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6. David

6-2-3 Jonathan's Relationship With Saul

All of us in Christ experience a massive sense of paradox. We live and work in this world, doing the things of this world in our daily occupations, yet in the more important side of our lives we have this high spiritual relationship with the Lord Jesus and the Almighty Sovereign of this universe. This is - or ought to be- part of our hour by hour experience in this life. A little imagination of Jonathan's situation soon shows that our dilemma was exactly matched by his experience. He was the King's son, heavily taken up with the day to day running of the Kingdom, clearly tipped to succeed the King, and possibly take over as regent on Saul's retirement. Saul effectively says as much during his explosion at Jonathan for befriending David (20:30,31). . So there was Jonathan, going up the ladder towards Kingship, when he had no real interest in this, and when he had firmly decided that David would be king, not himself , when the Kingdom was established (23:17). There must be hundreds of Christians-cum-high flying executives worldwide who can identify completely with this scenario.  

The bitterness underlying Saul's words in 20:30,31 indicates a certain element of love-hate in Jonathan's relationship with Saul. We can sense this in the record of 1 Sam.14, when Jonathan overcame the Philistine garrison whilst his father cowered away in nervous faithlessness. How jealous Saul must have been! Jealousy was one of Saul's characteristics (1), and it is subconsciously a major feature of the world's aggression towards us; for the world is  passively aggressive (cp. Gen.3:15), if only we manifest Christ as we should. Saul almost seems to have contrived his command not to eat on pain of death in order to incriminate his son, whom he knew would not have heard his prohibition. The way in which he says that even if it were Jonathan who had eaten, then he must die (14:39), seems to suggest that Saul was actually looking for an excuse to kill Jonathan. This love-hate relationship between Jonathan and Saul is exactly typical of ours with the world and our own flesh.  

There were times when Jonathan's relationship with Saul and the court became more strained than at others. Their all consuming desire was increasingly the destruction of David. Our surrounding world has a similar, obsessive, anti-Christ enthusiasm to which we are diametrically opposed. It would seem that Saul's whole family turned against David. A comparison of 1 Chron.10:6 and 1 Sam.31:6 shows a parallel between the house of Saul and his men; and it was the men of Saul who aided Saul in persecuting David (23:25,26). Further divergence between David and Saul's family is shown by the fact that Michal, Saul's daughter, either left David or was divorced by him (2 Sam.2:2 cp. 6:20).  Yet despite this, Jonathan's intensity of relationship with David meant that he was not ashamed to speak up for him: " Jonathan spake good of David unto Saul his father, and said unto him, Let not the king  sin against his servant...because his works have been to thee-ward very good: for he...slew the Philistine" (19:4,5). Note how he calls Saul " the King" , suggesting a certain detachment from him. The vision of David standing triumphant over Goliath still motivated Jonathan, to the extent that he could stand up in that hostile environment and testify to the love of David, the extent of his selfless victory, and the urgent need for this to be recognized by men. The spirit of our preaching only occasionally matches this example. No wonder the record stresses Jonathan as being typical of ourselves.  

Despite this, the record reveals a certain closeness between Saul and Jonathan in Jonathan's relationship with Saul. David recognized this when he reflected that even in their death they were not divided (2 Sam.1:23). Perhaps this means that they died fighting next to each other.  Consider the following:

- The description of Jonathan as the son of Saul occurs a massive 23 times; the connection between them is certainly highlighted.

- We have mentioned that Jonathan had Gideon as his personal hero. Yet there is ample evidence that Saul too saw Gideon in this light (2). Does this suggest that in his more spiritual days, Saul successfully imparted his spiritual enthusiasm for Gideon to his son in Sunday school lessons?

- Mephibosheth is called Saul's son (2 Sam.9:7,10; 19:24), although he was actually Jonathan's son. This suggests that the son was brought up in Saul's house. This certainly does not give the impression that Jonathan separated himself from his father's house.

- Jonathan was commander of the army (13:2). When he gave " the  robe that was upon him" to David (18:4), he was effectively making David the commander (cp. 2 Chron.18:9,29). Thus when " Saul set (David) over the men of war" (18:5), he was tacitly going along with Jonathan's wish, even though by this time he had already heard the women praising David more than himself, and his bitter jealousy against David had already begun (18:6). This little point simply shows the external unity of action between Saul and Jonathan. 

This closeness in Jonathan's relationship with Saul shows the emotional tangle which Jonathan was in on account of his relationship with David. If we truly love Christ, and if we are honest enough to come to terms with the pull of our own natures, we will be going through exactly the same. Our Lord seems to have seen in Jonathan a type of ourselves. In the context of warning us that loyalty to him would mean confessing him before men and conflict between fathers and sons, he encourages us that not a hair of our head will perish (Mt.10:30 cp. Lk.21:18). This is picking up the application of this phrase to Jonathan in 14:45.


(1) Saul's jealousy is most clearly shown by his resentment of how the women praised David more than himself. But consider too how Saul gave David his armour, as did Jonathan (" garments" in 18:4 is the same word as " armour" in 17:38). David accepted Jonathan's gift, but rejected Saul's.

(2) The following is the evidence that Saul saw Gideon as his spiritual hero: 1 Sam.11:11 = Jud.7:16; 13:5 = Jud.7:12; 13:6 = Gideon offering before fighting Midian; 14:5,20 = Jud.7:22; 14:24 = imitating Gideon and his men going without food; 14:28,31 = Jud.8:4,5; 11:7 = Gideon killing his father's oxen.