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“And when the lad was come to the place of the arrow which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan cried after the lad, and said, Is not the arrow beyond thee? 

And Jonathan cried after the lad, Make speed, haste, stay not. And Jonathan’s lad gathered up the arrows, and came to his master.

I Samuel 20:37-38

Together in the field, along with their God, David and Jonathan reaffirmed the covenant of friendship which they shared together in mutual love. There was a reason for this, for they felt instinctively that henceforth they would not be able to share their lives together as they had in the past. Each knew, and each now knew that the other knew that in the end it was not Jonathan that was to be king over Israel but David. Even more, they knew that Saul knew this also and was determined with all that was in him to prevent it. Because of this, David was now a fugitive in the land while Jonathan could not escape the responsibilities that came to him as the son of the king. Their lives from now on were bound to go in separate ways. Nevertheless, before they parted, they stopped to establish a covenant, to affirm their abiding love and friendship together. Regardless of what happened, they promised, this love would remain unending and unchanged, rooted in their mutual love for their God. 

Only after this was done did Jonathan return to the question which David had last asked. The question was, “Who shall tell me? or what if thy father answer thee roughly?” and it concerned the attempt which was to be made by Jonathan to discover just exactly how determined his father was in his opposition to David. The question was a good one; for it was entirely possible that, if Saul suspected that Jonathan was working to help David, he would prevent Jonathan from contacting David directly. How then could they be sure of a way in which Jonathan could pass on to David whatever information he should discover? It was a matter of providing for all possibilities. Accordingly, Jonathan laid out the following plan. “Tomorrow,” he said, “is the new moon: and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty. And when thou hast stayed three days, then thou shalt go down quickly, and come to the place where thou didst hide thyself when the business was in hand, and shall remain by the stone Ezel. And I will shoot three arrows on the side thereof, as though I shot at a mark. And, behold, I will send a lad saying, Go, find out the arrows. If I expressly say unto the lad, Behold, the arrows are on this side of thee, take them; then come thou: for there is peace to thee, and no hurt; as the LORD liveth. But if I say thus unto the young man, Behold, the arrows are beyond thee; go thy way: for the LORD hath sent thee away. And as touching the matter which thou and I have spoken of; behold, the LORD be between thee and me for ever.” Jonathan’s plan was very simply a means by which he could inform David of the outcome of his investigation even if his father Saul should assign someone to follow him so as to prevent him from conferring with David. Jonathan could merely pretend that he was going out to engage in some customary target-practice and at the same time pass on to David all of the information which he would need to know. 

The plan of Jonathan was quickly agreed upon; and David hid himself again in the field while Jonathan returned to the palace. 

The next day came with the feast of the new moon, and matters went pretty much the way that David and Jonathan had, anticipated. The royal table was set in the customary manner, with seats of honor for Jonathan, David, and Abner the captain of the army: but, of course, the seat of David was empty. Nevertheless, Saul said nothing. It was not uncommon for a fighting man such as David to find himself ceremonially unclean at the time of the new moon and therefore to absent himself from the first day of the feast. Actually Saul had wanted David to be there very badly for he had intended to make a final end of the whole matter, while he had never thought that David might ever presume not to appear when he was expected at the table of the king. Thus Saul said to himself, “Something hath befallen him, he is not clean; surely he is not clean.” The very thought that David might escape him once again by failing to come to this feast was too painful for Saul even to allow himself to consider it. 

The next day, however, the second day of the feast came and still the seat of David was empty. Now the possibility of uncleanness could no longer apply, for enough time had passed that David might have purified himself. It was evident that something had happened which Saul had not anticipated. Harshly, and yet in a way rather plaintively, Saul turned to Jonathan and demanded, “Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse to meat, neither yesterday, nor to day?” 

This was exactly, of course, the question which Jonathan was waiting for. It gave him the opportunity to test the feelings of his father toward David just as David had suggested. Quickly Jonathan answered, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem: and he said, Let me go, I pray thee; for our family hath a sacrifice in the city; and my brother he hath commanded me to be there: and now, if I have found favor in thine eyes, let me get away, I pray thee, and see my brethren. Therefore he cometh not unto the king’s table.” 

