1 Samuel 20


Jonathan Warns David

      • David fled from Naioth in Ramah and went to Jonathan and asked, “What have I done? What am I guilty of? How have I sinned against your father so that he’s trying to kill me?” Jonathan replied, “That’s not true! You won’t die. Look, my father doesn’t do anything, large or small, without telling me. Why would he hide this from me? It isn’t true.” But David said, “Your father certainly knows that you look favorably on me, and he has thought to himself, “Jonathan must not know about this or he will be upset.” David took an oath saying, “As surely as Yahweh lives and you live, I am only a step away from death!” Jonathan said, “Whatever you say, I will do for you.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Jonathan was naive about his father’s intentions. David’s willingness to swear by the Lord showed how convinced he was about Saul’s intentions.”

      • David said, “Look, tomorrow is the New Moon feast and I’m supposed to dine with the king. But let me go hide in the field until the third evening from now. If your father happens to notice that I’m not there, tell him, ‘David urgently requested my permission to go to his hometown, Bethlehem, for an annual sacrifice there with his whole family.’ If he says, ‘That’s fine,’ then your servant is safe. But, if he gets angry, you’ll know he is determined to harm me. Show loyalty to your servant because you have brought me into a covenant with you before Yahweh. If I am guilty, you kill me yourself. Why take me to your father?”

        • On the New Moon feast the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “The Mesopotamian calendar included various festivals, or special days. Many were celebrated on certain days of the month, the seventh day, the fifteenth or the beginning of the month (the new moon). In Israel too the New Moon feast was a time of rejoicing. Marked by special sacrifices (Nu 28:11-15), the sounding of trumpets (Nu 10:10; cf Ps 81:3), etc., the feast was often mentioned in conjunction with the most regular of special days, the Sabbath (2 Ki 4:23), and it may have been subject to similar regulations (Am 8:5). Judging from the prominence of the king in ancient Near Eastern festival celebrations and from Biblical passages such as Eze 45:17, David’s absence from Saul’s table may have had political repercussions. Observance of the New Moon feast continued into the postexilic period (Ne 10:33), and it is mentioned once in the NT (Col 2:16).”

      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “Israelite families might designate one of the new moon festivals as an opportunity for an annual family sacrifice (see, e.g., 1:3).”

      • Jonathan answered, “Never! If I had any idea that my father had decided to harm you, wouldn’t I tell you?” David asked, “Who will tell me if your father answers you harshly?” Jonathan said, “Come out to the field with me.” So they went out into the field and Jonathan told David, “Yahweh, the God of Israel, be my witness, I will sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow. If he is favorably inclined toward you, will I not send word to let you know? But if my father intends to harm you, may Yahweh do all this and more to Jonathan, if I don’t send word to you to let you know so you can go away safely. May Yahweh be with you just as He was with my father. While I’m still alive, extend to me the loyalty of Yahweh, but if I die, don’t withdraw your loyalty from my household- not even when Yahweh has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.” So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May Yahweh hold David’s enemies accountable.” And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Jonathan invoked a curse upon himself [may Yahweh do all this and more to Jonathan] to reassure David that he would keep his promise. Jonathan recognized that David had received the blessing from God that his father once had. The divine favor that had brought Saul into royal office (9:14-10:1) would bring David into royal office as Saul’s replacement. Jonathan accepted this even though he was the natural successor to Saul.”

        • Guzik adds, “Jonathan was aware of the political dynamic between the family of David and the family of Jonathan. In those days when one royal house replaced another it was common for the new royal house to kill all the potential rulers from the old royal house. Jonathan knew that one day David and his descendants would rule over Israel and he wanted a promise that David and his descendants will not kill or mistreat the descendants of Jonathan…Jonathan and David agreed to care for one another. Jonathan agreed to care for David in the face of Saul’s threat and David agreed to care for Jonathan and his family in the future. David fulfilled this promise to Jonathan (2 Samuel 9:1-8 and 21:7).”

      • Then Jonathan said, “Tomorrow is the New Moon feast. You’ll be missed because your seat will be empty. The day after tomorrow, hurry down to the place you hid the day this trouble began, and wait beside the stone of Ezel. I will shoot three arrows near it as if I am shooting at a target. Then I’ll send a boy saying, ‘Go find the arrows.’ Now if I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you; bring them here,’ then come back, because as surely as Yahweh lives, you’re safe and there is no danger. But, if I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then go, because Yahweh is sending you away. Concerning the matter that you and I discussed- remember, Yahweh will be a witness between you and me forever.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Jonathan’s ruse would allow David to get the message even if there could be no face-to-face meeting; the boy’s presence would allay suspicion and provide Jonathan an alibi for going to the field. As it happened, no one but the boy accompanied Jonathan to the field, so when the boy left, David was able to speak with Jonathan face-to-face (20:41-42).”

      • So David hid in the field, and when the New Moon feast came, the king sat down to eat his meal. He sat at his usual place on the seat by the wall, with Jonathan opposite him, and Abner beside him, but David’s seat was empty. Saul didn’t say anything that day because he thought, “Something must have happened to make him ceremonially unclean. Yes, he must be unclean.” But the next day, the day after the New Moon, David’s seat was empty again. So Saul asked his son Jonathan, “Why hasn’t Jesse’s son come to the meal either yesterday or today?”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible explains, “Abner was Saul’s cousin and served as commander of Saul’s army (14:50; 17:55). His importance is indicated by his position beside the king at this festival. A number of circumstances could render a person unclean and thus unfit for attending a sacred festival (see Lev 7:20-21). Often, an unclean person was required to be excluded from such functions only until the evening of the same day (Lev 15). This explains why Saul became suspicious after David did not arrive the next day.”

