34. Jonathan, Quite A Character


By Bob Tramel

‘Now when he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and he loved him as himself.’ 1 Samuel 18:1

Questions for Discussion

‘Saul chose three thousand men from Israel; two thousand were with him at Mikmash and in the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan at Gibeah in Benjamin. The rest of the men he sent back to their homes. Jonathan attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba, and the Philistines heard about it. Then Saul had the trumpet blown throughout the land and said, ‘Let the Hebrews hear!’ 1 Samuel 13:2-3

‘You have done a foolish thing,’ Samuel said. ‘You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.’ 1 Samuel 13:13-14

‘Saul and his son Jonathan and the men with them were staying in Gibeah in Benjamin, while the Philistines camped at Mikmash.’ 1 Samuel 13:16

‘Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, ‘Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!’ So, all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their plow points, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened. The price was two-thirds of a sheke for sharpening plow points and mattocks, and a third of a sheke for sharpening forks and axes and for repointing goads. So, on the day of the battle not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear in his hand; only Saul and his son Jonathan had them.’ 1 Samuel 13:19-22

We first hear about Jonathan when was leading a third of Saul’s 3000-man army. Jonathan attacked the Philistine’s garrison at Geba. This is an amazing story considering that the Israelites, except for Saul and Jonathan, didn’t have any swords or spears! Jonathan was the son and heir apparent of King Saul.

However, Samuel told Saul that because he didn’t keep the commandments of God, Saul’s kingdom (that the Lord would have established forever) would not continue and would be given to ‘someone after God’s own heart’.

Do we use the resources we have, however meagre they may seem to us, to do the Lord’s work?

‘One day Jonathan son of Saul said to his young armour-bearer, ‘Come, let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side.’ But he did not tell his father. Saul was staying on the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree in Migron. With him were about six hundred men, among whom was Ahijah, who was wearing an ephod. He was a son of Ichabod’s brother Ahitub son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the LORD’s priest in Shiloh. No one was aware that Jonathan had left. On each side of the pass that Jonathan intended to cross to reach the Philistine outpost was a cliff; one was called Bozez and the other Seneh. One cliff stood to the north toward Mikmash, the other to the south toward Geba. Jonathan said to his young armour-bearer, ‘Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.’ ‘Do all that you have in mind,’ his armour-bearer said. ‘Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.’ Jonathan said, ‘Come on, then; we will cross over toward them and let them see us. If they say to us, ‘Wait there until we come to you,’ we will stay where we are and not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the LORD has given them into our hands.’ So, both of them showed themselves to the Philistine outpost. ‘Look!’ said the Philistines. ‘The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in.’ The men of the outpost shouted to Jonathan and his armour-bearer, ‘Come up to us and we’ll teach you a lesson.’ So, Jonathan said to his armour-bearer, ‘Climb up after me; the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel.’ Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armour-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armour-bearer followed and killed behind him. In that first attack Jonathan and his armour-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.’ 1 Samuel 14:1-14

Jonathan, on his own initiative and with only his armour bearer by his side, climbed up a pass on his hands and knees and killed twenty Philistines because ‘the Lord will work for us. For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few’.

What could we accomplish if we truly believed that ‘the Lord will work for us’?

‘Then panic struck the whole army—those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties—and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God. Saul’s lookouts at Gibeah in Benjamin saw the army melting away in all directions. Then Saul said to the men who were with him, ‘Muster the forces and see who has left us.’ When they did, it was Jonathan and his armour-bearer who were not there. Saul said to Ahijah, ‘Bring the ark of God.’ (At that time, it was with the Israelites.) While Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the Philistine camp increased more and more. So, Saul said to the priest, ‘Withdraw your hand.’ Then Saul and all his men assembled and went to the battle. They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords. Those Hebrews who had previously been with the Philistines and had gone up with them to their camp went over to the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. When all the Israelites who had hidden in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were on the run, they joined the battle in hot pursuit. So, on that day the LORD saved Israel, and the battle moved on beyond Beth Aven. Now the Israelites were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!’ So, none of the troops tasted food.’ 1 Samuel 14:15-24

Jonathan’s active faith in God had the Philistines on the run. The Israelites pursued and the Lord provided a victory. However, the victory wasn’t as great as it could have been, because the people were faint due to hunger, because Saul had impetuously put the people under an oath to not eat until ‘I have taken vengeance on my enemies’.

How often do rash words or actions have negative consequences for us or to others?

How do we keep ourselves from saying or doing something rashly?

Read 1 Samuel 14:27-45

Jonathan didn’t know of the oath and did eat some honey during the chase. Saul’s thoughtless oath had additional consequences. When the people did eat, they didn’t take time to drain the blood from the animals first, which was a sin, the Lord wouldn’t answer Saul when he asked if they should continue after the Philistines, and Jonathan was under a death sentence for an action he didn’t know was wrong.

