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Jonathan and David

Bond of Brotherhood: Jonathan and David
Dr. Joel R. Beeke


Woven into the long history of Samuel, Saul, and David is the saga of the covenant friendship, or bond of brotherhood, forged between Saul’s eldest son and heir apparent, Jonathan, and David, fresh from his great triumph in man-to-man combat with Goliath (1 Sam. 18:1–4; 19:1–7; 20:1–42; 23:16–18; 2 Sam. 1:17–27; 9:1–9; 10:1–4; 19:24–30; 21:7, 12–14). The bedrock of this bond of brotherhood was the love each man had for the other. Their mutual love was profoundly spiritual, emotional, self-sacrificial, and enduring. In discussing the relationship between David and Jonathan, we must take care not to impose today’s culture and its problems onto the biblical record. Two words of caution are in order. First, North American men are notorious for being superficial in their relationships with other men. Friendship and brotherhood mean very little to most; thus it may be difficult for them to understand or appreciate the love between these two ancient Israelites. Likewise, given the modern male’s uncertainty and confusion about masculinity, we may find aspects of the story of Jonathan and David disturbing. Modern culture tends to sexualize every relationship and to reduce love to erotic desires and actions. Read in this sexually loaded way, Jonathan and David may appear to be involved in a homosexual affair. However, from first to last, the biblical account of their relationship is devoid of eroticism. Both Jonathan and David are presented in the Bible as lovable men because of more than their physical handsomeness or attractiveness. Both men won the hearts of the people because they were strong in faith and full of courage; each had proved himself in battle against mighty foes. Both men had a great capacity to love and to be loved. We read, “The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David” (1 Sam. 18:1). Jonathan saw in David the very same qualities that he valued and sought for himself. This was not mere egotism or vanity on Jonathan’s part. Even when the son of Saul realized that David was destined by God to become the next king of Israel, taking the throne that, by usual course, should have come to Jonathan, he trusted God and loved his friend so greatly that he was content to have it so. Because both men feared the Lord, they entered into a covenant, or bond of brotherhood (1 Sam. 18:3–4). As a sign of this covenant, Jonathan stripped himself of his royal robe and weapons of war and gave them to David. David was now one with Jonathan, and Jonathan one with David. This bond withstood fierce opposition, severe trials, and enforced separations, lasting until Jonathan’s death, and even beyond. This covenant between David and Jonathan grew stronger when Saul determined to kill David, binding David to show “the kindness of the LORD” to Jonathan while he lived. After Jonathan’s death, the covenant bond drove David to show kindness to his friend’s “house,” or offspring. The biblical historian notes that all this was done not of self-interest or mere expediency, but as an expression of the abiding love between the two men (1 Sam. 20:17). Jonathan put his own life in danger by standing up for David when Saul tried to kill David. His father responded to Jonathan’s defense of David by insulting him; he smeared the reputation of Jonathan’s mother and branded Jonathan’s love for David as shameful. When words no longer sufficed, the enraged Saul threw a javelin at Jonathan, with deadly force and deliberate aim, “to smite him” (1 Sam. 20:30–31). David had to flee for his life. The moment of parting for the two friends was filled with heart-rending sorrow. They exchanged kisses of farewell (something common to all cultures of the Bible), and their tears flowed freely. Yet they parted in the faith that nothing could extinguish their love or annul the bond between them, “forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD,” as Jonathan said (1 Sam. 20:42). When word reached David that Jonathan had fallen in battle, he expressed his incredible sorrow in poetic language (2 Sam. 1:17–27), calling Jonathan “my brother,” and declaring that Jonathan’s love to him “was wonderful, passing the love of women.” It was a love different from the physical attraction a man feels for a woman; it was a love in a category by itself. It was more profound and more lasting, and, indeed, reflected the love of God for mankind and the love of Christ for sinners (see John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. 13, etc.). David continued to honor his covenant with Jonathan after his friend’s death. He recovered Jonathan’s remains from battle and gave them a decent burial (2 Sam. 21:12–14). He also showed great kindness to Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 9:1–13). All in all, the saga of Jonathan and David is a fitting monument to the power of love, the reality of spiritual brotherhood, and the meaning of covenant faithfulness. Such pure and abiding friendship, which is ultimately a gift of God, ought be to prayed for and sought today among like-minded, godly young men.


Taken from the Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth November 2007

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