A sermon delivered by Howard Batson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx., on August 14, 2011.
1 Samuel 20:39-42

My guess is you probably don’t think about him being the heroic warrior that he really was.  Somehow, because he gives his future throne, his place in line, over to David, we sometimes think of Jonathan, Saul’s son, as a weak character.

But, he is neither weak nor timid.  He’s neither a loser nor a coward.  In fact, in 1 Samuel 14 – turn back a few chapters – Jonathan is a great warrior in his own right.  It’s ‘a little known story.’  The Philistines were tired of Saul’s little victories, so they summoned a larger army – 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen. They were described like the sands of the seashore.  Saul divided his army into two parts. Jonathan was commanding the base while his father led the fighting force.  Midway between the two camps was a Philistine outpost protected by a valley with steep sides, a natural fortification.  Saul does not feel like he is strong enough to commence the hostilities against the Philistines.  The Hebrews are beginning to revolt because of the numbers of the opposing army.  A difficult situation at best.

In 1 Samuel 14, Jonathan takes his own initiative.  Jonathan is a leader.  He doesn’t even tell his father what he is going to do.  He crosses over to the garrison of the Philistines.  Jonathan says to the young man carrying his armor, “Come and let us go over to the Philistines, these uncircumcised men; perhaps the Lord will work for us.”  Jonathan is a man of faith.  Look at verse 6 of 1 Samuel 14:  “For the Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few.”

The armor bearer says to Jonathan, “Do what is in your heart, I’m beside you.”  Jonathan said, “Let’s cross over to the men and reveal ourselves to them.  If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand in our place and not go up to them.  But if they say, ‘Come up to us,” then we will go up, for the Lord has given them into our hands; and this shall be the sign to us.”  In fact, Jonathan appears so abruptly in the narrative that he emerges as a threat to the leadership and destiny of his father. Jonathan takes an astonishing initiative against the Philistines.  He proposes that he and his armor bearer, alone, assault the Philistine army.

So Jonathan and his young armor bearer make their way to the Philistines.  They look up the steep cliff.  The Philistines shout for them to come up.  “Come up to us and we will tell you something.”  Jonathan said to his armor bearer – look at verse 12 – “ ‘Come up after me, for the Lord has given them into the hands of Israel.’ Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet with the armor bearer behind him, and they fell before Jonathan.  His armor bearer put some to death after him.  And that first slaughter which Jonathan and his armor bearer made was about twenty men within about half a furrow in an acre of land.”

The whole Philistine camp is thrown into confusion by the attack.  Jonathan, in this text, is presented as a leader, a believing warrior, one who has faith in God.  The men of Saul watched the battle from a distance.  They decided to join.  Taking the Ark with them, Saul led his troops to the battle initiated by Jonathan.  The battle gained momentum.  Saul was even joined by other Hebrews.

There is an odd twist to this story.  That morning, Saul says that he wants to be sure that all the Philistines are killed; therefore, any Israelite who even so much as stops to eat will himself be put to death.  Look at verse 27.  Jonathan was unaware. “But Jonathan had not heard when his father put the people under oath; therefore, he put out the end of his staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes were brightened” (1 Samuel 14:27).

Jonathan confesses that he has broken his father’s oath that he didn’t know existed.  “I’ve tasted a little honey with the end of my staff that was in my hand.  Here I am.  I must die.” (14:43)

Saul has made the oath.  The people have heard it.  Thus, he has to kill his son Jonathan to save face.  But the people rush in to save Jonathan, their hero, from Saul’s broken oath.

Jonathan is a strong character.  A strong warrior.  A man of courage.  A man of faith.  And popular with the people.  All the ingredients needed to make a king.

And so, when you realize that Jonathan gave over his right to royalty to his friend, David, I want you to know that it’s not a weak Jonathan who had no abilities, passion, or desire to lead.  It is the gifted warrior who gives his right to royalty to his friend David.

Look at chapter 18 of 1 Samuel.

Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.  And Saul took him that day and did not let him return to his father’s house.  Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.  And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt. (1 Samuel 18:1-4)

It was a symbolic act, indicating that God had blessed David to be the next king.  He forms a covenant with David.

Saul later becomes angry with Jonathan and says in 20:31, “Don’t you realize that as long as David is alive, you will never have the throne?  He has to die.”  But Jonathan said to Saul, “What has he done?  What has he done?” – meaning David had been faithful both to Israel and to Saul.

Looking at the covenant relationship of David and Jonathan as a model, I want us to learn about friendship.


Jonathan had every right to royalty.  But he realized that God had blessed David, and he gave David his seat at the table, he gave his throne to his friend.

Jim Somerville said he once had a man come to his office.  The man told pastor Somerville that his wife was leaving him, and he didn’t know why.  The pastor said he didn’t know why either.  The man was good-looking, successful, a regular churchgoer who appeared to be devoted to his wife and children.  But now that she was leaving him, the man wanted to know why.  “Tell me more,” the pastor said.

The man did.  The more he talked, the more it became clear to this pastor that this man’s wife and his children were just one of the many planets whirling around him in his personal solar system.  His faith, his career, his political ambitions, his new house on the lake, his Harley-Davidson motorcycle – they were all important to him, but only insofar as they made his life richer and better.  When the man stopped describing his life, he asked his pastor, Jim Somerville, “What do you think?”

Somerville asked him, “Have you ever heard of Nicholas Copernicus?”  Copernicus was a 16th-century Polish mathematician.  He was the one who came up with the idea that the earth went around the sun instead of the other way around.  He’d had the idea years before, but it was only after years of working out the mathematical proofs that he became convinced it was true.  Jim Somerville imagines it all this way: “I picture him working in his study, coming to the end of a long and complicated mathematical equation and writing down the result.  Then he staggers out into the backyard, looks up at the sun and – almost literally – feeling the earth move under his feet and feeling the sky tumbling down, tumbling down as he imagined himself standing on the surface of a planet that was rotating at some 600 miles per hour while it hurtled through space around the sun.”  It was such an earth-shaking idea – that the sun didn’t move around the earth, but that the earth moved around the sun.  It was so earth-shaking that Copernicus didn’t even publish the results of his investigation until the very year of his death.  The response was as expected.  The church banned the book because the Bible made it clear that the sun went around the earth.  It was banned because if Copernicus was right, the earth couldn’t be the center of the universe any more.

And neither could we.

What the man whose wife was leaving him could not see was that he had not come to terms with the fact that he was not the center of the universe.  He needed a revolution of Copernican magnitude.  He needed to make that discovery that we all have to reach at some point if we’re to be likeable to those around us.  You are not the center of the universe.

Jim challenged the man to put God at the center of the universe instead of himself, and make himself orbit around God instead of thinking that God – that is, his faith, his church, his family – were all just planets that were in orbit around him at the center.  (“Realizing You’re Not the Center of the Universe,” www.ethicsdaily.com)

One of the Greek words for conversion is the word “epistrephein,” which means to turn around.  The other word is “metanoia,” which means to change your mind.  This is the idea of what it means to repent.  The very nature of becoming a follower of Christ is that you have to radically re-orient your life.  You are not the center.  When you put God at the center, you can’t occupy that place any more.  And you have to orbit around God, and maybe, even, around others.

I don’t care who you are or what you’ve obtained, until you have a Copernican revolution, you’re not going to be who God created you to be.

I was talking to a grandfather – grandfather twice, this fellow was.  And he spoke about the first grandchild being introduced to the second grandchild.  He warned his daughter that the jealousy that would be predictable from the first born would be of “biblical proportions.”  Why the jealousy?  Why the rage when you walk in, as a toddler, and see your mother cuddling another baby?  Because, for the first time in your life, you realize that not even your mother’s world revolves around you.  There are others.  You are no longer the center of the universe.

Jonathan had good perspective.  Jonathan realized that his royal family, his royal rights, were all second to the plan of God, who anointed David to be king.  He saw the blessing of God on David, and he acknowledged it.  And he gave over to David his robe, his armor, his throne.


