<< 1 Samuel 20: Saul Attempting to Kill Jonathan >>
“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.”– SAM. xx. 32, 33.
THERE is no character in the Jewish history that leaves a pleasanter impression on the mind than that of Jonathan. His heroism appears from the first scene in which he is presented to us in the sacred narrative, until he dies on the fatal field of Gilboa by the side of his father. “In their death they were not divided” (2 Sam, i. 23).
Jonathan’s nobility of mind was particularly displayed in his faithful and disinterested attachment to the young hero who had slain Goliath. The recollection of his love is presented in the affecting words of David’s lamentation on the occasion of his death (2 Sam, i. 26,27). Their mutual attachment was founded on the virtues which they possessed in common. Their souls were knit together when young men. “The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (I Sam, xviii. 1). And whatever might be the lot of his friend. Jonathan remained true to him, and comforted and succoured him, even when his exasperated father threatened to destroy Jonathan himself as well as his hated friend.
Jonathan felt how unworthy was the jealous aversion of the king his father to the brave and modest young man who had wrought so great a deliverance for Israel; and through the eight years of their companionship he never swerved,– but in the palace spoke for him, in the field sent him information, and in the wilderness secretly consoled him, When he knew that it was the will of the Divine Being that David should be king in the room of his father, his piety made not the least complaint. He was perfectly satisfied that, in the government of God all would be for the best. He asked only that David’s friendship might repay to his children the love he had received from their father: a request which in David’s prosperity obtained an ample fulfillment.
In the princely Jonathan, then, we have a model of a virtuous life; of superiority to prejudice, jealousy, and narrow unjust family influence: we have friendship constant and true in adversity as in prosperity, and valour faithful to death. All these admirable qualities constitute a character which will ever be respected by those who esteem the worth of a loving heart, of integrity, of genuine sympathy, of tried and enduring self-sacrifice, which makes it sweet to offer up our all, even life itself for the good of our country.
Let us now endeavour to look a little deeper than the letter of the Word for the spiritual lessons which are available and salutary in every stage and condition of human life: alike to the civilian and the warrior, the simple and the sage.
Israel under Saul represented the church as it is at its early stage, and as it continues for a time, before it has been able to realize the true spiritual character to which the Lord intends to bring it, that it may become his heaven upon earth. Jonathan signifies the good life which the best members of the church realize at that time. Saul and the people with him were weak, wayward, jealous, and selfish. Jonathan was consistent and upright. Saul represents the external church in general, with a little good and much evil. Jonathan the best portion of that church with much good and little evil. Saul made outward profession ofesteem for David, but inwardly regarded him with aversion. David is the type of the Lord Jesus, and spiritual-mindedness from Him. Jonathan had a deep affection for David; representing the sincere members of the church, who love the Lord Jesus from their very hearts, and do not dread but hail his kingdom over themselves and over all. The Word of the Lord is full of emblems and illustrations of this distinction between the external church and the internal church: and in all cases the external dies, that the internal may fully reign; as Saul died to make way for the reign of David.
Moses leading the people out of Egypt, and directing them during the forty years in the wilderness, during which the first generation died, represented the same general state of the external church as Saul and the people under him, Moses dying, and, being succeeded by Joshua, had the same general lesson to teach (but with interesting differences) as Saul dying, and being succeeded by David. Jonathan, like Caleb, was a true and faithful heart, that always maintained integrity, and stood by the right. Jonathan, then, is the type of the really good in the external church. He was the son of Saul, and his name means the “GIFT OF JEHOVAH.” He signifies the new external man the new nature or character in a man, which is acquired by repentance and reformation.
For religion in a man to have any worth at all, it must have a son. ” Except a man be born again (or born from above), he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John iii. 3). In this new man, the gift of Jehovah, the friend of Jesus in the soul, ye have, then, that which Jonathan represented, and which will always make his character a profitable and delightful study to the thoughtful Christian. In his strength and in his weakness, every sincere Christian claims kindred with Jonathan. Every Christian must have the new birth; and though we must earnestly and willingly receive it, yet it is the “gift of Jehovah.” We must be born from above, of water and the spirit (that is, of truth and love), or we cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John iii. 5). Religion must be in deed as well as in word, revealed in new conduct and new tempers, visible to men and inspired by God, or our profession is vain as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind” is the essence of apostolic teaching, Eph. IV. 23-25; Col. 111. 9-14.
Jonathan, then, is the type of those in the church who really have a new and genuine character; doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with their God: and in an individual, of that new nature which genuine religion has formed in his character. His conquest over the Philistines in Gibeah of Benjamin represented the victory of those who are sincere and true over all such as would lead them to a profession of religion without real change (xiii. 2, 3). To do this ill the hill, which Geba means, is to act according to the truth from the high feeling of love for it. This gives earnestness, courage and success.
