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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 20

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-42

1 Samuel 20:1-42

And David fled from Naioth, in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan.

David and Jonathan

1. It will be suitable for us to dwell on the remarkable friendship between David and Jonathan--a beautiful oasis in this wilderness history.

(1) It was a striking proof of the ever mindful and considerate grace of God, that at the very opening of the dark valley of trial through which David had to pass in consequence of Saul’s jealousy, he was brought into contact with Jonathan, and in his disinterested and sanctified friendship, furnished with one of the sweetest earthly solaces for the burden of care and sorrow. In merciful adaptation to the infirmities of his human spirit, God opened to him this stream in the desert, and allowed him to refresh himself with its pleasant waters; but to show him that his great dependence must be placed, not on the fellowship of mortal man, but on the ever-living and ever-loving God, Jonathan and he were doomed, after the briefest period of companionship, to a lifelong separation.

(2) In another view, David’s intercourse with Jonathan served an important purpose in his training. The very sight he constantly had of Saul’s outrageous wickedness might have nursed a self-righteous feeling, might have encouraged the thought that as Saul was rejected by God for his wickedness, so David was chosen for his goodness. The remembrance of Jonathan’s singular virtues and graces was fitted to rebuke this thought; for if regard to human goodness had decided God’s course in the matter, why should not Jonathan have been appointed to succeed his father?

(3) But there was one feature of the friendship of Jonathan and David that had no parallel in classic times--it was friendship between two men, of whom the younger was a more formidable rival to the older. It is Jonathan that shines most in this friendship, for he was the one who had least to gain and most to lose from the other.

(4) Besides being disinterested, Jonathan’s friendship for David was of an eminently holy character. Evidently Jonathan was a man that habitually honoured God, if not in much open profession, yet in the way of deep reverence and submission. And thus, besides being able to surrender his own prospects without a murmur, and feel real happiness in the thought that David would be king, he could strengthen the faith of his friend, as we read afterwards (1 Samuel 23:16). What a priceless blessing is the friendship of those who support and comfort us in great spiritual conflicts, and help us to stand erect in some great crisis of our lives!

2. We cannot turn from this chapter without adding a word on the friendships of the young. It is when hearts are tender that they are more readily knit to each other, as the heart of Jonathan was knit to the heart of David. But the formation of friendships is too important a matter to be safely left to casual circumstances.

(1) It ought to be gone about with care. A friend is very useful, if he is rich in qualities where we are poor.

(2) But surely, of all qualities in a friend or companion who is to do us good, the most vital is, that he fears the Lord. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)

A friendly prince a princely friend

The princely friendship.

1. An unselfish and self-denying avowal. He had soon to learn by experience, and he must have known the fact then, that to befriend David was to displease Saul. Yet is there no faltering in his fidelity. However contrary the waves may be, he changes not the vessel’s head; undeterred, he abides faithful. Calumnies and adulations change him not.

2. The religious character of this friendship is forced upon us. He begins with a covenant. Are any friendships worth cultivating whereupon we may not ask the Divine blessing?

3. Such a friendship was not only the affection of a man. He drew the power to thus “love on” from the Great Source of Love.

The purpose this friendship served.

1. God gave David a friend at court.

2. Another purpose the friendship of Jonathan served was to strengthen David’s faith. During his exile, especially in the early past, when his fortunes changed so suddenly, David’s faith became clouded. It is his voice that exclaims, “There is but a step between me and death.” The strong confidence is breathed by Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:14-15). When pressed almost beyond endurance and weary with continual flight, it is Jonathan who directs the trembling heart to God (1 Samuel 23:16-17).


1. Sanctified friendships are God’s hands of guidance. Such lead us always to Himself and never from Him.

2. Friendships formed for social or temporal gain are akin to traffic and bargain driving on the Temple floor, and must end in ruin. That is no real friendship which fails to lead us to God.

3. True friendships are stable. Human alliances are as fragile as the flowers the frost has traced upon the window, which melt away before the pure beams of love or the heat of trial from within. All friendships that are worth anything must begin with a covenant. (H. E. Stone.)

Verse 3

1 Samuel 20:3

There is but a step between me and death.