Jonathan said that he must die, and Saul replied, ‘you shall surely die’. Fortunately, the people rescued Jonathan because ‘he has worked with God this day’. Jonathan had been willing to accept the consequences of his actions.

Are we willing to accept the consequences of our actions (some of which may have been done in ignorance) and learn from them?

What actions can we take to ‘work with God this day’?

Read 1 Samuel 17:57-18:4

After David killed Goliath and was brought before Saul, Jonathan and David become close friends and made a covenant. Jonathan gave David his robe, armour, sword, bow, and belt. In this act, Jonathan acknowledged that David, not himself, would be the next King. Jonathan could have had almost anything, but instead he befriended David.

How can we show that kind of friendship to others?

How would most people behave if put in Jonathan’s situation (knowing that he wouldn’t succeed his father as king)?

How do we handle misfortune, especially when it comes through no fault of our own?

‘Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan had taken a great liking to David and warned him, ‘My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out.’ Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, ‘Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly. He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The LORD won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?’ Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: ‘As surely as the LORD lives, David will not be put to death.’ So, Jonathan called David and told him the whole conversation. He brought him to Saul, and David was with Saul as before.’ 1 Samuel 19:1-7

Saul told Jonathan and his servants that they should kill David. However, Jonathan warned David to hide and reasoned with his father, telling him not to sin against innocent blood. Jonathan reminded him that David had been good to him and had brought about a great deliverance for all Israel. Saul changed his mind and Jonathan brought David back.

How can we provide wise counsel to the people around us?

What can we do to promote peace and harmony and prevent or stop strife?

‘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.’ 1 Samuel 20:1-4

Saul tried to kill David, but he escaped and returned to Jonathan, who told him ‘Whatever you yourself desire, I will do it for you’.

How can we put others first, taking care of their desires, even when we could be put in a difficult position?

Read 1 Samuel 20:5-42

Because Jonathan loved David as he did his own son and knew that the kingdom was to be given to David, they made a second covenant, that the house of David would show kindness to Jonathan and his descendants.

They made a plan for Jonathan to determine Saul’s intentions to let David know if he could return or if he needed to flee. Jonathan told Saul that he gave leave to David and Saul was so angry that he threw a spear at his own son. Jonathan told David to flee, they wept together, and he encouraged David to go in peace.

Do we believe people can change and do we create opportunities for them to do that?

‘And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said. ‘My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.’ The two of them made a covenant before the LORD. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh.’ 1 Samuel 23:16-18

While David was on the run from Saul, Jonathan again went to David and ‘strengthened his hand in God’. Jonathan told David that ‘you shall be king over Israel and I shall be next to you’, and for the third time they made a covenant.

How can we strengthen our brothers’ and sisters’ hands in God?

‘Now the Philistines fought against Israel; the Israelites fled before them, and many fell dead on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines were in hot pursuit of Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua.’ 1 Samuel 31:1-2

‘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. ‘How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!’ 2 Samuel 1:25-27

Jonathan, his father Saul, and his two full brothers, died in battle. The Philistines put their bodies on a wall, but the men of the town of Jabesh Gilead retrieved the bodies and buried them. David mourned over the death of Saul and Jonathan. Jonathan, in spite of the evil that his father did, died with him fighting the enemies of Israel.

There may be times when our brethren do things that we don’t agree with.

How do we keep those things from negatively affecting our relationships and work for the Lord and His church?

Read 2 Samuel 9

‘The king spared Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, because of the oath before the LORD between David and Jonathan son of Saul.’ 2 Samuel 21:7

After the Civil War was over between David and Ishobosheth, the surviving son of Saul, David showed favour to Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth by bringing him to Jerusalem to eat at the King’s table, and by saving his life when the Gibeonites demanded, and were given, descendants of Saul as punishment for Saul breaking the Israelites vow to them. Jonathan, in the second covenant with David, looked out for the welfare of his family.

How can we look out for the welfare of our families, including our church family?

‘He went and took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from the citizens of Jabesh Gilead. (They had stolen their bodies from the public square at Beth Shan, where the Philistines had hung them after they struck Saul down on Gilboa.) David brought the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from there, and the bones of those who had been killed and exposed were gathered up. They buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the tomb of Saul’s father Kish, at Zela in Benjamin, and did everything the king commanded. After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land.’ 2 Samuel 21:12-14

David took the remains of Saul and Jonathan from their obscure grave in Jabesh Gilead to an honourable interment in the family vault at Zelah.

Most everyone would like to have someone like Jonathan as a friend.

More importantly (and what is in our control is), are we demonstrating that kind of friendship to others?


"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."

Proverbs 3:5