The Fifth Commandment

The story of Prince Jonathan and his father, King Saul

To all those fathers and sons whose relationship is strained.
May you find something in this story that helps bring peace.

I

The honey was more than delicious: after he tasted it, Jonathan felt rejuvenated. He could see better; his muscles felt stronger; his endurance had increased. He wanted to shout a new battle cry and chase the enemy forever. It seemed that the Lord had put the honey there so the army could find it and pursue the enemy. As he looked around he saw that the other soldiers looked weary. Jonathan encouraged those near him to come and eat some of the honey.

They hesitated, saying, “The king, your father, charged us this very day with the oath that anyone who eats food would be cursed.”

Jonathan shook his head in disappointment and anger. He had been very hungry and tired. It had been a hard day already. The power of the nourishment from the honey refreshed his body; renewing his strength and enthusiasm. So, without thinking he said, “My father has troubled the land! Would it not have been better if all Israel could have eaten some of this honey and found new strength? Then we could have done much more than a simple harassment of our enemy.”

As soon as he said it, Jonathan remembered the commandment that nagged him day and night, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Immediately he knelt down. “Lord God,” he prayed, “it is so very hard to respect this man, my father. Lord God, please help me to find a way to honor him.”

Unwilling to give up, Jonathan called to those around him and led them in the chase, driving the Philistines back for many miles through the hills, back to their own country. He watched as his brothers-in-arms faltered. The Philistines began to outrun them.

At evening, when Saul’s curse on eating had expired, Israel’s Army began to kill the captured livestock and eat. Some of the soldiers were so hungry they did not properly drain the blood, as the Lord had commanded Noah; instead, they were eating the meat with the blood in it. He ordered a small squad of men to return to King Saul and tell him what was happening.

The Philistines were now a mile or more ahead of them. So, rather than lead the men further away, he stopped the chase and began to listen for the call to reassemble. As he waited, he sat on a large rock and prayed. “Lord God, you know I want to obey. And you know I have a difficult time obeying you when it comes to my father. Lord, how do I obey you and honor him? I find it harder and harder to respect him. What do I do?”

Jonathan poured out his heart to God. He emptied it before the Lord, rehearsing his excitement at the victory and his frustration with his father. He prayed, “Even today, Lord, I wanted to do what’s right, yet I did wrong. You know why I took my armor bearer and went to spy on the enemy. You know I wanted to save the kingdom from the Philistines. You know, oh Lord, what I think of my father. So Lord, you know why I asked you for a sign. And I do thank you, Lord, for that sign. I trusted you. I think my father would not have approved of my actions. But instead of asking him, I trusted you. And I thank you, Lord, for the victory.

“So, Lord, my armor bearer and I killed about twenty of them. But you, Lord, sent confusion into their camp. Lord, you are amazing. Simon and I chased the entire Philistine army through the woods where we were joined by our army. But Lord, it was in the woods where I found the honey and accidentally defied my father. How can I obey your commandment, Lord? How can I honor my father?” Tears of great emotion rolled down his cheeks. He started to say more to God, but no words would come. So he just sat there, hoping the Lord would answer him.

Then the signal for reassembly was given and he returned to the camp. As Jonathan and his armor bearer walked into the camp they could hear Saul’s angry voice. As he looked around, Jonathan could see that Saul had erected an altar for the sacrifice of the sheep and oxen. The people were now eating according to God’s law. Saul, however, was unhappy because he was asking the Lord God about pursuit of the Philistines and the Lord was silent.

Now Jonathan could not know that King Saul had started to inquire of the Lord about engaging in battle when it started. But the king did not consult God, instead he could see that victory was at hand. So he commanded the charge. And then the king issued his foolish curse. Even though Israel had won the battle, it was without the blessing of God. And even now King Saul was planning to pursue the Philistines all night. But Ahijah, the priest, suggested that they approach God about it.

When there was no answer, Saul was irate. So the king called the army leaders to stand on one side and he and Jonathan stood on the other. The Ephod showed that the fault was with King Saul and his son. Then the Ephod picked Jonathan.

Saul stared at his son and said, “What did you do?”

Jonathan answered, “I ate a little honey. Here I am. I am ready to die.”

Saul confirmed the penalty, seeming to miss the insanity of his son’s words.

However, the leaders of the army and the people in general did not miss it. They began to grumble. “God was with Jonathan today. He has won a great battle for Israel and for God. Why kill him? He did not know about your curse!” The grumbling spread throughout the whole camp, and changed as it spread, “God gave Jonathan the victory. Why kill him for eating honey? Your curse caused us to sin. Who will you kill for that? The victory is God’s and Jonathan’s!” Jonathan watched in amazement as King Saul, afraid of the people, submitted to their will.

Saul, to Jonathan’s dismay, did not pursue the Philistines. Nor did he inquire of the Lord as to what he should do next. Instead King Saul, filled with embarrassment and deep anger, ordered the camp to pack up and return home.

And then the king sent a formal summons to the prince. As he walked toward his father’s tent, Jonathan prayed. “Lord, help me keep silent. Help me to honor my father. I don’t know what he’s going to say. But help me keep silent.”

As he entered the tent, his father, seated on his high chair looking at a spear, seemed not to notice his son. So Jonathan stood waiting for the king to recognize him. After several minutes the king looked up. “Oh, you.” was all he said. Then went back to looking at the spear he was holding. Finally, he spoke, “You do not seem to be a military leader. But you are to be king after me. So I want you to be my steward. You will learn how to handle the civil matters of Israel. But you are not to come to the military camp. Send a message if you need. But do not put yourself in a situation where you can be seen as a military adviser.”

Jonathan felt the shame and embarrassment his father had just bestowed upon him burning as it rose up in his chest and burned to the top of his head. He said nothing. He did not wait for dismissal. He just turned and walked out. It was the only justifiable action he could make. Rather than ride home in disgrace, he broke off from the army and rode home alone. Only Simon, his armor bearer, rode with him. There would be no victorious entrance into Gibeah. The army, seeing the king’s anger, had scattered; each man headed to his own home.

Jonathan was very upset over his dismissal from the army. “You know, Simon, I truly do not understand my father.” They had left ahead of the king’s entourage, and were now more than a mile ahead. Jonathan took the opportunity to vent his varied emotions. “Did he get mad because the people said that I had won the battle? Is that it? Did he want to kill me? Then why didn’t he? Tell me I’m not a military leader! Who won the victory? Not him! He’s afraid to fight. He just sends out raiding sorties…”

Simon said nothing. He had never seen Jonathan this upset. The prince was on a terrible rant, venting every frustration he had about his father. So Simon did think it a good thing they were alone. As Jonathan ranted, Simon pondered the whole business.