The easy victory of Jonathan and his armour-bearer over the formidable host of the Philistines, when they were invited to come on, represented the vanishing away of the supposed difficulties of keeping the Lord’s commandments, when those difficulties are confronted with a simple heart and an earnest mind. Terrible in aspect as the cloudy giants of the Hartze mountains of Germany, are the difficulties conjured up by those who ask, threateningly, “Can you pretend to keep the cornmandments of God? Do you pretend that anyone can go to heaven by doing right? Do you believe in salvation by good works?” Yet frail as those monsters of vapour are such difficulties, when met by an humble faith which says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me ” (Phil. iv. 13). Of the chimeras that frighten us from a new life, and from doing good, it may truly be declared:
“Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen;
Like the leaves of the forest when autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strawn.”
Jonathan’s devotion to David represents the new man’s devotion to the Lord Jesus: and although in his old nature, represented by his father, with his enmity and envy, the Lord is repelled from the soul; yet the better nature, represented by Jonathan, always yearns after him, goes to him in the wilderness, is conjoined to him soul to soul, and will not let him go. The mysterious states and working of the principles of good and evil in the little world of man’s mental constitution are represented in the meetings and conversations of David and Jonathan.
Saul’s anxiety to have David present at the feast of the new moon, that he might take the opportunity to kill him, represents the radical aversion of merely external religion, full as it is of selfishness, even in its worship, to the spiritual kingdom of the Lord. A proud man is proud in his worship, proud in his prayer, proud in his singing, proud in his pew. He cannot bear pure truth. Self-abasement, humility, a tenderness for the feelings of others; the love of truth for truth’s sake and of goodness and innocence as the greatest of treasures the conviction that the humblest will be greatest in heaven, be he a cottager or a king;-these are things of the internal man, and Saul hates them all. He hates them in teaching, and he hates them in his worship, David’s non-appearance indicates that !here is no communion possible between the spiritual kingdom in the mind, and such a selfish and evil state of heart.
Jonathan’s disbelief in the depth of his father’s malice being so great as really to destroy David, indicates that the better nature in the soul cannot conceive the depth and depravity of the unregenerate part of us. Yet so it is. Fair as we seem to ourselves, “from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders” (Mark vii. 21). And Jonathan found himself compelled to believe that, rather than have David reign, his father would not only destroy David, but destroy him too. Terrible revelation of the states of all those who have not steadily, pursued the work of heart-conflict, who have not “died daily” by struggling against self in all its forms, and not least against self in the forms of religion!
“From charity its living root,
True faith produces holy fruit;
But they who only leaves can show
Still on ‘the stock of nature grow.
Lord, let Thy word effectual prove
To work in us obedient love;
And teach our wandering hearts to dread
A name to live, where life is dead!”
It is wonderful to contemplate the mercy of the Lord Jesus in dealing with the human soul! Before the work of religion truly begins, although there is in it an embryo of heaven from our blessed Creator, it is a mass of iniquity, a “body of sin” (Rom. vi. 6), a “body of death” (vii. 24), “a vile body” (Phil. iii. 21), as the apostolic phrases are. How is this mass of impurity, vanity and selfishness, to be transformed into an angel? We are selfish in our audacious crimes, self-seeking in our virtues. How can we be so changed as that reverence for Divine Love and Wisdom, reverence for innocence, purity goodness and truth, shall so entirely govern us that all selfish considerations shall be an abomination to us, and at length entirely silent for ever; and the Lord and heaven reign supreme within us? How can the wolf be made to dwell with the lamb, the leopard to lie down with the kid, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and the little child to lead them (Isa. xi. 6). How can these miracles be wrought? With men this is impossible, but “with God all things are possible” (Mark x. 27).
The Lord appeals to men’s hopes and fears, to their joys and sorrows. They are shaken with dread, they are excited by the hopes of everlasting reward. A host of favouring circumstances are by the Divine Providence gathered round to aid, and unless an utter resistance and aversion from persistent and continuous malice exist, so that no tenderness can melt and nothing less than the destruction of free will (that is, the destruction of manhood altogether) can move, the sinner becomes a penitent, and owns his Saviour. The bruised reed is not broken, nor the smoking flax quenched; but judgment is brought forth to victory. The soul to be saved is taken into the rough ark covered with pitch, and preserved from the flood that would have drowned it; but what a motley cargo has entered along with it! Saul is among the prophets; but what a Saul! What enmities, what hates, what ostentations, what vanities, what meannesses are enclosed in his complex nature, before it becomes a palace of purity, peace and joy! But, blessed be the Divine Mercy, when the spirit of obedience is engrafted in the soul, a new nature is gradually implanted: and though a large and complicated mass of evil remains, which appears from time to time, which is really opposed to the Lord as Saul was to David,-on the other hand there is now a Jonathan there who is his friend. What amazing condescension it is of the Spirit of the Lord, that He will permit Himself to be treated in man as David was treated by Saul! He mourns in us,-He is driven out, struck at again and again, must disappear and reappear, watch and wander, and even in some states be crucified and put to open shame, and Jonathan His friend be reviled. And He submits to all this! The Divine Helper has to fly from our perversities, and wander as a stranger within us, and say: “Thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel. Thou hast bought me no sweet cane with money, neither hast thou filled me with the fat of thy sacrifices: but thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities” (Isa. xliii. 22, 24). Yet, notwithstanding this, the unutterable goodness of our Lord is such that He continues His wonder-working operations within us. In all our afflictions He is afflicted, and the angel of His presence saves us. In His love and in His pity He redeems us. He bears and carries us all our days (Isa. lxiii. 9).
