The story of Saul, Jonathan, and David demonstrates for us the cost of ultimate commitment to God. Saul disobeyed God and abandoned that commitment. Jonathan and David remained true to God, and to each other.
1 Samuel, chapters 20-21; Psalm 34; Matthew, chapter 5
1 Samuel 20:10-17 (NLT):
Then David asked, “How will I know whether or not your father is angry?”
“Come out to the field with me,” Jonathan replied. And they went out there together. Then Jonathan told David, “I promise by the Lord, the God of Israel, that by this time tomorrow, or the next day at the latest, I will talk to my father and let you know at once how he feels about you. If he speaks favorably about you, I will let you know. But if he is angry and wants you killed, may the Lord strike me and even kill me if I don’t warn you so you can escape and live. May the Lord be with you as he used to be with my father. And may you treat me with the faithful love of the Lord as long as I live. But if I die, treat my family with this faithful love, even when the Lord destroys all your enemies from the face of the earth.”
So Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, saying, “May the Lord destroy all your enemies!” And Jonathan made David reaffirm his vow of friendship again, for Jonathan loved David as he loved himself.
The friendship between David and Jonathan is one of the most powerful examples of true love and loyalty that we find in Scripture. Jonathan understood that he would never be king, even though he was the king’s son, because God had chosen David. Yet Jonathan’s love for David and his loyalty to him outweighed any human desire for power. Later in this passage, when Jonathan speaks to Saul about David, Saul says to him, “As long as that son of Jesse is alive, you’ll never be king” (20:31). But Jonathan is faithful to David, and to the covenant they had made.
The phrase which really captures my attention today is in verse 13: “May the Lord be with you as he used to be with my father.” What a sad commentary! I think we often focus on this statement as a pledge of Jonathan’s loyalty, and Jonathan’s desire for David to be blessed, but the fact is that it also reflects Jonathan’s knowledge that God was no longer with Saul. Jonathan doesn’t sugar-coat this. He doesn’t try to excuse his father’s behavior. He understands not only that God is not with Saul, but also why God is no longer with him.
Jonathan obviously trusts in God; you can almost detect a hint of hope that someday his father might turn back to God. But he is not kidding himself; he understands that God has chosen David to be the next king. It speaks volumes about Jonathan’s love for God and his love for David that he says, “May the Lord be with you as he used to be with my father.” The last verse of our passage shows us why Jonathan could say that: for Jonathan loved David as he loved himself.
In John 15, Jesus tells the disciples, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13, NLT). That’s exactly what Jonathan does for David. He takes his life into his hands to go to Saul on David’s behalf. He disobeys Saul by going to warn David and give him the chance to escape. Jonathan had already laid down his status as the king’s son on David’s behalf, knowing that he would never be king. He demonstrated what real love and loyalty is in his relationship with David.
Yet he continued to serve his father, Saul. When Saul led the troops into battle – as long as he wasn’t fighting David – Jonathan was there. At the end of 1 Samuel, Saul and Jonathan would die together in battle against the Philistines. Just as David honored Saul by refusing to kill him, even when he had the chance, so Jonathan honored Saul by continuing to serve him. He just didn’t let his loyalty to Saul override his commitment to God.
May the Lord be with you as he used to be with my father.
What a sad commentary on Saul’s reign! He had started out so well. Saul was humble; he didn’t use his power to punish those who hadn’t supported him. But then, as he became comfortable with power, he became consumed by it. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” as Lord Acton famously said. Saul’s life is a sad confirmation of that truth. Thankfully, the corruption doesn’t have to be contagious – Jonathan shows us that. God is reminding us that our ultimate allegiance must be to him. When we are surrendered to God, he enables us to serve him faithfully no matter what may come – just as Jonathan did.
Father, thank you for reminding us today that you are faithful to us. No matter what circumstances may come, we can walk in your way – if we’re committed to you. Help us to be like Jonathan: to recognize how you are at work, and to be faithful to you even when it costs us everything. Help us to remember that our commitment to you is the absolute priority in our lives.
However, even when our commitment to you supersedes our family relationships, help us to continue to love and serve our families to the greatest extent possible. Jonathan continued to serve his father to the greatest extent he could while still being obedient to you. Help us to do that as well, that our family and friends may see in us the ultimate value of your kingdom. Amen.