From Shepherd to King (3)
“True Friendship” 1 Samuel 18, 19 & 20
I heard about two friends who were out hunting. Suddenly one of them yelled & the other turned round to see a huge grizzly bear charging out of the forest towards them. The first man desperately pulled off his boots & started putting on his running shoes. The other guy asked him, “What are you doing? Don’t you know you can’t run faster than a grizzly bear?” The first guy replied, “I don’t have to run faster than the grizzly bear. I just have to run faster than you!” Well, what kind of friend was he? I guess it depends upon your definition of “friend”. He certainly was not the kind of friend Jesus talked about when He said, “Greater love has no one that this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) What Jesus is talking about takes friendship to a far deeper level than simply being good mates out hunting together. The true friend, according to Jesus, would not run away leaving his friend behind to be caught by the bear. He would try to save his friend even if it meant losing his own life. And of course that is what Jesus did for us – He gave His life that we might be saved.
Very few friends would display the kind of love Jesus is talking about. And probably very few could say that they enjoyed a friendship as close & real as the friendship we are going to consider today – the friendship between David & Jonathan. The dictionary defines a “friend” as, “a person with whom one enjoys mutual affection & regard.” It also defines a friend as “a sympathizer, a helper, someone on the same side.” This is certainly true of the friendship between David & Jonathan but as we will see their friendship was much deeper – it was closer to the kind of friendship Jesus describes. It was a costly self-giving type of friendship. It seems everyone wants to find true friends but very few actually find them. We all have acquaintances, people with whom we get on pretty well, but an acquaintance is not the same as a real true friend. Let us look first of all at how David & Jonathan became friends:
1. David & Jonathan become friends
The marvellous victory over the giant Goliath was a turning point in David’s life. He had already played the harp for Saul the king & had served as one of his attendants, Saul now wanted to find out more about David. After all Saul had promised that the one who defeated Goliath could marry one of his daughters. At end of 1 Samuel 17, David is asked more about his family & his background. It is quite possible that not only was David the youngest son in a poor family but some Bible scholars think he may have been an illegitimate child. This is only speculation but if true it would have carried with it a certain stigma & shame.
We read at the beginning of chapter 18. “After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, & he loved him as himself.” It seems that as Saul’s son Jonathan listened to David he was deeply touched by his story. He was very impressed. Despite being so young something about David, his faith, his humility, his openness maybe, struck a chord with Jonathan. He was immediately drawn to him as a person. Jonathan, the crown prince, heir to the throne, took David to his heart despite the fact David came from such an ordinary background. In a small way it is a picture of how Jesus loves us. His love for us is not based on our background or on our status. He accepts us just as we are.
Jonathan himself was an impressive man, & was himself recognized as a brave warrior. He was quite a bit older than David – perhaps as many as ten or fifteen years older. Jonathan now finds himself so drawn to David that we read, “…Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing & gave it to David, along with his tunic, & even his sword, his bow & his belt.” (vrs 3 & 4) Jonathan, as the oldest son of Saul, was heir to the throne. According to ancient custom, what Jonathan did in giving David his robe & his weapons was a mark of highest honour & respect. Jonathan honoured David in front of everyone.
Of course Saul was also impressed with David & gave him a high rank in the army. David became extremely popular. He was so popular that we read, “When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing & dancing, with joyful songs & with tambourines & lutes. As they danced, they sang: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, & David his tens of thousands.’” (vrs 6 & 7) Sadly the song of the women had a very negative effect upon Saul. He was already very sensitive about the fact the prophet Samuel had told him that God had rejected him as king. He probably sensed that the Spirit of God was no longer with him. He had already been experiencing dark moods & periods of insanity. So despite the great victory won for the nation as a result of the defeat of Goliath & the Philistine army, Saul was feeling very vulnerable. His admiration for David began to turn to jealousy. We read in vrs 8 & 9, “Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. ‘They have credited David with tens of thousands,’ he thought, ‘but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?’ And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.”
Jealousy is very dangerous. It may not seem a major sin but in reality it quickly leads to unkind thoughts, words & even actions. A jealous person hates to see others succeed. They hate to see others happy. Jealousy leads to hate & sometimes even murder. It destroys relationships, ruins health, brings misery & often ends in disaster. Do not let jealousy get a foothold in your life. It will ruin you. We get jealous when we feel insecure, when we do not have a healthy self-image, when in fact we are too self-centred, when we are not walking in humility, openness & integrity before God & man. The opposite of jealousy of course is love – having a kind & generous spirit towards others. Paul says in Romans 12:14-15, “Bless those who persecute you, bless & do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice & mourn with those who mourn.” David who was anointed by the Spirit of God was able to live in this way – even though things were going to get very tough for him.
1 Samuel 18 tells how Saul becomes more & more jealous & even afraid of David. Despite the fact David was helping unite & strengthen the nation Saul saw him only as a threat. He made up his mind to get rid of David. Sadly Saul’s jealousy got so bad David’s music was no longer able to sooth him when he got into one of his dark moods. On two occasions even while David was playing his harp for Saul, he tried to kill David by throwing his spear at him. Twice David was able to dodge the spear & escape. Despite all the bad things Saul did v.14 says about David, “In everything he did he had great success, because the LORD was with him.” Saul may have been trying to harm David but the Lord was with him. He need not fear.
Saul went back on his promise to give the one who defeated Goliath the hand of his daughter in marriage. However when he discovered that his second daughter, Michal, had fallen in love with David, Saul thought up an evil plan. He said Michal & David could marry but David had first to pay a dowry or bride price. This bride price was not money (for David couldn’t have paid it anyway) but instead of money David had to go & kill 100 Philistine men & bring the proof back to Saul. This would put David in great danger. Verse 25 tells us, “Saul's plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines.” Saul’s evil scheme failed for even before the time was up David returned. He & his men had killed 200 of the enemy - not just 100.
