Read the passage here.
Last week, we talked about the shift in Saul’s attitude towards David. After David’s victory over Goliath, Saul and all of Israel, David was unsurprisingly the talk of the town. However, precisely due to David’s rising popularity, Saul quickly turned on David. So last week, we looked at Saul’s initial attempts to get rid of David. He threw a spear at David, tried to have David killed in battle, and offered his daughters in marriage to David (also with the hope that David would die in battle).
So, to reiterate a point that we’ve made previously, Saul was not willing to let his kingdom go, even as David’s kingdom was on the rise. But, what we also saw was that Saul’s son, Jonathan, was willing to give up everything – his inheritance, his future crown, indeed his own kingdom – for the sake of David.
And today, I want to talk a little more about that.
We’re reading from chapter 20 today, but we’re also considering the events of chapter 19. In short, chapter 19 describes Saul’s on-going and escalating anger towards David. And this is set in the relationship between Saul and his son, Jonathan. So chapter 19 begins with Jonathan telling David of Saul’s plan to have him killed, Jonathan convincing Saul to change his mind about killing David, and Saul again deciding to try to kill David. David escapes Saul with the help of his wife, Michal, and then hides out with Samuel. Saul pursues David, first sending men after him, and then going after David himself. But God intervenes and stops Saul. And that brings us to our chapter today.
Once again, I’m going to abridge this, reading only excerpts. And because I want to focus on the relationship between Jonathan and David, I’ll try to focus on those verses. But in focussing on the relationship between Jonathan and David, we need to back up a bit. I just want to highlight a few verses in chap. 18-19 to set the stage for chapter 20 today.
1 After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. 2 From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return home to his family. 3 And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. 4 Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.1 Samuel 18: 1-4
In chapter 19, we read of Jonathan’s attempts to save David from his father.
1 Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan had taken a great liking to David 2 and warned him, “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there…
4 Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly. 5 He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The Lord won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?”
6 Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death.1 Samuel 19: 1-6
Now all this is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, as we noted last week, Jonathan is clearly choosing David over Saul. And again reiterating the last week’s point, Jonathan is giving up his father’s kingdom, his inheritance, for the sake of David’s. Secondly, and this is an extension of the first point, Jonathan is choosing David over his own father. And I differentiate this point (his father as opposed to “Saul”) because this is a personal relationship, and one of the highest order. The relationship between father and son is extremely important and in a way that we in the western world may not really understand. And Jonathan siding with David, the son of Jesse and a shepherd boy, over his own father has huge implications. However, more about that as we continue.
So that brings us up to our chapter today, chapter 20. Right at the beginning of the chapter, we read:
1 Then David fled from Naioth at Ramah and went to Jonathan and asked, “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to kill me?”
2 “Never!” Jonathan replied. “You are not going to die! Look, my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without letting me know. Why would he hide this from me? It isn’t so!”
3 But David took an oath and said, “Your father knows very well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he has said to himself, ‘Jonathan must not know this or he will be grieved.’ Yet as surely as the Lord lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death.”
4 Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.”1 Samuel 20: 1-4
So Jonathan and David come up with a plan to determine if Saul still wants to kill David at the New Moon Feast. And Jonathan promises to find out his father’s intentions and alert David so that he can escape if need be – in other words, Jonathan will find out if he needs to defy his father. And Jonathan says:
13 But if my father intends to harm you, may the Lord deal with Jonathan, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away in peace. May the Lord be with you as he has been with my father. 14 But show me unfailing kindness like the Lord’s kindness as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, 15 and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family—not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.”
16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.” 17 And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.1 Samuel 20: 13-17
Then Jonathan goes to the feast and finds out Saul does truly intend to have David killed. Now at this point, I want to point out an aspect of Jonathan and Saul’s conversation:
30 Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? 31 As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!”
32 “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Jonathan asked his father. 33 But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.1 Samuel 20: 30-33
Now the reason I want to pause here is to point out that Saul says what we established last week (and reiterated today). Saul says, “31 As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established…” Saul knows that David’s continued existence means David’s kingdom coming into its own. And what that means is that Jonathan’s kingdom, as the son of Saul, will never be established. And so Saul can’t fathom why Jonathan would object to having David killed. Because Saul knows that, for Jonathan, choosing David means giving up himself.
Now, after this exchange, Jonathan then goes to warn David in the manner that they agreed, and he meets with David one final time. And in their parting, Jonathan says to David:
42 Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.
So as we’ve seen, both today and last week, Jonathan’s commitment to David is quite extraordinary. We know that Jonathan swears friendship and loyalty to David. It’s because of this friendship that he’s willing to give up so much. And let’s make no mistake – what Jonathan gives up is tremendous. Again, Jonathan was son to Saul, the king of Israel. And as we saw last week, Saul, as king of Israel, was willing to go to great lengths to hold onto his kingdom. As we read today, Saul recognized that David was the only thing standing in between Jonathan and his inheritance. Jonathan would have had wealth, power, and position alone atop the hierarchy of Israel. So in choosing between his father Saul and David, Jonathan was choosing between kingdoms. But he was also choosing his own future.
And there are no guarantees that he would hold onto any of that in David’s kingdom. The only thing that David guarantees is that when he came into his kingdom, he would not take his revenge against Saul out on Jonathan – that is, he promises not to kill Jonathan. But he makes no promises of wealth, power, or position.
