I hope you have been enjoying this year’s extended sermon series titled “The United Church - A Study of Ancient Israel”. It covers the fascinating period of Jewish history in which the nation of Israel was first established. The Hebrew people had been separated according to their tribal families for centuries, but eventually united to form a single nation. Israel was established as a monarchy and Saul became its first king.
Despite his early military success, Saul had disobeyed God and had forfeited the LORD’s favor. God had instead chosen Jesse’s youngest son David, a mere shepherd boy from Bethlehem, to someday follow Saul as the new king. Through a series of divine circumstances, young David had been chosen to play the harp for Saul whenever the king needed refreshing. Thus, David began to develop a familiarity with the royal family even as a youth.
Then David courageously slew the champion Goliath. This event marked an important turning point in Saul and David’s relationship. Today’s message sheds light on the deep divide that developed between King Saul and his servant David. The lingering ramifications of David’s victory over the Philistine giant would poison Saul’s behavior for the rest of his life.
However, this message also emphasizes the wonderful friendship that blossomed between David and Jonathan. Theirs was one of the strongest friendships written about in the entire Bible. Thus, today’s sermon applies to both the love of a friend and the hatred of an enemy.
I. A FORBIDDEN FRIEND (1 Samuel 18)
After David’s incredible triumph over Goliath, Saul had him brought to live in the royal household permanently. Prior to this point it appears that David was summoned to serve the king on an “as needed basis”. Now that he resided there full-time, young David began to develop closer relationships with those who lived in the king’s house. Over time, he became best friends with Saul’s son Jonathan. These 2 men pledged their mutual devotion and loyalty to one another.
Meanwhile King Saul had overheard some women singing about how remarkable David was compared to him. The troubled king was disturbed by these assertions. The next day Saul was overcome by the evil spirit from God and David came to play the harp for him. As he played, Saul angrily threw a spear at David but missed. Saul did not want David living in his house anymore, so the king appointed David to be a commander in his army and sent him away. For the next few years, David enjoyed great success in battle and became more and more famous while King Saul became increasingly fearful and jealous of him.
Eventually Saul decided to offer his oldest daughter to David in marriage, hoping perhaps to secure the young man’s allegiance and servitude. David politely and humbly declined the offer, stating that he was unworthy to be the king’s son-in-law. King Saul would not be deterred, so he then offered his younger daughter Michal to David - if he could kill 100 Philistines. Saul actually hoped that David would die trying to reach this number, but instead David boldly accepted the king’s challenge and killed 200 Philistines. King Saul was furious, but reluctantly gave his daughter Michal to David in marriage. No matter what evil schemes Saul conspired against him, it seemed that David always came out on top. Meanwhile, during all this time, David and Jonathan’s friendship grew stronger and stronger.
II. A FAITHFUL FRIEND (1 Samuel 19)
Finally Saul decided to tackle the problem directly by simply decreeing that David be executed. But Jonathan couldn’t stand to see David killed, especially for no good reason, so he warned him to go and hide until the situation was resolved. Then Jonathan went to reason with his father, and successfully convinced Saul to leave David alone. So David temporarily returned to the king’s service and things were as they had been before. David resumed his role as commander and led the army to another victory over the Philistines.
Not long after, David was again summoned to play comforting music for the ailing king. Saul, for the second time, in an outburst of rage threw his spear at David but missed. David fled into the night and came to his house, but King Saul sent men to lie in wait for him there. They were ordered to kill David the next morning. Michal helped David escape through a window, and deceived Saul’s soldiers by pretending that David was ill. David had again eluded Saul’s clutches and fled to Samuel’s home in Ramah.
Samuel sought to provide refuge for David in Naioth, a nearby settlement where Samuel led a community of prophets. Once the king discovered where David had gone, he dispatched a team to go get him. But when these men arrived, the Spirit of God came upon them and they began to prophesy. As such, they were rendered unable to capture David. Saul sent a second team and then a third team, but both times these men prophesied also. Finally Saul himself went to Ramah, but he too was overcome by the Spirit of God and prophesied. None of Saul’s servants, including the king himself, were able to catch David.
Jonathan had interceded on David’s behalf to spare his life. Michal had tricked Saul’s men so that David could escape. Samuel had given David refuge in Ramah and God Himself had protected David from be captured. Everyone loved David, even Saul’s own children, and the king became consumed with jealousy.
III. A FOREVER FRIEND (1 Samuel 20)
David left Ramah and went to meet with his friend Jonathan once again. The situation was dire and something had to be done, so the 2 men developed a plan. The New Moon feast was approaching and David was expected to attend the event at Saul’s house, but he was understandably afraid to do so. Jonathan agreed that David should hide in the field. Jonathan wanted to find out what his father’s intentions were regarding David. The friends developed a signal, using a bow and arrows, that would secretly let David know if it was safe to return.
The first night of the feast Saul noticed that David was absent, but he didn’t say anything about it. The second night, however, King Saul asked his son Jonathan if he knew where David was. Jonathan answered that he’d allowed David to travel home to Bethlehem for a few days. The king was furious at Jonathan for siding with David over his own father. Saul then errantly threw his spear at Jonathan! The king’s son left the table disgusted, knowing now that David could never return safely. King Saul burned with hatred for David.
The next morning, in keeping with their plan, Jonathan discreetly went outside to practice archery. He took a servant boy with him to the field where David was hiding and watching. The signal was simple - if Jonathan shot his arrows beside the target then David was safe but if he shot them beyond the target then David was in danger. Jonathan shot 3 arrows beyond the target, thereby warning David that Saul’s anger had not subsided. After the boy gathered the arrows, Jonathan sent him back to the palace. When he was gone, David rose from his hiding place. He and Jonathan exchanged an emotional embrace as they said goodbye for the last time. Both men knew that David could never come back as long as Saul was king. They again pledged that, despite their separation, they would remains friends forever. Then David fled and Jonathan returned home.
Though we have talked a lot this morning about King Saul’s blinding resentment and anger toward David, I want to close by focusing our attention on the special friendship between David and Jonathan. There are several important observations we can make as we consider their relationship. I will mention 3 of them briefly.
First, though his father most certainly disapproved, Jonathan loved David dearly. This shows that sometimes our friendships can become stronger and more meaningful than our family relationships. After all - you get to choose your friends, but you don’t get to choose your relatives. It is important that we choose our friends wisely.
Second, true friends will always be there for each other. Jonathan put his own life in jeopardy multiple times to help protect David. He did not sell David out even when pressured repeatedly to do so. If not for Jonathan, young David might have been killed or imprisoned. Jonathan’s loyalty to David stands as an example of what it means to be a faithful friend.
Third, after it became obvious that David and Jonathan would have to part ways the 2 men still pledged to remain friends forever. Genuine friendships endure even if they are separated by great amounts of time and distance. For example, I haven’t seen some of my best friends for several years now, yet I know that if I needed them they’d still be here for me. All I’d have to do is call. That is the power a lifelong friendship.
In closing, we should always remember that Jesus calls His followers “friends”. There is no closer or truer friend than Jesus. He is always faithful to His disciples. Whatsmore, He gave his life for us so that we might be eternally set free from sin and death. Jesus chose to ransom us - He wasn’t forced to do it. He did it because He loves us. Jesus is the best friend that anyone can ever have. All you have to do is call upon His name. He will never let you down.