Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, July 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 20

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 17


‘He loved David as his own soul.’

1 Samuel 20:17

With a feeling of relief we turn to the main line of thought in the Lesson, David and Jonathan. ‘Jonathan said unto David, Come, and let us go out into the field.’ This was characteristic of him. He loved the open air and field sports. He delighted in archery. He had a passion for adventure, and was never so happy as when away from the court engaged in some perilous raid upon the Philistines. Jonathan felt more at home in the field than in the house. It has been said with truth that no heart is utterly base which retains a love for the pure country. The free and fearless nature of Jonathan turned instinctively to the field as the sailor turns to the sea.

As the two friends talk together we may study Jonathan’s character.

I mention four traits—his frankness, his trustfulness, his affection, his piety.

I. Although he fell in with the scheme which David devised to deceive the king, yet such plotting was foreign to his disposition.—‘If I knew certainly that evil were determined by my father to come upon thee, then would I not tell thee?’ He appeals to his own reputation for honesty. Every one feels an affection for the frank, outspoken man. It is the schemer who rouses our suspicions and puts us on our guard.

II. With this frankness we notice in Jonathan a fine trustfulness.—He believed in David, he tried hard to believe in Saul. ‘My father will do nothing, either great or small, but that he will show it me.’ Do not cherish the opposite spirit. Do not harbour mistrust. The fact is that the confiding nature sees the best side of any character, because that side is opened to him. The man who changed his house every rent-day because he could never find neighbours that agreed with him, discovered at last that our neighbours are what we make them. The man who trusts no one is the man whom no one trusts. Christ knew what was in man, and yet He revealed to man better things in human nature than Pilate or Herod dreamed of. Trust others and you make them respect themselves. Treat every man as a thief, and your road through life shall be like that which went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, only without the good Samaritan.

III. The next trait in Jonathan to be noted is his affection.—Dean Stanley says of the friendship of Jonathan and David that it is ‘the first Biblical instance of such a dear companionship as was common in Greece, and has been since in Christendom imitated, but never surpassed, in modern works of fiction.’ It is the love of Jonathan that is most emphasised. ‘The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.’ Springing up when first the two met, and continuing unbroken during David’s disfavour with Saul, it never ceased. On the death of the gallant young prince, David cried, ‘I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful.’ To the end of his own life David cared for and cherished Jonathan’s family. The nobleness of this friendship on the part of Saul’s son lies in the fact that David supplanted him in his royal succession. He is the finest illustration of human magnanimity. Christ Himself, in His self-forgetting love for us, is foreshadowed by Jonathan.

IV. So, last of all, we mention his piety.—It was with a patriot’s prayer to the ‘Lord God of Israel’ that Jonathan vowed to be true to the persecuted hero, and with words of solemn farewell that he covenanted with him. ‘The Lord be with thee as He hath been with my father.’ A deep substratum of genuine piety underlies all Jonathan’s actions. It is love of God that makes him love his country and run desperate odds to rescue it from the Philistines, and love David and stand between him and the misguided king’s frenzied anger, yes, and love even Saul also. This was hardest of all. It was easy for a soldier to fight like a hero for his country. It was easy to such a heart as that of Jonathan to beat true to such a heart as that of David. But we have not perhaps done justice to the love of the son for his father, always present at table, always his companion, regardless of bitter taunts and flashing javelins. So has God loved us. ‘Even when we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’


(1)‘I had a friend that loved me;

I was his soul: he lived not but in me.

We were so closed within each other’s breasts,

The rivets were not found that joined us first,

That do not reach us yet: we were so mixed,

As meeting streams; but to ourselves were lost.

We were one mass: we could not give or take

But from the same; for he was I, I he.

Return my better half, and give me all myself,

For thou art all.

If I have any joy when thou art absent,

I grudge it to myself: methinks I rob

Thee of thy part.’

(2) ‘ How enduring Jonathan’s friendship was. It lasted through storm and strain right to the end. Can you recall any great instances of broken friendship? There are not a few narrated in our histories. There is that between Pope Innocent the Third and Otho, for instance; the imperial crown was on the head of Otho, and almost from that moment the Emperor and the Pope were implacable enemies’ (Milman, V, 234). And there was that between Queen Elizabeth and Essex, that ended, for the gay Earl, upon the block. But the friendship of Jonathan and David never broke. No jeopardy, no change of place or circumstance impaired it.’