And I say all that simply to highlight the point that the only reason that Jonathan chooses David over his own father is the love he has for David. Jonathan’s choice is solely predicated upon relationship. It isn’t a consideration of what Jonathan would get; it isn’t a consideration of what he would lose; there isn’t even a consideration of who is right and who is wrong, and no consideration of who is good and who is bad. The sole consideration (at least as far as I can determine from the text) is friendship. Jonathan’s sole consideration is love.
Now this may be obvious to everyone. Indeed, the story of Jonathan and David is usually what we point to in the bible as the paradigmatic example of friendship. But I make this point so that we might also consider how we choose of what kingdom we want to be a part. More specifically, I wonder if oftentimes there are a lot of other considerations as to how we make that choice (and talk about that choice).
Quite simply, the choice before us is, “Will we proclaim Jesus Christ alone as our Lord and saviour?” Will we allow His kingdom to reign in our lives and proclaim His kingdom on this earth? Of which kingdom do we want to be a part?
Again, this is pretty obvious, I’m sure. It’s pretty obvious that this is the choice we all have to make. However, oftentimes, this is not how we talk about the choice, how we present the choice, or how we live out the choice.
Several years ago, as most of you will remember, Will Graham, the son of famous evangelist Billy Graham, held an evangelistic rally up here in Whitehorse. Lots of people attended, and when Will Graham made his altar call, many people went up to the front in response. And, if I remember correctly, the way the invitation was framed was along the lines of what I remember being told to me repeatedly when I was young: that is, do you want to go to heaven, or do you want to go to hell?
Now that’s a perfectly good question. And as I said, it’s a way of framing the choice that I grew up with, probably for the first 20 years of my life, and lots of people have responded to throughout the years. Many of you probably responded to a similar invitation in your lives. Again, it’s a perfectly good question. But I wonder if it’s the key question.
The question has also been framed in a number of different ways over the years – at least in my experience. Sometimes, the question has been framed in terms of how you will maximize your happiness or quality of life. Sometimes the question has been framed in terms of purpose or mission: God loves you and has a plan for your life; or God needs you to join in to complete his mission (in the local church, in the mission field, or wherever). Sometimes the question has been framed in terms of community or acceptance: that is, it becomes primarily a matter of joining a group or an organization.
Again, none of these are wrong per se. It’s not wrong to focus or emphasize any of these things. All I’m simply trying to say is that, for Jonathan, choosing David wasn’t about any of these things. Choosing David, choosing David’s kingdom, and thereby rejecting his father’s, wasn’t about any of these kinds of things. It was solely about love. It was solely about relationship.
And as we’ve said before, while they’re not wrong per se, we can respond to any of the aforementioned questions – do you want to go to heaven, do you want to improve your life, do you want to accomplish something – without any real concern for Jesus. If we take Jesus out of the equation – which is to say, if we’re not concerned first and foremost and only about our relationship with Jesus – we’re asking and answering the wrong question.
So with all that in mind, I want to revisit some things that we’ve talked about many times before. How do we have a relationship with Jesus – or perhaps better, how do we focus on, grow in our relationship with Jesus? To that end, I commend to you again three practices:
Firstly, we spend time in scripture. In spending time in scripture, in reading, studying, and listening to scripture, we heed and respond to God’s revelation. We are heeding and responding to God’s revelation about who He is, God’s revelation about the world, and God’s revelation about what He is doing in the world. If we aren’t paying attention to scripture, we are not paying attention to Jesus as He reveals Himself to be, we are paying attention to some other Jesus (or not Jesus) that comes to us through some means other than God’s word.
Secondly, we spend time in prayer. In prayer, we are actually trying to engage in the Jesus of revelation. Or, we are trying to respond to the Jesus of revelation as he engages us. We cannot have a relationship second-hand. We cannot have a relationship with Jesus by knowing things about Jesus. We have to actually spend time with Him. And we cannot know the other by spending all of our time talking about ourselves. Relationship is not about using the other simply as a mirror for the self. We must recognize the holiness of the other, the glory of the other, the personhood of Jesus. So in prayer we talk, we open ourselves fully to God, yes. But we also listen. We learn to hear the still small voice. And we learn to respond in obedience and out of love.
Thirdly, we participate in community. We spend time in community because no one has ever seen God. But in community, we are His hands and His feet. We spend time in community because whoever does not love brother and sister, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. We spend time in community because in community, we see our own brokenness, we practice forgiveness, and live out the love that God has for this whole world as it is worked out in us. In community, we see that because of the blood of Jesus, God sees us as we should be, so that we might live as we will be.
So again, and in summary, what we see in this passage is that Jonathan’s choice of David over his father, his choice of David’s kingdom over his own, is based on nothing else than his love for David. And our choice of Jesus’ kingdom over any other should be based first and foremost on our love for Him – on our relationship with Him.
It’s our relationship with Jesus that must be our foundation. It’s our trust in Him, our faith in Him, our love for Him, that must be the ground we stand on. We can attempt to side-step that. Because it’s often easier or even preferable to subscribe to a system, join an organization, or commit to a mission/project than it is to have a relationship with a person. But it’s precisely to a person that we are being called. It’s precisely to a relationship that we are being invited. Because it’s in Christ alone that we can find life.