1 Samuel 18-24
David and Jonathan
Background: David has made a name for himself in Israel. As a youth, he defeated the giant Goliath. His skill with the lyre was equal to none, as his music often calmed the mentally disturbed King Saul.
But over a period of years, Saul’s anger over being rejected by Jehovah and the prophet Samuel, brought insanity to the monarch. No longer was he God’s chosen ruler upon the earth, a divine son of royalty, but he was a rejected scoundrel just abiding the time until God’s harsh judgment destroyed his entire family and replaced him on the throne.
As Saul’s glory diminished and David’s rose, it was obvious to Saul that David was the heir apparent of God. In his mind, his only recourse was to slay David, so that his own son Jonathan could rise to the throne. Once again, we will see how a man’s pride and lust for continual power can lead to madness and the belief that one can overcome a prophesy of God by attempting to thwart it.
David’s relationship with Saul’s family
1 Samuel 18
David had a varied relationship with Saul and his family. At one time, Saul thought highly of David: “And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house” (18:2). David would go on to marry Michal, one of Saul’s daughters, making him a part of the household. Saul could have adopted him as his royal son, and kept his sanity, but would choose his own blood and pride over losing the throne to a shepherd boy.
But the young man became too popular. “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (18:7). How could Saul remain the popular and powerful king, when David was taking all the headlines? He could see his power base being drained, while David rose higher. It wasn’t long before his insanity could not even be restrained by David’s smooth notes, rather it would incense Saul even more, and the king began throwing javelins at those who angered him, including David.
Saul would seek to destroy David by sending him off on dangerous missions, just as David would later send Uriah the Hittite to his death so David could obtain Bathsheba as wife. Power in the hands of a proud person can cause great terror for the righteous followers.
“14 And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways; and the Lord was with him.
15 Wherefore when Saul saw that he behaved himself very wisely, he was afraid of him.
16 But all Israel and Judah loved David, because he went out and came in before them.”
Saul first desired to give his oldest daughter Merab to David, in order to cause him to serve in a way to die. When David refused her, but showed interest in the younger daughter Michal, Saul was quick to encourage the relationship. Still, David understood his place and would not marry her without some appropriate dowry for the king. This was exactly what Saul wished for, and asked for the foreskins of 100 Philistines, figuring that David would die in battle. Why foreskins? Because the Philistines were uncircumcised, and Saul would be able to see that David had slain Philistines rather than Hebrews or their circumcised allies.
David returned with 200 foreskins. This did not please Saul, but drove him even further insane. “And Saul was yet the more afraid of David; and Saul became David’s enemy continually” (18:29).
Even greater was the relationship David had with Jonathan, Saul’s son. Jonathan was specially raised and prepared by Saul to be his successor. Yet Jonathan had found something more important than the divine kingship: loyalty to friends.
“1....the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul....
3 Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.
4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.”
For Jonathan, his loving friendship with his spiritual brother David was more important than anything. Did Jonathan foresee David’s rise to the throne? Undoubtedly. Here Jonathan takes off his own robe and accouterments of divine royalty and placed them upon David. The covenant of friendship and brotherhood established between them would be found to be stronger than Jonathan’s blood relationship with Saul or any desire for kingship and power.
Saul Attempts to Slay David
A Short Reprieve and an Oath
1 Samuel 19
Saul conspired with his men to slay David. However, Jonathan again stood firm in his covenant with David and reasoned with Saul. David had saved Israel from the Philistines and had been circumspect in obeying the king’s commands. He had done nothing worthy of death.
Saul’s heart was temporarily softened, and he agreed with Jonathan. In fact, Saul made a very profound oath: “Saul sware, As the Lord liveth, he shall not be slain. And Jonathan called David, and Jonathan shewed him all those things. And Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence, as in times past” (19:6-7). When Jonathan explained it to David, everything was quickly resolved and relationships were restored. But why would it seem so easy for David to be convinced that he was safe?
