I Samuel 20 Continued

24. Then David hid in the field. And when the New Moon had come, the king sat down to eat the feast.

David does as Jonathan said and hides himself in the field. The next day when the New Moon feast is held arrives, and Saul sits down to the meal, as David and Jonathan knew would happen.

25. Now the king sat on his seat, as at other times, on a seat by the wall. And Jonathan arose, and Abner sat by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty.

The scene is described for us as if the prophet was there to see it take place, which of course he was not. Yet the LORD was there, and He saw all the proceedings.

Saul is there on his typical seat next to the wall. If a king has his accustomed chair, no one is else is going to sit in it! Jonathan was on the seat of honor by him as his son and heir, and Abner, his cousin and army commander, was on his other side. David’s place, however, the place of the king’s son-in-law and lesser army commander, was empty.

26. Nevertheless Saul did not say anything that day, for he thought, “Something has happened to him; he is unclean, surely he is unclean.”

Saul seems to think little of David’s absence on this day. He assumes something very usual has happened, which is that David has become unclean somehow, which would preclude him from celebrating one of Jehovah’s feasts. There were plenty of ways to become unclean that could have caused this. Yet such uncleanness only lasted a day until evening, so if that was the case, David would have been cleansed and able to be there on the next day.

What seems interesting to me is that Saul expected David to show up, even after he had attempted to kill him with a spear, after David had fled from his home after (as Saul thought) threatening to kill his wife if she did not let him go, and after he had sent three bands and then gone himself to arrest David when he was with Samuel. Why did he think David would just waltz back into his palace to attend this feast? Saul does not seem to have been dealing entirely with reality here.

27. And it happened the next day, the second day of the month, that David’s place was empty. And Saul said to Jonathan his son, “Why has the son of Jesse not come to eat, either yesterday or today?”

When David is gone the second day, Saul no longer thinks this is typical behavior. The second day of the month was not a special feast, and so he would not need to be clean to attend it. Therefore, Saul asks Jonathan why he is not there. It is interesting that he calls him “the son of Jesse,” and not his real name. This might be a sign of his growing hatred of David: he does not even wish to pronounce his name anymore. This reminds us of those who hated the Lord Jesus, and who then loathed to speak his name, such as in Matthew 26:61, when they called Him, “This fellow.” Saul’s hatred of David’s was without a cause, just as their hatred of the Lord Jesus, David’s Son.

28. So Jonathan answered Saul, “David earnestly asked permission of me to go to Bethlehem.

Jonathan repeats the story David told him to give to Saul, claiming that David had come to him to ask permission to leave the king’s court for Bethlehem.

29. And he said, ‘Please let me go, for our family has a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to be there. And now, if I have found favor in your eyes, please let me get away and see my brothers.’ Therefore he has not come to the king’s table.”

Jonathan repeats David’s manufactured story. He claims that David’s household has a family sacrifice in their home city, and David’s eldest brother commanded him to attend it. Why would it have been David’s brother and not his father who commanded this? We might wonder if Jesse was dead, but a quick look at I Samuel 22:3 will tell us that he was still alive then, so he could not have been dead a chapter earlier. Yet if we remember that David, now in his 20s, was the youngest son of a large family, we might realize that it may be Jesse was retired by now, and no longer in charge of the family. If so Eliab, David’s elder brother, would have been put in charge, in spite of the fact that Jesse was still alive. This would account for the story being that he had called David, rather than David’s father.

Jonathan claims that David begged his favor, and he granted it so that he could see his brothers. Jonathan explains that this is why David has not attended. Now, as David planned, he is ready to watch closely his father’s reaction.

