By Al R. Hodges
Retired IMB Missionary
There was the reigning, but rejected by God, King Saul. There was the heir apparent to the throne, Saul’s son, Jonathan. There was also Jonathan’s friend, the newly anointed but not yet reigning king, David. But this was no stage play. It was real life drama portraying the faithfulness of two friends and the faithfulness of the God they served. Both David and Jonathan were young men who served in Saul’s army.
True friendship was established between them (I Samuel 18:1-5) the day of Israel’s victory over the Philistines. Jonathan loved and committed himself to David. Saul brought David into the royal household (vv. 1-2). Jonathan found a friend in David, likely because both men were excellent warriors. In today’s world of “Facebook friends” and casual acquaintances, true friends are rare and must be cultivated. Jonathan made a deep Godly commitment to David, because he loved him (v. 3). He even gave David his own robe, military tunic, and personal weaponry (v. 4). All this symbolized and sealed a true friendship pact of trust and support. David was so successful in battles against the Philistines that Saul awarded him high military rank, and gave him leadership in the army (v. 5).
Soon Saul’s admiration for David turned to jealousy and hatred. He tried to kill David several times (I Samuel 18:17, 25; 19:1, 9-11), yet Jonathan sought to protect him and bring him back from where he had fled for refuge (ch. 19:18). They devised a secret signal to use if David’s life was in mortal danger (ch. 20:18-34). David would hide in a field where Jonathan would practice archery. Jonathan would shoot an arrow, and shout to his servant, “Go beyond you to find the arrow.” By this, David would hear and know to run away (v. 22).
Jonathan and David’s friendship was tested (vv. 35-40). It must have been with a heavy heart that Jonathan went to the field with his servant on pretext of archery practice. The previous day, his own father had tried to kill him in rage over David, removing all doubt from Jonathan’s mind that David must flee (vv. 30-34). As planned, he shot the arrow and shouted to the servant, “It’s beyond you! Hurry, go quickly, don’t stop” (v. 39). Then Jonathan sent the servant away with the bow and arrows (v. 40).
Afterward David came out of hiding (vv. 41-42). He bowed before Jonathan, and they kissed each other and wept. Many times when I was on the African missions field, I saw men who were good friends bow to each other, kiss each other’s cheek, and even hold hands as they walked together. Such oriental customs as bowing and kissing the cheek of a friend, were the cultural expressions David and Jonathan used that day to reaffirm their deep friendship. Prior to parting company, they pledged to care for one another and for one another’s children. Afterward, they saw each other only once more (I Samuel 23:16-18). Jonathan, along with Saul, would be killed in a battle with the Philistines (ch. 31:2), and David would become King. Much later, true to his word, David cared for Jonathan’s son (II Samuel 9), and remained faithful to the promise he had made to his best friend.