By Dennis Leap
David valiantly marched into Jerusalem carrying Goliath’s blood-dripping, severed head. The shepherd boy won a great victory over Israel’s menacing enemy. David the victor marshaled shame on Goliath the vanquished. Entitled to the spoils of victory, David took Goliath’s armor and placed it in his own tent. Eliminating Goliath marked the beginning of the shepherd’s sterling military career.
David’s stunning triumph over Goliath quickly advanced his reputation with the children of Israel. His life would never be the same. Gone were his days filled with lush green fields full of the comforting sounds of bleating sheep. God had to prepare him for the rigors required of Israel’s king.
There was no better place for that than the royal court itself. However, at Saul’s court he entered a murky world of double-minded intrigue. On one day he could be hailed the hero, on the next he could find himself in mortal danger. Yet, the unknown king learned fidelity. One very loyal man befriended David and supported him through the rocky years to come.
Saul was enthralled by David’s victory over Goliath of Gath. He was so struck with David’s tenacity that he would not allow him to return to his father’s house (1 Samuel 18:2). He moved David within the walls of the royal residence. Within a short time, Saul placed David over his men of war. “And David went out whithersoever Saul sent him, and behaved himself wisely: and Saul set him over the men of war, and he was accepted in the sight of all the people, and also in the sight of Saul’s servants” (verse 5). David successfully accomplished whatever Saul asked him to do. God greatly blessed all of David’s efforts. David also grew in favor with the people of Israel and with the members of Saul’s staff.
David’s First Ally
It soon became apparent that David’s time of education through vigorous testing and trial began when he entered Saul’s world. As God’s manner is, He trained David in small things first. God was building in David a solid foundation of experience to make his future rule one of great strength.
To help David, God gave him an emotionally close ally early on. Saul’s son, Jonathan, became deeply loyal and devoted to David. “And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1). This simple and direct statement begins a wonderful story of friendship and love that is truly rare in this world. There is probably not a human relationship in the Bible more inspiring than the one between David and Jonathan. The one exception would be Jesus Christ’s relationship with the Apostle John. Many people desire to have such a friendship.
Let’s understand this encouraging history. Even more, let’s all learn to be more like David and Jonathan.
When Saul brought David into his presence, Jonathan selflessly devoted himself to David. Because he was Saul’s eldest son, Jonathan was the heir apparent and in direct line for the throne. But never once did Jonathan express envy or jealousy over David’s rise to power. Jonathan’s godly attitude violated all the rules of human nature. We could expect that Jonathan would naturally envy David or even hate him. However, Jonathan loved David more than he loved himself. We’ll see this vividly portrayed as the story progresses.
“Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle” (verses 3-4). Jonathan expressed his loyalty to David by making a formal covenant with him. The word for “covenant” in this verse is the same word used for God’s covenant with Israel found in Exodus 19:5—beriyth. In ancient times, a covenant was usually made with an animal sacrifice. Although these verses do not specifically mention such a sacrifice, the word beriyth implies that this covenant was an official and formal agreement. It was legally binding.
By entering into this covenant, Jonathan demonstrated great humility. He gave David his robe and military armaments. By doing this, he bestowed upon David great honor. More importantly Jonathan recognized that David was Israel’s next king and he was not! Jonathan’s good treatment of David helped to both further his success in war and his stature in the eyes of the people. What is most important is that David gained a great ally in Jonathan.
Jonathan—A Great Warrior
What do we know about the man Jonathan? The Bible reveals that he was a great warrior. In his lament for Jonathan, David showed that he was a skilled archer (2 Samuel 1:22). Many commentaries show that the tribe of Benjamin exhibited great talent for the bow and the sling. Not long after his father Saul was anointed king, Jonathan distinguished himself early as a formidable foe against the Philistines.
Remember, at the time Saul ascended the throne, Israel was crying out for independence from Philistine oppression. Saul’s first task as king was to develop an army and prepare Israel for war. 1 Samuel 13 shows that Saul developed an army of 3,000 troops. Jonathan was given charge of 1,000 of them. A time was set for the battle. Jonathan boldly attacked a garrison of Philistines at Geba, just north of Jerusalem (verse 3). Bible histories show that Saul, with his 2,000 men, had cut the garrison off from the rear while Jonathan led the frontal assault with his troops. The entire garrison was wiped out. Saul, claiming Jonathan’s victory as his own, announced this victory throughout the land with great fanfare.
This first strike greatly angered the Philistines. They prepared for a massive counterattack on the Israelites. The Philistine generals organized an army of chariots, horsemen, and foot soldiers. “And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude: and they came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from Bethaven” (verse 5). A riled Philistine beast woke up thirsty for Israelite blood.