King Saul was a puzzle to Simon. At first he had been a very good king. He had won great battles, freeing the people of Jabesh-Gilead from the Ammonites. Then Jonathan had smashed the Philistine Pillar at Gibeah and King Saul was leading the revolt against the Philistines. They had been waiting for Samuel at Gilgal when the army began to desert. So Saul offered the sacrifice to Yahweh. Then Samuel arrived and told Saul he was king, not priest. Saul, embarrassed, abandoned the battle and regrouped at Geba, near the Pass of Michmash. But the king seemed unable to go into battle. Simon remembered thinking that King Saul had changed after the confrontation with Samuel at Gilgal. And then yesterday Jonathan invited him on a mission which became a great victory yet they ended up riding home in disgrace. And the one man, Simon thought, who was willing to lead Israel into battle, was now banned from the army.

It was Jonathan’s distrust of his father that let the two of them to sneak into the enemy camp. Jonathan was always seeking God’s will for everything he did. Saul, Simon thought, only sought God’s will when it was politically expedient. Why Saul charged the army with a curse he did not know. But he was sure it was a foolish curse. Everyone knew that it had caused the people to sin and brought shame on Jonathan.

Suddenly a thought slammed into Simon: it was at Gilgal that things went wrong. Something happened at Gilgal that changed everything. He started to ask Jonathan about Gilgal when he realized that the man had exhausted his anger and was praying quietly. Simon followed his example.

Saul now started a new type of campaign. He attacked all of Israel’s enemies: Moab, Ammon, Edom, Zobah, and the Philistines. And he won many victories. But they were hollow victories. For he was not defeating the enemies of Israel, but merely driving them back off Israel’s land. Often the enemy would send a raiding party into Israel, which would be met by Saul’s army and driven back. Other times he would chase them into their own lands, but never very far. These were more or less skirmishes and none were decisive victories.

The Lord soon forced King Saul into a decisive victory. Jonathan listened intently while the Prophet Samuel told the King that he was to put the Amalekites under the ban. Jonathan was dumbfounded: it meant that everything was to be destroyed and there would be no spoil. Samuel explained in detail about how the Amalekites had treated Israel and why the Lord God wanted them exterminated. Hearing this, Jonathan realized what the Lord God was doing. Saul had not had a decisive victory. This would be decisive beyond doubt. It would be a sign to the Philistines, to Moab, Edom, Ammon and Zobah, to all of Israel’s enemies. Perhaps the Lord would make this the first of many true victories.

This was a test. Jonathan could see that. The King had acted as priest at Gilgal and Samuel had said that the kingship was to be removed from Saul. However, if his father, the King, did this the way the Lord wanted it done, then he would pass this test and, perhaps, the Lord would let Saul remain king. As he pondered all of this, Jonathan began to understand why his father had made him steward. He was afraid of Samuel’s prophecy that God would remove his kingship. The most likely person to become the next king was Jonathan.

So, on a practical level, Jonathan should learn about the civil responsibilities of the king. And so he would not go to war. He would stay home and play steward. Play was the operative word. His duties were small, unimportant duties. Stewardship authority was still in the hands of Abram of Gilead. Any real decision was sent to the king by messenger. Often, Jonathan did not even know that a messenger had been sent. That he, Jonathan, would be the next king did explain making him steward. But why do it in such a negative way? And why was Abram of Gilead still the true steward?

After every battle, the report made Jonathan felt like his father had become a coward. Israel never pursued the enemy much past the border. They would quickly gather what spoil was readily available and make a speedy run back home. Even though Saul claimed a battle victory, Jonathan and many others knew these were just raiding sorties. Saul was just maintaining the stalemate that had existed since Eli had been Judge. Thus the terrible guilt Jonathan felt concerning his attitude toward his father and the fifth commandment. He just did not see how he could honor his father.

So, when the messengers arrived with news that King Agag was dead and the Amalekites destroyed, Jonathan prayed a prayer of thanks to the Lord God. But, somehow, the Lord God seemed not to accept his thanks. He felt rejected by God. It did not take long to understand why. More messengers arrived. They told how Samuel was angry when he met the King. Samuel had complained about the sheep, asking why they had not been put under the ban as God had required; but upon seeing King Agag, Samuel wept.

Jonathan wept too. When they told the story, despair invaded his heart. The Lord God, he thought, has rejected Israel. Jonathan remembered when Samuel told all Israel that they could have a king. He remembered that God had told Samuel that the people had not rejected Samuel, but that they had rejected Him. They might accept the Lord God as deity, but not as their sovereign. Now the people had disobeyed God and saved the best of the Amalekite plunder; and King Saul had not acted as their king, he had let them do this. Israel, Jonathan thought, was lost. And with that, Jonathan had his kingdom taken from him. His father had lost the kingdom for both of them.

To make matters worse, Jonathan had not ordered a victory feast. Jonathan had actually said, “First Gilgal and now this! Are you mad? How can we celebrate when the Lord God has rejected us?” to his father in front of the Battle Chiefs. Saul just glared at him and stormed off.



II

The battle did do what Jonathan thought it would to Israel’s enemies. When they saw that Saul could defeat a mighty army and utterly destroy a nation they retreated well within their borders. Unfortunately, the peace did not last. Saul began to have bouts of depression. The Philistines heard about it and began to send raiding parties into Israel. Saul would send the army to chase them, but they never pursued the Philistines past the border.

Eventually, the Philistines set up on one side of the Valley of Elah and King Saul set up on the other side. But neither side was willing to attack the other; for fear that they would be attacking uphill. They yelled and hollered taunts in vain attempt to entice the other side to engage in a rash, unwise attack. Each side had set up an ambush for the other and both sides knew this.

This stalemate went on for several months. Then the Philistines changed their tactics. They introduced a one-on-one combat challenge. One of their battle chiefs, a giant named Goliath, challenged the Israelites to a duel. The duel would end the war, with the loser becoming the slaves of the winner.

His father and all of the army stood shaking in their sandals while this heathen challenged the army of Israel. Yet no one, not even the King, would answer the giant’s challenge, for he was a true giant, nearly 10 feet tall. Every Israelite knew they had disobeyed God in the battle with the Amalekites; Samuel had made that clear. Now, the Israelites felt unworthy to call on the Lord God.

Jonathan was embarrassed by the cowardice and lack of faith his father and fellow Israelites displayed. He thought about the last time he had served as a soldier. He had, with his armor bearer, called on the Living God. God had given him a sign and they had chased the Philistines back to their country. But he could not challenge Goliath. King Saul had given him the duties of steward and judge to keep him off the battlefield, where he could not gain the admiration of the people. He had never forgiven Jonathan for eating the honey and leading the charge, winning the support of the people. And Jonathan’s attitude after the battle defeating the Amalekites seemed to have sealed his fate. He could not serve as a soldier. His father seemed jealous of Jonathan’s reputation with the people and even more jealous of Jonathan’s relationship with God.

But, even if his father would let him fight, Jonathan felt certain that God had abandoned Israel. It was not just that Israel and King Saul had disobeyed God and kept the best of the Amalekite spoil; it was the depression his father suffered. Only music seemed to help. And one of the best musicians was a shepherd from Bethlehem. Jonathan did not know the lad, he was maybe ten years younger; but he had seen his youngest sister watching the musician play for their father. That was when he realized that this young man should be watched. To his relief, the young man demonstrated only the highest character. Still, even with the music, the King’s depression was hurting the morale of the army.

