Last week I was preparing a lesson for the class I teach at church and I was drawn to the friendship between Jonathan and David. It’s one of the great celebrated friendships in the Bible and part of the epic story of David as he went from shepherd to king of Israel. But as I was studying, I really felt drawn to Jonathan. It’s a funny thing that’s been happening to me lately, I feel as if God is calling my attention off of the “celebrities” of the Bible and onto those who are in the background. I understand David, and I understand what his friendship with Jonathan meant to him and how it impacted his life, but I really just felt a question on my spirit as I studied; what about Jonathan?
Before I jump too deep into that, here’s a quick rundown of where we’re at in history here. We’re in the book of 1 Samuel, and King Saul, first king of Israel, has repeatedly disobeyed God and after multiple chances to repent, God has had enough. He removes his favor from Saul and sends out the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king. Most of you probably know the next part of the story, as David, the youngest of his family and least likeliest candidate as a mere shepherd boy, is anointed as the next king.
But David doesn’t jump straight into fancy parades or palace life right away. It actually seems like things stay pretty much the same for a time, until eventually King Saul, tormented by spirits, asks for a talented musician to soothe him, and David gets the position. Even this small role in King Saul’s court doesn’t change all that much for David, and it’s not until one day when he’s splitting his duties between shepherding his father’s herds and taking food to his soldier brothers that David really steps into the nation’s spotlight. He overhears Goliath the giant taunting the soldiers of Israel, and David takes up the challenge, killing the giant in one on one combat. The Philistine army is in disarray, the Israelites give chase, win the battle, and now David has made a serious name for himself. He meets with King Saul, but I want to look at what happened right after that meeting.
1 Samuel 18:1-4 After David had finished talking with Saul, he met Jonathan, the king’s son. There was an immediate bond between them, for Jonathan loved David. 2 From that day on Saul kept David with him and wouldn’t let him return home. 3 And Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, because he loved him as he loved himself. 4 Jonathan sealed the pact by taking off his robe and giving it to David, together with his tunic, sword, bow, and belt.
You ever meet someone and know right away that this is one of your people? It’s a rare and magical thing that can sometimes happen in life, and for David and Jonathan, they knew from the start that this was a person they were going to stand by for the rest of their lives.
Now King Saul has begun to see how much the people of his kingdom love David, and he’s starting to sense the favor of the lord on David, and so he grows jealous. He sends David out to war, gives him some really improbable tasks, hoping David will get killed, but David always comes back victorious. And what’s even worse than that for Saul is that all these improbable victories were making David even more famous.
So Saul’s even angrier than before, and he starts recruiting people to kill David, including his son Jonathan. And Jonathan, who is now having to choose sides between his dear friend David and his own father, runs and tells David what’s going on. He warns him to go hide, and tells him that he’s going to try to reason with his dad. Surprisingly, it works, and Saul calms down a bit.
More war breaks out, David leads the troops to victory again, and one day it’s all too much for King Saul, who then throws a spear and tries to murder David. David dodges it, and is forced to go on the run. David skips town, but eventually swings back around and finds Jonathan. Once again Jonathan makes a choice here. Instead of choosing his father the king, he chooses his dear friend David. They make a plan for David to hide nearby while Jonathan figures out what’s going on. And sure enough, King Saul reveals to Jonathan that he’s gonna murder David, and when Jonathan defends his friend, Saul throws a spear at him, too!
The next day, Jonathan meets David at the hiding place and gives him the bad news. King Saul really is trying to murder him for no good reason. Jonathan has to tell his friend that he has to go on the run like a criminal.
1 Samuel 20:41-42 As soon as the boy was gone, David came out from where he had been hiding near the stone pile. Then David bowed three times to Jonathan with his face to the ground. Both of them were in tears as they embraced each other and said good-bye, especially David. 42 At last Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn loyalty to each other in the Lord’s name. The Lord is the witness of a bond between us and our children forever.” Then David left, and Jonathan returned to the town.
This kicked off roughly 10 years on the run for David, and during that time he’d see Jonathan just once more, where Jonathan again risked his own life to find David and warn him that Saul was closing in. The next time David would hear the name of his friend, it would be when he is informed that Jonathan was killed in battle along with King Saul.
