat with the king. But let me go, that I may hide myself in the field until the third evening. 6 "If your father misses me at all, then say, 'David earnestly asked leave of me to run to Bethlehem his city, because it is the yearly sacrifice there for the whole family.' 7 "If he says, 'It is good,' your servant shall be safe; but if he is very angry, know that he has decided on evil. 8 "Therefore deal kindly with your servant, for you have brought your servant into a covenant of the LORD with you. But if there is iniquity in me, put me to death yourself; for why then should you bring me to your father?"

This plan seems to be as much for Jonathan's benefit as for David's. The plan is simple. The next day is the new moon, and thus a time for Saul to make a sacrifice and share a sacrificial meal. David is a part of Saul's household and thus expected to be present. If Saul does intend to kill David, he will be very upset to find that David is not present at this meal. If Saul has no plans to kill David, his absence should not be a problem to Saul. And so David plans to be absent, and by his absence to test Saul's intentions toward him.

David's absence will need to be explained in such a way that it appears reasonable for him to be absent. David has already worked out the explanation. Since Jonathan will be present at the celebration, he can make David's excuse for him. If and when Saul asks about David's absence, Jonathan can tell the king that David had asked him for permission to miss this celebration because he felt he should go to Bethlehem to be with his family for this celebration. It is a reasonable explanation, one that should not cause Saul any problems, unless indeed he is looking for an excuse himself – an excuse to kill David.

Why would David's absence be such a big deal to Saul? David has not eaten many meals at Saul's table recently. Twice already, Saul has attempted to kill David with his spear while he was in his house. David fled from Saul's household and even from his own house, ending up in Ramah with Samuel. For some period of time, David has been absent. This festive meal must was something like a holiday is for us; a family time when family members are expected to be present . It didn't matter that David has his own family, and they might want him to be with them. Saul expects David to be with him, which provides him another opportunity to finish him off. If David does not attend this meal, Saul has no idea when his next opportunity to kill him might come. David's absence is therefore to be a test of Saul's intentions toward him.

David appeals to Jonathan to carry out this plan to see whether still Saul really intends to kill him. The basis for his appeal is the love these two men have for each other and the covenant they have already made (18:1-4; 19:1). David speaks to Jonathan as to his master, as though he were the servant (20:8). For Jonathan is the son of the king, and David is his subordinate. David appeals to the covenant the two have already made with each other and asks Jonathan to carry out the plan he has proposed.

David then asks that Jonathan execute him himself rather than turn over to Saul, if he is guilty of sin. [When you're under great stress, as David is here, you can begin to get suspicious even of those who love you. Be suspicions of the emotions you feel when you're under pressure because even David sounds paranoid.]

Jonathan in verse 9 is appalled at such a suggestion. "And Jonathan said, "Far be it from you! For if I should indeed learn that evil has been decided by my father to come upon you, then would I not tell you about it?" 10 Then David said to Jonathan, "Who will tell me if your father answers you harshly?"

Does David really think he would betray his friend by turning him over to his father to be killed? If Jonathan were to learn of any plot against David by his father, does David suppose for a moment that his friend will not warn him rather than betray him?

Jonathan makes it very clear that he will warn David of any plot against him. If his father really intends to kill David, he can be assured that Jonathan will warn him. There is, however, a possibility the plan will backfire. Suppose King Saul does intend to kill David, and that he kills Jonathan for trying to learn what his intentions toward David are? If Saul kills Jonathan for trying to help David, who will warn David then?

What I have spelled out more bluntly, David says much more delicately in verse 10b. "Who will tell me if your father answers harshly?"


The gravity of the situation has been grasped by Jonathan so he invites David away to a field in verse 11. "And Jonathan said to David, "Come, and let us go out into the field." So both of them went out to the field.

This seems to be the field where Jonathan reasons with his father, as David looks on (19:1-6). I believe Jonathan is beginning to realize just how serious this situation has become. If Saul is insanely jealous, and scheming to put David to death, it is likely that someone overhearing the conversation between David and Jonathan might report it to Saul. The two of them are not going out into the field to get a breath of fresh air. They are going out into the field where curious eyes and finely tuned ears cannot discern what is being said between these two friends. Since this is also the place where Jonathan will communicate the outcome of the "test," they are able to point to the places each person will take.

[At this point, Jonathan does something strange and quite unexpected.] He says no more to him about this matter until they are standing out in the middle of the field. Verses 12 & 13 discuss the two possible outcomes. "Then Jonathan said to David, "The LORD, the God of Israel, be witness! When I have sounded out my father about this time tomorrow, or the third day, behold, if there is good feeling toward David, shall I not then send to you and make it known to you? 13 "If it please my father to do you harm, may the LORD do so to Jonathan and more also, if I do not make it known to you and send you away, that you may go in safety. And may the LORD be with you as He has been with my father.

If the test shows that Saul has changed his mind about David, and his intentions are favorable, then Jonathan will send to David to make this known (verse 12). But if Saul's intentions toward David are still hostile, then Jonathan will convey this news to David so that he can make his getaway. If this is the case, and David has to flee (as Jonathan now seems to fear), then let David know that he goes with Jonathan's blessing and love (verse 13).