Solemn News

Notice the views and feelings that will naturally possess a man who believes “there is but a step between him and death,” or that his end is near.

The world, with its pleasures, pursuits, and prospects, will, appear small. The mask is taken off now.

He will feel that his own personal salvation is to him above all things else in point of importance.

Next to his own salvation in point of importance, will be that of his family.

He will not feel at home in the company of the wicked, or in any pursuit or pleasure upon which he could not ask the blessing of God.

He will desire to settle all, disputes and old grudges, and forgive his enemies.

A man who believes “there is but a step between him and death” will desire to make his will. (T. Kelly.)

But a step

This was David’s description of his own condition. King Saul was seeking to destroy him. The bitter malice of that, king would not be satisfied with anything short of the blood of his rival.

1. There is a sense in which this text is no doubt literally true of every man--There is but a step between me and death; for life is so short that it is no exaggeration to compare it to a step.

2. But, in another sense, there is but a step between us and death, namely, that life is so uncertain. How unexpectedly it ends.

3. And this is all the more true when we consider that there are so many gates to the grave. We can die anywhere, at any time, by any means. Not alone abroad are we in danger, but at home in security we are still in peril. Wherever you are, you may well feel, “There is but a step between me and death.”

That to some this is specially true. To persons who have reached a ripe old age this is most certainly true: “There is but a step between me and death”? Now, do not object to think about it and talk about it. If you are all right with God, it can be no trouble to you to remember that as your years multiply, there must be so many the fewer in which you are to abide here below.

Suppose it is not so. There may be some here that will live to a very great age. Well, what then? If so, I should recommend you to follow the Scriptural advice, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.” Suppose that it is not true that there is but a step between you and death; nevertheless, while death is at a distance, health and strength furnish the best time for coming to Christ.

But now suppose that it is so. Suppose that it is so, and suppose, as yet, that you have no good hope. If there is but a step between you and death, yet there is only a step between you and Jesus. There is only a step between you and salvation. God help you to take that step. Suppose that it is so, that you are moon to die; then set your house in order. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The mystic stop


It is a certain step. All must take it.

It is an uncertain step.

1. When we must take it we cannot tell.

2. Where we must take it is altogether hid from us.

It is a final step. It is final because it puts an end to human distinctions.

It is a parting step.

1. It parts us from this world of matter. We must bid farewell to flower and star.

2. It parts us from friends near and dear to us.

3. It parts us from ourselves. That tender union that subsists between soul and body is rudely torn asunder,

It is a solitary step. Death is a lonely thing.

It is altogether a solemn step.

1. The step of birth is solemn.

2. The step of prayer is solemn.

3. Not less solemn is the step of death. Lord, prepare me for taking this step. (J. Dunlop.)

The nearness of death

This is true physically, morally, socially, influentially.

1. Physically--Breath is in the nostrils; we know not our narrow escapes from death; the point of a needle may destroy the life of the body, etc.

2. Morally--Character may be ruined in a moment; one sin broke up human history into ruin and sorrow, etc.

3. Socially--When character is ruined, society is closed against a man, etc.

4. Influentially--A man’s influence should be the measure of his moral standing; by one false step influence may be impaired or destroyed. The fact that there is but a step between life and death should do five things:--

It should give high significance and value to time. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do,” etc.

It should awaken the most anxious vigilance. Only one step, and it may be the next!

It should stimulate to preparedness for the future.

It should impart a tenderer interest to all the relationships of life.

It should lead to the right use of temporal possessions. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Certainty of death

it was seemingly true concerning David.

1. This teaches us how liable we are to be wrong in our judgments. We can only judge from appearances; therefore we should draw all inferences of importance with caution.

2. Yet this judgment of David’s, perhaps, was the instrumental cause of his preservation. It made him cautious. Thus Providence sports with our calculations; “man knoweth not his appointed time, but is like the fishes ensnared in an evil net.”

The text is really true concerning some individuals now in the world.

1. Let us in the first place look at the great number of the sick scattered over the face of this well-peopled world.

2. Go into the gloomy ceils of condemned criminals, whose life must, pay the forfeit of their crimes on the coming morning.

3. Look at the combatants that are now preparing for deadly battle; their country’s cause palpitates at their heart, and burns on their tongue. They are destined to fall in the struggle.

