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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 20

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-42

David and Jonathan (20:1-42)

This is an early narrative, although there are editorial additions, such as the first part of verse 1, obviously added to form a connecting link with the preceding story. The exact context of the events recorded is difficult to locate. They may well have occurred prior to David’s marriage to Michal.

Jonathan, covenanted to his friend, was persuaded to discover the specific reason for his father’s enmity to David. The story is developed with Jonathan’s protestation that his father kept no secrets from him and that David had exaggerated Saul’s hatred for him. David stressed Saul’s knowledge of Jonathan’s affection for his friend and hence his tendency to keep from Jonathan any indication of his true attitude toward David. He pleaded that his own life was at stake, and Jonathan, persuaded of the serious situation in which his friend was placed, agreed to discover his father’s mind.

David’s strategy was bound up with the annual festival of the new moon, when David’s family were to sacrifice and feast together at Bethlehem. This was to be David’s excuse for a breach of etiquette, that is, nonattendance at the royal table. Saul’s reaction to David’s absence would show his true attitude. If he condoned the absence, all was as Jonathan had said. If he were angry, then Jonathan must discover the cause.

We note David’s emphasis on the covenant bond, with his plea that Jonathan keep faith (1 Samuel 20:8). The mark of a covenant was the quality of constancy and loyalty between the parties involved and the requirement that there be a steadfast love between them.

Jonathan indicated to David the sign by which he was to know the verdict. David was to hide in a field. Jonathan would shoot three arrows. If they fell short of the mark, David’s suspicions were ungrounded, but if they fell beyond the mark, David was to flee for his life. Jonathan regarded his discovery of his father’s attitude as within the will of God, and could describe the possibility of David’s flight from Saul’s anger as within the divine intention — the Lord would have sent him away (1 Samuel 20:22). Here we have a manifestation of typical Hebrew faith like that which led Joseph to affirm that even though his brethren had planned evil against him, God had intended it for good and overruled his misfortune (Genesis 50:20). A deep insight that applies to us all!

At the same time Jonathan required of his friend a like steadfastness of faith with himself and his house in loyal love forever, in harmony with their covenant (1 Samuel 20:14-15). Once more the interlocking of personalities within the covenant bond is stressed in the declaration that Jonathan loved David as he loved his own soul, that is, as himself (1 Samuel 20:17).

When Saul, Jonathan, and Abner sat down at table, the king noted the absence of the fourth regular member of the party. When the reason for David’s absence was given, Saul’s rage knew no bounds, and he even turned upon Jonathan. The issue of Jonathan’s succession to the kingdom was evidently central in the king’s mind (vs. 31). Jonathan hastened out to warn David by the agreed sign, and, when his servant had returned to the city, bade his covenant-friend affectionate farewell.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Samuel 20". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/1-samuel-20.html.
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