History’s Greatest Friendship?

1 Samuel 20.23.

may the Lord make us keep our promises to each other, for he has witnessed them. – 1 Samuel 20:23

One of the great friendships in history was between David and Jonathan. Let me set the scene …

Saul is the first king of Israel, but he’s waning in influence. His influence with the people is waning because of a charismatic young man named David defeated Goliath. His influence with God is waning because Saul has become increasingly rebellious.

David though has become friends with Saul’s son. It is a loyal, committed friendship. And Jonathan is, perhaps, one of the most devoted friends ever. Jonathan – the son of Saul – is first in line for the throne. He is the future king. And yet he’s watching as his friend, David, grows in favor with God and the people. His best friend is about to usurp the throne, and yet Jonathan is more loyal to his friend than his own political future (and all the riches that go with it).

In this scene – 1 Samuel 20 – David is convinced that Saul is plotting to kill David. Jonathan can’t believe that of his father. Nevertheless, David convinces Jonathan to go to his father and see if his father will reveal his murderous – or benign – intent. David knows that if Saul’s intent is murder, then Jonathan may be followed back to his rendezvous with David. So they devise a signal. Jonathan essentially said, “David, hide by this rock. When I return from meeting with my father, I’ll shoot some arrows, as if I’m shooting targets. After I shoot the arrows, I’ll send a servant to fetch them. If I tell the servant that they’re on the near side of the rock, then you can come near for my father’s heart is pure. If I tell the servant that they’re on the far side of the rock, run far away because my father’s heart is hard.

You may know that Saul’s heart was vengeful and that David wound up running far. But that’s not the point of the devotion …

The point is true friendship. Covenantal friendship. Bonds understood to be unbreakable. But I like their specific words in affirming this friendship: “May the Lord make us keep our promises to each other, for he has witnessed them.”

Here’s what I hear: “I, Jonathan, am not sure if I can keep my promise to you, David. The pressure to obey my father and come against you will be great. And the human temptation to cement my own political and financial future may be greater. So … may the Lord help me keep this promise.” Likewise, I hear David saying, “Jonathan, if your father comes at me in anger, I promise to act nobly toward you and your household. And I know this will be difficult because I will become an outcast. I may have to spend the rest of my life running from the king’s armies. And I too know that I will need the Lord to help me keep this promise.”

Jonathan shot the arrows far. And it was time for David to run far. Nevertheless, David waited for the servant to leave, and then he stepped forward. “42 At last,” we are told, “Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, for we have sworn loyalty to each other in the Lord’s name. The Lord is the witness of a bond between us and our children forever.’” That’s friendship. That’s honor. And that’s wisdom – the wisdom that knows we’ll need God’s power to help us keep our promises.

In Christ’s Love,

1 Samuel 20.23.


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