Jonathan really did pay the price of the throne because of his covenant relationship with David.  You may have a covenant relationship that is going to cost you a great deal if you honor that relationship, if you put others first. 

We should never be like the two friends who were out in the woods when the bear approached – an angy she-bear, a big grizzly bear coming toward them.  Both the men started to run when one of them looked at the other and said, “There is absolutely no way we’re going to outrun this grizzly bear.”  To which his best friend replied, “I think you’re right.  But I don’t have to outrun the grizzly bear – I’ve just got to outrun you!”

That’s the natural approach to life – for each to look after his own. 

But the greater love sacrifices for others.  It gives.  It yields.  It moves over so someone else can have the place, the place that deep down we think we deserve.

Have you ever thought about a New Testament theology that pictures the cross of Christ Jesus a component of friendship?  John the Apostle portrayed the cross a lot of different ways, but among that myriad of ways, is friendship.  When Jesus is telling His disciples that they are to love one another, He says, “Greater love has no one than this than he would lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I commanded you.”  Surely a foreshadowing of the fact that in His love for His disciples, Jesus was going to be willing to die that we could live.  It is in this same gospel that, in a twist of irony, Caiphas says, “It is expedient that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation should not perish.”

No greater love hath anyone than he would lay down his life for his friend. 

Give up your throne.  Lay down your life.  Friendship means we put others in good places at our own expense.


Being a friend means that you make yourself vulnerable – you get close to somebody, you let somebody in.  Someone once said a friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.  But it makes you vulnerable because someone else intertwines their life with your life, their world with your world, and you become inseparable.  You bear a great loss when you lose a friend that close.

And sometimes our closest friends aren’t family, not always blood.  In fact, someone once said that a good friend is worth ten thousand relatives.  David and Jonathan aren’t family.  Jesus and His disciples are not family in the physiological sense.  You may not be family with your best friends.  But you become vulnerable when you love someone that much.

You see in our passage today in 1 Samuel 20 how much David loves Jonathan.  He’s vulnerable when they have to part.  The story is long, but at the end it goes something like this.  Jonathan wanted to check out his father’s true intentions toward David.  He thought his father’s intentions toward David were not murderous, but David knew that they were. The signal was given as the arrow was shot far away.  At the end, in verses 41-42, David rose from the south side and fell on his face and bowed three times.  They kissed each other and wept together, but – notice – David, the recipient of the love of Jonathan, wept the more.  You might want to know that at the end of the story, the descendants of Jonathan are protected by David.

The arrows were shot.  David sits in the bush pondering the result.  He hears the call of the arrows beyond, and he knows that he won’t be with Jonathan any more.  He’ll have to leave the royal household for fear of his life.  They embrace, they weep, and they kiss – and David the more.

We’re exposed to hurt when we discover that we are robbed of our friend’s presence as the forces of life separate us.

Turn to 2 Samuel 1:11.  David learns of Jonathan’s death – his soul-mate in life, his covenant companion, his faithful friend.  And David takes his clothes and he tears them.  He mourned and he wept and he fasted.

Look at verse 17

Then David chanted with this lament over Saul and Jonathan his son, and he told them to teach the sons of Judah the song of the bow; behold it is written in the book of Jashar.

Your beauty, O Israel, is slain on your high places!

How the mighty have fallen!

Tell it not in Gath,

Proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon;

Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,

Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.

O mountains of Gilboa,

Let not dew or rain be on you, nor fields of offerings;

For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,

The shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.

From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty,

The bow of Jonathan did not turn back,

And the sword of Saul did not return empty.

Saul and Jonathan, beloved and pleasant in their life,

And in their death they were not parted;

They were swifter than eagles,

They were stronger than lions.

O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,

Who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet,

Who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.

How have the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!

Jonathan is slain on your high places.

Look at verse 26

“I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;

You have been very pleasant to me.

Your love to me was more wonderful

Than the love of women.

