Thursday, October 2, 2014

Analyzing David and Jonathan’s Tight Friendship

1 And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.
2 And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house.
3 Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.
4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle. (1 Sam. 18:1-4)
In the church we have a whole lesson on the friendship between David and Jonathan, and I think there is a lot to look at, so I want to spend some time on it.

The suddenness of this friendship is startling, as is the strength of it, which is one of the reasons why a certain segment of people think it was a homosexual relationship.  However, we can understand it better if we consider what we know of both David and Jonathan.
  • They both had done acts of military valor.  Jonathan had assaulted a Philistinegarrison with only one other person as backup.  David had faced and slain Goliath the giant.  They had both faced steep odds.
  • Their valor was on their own initiative.
  • They had both gone into those battles speaking the faith they had in God to deliver them and Israel.
  • They both had experienced miracles in the Lord’s help.
  • Their acts ultimately resulted in the Israelite army taking courage and fighting manfully, with a victorious outcome.
For both these men, their valor had arisen out of their character and their steadfast faith in God.  They were both men who would engage themselves in a good cause, even if it was personally dangerous to them, even if they hadn’t been commanded.

Now, something tells me that when a person has these character traits, they immediately recognize others who have these same traits….and they LOVE them.  Because here’s a person you don’t have to persuade into faith or push them to get involved or pep-talk them.  They are all ready and rarin’ to go.

Jonathan instantly recognizes this in David.  And because they both have strong faith and devotion to God, neither of them are going to want to do anything wrong, so they can have profound confidence in one another.  They can be a huge help to each other, and Jonathan really wants that.  So he and David enter into a covenant with each other. 

We don’t quite know the exact terms of the covenant they made, but we can see through the rest of 1 Samuel there was a protective element to it, that they would protect each other and warn each other of danger.  David even appeals to Jonathan at one point that Jonathan would be the one to kill him if David sinned in any way rather than taking him to King Saul for justice (see 1 Samuel 20:8), so there is an element of policing each other.  They also renew their covenant together on several occasions.

This is no idle thing to make this covenant.  It is tested in painful ways when Jonathan finds his father turning against David.  Jonathan has to find ways of honoring his father while still keeping his covenant to David.  At one point King Saul reproaches Jonathan, “do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion…?” (1 Samuel 20:30)  It would certainly cause some confusion and difficulty to Jonathan, but I think his covenant with David helps him escape being affected by his father’s jealousy and suspicion.  I think fulfilling his obligations to that covenant allowed him to do good at a dark time when his father was sinking further and further into sin and violence and murderousness.  Jonathan stood up for David to his father at least two separate times, warned David of danger at least once (and possibly maintained a network of messengers to continue to warn him), and visited him at least once to encourage him in the Lord.

What does Jonathan want from David in this covenant?  At the beginning it is hard to tell, but further into their story we see that Jonathan wants David to show him “the kindness of the Lord, that I die not” and also to spare Jonathan’s family when the Lord finally helps him triumph over his enemies.  The tradition of that time and the cultures around them was that the king of the new dynasty would kill all the family of the old dynasty to ensure there was no one left as a focus of rebellion, and Jonathan hoped to avoid that fate for his family.  And David does honor this covenant.

Do you have a friend that is close to you that you could imagine making this kind of covenant with?  I have a few that I could have trusted them so far.

I must point out that this kind of covenant is twisted for evil among secret combinations.  Only among those who are determined to serve the Lord at all hazards is it a good thing for society.  And even with David and Jonathan as good as they were, their road wasn’t smooth.

Much is made in commentaries of Jonathan stripping off his robe and garments to give to David along with his weapons.  People think that Jonathan and David both knew already that David was someday to be king.  However, I’m not so sure about this. Yes, Samuel the prophet knew he was anointing David to be king, but did it follow that he had to tell David?  Did David have to know in order to do all those brave things he did?   Maybe not.  In fact, if he was a man after the Lord’s heart, he was going to do what he did because that’s the kind of man he was, and the anointing would give him more of the Lord’s spirit.  The Lord could bring him to the throne without him knowing that was the plan.   Jonathan’s giving David his clothes and weapons could just as well have been blindly anticipatory.

At the moment, however, Jonathan probably gave up his robe and weapons to David as the first major act he could do to fulfill the covenant he had just made with David.  To protect David better, he gave him the clothes of authority and better weapons to defend himself.  This communicated to everyone that no one could mess with David without royalty getting involved… which of course would get the rest of Israel involved.  He was to be treated as if he were royalty himself. 

Yet another thing about this act of clothing David is that it demonstrates Jonathan’s humility.  He’s not so in love with his status as crown prince that he minds someone else wearing the tokens of authority and power, nor does he mind a friend wearing them.  It is like he wants to bring David up to his level, which is an awesome characteristic of a friend. 

I think in Jonathan’s friendship to David we can see a type of Christ’s friendship to us.  Christ wants to bring us up to His level.  When we follow Him and do the same things He does, He calls us His friends, rather than his servants.   He shares His power with His friends and He binds us to Him by covenants.  He clothes us in the temple with power and authority.   He hopes that someday in eternity we will get to sit with him on the throne with the Father.


Gilgamesh said...

The nature of our interpretation of David and Jonathan is a great example of how the assumptions we bring to scripture affect our interpretation of them.
I have had a friend like Jonathan and so I see my own friendship in the story and believe David and Jonathan acted as we did. Others who are homosexual will no doubt see their own experiances in the story. Their conclusions are well supported if we look to Greek soldiers as a model.
Take also your mention of the anointing of David. You approach the scriptures assuming them to be an accurate reselling of historical events and look for expiation for how David may not have known his fate. Others would examine that the story was obviously written long after the events by someone favorable to the Davidic dynasty and assume the entire story of the anointing was made up later whole cloth to justify and give legitimacy to the political coup that occurs.
It's not that either of these interpretations are unjustified by the evidence, it's a matter of what assumptions we start with.
This is fundamental to the confusion Joseph felt when he said he could not find answers by an appeal to the Bible. It is core to our belief in the need for a living prophet, who may not satisfy our historical curiosity by explaining every detail of the past but can give us clear commandments for how to conduct ourselves in the present.

Michaela Stephens said...

Hi Gilgamesh; it's true that our assumptions are a key (and often unexamined) part of our interpretations of scripture. Sometime we don't realize what they are until something makes us re-examine them.