Over the past several months Jonathan had managed to acquire the authority of the title he had been given. His management was seen by everyone, including the king, as a good thing. So he was now second to the king in all but official declaration. Yet it seemed to him that the country was in peril. He went to the Valley of Elah on the pretext of a civil matter.

The king welcomed him with seemingly genuine cordiality. They talked about the situation. Saul was excited. “Finally a soldier has come forward to fight the giant. It is said that he will fight the Philistine and win. God will give him victory and give us peace.” The king was all but dancing. Then, suddenly, he seemed to suffer one of his spells. The musician was summoned. When the musician entered, Jonathan noticed that he was not carrying his lyre. But before anything could be said, King Saul was thanking the musician for volunteering to kill the giant.

It was not long before the musician started down the hill toward the Philistine camp. Jonathan went in to his father unsummoned and inquired about the musician. The king said the young soldier had offered to fight the giant in order to bring glory to God. “How can I deny the will of God?” he asked his son; then went out to watch the duel. Jonathan stared, dumbfounded, as his father left the tent. He followed only because he knew not what to do.

General Abner was standing nearby. The King went over and asked him about the young soldier. Abner had never seen him in the camp before. Jonathan thought it incredible that the King did not know who he had sent to fight the giant: he did not even realize that the young man was the musician who had played for him, easing the depression. He had just called for the musician and he had come. This filled Jonathan with fear. The King had sent the youth to fight the giant, thinking that the musician was the soldier his Army was talking about. It was much later that Jonathan remembered that the musician had not brought his lyre.

Jonathan watched the musician pick up some stones from the river and walk on down the hill toward the Philistines. He looked up to Heaven and asked silently if this was how God was going to punish Israel for disobeying in the Amalekite battle. The giant came and stood at the top of the hill shouting his challenge toward Israel. The giant’s shield bearer advanced down the hill with Goliath right behind him. They stopped in the lowest part of the valley. Jonathan heard the giant’s roar echo across the valley, revealing his anger over the insult of sending a youth to meet the challenge. Then the giant was silent. But no bird chirped. No wasp or bee buzzed. No rabbit hopped. No animals were moving at all. It was like the calm before the storm, but it seemed much more deadly. Then David’s answer came drifting up the hill. Jonathan could barely hear the musician’s reply. But that reply brought hope to his heart. “…I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts….” The words seemed to etch themselves in Jonathan’s mind, as did the moment. All was deadly still. Then the simple noise of a thud and the giant fell. The shield bearer fled back to the Philistine battle line and the musician was using the giant’s own sword to cut off his head.

Abner was halfway down the hill, leading Israel into battle. Jonathan turned and saw his father, the King, standing immobile, transfixed, his mouth agape. He looked like he had seen his own death. Jonathan, however, felt pure joy flow through his soul.

The giant-slayer returned with the giant’s head. He presented it to the King, who questioned him. Jonathan watched as the young man handled the interrogation with ease. He told how the Lord God had guided him. “This victory, as all victories, belongs to the Lord,” he told the King. Hope returned to Jonathan. The Lord God had not abandoned Israel. God, apparently, had sent this young man, whose name was ‘David’, to lead Israel to victory.

Jonathan had listened to the interview between his father and the giant-slayer. He was also present when General Abner interviewed him. But neither of them asked the questions that bothered Jonathan. The giant-slayer had been promised to marry his sister. Jonathan wanted to know much more about his future brother-in-law.

 

III

The Giant-Slayer poked his head into the tent. He looked at Jonathan, smiled faintly, and asked, “You sent for me?”

Jonathan turned toward the voice at the tent entrance and saw the Giant-Slayer, “Yes.” he answered, pointing to a stool. He turned back to the man who was standing next to him. “That will work, I think.” He glanced at the Giant-Slayer, stared at him for a moment, and then said to the other man, “Simon, don’t…well, you know.” Simon turned toward the opening in the tent, When he reached it he turned around and made a slight bow toward the prince, then left.

No one said anything for a drawn-out minute. Then Jonathan spoke, obviously with much care, “I have seen you around the court. You play the harp well. Apparently you have many talents.”

David waited for him to say more. But he seemed to be treating the statement as a question. So David said, “Thank you.”

Jonathan looked hard at his guest. The man was rather short, but stocky and obviously very strong. “So, the hard part was cutting off his head?”

This took David by surprise. He laughed. “No, the hard part was finding the right stones.”

And it was Jonathan’s turn to laugh.

David looked at the man in front of him. He was maybe ten years older, Almost as tall as his father, with similar features. The ladies must think him quite attractive. He looked like he was being used up, though. There were obvious signs of worry and frustration, like the way he played with the arrow he had been making. But even more so the wrinkles on his forehead.

“I know what you told my father and Abner. Now I want to know the truth. Why did you attack Goliath?” Jonathan smiled again.

That smile spoke volumes to David. He was not sitting in front of a devious man. This was an honest man who dealt constantly with devious men. David realized that he was being tested. Abner wanted to understand how he killed the giant from a military viewpoint. King Saul did not want to know anything. He just asked some questions as if that’s what he was supposed to do. It almost seemed like he did not hear the answers. But this man, the prince, was different. David already knew that Jonathan was second to the king. He actually ran the country. He had better not displease this man.

“Well, I really don’t know. I was just standing there with my brothers when I heard the giant make his heathen threat. So I prayed quietly that someone would remove this man’s head. As I prayed, something came over me. I felt an anger and a strength I had not felt before. Someone said there was a reward for killing the giant. So I asked about that.”

He stopped talking, not sure how to proceed. This man was Michal’s brother. Even though the king had promised his daughter in marriage, nothing had been said about the reward. He decided it best to skip his appreciation of the king’s daughter and describe picking up the stones. He told Jonathan how the king had tried to dress him in armor and then about picking out the stones. He paused. He did not know what Jonathan really wanted to know. So he waited for the prince to speak.

“So, you think Michal is an attractive lady?” Jonathan picked out the weak spot in David’s tale.

David winced. It actually seemed to hurt, like this man had stabbed him with the arrow. “Yes. She is an attractive lady.”

“And you killed the giant for her?”

“Actually, no.” David’s smile was now a grin. Sparing with the prince had become fun. He had nothing to fear so long as he told the truth. But he couldn’t tell all of the truth. So he continued, “True, she is a great prize. But it was something else. Something had overpowered me. I was angry at the heathen that was defying God.”

Jonathan leaned back, staring at the man on the stool. He remembered hearing what the young man said to the giant about defying the armies of the Living God. “So you did it for God?”

“Yes.” David thought he needed to be very careful what he said about this. No need for the prince to know that he had been anointed by Samuel.

Jonathan nodded. David wanted to steer the prince’s attention elsewhere. So he said, “That’s true enough. But I remember thinking about the reward as I aimed the stone.”