4. Listen to the cries of those mariners in distress; “they are going up to the heavens, and now down to the depths.”

5. View those men of apoplectic structure. How precarious the hold they have of life! Fresh and hale one minute--the next dead.

The declaration in the text may be true with regard to some of us.

1. Sentence of death has been passed on all men.

2. This sentence has never been repealed. It has not become obsolete; it is not like the antiquated page of an almanac of past times.

3. But this respite is not for any given length of time. It is frugally extended only from moment to moment. A respited criminal knows the length of his respite; we do not. (T. Macconnel.)

Verse 6

1 Samuel 20:6

A yearly sacrifice for all the family.

The family festival

The word in this verse rendered “sacrifice” is in the margin of our English Bible rendered with somewhat greater felicity “feast.” There comes to view, therefore, in the narrative an unusually interesting fact; namely, that the family of Jesse continued to keep up their residence in Bethlehem, and carefully observed the household festivals through the year, as in earlier days they had been accustomed. The members of that scattered circle summoned each other regularly to a social reunion annually.

The advantages found in the observance of this yearly thanksgiving festival.

1. Of course, first and chief of these is the consideration that for all God’s love and care for us there is due at least full acknowledgment of the hand which has given them to us. “Count up your mercies.” A day in each year is surely not too much to be given to this formal rehearsal before God of our plentiful gains and prosperities.

2. In the second place, there is manifest advantage in these annual festivals growing out of the cultivation of our domestic affections and the perpetuation of our home tastes and feelings. It mingles religion with our best sympathies. He cannot be called a manly man who did not feel himself a weaker man from the month when his praying mother died and was buried, or who does not feel himself a braver, better man, if now perhaps the beloved old voice still lives to be his counsel and his inspiration.

3. Again: there is a manifest advantage in these thanksgiving festivals found in the perpetuation of ancestral memories to which they are calculated most strongly to minister. It is instinctive in the heart of every true man and woman to desire to live beyond the limits of an immediate generation. We toil hard for many a season to keep our name unsullied and preserve our fair fame unstained for the sake of our offspring.

4. And this leads me on to mention a fourth advantage derived from this annual feast; namely, the opportunity it offers for kindling and quickening a true patriotism in the hearts of the people.

With this exhibition of manifest advantages I can hardly need to argue further for such observance of the day. If we go with David at all on his errand, it must be in imagination only. And I think it will be profitable now to ask and answer where he did go.

1. To his own city.

2. In the second place, I suppose David went straight as was possible to his own home in Bethlehem.

3. Then, finally, I imagine David would want to go to various houses of his brethren. I take this from the fact that this day’s invitation was given by his brother. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Christmas and New Year festivities

Remember to exalt God in your family festivities.

Thoroughly survey the history of the year since your last family festivities.

1. It was a yearly sacrifice. Year short space in time, but may be long in events. What changes may crowd into its weeks. Christmas does not always find the family in the old home.

2. On some homes shadows lie thick, others bathed in sunshine. Here Jacob has lost his Joseph, or Rachel mourns her children; here sportive childhood cries, “Oh, call my brother back to me, I cannot play alone.”

3. And then, they who come to the festivities come from such various scenes. Here at Bethlehem was David from the court; and Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah from the camp.

4. Nor will any true heart give a secondary place to changes on character the year has produced.

Consider the personal obligations each owes to the family.

In your festivities think of others. (G. B. Johnson.)

Verse 10

1 Samuel 20:10

What if thy father answer thee roughly?

A word for the persecuted

Our first point is, what you may do, what there is a possibility of you doing, should your friends answer you roughly.

1. You may “by-and-by be offended.” I mean that you may leave Christ altogether, because you cannot bear his cross.

2. Or, it may happen to you that, instead of being by-and-by offended, you may continue for awhile, but you may gradually give way, and at last yield altogether. There are many among us who could bear to lose our heads at a stroke for Christ, but to be burned at a slow fire--ah, that would try us!

3. But if left to ourselves we may fall into what is as bad as open apostasy. When we find the father, or the wife, or the friend answering us roughly, we may make a pitiful compromise between Christ and the world.