      • Jonathan answered, “David asked for my permission to go to Bethlehem saying, ‘Let me go because our family holds a sacrifice in the city and my brother has ordered me to be there. If I have found favor with you, please allow me to get away to see my brothers.’ That’s why he hasn’t come to the king’s table.”

      • Saul became furious with Jonathan and shouted, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Don’t I know that to your own disgrace and to the disgrace of the mother who bore you, that you have sided with Jesse’s son? For as long as this son of Jesse is alive on this earth, you and your kingdom will not be established. Now send for him and have him brought to me because he must die!”

        • NET Bible’s text critical notes give a realistic assessment regarding Saul’s outburst to Jonathan, “The translation of this phrase suggested by Koehler and Baumgartner is ‘bastard of a wayward woman’ (HALOT 796), but this is not an expression commonly used in English. A better English approximation of the sentiments expressed here by the Hebrew phrase would be ‘You stupid son of a bitch!’ However, sensitivity to the various public formats in which the Bible is read aloud has led to a less startling English rendering which focuses on the semantic value of Saul’s utterance (i.e., the behavior of his own son Jonathan, which he viewed as both a personal and a political betrayal [= ‘traitor’]). But this concession should not obscure the fact that Saul is full of bitterness and frustration. That he would address his son Jonathan with such language, not to mention his apparent readiness even to kill his own son over this friendship with David (v. 33), indicates something of the extreme depth of Saul’s jealousy and hatred of David.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “Saul was interested in the legacy of his own dynasty. He viewed David’s actions as ultimately directed against Jonathan, the hereditary successor. To Saul, Jonathan was stupidly hurting and shaming himself by supporting David.”

      • Jonathan answered his father, “Why should he be killed? What has he done?” But Saul hurled his spear at Jonathan to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father was determined to kill David. Jonathan got up from the table enraged. He didn’t eat anything that second day of the New Moon because he was so upset that his father had disgraced David.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Jonathan had been reluctant to believe the truth about his own father (20:2-3), but he could no longer deny it.”

      • In the morning Jonathan went out the field for the appointment with David. He had brought a little boy with him, and he said to the boy, “Run and find the arrows that I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. When the boy came to the place where Jonathan’s arrow had landed, Jonathan called to him saying, “Isn’t the arrow beyond you? Hurry up! Don’t stop!” The boy picked up the arrow and came back to his master. Now, the boy didn’t know anything; only David and Jonathan knew what was going on. Then Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and told him, “Go and take these to the city.”

        • Guzik remarks, “It took courage for Jonathan to communicate with David, even secretly – because he knew that if his father became aware of it, he would focus his murderous rage against Jonathan again. Jonathan had a noble commitment to David as a friend.”

      • After the boy had gone, David got up from beside the stone heap, fell with his face to the ground, and bowed three times. Then they kissed each other and they both cried, especially David. Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace because we have both sworn in the name of Yahweh, saying, ‘Yahweh will be between me and you and between my descendants and your descendants forever.’” Then David left and Jonathan went back to the city.

        • It bears mentioning that men kissing in greeting is culturally acceptable/common in many other cultures even though it is foreign to our own. Again, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible speaks against those who attempt to read more into this passage than is there, “Here, Jonathan and David, in the face of the dire situation they face, kiss one another as an expression of their friendship and the covenant existing between them…No evidence would suggest that this is any more than the greeting of friends…”

        • I have sided with the translations that opt for the LXX rendering of verse 41 (actually, the ESV’s rendering of the LXX text) rather than the Masoretic. NET Bible’s text critical notes explain, “The translation follows the LXX in reading ‘the mound,’ rather than the MT’s ‘the south.’ It is hard to see what meaning the MT reading ‘from beside the south’ would have as it stands, since such a location lacks specificity. The NIV treats it as an elliptical expression, rendering the phrase as ‘from the south side of the stone (rock NCV).’ This is perhaps possible, but it seems better to follow the LXX rather than the MT here.”

        • Guzik writes, “If Jonathan had reason to weep, David had more so. The pain of being apart was bad enough, but it was worse for David because he was cut off from everything and destined to live the life of a fugitive for many years…Jonathan knew he might never see David again. In fact, David and Jonathan will only meet once more, shortly before Jonathan’s death. Yet as David now left for a life of hiding and danger, Jonathan could send David away in peace because they both agreed to honor each other not only in life, but also to honor each other’s families beyond their own lifetimes. David will not return to “normal life” until Saul is dead, and David is king. This was a pretty bleak road for David to walk, but it was God’s road for him.”

        • Guzik adds this valuable observation, “Was David in God’s will? How can anyone set out on such a bleak road and be in the will of God? Because God often has His people spend at least some time on a bleak road, and He appoints some of His favorites to spend a lot of time on that road – think of Job, Joseph, Paul, and even Jesus. This bleak road was important in David’s life because if God would put David in a place where people must depend on him, God would teach David to depend upon God alone. Not himself, not Saul, not Jonathan, not anyone except God This bleak road was important in David’s life because if David would be safe now and promoted to king later, David must learn to let God be his defense and his promoter. This bleak road was important in David’s life because if David was to be set in such a great position of authority, David must learn to submit to God’s authority, even if it were through a man like Saul.”

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