Beautiful Lessons in Biblical Friendship from David and Jonathan
“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art ... It has no survival value;
rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
“And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God” (1 Samuel 23:16).
David was a shepherd; Jonathan was a prince. Jonathan had his own armor; David had a harp and a slingshot. Jonathan grew up in the palace and was trained in the art of war; David grew up in the “little town of Bethlehem” and was trained to tend sheep. Jonathan was the oldest son and in line to inherit the throne; David was the youngest of eight boys and anointed the next king in place of Jonathan. Jonathan was of the tribe of Benjamin; David the tribe of Judah. Despite their differences, they were, arguably, the best friends the world has ever known.
We have all heard the epic story of young David’s miraculous victory against Goliath, the Philistine giant, taking him down with only a stone and a sling (1 Samuel 17:50). Before that happened, however, Jonathan and his armor bearer alone killed 20 Philistines (14:14), after which God caused a panic resulting in the Philistine army “melting away in all directions” (14:16) allowing Saul and his men to defeat them.
An Unlikely Friendship
Jonathan, already a great man of war, likely met the young David in the palace on one of the many occasions that David was called upon to play the harp, or lyre, for the emotionally tormented King Saul. (“David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem” 1 Samuel 17:15). Their friendship began though soon after David slew Goliath.
“As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine’s head. . . . After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself” (1 Samuel 17:57, 18:1).
Imagine Jonathan’s first impressions of the young musician/giant slayer: warrior by day, song writer by night. It isn’t often in life that your hero is younger than you, but this was the case for Jonathan. David was a hero. He could soothe the king, defeat the enemy, and cause the ladies to swoon.
Whatever mission Saul sent him on, David was so successful that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the troops, and Saul’s officers as well.When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres. As they danced, they sang: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Samuel 18:5-7).
While most men in Jonathan’s shoes would have felt jealous and threatened, Jonathan saw what God saw in David: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). And David was “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). David often gets recognition for his heart for God, but Jonathan clearly had a depth of spiritual insight and discernment worth mentioning and remembering.
Commonalities That Bonded Them Together
Jonathan and David came from very different backgrounds, but they had a few key things in common: They were both warriors, they were men of faith who served the living God, they were provided with God-given courage and strength, and they needed each other.
A Covenant Friendship
They became fast friends and sealed their friendship with an oath.
And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt (1 Samuel 18:1-4).
Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever’” (1 Samuel 20:42).
We know a few other things from the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. We know that David married Jonathan’s sister, Michal, and became Jonathan’s brother-in-law (1 Samuel 18:27). Jonathan ended up protecting David and saving his life (19:1-6, 20:1-42). David was chosen by God and appointed to replace Saul as king of Israel instead of Jonathan, and still Jonathan loved David (20:31). Only a true friend could make this statement: “You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you” (23:17). After Jonathan’s death, David wrote him a lament, or funeral dirge, in which he, once again, expressed his deep and undying love:
“Saul and Jonathan—
in life they were loved and admired,
and in death they were not parted.
They were swifter than eagles,
they were stronger than lions.
How the mighty have fallen in battle!
Jonathan lies slain on your heights.
I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
more wonderful than that of women.”
In Jonathan’s honor, David cared for his son, Mephibosheth (lame in both feet), who ate at David’s table “like one of the king’s sons” (2 Samuel 9:11).
Four Takeaways from the Friendship of David and Jonathan
So, what can we learn from the friendship of David and Jonathan?
1. Friendship is a gift from God
In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis said:
“In friendship...we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another...the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting--any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say to every group of Christian friends, ‘Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.’ The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”
Not only does God grant us friends in life, Jesus taught us by example everything we need to know about friendship. He offers us the greatest friendship imaginable!
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:13-15).
2. A true friend is true
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity”(Proverbs 17:17). Jonathan had reasons to give up on David. Their friendship was not without stress. Jonathan’s very life was threatened because of his loyalty to David (1 Samuel 20:32, 33), and yet Jonathan was certainly a faithful “brother.” And, in the end, David remained faithful to the descendants of Jonathan, caring for them as if they were his own family members.
Twice we read that Jonathan loved David as he loved himself. In the New Testament, this is exactly how Jesus tells us to love each other: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Again, Jesus is the ultimate example of this type of love. He quite literally loved us in this way when He gave up His life to save us! If you do not have a personal friendship with Jesus Christ, read about His love for you in the Gospels. David and Jonathan’s friendship was inspiring, but Jesus is an even greater friend!
4. A true friend helps you find strength in God (1 Samuel 23:16)
This is an incredible testimony of friendship: “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God” (1 Samuel 23:16). Look for that quality in friends. Choose friends who help you find strength in God. Be someone who helps others find strength in God! Love pushes us to better places. True friendship will push you to God!
Photo credit: Getty Images/Ridofranz
Kristi Walker has been a missionary in Berlin, Germany for over 15 years working with an international church as the Director of Student Ministries. She is the author of two books - Disappointment: A Subtle Path Away from Christ and Convinced. Applying Biblical Principles to Life’s Choices.