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Life of David


1 Samuel 20

In 1971 an earthquake struck the Sylmar area in California. My parents' home was in the center of the most heavily damaged area. For many weeks they were without water and electricity.

One weekend we came out to help with the cleaning, and there was a precious sight: a small, wiry man, carrying cinder block from our fallen wall in the street back into the yard. He separated the broken pieces from the good ones, and we were glad to see him. His name was Bob Macy, a friend indeed. I once camped on his driveway for seven weeks, and his unfailing friendship is a cherished memory.

Today we shall see the greatest friendship in the Bible - David and Jonathan.

(1 Sam 20 NIV) 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 take my life?" {2} "Never!" Jonathan replied. "You are not going to die! Look, my father doesn't do anything, great or small, without confiding in me. Why would he hide this from me? It's not 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 festival, 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: "By the LORD, the God of Israel, 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 is inclined to harm you, may the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away safely. May the LORD be with you as he has been with my father. {14} But show me unfailing kindness like that of the LORD 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 festival. 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 festival 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 and 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 month 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 of 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.


Before we look at Jonathan, the great picture of a friend, we can learn a bit from David.

God is preparing David

It is a tough time for David - and in tough times you find out who your friends really are. God is showing David three things:

  • He is teaching him who to trust - and who not to trust.
  • He is building about him a core of friends who will see him through his life.
  • He is teaching him restraint and discretion - a most notable requirement for a king.

David - a model friend

David shows us some of the characteristics of a good friend:

  • Note that he shows the proper respect for Jonathan - who is a Prince Royal. He bows three times; he does not presume upon the friendship.
  • He approaches him in humility. He asks what fault he might have committed; he begs the chance to make it right. He doesn't begin with his own righteousness, but admits that he might be wrong.
  • In his dealings with Jonathan, he promises to show kindness not only with Jonathan but also his descendants. In Ishbosheth, he certainly fulfills this promise.
  • David is not afraid to point out to Jonathan that Saul is out to kill him - despite the fact that such a message could hardly be welcome. Proverbs teaches us the value of such a friend:

(Prov 27:6 NIV) Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

(Prov 27:9 NIV) Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel.

David is a man whose counsel and "wounds" are indeed faithful.


It is sad that Jonathan did not live to an old age with David - it would have been fascinating to see this develop. But we can begin with Jonathan's character:


Jonathan is, first and foremost, an honest man. Because he himself is honest, he cannot picture his father being either irrational or treacherous. There is no treachery in Jonathan, and therefore he cannot imagine it in Saul.

Indeed, he is so honest that he assumes that if his father had any evil intent towards David, Saul would have mentioned it by now! You cannot cheat an honest man - but you can fool one. This says much for Jonathan's honesty; Saul's actions say much about the depravity of man.

Marks of a friend

  • The first, and greatest, mark of a friend shown by Jonathan is this: he has everything to lose by being a friend of David. David has been anointed King; if he is king, Jonathan is not. Saul understands this clearly; so does Jonathan, I suspect. It's just that he knows that harming David is unjust - and also that David is his friend. What he might lose - doesn't matter.
  • Jonathan is generous with his help - he doesn't seek the least he could do, but the most. He tells David (v. 4) he will do whatever David wants him to do. The commitment is not a limited one.
  • Jonathan does not send help - he goes himself, at his own risk. His attendant - the small boy - is not really involved. Jonathan takes the risk himself.
  • Jonathan is a man who can keep a confidence. He holds David's plans in his own mind.[1]
  • Jonathan also "covers over the offense." Rather than repeat his father's words - and make David that much more fearful and angry - he holds the matter privately and keeps it from being a burning sore.

Bound in the Lord

The secret of such a friendship is simply this: they are bound in the Lord. Jonathan can hold David in such friendship because they both hold the Lord as God.

  • We see that by the oaths they take - they bring God to witness to the truth of what they are saying.
  • Like most friendships, they share a common cause - the cause of God.
  • Because they are God's servants, their relative ranks - in a society which made much of this - mean nothing to them, either way.

Seven Tests

A lesson should have its practical points. So I propose to you seven tests of friendship:

  • Are you a friend even when it will cost you greatly? It would cost Jonathan the kingship of Israel, and yet he loved David.
  • Are you a friend even after there is no more benefit to be gained from the friendship? Joseph of Arimathea boldly claimed the body of Jesus - at risk to himself, with no possible thought of gain.
  • Will you tell a friend the hard truth? David had to give Jonathan the painful news about what his father was really like. Can you?
  • Are you a friend "without limits?" Do you say, like Jonathan, "Whatever you want, I will do for you?" Or is friendship really a limited partnership?
  • Are you a friend in person? Or do you send someone else to do what should be done only by a true friend?
  • Are you friend enough to "cover the offense?" Jonathan did not repeat his father's remarks, but let it go, so that peace might be given the chance.
  • Can you share your friends tears? David wept the most, for he was leaving family, friends, worship, comfort - all for a life in the wilderness. But Jonathan wept too.


Sometimes we say, "I wish I could do those things - but it's too late." May I share something with you about that? My sister has a good friend, Jill Goddard. Jill is quite an artist, and upon hearing of my father's death offered to produce the memorial cards for the funeral. As it happened these had been ordered, so Jill instead produced a bookmark souvenir. Here's what it said about my dad:

During his 20 years of service as an Army Finance Officer, John and his wife Lillian helped friends and acquaintances in times of trouble. In turn they were helped by others, such as the time they needed to fly a critically ill baby from the Aleutians to the mainland. They knew they could never repay those who helped so they did the next best thing; they helped others. This became known to the family as "Pass It On." John remained true to this tradition all his life.

To have a friend, be a friend. Freely you have received? Freely give. Pass it on.

[1] See Proverbs 11:13

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