With Saul it, was not at all a question as to whether there might be an element of truth in what Jonathan said or not. The fact just stared him in the face that David was not coming to the palace for this feast; he was not coming at all. The more often David eluded him, the more determined Saul was becoming to put David out of the way. Ever since he had gone himself to Naioth at Ramah, he had looked forward to this feast of the new moon with firm determination to finish the matter then. Now that feast had come, and David was not there and was not coming there, and his own son Jonathan had assisted David in staying away. What was he to do? No matter how he tried, things always seemed to go wrong in the end. It was the curse of Samuel coming to him again. It infuriated Saul each time again that he felt its power binding him. With a surge the blood rushed to his head; but what could he do with David gone and escaped once again? The only one around whom he could implicate was his own son Jonathan; and, because his anger had to vent itself somewhere, it was on Jonathan that it did. With the screaming voice of an insane man, he shouted at him, “Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the ground, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him unto me, for he shall surely die.” So great had Saul’s fury against David become that he had nothing but scorn and derision for anyone who would take David’s part. But there was only one thing he had with which to counteract the power that protected David: that was his own vain pride and authority. Desperately he attempted to use it, ordering Jonathan to bring David to him. 

Jonathan’s attempt to answer his father was, perhaps, rather foolish. Being himself a man of strict honesty and justice, he felt that truth and justice held the key to all persuasion. Even before his father’s fury, he could not resist the temptation to try to bring his father around to his own views. Pleading for justice, he asked, “Wherefore shall he be slain? what hath he done ?” 

Earlier, when Saul had still been concerned with maintaining a good appearance, this sort of argument had worked; but not any longer. Basically Saul had no real concern for right and wrong. In fact, through his years of willful pride, he had finally come to the position where the only right to him was what he wanted, and whatever opposed his own personal desire was wrong. To have Jonathan now attempt to challenge him with an appeal to a higher principle than his own desire only infuriated him beyond even the control of his own reason. Just as with David before, Saul picked up his javelin and threw it with all of his might at Jonathan. Such was his determination to kill David and all who defended him. 

It was more than the otherwise calm nature of Jonathan was able to endure. Even as he sprang aside to evade the javelin of his father, his own temper broke and he rushed from the table and the room in utter fury. It was evident now that justice and truth meant nothing to his father whatever; all that mattered was his own, so easily offended pride. Deeply grieved, Jonathan did not stop until he had come to his own room and there he remained until his anger subsided. All through that day he sat alone in his sorrow without as much as, eating. It was not until the next morning that he picked up his bow and arrows, and calling one of the palace children to him went out as though to practice his marksmanship in the fields. 

As unobtrusively as possible Jonathan made his way out into the field to the place which he and David had agreed upon. All the time as he went, he watched with special care if there should be anyone following him under orders of his father, especially because his father had seemed quite aware of the fact that he and David were still in contact with each other. He observed nothing, but still he followed exactly the plan which had been laid down. Coming to the rocky ridge of Ezel where David was hiding, he sent the young lad who was with him out into the field to retrieve the arrows as they were shot. Then he took a few arrows and shot them far beyond where the boy was standing. Hardly had the lad turned to pursue them but Jonathan cried out in a loud voice, “Is not the arrow beyond thee? Make speed, haste, stay not.” To anyone else these would have appeared as nothing more than directions to help the lad locate the spent arrows; but to David crouching attentively in his hiding place it meant far more. It was just as he had expected. Saul’s hatred was not just a momentary flare-up; it was an unwavering determination which threatened his life. Henceforth there would be no welcome for him in the royal palace as long as Saul remained king. Once the boy had returned with the arrows, Jonathan could well have returned to the palace while David set out upon his way. By this time, however, Jonathan had determined quite surely that there was no one who had followed him into the field. Thus he gave the bow and arrows to the lad and instructed him to return them to the palace while he remained alone in the field, and without suspicion the lad went. 

No sooner was the lad gone than David stepped forth from his hiding place. Deeply moved, he bowed himself three times to the ground in acknowledgement of Jonathan’s kindness; and, when Jonathan approached him, the two young men fell upon each other’s necks, kissed and wept. There was little more to say. They had talked themselves out a few days before. Now the parting words were Jonathan’s as he said to David, “Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, the LORD be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever.” So the two men parted, friends, bound with a bond of love, but never to meet again in this life on the same intimate terms which they had known in the past.