And Jonathan laughed again. “So, you killed the giant for God, but you want the reward my father had offered?”

“Well, yes. That’s it.”

“I like an honest man, uh…What is your name? I can’t keep calling you Giant-Slayer or Musician.”

“Sir, I am David, son of Jesse, son of Obed, Son of Boaz of Bethlehem.”

As he said this another man poked his head into the tent. Jonathan spoke a greeting to the man and then said to David, “We can continue this later. I should like you to dine with me this evening.”

As David left, Jonathan felt fear of the future depart. He had seen his father disobey God. He had seen the result of that disobedience. And he had feared that God had abandoned Israel. But now he thought otherwise. God had sent this young man to defeat the giant, Goliath, and the even bigger giants, Cowardice and Fear. Joy began to fill the prince’s heart.

The conversation at dinner was much less formal. Jonathan asked David about his childhood and then told David a few things about his. As they shared the tales of their childhood, they began to realize just how much alike they were. At least in terms of how their fathers treated them.

“My father thinks that I am a child. He sends me to tend the sheep because he thinks that is an easy and safe task. Yet I have killed bear and lion to protect them. Yet none of my family, least of all my father, believes me.” As David told this to Jonathan, he realized how close he was to the story about how he had been anointed. His father had not even sent for him when Samuel arrived.

Using the excuse that he needed to relieve himself, David got up and found a quiet place to pray. “Lord,” he prayed, “I am like a lamb surrounded by lions. I feel as if I am walking through the Valley of Death. Save me, please, Lord God. Help me to say the right words.”

When he sat down the servant came to refill his wine cup. Someone behind them bumped the servant and he poured a bit too much wine into the cup. David saw this as a sign from the Lord and said, “Well, Jonathan, you treat me better than a visiting king. Some are stingy with the wine, yet you fill my cup to overflowing! You are a most gracious host.” Then he smiled at the servant, who, embarrassed, fled.

Jonathan laughed harder than he had in a long time. “And you are a most wonderful guest!” Jonathan was grateful that David had excused the blunder of the servant. But to turn it into praise was something he had not seen before. This man was extraordinary. He wanted to know more about this giant-slayer musician.

They talked long into the night, their friendship beginning with the overflowing cup of wine. The conversation flowed from Jonathan’s duties as steward to sheep herding tactics. “The sheep have their own social hierarchy,” David was saying, “So I get Rough-Neck to go the right way and the others, generally, will follow.”

“Rough-Neck?” Jonathan interrupted, not understanding. He knew he might be drinking too much wine, but this was a victory celebration.

“Oh!” David laughed, “I named all the sheep. Rough-Neck is the leader. They know the names I gave them. There’s one that’s extra sassy. So I named her ‘Sassy’ and I think she knows why. Whiny does not know what that word means, but she knows that it is what I call her. She’d be mortified if she knew why. But she does whine.”

Jonathan laughed again. The idea of a mortified sheep was hilarious. “Embarrass a sheep? Do they really have feelings?” He was laughing hard; almost falling off his chair.

“Oh, yes.” David ignored his hosts’ laughter. “They have all sorts of quirks and personality traits. But when you get to know them, you know how to manage them. It’s much like people. The servant who spilled the wine, he knows I made him the source of praise for you. He won’t forget if I ever need anything.”

Jonathan sat up straight. Here was a man of wisdom. But it was getting late. Looking around, everyone had gone except for that one servant. As they stood up he came and cleared the table. “It’s an honor to serve you, sirs.” he said.

The next day King Saul began the preparations to return to Gibeah. Again, Jonathan saw the weakness and cowardice of his father. The Philistines had said that whoever loses the duel will serve the winner. Well, David had killed Goliath. The Philistines were thus bound to serve Israel as their slaves. Yet Israel was leaving the battle unfinished. They were going home without their slaves. Jonathan was, again, ashamed of his father.

Yet that dismay was quickly dispelled. He met with David at the noon meal. David told him that the king had requested that he accompany the royal party back to Gibeah. On hearing this, Jonathan sent Simon on an errand and asked David to help him pack.

“Careful with that.” David had picked up a metal object that was rather oddly shaped. Jonathan was anxious about it. “That’s the seal maker.” David looked at him, a bit puzzled. So Jonathan explained, “We put a bit of wet clay in it, press it down and it makes a seal to tie on a scroll so it can’t be opened by just anyone.”

David looked at the object again. It did have the design of King Saul formed in the end. And pressing it down on the damp clay would make a nice imprint. He looked at Jonathan and said, “Fascinating.”

Jonathan began to talk about his duties. He was now the chief judge of the land. “Well, in certain matters the case goes to Samuel. But I decide most cases for the king. That seal proves the document is truly from the king. It is used to send orders to an outlying military post and many other royal documents. It could be very valuable to an enemy.”

Next, David picked up some tax records. Some of those nearby had taken advantage of the king’s location to send their taxes to him early. It saved them a trip to Gibeah later. These records would show those taxes were paid, as would the taxpayer’s document with the king’s seal.

As he put them in the pack he said, “I guess my family won’t be paying any more taxes?” David smiled as it was more or less a rhetorical comment.

But Jonathan turned and looked sharply at him. “Why?”

David looked at the prince and simply said, “My reward for killing the giant.”

Jonathan said, “You get my sister as your bride.”

“Yes,” David replied, “But also riches and exemption from taxes.”

This was news to Jonathan. He nodded. “My father did not tell me what the reward was. He never mentioned the reward. I did hear the people talking about it.” There was a pause as Jonathan let out a long sigh. Then he said, “I struggle with the fifth commandment. My father makes it so very hard to obey that one. I seem to manage the others fairly well. Some would say that nine out of ten is not bad. But I think God wants us to obey all of them.”

They looked at each other, thinking. Then David broke the silence. “I don’t struggle like you, but I do have problems with my father and my brothers. I told you how they don’t believe I killed lion and bear. Well, even yesterday, before I fought the giant, they were telling me I needed to return to my sheep.” He paused a moment, smiled, and said, “Wonder what they’re thinking now?”

They were silent for a while. Jonathan, pondering family relationships, sat down on a stool. David began to stack up packs for loading on Jonathan’s wagon. His thoughts were on what his father would say, if anything, about the giant. David decided that others would have to tell him, because his father would not believe him. Jonathan’s thoughts drifted toward the look on his father’s face when he realized that the giant had been killed. Those thoughts drifted to the moment when he had seen this musician pick up some stones. He remembered thinking that they would not be much use against any man, much less someone as big as Goliath.

“Why did you pick up the stones?” Jonathan sincerely wanted to know.

David put down the pack he was moving and looked at Jonathan. “That’s what The Lord directed me to do. I have been using a sling all my life and I’m very accurate. That’s how I kill bear and lion. That’s how I protect my sheep.”

Jonathan picked up on the important point. “The Lord directed you?”

David nodded in affirmation. “He talks to me from time to time.”

Now Jonathan was really intrigued. “He talks to you?” Jonathan knew that God talked to Samuel. But Samuel was a prophet. “Are you a prophet?”

