1 Samuel 20


As the relationship between Johnathon and his father, Saul, was getting weaker, the relationship between Johnathon and David was getting stronger.

In this chapter, we begin to see the friendship and loyalty between Johnathon and David and it appears that Johnathon is even willing to defy his own father for the sake of his friendship with David.

‘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?’ ‘Never!’ Jonathan replied. ‘You are not going to die! Look, my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without letting me know. Why would he hide this from me? It isn’t so!’ But David took an oath and said, ‘Your father knows very well that I have found favour in your eyes, and he has said to himself, ‘Jonathan must not know this or he will be grieved.’ Yet as surely as the LORD lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death.’ Jonathan said to David, ‘Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.’ So David said, ‘Look, tomorrow is the New Moon feast, and I am supposed to dine with the king; but let me go and hide in the field until the evening of the day after tomorrow. If your father misses me at all, tell him, ‘David earnestly asked my permission to hurry to Bethlehem, his hometown, because an annual sacrifice is being made there for his whole clan.’ If he says, ‘Very well,’ then your servant is safe. But if he loses his temper, you can be sure that he is determined to harm me. As for you, show kindness to your servant, for you have brought him into a covenant with you before the LORD. If I am guilty, then kill me yourself! Why hand me over to your father?’ ‘Never!’ Jonathan said. ‘If I had the least inkling that my father was determined to harm you, wouldn’t I tell you?’ David asked, ‘Who will tell me if your father answers you harshly?’ ‘Come,’ Jonathan said, ‘let’s go out into the field.’ So they went there together.’ 1 Samuel 20:1-11

David And Jonathan

It appears that everything that Johnathon had said earlier to his father, Saul, concerning David, failed, 1 Samuel 19:1-7. As we go through this chapter, we see that the consequence of this was that Johnathon and David went their separate ways.

David knew full well, that he couldn’t remain in the presence of Saul, he could no longer play the lyre to bring comfort from the tormenting spirit. Saul’s obsession to kill David had just become too much for David.

The new moon feast was a monthly religious festival, Numbers 10:10 / Numbers 28:11-15, and it appears that David originally intended to sit at the king’s table for this festival, but intentionally planned to be late so that Jonathan could observe Saul’s reaction when he noticed that David’s seat was empty.

It appears that Johnathon was an optimist, he still believed that his father and David could be at peace with each other again. The problem was this could never happen because Saul’s hatred for David was simply too great and his relationship with God had almost become non-existent.

‘Then Jonathan said to David, ‘I swear by the LORD, the God of Israel, that I will surely sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow! If he is favourably disposed toward you, will I not send you word and let you know? But if my father intends to harm you, may the LORD deal with Jonathan, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away in peace. May the LORD be with you as he has been with my father. But show me unfailing kindness like the LORD’s kindness as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family—not even when the LORD has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.’ So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, ‘May the LORD call David’s enemies to account.’ 1 Samuel 20:12-16

Jonathan makes an oath to David and tells him that he would do everything he can to protect him from Saul’s murderous plans. Johnathon pleads with David not to cut off his kindness from his family, this tells us that Johnathon knew that David was to become king of Israel and he wanted the kindness to continue well beyond David’s reign as king.

This was a sign of real humility from Johnathon, unlike his father, he trusted God and wasn’t power-hungry, he was more than happy to accept that God was working through David.

‘And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself. Then Jonathan said to David, ‘Tomorrow is the New Moon feast. You will be missed, because your seat will be empty. The day after tomorrow, toward evening, go to the place where you hid when this trouble began, and wait by the stone Ezel. I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I were shooting at a target. Then I will send a boy and say, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to him, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you; bring them here,’ then come, because, as surely as the LORD lives, you are safe; there is no danger. But if I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then you must go, because the LORD has sent you away. And about the matter you and I discussed
Remember, the LORD is witness between you and me forever.’ 1 Samuel 20:17-23

Johnathon reaffirms his oath to David because he loved him and he tells David to go to the stone Ezel and wait for him. Johnathon was going to give a signal to David by shooting three arrows to determine if it was safe for him to come or not.