‘God keeps a niche

In heaven to hold our idols! and albeit

He break them to our faces, and denied

That our close kisses should impair their white,

I know we shall behold them raised, complete—

The dust shook from their beauty—glorified,

New Memnons singing in the great God-Light.’

(3) ‘In his great essay, Lord Bacon shows that nothing can ever take the place of friendship. Men so need the offices of a friend that at every risk they will have one. It is often perilous, Bacon points out, for those in exalted station to have friends, for the disclosure of the heart (which is of the essence of friendship) may afford subtle temptations to betrayal; yet recognising that, and furthermore possessing every good thing that the world could give, men have not been able to do without a friend. The principal offices of friendship, Bacon continues, are three. It eases the heart, affording it an outlet without which it is not like to prosper. It illuminates the mind, for, as iron sharpeneth iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend ( Proverbs 27:17). And a friend does for us in many instances, and in ways that occasion no offence, what we cannot do for ourselves. All this is true of that immortal friendship which forms the subject of our present lesson. It was an infinite solace to the heart of David. It helped him to be a poet and a king. And in times of peril it afforded him that succour without which his life would have been forfeit.’

Verse 42


‘And Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, the Lord be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever,’ etc.

1 Samuel 20:42

This was the last meeting and the final leaving of two young men whose friendship has been a proverb for nearly thirty centuries.

I. There are partings in every life.—The ties of yesterday are loosened to-day, and will be broken to-morrow. We are closely bound to each other by the strong bonds of circumstances one moment, and the next we are severed and each goes on his way to strive or to suffer, and to conquer or to fall, alone. The hour of parting came to David and Jonathan, and nought remained but this, ‘Jonathan said to David, Go in peace.’

II. There was one thought which took away some of the bitterness of that moment and allowed them to go each on his way with a firm step and a strong heart, for theirs had been no light and trifling friendship, which had sprung up in a day and might be dissolved in an hour, but a serious, manly, steadfast love, rooted in a common faith and held together by a common object animating their lives; and therefore the one could say to the other, ‘Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord.’ One might go back to the haunted house, where Saul would curse and rave, and the other might wander abroad in the wilderness; but come what might, they were both prepared for good or evil fortune. Both had sworn to put their trust in the living God.

—Canon Jessop.


(1) ‘Dean Church, talking about Hurrell Froude and Newman, says that “each had the capacity for whole-hearted friendship.” Probably that capacity for friendship is a rarer possession than we think. But it belonged pre-eminently to David and to Jonathan, and being found there in connection with pure and noble natures, it has cast a glamour of undying interest over the short story of their intercourse.’

(2) ‘The last interview between the two friends was most touching. By that time Jonathan had come to a clear prevision that David was God’s predestined king, and he loved him well enough to be content. Love could go no further. We are reminded of the words of the Baptist, “He must increase, I must decrease.” Only see to it that whenever you meet with your friends, under whatsoever circumstances, you always strengthen them in God. “Jonathan came to David there, and strengthened his hand in God.” All that these words imply it is not easy to write; our hearts interpret the words, and imagine the stream of holy encouragement that poured from that noble spirit into the heart of his friend. He must be strong who would strengthen another; he must have God, and be in God, who would easily give the consolations of God to his brother; and we can easily understand how the anguish of Jonathan’s soul, torn between filial devotion to his father and his love to his friend, must have driven him back on those resources of the Divine nature which are the only solace of men whose lives have been cast in the same fiery crucible.’

(3) ‘In heaven’s vaults there are what are known as binary stars, each probably a sun with its attendant train of worlds revolving around a common centre, but blending their rays so that they reach the watcher’s eye as one clear beam of light. So do twin souls find the centre of their orbit in each other; and there is nothing in the annals of human affection nobler than the bond of such a love between two pure, high-minded and noble men, whose love passes that of women. Such love was celebrated in ancient classic story, and has made the names of Damon and Pythias proverbial. It has also enriched the literature of modern days in the love of a Hallam and a Tennyson. But nowhere is it more fragrant than on the pages that contain the memorials of the love of Jonathan and David.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 20". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/1-samuel-20.html. 1876.
Ads FreeProfile