In the midst of court politics, and treachery, and intrigue, we find a shining and glorious example of covenant loyalty. Jonathan disappears from our narrative at this point, at least as a major character, but he departs in glory. One of the noblest sons of Scripture was the son, not of Eli, or Samuel, or David . . . but of Saul.
“And David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan, What have I done? what is mine iniquity? and what is my sin before thy father, that he seeketh my life? . . .” (1 Sam. 20:1-42).
Summary of the Text
David is on the run, and he comes to Jonathan to ask what his offense is (v. 1). Jonathan does not believe it (v. 2), not because he believes his father incapable of murderous thoughts, but because he apparently believes in the binding force of the vow. But David points out that Saul now knows that Jonathan views David with grace, and will keep the information from him (v. 3). Jonathan says that he will do whatever David wants (v. 4). David proposes missing a new moon festival, hiding in a field until the third day of it (v. 5). If Saul misses him, the story is that David went to an annual sacrifice for his family (v. 6). If he takes it well, things are fine. If not, then he clearly wants to kill David (v. 7). David appeals to his covenant with Jonathan, and says that if he is guilty, then Jonathan should kill him (v. 8). Jonathan says no, if his father intends harm to David, he would tell him (v. 9). David asks how he will learn of Saul’s response (v. 10). Jonathan takes him out to the field (v. 11), and swears an oath to tell David if the news from his father is good or bad (vv. 12-13). Jonathan in returns asks for a vow of protection from David (vv. 14-15). So Jonathan made a covenant with David, with ill portent for David’s enemies (v. 16). Jonathan made David swear again, because he loved him (v. 17). Jonathan then sets up a system of signaling with his arrows (vv. 18-22). As far as the oath is concerned, the Lord will stay between them (v. 23).
And so David hid, and missed the first day of the feast (vv. 24-25). Saul assumed that David was ritually unclean (v. 26). When he was gone the second day, Saul asked Jonathan about the “son of Jesse” (v. 27). Jonathan replied with the agreed-upon story (vv. 28-29). Saul erupts with anger toward Jonathan (v. 30). Saul tells Jonathan that it must be Jonathan or David on the throne, and threatens David with death (v. 31). Jonathan asks why (v. 32). Saul threw a javelin at his son (v. 33), and Jonathan knew that his father was going to kill David. Jonathan left in fierce anger, fasting, because he was grieved for David and ashamed of his father (v. 34). Jonathan then communicated the bad news to David by the prearranged signal (vv. 35-40). David and Jonathan met, David bowed three times, and they wept together (v. 41). Jonathan blessed David, and then they parted (v. 42).
The Son of My Enemy
We have already seen Saul declare David as his enemy (1 Sam. 19:17). But Jonathan believed the oath that Saul took in the name of the Lord (1 Sam. 19:6), and so refused to believe that he would violate something so sacred. The oath was “as the Lord liveth,” and all oath-breaking proceeds on the assumption that God is dead. In (perhaps) unintentional irony, Jonathan asks David to remember kindness with regard to Jonathan’s house, even when the Lord has cut off from the face of the earth every last one of David’s enemies (v. 15). In the next verse, he makes a covenant with David, the brunt of which is to fall on David’s enemies (v. 16). But Jonathan is about to discover that David’s principal enemy is his own father (vv. 30-31). But he, Jonathan, is now bound together with David in such a covenant as that he is completely identified with David. His father throws a javelin at him, calling him foolish for his wisdom and treacherous for his godly loyalty (v. 30). Saul has now inverted everything (Is. 5:20).
Believing All Things
The grace shown toward Saul is remarkable. David is a faithful follower of Saul, and refuses to lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed, even when sorely provoked. Jonathan is willing to believe the best of his father for a long time. When your enemy is in the process of self-destructing, up to a point it is lawful to try to stop him. At some point, it is lawful to step away—both Jacob and David moved out of their Laban’s range. But don’t shove, and don’t gloat (Prov. 24:17-18).
David anticipates great anger from Saul (v. 7), and he should know. When Saul hears that David is absent, his “anger was kindled” (v. 30). The focal point of his anger is Jonathan, who is now a stand-in for David, even to the point of Saul throwing a spear at him (v. 33). And Jonathan is now a proxy for David in another way. David has been grieved, and is long-suffering. But Jonathan rises from the table “in fierce anger,” that anger a function of grief and shame.
Anger is not a sin, but in a condition of sin it is exceedingly sinful. We are told to put away anger (Eph. 4:31). We are told that man’s anger does not serve God’s righteousness (Jas. 1:20). At the same time, we are commanded to be angry without sinning (Eph. 4:26). We are told to be slow to anger (Jas. 1:19), not impossible to anger. But even when we are angry righteously, we must not let the sun go down on that anger (Eph. 4:26). Like manna, righteous anger will rot overnight.
Do not think like children. Anger is evil when it is evil and holy when it is holy. It is by the anger of God the Father, poured out upon Jesus on the cross, that we are saved. If it were not for the anger of God exhibited there, it would have had to be exhibited elsewhere, and we would all be lost. Propitiation is the satisfying of the righteous anger of God, and Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).