Lately I have been thinking a lot about friendship. In some ways I have tried my whole life to become friends with everyone. As I have grown, I have become particularly grateful for my closet friends who love me well (and I try hard to do the same for them!). In scripture we can find threads that run throughout the tapestry of the entire story. One thread, or theme really, is that God is pleased when we love each other well. In the story of David and Jonathan we find this very thread.
Jonathan was a prince in Israel. His father, Saul, was the first king Israel ever had. David, in contrast, was a shepherd and not a likely friend for Jonathan. That is, until that whole Goliath episode. After that, David became a regular fixture around the king’s table, and of course his family. Here is what the bible tells us about David and Jonathan’s friendship:
“...the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul...Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.” | I Samuel 18:1-4
It is easy to get lost in the awkwardness of the undressing here. Many have tried to use this passage as evidence that these men had an inappropriate relationship. It is simply not true. Some have become lost in the symbolism (or chosen to see what they want to see instead of what is there).
This act is symbolic and represents the vulnerability of true friendship. You see, you and I cannot be friends as long as I keep my armor on when you’re around. Let me try that again. You and I cannot be friends as long as I keep my walls up and never let you close. If you and I are to become friends, and of the truest kind, I must let my guard down and trust you with the areas of my life I have learned to protect the most. Friendship without authenticity is a one-way connection that feeds our wants but never meets our needs.
“...in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.” | Brene’ Brown
Jonathan loved David as his own soul. This means he saw David’s success as equal to his own. Jonathan wasn’t obsessed, but he was committed as a friend to put David’s needs before his own. True friendship indeed.
LAYING IT ALL DOWN
As if these gestures are not enough, Jonathan proves his friendship with a shocking statement.
“Jonathan went to find David and encouraged him to stay strong in his faith in God. 17 “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan reassured him. “My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware.” 18 So the two of them renewed their solemn pact before the Lord.” | I Samuel 23:16-18
Jonathan gave up his inheritance and acknowledges that David is truly meant to be king (even though Jonathan is Saul’s heir). Jonathan’s connection to God led him to see something on David’s life. Jonathan saw David’s calling, and that God had chosen him to be the next king of Israel. For Jonathan, the promotion to king was not more valuable to him than David’s friendship and success.
This is so key for us, especially as leaders. Insecurity, envy, and jealousy can drive such a wedge between our relationship with God and our relationship with people around us. Another way to think of it is that envy or jealousy can rob us of some of the most healthy, most life-giving, and most rewarding relationships.
Jonathan was a true friend, and an example of the love Jesus described in John 15:13. May we pray and desire to carry the same spirit Jonathan had toward David as we honor God with our close relationships.
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” | John 15:13