Jonathan: A son unlike his father (2 of 2)

In Part 1, I looked at Jonathan the warrior.

The next recorded episodes in Jonathan’s life revolve around his friendship with David. While Saul was baffled over the identity of this giant-slaying shepherd boy, Jonathan’s soul was immediately knit to David’s soul (1 Samuel 18:1). He made a covenant with David, giving the future king his royal robe, armour, sword, bow and belt (18:3-4). Jonathan is clearly the instigator of this covenant, with David playing a passive role (see also 1 Samuel 20:8).

David’s subsequent military successes aroused a murderous jealousy in Saul. Jonathan warns David to hide and reasons with his father to have David brought back (19:1-7). Jonathan points out to his father that it would be a sin to kill David without cause, no doubt drawing on the Mosaic law.

David and Jonathan by Gustave Doré
David and Jonathan by Gustave Doré

Saul later reneges on his oath not to kill David but doesn’t tell his son, who continues believing the best of him (20:1-3, 9). 1 Samuel 20:12-23 contains the longest speech attributed to Jonathan. He starts and ends it invoking the name of Yahweh, in addition to mentioning the divine name throughout. Jonathan’s use of Yahweh doesn’t appear contrived or phony like Saul’s sometimes does.

Later in the same chapter, Jonathan again defends David to Saul. This time it doesn’t go well, and the conversation ends when Saul hurls a spear at him. Jonathan gets up in fierce anger and was grieved at Saul’s shameful treatment of David. Jonathan wasn’t angry that his father had just tried to kill him (again); he was angry on David’s behalf. Now that’s noble!

Jonathan meets up with David to report his findings. Jonathan’s parting words are: “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, for ever.’” He trusted that Yahweh would watch over both of them and their descendants for all eternity.

Jonathan’s last meeting with David is recorded in 1 Samuel 23:16-18. Saul was hunting David down, yet Saul’s son knew exactly where to find David. Jonathan “strengthened [David’s] hand in God” and made a  last covenant with him. His words on that occasion would prove to be partially true: David would indeed be king, but Jonathan wouldn’t be there to see it. While Saul was expending vast amounts of resources in seeking to eliminate David, Jonathan was willing to be David’s second-in-command.

In what seems like one of the greatest wastes of the Bible, Jonathan dies on Mount Gilboa, killed by the Philistines he’d been victorious over many times before. He was faithful where God had placed him—as a valiant prince to Israel, a loving son to Saul and a loyal friend to David— and yet he perished in the prime of his life. If that be God’s plan for my life, am I willing to embrace it?

I think of another “wasted life”, that of John the Baptist. He too died a pointless death before reaching a ripe old age. But consider what he did accomplish: he prepared the way for and pointed to the Son of David, the Lord’s anointed. Both he and Jonathan were perfectly content to decrease while the Lord’s anointed increased. By God’s grace we too can take such a view of things.

One thought on “Jonathan: A son unlike his father (2 of 2)

Comments are closed.