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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 20

Kingcomments on the Whole BibleKingcomments

Verses 1-3


The history of David is described in detail in these chapters. That is because the Holy Spirit loves him. We love him too and are interested in everything he experiences. It is described vividly. In many details we find what the Lord Jesus experienced. At first David is not yet a fugitive, but he will be in the next chapters. He becomes a fugitive because he refuses to anticipate God’s time and take the law into his own hands. Saul remains for him “the anointed of the LORD”, against whom he will not take up arms as long as he remains so.

In this chapter in David we see a child of God who is looking for the will of God. That is why the chapter is so long. It describes how David resists becoming a fugitive. This is not because he does not want to, although it does not attract him, but out of dedication to his duty as a servant of Saul. He does not have the right to leave, to flee. He wants to stay with Saul to the fullest to serve him, and was prepared to undergo anything to that end, not to be an unfaithful slave. Nabal accuses him of this later (1 Samuel 25:10). David only flees when he has no other possibility.

This chapter is also a farewell of two friends who love each other very. That makes the departure for David so painful and unattractive.

David Knows That Saul Wants to Kill Him

David flees to his friend Jonathan and pours out his heart for him. He wonders in despair what he did that his father pursued him so much. Jonathan wants to reassure David. He does not believe his father does. Otherwise he would know. David is not convinced. He knows very well that Saul will not tell his son everything, because Saul knows that his son is a friend of David. David has no choice but to see Saul’s desire to get rid of him. He has experienced this several times. He has already escaped Saul’s murderousness several times, but how long will it take before he falls into Saul’s hands? He is hanging on a thread.

Verses 4-8

David Proposes a Test

Jonathan is a real friend. He wants to help David. He asks what he can do for him and promises that he will do what David asks. He sets no conditions because he knows that what David will desire is only good. This is the expression of a heart that loves the other. It is the question and the mind of the believer who loves the Lord Jesus.

David only wants to know what Saul has in mind for him. That is why he suggests a plan to test Saul’s mindset. This plan will also make it clear to Jonathan what his father wants. That goal may be even more important than in gaining certainty himself.

Is this plan misleading, a lie? It is like what Moses says to Pharaoh when he proposes to him to let Israel go a three-day trip far into the wilderness to celebrate a feast there for the LORD. That the ultimate goal is to deliver the people and make them live in Canaan, Moses does not tell. The question Moses asks is the question of a servant for a short leave of absence, which puts Pharaoh’s mindset to the test. It is not about insincerity, but about a test. It is the same with David.

All who are in a place of submission can learn from David. He takes the place of servant opposite Jonathan and calls himself so. Jonathan is the son of his lord. He also gives him the right to kill him if there was sin in him, as Saul claims.

Verses 9-15

How Jonathan Will Inform David

Jonathan resolutely rejects David’s thought of killing him, for he supposes no evil in David. Furthermore, he will certainly assert his friendship and inform him if he notices that his father wants to bring evil upon him. David asks from whom he will hear the true mindset of Saul.

Jonathan does not answer directly but suggests going outside to speak farther. He takes the initiative and David follows. David presents himself royally by being subject to the ruling authority. He does not stand on his rights as the anointed king. He knows what he will be but does not take advantage of the future by moderating something the LORD has not yet given him. He must first learn to obey as a servant before he can rule as king.

Jonathan solemnly promises by the LORD that he will certainly let David know how his father reacts. He will also make sure that nothing will happen to David. He knows that David is the anointed. He wishes him the presence of the LORD, as his father experienced it. He submits to the future king after he has let him go as crown prince.

Finally, he asks David for his favor for himself and his family. Here he has a prophetic view of the future. For himself he asks to stay alive when David has become king. He will acknowledge in it the mercy of the LORD. For his house he asks for the mercy of David. As for David, Jonathan knows that the LORD will wipe out all his enemies.

Verses 16-17

The Covenant

Their love is emphasized again. Jonathan not only makes a covenant with David, but also with the house of David. He expects the offspring of David to have the same mercy as David himself. David also acts on this later (2 Samuel 9:3; 2 Samuel 9:6-Judges :). David’s enemies, who might also hurt his children, he surrenders to the LORD’s dealings.

The reason Jonathan so desires their friendship to pass on to his descendants is because of his love for David. He loves David with the love of his own life, and he desires David to answer that love with an oath he loves Jonathan.

Verses 18-23

The Sign With a Message

After the confirmation of their love for each other the friends continue to talk about the actual situation to get to know the will of the LORD for David. Should he return to Saul or become a fugitive? Clarity will be obtained by David’s absence on a new moon day. As commander of Saul’s army, David must certainly be present on that day. When he is away for three days, Saul will certainly reveal what he thinks.

