Since the late 1990’s John Piper began spreading a message we all would do well to take to heart. His message was this: ‘You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, and be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but people who have been mastered by one great thing.’
When we come to 1 Samuel 20 this morning, we glimpse one of these great things that we as Christians must be mastered by. You see, this chapter displays the deep friendship between David and Jonathan. But the point of this chapter isn’t to give us a story of a friendship that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy, no, the point of seeing the deep friendship between David and Jonathan in this chapter is to put the glory of covenant on display. Covenant and the security and peace it brings is something that must master us. Though the word covenant only appears in our passage once (in v8) we will see it running all throughout the story. Let’s turn to these things now.
In this chapter there are 4 scenes to see:
The Debate (20:1-4)
Recall how chapter 19 ended. As Saul came to seek out David and kill him the Holy Spirit rushed upon him and he prophesied all that day and all that night. During Saul’s time prophesying we learn in 20:1 that David flees yet again, and this time goes back to Jonathan because he has some questions for him. There is no break in v1 for greetings, David gets straight to the matter at hand. He is puzzled, angered, and vexed that, though he hasn’t done anything wrong, Saul continues to try and hunt him down to kill him. So he asks Jonathan, ‘What I have done? What is my guilt? What is my sin against your father that he seeks my life?’ Before we get to Jonathan’s response to these questions, it’s revealing that David asks questions about himself: his actions, his guilt, and his sins rather than asking Jonathan what we all want him to ask, ‘What’s wrong with your father?!’ If I were in David’s shoes I’d probably be asking that question before anything else, and you know what? So would most of you because it’s our natural condition to think much of ourselves and think less of others. This reveals our pride as well as David’s humility. You see, David doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong, but he openly confesses that he could be mistaken about that and seeks to know what’s really going on. If Jonathan can tell him a way in which David has sinned, it seems that David would humble himself and beg for pardon right away.
Jonathan responds in v2 as a charitable son by attributing nothing but the most sincere and righteous intentions to his father. It’s not that Jonathan can’t imagine his father ever doing a thing like this (after all he knows his father isn’t the most upright guy in the world), it’s probably more that Jonathan believes his father wouldn’t do this because he didn’t tell him anything about it. David seeks to persuade Jonathan again in v3 by giving the reasoning behind why Saul left Jonathan out of the loop on this one, and it has everything to with himself. Saul most likely knows that his own son has entered into a covenant with David so naturally if he wants to kill David he’s not going to tell Jonathan about it, because the last time he told Jonathan about it in 19:1 Jonathan tried to intervene, and Saul doesn’t want anyone intervening in this murder, so he keeps Jonathan in the dark. At this point David points out the seriousness of this matter going as far to say, ‘As the LORD lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death.’ For David this is no matter of right or wrong thinking, it’s life or death. Jonathan seems to pick up on the seriousness of this and agrees to whatever David wants to do in v4. So David must have an answer as to why Saul wants him dead, and Jonathan must have an answer as to what his father’s true intentions are. So they do what any two guys who want to find something out do, they make a plan.
The Plan (20:5-23)
So here’s the plan: at the monthly new moon festival there is always a feast, and it just happens to be tomorrow. David would be expected to be there, but he’s going to go hide in a nearby field for the next few days and not show up. Meanwhile Jonathan is going to go to the feast and watch to see how Saul responds to David’s absence. In v6-7 David says if Saul is ok with my absence than all is well, but if Saul is angered at David’s absence than Jonathan will know his father’s true intentions. Then in v8-9 there is a sweet moment of anguish mixed with hope. David in anguish pleads with Jonathan to deal with him kindly for the sake of the covenant they have made, and part of that covenant kindness would be to kill David if Jonathan really thought he had done wrong against Saul. Jonathan responds with a hopeful faithfulness saying that if he knew anything at all about Saul’s plans he would tell him. Perhaps Jonathan still shows some naivety here by believing David to not be in any real harm. We as the reader can understand the position of both. David knows a large disappointment for Jonathan is coming, and Jonathan doesn’t want to believe the bad news about his father.
After what was probably a brief pause in the conversation David asks in v10, ‘Who will tell me if your father answers your roughly?’ Jonathan than responds with another plan of his own making in v11-23, but rather than going straight into his plan Jonathan (in v11-17) begins describing what seems to be language of grief. Whether Saul’s intentions are for good or for ill he will disclose it to David so that he may stay and be well flee and be safe. What Jonathan says next reveals that deep down he’s coming to terms with the true nature of his father. v13b-15 says, ‘May the LORD be with you, as He has been with my father. If I am still alive (notice the execution of this plan could cost Jonathan his own life?) show me the steadfast love of the LORD, that I may not die, and do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever, when the LORD cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.’
Jonathan’s request centers on the steadfast love of the LORD. Jonathan knows if there is going to be a transfer of power on the throne, it’s not uncommon to hear of a new king killing the entire old king’s family if they are still alive because their very existence would be a threat to his new reign. He even acknowledges that God may even do this very thing in v16 if David sits on the throne. So if he lives through this plan Jonathan pleads with David to not kill him or his descendants, but to show him and them the steadfast love of the LORD in v14 and the steadfast love of David (which comes from the LORD) in v15. Then before they begin their plan, in v16 they renew the covenant they made earlier. Then he reveals the rest of his plan in v18-23 tell David to hide in the field and after shooting a few arrows and instructing one of my young servants, you shall know how the matter has unfolded.