4. I will tell you what you may do also, and I pray that the Holy Spirit may lead you to do it. You may take up humbly, but firmly, this decided stand:--“If my father answer me roughly he must do so, but I have another Father who is in heaven and I shall appeal to him. If the world condemn me, I shall accept its condemnation.”

What the trial will do for us if we are helped to bear up under it. “What if thy father answer thee roughly?”

1. First, it will grieve us. It is by no means pleasant to be opposed in doing right by those who ought to help us in it. It is very painful to flesh and blood to go contrary to those we love.

2. The opposition of your friends will try your sincerity. If you are a hypocrite you will soon yield to opposition.

3. The rough answers of opponents will try your faith. You say you believe in Jesus: now we shall see if you do, for if you cannot bear a little trial from men and women, surely you will not be able to bear the worse trials from the devil and his angels. If you cannot bear the trials of life, how will you endure the ordeals of death?

4. Persecution will try your love to Jesus. If you really love Him you will cheerfully stand in the pillory of reproach with Him. Your valiant soldier in quiet barracks at home could fight, no doubt, but how do you know till he has passed through a campaign?

5. The rough answers of those who should be your friends will keep us awake. I think it was Erskine who used to say, “Lord, deliver me from a sleepy devil.”

6. Such afflictions drive you to your knees.

7. Trials from the enemies of Jesus confirm our faith. Those who are never tried usually possess a poor, tottering faith, but trial, especially persecution, is like the rough March wind which goes howling through the forest, and while the young oaks are almost torn up by the roots at first, it loosens the soil for them, and they send out more rootlets, till they get such a firm grip that they defy the hurricane.

8. Rough speeches, too, will have this good effect, upon genuine Christians, it will lead them to plead for those who utter them.

9. Certainly opposition has another good effect, that it drives those subject to it into the truly separated path; they are known to be Christians, and proclaimed as such by their revilers.

10. One good effect of being persecuted at home is this, it makes you gentler abroad.

How should you behave under the trial?

1. Never court opposition.

2. Endure whatever you have to endure with the greatest possible meekness.

3. After bearing with meekness return good for evil. For cruel words return warmer love and increased kindness. The most renowned weapon for a Christian to fight his antagonists with is that of overcoming evil with good.

4. Here let, me also remark that to this gentle endurance there must be added by the persecuted Christian much exactness of life.

In doing all this what comfort may you expect.

1. You may have this for your comfort, that the persecutor is in God’s hands. He cannot do more than God lets him, and if God permits him to annoy, you may cheerfully bear it.

2. Next, remember, if you keep your conscience clear it is a great joy. Rough answers outside need not trouble you while within there is the answer of a good conscience towards God. Injure your conscience and you lose that consolation; preserve it from evil and you must be happy.

3. Remember that by patiently enduring and persevering you will have fellowship with the grandest spirits that ever lived.

4. Remember, too, that if you have extraordinary troubles Jesus will be doubly near to you.

5. You have the sweet thought also that you are doing more good where you are than if you were placed altogether among the godly. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verse 17

1 Samuel 20:17

And Jonathan caused David to swear again because he loved him.

Love plighting troth

Now, first, great love desires to bind itself to the beloved one. And, first of all, remember that Jesus bound Himself to His people by covenant bonds.

2. Then, next, Jesus would have us bound to Him on our part. This kind of bond can never be all on one side, for true friendship leads to mutual love.

Great love desires renewed pledges from its object: “Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.”

1. It was not out, of distrust, but by reason of a sort of sacred jealousy, that “Jonathan caused David to swear again.” Our Saviour is as jealous of us as His Father is; the immeasurable greatness of the love of Jesus Christ to us moves Him to feel an infinite jealousy of us.

2. This is the only return we can make for His love.

3. It is for our highest benefit that we should do this. Our love is often so feeble and cold that it needs to be stirred up again.

4. We are often tempted and allured by other loves, and are apt, to lend a listening ear to the charmer’s fascinating voice.

5. It is for our benefit that we should often renew our pledges of love to our Lord, because we cannot be happy unless we are wholly taken up with love to Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

He loved him as he loved his own soul.

True friendship

true friendship reports itself by practical sympathy in times of distress.

