Covenant Friendship

I Samuel 20

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
October 2020

One of the biggest problems people have today is depression.  It is a worldwide problem.  One in six Americans take medication for it.  Christians are not immune from depression.  They get depressed.  Depression is caused by many things.  One thing that causes depression is when bad things happen.  Things do not always go as we plan.

Bad things happen to good people.  We are sometimes shocked when bad things happen to believers.  Sometimes terrible things happen to some of the best of people and to some of the godliest people in the church.

What happened to Job has been repeated in the modern day.  It is not just a story in the Bible.  Maybe bad things have happened to you or to your family.  Perhaps you have asked God why you were let go from your job or why your marriage is heading for divorce or why one of your kids died young.

When you look in the Bible, you find that people experienced the same problems we have.  They experienced depression as well.  Some of the best men and women in the Bible experienced it.  David experienced it.  That is strange.   The man of God’s own heart got depressed.  David wrote many of the Psalms and he was depressed.  In this chapter, David is depressed.  He is in the dumps.

Why was David depressed?  Bad things were happening to him.  David wasn’t always depressed.  He had a lot of things going for him.

He was the only one in his family who was chosen by the prophet Samuel and anointed to be king and he came from a big family.  He had a lot of brothers.  He must have felt special.

He killed a giant.  He had to feel great about that.  He did something that no one else in the whole country could do.  That must have made him feel good about himself.  He probably felt invincible.

He was the most famous person in the whole country.  He must have felt like he was on top of the world. Even the women were singing about him.  That must have boosted his self-esteem.

He was also given a job promotion.  He was given a chance to work for King Saul in the royal palace as his court musician, weapons carrier and later a commander in the army. That must have felt good.  He felt like he had a purpose in life.  He was doing something important in life.  David was moving up in the world but then things changed.

Things changed because of jealousy.  Saul became jealous of David.  He loved him at first.  I Samuel 16:21 says that he “loved him very much” (NIV) but two chapters later that love turned into complete hatred (I Samuel 18:10-11, 25b, 29).  That can happen today.

It happens in some marriages.  Two people start out madly in love, passionately in love and then, in just a few years, they can’t stand each other.  Love turns into hatred.  Saul became jealous.  He became suspicious, which turned into hatred, which led to violence.  It leads to attempted murder.

Saul tried to kill David several different ways.  David’s own father-in-law tried to kill him several times with a spear.  He tried to get the Philistines to kill him but that did not work.  Then, sent two bands of assassins, Hebrew Hitmen, who tried to kill him in his bed but they failed.

David had to leave his wife, jump out of a window, leave town and run for his life.  David’s wife said, “Leave now or you will be a dead man by tomorrow” (I Samuel 19:11).

David left Gibeah, where Saul lived and ran to Ramah, where Samuel lived.  He was the only one who really understood the situation.  He anointed him but, when he got to Ramah, three more bands of assassins showed up and when they were unsuccessful, Saul showed up to do the job.

He meant business but when they all got there, they started prophesying (I Samuel 19:19-24).  They became charismatics.   What he prophesied we are not told.  We don’t know what Saul said, but somehow the murderers were turned into worshippers.  That gave David a chance to run from Ramah to Naioth.

David was in survival mode.  He was not trying to be king and take over Saul’s job.  He is just trying to survive.  David has to run away to save his life. David becomes a fugitive for about ten years.  He becomes a man on the run.  He is running from not just anybody.  He is running from the most powerful man in the country.

This is the opposite of the prosperity gospel.  David was called by God.  He was anointed by God.  God’s hand was on his life and then he had to leave his family.  He had to leave his wife.  He had to leave his home.  He had to leave his job and go on the run for years, living in caves.  He was always looking over his shoulder.  He had to look out for assassins.  People were trying to kill him.  He had to dodge spears and hitmen.  He did not live a life of prosperity.

Why God Allowed This in David’s Life?

Why did God allow this in David’s life?  He was God’s anointed.  We would ask why does God allow things in our life?  David was only about twenty.  He was anointed to be king, but he was not ready yet to be king.  David had to grow a little bit.

Spiritual growth takes time.  Toadstools can grow up in a day, but it takes some time for an oak tree to grow.  God had a few things to teach him first.  He had to get him ready for what he called him to do.  He had to teach him how to trust God and depend on Him alone.

He did something else really important in this time.  He used this time to write Scripture.  He wrote some of the Psalms.  We do not know all of them[1] but Psalm is perhaps one example.

Lord my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me, 2 or they will tear me apart like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me. 3 Lord my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands— 4 if I have repaid my ally with evil or without cause have robbed my foe—5 then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; let him trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust.