David smiled. He said, “No,” shaking his head. They were extremely close to the fact that Samuel had anointed him. He wanted to change the subject. But Jonathan was staring at him, so he continued, “I just listen to God. He is always available. I just pause and listen. Sometimes He tells me things. Sometimes I simply feel His Presence.”

Jonathan smiled and said, “Yes. I know that. I have never heard God speak to me. But I feel His Presence. He directs my vision to some object. Or He lets me see a path I did not know. But I have to ask for His assistance. He has never shown me something when I was not asking Him for help.” Jonathan paused and looked at David. “Well, saying that out loud, it sounds silly. Of course He won’t show me something if I am not asking for His help.”

David laughed, relieved, and said, “Course, even if He did, you would not know it. He might be putting the solution to your situation right in front of you, but if you are not talking to Him, asking for His help, how can you see His answer?”

Jonathan looked sharply at David. Here was a man who loved God with all his heart. He was like a brother, a long lost brother who had been found. “Look in that pack,” he said to David.

The pack was the one David had been ready to stack on the wagon. As he was opening it, Jonathan said, “You are like my long lost brother. I feel a kinship in you that I have never felt toward my own brothers.”

David, surprised, looked at him and nodded in agreement. “Yes. I feel that too. It is like you are my true brother.” He had the pack open and began to take out the items in it. As he pulled the items out of the pack he realized that this was a fine set of battle armor.

“My father says I am unworthy to wear them. Now I know why I brought them. They are for my brother.” And he took off his cloak and put it on David, saying, “From this day we are brothers.”

“Yes. I have felt it since the servant spilled the wine. You and I are brothers.” David put on his new brother’s armor feeling humble and deeply bound to the man. “We are brothers through the Love of God. For it is God that has brought us together.”

Then they loaded the packs on the wagon. It was mid-morning when the caravan began to move. They would not stop until evening. It would be a tedious day. Yet not as tedious as it would be in Saul’s wagon. Normally, Saul would rehearse the events of the battle, making out that he had won it. That would not happen this time. Saul could not claim anything for himself. How many that normally rode with the king would prefer to march beside the wagons today?

Simon took the reins. Jonathan and David sat and watched as the Army formed a long train of military might. Celebration broke out in random spots from time to time. The giant was dead. The Philistines has run home. The Army was looking forward to a great victory celebration when they marched victorious into Gibeah.

They passed some shepherds and David said, “I wrote a new song. Let me sing it to you.” As David sang, Jonathan heard a most beautiful song, but the words were shocking. David was comparing God to a lowly shepherd. Yet, the song did not demean God, Instead, it raised the position of shepherd. Jonathan was impressed.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, then Jonathan asked David to sing his new song again, saying how much he liked it. This time, as Jonathan listened, he heard a much different song. The words were the same; but the meaning had changed. When David sang about God preparing a table in the midst of enemies and his cup running over Jonathan realized that David was singing about his current situation. And, while they had just talked of being ‘brothers’, Jonathan knew, as did David, that this was a precarious situation for David. King Saul was going to keep David close by. He would not let him go home.

Jonathan was telling his new friend the tale of how he had smashed the Philistine pillars at Gibeah. It was through the Lord’s guidance, Jonathan was saying, when they heard an odd noise off in the distance. Soon it became clear that the people had gathered at the road and were dancing and singing. Some were playing the lyre or tambourine. Others just beat sticks together. This was a time of great joy.

Then Jonathan heard the song and a shiver ran down his spine. His first thought was very selfish: he was very glad he was not in Saul’s wagon. For the song the people sang was, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands.”

“Do you know what that means?” Jonathan asked David point blank.

David, seeing the look on Jonathan’s face, said, “Well, I thought it meant that I had slain the giant. But you must think different?”

Jonathan studied his new friend very closely and decided that it would be best to reveal just part of it. “You know why you are coming to Gibeah instead of going home?”

David said nothing. He just looked at Jonathan shaking his head slightly. The less he said about this the better.

“I saw my father watching you when you faced Goliath. The look on his face when the giant fell sent shivers up and down my spine. It looked like he was seeing the vision of his own death. Now this song will confirm his fears. He will think you are out to take the kingdom from him.”

Jonathan watched David’s face as the meaning became apparent. He said nothing for quite some time. Then he began to sing his new song again. Suddenly he stopped singing and looked straight at Jonathan. “So I should leave now and head home?”

“I do not know what you should do. But I know you better not do that. It would just confirm you mean to raise an army against him. As soon as he discovers you are missing, he will take the army to Bethlehem.”

Now David shuddered visibly. Then he said, “I will pray” as if he were going to ask God to bless the meal before him. Jonathan could hardly hear his prayer. The tone of it was that of a man talking to his Lord: it was a friendly conversation. David would say something and then pause. Soon he would respond with words like, “Yes, Lord, I know” or “You’re right, Lord”.

David’s prayer lasted about an hour. Then he asked Jonathan to pray with him. They prayed for about another hour. When the prayer concluded, Jonathan was staring at David. David looked at him as if to inquire his thoughts. After a few moments, once he was certain, Jonathan said, “I think my father has something to fear. The Lord intends you to be king.”

David said, “You should ask no one but Samuel about that.”

The rest of their journey was a discussion of their personal relationship with the Lord. They confessed their sins. They renewed the vow of brotherhood. But mostly they just basked in the Joy of the Lord. Not even hearing the people sing about David’s tens of thousands worried them. They had given all of their fears and worries to the Lord. And they felt the new strength He had given in return.

 

 

IV

Their arrival in Gibeah was both the beginning and the end of peace for Jonathan. His father’s continued erratic behavior was the catalyst for a number of random, capricious events. The first event erupted when Jonathan thought all was well. David continued as court musician, but he also led a number of sorties that brought him more acclaim. That Saul would descend into a jealous rage was expected. But for him to attack David was incredible. Jonathan walked in on his father as he prepared to “pin David to the wall”. Of course he had to warn David, but he really did not think his father would go so far as to throw a spear at the Giant-Killer.

However, Saul called David in to sing for him and then, twice, aimed his spear at David. Both times he missed, due in part, to Jonathan’s warning. The result of this was odd. King Saul promoted David to command a thousand, sending him into the fiercest battles. Apparently, the king hoped David would be killed in battle. Jonathan’s belief that the Lord God had not decided to punish Israel for their sins on the battlefield (when they fought the Amalekites) but instead had sent David to lead Israel to victory grew stronger every time David returned victorious.

Jonathan benefited from all of this. His father now saw David, not Jonathan, as his rival. He began to accept Jonathan as a wise military tactician, making him the king’s foremost military adviser. So Jonathan not only supervised the household, but the military as well; he had become the royal prince, second in the kingdom. He was very careful, however, to make sure that the king received all the glory. When the king insisted on a course of action that proved unwise, Jonathan took all the blame. However any policy that proved wise, he always made sure the king received the credit.