Even though Saul was obviously trying to get rid of him, David by contrast remained loyal & respectful to Saul. No doubt his friendship with Jonathan helped David keep his perspective & balance. In addition, he was now married to Saul’s daughter, Jonathan’s sister Michal, so they now had close family ties as well. It must have been very hard for David to have to face such obvious antagonism from his father-in-law, the king.
As we come to chapter 19 we see Jonathan standing up for David.
2. Jonathan stands up for David
It is a sign of true friendship when our friends speak up for us, even when this puts them at a disadvantage or in danger. Jonathan not only warned David of his father’s intention to kill him & promised to do what he could to change the situation. We read in 1 Samuel 18:4, “Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father & said to him, ‘Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, & what he has done has benefited you greatly. He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The LORD won a great victory for all Israel, & you saw it & were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?” Jonathan spoke up for David. He knew that his father’s attitude & actions were wrong. Jonathan respectfully yet firmly & bravely challenged his father. Jonathan must have known what his father knew – that David would be the next king. Yet Jonathan’s love for David his friend meant that, unlike his jealous father, he was able to support David & speak up for him. A true friend is loyal. They don’t talk about you behind your back - rather they speak up for you even when others attack. Amazingly Saul listened to his son & agreed to welcome David back.
There was a time of relative calm. Sadly however, Saul’s jealousy & hate was not far from the surface. Suffering another of his demonic episodes or attacks, Saul once again tried to kill David. David escaped back to his home. He knew however that his life was once again in grave danger. His wife Michal realised that Saul’s men were watching the house. She knew there was a plot to arrest David in the morning. Michal helped David escape from an upstairs window under cover of dark. Sure enough in the morning Saul’s men came looking for David. Michal said he was ill in bed. The men left & reported back to Saul. He was not happy & “…sent the men back to see David & told them, ‘Bring him up to me in his bed so that I may kill him.’” (V.15) When Saul’s men came back to get him of course they discovered David was no longer there. David had escaped to where the old prophet Samuel was living in Ramah. Saul himself ended up going to Ramah to kill David but in a most unexpected way the Spirit of God immobilized him. Saul ended up prophesying – unable to do anything about David.
We come now to our final point for today about how David & Jonathan make a covenant with each other.
3. David & Jonathan make a covenant
As chapter 20 opens we find David secretly heading back to Gibeah from Ramah to find Jonathan. As with all true friends, David is able to speak from his heart. In v.1 David asks Jonathan, “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to take my life?” The whole situation must have been painful for both David & Jonathan. David knew Jonathan was putting his life on the line for him. The fact Jonathan also loved & respected his father Saul (no matter how bad he had become) helped David I am sure, to avoid hating Saul or wanting to get revenge. Their friendship helped both men stay closer to God & seek His solutions. A true Christian friend is like that. They help give us courage to do what is right rather than give in to temptation or evil.
David & Jonathan came up with a secret plan. If things looked hopeless & Saul seemed determined as ever to kill David Jonathan would let David know. The plan was agreed. You can read the details in chapter 20. Jonathan said to David, “May the LORD be with you as he has been with my father. But show me unfailing kindness like that of the LORD as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, & 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.” (vrs 13 -15) The two friends made a covenant together. It was a covenant based on their mutual love for God – the One who is unfailing in kindness.
Back at the palace things went very badly. Jonathan once again stood up for David & as a result suffered humiliation & abuse from his father. His father was so angry he even tried to kill Jonathan. At the appointed time & place Jonathan returned to meet David. By shooting some arrows & telling his servant boy to run & pick them up he gave the secret sign to David (who was hiding behind some rocks) that sadly he needed to flee. The servant boy had no idea what was going on & Jonathan sent him on ahead back to the town. Jonathan was then able to have a few brief moments alone with David without coming under suspicion. In I Samuel 20:41 we read, “After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone & bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other & wept together - but David wept the most.” It was a deeply moving parting. The two friends had to say goodbye not knowing if they would meet again. By the way, in the context of our corrupt society today, it is important to mention that the relationship between David & Jonathan was not in any way sexual. Homosexuality was totally taboo amongst the Israelites. In the Bible homosexuality is everywhere condemned as evil & wrong. God loves sinners, but He doesn’t condone sin.
Jonathan was not just a friend to David. He was like a brother – in fact far closer than any of David’s brothers had ever been to him. Now he & Jonathan had to say goodbye. 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 & me, & between your descendants & my descendants forever.’” (v.42) It was not the last time they saw each other. They met briefly one other time during the years David was on the run, a fugitive hiding from Saul. Jonathan was tragically killed fighting the Philistines alongside his father. David’s love & respect for his friend Jonathan must have helped him through all the struggles he was to face while he was a fugitive. Thinking of his friend Jonathan kept him from losing heart & becoming bitter towards Saul. David must have learnt from Jonathan the importance of what Jesus later said, “Love your enemies & pray for those that persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44). Their friendship helped make David a “man after God's own heart.”
Do you have a true friend? We all need such friends who will stick close, listen, care, offer honest advice & practical help in difficult times as well as good times. It is better to have one true friend than to simply have many acquaintances. As Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.”Sometimes even very famous people have hardly anyone they can truly call a friend. If you want a true friend then be a true friend! Why not ask God to give you such a friend & ask Him to help you be a true friend to someone else. As brothers & sisters in the family of God, of course, we should seek to be such friends to others. David had a great friend in Jonathan but in the Lord Jesus you & I have an even more wonderful Friend. He gave His life for us. While we were still sinners, Jesus died for us. Do you know this greatest of Friends? The old hymn says it well: “What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins & griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to Him in prayer!”