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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters


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JONATHAN was the eldest son of Saul, and he was thus the heir-apparent to the throne of Israel. The crown prince was a young man of great mental gifts, and he was endowed also with many most impressive moral qualities. Handsome and high-mettled, full of nerve and full of heart, Jonathan was the pride of the army and the darling of the common people. His comrades, for his beauty of person and for his swiftness of foot, were wont to call him The Gazelle. In all that, the heir-presumptive was the son of his royal father's early and best days. But the piety, the humility, the generosity, the absolutely Christ-like loyalty, tenderness, self-forgetfulness, and self-sacrifice of Jonathan-all that the son had drawn from some far higher source than from his fast-falling father Saul. But for his father's great and disastrous transgressions, Jonathan would soon have been the second king of Israel; second in succession to Saul, but second to no king that ever sat on a throne in those great qualities of mind and heart and character that give stability to a throne and add lustre to a crown.

The first time that Jonathan and David ever saw one another was on the day when Goliath fell under David's sling. Jonathan had stood beside his father Saul, and had been a spectator of the never-to-be-forgotten scene. Brave and bold and practised in war as Jonathan by that time was, with all that he had not been bold enough to face the gigantic braggart. But, with all the army, with both armies, he had been astounded to see a Bethlehemite stripling, fresh from his father's sheep, step out into the open space to face the champion of the opposing host. And when the five thousand shekels of brass rang on the open plain no voice shouted over David so soon or so long as the voice of Jonathan, the king's son. And when Saul sent for David and talked with him, Jonathan's heart went out to David, and the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved David as his own soul. And from that day on till the day when David sang his splendid elegy over Saul and over Jonathan his son, the mutual love of Jonathan and David is described all along in words of such warmth and such beauty that there is nothing like them in literature again, if we leave out the love of Christ.

'And it came to pass that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David.' You knit things together that are of the same kind; things that are of the same substance, and fibre, and texture, and strength, and endurance. You knit a thread to a kindred thread. You knit a cord to a kindred cord. You knit a three-fold cord to a three-fold cord. You knit a chain of iron to a chain of iron; a chain of brass to a chain of brass; a chain of gold to a chain of gold; and a chain of gold of the same size, and strength, and purity, and beauty to a chain of gold of the same size, and strength, and purity, and beauty. Now Jonathan's soul was a chain of gold, of the same size, and strength, and purity, and beauty as David's soul. Jonathan, as being the elder man, had for long been looking and longing for a soul like David's soul to which his own soul might be knit; and before the sun set that day the son of Saul had found in the son of Jesse a soul after his own soul, and he was at rest. Jonathan's soul was that day knit to another soul, if possible, still more tender, and pure, and pious, and noble, and loyal than his own; till Jonathan was the happiest man in all Israel that day. And that pattern of friendship, knit that day between Jonathan and David, has been the ensample and the seal of all true friendships among men ever since. It was a sweet fancy of Plato that at the great aboriginal creation of human souls they all came from the hand of the God of power, and wisdom, and love, and holiness twain in one. All human souls came into existence already knit together like the souls of Adam and Eve, like the souls of David and Jonathan, like the souls of Jesus and John, like the souls of Christ and His church. But Sin, the great sunderer and separater and scatterer of souls, came in and cleft asunder soul-consort from soul-consort till all our souls since the fall start this lonely life alone. And all the longings, and cravings, and yearnings, and hungerings, and thirstings, and faintings, and failings that fill the souls of men and women-it is all in search of that brother-soul, that sister-soul, that spousal-soul that we have all loved long since and lost a while. And every true comradeship, every true courtship, every true espousalship, every true married life is the divine recovery and reunion of twin-soul to twin-soul, as all human souls were in the great beginning, and will for ever be in God and in God's house of love and rest and satisfaction. And had Plato read Hebrew, how he would have hailed Jonathan and David as another example of two long-lost and disconsolate souls, finding rest in their primogenial, spousal, re-knit, and never-again-to-be-separated soul.