Because his father had begun to trust him, Jonathan began to advise his father about David. He not only obtained a promise that the king would not attack David again, but agreed to provide the reward for killing the giant as had been promised.

Saul, however, was deceitful in this. Even though he had promised his oldest daughter to David, he married her to a family friend. All Israel was outraged. The best that could be done to placate the citizens was for the king to offer his younger daughter, Michal, to David. Even in this Saul was deceitful, in that the question of the bride-price was left open. Everyone knew that the bride-price was Goliath’s head. Saul ignored that. David gave Saul a shrewd reply, “Does it strike you as an easy thing for me to become the king’s son-in-law, poor and of humble position as I am?” When Jonathan heard this he laughed. David was again reminding the king of his promise to the killer of Goliath. The wily king sent word that all he required for a bride-price was a hundred Philistine foreskins. David’s men were all too glad to help and they brought the king two hundred foreskins. Thus David married Michal. And Jonathan relaxed a little.

This short interval of peace with the Philistines gave Jonathan a chance to talk with his father. The conversations seemed nearly normal. In one discussion about fortifying some of the weaker villages, Jonathan suggested that David be one of the commanders to implement the plan. “He’s done a lot for Israel and for you. He always gives you credit. And he demonstrates wisdom in military planning. I think he would not only build some strong fortifications, but he would give the villagers a sense of strength. He would make sure they knew that you have not forgotten them.”

“He does have a good head about military strategy,” Saul said. Then he added, “I think you are right about him. Send Abinadab to the north, David to the central border and Abner to the southern border. We don’t want to waste this opportunity. The Philistines will attack again.”

“Yes, father. Oh, and Dad, we get so busy that I hardly ever get to tell you this, but I do love you.”

Saul turned and looked his son straight in the eyes for a long minute. Then he smiled and said, “I love you too, son.”

Jonathan’s brother, Abinadab, returned first. His news was quite positive. The villages welcomed their assistance and were now much stronger. Abner and David returned together three days later with the same message. Gibeah was abuzz with rumors that the Philistines would no longer attack. Peace might be at hand.

“Sire, do you trust David now?” Jonathan and Saul were discussing the reports that Abinadab, David and Abner had brought back. The commanders had sent spies into Philistia. The reports provided much needed information. And the three of them corroborated each other.

Saul looked up at his son, studying him carefully. He finally said, “Yes, I trust him.”

Jonathan nodded. Then he asked, “You seem to be more relaxed these days. I have not heard about you suffering from those spells. Do you think they are over?”

“I do hope so.” Saul was beginning to feel uneasy about his son’s questions.

“Father, I am going to ask you something. I want you to know that however you answer, I do love you. I am your son, first, last, always.”

Saul said nothing, but indicated that Jonathan should continue. “I don’t understand why you were attacking David. You know how much he has helped both you and Israel. You know he is faithful. Why would you bring innocent blood upon yourself? Why would you sin against innocent blood in killing David without cause?” Jonathan watched his father closely. He had purposely situated himself near the door and was ready to flee.

Saul did not take his eyes off his son as he sat down. He picked up his spear, still watching Jonathan. Holding the spear in both hands he said, “I do not know. He killed the giant and the people praise him. He could claim the kingdom. But you are right. He has shown his faithfulness. He does not spread rumors or plot behind my back. The Battle-Chiefs tell me he is a good and honorable man. And Michal tells me he is a good husband.” Saul stopped talking. He took a deep breath and turned the spear handle toward Jonathan. “You are right about it. As Yahweh lives, I will not kill him.”

With David restored to Saul, Gibeah seemed to rest in peace. It was not a long peace, but it was welcome and much needed.

 

V

In fighting the Philistines David could not lose. And so, Jonathan thought, in serving my father he cannot win. Even though King Saul seemed to be very pleased that David had driven the Philistines back and even taken some land for Israel, Jonathan saw the look on his father’s face when no one else was around. There were now two wars. One against the Philistines. The other in his father’s heart. David was fighting both of them and only God could save him.

Rumors flew. Jonathan thought them insane. But in all the rumor one thing was certain: Saul had thrown a spear at David while David was playing for him. More rumors, this time involving his sister Michal and David. Jonathan struggled to make sense of the rumors. Finally, it seemed that Michal had helped David escape. And David had sought refuge with Samuel in Ramah.

The next day Jonathan watched as a small posse rode out toward Ramah. They were to arrest David. Since Ramah was only a few miles away, it was not long before a messenger arrived. It seemed that each member of the posse had been overcome by the Lord and had begun prophesying.

Jonathan was careful to hide his smile when the second posse left. The result was the same as the first. So a third posse was sent, with equally humorous results. Jonathan watched with much glee as his father rode out to Ramah, for he understood that the Lord was protecting David. And sure enough, a messenger soon arrived with news that the Spirit of the Lord had overcome the king’s party. All were in ecstasy and prophesying, including the king. Jonathan laughed. God was good. He kept the king, his father, from sin. The king returned to Gibeah, seemingly appeased.

David would not return to Gibeah. Instead, he sent word to Jonathan that he wanted to be excused from the New Moon feast. Jonathan sent word to David that all was well.

“My brother, I will not return to Saul.” David was adamant. He had agreed to meet with Jonathan south of Gibeah near the road to Jerusalem. “Your father has thrown his last spear at me. I will not play this insane game.”

Jonathan tried a multitude of arguments and promises to get David to stay. “Look, my brother, the king will certainly believe that you plot against him if you leave.”

“But I do not wish to sing myself into an early grave.”

“There must be some compromise, David. There must be a way to placate him. Tomorrow is the New Moon feast. He must see you there. If all is not well, you can leave afterward.”

David shook his head. “No. He would spear me at the table.” Jonathan nodded understanding.

They sat quietly, praying. Then David said, “I know. Tell your father that I have gone to Bethlehem to celebrate the annual sacrifice with my family.”

Jonathan nodded. “Okay. He will not mind if you are gone for that reason.”

“But he will mind. To miss two days of the feast, he will be outraged.” David was certain. “Look, take a servant with you and make like you are engaged in target practice.”

“Okay,” Jonathan agreed, “If I say to the servant, ‘The arrow is ahead of you’ then you will know that all is not well. But if I say, ‘The arrow is behind you’ then you will know that all is well.”

The parting was uncertain and anxious. That night Saul said nothing about David, as expected. However, on the second evening of the feast, Saul called his son into his tent. “Has something untoward happened to the Son of Jesse?”

“No, father. He told me that his clan was celebrating the annual feast and had asked him to attend. He is celebrating with his brothers and his clan in Bethlehem. I said you would not mind.”

Suddenly, Saul’s anger blew up, “You bastard! Son of a wanton prostitute! You are in league with him. As long as that usurper lives neither you nor your royal heritage is secure. Go! Bring him to me! He is condemned to death!”

“Why should he die? What has he done?” Jonathan was surprised at the intensity of his father’s anger. He was also confused, as these claims had never been voiced by his father before.

Saul let it all out, “You cuddle up with that queer. You sleep with him to your own damnation. He will take the kingdom and destroy both me and you. He is right now in Bethlehem plotting against us. You are a damned fool.”

