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6. David

6-2-4 The Love Of David For Jonathan

The record powerfully presents the picture of David and Jonathan as two men living in totally different worlds, and yet being bound together, despite the tangles of their lives, by the hope of the Kingdom, and the pure intensity of their spiritual bond with each other in the Lord. The love of David for Jonathan is surpassing. The juxtaposition of their lifestyles is shown by passages like 23:18: " David abode in the wood  , and Jonathan went to his house  " . " Jonathan Saul's son (note the emphasis again!) arose, and went to David into  the wood" (23:16). We are invited to imagine Jonathan walking into the wood, stumbling through it, until he found David, concealed in some deep thicket; and then, after brief but intense fellowship, stumbling back through the undergrowth, brushing himself down, and returning to his stately home. The same impression is given by 20:42: " We have sworn both of us...and David arose and departed (to his den): and Jonathan went into the city" . There seems more than an echo here of Abraham and Lot parting company in Gen.13:8-12. How many of us, coming out of a memorial meeting and returning to the world, have gone through the same emotions. The clandestine nature of the David:Jonathan friendship is surely replicated between us and Christ. The love of David for Jonathan is Christ's love for us. Their souls were " knit" , a Hebrew word also translated " conspire" , hinting at the secretiveness (18:1).  What company we are in! Yet as Jonathan became too involved in his surrounding world (so it seems), so we run a similar gauntlet. The question arises: Should Jonathan have run away from his situation, and gone to join David in the wilderness, like others did? Should we? To close down a career, move down the property ladder, change our eating, travelling, holiday habits.... or stay where we are in Saul's court, to some degree living out a lie, hoping Gilboa won't come for us? 

The intensity of fellowship

By now we have presented enough evidence to show that we are intended to read Jonathan as typical of ourselves. Hidden away in the records, there is so much information concerning the human side of his relationship with David. So now we want to revel for a moment in piecing it all together, to marvel at the human pain  of it all, and to see in it both challenge and comfort; challenge in that we really should be experiencing something like this with Christ, and in those parts of life in which we do, to take comfort from the fact that other men have trodden this path before.  

In all close friendships there are some aspects which just could not have been contrived by human arrangement, and which add to the closeness and sense of specialness which those relationships have. There were such aspects with David and Jonathan, intensifying the love of David for Jonathan. For example, it was a beautiful coincidence that they both happened to have a brother called Abinadab (16:8 cp. 1 Chron.8:33). The same spirit is shown in the incident where they agree that if Jonathan shoots arrows well beyond David, then David should flee. Obviously they did not intend to meet if this were the case; otherwise there would have been no point in the arrangement about the arrows. David did need to flee, so Jonathan shot the arrows beyond him. Yet  somehow Jonathan and David took a chance and crept towards each other. David went towards Jonathan, somehow hoping that he would meet him. And Jonathan went to find David, hoping against hope that he wouldn't  flee immediately, as they had arranged. This explains the intensity of their meeting together: " they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded" (20:41). " Until David exceeded" defies complete translation and interpretation. It clearly does not mean that David cried until he stopped crying. David " exceeded" in that he went somewhere beyond; Strong defines the Hebrew word as meaning 'to be made larger in the mind'. In a sense David broke down emotionally, and yet on another level he went beyond, into a level of relationship which was beyond normal emotional experience. In like manner he commented that his love for Jonathan was beyond the love of women; the love of David for Jonathan pointed forward to that special emotional and spiritual bond in Christ which passes the human experience of love (Eph. 3:19).  

