Throughout my life I have had many friendships. There are people I knew at school and at work, those who lived near me, and especially those with whom I attended worship. Some of them I have cared about a great deal, but most of them were only acquaintances. With all of these friends and acquaintances, I have had very few relationships quite like the one that existed between David and Jonathan.
There are many lessons one can learn from the genuine friendship that existed between these two men. Such friendships are important in part because of the help that they can provide in times of trouble (Eccl. 4:9-12). First, let us consider how one ought to choose his friends, then let us look at how we should act when troubles come from within and also from without.
When Jonathan and David first became friends, David had just slain the giant, Goliath. Jonathan must have been amazed at David’s bravery and his faithfulness to God. “Now when [David] had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Sam. 18:1). Prior to this, David had been appointed the court musician to soothe King Saul’s troubled spirit (1 Sam. 16:23). Jonathan and David had likely met before since Jonathan was Saul’s son. Perhaps Jonathan had even heard David play the harp. He was most certainly a talented musician who would go on to write the majority of the Psalms. It was not until now, after the giant was slain, that these two men became fast friends.
Jonathan must have been very selective when it came to selecting his friends. This is a good practice, as Solomon wrote, “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Prov. 12:26). Jonathan saw godly traits within David when he slew Goliath. He was a young man facing a heavily armored giant with nothing but a sling and a few stones. It was clear to everyone, especially Jonathan, that God was with David. Jonathan was likely aware that God was no longer with his father (1 Sam. 15:28). Jonathan still had loyalty to his father and king, but recognized that the Lord was with David now.
This is a practice we ought to follow—to choose our friends wisely. We should select righteous friends who will help us get to heaven rather than those who will drag us to hell with their evil deeds. As Paul reminds us, “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor. 15:33).
Before David is introduced in the narrative, Jonathan is shown to be a capable warrior in his own right. When he had unwittingly broken an oath his father made on behalf of all the people, he was sentenced to death. The people, however, were not going to let this happen to Jonathan, saying, “’Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great deliverance in Israel? Certainly not! As the Lord lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.’ So the people rescued Jonathan, and he did not die” (1 Sam. 14:45). He was such a great warrior that the people rose up on his behalf to save him. Saul, too, had many victories over the enemies of Israel. “So Saul established his sovereignty over Israel, and fought against all his enemies on every side …. Wherever he turned, he harassed them. And he gathered an army … and delivered Israel from the hands of those who plundered them” (1 Sam. 14:47, 48). These men were great warriors and commanders of the armies of Israel.
After the defeat of Goliath and the Philistines at Sochoh, Saul made David a commander of his army. Yet he was not happy when he heard how the people reacted to David’s continued victories over the Philistines. “Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him; and he said, ‘They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed only thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?’ So Saul eyed David from that day forward” (1 Sam. 18:8, 9). Surely Saul remembered Samuel’s prophecy, that the kingdom would be torn from him and given to a neighbor better than he. Jonathan probably knew of it too. It meant that Jonathan would not succeed his father on the throne. Despite this, though it is not explicitly recorded, it is clear that while Saul resented David, Jonathan did not.
We also should not resent our friends when they do better in areas where we also have accomplished much. Remember that Paul said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). He also reminded us that love “does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:5-6). It is clear that Jonathan loved David as his own soul, even more than he did women (1 Sam. 18:1; 20:17; 2 Sam. 1:26). Let us love our friends too, showing them the love a friend ought without a trace of resentment. As Solomon wrote, “A friend loves at all times” (Prov. 17:17a).
Jonathan had a choice as to whether to be loyal to his father or to his friend. Saul had become an angry man, driven to throwing spears at David in an attempt to murder him (1 Sam. 18:10, 11; 19:9, 10). Even so, Jonathan was not fully convinced that Saul was trying to murder David (1 Sam. 20:9). As a result, the two friends worked out how to determine Saul’s intentions without question. David would be absent from a New Moon gathering, ostensibly to offer a yearly sacrifice at his father’s home. If Saul responded to this news nonchalantly, then David could safely return. If, however, Saul became angry, then David must flee (1 Sam. 20:5-7).
Saul’s response was more than either man had expected. “Saul’s anger was aroused against Jonathan, and he said to him, ‘You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, you shall not be established, nor your kingdom. Now therefore, send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die’” (1 Sam. 20:30, 31). Saul’s outburst was unwarranted, but his intentions were made abundantly clear.
Not even this, however, had deterred the faithful Jonathan. “And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said to him, ‘Why should he be killed? What has he done?’ … So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had treated him shamefully” (1 Sam. 20:32, 34). Jonathan knew that his friend would likely take the throne in his place, but that did not matter to him. He was more concerned that his father had acted shamefully toward David than he was at the prospect of losing the kingdom. Jonathan warned his friend of Saul’s intention, and they wept together (1 Sam. 20:41, 42).
In the end, Jonathan died in the same battle as his father, but not after doing everything he could to safeguard his friend. David later wrote in the Song of the Bow, “Saul and Jonathan were beloved and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided” (2 Sam. 1:23a). Despite all that had happened, Jonathan loved both his father and his friend. The choice between Saul and David was an extremely difficult one for Jonathan. He chose to be loyal to his friend because of his love for David and the shameful, sinful acts of Saul.
Let us be loyal to our friends and help them when they need us—even when it is inconvenient. Helping our friends is not often easy. True friends, however, will weather such difficulties faithfully by our side just as we will be by theirs. Solomon wrote, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Let us be friendly by sticking closely by our friend’s side in times of trouble.
Friendships are often fraught with difficulties from both within and without. If we choose friends that are godly, if we do not resent them for their success, and if we are loyal to them in the difficult times, then we might have a chance to withstand anything just as Jonathan and David did. Making such friends is important; otherwise we may fall alone (Eccl. 4:9-12). Let us do our best to make such friends and to be such a friend to others.
Stephen and his family worship at the Walterboro Church of Christ in Walterboro, SC.