By J.R. Miller
1 Samuel 18
The story of the friendship of Jonathan and David is a Bible classic. As such, it takes rank with the finest friendship stories in any literature. Without detracting in the least from the character of David, or from his part in all the delightful story, there is no doubt that it is to Jonathan, that the chief honor belongs. He was the prince of Saul's house, and therefore of rank far above the shepherd lad whom he loved. It was in Jonathan's heart, too, that the friendship first began. He recognized in David noble qualities which won first his admiration and then his affection. If there was a man in the whole nation who had reason to be envious of David--it certainly was Jonathan. He was a brave and popular soldier, the son of the king--yet here was another man whose one achievement made him the hero of the people. In ordinary men the feeling of envy would have risen in the heart when David sprang suddenly into such popularity. Jonathan was the man, too, who had everything to lose by David's promotion, and yet he was ready to lose all, even to let David become king, because of the love he bore to his friend.
Jonathan here sets a lesson for us, in the overmastering fullness and richness of his love. Such generous friendship, it must be confessed, is rare in even the best men and women. Not many of us can experience such overshadowing in others, such winning by others of honor and affection which naturally belong to us--and keep our hearts sweet and our love for the one who is so honored, as strong and loyal as ever. Such triumph of love is Christlike. It is an attainment we should strive to reach. SELF must die in us--and love must reign, and then we shall have learned our lesson.
Thus the first honor in this matchless friendship, belongs to Jonathan. He loved David with a pure and unselfish affection, which stood the severest test and never failed. As time went on and David became still more the nation's hero, casting Jonathan himself in the shadows, there was no envy or jealousy in Jonathan's heart. When at last he knew that David was to be king instead of himself, his friendship faltered not. When his own father turned against David and sought to kill him, Jonathan risked all--in order to save his friend's life.
The beginning of this friendship was very interesting. The young shepherd was brought into the king's presence after his victory over the giant. As Jonathan looked on him, heard him speak and saw his beauty, his modest, simple bearing--his heart went out to him in a burst of affection, and from that hour "the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul."
Jonathan's friendship was based on the true and simple worth of David. It was not the fascination of a moment--but an enduring attachment, having its roots in the heart, a love that would stand the sorest tests and not fail. It was unselfish affection, ready for any service or sacrifice, telling of a princely spirit in the king's son.
True friendship has always its reserves. The best is not revealed at the beginning. We touch but the edge of its ocean fullness, when we first taste its sweetness. We have to know our friend better--to find the best of love that is in him. Jonathan's affection for David was wonderful in its first revealing--but the more it was put to the test--the purer and holier it proved. Some friendships are only emotional and soon burn out, leaving only cold ashes--but Jonathan's only increased in intensity as the days went on. So it should always be.
When the love of Jonathan for David is described, it is said that he loved him as his own soul. There could be no higher measure of love than this. It was utterly unselfish. The whole story of Jonathan's friendship for David, showed the most complete self-forgetfulness and self-abnegation. David in his eulogy on his friend after his death, said that his love surpassed the love of women. Woman's love is wonderful in its tenderness, in its strength, in its devotion--but Jonathan's love for David surpassed anything in the love of women that David had ever known. The more carefully we read the story as it is told in fragments in the chapters in the Book of Samuel, the more noble does the friendship appear.
At the very beginning of their friendship Jonathan and David made a covenant. It was Jonathan who proposed this covenant, and it was because he loved David so intensely--as his own soul --that he did it. In this covenant, "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." These tokens of his friendship Jonathan gave as pledges of his loyalty and faithfulness. When David saw them they would keep him in mind of his friend and all that he had promised. When Jonathan was out of his sight--these gifts would assure him that he was true, whether present or absent, as true in absence as in presence.
David sometimes grew discouraged when Saul pursued him so persistently and sought so bitterly to destroy him. Once David spoke to Jonathan of this. "What have I done?" he asked. "What is my iniquity? and what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?" Jonathan assured David that no harm would be done to him by his father. "Never! You are not going to die! Look, my father doesn't do anything, great or small, without confiding in me. Why would he hide this from me?" David was still fearful. "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." Then Jonathan, to reassure David, agreed to find out his father's feeling and let David know.
Jonathan's position was most delicate and difficult. He was loyal to his father, and yet while his father was determined to kill David, he was loyal also to his friend. To maintain these two loyalties in such circumstances, required the greatest care. Yet Jonathan never failed in either.
"But if my father is inclined to harm you, may the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away safely." Saul tried in every way to turn Jonathan against David--but Jonathan's affection for David wavered not. At last Saul discovered, or at least came to believe, that David was the one whom God had marked out as "the neighbor more worthy than you," to be king in his stead. Surely now, he could break up Jonathan's friendship for the young shepherd. So he told him that as long as David lived, he, Jonathan, could not become king. It must have required a terrible struggle for Jonathan, to give up all the hopes of royalty, and to know that his friend, not he, would wear the crown. But his friendship stood even this test, too. Instead of combining with his father to prevent David's accession, he went out and tried to save David's life from Saul's rage. There could have been no severer test of friendship than this.
Jonathan showed his confidence in David's friendship for him, at this point. "But show me unfailing kindness like that of the LORD as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, 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." Jonathan foresaw something at least of what was coming upon his family, and sought to provide for them so that they would not suffer. He committed them to his friend, who was to be in the place of power--knowing that David would be kind to them.
We see here two noble things--first, a father's love for his children, seeking shelter for them in a great coming calamity; second, Jonathan's confidence in David's friendship. And David was equal to his friend's confidence. One of the most interesting incidents of his reign, is his gentle care of the lame son of Jonathan, whom he took into his own household and cared for as tenderly as if he were his own brother.
The friendship that has a pious basis, where both the friends love God and serve Him, is doubly sacred and sure. Both Jonathan and David believed in God. Once Jonathan refers to an oath he and David had taken thus: "We have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord." Thus the friendship was sealed before God. They both loved God and trusted in Him, and it was as God's children that they had made their covenant of friendship. There is no sure and lasting friendship which has not a Christian basis. In choosing friends, we should choose only those who will be one in Christ with us, and whose companionship we can have in all the close and holy relations of life and also when this world is no more. The hope that cheered Jonathan here, was that a friendship cemented in God could not be destroyed; that whatever might come--they would still be friends and would meet again.
"I will shoot three arrows ... as though I shot at a mark." There were no telegraphs in those days, no telephones, and that he might let David know at once Saul's attitude towards him, Jonathan arranged a way of signaling, which would not be apt to arouse suspicion. What seemed to onlookers as only a bit of archery practice, had a secret meaning which only the two friends understood. Jonathan was signaling to his friend in his hiding-place, the result of his interview with his father. In this way he was warning David of his danger and bidding him flee for his life.
It should always be the part of faithful friendship--to give a friend warning of danger. There are many kinds of danger of which we should let our friends know. Most of us would give notice if we knew of a plot to assassinate our friend; but there are other dangers--from evil companionships, false friends, temptations, bad habits--and faithful friendships ought in some way to give quick and honest warning of these also.
These are but a few of the suggestions that come from this noble friendship of Jonathan's and David's. Such friendships are very rare. Yet every young man is better--for having a strong, true and noble friendship. Young men have many temptations, and there is a wonderful restraining and constraining power in the life of one we love. We dare not do wrong in the sacred presence of a trusted friend. We all know how unworthy we feel when we come with the recollection of some sin or some baseness, into the presence of one we honor.