Jonathan swore to David that if he discerned any evil intent on his father's part, he would disclose it to David so that he could escape, although this would be a treasonable act (vv. 9, 13). He would not turn his back on his friend.

If Jonathan had any desire to set himself over David as the next king of Israel, this would be an ideal time to set David up. Yet he will subordinates himself and his own personal interests to those of David. He wants to remain a faithful and submissive son to his father, yet is courageous enough to confront Saul when it was not always safe to do so. This incident say much about Jonathan's character.

A famous conductor identified the greatest quality of a concert violinist as the ability to play first violin, but the willingness to play second violin may say much more about someone. Such willingness to play second violin was in the heart of Jonathan.

As you read these verses, clearly Jonathan and David were B. F. F. L. [Best Friends For Life]. Much like the friendship of Albrecht Durer and his friend, Hans, who shared the same passion for painting. They shared an apartment together to pursue their dreams. Things got tough and Albrecht's friend quit studying in order to earn a living while allowing Albrecht to continue his studies. Finally, Albrecht sold some of his art and his friend could now return to his painting. However, he had worked so hard that his hands were stiff and twisted and he could no longer paint with the skill he once possessed. Albrecht was hurt and saddened by his friend's condition. One day he came home and heard a voice. He looked into a room and saw his friend's hands folded in prayer. Albrecht decided to paint those hands in prayer as a tribute to his friend realizing what a price friendship had cost this man. That painting of those hands in prayer is now world famous. So the next time you see that painting or a sculpture of those hands you can recall the story of a great friendship.

Do you have close friends? Would you like to develop such a friendship as David and Jonathan or Albrecht and his friend? Sure you would. We all want friends like that.

Pray and ask God to help you be a friend to another person in our church. It takes time, but the reward can be a B. F. F. L..

The most important exchange between David and Jonathan seemed to look into the far future and involved both a renewal of their friendship covenant and an expansion of its significance in verses 14–16. "And if I am still alive, will you not show me the lovingkindness of the LORD, that I may not die? 15 "And you shall not cut off your lovingkindness from my house forever, not even when the LORD cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth." 16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, " May the LORD require it at the hands of David's enemies."

If David must flee from his father, Jonathan has a request of him, a request based upon the covenant these two have made with each other. If Jonathan survives this test, then let David spare his life, just as he has sought to protect David's life. [It certainly seems as though Jonathan is becoming more and more realistic about his father's attitude and actions toward David and himself. "If I should die. . ." seems to indicate that Jonathan has begun to come to grips with the reality of the situation.]

Jonathan believes that David will survive and that he will become Israel's king. When David becomes the King of Israel, Jonathan asks that David spare his life. He knows all too well that when one king replaces another, the prevailing king kills off any rivals for the throne, including their heirs. Jonathan wants David's assurance that he and his descendants will not be annihilated, as is normally the case. The two men refine and reaffirm their covenant with each other, as a manifestation of their love. There is a very critical difference between this clarified, refined covenant and the one made earlier. The former was a covenant between two men, David and Jonathan. This covenant is a covenant between two houses, two dynasties. This covenant is between David's descendants and Jonathan's descendants.

To make a covenant, or, literally to "cut covenant" meant the two parties would divide an animal, stand in the middle of the carcass, and state their commitment to each other. In doing this, they were saying, "I'm deadly serious about this. If I don't follow through on my end of the bargain, let me be as the dead animal that surrounds us."

Because of their mutual love for the Lord and each other they again renew their binding agreement in verse 17. "And Jonathan made David vow again because of his love for him, because he loved him as he loved his own life."

Jonathan, King Saul's eldest son, risking great danger pledges his loyalty to David. What a wonderful gift we give by standing faithfully with a friend in need! Whose hand can you strengthen by demonstrating loyalty to your friendship?

John Chrysostom (347-407) was one of the great preachers in the early church. He was given the name Chrysostom, which means "gold-mouthed," because of his eloquent sermons.

Here is one of his insights on the value of friends: ["Such is friendship, that through it we love places and seasons; for as ... flowers drop their sweet leaves on the ground around them, so friends impart favor even to the places where they dwell. With friends even poverty is pleasant....] It would be better for us that the sun were exhausted than that we should be without friends."

The story Jonathan and David illustrates the value of friendship. Though David was hunted by the demented King Saul, he drew encouragement from his friendship. Their relationship was characterized by trust, understanding, and encouragement. How difficult it would have been for David to endure this unjust persecution without the nourishment of friendship based in the Lord (v42). A friend is the first person who comes in when the whole world has gone out.


A subtle change takes place which can be seen in verses 18-23. Jonathan takes the lead in this whole matter. At first, it was all David's initiative. David fled from Ramah and sought out Jonathan. Jonathan is reluctant to believe what David is telling him about his father. Then, seeing how serious David is about this matter, he agrees to help him however David thinks is best. David proposes a plan that will reveal Saul's plans with respect to David. From this point, Jonathan has taken charge. Jonathan is no longer a reluctant hearer or a compliant assistant to David; he is the leader. [It may seem unnecessary to say, but the relationship between David and Jonathan is not romantic, sexual, or homosexual. These are two men, who love each other as men, and as brothers. How sad that I feel obliged to say so.]

