Why Jonathan Had to Die

Posted on June 15, 2022


By David Ettinger

Note: This post is a follow-up to “An Ode to the Remarkable Jonathan.”

Sad Account
Though I’ve read the account of King David in 1 and 2 Samuel more than 65 times, I nonetheless feel sadness over one particular section. We read of it in 1 Samuel 31:1-2:

Now the Philistines fought against Israel; the Israelites fled before them, and many fell dead on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines were in hot pursuit of Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua.

Whenever I read this I think, Why Jonathan? Why did he have to die? He was so good!

David and Jonathan loved each other deeply in friendship, so much so that Jonathan enthusiastically conceded the kingship to David, though he (Johnathan) was heir to his father’s throne (1 Samuel 23:17).

It was my conviction for years that had Jonathan lived and served as David’s second-in-command, perhaps he could have prevented David from committing the sins which contributed to his turbulent life.

I believed that with Jonathan at his side, David would have striven to emulate his beloved friend’s righteous character and repulse the powerful desires of his flesh.

I no longer feel this way. Aware of how rotten and evil the human race can be, I have come to the conclusion that Jonathan had to die.

A Sad Reality
You only need to observe the world today to see just how maniacal and territorial people are when it comes to politics.

It is fine to support those you admire, but the savage hatred of those “on the other side” has become rampant, disturbing, and dangerous. We see this in America today, and the vitriol and animosity continues to worsen.

Things were as bad in the days of King David.

Israel’s first king, Saul, was from the tribe of Benjamin; David from the tribe of Judah. These could almost be looked at as two political parties, though the ties were much stronger as they represented separate family lines.

It is one thing to be radically supportive of your political party of choice, but add family ties to the mix, and you’ve got a toxic combination.

After the Benjamite Saul died and the Judahite David ascended to the throne, his reign was constantly being hounded by Benjamite loyalists who hated him for transferring the kingship from their “party” to his (though it was the Lord’s will).

Two examples stand out. The first is when David’s son Absalom sought to wrest the kingdom away from his father. In fear, David and his supporters fled from Absalom. We read:

As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the same clan as Saul’s family came out from there. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and he cursed as he came out. … Shimei said, “Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel! The Lord has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned (2 Samuel 16:5, 7-8, emphasis added).

Soon after, when Absalom was defeated and David was returning, we read:  

Now a troublemaker named Sheba son of Bikri, a Benjamite, happened to be there. He sounded the trumpet and shouted, “We have no share in David, no part in Jesse’s son! Every man to his tent, Israel!” So all the men of Israel deserted David to follow Sheba son of Bikri. But the men of Judah stayed by their king all the way from the Jordan to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 20:1-2, emphasis added).

Both Shimei and Sheba were zealous Benjamites and Saul apologists. They hated David and longed to see the kingdom returned to their tribe, despite this not being God’s will.

The Sad Bottom Line
The sad bottom line is this: Had Jonathan – Saul’s oldest son and heir to his throne – lived and served as David’s second-in-command, the Benjamites could never have been contained.

They would relentlessly be calling for Jonathan’s advancement to the throne and David’s downfall, and would have waged civil war to achieve their purposes.

Of course, God does not bend to the will of the people, but sometimes He permits them to have their way and reap what they sow.

Because of the wickedness of the Israelites in general and the Benjamites in particular, the man they loved and would have insisted be made king, Jonathan, had to die. His existence would have proven a threat to the Davidic dynasty through which Christ would later come into the world.

When humanity seeks its will over God’s, the results are always tragic, and this is sadly exemplified in the case of righteous, godly Jonathan, who had to leave this earth at far too young an age.