'And Jonathan loved David as his own soul.' Had I read this for this once only, I would have passed over it as a permissible hyperbole in the sacred writer. But when I read again and again and again that Jonathan loved David as his own soul, till I come down to David's splendid hyperbolical elegy over the slaughter of Saul and Jonathan; and then, when I go back and read Jonathan's whole dealing with David in the light of that golden chain of hyperboles, I stop, and think, and say to myself that there must be much more here than stands on the surface. Till I find myself saying to this sacred writer, Lo, in all this speakest thou plainly, and speakest no hyperbole. Yes; happy, happy Jonathan! For it was not of thee that David spake in that bitter psalm. 'Yea, mine own familiar friend,' David said, but not of thee, 'in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.' Nor was it of thee in another still more bitter psalm, 'But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company. The words of his mouth were sweeter than butter, but war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords.' No, happy Jonathan, it was not of thee. Nor was this of thee, 'Thou didst speak peace to thy neighbour, while mischief was in thy heart.' Nor this, 'Thou didst bless with thy mouth, whilst thou didst curse inwardly.' Thy tongue, saintly man, did not frame deceit. Thou didst not sit and speak against thy brother. Jeremiah never said of thee in the bitterness of his heart that he heard the defaming of many. Thou never saidest concerning the friendless prophet, Report, and I will report it. He excepted thee when he upbraided them all round, and said, All my familiars watch for my halting. Nor did David's Son after thou hadst kissed Him say to thee, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Nor did Hamlet ever say to thee, 'O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain! My tables-meet it is I set it down, that one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.' Thy sin never found thee out. Thou never knewest the plague of a villain's heart. Thou never criedst, Create in me a clean heart, O Lord! Isaiah said, but thou never needest to say, I am a man of unclean lips. Great Jonathan! Dear Jonathan! We kiss thy feet. Till thy great Antitype comes we shall see no man born of woman again like thee!

'Then Jonathan and David made a covenant because he loved him as his own soul.' Jonathan's love was like the love of women in this, that it led Jonathan to leave his father's house behind him and to give his hand and his heart in a covenant to David. A woman cannot find rest but in the house of her husband. Knit as her heart is, and will for ever be, to her father and to her mother, yet there is a soul somewhere in God's hand to whom she was knit before she was born, and when God opens His hand twin-soul leaps out to meet twin-soul, and she is married in the Lord. Now, it was something like that. David, in the warmth of his heart and in the sharpness of his sorrow, said that the love of Jonathan to him was still more wonderful than that. No love can be more wonderful than the love of a woman when she loves in God; when the warmth, and the tenderness, and the faithfulness, and the endurance, and the self-sacrifice of nature is all deepened, and strengthened, and ennobled, and made everlasting in the transforming and transcending love of God. And it was because Jonathan's love had so much of a woman's love in it; and, added to that, so much of God's love, that David's rapture rose to such a sublime height over it. There was something in Jonathan's love that David had never met with in any of the women whose love he had ever been blessed with, Abigail's, or Michal's, or Solomon's mother's love, or any love his fathers had told him of in their days. And the surpassing love of Jonathan stood so alone because it stood so in God. Jonathan's heart had for long been full of God, and God is love. Under Samuel's ministry, Jonathan's heart had early been knit to God, and thus it was that his heart so knit itself round David's heart, in whom he found a man after God's own heart. And thus it was that father, and mother, and crown of Israel, and all, were counted loss to Jonathan as soon as he found David who had been so found of God. You will see the same thing to some extent in your own house every day. True religion, the knowledge and the love of God in your child's heart, will compel him to seek friends outside of your door if you are without the knowledge and the love of your son's God. How happy is that son who can love and honour and open all his heart to his father and mother in the Lord! But how unhappy if not! Jonathan loved Saul his father with a noble, devoted, loyal, and truly filial love. He followed his father's falling fortunes till father and son and all fell at last in the field. But all the time Saul had a son at his side whose deep and pure and holy heart he could neither understand, nor value, nor satisfy. Saul had begotten a son in Jonathan who was as much greater and better than himself as heaven is greater and better than earth; I might almost say than hell. Jonathan made a covenant with David, and with the house of David; and in making that covenant, and in the very terms of it, Jonathan, as we see in the Scriptures of it, spake less to David than he spake to David's God, the Lord God of Israel.

