The Peril of Forgetting Jonathan

Oh, Jonathan.

Jonathan, David’s best friend, who never slayed a Goliath, who never earned the hearts of Israel with his relentless slaughter of Philistines.

Jonathan, who – when David came to him desperate and afraid for his life – soothed him and swore a covenant of friendship, loyalty, and love “between your descendants and my descendants forever” (1 Samuel 20:42).

Jonathan, who acknowledged with humility, grace, and no trace of bitterness or complaint that he “would be second to” a last-born shepherd in spite of his royal birthright and position as Saul’s firstborn son.

Jonathan, who sat humiliated and helpless at the table while his own father derided him as the “son of a perverse and rebellious woman…[who has sided with the son of Jesse] to his own shame” (1 Samuel 20: 30).

Jonathan, who ducked the spear thrown at him by his own father.

Jonathan, who grew so angry and sorrowful over his father’s treatment of David that he could not eat.

Jonathan, whose intervention saved David’s life.

Jonathan, who suffered a brutal death at the hands of the Philistines, whose death was proclaimed by the Philistines in the streets with joy, whose body was displayed on the wall of Beth Shan until some Israelites came to retrieve him and bury him.

In the reading of the Old Testament and in the stories of great Biblical figures, it is always David who receives focus and praise and attention: giant-slaying, Philistine-murdering, Bathsheba-desiring, eloquent and complicated David.

But there would have been no David without Jonathan.  Pay close attention to that, because it was not until my recent re-reading of David’s story that I fully realized it at all.  There would have been no David without Jonathan.

Jonathan did not need David.  In fact, David’s very existence only served to upend Jonathan’s.  Jonathan was royalty, the firstborn son of a king, and this is the result of his friendship with David: the inevitable loss of his position and status, the loss of his father’s affection, and an eventual brutal death.

Jonathan did not need David.  But David needed Jonathan.

Without Jonathan’s intervention, the line of David – the eventual line of Christ! – would have been cut off at the root.  Saul’s madness and envy and rage would have prevailed.  It was a prince, in utter disregard of his position, who stemmed the tide of that hatred – even at great cost to himself.  And in him, though surely he sinned because he was human, we see no bitterness, no contempt, no envy, no grudge.

David is a Biblical hero.  But Jonathan is the man who displays an astonishingly Christlike character, and that perhaps is why he is less well-known. So many of us have a tendency to focus on Christian “heroes” – the big, bright, loud, rock ‘n’ roll stars of the faith who draw attention with charisma and outsize personalities or startling eloquence – that we miss these quiet people in the background whose sacrifices and love and loyalty make everything else possible.

If you’re a believer, you surely have a Jonathan – a person you’ve leaned on, someone who understands you, who has helped you, who has ministered to you in a time of need.  Don’t forget that person, regardless of where your journey takes you. Reach out to them and thank them and repay the love and loyalty as much as you can.

You don’t know how long you’ll have them with you.


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