In the story of Book of Mormon we find such an oath. Nephi and his brethren returned to Jerusalem to obtain the Brass Plates of Laban. Disguised as Laban, Nephi has Zoram, the servant of Laban, carry the plates for him outside the gates of the city. Dr Hugh Nibley wrote what occurred upon returning to Nephi’s brothers:
“When Zoram, the servant, discovered that it was not his master with whom he had been discussing the highly secret doings of the elders as they walked to the outskirts of the city, he was seized with terror, as well he might be. In such a situation there was only one thing Nephi could possibly have done, both to spare Zoram and to avoid giving alarm—and no westerner could have guessed what it was. Nephi, a powerful fellow, held the terrified Zoram in a vice-like grip long enough to swear a solemn oath in his ear, "as the Lord liveth, and as I live" (1 Nephi 4:32), that he would not harm him if he would listen. Zoram immediately relaxed, and Nephi swore another oath to him that he would be a free man if he would join the party: "Therefore, if thou wilt go down into the wilderness to my father thou shalt have place with us" (1 Nephi 4:34). “ (Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, http://www.boap.org/LDS/Hugh-Nibley/Lehi_in_the_Desert_part_IV.html).
Why? Because oaths in the ancient Middle East were taken very seriously, especially when based upon one’s life or on the life of God. Nephi and Saul both were swearing upon God’s life, meaning that if they lied, God could do whatsoever He would with the liar. Both Zoram and David could relax, because of the oath given.
Still David’s return to the royal palace was temporary. It wasn’t long until the evil spirit of insanity returned to Saul, and the king was again throwing javelins at David. David had no choice but to again flee. But Saul’s breaking of the oath would come back upon him later, as his life would be taken as he would now begin to seek David’s.
Samuel and David
1 Samuel 19:18-24
David fled to Samuel, who took him into hiding at Ramah. Upon finding out where David was hiding, Saul sent troops out three times to slay him. However, each time troops approached the town, they were filled with the Spirit and prophesied, no longer desiring to harm David. In this instance, prophesying may have more to do with intense praise and worship, rather than foretelling the future.
Finally, Saul went to Ramah. But upon approaching the place was also filled with the Spirit, and began to prophesy with the sons of the prophets. He was incapable of anything else, but to sit naked day and night in such manner. Sadly, even with such an intense experience, Saul’s madness would return quickly to him.
Jonathan bids farewell to David
Behold the Arrows are Far Beyond Thee
1 Samuel 20
Jonathan could not believe it when David told him he was again in hiding because of Saul. After all, Jonathan had received Saul’s oath on God’s name that he would not harm David. Yet a 3 day test of Saul’s patience with David gone was all it took.
Saul figured that David did not come to dinner the first evening because he had become unclean, perhaps by touching a dead person. Yet, on the second night when David did not appear, he was agitated. Jonathan explained that David had gone to Bethlehem for a family religious ceremony.
“Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother’s nakedness?
“For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the ground, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him unto me, for he shall surely die.
“And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said unto him, Wherefore shall he be slain? what hath he done?
“And Saul cast a javelin at him to smite him: whereby Jonathan knew that it was determined of his father to slay David” (1 Sam 20:30-33).
Saul tried to explain to his son Jonathan that David was the enemy. As long as David lived, Jonathan would not rise to the throne. Still, Jonathan defended his friend, insisting that David should not die without a just cause. Saul, angry that his son would choose David over him, cast a javelin at him, proving to Jonathan that Saul was incensed upon slaying David.
Jonathan went out to the field the next day and shot arrows into the field. As the young lad with him set to fetch the arrows, Jonathan told him that the arrow had gone beyond him and to let it go. As the boy returned, Jonathan sent him off with his gear back to the palace. At this point, David came forth, the two wept, and David went into hiding.