30. Then 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?

Saul is furious when he hears David has escaped his trap, and hears that Jonathan gave him permission to go away. He takes out his frustration on Jonathan, accusing him of choosing David over his own family. His first insult is against Jonathan’s mother. We know nothing of what Ahinoam was like, but if she was anything like her son Jonathan, she was a good, Godly, and faithful woman, yet Saul curses her as a perverse and rebellious woman. Perhaps she was more concerned with what was right and what the LORD would will than what her husband would will, something that would not sit well with Saul at this stage in his life. At any rate, he curses Jonathan as being a product of her, which for those of us who have read the Scriptural record of Jonathan should be a high recommendation for her indeed.

Saul also accuses Jonathan of siding with “the son of Jesse” (note that he does not say David’s name again) over his father. Of course, it was Saul who forced such a choice by turning treacherously against his own son-in-law and high captain in his army. Saul, guilty of great treachery, accuses Jonathan of treachery for his faithfulness. Saul has fallen into deep hypocrisy indeed!

Saul claims that Jonathan’s choice shames both himself and his “mother’s nakedness.” What Saul means by this is himself. Leviticus 18:8 says that the nakedness of your father’s wife is your father’s nakedness. Saul reverses it by calling himself Jonathan’s mother’s nakedness. This is another way at getting in a dig at Jonathan’s mother without admitting shame himself. If a man wishes to insult another man most highly, he can do little more than insult the man’s mother. The sad part is that by doing this, Saul is actually insulting his own wife! If this is any indication, Saul must not have been a very pleasant husband. Perhaps no more pleasant than he was as a father.

31. 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.”

Saul firmly believes that Jonathan will not be established as king nor be able to set up a government as long as David is alive. The fact is that Jonathan is fine with that. He even tells David so in I Samuel 23:17. To Jonathan, doing what is right, serving God, and being loyal to his oath to a friend is far more important than being king. Jonathan truly was a Godly man, and would doubtless have made a much better king than his father did.

Thus it is only Saul who has a problem with David taking the throne after him rather than Jonathan. Since David has now married into his family, Saul could even have comforted himself that if the throne is not going to his son as heir, at least it is going to his son-in-law. If Saul had been willing to accept David as his heir, it seems clear that Jonathan would have been happy to go along with it! But Saul is willing to do no such thing. He wants the throne to go to his own flesh and blood, and he will fight to the death for that to be so, even when his heir does not want it as he does. Saul is dead set in opposition to God now, and nothing can turn him back.

Notice again that Saul will not say David’s name, instead calling him the “son of Jesse.” As we said before, this is similar to those enemies of our Lord Jesus Christ, who likewise did not want to say His name in their hatred of Him.

Saul now wants Jonathan to call for David so Saul can kill him. Of course, Jonathan is not about to do this!

32. And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said to him, “Why should he be killed? What has he done?”

Jonathan, a good man, cannot conceive of killing a man out of jealousy. Therefore he asks his father for a reason that David should be killed. He knew David was innocent of doing anything wrong. Perhaps by this question, he hoped to restore his father to his senses, as he had done on a previous occasion.

33. Then Saul cast a spear at him to kill him, by which Jonathan knew that it was determined by his father to kill David.

Instead of seeing the sense in Jonathan’s question, Saul is so enraged that he tries to skewer Jonathan with a spear! The Spirit reveals to us that he did not miss on purpose, either. Saul fully intended to kill his son. The madness of this whole situation should not be lost on us. Saul is trying to murder David, supposedly so his own son can sit on the throne after him rather than David. However, when his son opposes him doing this, he tries to kill the son he supposedly is fighting for! It is clear that Saul’s jealousy has more akin to madness than to reason at this point. He is dead set to oppose the LORD’s will, and his actions need make little sense other than this.

34. 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.

Jonathan is angry now too. I suppose that your own father trying to kill you could make you angry! He gets up from the table in fierce anger, and eats no food that day. Instead, he mourns for David, and for his father’s shameful behavior toward him.

35. And so it was, in the morning, that Jonathan went out into the field at the time appointed with David, and a little lad was with him.

The morning of the third day comes when Jonathan is scheduled to meet with David.  Faithful to his promise, he goes into the field to the spot they had agreed upon, taking the servant lad with him.