6 Arise, Lord, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice. 7 Let the assembled peoples gather around you, while you sit enthroned over them on high. 8 Let the Lord judge the peoples. Vindicate me, Lord, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High.

9 Bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure— you, the righteous God who probes minds and hearts. 10 My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart. 11 God is a righteous judge, a God who displays his wrath every day. (Psalm 7:1-11 NIV)

What is the remedy for depression?  In our day, the remedy is drugs.  Doctors prescribe some antidepressants.  Sometimes that might be needed.  David found an answer in a friend.  In a dark place, he finds a friend.

If you are depressed, you need a good friend you can turn to.  You need a friend who understand you, a friend who supports you and a friend who can give you good biblical counsel.  David finds one in I Samuel 20.

Jonathon encouraged David.  He told him that God was with him.  He told him that he was not going to die.  He told him that one day he would become king.  Jonathon was the heir to the throne but he was the one who encouraged David.  He understood David’s future better than he did.

Of course, friends don’t have all of the answers.  There are some deep questions that only God can answer but we all need good friends who can speak truth to us and encourage us.  Jonathon and David do that in this chapter.  They have three conversations.

David’s Problem

Then David fled from Naioth at Ramah and went to Jonathan and asked, “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to kill me?” (I Samuel 20:1 NIV)

Now, this is interesting.  David did not know why this was happening.  He did not know why Saul was trying to kill him.  When we have bad things happen to us, we ask the same question.  Why?  Why did God allow it?  Why is God doing this?  Why is this happening to me?

Now, we know because we can read I Samuel why this was happening to David.  God tells us why King Saul was doing this.  God can see right through us.  He knows out heart.  He knows our thoughts.  He knows the motives of everything we do.

Jeremiah 17:9 says, “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve” (NIV).

One Step Between Me and Death

David fears for his life.  He tells Jonathon that his dad is trying to kill him.  He says something to Jonathon that is very profound.  David said to Jonathon, “But truly, as the Lord lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death” (1 Samuel 20:3).  It is just as true of us as it was of him.

David is a young man.  He is about twenty-year-old.  He was not eight or ninety.  He is in his twenties, and, David said that there was step between him and death, just one step.

What David says is true of all of us.  Death is not only assured; it is approaching.  We are all close to it.  We are all fragile.  Some feel great and then catch the coronavirus and drop dead.  There is just a step between us and death.  Life is brief.  Our life hangs by a thread.  We could die at any time.  One little slip, one accident and our lives are over.

We never know when we will take our last step on earth and jump into eternity.  The real question is, Are you ready for that day?  Are you prepared?  Most are not.  The Bible says, “It is appointed to man once to die and after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)

David said to Jonathon, “Why does you dad want to kill me?”  How did Jonathon respond?  What did he say?  He says, “My dad does NOT want to kill you.  He would never do something like that.”  Jonathon does not think his dad is capable of doing this.

He said, “If he did want to kill you, he would have told me” (I Samuel 20:2).  He told me that he would not kill you.  He swore before God that he would not do it.  Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death.” (I Samuel 19:6 NIV).  Jonathon took him at his word.

That is what you would expect a son to do.  What was the problem?  If you read the rest of the chapter, you will see that Saul tries to kill David after he made that statement.  In fact, David is on the run for his own safety, because Saul is trying to kill him.

Jonathon was in denial.  Many of us have blind spots when it comes to our family.  Jonathon’s dad was certifiably crazy but he could not see it, because he was his dad.  Our kids may be completely rotten but we think they are angels.

Jonathon wanted to believe the best about his dad but that made him a little gullible.  He was naïve.  He was blind.  David knew his dad better than Jonathon did.  This shows that friends are imperfect.  They are not always objective.

So how did they resolve this?  Two friends couldn’t agree.  David said that Saul is trying to kill him.  Jonathon said he is not.  David came up with a plan (I Samuel 20:5-8).  The plan involved a little deception.

David would not show up for dinner for two days and see how Saul would respond.  The plan was to say that he was in Bethlehem for a feast.  If Saul accepted it, it shows that he was not mad at him.  If he is angry, it shows that he wants to kill him.

Jonathon agreed to go on this fact-finding mission.  He is going to gather intelligence in order to get the facts about his dad and reveal what he really thought about David.  David has to wait three days to find out the answer.

Jonathon does exactly as he is told.  Jonathon does not lie.  He simply says, “David earnestly asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem. 29 He said, ‘Let me go, because our family is observing a sacrifice in the town and my brother has ordered me to be there. If I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away to see my brothers.’ That is why he has not come to the king’s table.” (I Samuel 20:28-29 NIV).