When Jonathan and David were in the field together, it was determined that information should be conveyed respecting Saul’s state of mind by means of three arrows. After three days waiting, David was to take his stand by a stone, called Ezel. Jonathan would fire three arrows, and would cause a youth to look for them. If they were made to fall short of the stone, so that Jonathan should say, “The arrows are on this side of thee, take them;” then David would know that there was no danger, and return with Jonathan to the presence of his father. But if the arrows went beyond the stone Ezel, and beyond where the lad had reached, then it was a sign that Saul was purposing to destroy David; and the latter must, for the safety of his life, go away (ver. 19-22.) This appears a curious arrangernent; but it was carried out, and accomplished the end. Jonathan, as we learn from a later portion of the chapter, gave the information by means of an arrow shot beyond the stone and the youth; by means of which David knew that his life was in danger; and after an affecting parting with his faithful and loving friend, David departed, and Jonathan returned to the city (ver. 42).
In considering the spiritual lesson involved in the arrangement thus made between the two friends, it will be well to notice the curious fact that David was to take his stand by the prominent stone or rock Ezel. A rock corresponds to truth, especially to firm foundation truths. “He set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings” (Psa, xl. 2), evidently means, He has set me firmly on the truth, and enabled me steadily to walk in a new life. “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psa. Lxi. 2), means obviously, when I am in sore trouble, lead me to the truth, and the God of truth, who will comfort and console me. The stone here also corresponds to the truth; and Ezel, which is Hebrew for “walk,” means truth of life. When David stood by the stone Ezel, and it was to be ascertained whether Saul’s designs against him were deadly or not, it is intimated that the truth which determines a man’s lot is the truth he lives, it is not the truth he has in his memory, but what he has in his walk; what he loves and does. He must stand by the stone Ezel.
The boy with the arrows signifies the memory which contains the knowledge which we may use for good or evil. He is said to know nothing of higher matters. The mere memory does not. It serves, and does not meddle further.
The arrows which Jonathan was to shoot represent bitter thoughts and bitter words. These, when employed against the good, are like cruel arrows, stinging and piercing; arrows aimed at the breast represent cruel assaults destructive of charity (Psa. lvii. 4; lxiv. 3, 4). The arrows of bitter, spiteful, malicious words are amongst the most terrible instruments of mischief ever used by violent souls; the wounds they make rankle for years and years and often inflict fatal injury. We can never be too careful of our words, nor of the thoughts which inspire them. The arrows fired by Jonathan were to be indicators of Saul’s state. If they fell short of the stone Ezel, there was no danger. If they went as far, or beyond, they indicated a deadly state in Saul. They went beyond; and David took the warning. The only solace was the warm love of his friend Jonathan, who came and wept with him when he could do no more (ver. 41).
In spiritual matters, the arrows that fall on this side the stone Ezel represent the objections that people may oppose to matters of theory or of intellect, but which do not strike against the religion of life. These objections come from ignorance, from circumstances, from mistakes of education, these do no fatal harm to anyone. They do not arise from malice or the love of evil. They intend no harm to David. The Lord can conjoin those to Himself who are in many errors, and who have opposed Him unwittingly, thinking they were doing Him service. Jonathan, when he has to give an account of these, will make his arrows fall short of the stone Ezel, and no harm will be meant against David.
In indicating Saul’s state, however, Jonathan made the arrows go beyond, importing opposition to what is good, not only in doctrine but in life. He hated David altogether. There are souls who love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil (John iii. 19). They mean deadly harm to David. They hate the Lord’s kingdom; they hate the Lord Himself. They burn to make themselves greater than the Most High. They will not have this man to reign over them. These are they who are described by Saul’s state, indicated by the arrow going to the stone Ezel, and beyond.
There may be a Saul in us who opposes the reign of David, and, when we would do good, makes evil present with us; and in such case we should be utterly condemned,—there would be no hope for us; but, happily, Jonathan may be in the same breast; and when David comes out of a place towards the south (as expressed in ver. 41), Jonathan will be ready to meet him, and they will kiss one another, and from love weep one with the other. The south is the direction of the sun at noonday when light is great, and in spiritual things it signifies a state of intelligence. While there may be much to deplore in us, represented by Saul, there may also be much for gratitude, for hope, for trust and joy, represented by Jonathan, and David in communion with him. These and the offsprings of these blessed conditions in the soul will form a new world of light and love and peace. Good within from the Lord, and good without, also previously from the Lord, will unite together, kiss one another, and prepare us for the blessing pronounced by Jonathan: “Go in peace” (ver. 42).
Author: Jonathan Bayley— The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)