36. Then he said to his lad, “Now run, find the arrows which I shoot.” As the lad ran, he shot an arrow beyond him.

He instructs his servant lad to run to fetch his arrows once he has shot them. As the lad runs, he purposefully shoots one past him.

37. When the lad had come to the place where the arrow was which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan cried out after the lad and said, “Is not the arrow beyond you?”

As the servant lad comes to the place where his arrow had landed, Jonathan cries out after him that the arrow is beyond him. Of course, we remember that Jonathan’s words were the code he had agreed upon with David, meaning that Saul has determined evil against David, just as he suspected.

38. And Jonathan cried out after the lad, “Make haste, hurry, do not delay!” So Jonathan’s lad gathered up the arrows and came back to his master.

Jonathan cries out after the lad again, ordering him to hurry. Perhaps he was afraid David would flee immediately, and so he wanted to get the lad out of the way as soon as possible so he could talk with him first. Therefore the lad faithfully gathers up the arrows and brings them back to Jonathan.

39. But the lad did not know anything. Only Jonathan and David knew of the matter.

The Spirit reveals to us here that this servant lad is not in on the plan. Only David and Jonathan know about it. This is why Jonathan wanted to get him out of the way at this point so he could talk with David. Of course, it would not have been good for anyone else to have known that Jonathan helped David to escape.

40. Then Jonathan gave his weapons to his lad, and said to him, “Go, carry them to the city.”

The plan they came up with was largely in case someone untrustworthy was with Jonathan when he came to deliver this message, and so he could deliver it anyway and David could get away. Jonathan is only with his own servant lad, however, and he now wishes to speak with David. Jonathan therefore comes up with this excuse to dismiss the servant boy, commanding him to carry his bow and arrows back to the city.

41. As soon as the lad had gone, David arose from a place toward the south, fell on his face to the ground, and bowed down three times. And they kissed one another; and they wept together, but David more so.

As soon as the lad has left, David comes out of his hiding place. Apparently he had not told Jonathan exactly where this would be, but he comes out of a place toward the south. David now knows that Jonathan has been true to his word and helped him. He also realizes that Saul’s attitude means that he has to leave Jonathan, perhaps never to see him again. First, David bows three times to Jonathan. This may have been in deference to the son of the king, but ultimately in gratitude to his friend for this help and service he has rendered him. Then they kiss one another. This might seem a strange thing to us for two men to do, but this is only because our culture reserves kissing for family or for romance. Yet Orientals would kiss to show affection and respect, and often two friends of the same sex would greet one another this way. The two of them then weep, two friends sorrowing at the moment of parting, knowing they may never see one another again.

We are told that they weep together, until David exceeds. It is interesting that the Spirit makes note of this fact. What should we take away from this? One guess we could make is based on David’s emotional nature. He seems to have been a man who felt most keenly, a sensitive soul, given to strong emotions. Therefore, a display of emotions more than most men would show should not seem strange to us. Yet perhaps there is a hint here of a more significant fact than this. For if we reverse this statement, it seems that Jonathan stops weeping first and starts to draw back. Why might this be?

42. Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, since we have both sworn in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘May the LORD be between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants, forever.’” So he arose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.

At this point, Jonathan dismisses David in peace, reminding him again of their oath in the name of Yahweh, that they would care for one another and their descendants forever. The word “ever” is the Hebrew word olam, which here means continually or perpetually. David then arises and flees, and Jonathan returns to the city.

In this story, we cannot help but feel that the character of Jonathan was most commendable. His friendship toward David is honest, sincere, and loyal. Even when it becomes clear to him that David and not he is to sit on the throne after his father, his dedication to David does not waver. He is very willing to take second place to his friend in this, and only wishes that he could be David’s right-hand man in his government. This was an attitude that would be a credit to any man of God, and certainly Jonathan’s excellent example may have been part of what encouraged David to have the gracious attitude he later had towards Saul’s family when he became king. How could he be hard on Saul’s family, when Jonathan had set him such an example and treated him so fairly and kindly? Godliness certainly sharpens the Godly.

