Jonathan’s Covenant

So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, Let the Lord even require it at the hand of David’s enemies.

And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.

I Samuel 20:l6-17 

It is hard to imagine a more tender or more anguished meeting than that which took place between David and Jonathan at their secret hiding place in the fields surrounding the palace of Saul. David had come here from Naioth of Ramah where he had been with Samuel and where Saul had come seeking his life. Only by an ecstatic spirit from God which fell upon Saul was David spared, and he had come here to the only hiding place he had ever known. There, in the very fields where the two young men had so often walked and hunted and practiced their tactics of war, David and Jonathan met. It was as painfully joyful a meeting as there could ever be. The two were overjoyed to see each other; but their anguish could not be suppressed. As he threw himself on Jonathan’s shoulder, David cried, “What have I done? what is mine iniquity? and what is my sin before thy father, that he seeketh my life? ” 

Jonathan was fully as troubled as David. There was no denying any longer that his father was out to kill David; and yet he could not conceive of it actually happening. Surely he, Jonathan, the oldest son of Saul and the crown prince of Israel would be able to prevent it. He answered David, “God forbid, thou shalt not die: behold, my father will do nothing either great or small, but that he will shew it me: and why should my father hide this thing from me? it is not so.” 

But this reasoning did not hold up. Saul was never really one to share his intents with anyone, and surely not in this matter where he knew the situation perfectly well. This David pointed out, “Thy father certainly knoweth that I have found grace in thine eyes; and he said, Let, not Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved: but truly as the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth there is but a step between me and death.” 

There was no arguing. What David had said was undoubtedly true. Utterly crushed, Jonathan could only answer, “Whatsoever thy soul desireth, I will even do it forthee.” 

It was surely an amazing thing for Jonathan to say. Here he was, the son of the king, the crown prince of the nation, and he was offering his life without reservation to one who was now considered little more than a criminal, a fugitive from the wrath of the king. Still, it was not really surprising. Such is the manner of love, and Jonathan and David had long been bound together in a most intimate bond of love. Ever since David had first come into the palace of Saul, they had talked together, played together, lived together, fought together, and above all they had shared together the deep dedication which both felt to the service of Jehovah their God. It had come to the point that whatever the problem might be, they responded to it as one. All feeling of competition between them had disappeared, and their hearts were knit together as one. Now the problem was David’s safety, and Jonathan wanted him to know that in spite of the vicissitudes of his father, his feelings toward David remained the same. 

But if Jonathan had not changed, David had. It was not so much the persecution of Saul that had brought this about; it had been his visit with Samuel. There, in those few quiet days which he had spent with the old prophet, he had for the first time come to the realization that he was ordained to be king some day in Israel. He remembered, of course, how Samuel had come to his father’s home while he was still hardly more than a child and had anointed him with holy oil; but somehow he had never put that together with the office of king. It had taken finally the blunt assurance of the old prophet to point it out to him; and for David it had not been a pleasant experience. He had never wanted to be king. His ambitions had never run in that direction. He had been quite satisfied to think of Jonathan as the next king of Israel and himself perhaps as the commander of his army. But now that was all changed. He knew that the will of the Lord for them was different. He had so hoped that it would make no difference in his relationship to Jonathan; but now as they stood there together, he knew that it did. Jonathan was the same, the same as he had always been with that same overwhelmingly generous love. But David standing there with him could not keep himself from feeling as though somehow he was betraying his friend. At least, there was that inescapable fact that because of him Jonathan’s future as king in Israel was undermined and destroyed. It tore at his heart with a feeling of guilt; and could he be sure that if Jonathan knew, he would not feel the same too? 

But he couldn’t mention it to Jonathan, he couldn’t mention it. That would be too mean, too painful. Returning half-heartedly to their problem, David proposed a plan. “Behold, to morrow is the new moon,” he said, “And I should not fail to sit with the icing at meat: but let me go, that I may hide myself in the field unto the third day at even. If thy father at all miss me, then say, David earnestly asked leave of me that he might run to Bethlehem his city; for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family. If he say thus, ‘It is well’; thy servant shall have peace: but if he be very wroth, then be sure that evil is determined by him.” It was a good plan, well conceived to reveal the true feelings of Saul. But David’s heart wasn’t in this matter. He was concerned about the feelings of Jonathan. Could he be sure of the love of Jonathan? Was it true that Jonathan suspected nothing as yet? Might he also turn against him in the end? In a desperate attempt to find some assurance on this, David went on to add, “Therefore thou shalt deal kindly with thy servant; for thou hast brought thy servant into a covenant of the LORD with thee: notwithstanding, if there be in me iniquity, slay me thyself: for why shouldest thou bring me to thy father?” 

