“And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” I Samuel 18:1
The birds on the Judean plain still sang. The locusts whirred their dusty serenade. The soft evening breeze brushed the tops of the olive trees. But the poet in David, ordinarily so attuned to every nuance in nature, was aware of none of these. Every beat of his heart, every breath he inhaled, brought with it fresh pain.
“Saul is dead.”
“Jonathan is dead.”
The news was whispered to the farthest shepherd’s hut in Israel. But though scarcely breathed, it passed from tent to tent until it pulsated in the land like a mighty drum beat. “Saul is dead. . .and his sons.”
And while the Philistine courtiers published the triumphant news in Gath and their women danced with abandon in the streets of Askelon, memories crowded in over David’s anguished soul.
“Oh Jonathan, my beloved friend, my spiritual brother! What words to express this grief?”
It seemed to David’s troubled thoughts that it was only a short time ago that Jonathan had initiated their wonderful friendship. The special bond which united them stemmed from the day that David had killed that great Godless one, Goliath. David recalled with clarity that Prince Jonathan had followed him outside the royal trappings of Saul’s temporary headquarters in the valley of Elah and had made a covenant with him that very day —he, David, a mere farmer’s son and Jonathan, son the great King Saul and heir apparent to the throne.
Jonathan had observed David’s lack of pride in this valorous feat, had seen David’s look of disgust as Abner stood just inside the tent flap with Goliath’s bloody head dripping from his hand, and had heard David’s humble testimony in the tongue peculiar to shepherds that the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom Goliath had dared to defy had wrought HIS vengeance that day. And the heart of Jonathan had swelled with love and admiration for this lad.
Then, to seal the covenant which they had made, David recalled how Jonathan had stripped himself of his princely garments and accoutrements of war — his sword, his bow, and his girdle — and had given them unabashedly to him. Had Jonathan known already then, at the very outset of their unique friendship, that this “stripling” (to quote his father, Saul) was the “man after God’s own heart?” Was not Jonathan, by this generous deed, already giving up his own claim to crown and kingdom for the sake of his friend David whom he esteemed more worthy? What an act of selfless, Christ-like love!
Moreover, Jonathan himself was a worthy and noble warrior. No one knew this better than David. Had it not been that the “Spirit of Jehovah seized upon David” (I Samuel 16:13), no one would have been more qualified both by upbringing and natural proclivity to lead Israel’s army and occupy her palace than Jonathan.
Why! It had reached David’s young ears while he was yet at his father Jesse’s table of Jonathan’s many heroic deeds in battle. David remembered how his brothers had related in glowing detail the time Jonathan had eaten a little honey and singlehandedly put the entire army of the Philistines to rout. Here was no palace-spoiled weakling, but a strong and wily warrior! And had Jonathan chosen to oppose David and to ally himself to the cause of father Saul’s extermination of him, he, David, would have been up against a cunning and fearful adversary.
In retrospect, David could honestly confess that although he had never attempted to usurp the throne either by direct plot or by implication since the day Samuel had anointed him in Jesse’s house, Saul had been keenly aware of the threat which David posed to his own son Jonathan’s lawful claim to the throne. (I Samuel 20:31; I Samuel 24:20) How jealous of David Saul had been. Never had this jealousy been more blatant than when the evil spirit came upon him. During those times, jealousy prompted him to fits of demonic activity towards not only David, but also towards his own son, Jonathan, who aggravated Saul to the point of madness by his seeming obliviousness to David’s increasing popularity with the people. Yet, even while Saul called for David’s death, Jonathan continued to promote David’s advantage, always strengthening his hand. (I Samuel 23:16; The Heidelberg Catechism, XLII Q. & A. Ill)
David recalled with wonder, how that even in this situation, Jonathan had the amazing gift of showing filial respect towards his deranged father — yet not acquiescing to his wishes — all the while maintaining utter devotion to his friend. What a pure and self-effacing love! And this “spreading of oil upon the troubled waters’’ had greatly influenced David’s own loyalty to Saul.
Even when Saul had become so demented as to take up the javelin against his own son, Jonathan had been fiercely angry not for his own sake, but because of his concern for David and the shame done to him. (I Samuel 20:34) Truly, Jonathan had to have seen the archetype Christ in David to have given him such self-sacrificing love and unswerving devotion.
Jonathan and David. Their friendship spanned all history as an example which, if we do not experience on this earth, we shall most certainly enjoy in heaven. Theirs was the classic summation of God’s law, love your neighbor as yourself because you love Jehovah with your whole heart. Love your neighbor when you have nothing to gain and much to lose. Love your neighbor at great sacrifice to your own position and advancement. Love your neighbor even though it spells your own demise.
Then, David gave himself over to grief, and wept loudly as he had done many months before when he had parted from Jonathan in the field by the stone Ezel after the shooting of the arrows.
Now, what words to express such a loss? Once again, as in times before, the poet stirred within David’s breast. Let it be decreed. Sing throughout the land to the farthest shepherd’s hut this elegy of elegies:
“The adornment of Israel on thy heights thrust through!
Alas, the heroes have fallen!
Announce it not in Gath, publish it not as glad tidings in the streets of Askelon,
Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised jubilee!
O mountains in Gilboa—no dew, nor rain upon you, nor fields of first fruit offerings—
For there defiled is the shield of the heroes,
The shield of Saul, no more anointed with oil!
From blood of slain, from fat of heroes
The bow of Jonathan turned not backward,
And the sword of Saul returned not void [lacking]!
Saul and Jonathan, the loved and the pleasant,
In their life and in their death were not parted—
Than eagles were they lighter, than lions stronger!
Daughters of Israel, over Saul weep ye,
Who clad you in purple with loveliness,
Who put jewels of gold upon your clothing!
Alas, the heroes have fallen in the midst of the contest—
Jonathan, on thy heights thrust through!
Woe is me for thee, my brother Jonathan,
Pleasant wast thou to me exceedingly,
More marvelous thy love to me than the love of women!
Alas, the heroes have fallen—
And perished are the weapons of war!’’
- Alfred Edersheim, D.D., Ph. D., Bible History: Old Testament, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm, B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1959), p. 152.