So let’s look at something here. Jonathan was proud to stand by David, and he stood by him despite some really tough circumstances. For David to rise to power, Jonathan’s birthright was going to have to be voided. And birthright was everything. Jonathan was the rightful next king of Israel, because that’s how it works, the son of the king becomes the next king. But God’s said different this time, and that means that Jonathan’s not gonna get this incredible life that he’s waited expectantly for since he was a child. David becoming king means Jonathan’s dad is gonna have to go. And Jonathan’s not dumb, he can see that there’s violence in the air, that Saul’s never gonna be at peace while David is around. So David becoming king probably means the death of Jonathan’s dad. Then there’s the fact that David eventually becomes a criminal, that he takes up with the enemy of Israel, of Jonathan’s nation. He’s a fugitive! A deserter, first, and now a traitor? There are a LOT of reasons why David wasn’t someone that Jonathan should be proud to be standing beside.
Whenever I taught about this, we focused on the special love between these two men and what it means to stand by someone and be proud to be associated with them. However, I want to focus on a different aspect of Jonathan’s story here, because every time he encountered David, Jonathan was making a powerful choice. He was choosing God’s way over his own way.
Jonathan sensed something when he met David. I believe that he knew that the anointing of God was upon David’s shoulders, and I think he clearly came to know that his father Saul was no longer operating in a manner that honored God. This left Jonathan with a choice. He could choose God, which meant choosing God’s anointed future king, David, or he could choose himself. That’s not a simple choice, because remember, someone other than him becoming king really isn’t fair. This is how kings and heirs work, the son gets to become the next king. It would’ve been so easy for Jonathan to kill David. He had the man’s trust, and he also had the king’s blessing to carry out the murder. From a legal standpoint it wouldn’t have even been an issue, he was just doing the will of the king. But Jonathan never chose to turn against his friend. Choosing to stand by David meant that he was choosing to stand by God’s decision, and God’s decision was that David’s in, and Jonathan’s out. On every practical and conceivable level, THAT’S NOT FAIR.
Being a king is a high calling. Being the second ever king of Israel is an even higher calling. Jonathan’s not only giving up power and wealth and prestige, but he’s giving up his place in history. By choosing God’s anointed one, he’s giving up almost all of the traditional indicators of success we have as humans; wealth, power, status, etc. But as you read these scriptures, you get the sense that Jonathan never once hesitated. Even when King Saul threw it in his face that Jonathan was actively giving up his kingship by siding with David (1 Samuel 20:30-31), Jonathan stayed steadfast. He stayed committed to choosing God’s way over his own.
Choosing God and what He desires for our lives is oftentimes in direct conflict with choosing ourselves and what we desire for our lives. That’s truth, and a truth that’s not easy to accept sometimes. God’s definition of success differs from our own definition of success, and it DEFINITELY differs from the definition of success we’re taught by society. Society tells me that the size of my bank account equals success. The Bible tells me:
Proverbs 10:22 The blessing of the Lord makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.
Society tells me that the size of my group of friends equals success. The Bible tells me:
Philippians 4:19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Society tells me that my station in life and my power equals success. The Bible tells me:
Mark 10:43-45 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
We might desire fame, and God needs us in a position of complete anonymity. We might desire riches, and God needs us living with minimum possessions. We might desire a relationship, and God needs us to remain single. We might desire a life of travel, and God needs us to remain stationary.
Choosing the path of God over the path of self is rarely easy. The path of self is almost always easier, and it’s almost always more immediately gratifying. But the gratification fades quick, and the things gained on the path of self are temporary. As I move into a third year of finally choosing God’s path instead of my own, I can say without hesitation that God’s way is infinitely better than my own. I work harder than ever before, I have less free time than ever before, and I am more content and joyful and happy than ever before. I never ever regret choosing God’s way over my own, and the few times I go astray and choose my way over His I am almost immediately reminded of how much better it is to walk the path of my Lord than to walk the path of myself.
The Bible rarely presents a tough concept to us without illustrating it, and I love how Jonathan illustrates this concept for us. His humble and willing acceptance of God’s plan instead of his own is truly beautiful and inspiring. Despite God’s plan taking away so many things from Jonathan’s life, this was a man who was wise enough to see that the things he gained were so much more valuable than what he was losing. He lost his place in the palace of Israel and gained a place in the palace of God. He lost the favor of his father and gained the favor of THE Father. He lost all the riches of the nation and gained all the riches of heaven.