Saul’s erratic and deceptive behavior was a more pervasive test of David’s faith and character than the Philistine giant Goliath, who had openly challenged David to physical combat. Saul, a fellow Israelite, did not confront David openly as an enemy, but engulfed him in an atmosphere of intrigue and deception. He made David one of his armor bearers, but then tried to pin him to the wall with a spear while in fit of “depression.” He promoted David in the army, but insulted his most successful commander by giving his daughter Merab to another man. Then he flattered David by offering him his younger daughter Michal in marriage, but even this offer was a scheme to kill him. Saul tested David’s wits and emotions so severely that David was not sure whom he could trust. He wasn’t even sure he was safe among the prophets after Saul found out he was hiding there. In this situation, David found support from his friend Jonathan.
ADVERSITY. Jonathan was a friend indeed because he could be trusted in time of adversity. Prov. 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” David didn’t know whom he could trust. It seemed that many around him were conspiring against him when he wrote Psalm 59:3-4 (ESV).
For behold, they lie in wait for my life;In spite of the atmosphere of intrigue and deception, David was confident that he could trust Saul’s son Jonathan. Accordingly, he went to Jonathan to ask a favor of him.
fierce men stir up strife against me.
For no transgression or sin of mine, O LORD,
for no fault of mine, they run and make ready.
Awake, come to meet me, and see!
ASSISTANCE. Jonathan was also a friend in deed because he did what David asked of him. David was sure that Saul was hiding his evil intentions toward him from Jonathan. For that reason, David asked Jonathan to test his father by relaying a request to be excused from the royal family for the new moon festival (see Num. 10:10) in order to visit his father’s family in Bethlehem. (A trip to his father’s family was improbable though possible because Bethlehem was only 10 miles away.) The plot worked as anticipated. When Jonathan told King Saul that David requested permission to be with his father’s family, the king insulted Jonathan for failing to fulfill his role as heir apparent:
Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, “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?Then King Saul heaped shame on David by accusing him of plotting to overthrow the royal family (vv. 31, 34b). Finally, Saul revealed full extent of his wrath by hurling a spear at Jonathan. Jonathan knew with certainty that Saul was determined to kill David.
-- 1 Sam. 20:30 (ESV)
OTHERS BEFORE SELF. Jonathan proved himself to be a true friend because he put David's interests above his own. He was confident that David would never raise his hand against King Saul or his family, but he also knew that one day God would subdue David’s enemies (1 Sam. 20:15) and that he himself would be subject to David. Jonathan was content to see the kingdom slip from his own grasp and to see David rise to the role God had given him (1 Sam. 23:17). King Saul was incapable of understanding this attitude, which the Apostle Paul describes in Phil. 2:3-4 (ESV) where he writes, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
GREAT LOVE. Jonathan also showed the measure of his love for David by risking his life for him. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV). Although Jonathan did not actually lay down his life for David, he nevertheless is an example of the strength of the bond of friendship.
The friendship between David and Jonathan was a beautiful relationship. As far as we know, Jonathan saw David only once after this. When David was later living as an outcast in the Desert of Ziph, Jonathan sought out David and “strengthened his hand in God” (1 Sam. 23:16 ESV).