Jonathan’s first reaction was one of complete astonishment to think that David might suggest that he would ever keep anything from him or do anything to harm him. He replied, “Far be it from thee: for if I knew certainly that evil were determined by my father to come upon thee, then would not I tell it thee?” 

It was apparent, however, that this had not gotten through to David. It was not so much from what David said, for his reply was merely a suggestion that there might be difficulty in informing him as to Saul’s reaction. He said, “Who shall tell me? or what if thy father answer roughly?” It was indeed quite possible that if Saul was still very angry with David, he might do something to prevent Jonathan from going out to talk to David. But even as David spoke, it was apparent that he was still very troubled and concerned about his relationship to Jonathan. 

It was then that Jonathan determined to have the whole matter out. He understood the situation much better than David realized, and it was time that the two of them should come to an understanding between each other. Looking at David, he said, “Come, and let us go out into the field.” 

The field into which Jonathan and David went was a very familiar place to both of them. Many had been the hours and days which they had spent walking and talking together there. It had been the setting for some of their most precious memories. There, in the middle of that field, Jonathan stopped, and speaking to both David and to their God, he said, “0 LORD God of Israel, when I have sounded my father about tomorrow any time, or the third day, and, behold, if there be good toward David, and I then send not unto thee, and shew it thee; the LORD do so and much more to Jonathan: but if it please my father to do thee evil, then I will show it thee, and send thee away, that thou mayest go in peace: and the LORD be with thee, as he hath been with my father.” It was the most that Jonathan could do, for his words were an oath before God that he would deal honestly with David regardless of what the outcome might be. But Jonathan was ready to go much further than this: he was ready to assure David that this oath was made in full consciousness of what lay ahead in the future for both of them. It was implied in his last phrase and he went on to express it even more clearly by continuing, “And thou shalt not only while yet I live show me the kindness of the LORD, that I die not: But also thou shalt not cut off thy kindness from my house forever: no, not when the LORD hath cut off the enemies of David every one from the face of the earth.” 

It was an amazing statement. With it Jonathan made perfectly clear that he understood full well that he would never be king of Israel after his father Saul: the position was David’s. It could well have been that he had discerned this long before David had himself, and maybe even before Saul. He had discerned the fine hand of the Lord guiding, preserving, preparing David for a position far greater than David himself had understood. What else could it be but the position of king in Israel? But for Jonathan this realization held no bitterness. He held for himself no personal ambition. His love for David was fully as great as his love for himself, and above all he was quite willing to be subject to the will of his God. Without reservation and with complete humility, he wanted David to know this. Only one thing troubled him, that was that anything should come between him and David. He longed for assurance and promise that David would not turn from him either. Thus, with all meekness, he asked David to make a covenant with him there in the presence of their God. Surely what followed constituted as impressive a moment as one could imagine. Together they stood in the field alone; and yet they were not alone for both were very conscious of the presence of their God. In the past they had lived together in a most intimate relationship of friendship; but now they would have to go on in separate ways as the will of the Lord would lead them. But before they separated, they stood together in the presence of their God to establish a covenant together to affirm that regardless of where their separated paths might lead them, they would remain faithful to their mutual love and friendship forever. 

In all of the history of the church of God, there are few whose lives shine so radiantly in meekness, love and faithfulness as does the life of Jonathan. Here was a man who was born a prince, who was raised to be a king, who had every reason to expect to receive the highest position in the land; yet he saw it all slip away and given into the hands of another without a complaint. In fact, in that hour there was only one thing that concerned him — that his friendship and love with the one who displaced him should not be disrupted. There is an amazing beauty to I Samuel 20:17 when it says, “And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.” Greater love hath no man. It was founded in the grace of God.