1. This friendship was truly unselfish.

2. This friendship was truly generous. David was a shepherd boy, Jonathan the king’s son.

3. This friendship was truly practical.

4. This friendship was truly reciprocal. David loved Jonathan as fervently as Jonathan loved David..

True friendship reports itself by solemn compacts in times of distress. “And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.”

1. This covenant was formed in a reverent spirit. Jonathan appeals to God to witness his sincerity, to judge his motive, and to prosper his friend.

2. This covenant was submitted to a severe test.

3. This covenant was confirmed by an affectionate parting. (J. T. Woodhouse.)

Verse 18

1 Samuel 20:18

Thou shalt be missed.

Being missed

There are two aspects of truth in these words. One fact is plain enough; the vacant chair will one day be our own. I do not say that the highest motive that can inspire us is to be found in a desire to be gratefully remembered. No; Christian duty has its highest motives in the love of Christ, and in devotion to the right as right.

There is a recognition of reality all around and about us. Men are for the most part known for what they verily are.

There are graduated spheres of influence.

There are capacities individual to ourselves. Each Life is a separate creation of God’s. No two dogs even have the same countenances.

There is a recognition of special friendship. We cannot feel alike to all if we would. (W. M. Statham.)

Thy seat shall be empty.

The vacant chair

1. I point out to you the father’s vacant chair.

2. I go a little farther on in your house, and I find the mother’s vacant chair.

3. I go on a little further, and I come to the invalid’s chair.

4. I pass on, and I find one more vacant chair. It is a high chair. It is the child’s chair. If that chair be occupied, I think it is the most potent chair in all the household. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

Verses 20-37

1 Samuel 20:20-37

And I will shoot three arrows.

The claims of friendship

The arrows taught that a strong and noble friend was standing in the breach.

1. Never be ashamed to own a friend. Do not count him your friend whose name you are ashamed to mention.

2. Never be ashamed to speak up for the cause of Truth. Let the arrows witness to the simplicity and fervour of your allegiance to whatever is lovely and of good report.

The arrows spoke of imminent danger. “Jonathan knew that it was determined of his father to put David to death.” “The arrows are beyond thee.” You have hoped against hope; you have tried to keep your position; you have done your duty, pleaded your cause, sought the intercession of your friends, prayed, wept, agonized: but it is all in vain; the arrow’s flight proves that you must go whither you may. But take these thoughts for your comfort.

1. There are things we never leave behind. David had an inalienable possession in the love of his friend, in the devotion of the people, in the memory of God’s goodness. There are threads woven into the fabric of our life which can never be extracted or obliterated.

2. There is a Divine purpose determining our course. To the had there was but royal caprice in the flight of the arrow. “What are you going, my little fellow?” “I am picking up the prince’s arrows; we generally go for game, but he is playing at it today.” That was all he knew; how little did he divine the purpose of his Master, and still less realise that each flitting arrow was, so to speak, taken from God’s quiver and directed by His hand. There is no chance in a good man’s life. Let us recognise the providence of the trifle. He is sending us away.

3. The going forth is necessary to secure greater happiness than we leave. Had David lingered in the palace, his life would have been forfeited, and he would have missed all the glory and bliss with which his cup ran over in after years. This was the way to the throne. Follow the arrow’s flight then--beyond the warm circle in which you bare so long sheltered; beyond the southland to the icy north; beyond the known to the unknown. Like another Abraham, go into the land which God will show thee; like another Columbus, turn thy prow in the wake of the setting sun.

The arrows taught that human love must suffer separation. This was the lash meeting of these two noble hearts for a long time. Indeed, the friends only met once more, shortly before Jonathan’s death. They had realised that this must be so. These are the hours that leave sears on hearts and whiten the hair. Christ comes to us in these dark moments as of old to the disciples, on whom had broken the full import of his departure. “Let not your hearts be troubled.” (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

Verse 25

1 Samuel 20:25

David’s place warn empty.

The empty place

“And the king sat upon his seat, as at other times, even upon a seat by the wall: and Jonathan arose, and Abner sat by Saul’s side, and David’s place was empty” (1 Samuel 20:25). I shall look at these words in the spirit of accommodation to the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. There, too, will be a feast, a feast provided not by an earthly king, but by Him who is the King of kings. Let us consider some of the reasons which may probably be assigned for these vacant places.

