O God, create for me the caliber of friendship with those around me that David and Jonathan enjoyed.
Read 1 Samuel 20:1–17
Then David fled from Naioth at Ramah and went to Jonathan and asked, “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wrongedyour father, that he is trying to kill me?”
2 “Never!” Jonathan replied. “You are not going to die! Look, my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without letting me know. Why would he hide this from me? It isn’t 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 Lordlives 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 feast, 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 determinedto 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, “I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, that 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 intends to harm you, may the Lord deal with Jonathan, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away in peace. May the Lord be with you as he has been with my father. 14 But show me unfailing kindness like the Lord’s kindness 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.
“We are pilgrims on a journey, / fellow trav’llers on the road; / we are here to help each other / walk the mile and bear the load” (Richard A. M. Gillard).
The Bible rarely deals with friendship. Many passages explore right relationships—wives and husbands, parents and children, employers and workers—but few deal with true friendship: adults who commit to each other when they don’t have to. The model friendship of Jonathan and David could have had far greater personal distance, as son to son-in-law or as crown prince to military commander, but it went deeper. The Hebrew word chesed, chosen to describe their loyalty (8,14,15), is used elsewhere for God’s steadfast covenant faithfulness to his people.
Various languages may lack the words to describe close but non-erotic male friendships. In this case the author of 1 Samuel was forced to borrow words from romantic, kinship and religious vocabularies. In a remarkable paper, “David and Jonathan in Iraq: Combat Trauma and the Forging of Friendship,” Iraq war chaplain Nathan Solomon suggests that David and Jonathan’s relationship is best understood as the indescribably close bond between people who fought together. He writes of a war veteran frustrated at his inability to explain to his wife the special bond between him and his slain battle comrade: “I know it ain’t cool, but I cry about him every day” (Probing the Frontiers of Biblical Studies, 32). One day David too will similarly weep (2 Sam. 1:11,12).
David and Jonathan were both front-line warriors. They expressed their relationship in the strongest words that language allowed. One place where such friendships develop is in the mutual dependence of close combat.
Some friendships are standard, garden-variety types, but others are special and require special cultivation because they originate from above. Reflect upon your friendships and how you can strengthen them.
Lord, I think of myself and my friends. Help us in our relationships to interact in ways that honor You and nurture each other.
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