In verses 18-22, Jonathan carefully spells out a plan by which he will convey the outcome of David's test to him. Verse 18 reveals that David's un-excused absence would be noticed the very next day. Then Jonathan said to him, "Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed because your seat will be empty.

I paused to ponder a bit about being missed because your seat will be empty. Have you ever thought about what your empty pew says? For your empty pew does speak for you. Though its message is unpleasant; it is one that others can hear. To the preacher it says, "Your message is not really worthwhile." To the visitor it whispers, "You can see, we are not quite holding our own." "To the treasurer it shouts: "Look out for a deficit." To the stranger who is looking for a church home it suggests, "You had better keep looking or wait a while before you join." To the members who are present, it says, "Why don't you miss next Sunday too? Everyone else does." The empty pew can dampen the spirit in the service. It can kill your church's inspiration and smother its hope. It will dull the sharpness of zeal and deaden expectation. What is your pew saying? Do you think God is listening?

We see in verse 19 that it would take a few days for David to learn the outcome of his planned absence. "When you have stayed for three days, you shall go down quickly and come to the place where you hid yourself on that eventful day, and you shall remain by the stone Ezel.

The stone Ezel in verse 19 means "the rock that shows the way." Therefore, David was to stay by the rock that shows the way. Like David, you might be at a crossroads, worried you won't figure out where you're supposed to go. I have great news for you: God will direct you. All you have to do is stay close to "the Rock that shows the way." That is, all you have to do is stay in touch with Jesus day by day by day. Even if your devotional life isn't what it should be, even if there are struggles with which you wrestle continually, even if you feel like you missed the boat previously, God is faithful. God blesses us in spite of ourselves if we simply plop ourselves by the Rock that shows the way.

Our heavenly Father sees our needs and is aware of our frailty. Yet even when we are faithless, He is faithful still (2 Timothy 2:13). [Courson, S. 871]

Verse 20-22 record the proposed secretly communicated outcome. "And I will shoot three arrows to the side, as though I shot at a target. 21 "And behold, I will send the lad, saying, 'Go, find the arrows.' If I specifically say to the lad,' Behold, the arrows are on this side of you, get them, 'then come; for there is safety for you and no harm, as the LORD lives. 22 "But if I say to the youth, 'Behold, the arrows are beyond you,' go, for the LORD has sent you away.

David is to hide out for three days while the test is being conducted. Then, at the end of this period, he is to come to the field where they are presently standing. There, Jonathan will signal the outcome of the test to him. Jonathan will shoot three arrows, as though aiming for a target. Then, Jonathan will send a servant boy to retrieve the arrows. If Jonathan directs the young lad to seek for the arrows in Jonathan's direction, then David should understand that Saul's intentions toward him are good, and thus he can come out of hiding. But if Jonathan directs the lad to seek the arrows beyond where the lad is, then David is to understand that Saul intends to harm him, and he should flee.

Once again in verse 23 the covenant between David and Jonathan is mentioned in connection with this whole plan. "As for the agreement of which you and I have spoken, behold, the LORD is between you and me forever."

Jonathan assures David that he will do all that he has promised, because of their covenant. The use of the term forever indicates that this covenant is now viewed as being between Jonathan and his descendants, and David and his descendants. This extended covenant is the basis for their mutual trust and their mutual kindness.


We can see that this chapter is a significant turning point in terms of David's relationship with Saul and with Jonathan. One word sums up what this chapter is all about, and that word is covenant. David flees to Jonathan, at a very desperate moment in his life, because they have a covenant relationship which assures David of Jonathan's love and support. This covenant of mutual love and good will is the reason Jonathan takes David so seriously that he is willing to carry out David's test. As you know Saul Fails the Test. But David and Jonathan pass the test, because of the covenant they made with each other. [This covenant between David & Jonathan is the basis & guiding principle of the relationship between these men. It gives both a sense of security & expresses both men's submission & servanthood to each other. ]

It's one thing to TELL A FRIEND YOU CARE. It's quite another to show it. When David and Jonathan made a pact of friendship ( l Sam. 18:1-4), neither of them knew to what extent Jonathan would have to go to show his care for David. But it didn't matter. Undaunted by danger, Jonathan courageously acted to save David's life (20:1-23).

When we develop close friendship we may also be called on to demonstrate by our actions that we care. The acrostic C-A-R-E can help us remember four key elements of friendship.

Challenge your friend to grow spiritually. A good friend knows the importance of turning the conversation toward matters of faith (Proverbs 27:17).

Affirm your friend's value. A phone call or a note can let your friend know how important he or she is and can keep your friendship strong.

Respect the feelings and wishes of your friend. No one wants a friend with whom ideas, dreams, and concerns fall on deaf ears. A good friend is a great sounding board.

Encourage your friend through compliments and by doing good deeds. Your friend will feel better after having been in your presence. [Our Daily Bread. Radio Bible Class ]

Do you have a friend you should care for this week? If you see a friend in need? Be a friend in deed.