It was doubtless overruled that they grew up only 10 miles away from each (Jonathan in Gibeah of Saul, David in Bethlehem). In the early Israel of those days, it is almost certain that they knew each other from their youth. It is possible to speculate that David was in fact " the young man that bare (Jonathan's) armour" in the heroic conquest of the Philistine garrison in 1 Sam.14. Note how Saul also calls him " young man" in 17:58.  There was evidently an intense  spiritual and physical rapport between Jonathan and his armour bearer which was similar to that described between Jonathan and David. " I am with thee according to thy heart" (14:7) has firm connection with David and Jonathan being described as having their souls knit together in 18:1. The record of David's battle with the Philistines in 2 Sam.5:17-24 has certain similarities with the exploits of 14:8-11; as if, years later, David replicated his early adventure of faith. David already had a reputation in Israel for being " a mighty valiant man, and a man of war...and the Lord is with him" (16:18), even before the Goliath incident. This would be understandable if he had gone with Jonathan in chapter 14. His becoming Saul's  armourbearer (16:21) would then be seen as a logical promotion from being Jonathan's armourbearer.

The last mention of the David : Jonathan relationship is in 2 Sam.21:12-14, where we read that David personally (" he" cp. " they" ) took and carried the bones of Saul and Jonathan to their final resting place. The love of David for Jonathan is apparent. We are invited to imagine David carrying the bones of his best friend, perhaps just the ashes of them (31:12,13), cradling them (or the container) in his arms, weeping as he walked. How about this for pathos. What is  man, that God is mindful of us? The words of David's lament in 2 Sam.1 would have surely come to his mind. It is almost certain that David memorized them, seeing it was taught as a song of remembrance (2 Sam.1:18). There would have been the restimulation of so much. So that is how the Spirit concludes the story, David walking off into the sunset with the bones of Jonathan. It should be remembered that this occurred after David's disgrace with Bathsheba (1). The thought must surely have gone through his mind: It's a good thing dear Jonathan isn't hear to see it. The very name of the prophet Nathan, the exposer of David's sin, would have restimulated David. For 'Jonathan' means 'Yahweh-Nathan'. It is quite likely that in practice David would not have pronounced the 'Yah' prefix; he would have called Jonathan 'Nathan' (how many 'Jonathan's do you know whose name isn't abbreviated by their friends?).  The reason why there is so much pathos in the story, so powerfully expressed, is to set us a standard of love and feeling towards Christ; for Jonathan represents us, and the love of David for him really is a reflection, even an inadequate one  (selah) , of the love of Christ for us. Truly do we sing that " Thou art far above / dearest of human love" .

" The love of Christ, that passeth knowledge" (Eph.3:19) is clearly prefigured in David's feelings for Jonathan and the love of David for Jonathan. Despite many passionate relationships with women, experiencing the depth of human closeness more than many, David could sob: " Thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women" (2 Sam.1:26). The Hebrew for " wonderful" has a root meaning 'separate'. This love of Jonathan was separate from all other love David had known.  In this we see perhaps the first Old Testament foretaste of agape  love, love beyond the phileo  and eros  . Emotionally and spiritually, Jonathan and David went way ahead of their time. David speaks of Jonathan's love in terms of male:female love. He describes him as " the beauty of Israel" , " very pleasant hast thou been unto me" ; and grammatically, " thy love to me..." (2 Sam.1:26) implies that the lover was female. It is even possible to work this out from Strong's Lexicon. In ecclesial life, it has often been observed that there is a certain spiritual relationship between male and female in Christ which is somehow deeper than that between believers of the same sex. Yet these two brethren had a spiritual love for each other which totally transcended the gender division. They entered deeply into the spirit of Christ, where there is neither male nor female, but all are knit together in one. In like manner, our Lord said that male believers could be his sister and mother. We are dealing with high things here. Yet the heights of the David:Jonathan relationship are set down here to challenge us to at least try to touch the sky, however briefly. And when David later wrote of how good and “pleasant” it is for brethren to dwell together in unity (Ps. 133), he surely had the pleasantness of his relationship with Jonathan in mind, and wished it to be shared by all his brethren.


(1) It is quite likely that Ps.19:8,10 were written with Jonathan's experience of 1 Sam14  in mind: " The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes...sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb" . Psalm 19 may well have been written in the Bathsheba period: " Cleanse (s.w. Ps.51:2) thou me from secret faults" . So the memory of Jonathan stayed with David all his life long.