David eats the Tabernacle’s Shewbread
1 Samuel 21
David and his men went into hiding. As they traveled, they approached the Tabernacle, seeking food. It was common for militias to offer protection to a town or a group in exchange for food and clothing.
However, Ahimelech the priest has nothing “common” to offer. Clearly this is a period when worship of Jehovah is at a low ebb, otherwise there should have been plenty of meat and food available from the priests of the Tabernacle. However, on this day, the only food available is the bread on the sacred table.
There were sacred religious and national treasures in the Tabernacle, as discussed previously when Moses created them. The table of shewbread was symbolized the manna that the Israelites ate in the wilderness for 40 years. The bread was replaced daily to ensure fresh, hot bread was available for God to enjoy its smell at his pleasure. The shewbread later would also represent the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ.
In this instance, David explained to the priest that he and his men were clean or holy. They had not done anything, such as be intimate with their wives, in many days. David also explained:
“the young men are holy, and the bread is in a manner common, yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel.
“So the priest gave him hallowed bread: for there was no bread there but the shewbread, that was taken from before the Lord, to put hot bread in the day when it was taken away” (1 Sam 21:5-6).
How can holy bread also be common? Because at the end of the day, the shewbread was replaced with new bread, and the high priest and his family would eat the old bread. Since David and his men were clean or holy, Ahimelech was able to provide it to them. Also, since they were now holy/clean, they became worthy vessels to hold the shewbread, even as the table was the worthy vessel earlier in the day.
David was also able to obtain the sword of Goliath from Ahimelech, who had kept the sword as a national treasure in the Tabernacle. Then, fleeing to Gath, a city of the Philistines, David found that the Philistines were concerned to have amongst them a man who had slain many of their own. As with Hamlet, David pretended to be insane, but was not allowed to remain as a harmless buffoon within the royal Philistine household.
David’s Years of Hiding
1 Samuel 22
David went forth from place to place, hiding in caves in the hills of Israel. Many of the people gathered to him, as they saw him as the true protector of the land. Saul had proved himself rash, no longer a servant of the people.
Saul went on a hunt for David and any that helped him. David was seen at the Tabernacle with Ahimelech, so Saul went to see him. Ahimelech denied being against Saul, insisting that while he fed David, he did not pray God to reveal to David how to defeat Saul. Saul’s madness would not allow him to believe Ahimelech was innocent. When none of his men would slay the priests of the Tabernacle, Saul turned to a non-Israelite servant, Doeg the Edomite. Doeg quickly complied, slaying the priests in the Tabernacle.
“And Doeg the Edomite turned, and he fell upon the priests, and slew on that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a linen ephod. And Nob, the city of the priests, smote he with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen, and asses, and sheep, with the edge of the sword.” (22:18-19).
Only Abiathar, one of Ahimelech’s sons escaped to David.
The Lord Judge Between Me and Thee
1 Samuel 23-24
Through chapter 23, Saul hunts David and nearly captures him, but is called away to fight an invading Philistine army.
On his return from the fight, Saul continues to seek David. At one point, Saul goes to sleep within a cave, where David is hiding. David’s servants encourage him to slay Saul, but David responds:
“The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord” (1 Sam 24:6).
King Saul was still the anointed divine king of Israel. It was not David’s place to slay Saul, but only to replace him upon his death.
Instead, David cuts the skirting off of Saul’s robe as he slept. This would have included the fringe of the robe, which was commanded to be on the robes of all Israelites under Mosaic Law. As Saul departed a distance from the cave, David appeared and showed that while he could have slain Saul, he had not harmed the anointed king.
“The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee” (1 Sam 24:12).
What was David's concept behind this? Saul had continually sought his life, throwing javelins at him, heading armies against him throughout the land, etc. Yet David was able to forgive. Today, the Lord teaches us:
“Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
“I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.
“And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds” (D&C 64:9-11).