The Meal (20:24-34)
Well let’s see how the matter unfolds at the festival table. When it came time to feast on the first day everyone sat down and Saul noticed David’s absence. v26 reveals that Saul didn’t think much of this and thought David may have not been ready for the feast by some manner of uncleanness (remember: the rules for such a feast were detailed and numerous, and everyone in attendance had to cleanse themselves of all impurities before attending). But though Saul didn’t mind David’s absence the first day, he really took offense when David didn’t show up the second day and asked Jonathan in v27 where he was. Jonathan responds with a lie to see his father’s true intentions. He says David was back home in Bethlehem for a family sacrifice. It is then we see the real Saul come out and turn what was probably a pleasant meal into an incredibly awkward and tense situation.
I’ve been in some tense meals before, where things have been said that completely changed the tone of the meal. I remember one time sitting down with a Jewish friend of mine and I was trying to find a way to bring the gospel into our conversation and he mentioned the 10 commandments. So, seeing a small door open, I jumped through it and started going through the commandments one at a time to see if he really thought he could keep them, and when I started pointing out that he couldn’t and that because of his inability to obey the law he needed Jesus, our meal immediately grew tense, and he began eating very fast so he could finish his dinner and get out there!
Well the tenseness in that meal doesn’t even compare with how tense this festival meal is about to get. What Saul says and does in these next few verses reveals to Jonathan the true heart of his father. In v30-31 Saul says, ‘You son of a perverse rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall ever be established. Therefore send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.’ Perhaps Jonathan still holding out some hope for his father seeks to reason with him as he did before, but as soon as he asked Saul why such a thing should be done Saul hurls (literally ‘cast out’ in Hebrew) his spear at Jonathan. By doing this, the notion in Hebrew is that Saul is literally casting out his son. v33-34 says what we already know, ‘So Jonathan was grieved and knew that his father was determined to put David to death.’
The Farewell (20:35-42)
We can imagine how Jonathan felt as he rose early the next morning to go out and inform David of what had taken place. He takes his bow and a young servant boy out into the field where David was hidden, shot some arrows beyond the boy and said loudly (so that David could hear) ‘Is not the arrow beyond you?’ These were the words Jonathan had planned to say to David if he needed to flee back in v22, and after Jonathan sent the young boy away, David came out of hiding to say farewell to Jonathan. If any of you have ever had to suddenly leave loved ones you know how these two men felt at the end of chapter 20. David came to Jonathan and kissed him and they both wept as they affirmed the covenant they had made earlier. You should know that some liberal commentators take some freedoms with this passage by reading homosexual activity into this scene, nothing could be farther from the truth. What we see here isn’t homosexual intimacy, rather we see a deep covenantal friendship aware of its impending end. As this chapter comes to a close, we’re saddened by these events, saddened that Saul has given himself to such murderous hate, saddened that David continues to be on the run, saddened that Jonathan finally knows the distressing truth about his father, and saddened that such close friends have to say farewell. Other than one more brief moment this is the last time these two men will see one another again.
We began today’s sermon by quoting John Piper’s message about changing the world, which (he said) doesn’t happen through people who master many things, but happens through people who have been mastered by one great thing. Let’s end by looking at one great thing:
I’ll state this one thing, and then I’ll unpack it. I said it at the beginning I’ll say it again now: all of our security and peace in a fallen world comes from covenant.
Think back through this chapter, what is it that keeps David safe and secure from Saul? His covenant with Jonathan. When David flees from Ramah in v1 where does he go? He goes to Jonathan, the one whom he’s in covenant with. When David explains the danger he is in from Saul and when he and Jonathan make a plan to find out about it for sure what do they do in v8, v12-17, and in v21? They reaffirm the covenant they’ve made with each other in the previous chapter. What is the reason Saul gets murderously angry with Jonathan in v30-31? That Jonathan had entered into a covenant with David. And what words fill their speech as Jonathan and David part with one another in v42? Words of their covenant. It was the covenant, the promise, the pledge these two men made to one another that not only kept David secure from harm but also gave him peace in the middle of confusion.
So then Church, this is where the rubber meets the road for us doesn’t it? You and I live in a 1 Samuel 20 world, and because of this our lives are often filled with fear, pain, strife, anxiety, worry, stress, jealousy, hatred, conflict, and sorrow. What is it that will keep us secure, what is it that will give us peace in the midst of such a fallen world? The answer is clear, covenant, specifically, the New Covenant. Though David and Saul and Jonathan are the prominent characters in this chapter, they are not intended to be the main characters are they? No, they are intended to point to the main character, to God and His ways with us. All three men show us this: David, when he didn’t want to, at the end of the chapter left the royal palace and headed straight into the wilderness. In a much greater and fuller picture Jesus, the Son of and Lord of David, willingly chose to leave His ‘royal palace’ with His Father and enter into our wilderness to suffer and to die. Because of His work of humbling Himself to become flesh, dwell among us, and complete our redemption, upon receiving Him by believing in His name, we are saved and kept secure from Satan, the greater Saul, who seeks to throw spears at us to kill us. After Jesus’ ascension and sending the Spirit to dwell within us, Jesus now becomes for us, a friend who sticks closer than a brother, like Jonathan, but greater than Jonathan.
So as Jonathan said to David I now say to you, ‘Go in peace.’ And I really mean it. Our 1 Samuel 20 world is fallen, but our peace doesn’t come because things around us are peaceful. No, our peace comes because in Jesus we have a friend who has promised us, who has pledged Himself to us, who has covenanted with us to never leave us or forsake us. He sealed the covenant in His blood to ensure that we will be with Him forever in the end of all things.
So remember, or hear it for the first time today: when disaster, distress, disappointment, or danger comes – peace is not going to be found in the absence of conflict, but in the presence of Christ.