Saturday, November 1, 2014

Jonathan tests Saul at David’s request


When David goes to Jonathan in 1 Sam. 20, he has one major question, which is, “What have I done?...and what is my sin before thy father, that he seeketh my life?”   Jonathan has to be convinced with an oath that this really is a problem, and David requests that Jonathan do a test to determine Saul’s disposition toward David.

It is actually a very clever test.

5 And David said unto Jonathan, Behold, to morrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat: but let me go, that I may hide myself in the field unto the third day at even.
6 If thy father at all miss me, then say, David earnestly asked leave of me that he might run to Beth-lehem his city: for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family.
7 If he say thus, It is well; thy servant shall have peace: but if he be very wroth, then be sure that evil is determined by him. (1 Sam. 20:5-7)

In essence, the test is to see if Saul will react well or badly to David’s absence with Jonathan’s leave.  If Saul reacts badly out of all proportion to the “offense” of David’s absence, then that is a clear sign that he is determined to harm David any way he can.

It so happens that this test can also be seen as a red flag for any abusive person – do they react with rage out of all proportion to the “offense” committed against them, even when the “offense” is innocuous or even permitted by another authority figure?

The occasion from which David absents himself is that of the feast of the new moon.  Saul seems to have continued to observe the religious holidays, even though his disobedience and impenitence prevented him from deriving spiritual benefit from it.  It is rather ironic that Saul didn’t question David’s absence the first day on the grounds it was possible David was ritually unclean, but then he goes into a rage when he learns David was given permission to celebrate it with his family elsewhere.  (What?  Being gone for uncleanness is okay, but being gone by permission is not?)  Saul may be ritually clean enough to participate in the feast, but you can see his murderous heart is spiritually unclean.

Saul’s angry words to Jonathan are curious –

30 Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother’s nakedness?
31 For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the ground, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him unto me, for he shall surely die. (1 Sam. 20:30-31)

Just about any way you look at Saul’s works, they are a shocking insult to his wife, as he alleges that Jonathan’s mother must have been unfaithful for Jonathan to turn out so contrary to Saul.

Saul’s pronouncement that Jonathan’s kingdom would not be established as long as David remained alive could be taken two different ways.

It might be an appeal to Jonathan’s self-interest to try to show him that David wasn’t just a threat to Saul’s kingdom, but a threat to Jonathan’s as well.  Happily, in the same chapter, there is recorded that Jonathan and David renewed their covenant of friendship that David would not cut off Jonathan’s house, so Saul’s argument would not be convincing at all.  Jonathan’s covenant kept him safe from the fear that Saul tried to inspire in him.  I like that—covenants can keep us safe from fear.

Or, Saul’s pronouncement also might have been a command that unless Jonathan helped kill David, Saul would not confirm the kingdom upon him, in effect making Jonathan’s inheritance of the crown conditional upon the death of David.  This meant that if Jonathan were to keep his covenant with David, he had be willing to give up his kingdom. 

Happily, Jonathan did not fear the threats or insinuations of his father.  Instead, he asks a simple question about David.  “Wherefore shall he be slain?  What hath he done?” (1 Sam. 20:32)   This is the big question that David wanted to know too, and Jonathan serves both David and himself by asking if there is any justice behind Saul’s anger.

But Saul doesn’t answer.  He can’t answer since he has no just grounds.  And his frustration with having nothing to say against David finds vent in throwing a spear at Jonathan. 

I think David and Jonathan take a healthy approach to the problem.  David essentially asks, “What did I do?” and Jonathan asks “What did David do?”   Sometimes as we go through life we find we have made enemies and the best thing to do is to ask, “What did I do?”   If we have really offended, then we’ll find out what it is and be able to make peace.   And if we haven’t, then..  obviously we’ll have to forgive and we’ll know how David (and Christ) felt, being hated without a cause.