It is agreed that Jonathan will announce the results after three days. This will be done by shooting arrows in the direction of where David is hiding. Possibly they make this appointment because it is not certain that Jonathan will be able to say it personally to David. By the sign of the arrows shot off Jonathan will make clear to David what Saul’s feelings about him are.

From this sign the will of the LORD is derived. Jonathan speaks only of the fact that the LORD sends David away. It seems as if he does not consider the possibility that the LORD will govern it in such a way that David can go back to the court of Saul. He points to the LORD as the One Who unites him and David. No Saul can separate them.

Verses 24-34

Saul Tries to Kill Jonathan

David hides in the field, waiting for the message Jonathan will bring. When it is the new moon, Saul sits down at his usual place, near the wall. This is a tactical place because it is not possible to attack him in the back. Maybe it says something of his mistrust in those who surround him. Someone who is jealous does not trust anyone.

The taking of the places is described vividly. When Saul sits down, Jonathan stands up out of respect. Abner, the army superior of Saul, sits next to Saul. Saul only pays attention to the place of David who remains empty. We hear what he thinks. It typifies Saul. He can only think in terms of pure and unclean. He is like the Pharisee who only pays attention to the appearance.

At the same time, it also says something about David. Saul knows him as one who scrupulously observed the law and preferred to stay away from a holy feast than to participate in it in uncleanness. With Christians we often see the opposite. On the one hand they easily stay away from their own meetings (Hebrews 10:25) and on the other hand they lightly participate in the holy Supper of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:27-Amos :).

On the second day Saul wants to know why David did not come and asks. He asks his question not in general, but purposefully to David’s friend, his son Jonathan. He is convinced that Jonathan knows where David is. When Jonathan gives the agreed statement, Saul anger burns against Jonathan. He pours all his wrath upon him. By this Jonathan experiences what it means to be a friend of David. It is not possible to stand on David’s side without getting Saul’s anger upon oneself. This is also the case for the Christian who clearly chooses for Christ.

Saul points out to Jonathan that he plays with his own position. He will never be king as long as David lives. Then he orders Jonathan to get David to kill him. Jonathan speaks up for David again and asks his father what the reason is for killing David. Then comes the clear proof of his father’s hatred of David. Saul hurls his spear at his own son to kill him.

Here Jonathan shares in the fate of David, who is so hated by Saul that he wants to kill him. The spear that has been hurled several times at David is now thrown at his friend, even if it is his own son. In the same way, a choice for the Lord Jesus brings separation into families. Family members hand over a family member to enemies (Luke 21:16-Esther :).

Verses 35-40

The Message via the Sign

As agreed, Jonathan goes into the field to report to David about his father’s attitude towards him. He sends the lad in the direction to which he will shoot the arrow and urges him to hurry. The lad obeys immediately. As he quickly runs away, Jonathan shoots an arrow over him and calls after the lad that the arrow is beyond him. The message is clear to David. The message is not only clear, but also urgent. There is urgency. That is why Jonathan urges the lad to speed up.

Jonathan shot the arrow very far away as a sign that Saul’s hatred goes very far. David must know that he is no longer certain of his life. The arrow is a clear message. He comes in reality from the hand of the LORD (1 Samuel 20:22).

When the lad has completed his mission, Jonathan gives him his weapons and sends him back to town. The lad is no longer needed. He has, without being aware of it, performed an important task. By faithfully following the orders of Jonathan, he has contributed to the protection of David. In this way there will have been more actions by people who have faithfully done what they had to do, without being aware that they have contributed to protecting God’s children who were in danger.

Verses 41-42


When the lad is gone, David appears. He is still the servant towards the crown prince, with whom he also has a close friendship, and bends down deeply before him. It is a heart-moving encounter because they know that it will be the last time they see each other. That they meet once again (1 Samuel 23:16) is not a restoration of the close contact they have had so far. They say goodbye to each other, and each go their own way.

Jonathan gave everything to David. He stood up for him against his father. He kissed him. However, he did not follow him in the way of his rejection. They separate and will only find each other again in their intimate connection on the other side of death. David goes to face suffering and from there to the throne. Jonathan does not go with him in suffering and is not glorified with him. He returns to the city and will fall with his father on the mountains of Gilboa.

Whatever we think about Jonathan, he did not go with David the way of oppression and defamation. He is not mentioned among the heroes of David who followed him in suffering and are glorified with him in his reign.

However, it is also good to remember, no matter what we think about Jonathan, that a comparison between the men who are with David and Jonathan is not entirely valid. Jonathan had a different position. By the way, who has shown a dedication and love for David like him? David never asked him to follow him.

He may in some ways be compared to the man who drives out demons, of whom John tells the Lord that they – he and the other disciples – have forbidden him to do so because he does not follow them. But the Lord does speak right of the man and reprimands His disciples (Luke 9:49-Philippians :). In any case Jonathan will certainly not have helped his father in his hunt for David.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 Samuel 20". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/1-samuel-20.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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