Realizing their predicament, a debilitating fear gripped the Israelites. The nation did not possess such a massive and experienced war machine. Languishing under Philistine oppression, the Israelites were prevented from establishing a weapons-making industry (verses 19-22). How could they ever expect to match the Philistines weapon for weapon?
Many Israelites hid in rocks and caves near Mount Ephraim. The nation was hardly prepared for such a massive fight.
Remember, it was at this same time that Saul disobeyed Samuel’s instructions concerning a great sacrifice to be held in God’s honor (verses 10-11). Because of this sin, Saul lost his throne (verses 13-14). But even more important, Saul’s poor spiritual condition adversely affected the people. He lacked the leadership to rally or inspire them. Israel was in deep, deep trouble.
But all hope was not lost. God had a plan to save His nation. He used Jonathan to save the day.
Jonathan Defeats The Philistines
The battle lines had moved from Gibeah to the mountain passage of Michmash. In a daring plan, Jonathan boldly attacked a platoon of the Philistines with only an armorbearer to accompany him. “And Jonathan said to the young man that bare his armour, Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: it may be that the Lord will work for us: for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few. And his armourbearer said unto him, Do all that is in thine heart: turn thee; behold, I am with thee according to thy heart” (1 Samuel 14:6-7). What a heart—just like David’s!
Jonathan did not rely on physical prowess. He relied on faith in God! Jonathan knew that God’s power to deliver the Israelites was not dependent upon numbers of men. Freedom from Philistine oppression depended on God’s power, and God’s power alone. He stepped out in faith, and God went to work.
Oh, how we need to understand this fact today. The pcg is living proof that you don’t need great numbers to do a powerful work for God. All that is necessary is a small number of people full of faith—then God does the work!
Study for yourself the details of Jonathan’s plan in verses 6-10. Once he received the sign from God that He was behind his plan, Jonathan and his armorbearer were able to slaughter the Philistine platoon (20 soldiers) without any other assistance (verse 14). Jonathan’s bold advance created a panic within the Philistine army. A rumor of Jonathan’s attack spread like a disease throughout the Philistine troops. The sophisticated army trembled in fear. Then, God supernaturally added an earthquake to the situation. The combination of Jonathan’s victory and a mighty earthquake caused the Philistines to fight each other (verses 15-20). Thanks to God’s direct intervention, the Philistines did a great job of destroying themselves.
The Israelites who had fled into the rocks and caves then joined in the battle and began to rout the Philistines out of their land. There was no doubt that God saved Israel because of Jonathan’s faith-inspired boldness (verse 23).
Loved by the People
Besides being a skilled warrior, it is also important to note that Jonathan held the hearts of the people. We see this demonstrated clearly with the incident of Saul’s hastily commanded fast.
As the Israelites pursued the Philistines from Michmash to Bethaven, they had become famished. Saul was afraid that the warriors would stop the fighting to get food. Without giving it much thought, he rashly made them all take an oath that they would not eat any food until evening. Anyone who ate would suffer a curse (1 Samuel 14:24). This was a very stupid thing to require of soldiers in the heat of battle.
Held captive by his own carnal mind, Saul was more concerned with victory than with his troops. While pursuing the enemy through the woods, the Israelite army discovered a flowing honeycomb, but would not eat. But because Jonathan was out fighting with his armorbearer, he did not hear Saul’s command. When Jonathan saw the honeycomb, he devoured some of it. He was immediately restored to vitality. Had the troops been allowed to eat, they would have been renewed with vigor.
One of the warriors saw Saul’s beloved son eat and told him of his father’s command. He exclaimed to Jonathan, “Thy father straitly charged the people with an oath, saying, Cursed be the man that eateth any food this day” (verse 28). Jonathan immediately understood the folly of Saul’s oath. The warriors could not be as effective without nourishment. Jonathan answered the Israelite, “My father hath troubled the land: see, I pray you, how mine eyes have been enlightened, because I tasted a little of this honey. How much more, if haply the people had eaten freely to day of the spoil of their enemies, which they found? For had there not been now a much greater slaughter among the Philistines?” (verses 29-30). Although this famous battle was a great turning point for Israel against the Philistines, it could have been a much greater slaughter if the fighting men had been permitted to eat.
Matters only grew worse. Jonathan, whom God used powerfully to save the nation, was now under a curse for disobeying an oath. Actually, Saul’s oath even caused the people to commit sin. At nightfall, because they were so famished from not eating, they took Philistine animals and ate them with the blood still in the flesh (verses 32-33). This tells us something about Saul’s leadership. The people were more afraid of Saul than of God.
God expressly forbids eating flesh with blood still in it (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:14). From the time Saul disobeyed God, his leadership became a series of one mishap after another. As a result, the people suffered greatly. On this day, it would only get worse.