Had David not forgiven Saul, the greater sin would have been with David. In fact, it would have caused David to be the murderer that Saul was in his heart. Since David acted justly, while Saul did not, the Lord later would judge between them. Saul would end up dying in battle against the Philistines, and David would ascend to the throne of Israel.
While Jonathan’s heart was forever knit with David’s, so that their covenant bound them with the Lord ("The Lord be between me and thee"), Saul’s hatred caused God to judge between the two, and Saul was found wanting.
The End Of the Judges and First King of Israel
1 Samuel 25-31
Samuel died and all Israel mourned him (25:1). From this time forth, prophets, not judges, would guide the kings and priests of Israel.
Nabal was a powerful and wealthy man, who was not a believer in Jehovah. Nor was he fond of David. David’s men had protected Nabal’s shepherds and flocks for months, not taking anything from them during their sojourn in the same area. However, the time of shearing was now upon them, and David thought it a good time to ask Nabal for some assistance. Nabal, however, railed on David’s messengers and insulted the entire group as a bunch of crooked vagabonds.
David was incensed, and prepared his men for war against Nabal. But Nabal’s wife, Abigail, heard of the event. She knew that Nabal owed his success to the protection David’s men gave him. She quickly prepared large amounts of food and sent them to David, not telling Nabal. She fell at David’s feet, begging forgiveness for her husband, who followed Belial (one of the 4 sons of the devil), and whose name literally meant ‘fool.”
As we’ve seen before, she begs David to covenant with her “as the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth” (25:26), or on God’s and David’s lives, to spare them. She tells David that she hopes she can spare him from shedding the innocent blood of those who work for the fool, Nabal. David lifts her up, and covenants to withdraw with the gift she has offered, praising her for her wisdom and insight.
The next morning when Abigail told Nabal what she had done, his heart “turned to stone” and he died. Whether it was from too much partying the night before, he was poisoned, or the Lord smote him alone, we do not know. David communed with her and took Abigail the wise as his wife.
Over the next few chapters, David will again come close enough to the sleeping Saul to slay him, but will again spare his life. David then fled to dwell among the Philistines for 16 months. While his presence benefited Agash in the Philistine province where he dwelt, David’s forays against the other Philistines were kept secret from Agash. David would tell him he had successfully defeated a Hebrew town, when in fact he had smashed a Philistine outpost or town, instead.
Meanwhile, the Philistines gained great strength against Saul. Samuel was dead, and none of the prophets would speak with Saul. “when Saul enquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets” (1 Sam 28:6). He went to a fortune teller and had her dredge up the ghost of Samuel, who told Saul what he feared most:
“Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?
“And the Lord hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the Lord hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David:
“Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the Lord, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the Lord done this thing unto thee this day.
“Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines” (1 Sam 28:16-19).
.The Philistines go on to defeating Israel in battle. Saul and his sons, including Jonathan, are slain in battle.
“And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa.
“And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people.
“And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan” (1 Sam 31:8-10).
Israel retrieved the bodies, burned them, and gave the bones a proper burial under a tree in Jabesh. With this ended the reign of Saul and his sons, and the First Book of Samuel.
Saul’s actions caused the beginning of his rejection of the Lord. In being rejected as king, Saul had a choice. He could have chosen to gracefully accept it, even as Jonathan did, or go insane fighting God. Step by step, Saul went from small sins to murdering the priests of the Tabernacle, and seeking David’s death.
David struggled even at this time with temptation, but overcame it. His soldiers twice encouraged him to slay the sleeping and vulnerable Saul, but he rejected it. His anger sought to slay Nabal and all his people, but Abigail’s wisdom and haste prevented him from shedding so much blood on account of one foolish man.
In all of this, Jonathan was constant and pure. He knew David would one day be king of Israel, yet covenanted with David to always be there for him. He sought not power for himself, but only to serve Israel and God. He was fearless in battle, tender in his relationships, and true to those around him and to himself. Even though Jonathan often seems like a footnote in Biblical history, perhaps his story is the one we should study most as an example of one to follow.