Bible Stories for Grownups -

David and Jonathan - Part 1

1 Samuel 17:57-18:9, David and Jonathan
1 Samuel 19:1-17, David and Jonathan
1 Samuel 20:1-23, David and Jonathan
1 Samuel 20:24-42, David and Jonathan

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Saul Presenting His Daughter to David. Click to enlarge. See below for provenance.
1 Samuel 17:57-18:9, David and Jonathan (7/21/2009)

The story of David and Jonathan tells about one of the greatest friendships in the Bible. We tend to think about David and Jonathan from the perspective of who David turned out to be Israel's outstanding king, victor over the Philistine nation, builder of a rich and powerful kingdom, psalmist, ancestor of Jesus. Jonathan, compared with that, was pretty much nobody, in our childhood view. Actually, this is pretty much backwards.

David and Jonathan met as young men we don't know exactly how old they were, but probably somewhere between 15 and 30. David was a shepherd from the provinces. Jonathan was the Crown Prince. We don't know how old Saul was when he became king, but when Samuel anointed him to be king, he was a "young man" or "youth" (1 Samuel 9:2). It's probably fair to conclude that Jonathan had been the Crown Prince for as long as he could remember. So when David and Jonathan hit it off right away, it is Jonathan who loves David, Jonathan who makes a covenant with David, and Jonathan who gives costly gifts to David, and not the other way around. In the early stages of their friendship, Jonathan was preeminent.

1 Samuel 19:1-17, David and Jonathan (7/22/2009)

Saul, David, Jonathan, and Michal form one of those unfortunate love quadrangles. Saul loved his son Jonathan and wanted him to be king. He also loved his son-in-law and military leader David some of the time and his daughter Michal. Jonathan loved his father, his friend and brother-in-law David, and presumably his sister Michal. David loved Jonathan, loved and respected his king and father-in-law Saul, and loved his wife Michal. Michal loved David, and presumably her brother and father. So what went wrong?

The problem was that apparently Saul was insane. I'm no psychologist, but at bare minimum I'd say he was seriously manic depressive. If we have a psychologist among our readers, maybe we can get a better diagnosis. Sometimes Saul loved David like a son; sometimes he tried to kill him or have him killed. Jonathan, David, and Michal tried to deal with Saul as best they could, but at one time or another they all had to deceive him just to keep Saul from killing David. The situation was hard on everybody, and as Saul continued to deteriorate David and Saul and David and Michal were estranged. David and Jonathan's friendship endured.

1 Samuel 20:1-23, David and Jonathan (7/23/2009)

As David's danger from Saul increases, so does Jonathan's commitment to protect David from Saul. Jonathan doesn't want to believe that Saul is trying to kill David, but he isn't so confident that he pooh-poohs the idea, either. Note that David is still in an inferior position to Jonathan: David refers to himself as Jonathan's "servant," and Jonathan renews his covenant with David and his house, i.e., David's descendants. This covenant is not between equals, and Jonathan remains David's superior.

Note vss. 13-15 where Jonathan says, "the LORD do so to Jonathan and more also if I do not disclose it to you and send you away." "The LORD do so to me and more also" is sort of a cross between a euphemism and a written idiom. In real life the speaker invoked a curse on himself in the event that whatever he was swearing did not come to pass. For example, "The LORD strike me dead if I don't get you word and send you away safe." (The modern equivalent is "I'll be damned if that's going to happen!") However, for the writer of the story to write the actual words was dangerous what if he accidentally did something or failed to do something that came within the letter of the vow? Would he be struck dead? So instead of recording the actual curse, they recorded this standard phrase.

1 Samuel 20:24-42, David and Jonathan (7/24/2009)

Fellow reader Linda Sue S. has this to say about Saul. "I was an inpatient psych nurse for 5 years and an ER medic for 4 years. Saul's behavior fits 2 separate problems Borderline personality disorder, which plays out in a person loving someone to the exclusion of the rest of the world until something not known to the person who is loved happens and the once loved is hated; and a brain chemistry imbalance that results in violent mood swings that is called being bipolar." Poor Saul! Poor David and Jonathan!

Saul was right about one thing, though. Samuel had already anointed David to be king after Saul (back in 1 Samuel 16:13). Although theoretically this was still a secret (1 Samuel 16:2-3), Saul clearly had his suspicions. Quite aside from mental illness, Saul is angry not only that David is immensely popular and has the potential take the throne from Saul and therefore from Jonathan, but also that Jonathan doesn't even seem to care. Some time back we were talking in Sunday School about wealth and its effect on people, especially one's own children. I said it was a dilemma. If you've got a lot of money, you don't want to leave it to your kids, because unearned wealth is bad for people. But what's the point of having a lot of money if you don't leave it to your kids? I think Saul, David, and Jonathan were in such a dilemma. What was the point of Saul being king if he couldn't leave it to Jonathan? What was the point of Jonathan inheriting the crown if it cost David's life? What was the point of saving his own life if David had to be separated from Jonathan and become a bad servant to Saul?

Friendship and familial relationships aren't necessarily easy. Jonathan and David opted to nurture their friendship, but the cost was very great.

More Bible Stories for Grownups

Old Testament Stories

New Testament Stories



The Tower of Babel

Noah's Ark

Jacob and Esau

Stories About Joseph

Moses Parts the Red Sea

Joshua Parts the Jordan

Samuel's Call

David and Jonathan - Part 1

David and Jonathan - Part 2

The Lost Tribes of Israel

Hezekiah's Reprieve

Ruth, Jonah, and Divorce

Feeding of the 5000

Three Parables of Jesus

Six Short Stories About Jesus


Copyright 2009, 2011 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB.

The woodcut of Saul, David, and Michal is from a Bible in a family collection.
Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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