A few sermons ago we started with a little game called “Declare the Pair.” When I said, “bacon” you were to declare its pair or partner. So in the case of bacon you said…“eggs.” Bacon and eggs are a recognized pair on any breakfast table. We also listed ketchup and _________ (mustard), peaches and _______ (cream), Adam and _______ (Eve), and also David and ________ (Goliath). We could have finished that last pair differently. What other name comes to mind as a fitting pair with the name David? What about Jonathan? Yes, David and Jonathan are another famous biblical pair, but another unlikely one, like David and Goliath, because Jonathan was the son of King Saul, David’s enemy. Yet the two are paired together because David and Jonathan were best friends. In our Agents of Grace sermon today we want to look more closely at how good friends are a gift from God.
What’s interesting about the David and Jonathan pair is that we should probably be saying those names the other way around. To say “David and Jonathan” is like saying “Robin and Batman.” Jonathan was the “Batman,” the leader? And David the “Robin,” the sidekick? Consider this. While David was still a teenager busy watching his father’s sheep, Jonathan had command over a third of his father’s army (1 Samuel 13:2). And no, Jonathan wasn’t like the guy who gets the vice president’s job because he’s the company owner’s son, but hasn’t proven himself capable of the position. Jonathan was a courageous warrior in his own right. In fact before David fought Goliath, Jonathan had done something just as bold.
On one occasion the Philistines put together a force of 3000 chariots (the battle tanks of the day) and an army that was described in number like “sand on the seashore” (1 Samuel 13:5). The Israelites on the other hand were left with 600 men after most of the army deserted. To make matters more daunting, among the 600 Israelite soldiers only 2 had swords: Saul and Jonathan. The rest were armed with shovels, hay forks, and other farming tools because the Philistines had banned the making of swords in Israel. The Israelites knew they were outgunned and outnumbered. That’s why most were hiding in caves and thickets, including King Saul. But Jonathan did not go into hiding. He approached a Philistine position on top of a cliff and said to his armor bearer: “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6).
The Philistines quickly spotted Jonathan and his companion and sarcastically told the two Israelites to come on up so they could teach them a lesson. Jonathan took this as a sign that the Lord was with him so he and his armor bearer climbed the cliff and then proceeded to kill 20 Philistines before the Lord put the whole Philistine camp into a panic so that they fought one another and then fled before the now-surging Israelite army (1 Samuel 14).
Like David would demonstrate in his fight against Goliath, Jonathan had shown courage in the face of seemingly superior strength. And like David, Jonathan’s courage wasn’t the swagger of a naïve young warrior. His faith was in the Lord to provide the victory. And that faith was not put to shame. Is it any wonder then that when David confronted and defeated Goliath that Jonathan realized he had found a soulmate? Perhaps Jonathan said to himself: “I thought I was all alone. I thought I was the only one who trusted in the Lord. But here is someone who thinks like me! In fact he probably trusts the Lord even more than I do because he did what I, or any other Israelite should have done: take on Goliath. Although I can’t lean on my father, the king, because he has rejected the Lord, I know I can lean on this David.”
Jonathan made a covenant with David—a promise of enduring friendship. To seal the covenant, Jonathan gave David the robe he was wearing along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow, and his belt (1 Samuel 18:4). I find it interesting that we don’t hear of David giving Jonathan anything in return. But then again, what did David, a lowly shepherd boy, have to give to the king’s son?
So how did Jonathan’s friendship benefit David? Well, after David’s victory over Goliath, King Saul wouldn’t let David return to his father and to the quiet life of tending sheep. Instead David became a fixture at Saul’s court and was appointed as a military commander. The probably older and definitely more seasoned Jonathan would have been able to take David under his wing and show him the ropes. Think of how you have appreciated those who showed you around your school or office and answered all your questions that first day.
But Jonathan’s friendship went deeper than that. When David continued to have success and Saul became jealous of him, Jonathan defended David to his father. On one occasion Jonathan even had to dodge one of his father’s spears because of his support of David. Sure, it would have been easier for Jonathan to take his father’s side—not just to keep the peace at home, but because Jonathan should have become the next king of Israel as Saul’s eldest son! But we never hear of Jonathan resenting David for being God’s choice to be the next king.
It’s this quality that I admire most in Jonathan—a quality you rarely find on sports teams or musical acts. Invariably such entities self-destruct and break up because they become jealous of each other. Why even Jesus’ disciples once argued among themselves about who was the greatest! Jonathan on the other hand was content to stand by David’s side, even if it meant that one day he would become “Robin” to David’s “Batman.” Listen to these verses which record what happened after Saul once tried to kill David. “…Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. 17 ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said. ‘My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you’” (1 Samuel 23:16, 17).
Wow. What humility! But perhaps Jonathan was just an astute politician. He knew which way the wind was blowing. He realized that his father wasn’t going to last and that David would only grow more popular. So perhaps Jonathan was just cozying up to David so that when David became king, Jonathan would be given a comfortable job as the king’s advisor. But if that had been the case, Jonathan would have eventually ditched his father and followed David. He could have done that on any number of occasions. Instead, after every visit to encourage David, Jonathan returned home to stand by his father’s side. Jonathan knew that he had also been called by God to be a faithful son and supporter of the current king even if that king was losing it. Jonathan would pay for his loyalty with his life when he died fighting the Philistines by his father’s side.
What a gift Jonathan had been to David. He was just the friend David needed at that time in his life. Jonathan’s love counterbalanced Saul’s hatred. It’s no wonder David was devastated when Jonathan died. He even wrote a song about Jonathan. Part of it goes like this: “How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain... 26 I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women. 27 How the mighty have fallen!” (1 Samuel 1:25-27a)
Has God gifted you with a friend like Jonathan? Perhaps it was that upperclassman who took you under her wings when you entered high school. Or maybe it’s that person who befriended you when you moved here, far away from family. It could be a sibling who has continued to encourage you even though it would be easy for him or her to be envious of the talents and successes God has given to you.
Or perhaps you don’t feel like you have such a friend because no one seems to take a genuine interest in you. But you do have a friend like Jonathan and his name also starts with a “J”—Jesus. Just as Jonathan pledged his love and support to David by giving him his robe and his weapons, Jesus has done the same for you. He gave you his robe of righteousness when he died on the cross to pay for your sins, and has also armed you for battle against the devil by giving you the sword of the Spirit—God’s Word. Jesus did all this though you really haven’t given him anything in return.
Jesus is also like Jonathan in that he continues to speak well of you and defend you in front of his heavenly Father. Of course God the Father is not like the sinful Saul who was envious of David, but God has every right to drive a spear through you and me every time we sin—like when we’re envious of our friends’ successes. But he’s already spent his anger when he pinned Jesus to the cross instead of us!
Yes, what a friend we have in Jesus. We’ll sing that at the end of the service. But I want you to think now of whom you can befriend. It doesn’t have to be someone the same age as you. It might be an underclassman at school who would benefit from someone older showing an interest in them. Or perhaps it’s the senior living on your street whose family lives out of town. And what about the friends you have now? Are you really being a Jonathan-type friend to them? Or are you hanging out with them because of something you hope to get out of the arrangement? God sees through such hypocrisy. No, pray that God makes you a genuine agent of grace to others. And pray that he gives you a thankful heart for the genuine friends he has given you—the greatest of whom is Jesus. Amen.
List at least three things you learned about Jonathan through this sermon.
In what ways was Jonathan like Jesus?
What quality do you admire most about Jonathan?
To whom can you be a “Jonathan” an agent of grace?