An Ode to the Remarkable Jonathan

Posted on May 4, 2016

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By David Ettinger

In my almost 30 years of Bible-reading, I am always touched when I read the account Jonathan, the son of Israel’s first king, Saul. My admiration for him is boundless.

Simply put, Jonathan was remarkable.

He was the heir to the throne of Israel, and yet was willing to surrender it to someone that was not only not from his own family, but not even from his own tribe. Jonathan, like his father King Saul, was from the tribe of Benjamin; David was from Judah.

So, why would Jonathan be willing to surrender the throne to this man—much to his father’s dismay?

hold handsThe answer is simple: God had ordained that David would become Saul’s successor, and Jonathan was willing to follow God’s will. The Bible doesn’t tell us how Jonathan knew that he would not succeed his father. Perhaps the Lord spoke to him in the quiet of his soul, or maybe He came to Jonathan one night in a dream and communicated His wishes to him. However, one thing we are sure of: Jonathan knew he would not be Israel’s next king. How do we know this? Jonathan said so.

One day, while David was fleeing Saul’s wrath, Jonathan found his way to David and told him: “Don’t be afraid. My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this” (1 Samuel 23:17). What’s extra fascinating about this verse is its revelation that not only did Jonathan know that David would be Israel’s next king, but so did Saul. This was God’s will. Jonathan was willing to accept it; Saul was not.

Not only was Jonathan willing to accept the fact that he wouldn’t be king after his father’s death, but he went a step further by telling David he would be his loyal assistant. Notice how Jonathan said, “You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you” (italic added).

Such selflessness is rare.

What made Jonathan’s soaring character even more amazing is the fact that he had Saul as a father. Just how bad was Saul? Consider this. When Saul was hunting down David, trying to kill him, he received word that David had come to the town of Nob, the home of Israel’s priests. David had already fled Nob, and when the priests couldn’t tell Saul where David had fled to, we read this grisly account:

The king then ordered Doeg, ‘You turn and strike down the priests.’ So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck them down. That day he killed eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. He also put to the sword Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep” (1 Samuel 22:18-19).

This, more than any account of Saul, speaks of his treachery, cruelty, and viciousness.

Jonathan was nothing like his father.

Jonathan and David became friends the day David killed Goliath. When Jonathan met David for the first time, we are told, “Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself” (1 Samuel 18:1). From that day on, Jonathan would be David’s most faithful friend and companion.

Jonathan’s faithfulness, however, would eventually lead to his death.

Though he could have joined forces with David, who fled Saul and formed his own army,[1] Jonathan chose to remain loyal to his father, though his father’s actions often enraged him.[2]

hold handsThen one terrible day, as the Philistines were routing Israel in the battle of Mount Gilboa, Saul was killed along with Jonathan and his two brothers Abinadab and Malki-Shua.[3] It was a sad and tragic day for Israel, but no one was as inconsolable as David.

Though he respectfully noted Saul’s heroism and service to Israel, David saved his most glowing acclamation for Jonathan: “How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights. I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women” (2 Samuel 1:25-26).

No doubt the parchment upon which David wrote was strewn with drops of tears. David’s love for Jonathan was deep, pure and fitting for one who was willing to surrender the throne for his dearest friend.

Jonathan stands among history’s greatest examples that children of evil parents are not destined to follow in their footprints. Jonathan is proof that natural goodness and dignity can stand up under the most challenging of circumstances.

[1] 1 Samuel 22:2

[2] 1 Samuel 20:34

[3] 1 Samuel 31:2