1 Samuel 20
David and Jonathan (20:1–42)
1–3 No longer feeling safe at Naioth, David went to see his best friend, Jonathan, to find out why Saul was trying to kill him. Although Jonathan knew that at one point Saul had intended to kill David (1 Samuel 19:1–2), he thought he had convinced his father not to do it (1 Samuel 19:6). Jonathan was sure his father would never move against David without first confiding in him (verse 2). But David knew better; since Saul was now aware of Jonathan’s love for David, he obviously wasn’t going to tell Jonathan that he still planned to kill David (verse 3).
4–9 David then thought of a way to convince Jonathan that he (David) was in great danger because of Saul. The next day was the New Moon festival, which occurred on the first two days of each month (Numbers 28:11–15); on such occasions, David would ordinarily have been expected to dine at the king’s table (verse 5). David’s plan was to hide for two days in order to see what Saul’s reaction would be to his absence. If Saul asked about David, Jonathan was to give a madeup excuse for his absence: namely, that David had gone to his hometown to attend an annual sacrifice (verse 6). If Saul accepted the excuse, that would indicate David was safe; if Saul became angry (as David knew he would), that would prove to Jonathan that David was in danger.
Then David asked Jonathan to show him kindness (verse 8)—that is, love and loyalty based on the covenant Jonathan had made with David earlier (1 Samuel 18:3). David, in effect, was putting himself into Jonathan’s hands.
10–15 David then asked who would tell him if Saul’s reaction had been favorable or unfavorable (verse 10). Jonathan promised David with an oath77 that he would get word to him in either case (verses 12–13). But before Jonathan gave the specific answer to David’s question, he asked David to reaffirm his part of the covenant they had made together.78 Jonathan sensed that David was going to be the next king; he said to David: “May the Lord be with you as he has been with my father” (verse 13). Commonly when a new royal family took power, the new king eliminated all of the old king’s potential heirs to the throne; according to this custom, David would be expected to execute Jonathan and his family. Aware of that possibility, Jonathan asked David to remember their covenant: “. . . show me unfailing kindness . . . as long as I live,so that I may not be killed—neither I nor my family”79 (verses 14–15).
16–17 Then Jonathan extended his covenant with David to include David’s family, and he vowed to stand with David against his enemies (verse 16). At the same time, Jonathan asked David to reaffirm his oath—that is, his covenant promise (verses 14–15)—for the sake of the love that bound them together (1 Samuel 18:3).
18–23 Then Jonathan revealed his exact plan for letting David know what Saul’s reaction was. He would communicate indirectly through a boy. Jonathan would send the boy out to the field where David was hiding and then shoot three arrows—either on the near side of the boy or on the far side, depending on whether Saul’s reaction had been favorable or unfavorable—and then Jonathan would ask the boy to fetch the arrows. Jonathan would call out to tell the boy where the arrows had fallen, and David would be able to overhear the answer. The boy would never know David was hiding there; otherwise, he might reveal David’s presence to Saul’s men.
Then Jonathan once more asked David to abide by their covenant, reminding him that the Lord had been a witness to it and would Himself testify against whichever of them broke it (verse 23).
24–29 On the first day of the New Moon festival, Saul said nothing about David’s absence. He only thought to himself that David must have become ceremonially unclean80 and thus be unable to partake in the meal (verse 26).
But on the second day when David didn’t appear, Saul thought there must be some other reason; most forms of ceremonial uncleanness lasted only a day. So Saul asked Jonathan why David was absent (verse 27), and Jonathan gave him the answer that he and David had agreed upon (verse 6).
30–33 Saul responded with great anger. He warned Jonathan that if David continued to live, he would usurp the throne and Jonathan would7 never become king (verse 31). Then, when Jonathan again tried to defend David, Saul threw his spear at him-his own son! (verse 33). Finally Jonathan fully realized that his father intended to kill David.
34–40 Jonathan left the table at once; on that second day, neither he nor David ate at the king’s table.
The next morning Jonathan took a small boy with him and carried out the plan he and David had worked out earlier (verses 18–22). Jonathan shot his arrow on the far side of the boy, the prearranged signal that David must flee. Jonathan only shot one arrow, instead of the three he had planned. As soon as the boy had fetched the arrow, Jonathan sent him back to town so that he and David could meet together privately. Jonathan feared it might be their last meeting; as it turned out, they would meet only one more time before Jonathan’s death (1 Samuel 23:16–18).
41–42 Jonathan and David then shared together a brief farewell. David bowed before Jonathan three times as a sign of submission and respect. Jonathan reaffirmed their sworn friendship and also the covenant they had made, both between themselves(verse14)and between their descendants (verse 15). Then David left—to become a fugitive. He must have wondered how God was ever going to make him king.
In these past few chapters, David has given us an example of how to behave when we are persecuted. He didn’t retaliate, he kept close to God, and he remained humble. Jonathan, for his part, has given us an example of true friendship. He was willing to give up his throne—even his life—for his friend David (John 15:13). He truly loved David as himself (1 Samuel 18:1; Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31).