Notice, however, that Johnathon tells David that no matter what happens, they will still be bound in their friendship with each other. He reminds David that the Lord is their witness forever. The word ‘forever’ doesn’t mean unending time, but for as long as they are alive. Johnathon is basically telling David they will be friends for life and nothing would destroy their friendship, Amos 3:3.

‘So David hid in the field, and when the New Moon feast came, the king sat down to eat. He sat in his customary place by the wall, opposite Jonathan, and Abner sat next to Saul, but David’s place was empty. Saul said nothing that day, for he thought, ‘Something must have happened to David to make him ceremonially unclean—surely he is unclean.’ But the next day, the second day of the month, David’s place was empty again. Then Saul said to his son Jonathan, ‘Why hasn’t the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?’ Jonathan answered, ‘David earnestly asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem. 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 favour in your eyes, let me get away to see my brothers.’ That is why he has not come to the king’s table.’ 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? 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!’ ‘Why should he be put to death? What has he done?’ Jonathan asked his father. But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David. 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.’ 1 Samuel 20:24-34

When Saul sees that David’s seat is empty, he comes to the conclusion that David was must unclean, in other words, he thought David must have done something which made him ceremonially unclean, Leviticus 13:1-46 / Leviticus 14:1-32.

After Johnathon explains to his father why David wasn’t there, it didn’t take long for Saul’s anger to show itself again, but this time it was against Johnathon. The reason for his anger is because he now knows that Johnathon was protecting David and he was more loyal to David than he was to his father and he blames Johnathon’s mother for his rebellion.

Saul believed that Johnathon would take over as king of Israel when he died, but how wrong he was. He tells Johnathon that he would never become king, but Johnathan had no intention or desire to become king.

Like any king, he wanted his son to continue in his footsteps but he soon realised that this wasn’t going to happen because Johnathon was more loyal to David than he was to his father.

Just like he did with David, Saul now hurled a spear at his own son. I’m pretty sure that Johnathon saw this kind of outburst behaviour time and time again, especially with David. When the spear was thrown at him, Johnathon knew from that moment on there was no chance of there being any kind of peace between his father and David.

Johnathon was so upset that he didn’t eat anything at the feast and was deeply grieved because of his father’s attitude towards David. This shows us how much he loved David, his father just had an outburst of rage and threw a spear at him, but all Johnathon was concerned about was David. God was going to use both these men to bring about His will, that is David becoming king and ruler of Israel, 1 Peter 3:8 / Philippians 2:2.

‘In the morning Jonathan went out to the field for his meeting with David. He had a small boy with him, and he said to the boy, ‘Run and find the arrows I shoot.’ As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. When the boy came to the place where Jonathan’s arrow had fallen, Jonathan called out after him, ‘Isn’t the arrow beyond you?’ Then he shouted, ‘Hurry! Go quickly! Don’t stop!’ The boy picked up the arrow and returned to his master. (The boy knew nothing about all this; only Jonathan and David knew.) Then Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said, ‘Go, carry them back to town.’ 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. 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.’ 1 Samuel 20:35-42

These verses are heartbreaking because we read about how Johnathon and David were to go their separate ways, thinking that they would never meet again, 1 Samuel 23:16.

Johnathon goes to the place where he arranged to meet David, 1 Samuel 20:19, and gave him the signal of the arrows which he planned, 1 Samuel 20:20-22.

After receiving the signal David ran to Jonathon and bowed before him three times with his face to the ground. This was David’s way of paying his respect to him. The kissing each other was a sign of respect for one another, and they wept together because David knew that Johnathon would lose his right to become king after Saul had died.

If Saul was a good king, then Johnathon would have been his successor but because Saul was an evil king this wasn’t going to happen. I guess most people would have become angry that they wouldn’t become king after their father died, but Johnathon wasn’t like his father, he wasn’t interested in power and popularity. He was more like David, he loved God and wanted to respect God’s will for Israel, he put God’s will ahead of his own will.

Johnathon wanted the friendship between himself, his household and David to remain for as long as they all shall live. As they separated from each other, I’m pretty sure that they both must have felt that they would never meet again.

Go To 1 Samuel 21