Yet there is one thing that gives us pause from giving our wholehearted applause to Jonathan’s actions. As Jonathan leaves his friend here to go back into the city to his father, we might wonder, “Why did Jonathan not go with David?” After all, he knew that Yahweh was with David, and that He had left his father Saul. Moreover, his father had just tried to kill him, a move certainly not intended to inspire his loyalty. Yet he helped David, but then returned home and threw in his lot with his father. Perhaps, we might say, his family was there, and he did not want to leave them. Perhaps he did not want to leave his comfortable life in the city to become a fugitive. Perhaps he thought he could do more good in the city than he could in hiding with David. Perhaps he thought it was his duty to try to steer his father back to a Godly course, if he could. Yet the bottom line is he stayed with the rebel and died with the rebel, when he could have joined Yahweh’s chosen and become his right-hand man.

Perhaps this is the key to the strange comment above about David exceeding Jonathan in weeping. Perhaps at first they were both weeping together, but for Jonathan to continue weeping, he would have had to go all in and go into exile with David. This he was unwilling to do, so he drew back and curbed his weeping, even as David continued. We cannot know for certain, of course, but perhaps the point here is that Jonathan was hardening his heart for the separation that David never would have willingly brought about.

We cannot help but think that Jonathan could have been a great help to David, and been used greatly by God as David’s friend and advisor. He may not have stopped his father’s persecution of David, for Saul would doubtless have feared him even more with Jonathan by his side. Yet would not this have given the rest of Israel cause to look more favorably on David, and perhaps helped his cause? Not to mention we can imagine the help Jonathan could have been to him in the years ahead. Think, for example, if Jonathan had been David’s army commander instead of Joab. Certainly he wouldn’t have been a murderer and a schemer, like David’s nephew was. And even think of David’s great sin with Bathsheba. Jonathan was only about twenty years older than David, and certainly could have still been around when he was in his sixties and David did this. Would David have been so willing to pursue such a sinful course with Jonathan present to find out about it? A Godly friend can be a great incentive to keep us on the right track. Even if Jonathan had been off commanding the army at the time, David never would have been able to entrust the hateful letter calling for Uriah’s murder to his righteous friend. Yet without Jonathan, the murderous Joab was ready to carry out the wicked deed.

Yes, Jonathan’s help and presence would have been a great help and invaluable to David. Yet think how much better it would have been for Jonathan and his family. His son never would have been dropped fleeing from the Philistines and become lame. The rest of his family that died might well have been still alive. They all would have been honored princes in David’s court, with their father at the head. Jonathan’s star would have shown most brightly in David’s administration. Yet instead of climbing the heights with his friend David, he connected his fate and the fate of his family to that of his father, and they were then caught up in Saul’s destruction. Whatever loyalty he might have felt for his father was wasted on this wicked man, for surely this man who had just tried to kill him had no great warm feelings for his son. Yet he ultimately stayed more loyal to this claim to kinship than to his friendship with David the man of God.

In Jonathan’s defense, we must say that family was considered the primary duty and loyalty in a man’s life at the time (unless duty to God was considered greater, yet it is doubtful that this was really the case very often). It could well be that Jonathan never thought of leaving his father. One just did not leave his family that way. Yet at the same time, we cannot help but think of all those who did leave their homes and families behind to follow David and the kingdom God had promised through him. If we say that Jonathan was older and it was harder for him to drop everything and go, well, those same people dropped everything and went with David again in the rebellion of Absalom, in spite of established homes and families. What others did, Jonathan could have done, but he did not.

So we do not want to take away from the generous and Godly attitude that Jonathan had. Certainly, he was an example to us all in this. Yet we cannot help but think with regret how much better it might have been both for Jonathan and for David if he had left his home to go with David at this time. That is not the choice he made, though, and he, his family, and David all had to live with the tragic consequences of his choice.