December 16th, 2013

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A friend like Jonathan

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Scripture: The stories of the Kings of Israel extend from I Samuel through to II Chronicles. Today, we will draw from i and II Samuel as we pull thoughts from King David’s reign.

Following the years of the judges, the people of Israel wanted to be like other nations who were ruled by Kings. So Samuel, the prophet and the last judge of Israel anointed Saul to be King over Israel. Saul, however, did not follow the instruction of the LORD, so God took him from the throne and replaced him with David, but not without a lengthy transition. During the years of David’s growing popularity and Saul’s decline, the friendship of David and Jonathan, Saul’s son, grew and deepened. Listen to some of the deeply emotional language the Bible uses to describe this friendship between David and Jonathan:
… the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul… 1 Sam 18:1

I have been privileged over the years to have a few deep friendships, but they don’t just happen, they require intentionality, commitment and time. David and Jonathan’s friendship should have been hindered by the fact that David had been appointed to be King after Saul, rather than Jonathan, by the reality that Saul hated David and wanted to kill him and by commitments of loyalty by both David and Jonathan which obligated them to honor and respect Saul as their King (not to mention father and father in law).

Instead of jealousy, competition and obligation, David and Jonathan demonstrated confidence, cooperation and freedom which enabled them to give hold Saul’s obsessions in check while they deepened their friendship to each other. In reality they didn’t let politics get in the way. One of my favorite verses in the story of David and Jonathan is:

And Jonathan , Saul’s son, went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, ‘Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my Father shall not find you. You shall be King over Israel, and I shall be next to you. (1 Sam 23:16-17)

(Icon, David and Jonathan, R Lentz)

Jonathan believed in God’s appointment of David as rightful King and he knew he would his place was as David’s second.  They were sure of each other and released each other to the tasks God had given each of them.  Which is, a very good definition of friendship. An acquaintance might be able to recognize my strengths and abilities but a real friend will see that I am released to fulfill them, confident that I respect her individuality in the same way.

Unfortunately, Jonathan never had the opportunity to support David in his Kingship. He died with his father in battle and David became King after Saul. To honour Jonathan’s memory, David brought Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth who was also crippled to his own table to eat like one of his sons, fulfilling a covenant between them:

Go in peace, because we have sworn, both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever. (1Sam 20:42)

For me it sets a standard of friendship to aspire to, one free of competition and jealousy and full of loyalty and freedom. It’s only a sidebar  among the great tales of the King’s of Israel, but one that foreshadows the way Jesus treated his disciples, inviting them to friendship and demonstrating the heart of the servant.

Lord Jesus, as we turn toward Christmas, turn our hearts toward you. Amen

Rembrandt, David and Jonathan, 1642