Saul attempted to rectify the people’s sin against God by making the army properly drain the animal flesh and conduct a sacrifice that night. After the sacrifice, Saul decided to continue pursuing the Philistines during the night (1 Samuel 14:36). Wisely, he decided to consult God before moving forward. Saul needed to know if God would continue to deliver the Philistines into his hands. God would not answer. Saul quickly assumed that they had lost God’s favor because someone had sinned.
He called for lots to be cast. He assumed that the sin was with the people. Saul told the people, “Draw ye near hither, all the chief of the people; and know and see wherein this sin hath been this day. For, as the Lord liveth, which saveth Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die” (verses 38-39). Again, Saul made a hasty pronouncement. We can see that Saul never expected that his son was involved in the sin.
Notice that the people kept silent.
To cast the lot, Saul separated himself and Jonathan from the people. He then prayed to God, “Give a perfect lot” (1 Samuel 14:41). In other words, Saul was asking God to declare himself and Jonathan innocent. The lot was cast and Saul and Jonathan were taken. The people were innocent. Saul had to be shocked at the outcome of the lot. Another lot was cast and Jonathan was taken. Every face in the crowd watching the horrific scene turned stark white.
Saul was devastated. He had cursed his own son to death. Saul’s voice had to tremble when he asked his son, “Tell me what thou hast done” (verse 43). Jonathan’s example in this situation is nothing short of exemplary. This man showed incredible depth of character. He certainly showed more character than Saul.
Jonathan meekly answered his father, “I did but taste a little honey with the end of the rod that was in mine hand, and, lo, I must die” (verse 43). Jonathan unknowingly disobeyed an oath and he consented to the death penalty. If only Saul could have been as submissive to government as his son. Jonathan was a man of great faith and piety.
We must also learn a vital lesson from Saul’s mistakes here. He acted hastily without thinking or prayerfully taking these matters to God. The recklessly impatient king committed his army to an oath that did it great harm. He vainly pronounced a sentence that demanded the execution of his own invaluable son.
Effective leaders must have great discipline in thought and speaking, and above all things, remain extremely close to God. We must make it our goal to not repeat Saul’s mistakes.
We will never really know how much more the army could have accomplished that day had not Saul forced the oath.
Saul was about to slay his son when the people intervened. They told Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who hath wrought this great salvation in Israel? God forbid; as the Lord liveth, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground; for he hath wrought with God this day” (verse 45). Jonathan was so loved by the people that they rescued him from Saul’s own folly. This black incident dampened the effects the smashing victory would have had on the Israelites.
Even the Bible concludes the history on a somber note, “Then Saul went up from following the Philistines: and the Philistines went to their own place” (verse 46). Even though the war with the Philistines was stopped short, Saul and his troops did not achieve a final victory. It is true that Saul greatly harassed Israel’s enemy, but he could never get rid of them. The Philistines would remain a thorn in Saul’s side until his death. Final victory over the Philistines would not come until David reigned.
David’s Bitter Enemy
Can you see why God brought David and Jonathan together? Jonathan was much older than David. He was a perfect mentor for David. We can only wish that the Bible would give us more details of their shared experiences. I am sure that Jonathan and David discussed many things. They most certainly carried on scintillating discussions about what God was doing in the nation. They probably talked over battle tactics. And there is no doubt that Jonathan helped David deal with the intense pressure of life at the royal court.
It is interesting to note that as Jonathan’s love and loyalty for David grew, Saul’s love for him deteriorated. In fact, Saul allowed Satan to plant great hatred for David in his heart. Eventually Saul’s wrath against David grew to a fever pitch. Thoughts of murder consumed him.
Saul became insanely jealous over David’s popularity with the people. His prowess in war against the Philistines became the topic of popular songs. “And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of musick. And the women answered one another as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands. And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, they have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom? And Saul eyed David from that day and forward” (1 Samuel 18:6-9). As Saul watched David’s popularity growing, he became more threatened. Saul saw David as his number one rival.
At this point, it appears that Saul began to figure out that David was the newly chosen king. Saul determined not to give up the kingdom easily.
Saul did not understand that David was not seeking popularity—he was simply trying to serve his king. David was a deeply loyal and humble young man. He held no desire to seize Saul’s throne. David believed that his success should have been viewed as a worthy testament to Saul. Instead, Saul looked at the young man’s success as a threat. It was not long until David found himself in mortal danger.
