The Treasure of Loyalty (1 Samuel 20:1-42)

If you have had lifelong or long-term friends who have been faithful and loyal to you through all of the ups and downs of your life, you possess a great and rare treasure.

Through the wonder of the computer age and social media, I have the opportunity to have occasional contacts with friends from childhood and high school. There are an additional few from college and grad school. A great disappointment is the loss of contact with the vast majority of friends from my previous ministry.

In all of these stages of life, while I remain thankful and in possession of warm memories of people along those pathways, I am sad that so few have remained very close at all.

But there is one friend from New Jersey that is still unique. We ran about 10,000 miles together when marathon training in our younger years. Our parents were friends and our families always went to the same two churches – one of which he has become the pastor of in these latter years of life. There is nothing we can’t talk about and have not discussed.

Today we look at the famous passage of the loyal friendship of David and Jonathan – a relationship that was based upon a covenant of love. It is an imperfect picture of the perfect covenant of relationship that we have with the true king – one that was bought by the blood of Christ.

To review the background leading to this passage, recall that after David killed Goliath, he was put in charge of a segment of the army in Israel, and he had great success in all that he did – because God was with him and blessed his efforts. He was loved by the army and the people, who sang a song about him—that Saul killed his thousands, but David his ten thousands.

All of this created both a jealousy and a fear in Saul, who was haunted by an evil spirit that had come after the Holy Spirit had departed. He twice threw spears at David to try to kill him.

Saul devised plots to put David in battle situations that were very difficult and where he may well have been killed by the Philistines. But God was with David.

Through a whole variety of circumstances, it had become very clear that David could simply no longer safely be in Saul’s presence, as the king had become unhinged in every way.

20:1  Then David fled from Naioth at Ramah and went to Jonathan and asked, “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to kill me?”

2 “Never!” Jonathan replied. “You are not going to die! Look, my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without letting me know. Why would he hide this from me? It isn’t so!”

3 But David took an oath and said, “Your father knows very well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he has said to himself, ‘Jonathan must not know this or he will be grieved.’ Yet as surely as the Lord lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death.”

4 Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.”

5 So David said, “Look, tomorrow is the New Moon feast, and I am supposed to dine with the king; but let me go and hide in the field until the evening of the day after tomorrow. 6 If your father misses me at all, tell him, ‘David earnestly asked my permission to hurry to Bethlehem, his hometown, because an annual sacrifice is being made there for his whole clan.’ 7 If he says, ‘Very well,’ then your servant is safe. But if he loses his temper, you can be sure that he is determined to harm me. 8 As for you, show kindness to your servant, for you have brought him into a covenant with you before the Lord. If I am guilty, then kill me yourself! Why hand me over to your father?”

9 “Never!” Jonathan said. “If I had the least inkling that my father was determined to harm you, wouldn’t I tell you?”

10 David asked, “Who will tell me if your father answers you harshly?”

11 “Come,” Jonathan said, “let’s go out into the field.” So they went there together.

12 Then Jonathan said to David, “I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, that I will surely sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow! If he is favorably disposed toward you, will I not send you word and let you know? 13 But if my father intends to harm you, may the Lord deal with Jonathan, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away in peace. May the Lord be with you as he has been with my father. 14 But show me unfailing kindness like the Lord’s kindness as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, 15 and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family—not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.”   

16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.” 17 And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.

18 Then Jonathan said to David, “Tomorrow is the New Moon feast. You will be missed, because your seat will be empty. 19 The day after tomorrow, toward evening, go to the place where you hid when this trouble began, and wait by the stone Ezel. 20 I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I were shooting at a target. 21 Then I will send a boy and say, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to him, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you; bring them here,’ then come, because, as surely as the Lord lives, you are safe; there is no danger. 22 But if I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then you must go, because the Lord has sent you away. 23 And about the matter you and I discussed—remember, the Lord is witness between you and me forever.”

24 So David hid in the field, and when the New Moon feast came, the king sat down to eat. 25 He sat in his customary place by the wall, opposite Jonathan, and Abner sat next to Saul, but David’s place was empty. 26 Saul said nothing that day, for he thought, “Something must have happened to David to make him ceremonially unclean—surely he is unclean.” 27 But the next day, the second day of the month, David’s place was empty again. Then Saul said to his son Jonathan, “Why hasn’t the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?”

28 Jonathan answered, “David earnestly asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem. 29 He said, ‘Let me go, because our family is observing a sacrifice in the town and my brother has ordered me to be there. If I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away to see my brothers.’ That is why he has not come to the king’s table.”

30 Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? 31 As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!”

32 “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Jonathan asked his father. 33 But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.

34 Jonathan got up from the table in fierce anger; on that second day of the feast he did not eat, because he was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David.

35 In the morning Jonathan went out to the field for his meeting with David. He had a small boy with him, 36 and he said to the boy, “Run and find the arrows I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. 37 When the boy came to the place where Jonathan’s arrow had fallen, Jonathan called out after him, “Isn’t the arrow beyond you?” 38 Then he shouted, “Hurry! Go quickly! Don’t stop!” The boy picked up the arrow and returned to his master. 39 (The boy knew nothing about all this; only Jonathan and David knew.) 40 Then Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said, “Go, carry them back to town.”

41 After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most.

42 Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.

David’s fear about Saul seeking his life proved to be of real substance. And Jonathan’s fears were not without merit as well. Saul’s son knew and understood that David was to become the next king. He knew that in ancient times (as is seen even today is certain military coups around the world) the royal family being deposed was often fully exterminated. This made it impossible for uprisings and rival claimants to the throne in opposition to the new regime.

Jesus is to be crowned the true and better King ultimately. The fleshly nature of Adam within us, and the connection we have to Satan through this evil world of which he is the prince, tells us to make ourselves the king – to see self as our own sovereign ruler of our lives.

Rather, we need to trust in Christ as the King. There has been a covenant of loyal love established – that God will be faithful through his hesed (covenant love) to his people because of the sacrifice of his Son Jesus.

Because of Jesus, the descendants of Adam are not wiped out when Jesus takes the throne, but instead are brought near—very much like the covenant established between David and Jonathan.

So we have a choice – to act like Saul – essentially in self-centered interest like our original father Adam and refuse to trust in God; or we can be like Jonathan in knowing who the king is going to be, and walk in trust and loyal and faithful relationship with Jesus – our brother and friend – who loves us so much as to give his life for us to cover our transgressions.