That was all true.  That was what David said and Saul has a temper tantrum.  Saul become angry at David.  Jonathon tries to support his friend David and then Saul comes after Jonathon himself.   He insults him and tries to kill him.

Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? 31 As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!”

32 “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Jonathan asked his father. 33 But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. THEN Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.

34 Jonathan got up from the table in fierce anger; on that second day of the feast he did not eat, because he was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David. (I Samuel 20:30-34 NIV)

In this last chapter, Saul threw a spear at David and tries to kill him. In this chapter, Saul threw a spear at Jonathon.  He threw a spear at his own son, the crowned prince, and tried to kill him.  Jonathon had no doubt what his dad really thought about David.  It became clear that Saul had complete hatred for David and hatred for anyone who even supported David.

As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he MUST die!” (I Samuel 20:31 NIV)

The chapter ends on a sad note.  Jonathon reveals to David what happened.  Both men are upset.  Two close friends who have to say “goodbye.” They had to separate and go their separate ways. David goes one direction and Jonathon goes another direction.  Jonathon heads back to the city.  David heads into the wilderness.  They will only meet again one more time.  That is in I Samuel 23.

Six Qualities of Covenant Friendship

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.’” (I Samuel 20:42 NIV).

This friendship was very different from friendships today.  How is covenant friendship different from ordinary friendship?

Ordinary friendship has nothing to do with God.  there is no spiritual basis to it.  People can be friend for all kinds of reasons.

Ordinary friendships do not last beyond death.  If you have a friend and your best friend dies, you usually do not become close friends with that person’s children.

Ordinary friendship does not involve an oath.  We do not make oaths when we get friends.

Ordinary friendship does not involve a covenant.  We do not make covenants with our friends.  We do not have too many friendships like this today, although marriage involves an oath before God.

I want to look at the qualities of covenant friendship from David and Jonathon.  There are six qualities of covenant friendship.

1. Loyalty

Jonathon and David had an inseparable bond.  This was not a casual friendship.  This was a deep friendship, not like a Facebook friend.  The Bible says that “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David” (1 Sam. 18:1 KJV). Jonathon is closer to David than he is to his own family members.  The Bible says that “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24 NIV).

2. Intimacy

There was some depth to this friendship.  They had some secrets.  They shared things with each other that no one else knew about.  They had secrets that Jonathon did not even tell his family about.  The Bible says that he loved David AS HIMSELF.  We are told that three times in I Samuel (I Samuel 18:1, 3; 20:17).

Jesus said that the whole law could be boiled down in two points: love God and love people.  He said, “Love God with your heart, soul, mind and strength, AND love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31).

Jonathon is the perfect example of the second kind of love.  He is the biblical example.  Are we like Jonathon?  Most of us are not.  We love ourselves a little more.  Most of us our selfish.  We only think about number one.

3. Obligation

They formed an agreement.  They made a pact.  This was not a one-sided.  It was two-sided.  Both had an obligation in this friendship.  They both needed something and wanted something.   Both Jonathon and David are worried about something. David is worried that Jonathon’s dad will kill him.

Jonathon is worried that David will one day become king and wipe out every member of his family including Jonathon himself.  That was the practice in that day.  Both made promises to each other.  Jonathon promises to protect David.  David promises to protect Jonathon and his family.

4) Encouragement

Jonathon encouraged David.  He said that he was not going to die and that he would one day become king.  He encouraged him when he was at his lowest point.

The Bible says that “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity” (Proverbs 17:17 NIV).  A real friend loves at ALL times.  A real friend does not just want to be your friend when things are going great (a fair-weather friend).

A real friend will stand with you when no one else will stand with you.  A real friend will stand with you when you are sick.  A real friend will stand with you when you are charged with a crime.  A real friend will stand with you in your greatest tragedy.

5) Assistance

Jonathon would do anything for David.  David is completely vulnerable.  He is in need.  Jonathon says to him, “Whatever you want me to do, I will do it for you” (I Samuel 20:4 NIV).  He does not just help him with words.  He does things to help him.  Jonathon ends up risking his own life for David.  Jonathon almost gets killed in this chapter.

6) Affection

After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most.

42 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.’” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town. (I Samuel 20:41-42 NIV)

This was an emotional farewell.  Jonathon and David were crying.  They were kissing.  That was part of the culture of the time.  Friends today do not have to kiss one another, like they did, but real friends show affection for one another.

[1] Wiersbe says Psalm 7, 11-13, 16-17, 22, 25, 31, 34-35, 52-54, 56-59, 63-64, 142-143

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