Just after hearing the song of the women, Saul set out to kill David. “And it came to pass on the morrow, that the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house: and David played with his hand, as at other times: and there was a javelin in Saul’s hand. And Saul cast the javelin; for he said, I will smite David even to the wall with it. And David avoided out of his presence twice. And Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him, and was departed from Saul” (1 Samuel 18:10-12). The Bible is silent on David’s thoughts and emotions as a result of this incident. It is not difficult to reason that Saul’s attempt on his life must have struck terror in him. It had to have been a lonely moment when he realized the king wanted to take his life. However, Verse 12 shows that Saul still had enough presence of mind at this point to recognize that God was with David. Saul began to greatly fear David.
Saul decided to remove David from the royal court. He appointed David field commander over 1,000 troops. He did this not to spare his life, he wanted to increase the odds that David would lose his life. Saul hoped David would be killed in battle with the Philistines (1 Samuel 18:13). But David always came out on top. “And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways; and the Lord was with him. Wherefore when Saul saw that he behaved himself very wisely, he was afraid of him” (verses 14-15). Here is a huge lesson for all of us. All of David’s efforts were blessed by God because David was living right spiritually. When we are right spiritually, trials will come, but God will stand right beside us.
Saul’s fear of David grew more intense daily. He became more obsessed with bringing about David’s demise.
During this difficult time for David, the people’s love for him grew. “But all Israel and Judah loved David, because he went out and came in before them” (verse 16). David spent time with all of the common folk. He was out with the people. And the people loved him for it.
Saul’s mistreatment of David continually intensified. He had promised David the hand of his daughter, Merab, after David destroyed Goliath. However, when the time came for the marriage, Saul gave her to another man. This would have been a great affront to David. Yet David never sought revenge. Concerning Merab, he stated, “Who am I? and what is my life, or my father’s family in Israel, that I should be son in law to the king?” (verse 18). David didn’t feel that Saul really owed him anything. And besides, he didn’t feel he had the wealth or worthiness to marry the king’s daughter. David had a simple and innocent heart.
Saul planned a new strategy to kill David. He discovered that his daughter Michal loved David. He hoped that he could use David’s humility and his daughter’s affections to snare the young captain. Saul sent his servants to bait David with a promise of marriage to Michal. Carrying a message of deceit, the messengers told David that Saul desired him to be his son-in-law. Saul was not requiring a large dowry. David could have Michal, if he would deliver 100 foreskins of the Philistines to Saul. By throwing out this challenge, Saul wanted to cast David into the middle of a heated battle. Saul reasoned, surely David would be killed. Study the entire account in verses 20 through 28.
Miraculously, David delivered 200 foreskins to Saul. Again, a clear message was sent to Saul. God was with David. God was not going to allow David to fail. And Saul could do no damage to David. Now, in addition to David’s success, he had a beautiful woman to love him—Saul’s own daughter. Since his latest plan failed, Saul determined to pull out all stops to destroy David. “And Saul was yet the more afraid of David; and Saul became David’s enemy continually” (verse 29). Saul drew a clear battle line in the sand. All those close to him knew that he wanted David’s head. Saul became David’s most bitter enemy.
Jonathan Warns David
God shows us in the Bible that for all the trouble caused by Saul, David’s reputation was continually strengthened. Not only was he loved by Judah and Israel his fame even grew among the Philistines (1 Samuel 18:30). Saul became desperate.
He had to eliminate David if his kingdom was to be held secure. In an open and bold move, he held a meeting with Jonathan and his servants. He requested that David be killed. Because these men were very loyal to Saul, David’s life was in serious danger.
Jonathan set out to warn David. “But Jonathan Saul’s son delighted much in David: and Jonathan told David, saying, Saul my father seeketh to kill thee: now therefore, I pray thee, take heed to thyself until the morning, and abide in a secret place, and hide thyself: And I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where thou art, and I will commune with my father of thee; and what I see, that I will tell thee” (1 Samuel 19:2-3).
This was a very courageous act by Jonathan. He actually put himself at great risk. He could have allowed himself to fall prey to the human confusion of mixed loyalties. Should he support his father, or should he support David? But Jonathan’s loyal covenant with David prevailed.
Jonathan went directly to Saul to defend David. He pleaded with Saul, “Let not the king sin against his servant, against David; because he hath not sinned against thee, and because his works have been to thee-ward very good: For he did put his life in his hand, and slew the Philistine, and the Lord wrought a great salvation for all Israel: thou sawest it, and didst rejoice: wherefore then will thou sin against innocent blood, to slay David without a cause?” (verses 4-5). Jonathan showed Saul how wrong killing David would be. David had done no wrong to Saul. God used David mightily to spare the nation with the killing of Goliath. Jonathan reminded Saul that even he had rejoiced at Goliath’s demise.
Through Jonathan’s efforts, Saul came to his senses. He stopped his plans to have David killed. For a time, a good relationship was restored between David and Saul. But it was only to be for a very short time. David’s real troubles with Saul were about to begin.