Anger raged up in Jonathan. “You are the one. You lost the kingdom. You tried to usurp the priesthood at Gilgal. You disobeyed God with the Amalekites. You, the king, were so much a coward that God sent a shepherd boy to kill the giant. Is…it…not the Lord God who selects the king? David can do nothing, nothing! to gain the throne. You were anointed by Samuel to be king. It is yours to keep or to lose. And Samuel says you have lost it. Samuel tore your robe and said the kingdom was torn from you. Kill David if you can. It will change nothing. God will raise up someone else to be king. It is your fault. You lost it. You…lost…my…kingdom! I am just trying to keep what I can.” He turned to leave, then turned back and said, “Oh, neither of us would do what you think. We serve God. Unlike you, we obey Him. We are not engaged in shameful acts. My only sin is that I can’t honor my father.” With that he turned and left. At that moment he hoped he would never ever see the man again.

The next morning he overshot the target. And not on purpose, either. Then told the servant that the arrows were beyond him, which they were. He was still angry, hurt, worried. He had imagined the target to be his father. But he just could not shoot an arrow like that. When the servant retrieved the arrows Jonathan said, “I’m just off today. Better take the quiver back to the armory. I will sit here and pray.”

David could see that his friend was extremely upset and deep in prayer. He sat on a rock nearby. Jonathan looked up but did not seem to see him. It was about half an hour before Jonathan finished praying.

“I should have done that last night. But I was too angry.”

David got up from his perch and stood in front of Jonathan. Then he dropped to the ground and bowed three times. “You know that I love you, my brother, but we must part.” David tried to sound hopeful and positive, but he could feel the tears forming in his own eyes. He looked away from Jonathan to keep the man from further anguish.

“The oaths we took, they are still binding. Yahweh our God will see to them. Yahweh is our witness between us and our descendants, now and forever. My father cannot destroy them. But he may destroy me.”

“So be it!” David said, not realizing that Jonathan’s family would be the first of many refugees from Saul to seek shelter with David.

They wept, hugged each other, and then left in silence. Jonathan turned to learn his fate with his father. David headed south, uncertain of his own fate.

The king had no choice. His son was extremely popular. He could not openly punish the man for what could be considered disrespect; because, if he were honest with himself, every word Jonathan had said was true.

Gibeah was quiet, but worried, when Jonathan returned. The Philistines had attacked and the king had joined Abner to fight them. They had headed east, toward Elon. Jonathan took up his duties as the king’s second as if nothing had happened.

Saul returned victorious. Then he held court under the Tamarisk tree. Jonathan was not invited. But word soon came to him that his father blamed him for David’s escape, and Saul was riding out to find David.

When the messenger arrived with word that, on Saul’s order, Doeg the Edomite had killed the priests at Nob, Jonathan wept.

Rumors flew into and out of Gibeah every day. David was at the Cave of Adullam, David had joined the Philistines, David was in Bethlehem, David had gone to Moab, David had been driven mad, acting crazy. And Saul would not speak to his son. But that was all. When necessary, a messenger relayed communications. Jonathan was not welcome at Saul’s table, not even for the New Moon feast.

Jonathan watched Saul and the army ride out to Keilah, on the word that David was there. The story was that David had rescued Keilah from the Philistines and won a great victory over them. But David feared that a walled and gated city like Keilah could be a trap and he was not there when Saul arrived. The returning army brought back a very unhappy king. Saul’s actions toward his eldest son worried Jonathan; proving that his father no longer trusted him. He prayed about what he should do. Feeling his position as rather precarious and believing that God had chosen David to be king, Jonathan pondered joining David. If he stayed with his father, would David be able to bring Jonathan into his court? There were many in David’s camp who would not trust him. So he sought a way to meet David. Word came to Jonathan that David was in Horesh. Finally, he decided to meet David and rode out alone. No one knew where he was going. And he made sure no spies followed him.

 

VI

David did not seem happy to see him. And, being honest with himself, Jonathan really wasn’t happy to see David. Both of them were afraid of King Saul and that colored everything a dismal dark purple, rather like a very bad bruise. Worse was Jonathan’s intentions. He had no word, no understanding from God. It was his selfish desire to be part of David’s court that motivated him. He had rationalized that. He thought his skills and presence in David’s court would help unite the country. But he could say none of this to David. There was no way he could say, “You need me”. All he needed to do was look around and he could see that David relied on God. No one else was required.

The evening meal had been touchy. Many in David’s camp did not trust the king’s son. The meal itself was delicious, as was the wine. And several of the men sat up with David and Jonathan telling stories. But, as the party broke up Jonathan looked at his friend and said, “Well, no wine was spilled tonight.”

“No,” David agreed, “Even the servants were much too careful.”

The next morning they met with Abiathar, the priest, to discuss their situation. After some prayer, the priest said, “You two need to confide in each other. There are doubts and sins you have not told each other. Share your hearts.” Then the priest left them to themselves.

They sat in silence for quite some time. Then David said, “I guess it was my greed for the prize of your sister and the riches that were promised. For I can think of no other reason why your father wants to kill me. It was the greed in my heart that has poisoned this thing.”

Jonathan smiled and quoted his friend, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of the Armies of Israel that you have dared to insult. Today Yahweh will deliver you into my hand and I shall kill you; I will cut off your head, and this very day I will give your dead body and the bodies of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that this assembly may know that it is not by sword or by spear that Yahweh gives the victory, for Yahweh is lord of the battle and he will deliver you into our power.”

David looked up, shocked. “I thought only Goliath heard that.”

“You were full of zeal for God. It wasn’t the reward that motivated you. Remember after the battle we talked. You shared your heart with me and I with you.”

David smiled, remembering. They had talked about their fathers. Both of them were disappointments to their fathers. Since then Jonathan had become second to the king, as was expected. “I have you to thank for that. Saul, my father, transferred his suspicions of usurping the throne from me to you. The fact that you and I were friends made it quite simple in his warped mind. As you know, he made me his Steward, then his Second. Now I am in charge of every aspect of the country except for the military. I do make sure that I get no credit for anything good. That’s the hardest part of the job. He craves glory. So I take all the blame and give him the glory.”

David took a deep breath and then said, “You know my great-grandmother was a Moabitess? Yeah. She married Boaz of Bethlehem. Fortunate, in a way. I’ve sent my family, except my brothers here with me, to Moab. They are safe there. Imagine, God provided for my parents even before they were born. Still, they think I turned on my king. Even though my father saw Samuel anoint me. They think Saul took Michal from me because I am a traitor. They blame me for having to hide in Moab. My brothers are only here with me because Saul seeks revenge on them. They blame me for Saul taking their land, which he did because he said that they abandoned it. And I guess they did. They joined me out of fear of the king.”

David’s smile betrayed his sadness. They sat in silence for a while. Then Jonathan said, “Well, once again we are in the same place. Both of us are respected leaders, but no one in our families really believes we will succeed. My father needs me, but he does not trust me. Your father sounds the same. At least we have each other.”