How have the mighty fallen,

And the weapons of war perished!”

The poem recalls that it was at the great battle of Mount Gilboa that death came in Israel.  The mountain is now held accountable for the death.  The accountability is seen in the fact that the death of the anointed of God had contaminated the place where the death occurred.  The poem tells us of the clash of battle – the bow of Jonathan, the sword of Saul, the blood of the slain.  It’s as if David is saying, “Don’t think that the honored king and his son went down easy.  They shed blood themselves before they were defeated.”  Finally in the poem it is Jonathan – brother, ally, advocate, covenant companion, faithful friend – the one who David loved as he loved himself who is evoked.  These words themselves, even in the beauty of the poetry, fail to say all that needs to be said.  Jonathan’s life is a cause of amazement.  His love has been deeper and more precious than that of a wife.  David is uninhibited about his friendship in which personal solidarity is not simply political usefulness.  It is a poem of one who knows utter loss – the death of a friend – and who finds powerful words to match the loss.

A friendship, I must say in fair warning to you, will leave you vulnerable – as David was vulnerable at the death of Jonathan, though he was kind always to Jonathan’s descendants.

So to keep from being vulnerable, what do you do?  Have no friends?

Someone once said each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive.  It is only by this meeting that a new world is born.

I am different.  I am a different man because of certain friends in my life.  And you are a different man or woman because of certain people in your life.  You cannot shut out friends or friendship because of the exposure to hurt and pain.

Even as our Lord Jesus was constantly disappointed by His disciples, even as they were horrified by His cross, the friendship they had was honoring to God.  It was His will and His way.


In John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another even as I have loved you that you may also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you have love one for another.”

Your friendships in Christ can go far deeper than the friendships of this world. At its core, the friendships of this world are always based on selfish gain. But Jesus sacrificed himself on behalf of his friends.

So, imagine a piece of paper in your mind and imagine a pen. And I ask you to write down the names of your three best friends. The ones who would see you as a David/Jonathan relationship. Who would you write down? To whom have you been Jonathan? Whom have you stepped aside from the limelight and the royal robes to allow him or her to be blessed by God? Have you been a Jonathan to anyone? And whose love makes you vulnerable?

And have you been a good friend to others? One man said he was parked in front of the mall, wiping off his car. He’d just come from the carwash and was waiting for his wife to get off from work. Coming across the parking lot was, what society would call, a bum. From the looks of him, he had no car, no home, no clean clothes, no money. There are times when you feel generous, and times when you don’t want to be bothered. I have both of those times. It was one of  those  times  that  the man didn’t want to be bothered, and I’m the first one to tell you to be careful about what you give to whom. He was thinking in his mind, “Oh, here we go, the man’s going to ask for money.” He didn’t. He came and sat on the curb in  front  of  the  bus  stop  but  he  didn’t look like he could have enough money to even ride the bus. After a few minutes, he spoke, “That’s a very pretty car,” he said. He was ragged but he did have an air of dignity around him. The man said, “Thanks,” and  continued wiping  off  his  car. He sat there quietly as the man worked. The expected plea for money never came. As the silence between the two men widened, something inside the man said, “Okay, ask him if he needs any help.” “Do you need help?” he asked. He answered in three simple words that the man will never forget. We often look for wisdom in great men and women. We expect it from those with higher learning and accomplishment. He expected nothing from this man but an outstretched, grimy hand. His answer took the man completely by surprise. “Don’t we all?”

He said. “Don’t we all?”

The high and mighty, the bum on the street…don’t we all, in the end, need help? Maybe it’s not bus fare or a place to sleep,  but we all  need  some  help.  No matter how much we’ve accomplished, no matter how much we have in the storehouse, there’ll be a time when we all need some help. Maybe it’s giving someone encouragement instead of bus fare. Maybe it’s your needing someone to share your grief. But we all….we all…need help. We all need the friend of a Jonathan, the friend of a David, a friend who gives of himself in such a way that our life is forever enriched. 

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