1. But some places are empty. Some are empty, and we may envy the men and women, brothers and sisters in Christ, who once sat there, but will sit there no more. They are gone to claim the inheritance of which the Lord said, “I will give it you.”

2. But other places are vacant not through this heavenly translation. And as we ask, “Where are they who usually occupy them?” the answer comes, “They are suffering under the Lord’s hand.” Yes, many places are empty for this reason, and where this is the reason the vacancy is no reproach.

3. Sometimes David’s place is empty because he is engaged in Christian work.

4. Other places, too, are vacant from motives which are entitled to tender consideration, and which also require as tender correction. They fear they are not in a true and befitting mood for the sacrament. They are cold. They know not bow it is, but somehow the spiritual temperature is low.

5. But other places are empty for reasons less worthy. Their blank spaces tell, it may be, of hearts that are dying through habitual sin, or habitual neglect of the very conditions of life. (E. Mailer, D. D.)

The empty place: A Christmas Day sermon

The empty place in the persecutor’s house: “David’s place was empty.” David had good reason for vacating his place at Saul’s table, for the passionate king was so malicious, and so embittered against him, that he sought his life. The child of a Roman noble had stepped into some little place where humble and unlettered people met to hear the gospel preached, to sing songs in the name of Jesus, and to keep holy one day in the week; and there that youthful heart had learnt the story of the cross, and by the grace of God had been brought to love the Saviour. As soon as the fact was made known, the officers of justice would take away the child from the father’s house, and hale the young believer off to prison, and so another seat was empty. You know how it was in our own land, how many a seat was empty during the persecutions of Queen Mary. If martyr days should come back again, could we vacate our places? Could the husband let his wife and children go for Christ’s sake?

There is another place which sometimes becomes empty, that is, the place of sinful pleasures. This empty place is the result of the working of God’s grace in the heart.

The place of our occupation has been empty.

During the past year, many of you now present have had a place is the assembly of God’s people.

I have now to say just a few words specially to the members of the church about their place at the prayer meeting.

There is another David’s place that is sometimes empty, and that ought not to be so, it is the place of christian service.

Again, I hope that our place at the Lord’s table will not be empty at any time when it is possible for us to occupy it.

When you will be keeping the Christmas feast, there will be many family gatherings, and in those family gatherings there will be some households where David’s place will be empty.

There will be no empty place in heaven. In that great family gathering up above, they will not be able to say, “David’s place is empty.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verses 32-42

1 Samuel 20:32-42

And Jonathan answered Saul, his father, and said unto him, Wherefore should he be slain?

David’s friend, Jonathan

“There is little friendship in the world,” said Lord Bacon. “O friendship,” wrote the author of Endymion, “of all things the most rare; and therefore most rare, because most excellent.”

1. Friendship means more than affection. Strange to say, greater friendships exist than in the family circle.

2. Again, friendship is not identical with the religious hope. The well-meaning, but ignorant, have beheaded the saints.

3. But while friendship is by no means involved in the family or the church affection, it yet remains true that the purest religious hope is the basis of the highest friendships. Great deeds are never done by those whose belief cuts off immortality.

True friendship is based on righteousness. Friendship is the outgrowth of righteousness. The most hallowed relationships afford no ground for unjust deeds among friends. The child’s love for the father is no excuse for wrongdoing at that father’s command.

True friendship makes no account of personal danger. The world is slow in learning that there is a greater existence than self.

1. We turn from majorities and minorities to observe that personal comforts and discomforts are no criteria of action. The question is not as to pleasure and pain, but rather as to the highest obligations.

2. The true friend is never afraid of danger. The son may die by the father’s javelin, but Jonathan’s friendship is true.

True friendship rejoices in others’ prosperity. (Monday Club Sermons.)

Verse 34

1 Samuel 20:34

And Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger.

Jonathan’s moral courage

I propose to enquire into the moral meaning of this incident; to see whether there is anything in it that applies to our own circumstances. I think it impossible to read this story without having the mind arrested as several points of unusual interest.

Here is the saddest of all sights--man arrayed against man. Not man against a savage beast; but man against his own kind.