David expressed doubt that he would ever be king. He told Jonathan how Samuel had anointed him, in secret, so the king would not know. “And now,” he said, “my brothers have sought refuge with me. Saul has killed the priests of Nob because he thought they helped me. It does not look good.” Jonathan reassured David that he would be king. He told David how God had showed that David would be the next king. They made a pact before God that Jonathan would support David as king and that David would make Jonathan his second.

“Besides,” he continued, “my father is angry that I stood up for you.” Then Jonathan related all that was said at the new moon feast, and afterward. “But he is most unhappy with me for saying that he lost the kingdom. He complained to the army that I made a pact with you and no one in the army told him about the pact. The only place for me is with you. My father has all but disowned me.”

David pondered all this. “Your place is with your family just as my place is with mine. Whatever happens, God’s will is always done. Samuel anointed me to be king. But that does not mean that I will be. And even though you have not been anointed, that does not mean that you won’t be king.” He looked at his friend. Thoughts of how things might have been flooded his head. The two of them leading Israel into victory after victory. They could conquer the whole world. That vision was not to be. But what was to be? Suddenly it was clear.

“Your duty is to your father the king. Mine is to this.” David swept his arm around to indicate the people who had come to him for protection. He continued, “We both have wives and families. We are to protect them.”

Then David looked hard at his friend. “Why did you come here, alone?” He stressed the word “alone.”

Jonathan turned his head, embarrassed. Not even Simon, his armor bearer, was with him.

“The Lord will return you to your father’s favor. Saul fears me, not you. God will honor you if you stay with your father,” David told Jonathan, “your place is with him. Follow the Lord’s command and honor your father. We both know it is a hard thing. But it is the commandment.”

David was silent. They sat looking at each other, then David spoke, quite sorrowfully, “It will be worse if you join me. It will put the country into civil war. Many of the army will follow you. Already four hundred discontented with the king have joined me. They sought me, I did not ask them to join me. Many of the northern tribes will join you, but not all. Benjamin will side with Saul. Judah will, probably, split between Saul and me. Then the Philistines will have their way with us. Your father has been successful because the whole country was united in battle against the Philistines. If we are split, they will overrun Saul and me and you. No, the Lord’s command is to honor your father. It is your duty to your father, to your family, to your country, to the Lord God.”

“That’s the problem.” Jonathan said, sadly shaking his head. “How can I obey God and my Father?”

“Wait here.” David indicated he would be back soon. When he returned, Abiathar was with him. “Jonathan, I think you need to hear this from a man of God. Now I have some things to attend. Come find me when you’re done.”

Jonathan nodded. Then he smiled at Abiathar and asked, “You’re going to show me how to do the impossible, aren’t you?”

Abiathar shook his head and said, “David thinks I can help. He said you have a problem involving God. He thinks a priest should be available to offer God’s viewpoint. So, what’s the problem?”

As Jonathan explained his dilemma, Abiathar listened intently, even though he knew much of what Jonathan said. When Jonathan finished, Abiathar said, “The problem is that you are not required to obey both God and your father. The commandments are to obey God and honor your father.”

“Honor?” Jonathan nodded, surprised. Then understanding slowly dawned. He had not seen the difference between obedience and honor. He knew that he should never say anything against his father in public. But he had not made the distinction between obedience and honor. It seemed like he must obey in order to show honor. Perhaps there was another way. Perhaps he could show respect and respectfully decline.

“Thank you, Abiathar. That helps.” Jonathan was both humbled and strengthened by God’s wisdom. Then it all seemed so impossible. He looked at Abiathar and said, “No. It does not help. Well, not much. My father won’t accept that I obey God and not him. He can’t have his son, much less anyone else, say, ‘I obey God, not you.’ No, Abiathar, you’re right about obedience and honor. But there must be something more.”

The priest smiled. “There is. But it will be hard.”

Jonathan said nothing. He waited for the priest.

Then Abiathar spoke a word that Jonathan had not heard in years: “Forgiveness. You must apologize to your father and ask your father to forgive you. Then you must tell your father that you forgive him, too.”

“You’re right. It will be hard.”

Jonathan watched the way the rag-tag army followed David. He saw how David made the best of a bad situation. He had the men and the women and children organized. Remembering how David had told him about naming his sheep, using different methods to get his sheep to do what he wanted, Jonathan saw David doing the same thing with these men. And David seemed more certain, more directed, after their conversation. David’s doubts were obvious, but so was his faith.

When they parted, Jonathan felt relieved, encouraged and strengthened. As he rode back to Gibeah, he pondered about all that had happened. He perceived that David was much stronger. He saw in David the same thing his father saw, a man who would lead the people for God. But Jonathan also saw a man full of doubt, another sinner like himself, who trusted God with all his heart. He would save Israel and make it a great nation.

As he rode back through the wilderness, Jonathan talked with his Lord about all that he had discussed with David and Abiathar. Forgiveness. Abiathar was right. He would have to go to his father and apologize, then ask for forgiveness. He talked with the Lord for the entire journey home about honor, obedience and forgiveness. It was going to be a very difficult thing to do.

By the time Jonathan had arrived home he had made peace with God. He went in and, relying on the peace he had made with God, made peace with his father.

 

Epilogue: 1 Samuel Chapter 31

 

A note on this story.

This story is based on The Bible, the book of First Samuel. I have tried to be as accurate to the Biblical record as I possibly could. However, I have taken “poetic license” in many places. Jonathan is a minor character in the Biblical record, which is much more interested in David. However, I find Jonathan to be a truly heroic character. Much of what I have added to the story I gleaned from Biblical Commentaries, including Matthew Henry. Some ideas are gleaned from the context. For example, I have not seen anyone suggest why Jonathan went to see David in Horesh. It almost seems superfluous. Why record it? Then it dawned on me that Jonathan was in a difficult position and he may have decided to join David. There are times when the Bible is a puzzle that cannot be solved. This is one of them. There is no ‘true’ answer. No one knows why Jonathan went to Horesh. So I ask you to read this as a story, and not as Biblical truth. The purpose here is, first, to entertain you; second, to shed light on one of the great stories of human history: Saul, Jonathan and David. It is a true tragedy that Saul was rejected by God.

It is also interesting that, in the book of Esther, Haman was a descendant of Agag. I’ll let you ponder that.

It is very encouraging that Jonathan and David were true men of God. We can take heart in their example, Proverbs 27:17 tells us, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” They remind us that we can truly love the Lord, and even though we are sinners, we can still talk to Him.

I began this story over two decades ago. It has been very difficult to write, in part, because it deals with the relationship of a son and his father. It is rare that fathers and sons truly understand each other. Jesus points at this in his story of the Prodigal Son. Even though the father in that parable loved both of his sons, neither of them understood their father. And I see that in both Jonathan and David. And then in David and Absalom. So I wrote this as an offering of hope to sons everywhere. With God’s help, you can make peace with your Dad.

23 August 2018

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