'And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.' A wife's marriage ring is the seal of her husband's covenant with her, and her covenant with him. The rainbow in heaven is the seal of God's covenant with Noah, and with the earth. The water is the seal of God's covenant in baptism; and the bread and the wine in the supper. And, in like manner, Jonathan's robe, and his garments, and his sword, and his bow, and his girdle, were the signs and the seals of Jonathan's covenant that he made that day with David. In the bread and in the wine, Christ and all the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers. And in Jonathan's robe, and raiment, and sword, and bow, and girdle, the kingdom of Israel, and all its honour and power and glory, were represented and sealed to David by this extraordinary action of Jonathan. The son and heir of Saul stripped himself naked for the sake of his sworn friend. Jonathan was such a miraculous and sacramental friend to David, that he stripped himself bare in order to clothe, and adorn, and seal David to the throne of Israel. In his measure, and so far as was in his power, Jonathan did that day all that Jesus Christ did in the fulness of time. Jonathan was only the sinful son of a sinful father, whereas Jesus Christ was the Son of God. But nothing more is said even of the Son of God Himself in this respect, than that He stripped Himself bare for His enemies, and clothed them with His robe and with His diadem. Well, all that Jonathan does to David. Jonathan is a disciple of Jesus Christ, born out of due time. Jonathan is all but Jesus Christ Himself come already in the Old Testament. As Jonathan strips himself to the bone, you look at him doing it and you exclaim, How could he ever do it! My brethren, your amazed exclamation betrays you. It is natural to you, and it shows to all who hear you that you have not yet begun to strip yourself for friend or enemy. If you had, if you had once even begun so to strip yourself, you would not cry out in such astonishment how Jonathan could do it. If you knew it, how could he help doing it? How could he do anything else? How could he stop doing it, till it was all done? He could not. And neither can you when once you have begun to do it. For the first time you will taste what true life is when you strip yourself bare of your best robe to put it upon your rival: upon him who is coming up so fast to supplant you. And you will drink deeper and deeper of the fountain of life as you go on to strip off your sword, and your bow, and your girdle to put them upon him. Of such is the kingdom of heaven. To such, and to such only, will it be said, Come up hither. Such, and such only, are highly exalted at the last. Such, and such only as make themselves of no reputation now. If you do it as they did it, you will yet sit down beside Jesus Christ and Jonathan, but not otherwise. At no less price to you than to them. But at the same price to you as to them. And it is for this cause that you have a robe given you, and garments, and a sword, and a bow, and a girdle, and a rival, and a supplanter.

'And it was told Saul. And Saul sought David every day. And David saw that Saul was come out to seek his life. And David was in the wilderness of Ziph in a wood. And Jonathan, Saul's son, arose and went to David into the wood, and strengthened David's hand in God.' There is a two-edged sword in the French tongue to this effect, that there is something in the misfortunes of our best friends that is not wholly displeasing to our secret hearts. But not to Jonathan's secret heart. Let every man defend himself from that sword of God as he is best able. Here is Jonathan's defence and shield, this: 'And Saul's son arose and went to David in the wood, and strengthened his hand in God.' That is Jonathan's shield against that sharp sword, and the hand of God in His own word holds it up over Jonathan. Be sure you see the full truth and the full beauty of that visit of Jonathan to the wood of Ziph. David was in danger of losing his faith in God. Which, if he had lost, he would have been the coming king of Israel, and Jonathan's rival, no longer. And Jonathan seeing that, came to the wood of Ziph to strengthen David in God lest his faith should fail. Was there ever a nobler deed done on the face of the earth till the Son of God came to do such deeds, and to show us all the way? If I had been Jonathan, I would have looked to David to strengthen me. I would have insisted that I needed the sympathy and the strength. It would have been a long time before I would have left my palace in Gibeah to go down to the wood of Ziph to strengthen the hand of my best friend, if that strength was to carry him over my head and put me under his feet. And Jonathan said to David, 'Fear not, for thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee.'

Are any of you being sent at this moment to that school to which God sent Jonathan? Are humiliations, and disappointments, and losses, and defeats your tutors and governors? Then, take Jonathan's history home with you tonight to imitate it. Grudge not your neighbour his divinely ordained promotion or praise. But, rather, as you have opportunity, strengthen his hand in God. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten, and humble, and put down, and make second. But to him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame.

He always wins who sides with God,
To him no chance is lost;
God's will is sweetest to him when
It triumphs at his cost.

The cross of Christ was made of a tree that had grown in the wood of Ziph, and yours will be made of the same shining timber.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Jonathan'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. 1901.

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