Here we have the rupture of the most sacred bonds. Who is it that is offended in this case? It is not a stranger; it is the son that rose in fierce anger, being grieved for David and ashamed of his own father. When fathers occupy their right positions, sons, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, will be likely to occupy theirs. A good example is never lost.

Here, too, is the assertion of the highest instinct. What is it that asserts itself in this case? It is the spirit of right. Men that get up from dinner tables and say, “Not I am ashamed of your evil doing; and I will not taste your bread!” We, poor hounds, tarry at the trough and satisfy our appetites, and slake our thirst, but the man that is going out will save the world!

Here we have a disproof of a familiar proverb. The familiar proverb is, “Blood is thicker than water.” Jonathan says, “Right is thicker than blood.”

Here we have the espousal on a noble policy. What was the policy of Jonathan? He espoused the cause of right against might. David had no resources. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Verse 42

1 Samuel 20:42

And Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord.

Real friendship

“All faithful friends went on a pilgrimage years ago, and none of them have ever come back”; so wrote one of the Puritan divines, whose heart was depressed at the time most likely. Perhaps the best definition of friendship is that given by Addison: it is “a strong and habitual inclination in two persons to promote the good and happiness of each other.”

True friendship requires some acknowledged basis of individual worth. To be very popular is very different from being beloved. Froissart says of Gaston de Foix, “In everything he was so perfect that he cannot be praised too much; he loved what ought to be beloved, and hated what ought to be condemned; and he never had miscreant with him.”

True friendship demands courage and self-sacrifice in instant answer to the call. When Jonathan rose up from the table there was more than one javelin in the air coming towards him; there was the mad king’s wrath shooting lances of fire also.

True friendship becomes more disinterested as it becomes more loving.

True friendship shows itself by delicate and sometimes mysterious signals of communication. Indeed, when two men become fast and sympathetic comrades, we sometimes fail to discover what they find in each other so companionable.

True friendship finds its highest model in the Lord of life and glory. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Divine goodness in human friendship

In its freedom from all jealousy, Jonathan’s conduct was most exemplary. It was here that the son proved himself to be so much more noble than the father; for Jonathan saw himself surpassed by David, and yet was his faithful friend, and indeed found one reason for his love in that superiority which David had secured.

The friendship of Jonathan was eminently practical. It did not consist either of fair and flattering words which he uttered, or of a mere luxury of sentiment which be enjoyed. On the very first day of its life it proved its power, by prompting Jonathan to put his royal robes on David’s shoulder, to gird his sword on David’s thigh, and to place his bow in David’s hands; as much as to say, “I will give thee of my best. Thou art more of a king’s son than I am. These befit thee more than me.” There are friendships in the world which cost those who cherish them nothing, and like many other cheap things they are worth just what they cost.

Jonathan’s friendship for David was eminently unselfish. It was much that he could do for David; it was but little that David could do for him. Personally, he had no interest in David’s continued life and increasing power; but, speaking after the manner of men, his interest lay in the opposite direction. To Saul’s selfish heart this nobleness of love and self-forgetfulness seemed nothing but wilful wickedness and sheer madness. How could he comprehend it?

Jonathan’s friendship had the crowning grace of constancy. It began in the midst of David’s new-born posterity, but it lasted through all his reverses.

1. There is one fact belonging to this history which has seldom had the attention it deserves. While Jonathan was always faithful to David, he was never false to his lather. Some men wail cultivate one virtue alone, and make it an Aaron’s rod--swallowing up all the other virtues; but this man did not suffer his virtues as a friend to devour his virtues as a son.

2. It needs no word to prove that the friendship we have been studying must have been a great help and blessing to David. How great, is known only to Him by whom the boon was bestowed.

3. As we contemplate the character of Jonathan, we are made increasingly thankful that the immortality of the good is revealed in God’s Word beyond the possibility of doubt or question. We are forbidden to think that the love of Jonathan’s heart, which wrought so beneficently on earth, labours no longer for the welfare of the others. Can it be possible that the God who created it in His own image doomed it to indolence? Would not that be to doom the possessor of it to misery? (C. Vines.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Samuel 20". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/1-samuel-20.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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