1 Samuel 20
David, having several times narrowly escaped Saul's fury, begins to
consider at last whether it may not be necessary for him to retire into
the country and to take up arms in his own defence. But he will not do
so daring a thing without consulting his faithful friend Jonathan; how
he did this, and what passed between them, we have an account in this
chapter, where we have as surprising instances of supernatural love as
we had in the chapter before of unnatural hatred.
I. David complains to Jonathan of his present distress, and engages him
to be his friend,
1 Samuel 20:1-8.
II. Jonathan faithfully promises to get and give him intelligence how
his father stood affected to him, and renews the covenant of friendship
1 Samuel 20:9-23.
III. Jonathan, upon trial, finds, to his grief, that his father was
implacably enraged against David,
1 Samuel 20:24-34.
IV. He gives David notice of this, according to the appointment between
1 Samuel 20:35-42.
|David Consults Jonathan.
||B. C. 1058.|
1 And David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before
Jonathan, What have I done? what is mine iniquity? and what
is my sin before thy father, that he seeketh my life?
2 And he said unto him, God forbid; thou shalt not die: behold,
my father will do nothing either great or small, but that he will
shew it me: and why should my father hide this thing from me? it
is not so.
3 And David sware moreover, and said, Thy father certainly
knoweth that I have found grace in thine eyes; and he saith, Let
not Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved: but truly as the
LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, there is but a step
between me and death.
4 Then said Jonathan unto David, Whatsoever thy soul desireth,
I will even do it for thee.
5 And David said unto Jonathan, Behold, to morrow is the new
moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat: but let
me go, that I may hide myself in the field unto the third day
6 If thy father at all miss me, then say, David earnestly asked
leave of me that he might run to Bethlehem his city: for there
is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family.
7 If he say thus, It is well; thy servant shall have peace:
but if he be very wroth, then be sure that evil is determined
8 Therefore thou shalt deal kindly with thy servant; for thou
hast brought thy servant into a covenant of the LORD with thee:
notwithstanding, if there be in me iniquity, slay me thyself; for
why shouldest thou bring me to thy father?
I. David makes a representation to Jonathan of his present troubles.
While Saul lay bound by his trance at Naioth David escaped to the
court, and got to speak with Jonathan. And it was happy for him that he
had such a friend at court, when he had such an enemy on the throne. If
there be those that hate and despise us, let us not be disturbed at
that, for there are those also that love and respect us. God hath set
the one over against the other, and so must we. Jonathan was a friend
that loved at all times, loved David as well now in his distress, and
bade him as welcome into his arms, as he had done when he was in his
(1 Samuel 18:1),
and he was a brother that was born for adversity,
1. David appeals to Jonathan himself concerning his innocency, and he
needed not say much to him for the proof of it, only he desired him
that if he knew of any just offence he had given his father he would
tell him, that he might humble himself and beg his pardon: What have
1 Samuel 20:1.
2. He endeavors to convince him that, notwithstanding his innocency,
Saul sought his life. Jonathan, from a principal of filial respect to
his father, was very loth to believe that he designed or would ever do
so wicked a thing,
1 Samuel 20:2.
He the rather hoped so because he knew nothing of any such design, and
he had usually been made privy to all his counsels. Jonathan, as became
a dutiful son, endeavored to cover his father's shame, as far as was
consistent with justice and fidelity to David. Charity is not forward
to think evil of any, especially of a parent,
1 Corinthians 13:5.
David therefore gives him the assurance of an oath concerning his own
danger, swears the peace upon Saul, that he was in fear of his life by
him: "As the Lord liveth, than which nothing more sure in
itself, and as thy soul liveth, than which nothing more certain
to thee, whatever thou thinkest, there is but a step between me and
1 Samuel 20:3.
And, as for Saul's concealing it from Jonathan, it was easy to account
for that; he knew the friendship between him and David, and therefore,
though in other things he advised with him, yet not in that. None more
fit than Jonathan to serve him in every design that was just and
honourable, but he knew him to be a man of more virtue than to be his
confidant in so base a design as the murder of David.
II. Jonathan generously offers him his service
(1 Samuel 20:4):
Whatsoever thou desirest, he needed not insert the proviso of
lawful and honest (for he knew David too well to think he would ask any
thing that was otherwise), I will even do it for thee. This is
true friendship. Thus Christ testifies his love to us: Ask, and it
shall be done for you; and we must testify ours to him by keeping
III. David only desires him to satisfy himself, and then to satisfy him
whether Saul did really design his death or no. Perhaps David proposed
this more for Jonathan's conviction than his own, for he himself was
1. The method of trial he proposed was very natural, and would
certainly discover how Saul stood affected to him. The two next days
Saul was to dine publicly, upon occasion of the solemnities of the new
moon, when extraordinary sacrifices were offered and feasts made upon
the sacrifices. Saul was rejected of God, and the Spirit of the Lord
had departed from him, yet he kept up his observance of the holy
feasts. There may be the remains of external devotion where there is
nothing but the ruins of real virtue. At these solemn feasts Saul had
either all his children to sit with him, and David had a seat as one of
them, or all his great officers, and David had a seat as one of
them. However it was, David resolved his seat should be empty
(and that it never used to be at a sacred feast) those two days
(1 Samuel 20:5),
and he would abscond till the solemnity was over, and put it upon this
issue: if Saul admitted an excuse for his absence, and dispensed with
it, he would conclude he had changed his mind and was reconciled to
him; but if he resented it, and was put into a passion by it, it was
easy to conclude he designed him a mischief, since it was certain he
did not love him so well as to desire his presence for any other end
than that he might have an opportunity to do him a mischief,
1 Samuel 20:7.
2. The excuse he desired Jonathan to make for his absence, we have
reason to think, was true, that he was invited by his elder brother to
Bethlehem, his own city, to celebrate this new moon with his relations
there, because, besides the monthly solemnity in which they held
communion with all Israel, they had now a yearly sacrifice, and a holy
feast upon it, for all the family,
1 Samuel 20:6.
They kept a day of thanksgiving in their family for the comforts they
enjoyed, and of prayer for the continuance of them. By this it appears
that the family David was of was a very religious family, a house that
had a church in it.
3. The arguments he used with Jonathan to persuade him to do this
kindness for him were very pressing,
1 Samuel 20:8.
(1.) That he had entered into a league of friendship with him, and it
was Jonathan's own proposal: Thou hast brought thy servant into a
covenant of the Lord with thee.
(2.) That he would by no means urge him to espouse his cause if he was
not sure that it was a righteous cause: "If there be iniquity in
me, I am so far from desiring or expecting that the covenant
between us should bind thee to be a confederate with me in that
iniquity that I freely release thee from it, and wish that my hand may
be first upon me: Slay me thyself." No honest man will urge his
friend to do a dishonest thing for his sake.
|Jonathan's Covenant with David.
||B. C. 1058.|
9 And Jonathan said, Far be it from thee: for if I knew
certainly that evil were determined by my father to come upon
thee, then would not I tell it thee?
10 Then said David to Jonathan, Who shall tell me? or what if
thy father answer thee roughly?
11 And Jonathan said unto David, Come, and let us go out into
the field. And they went out both of them into the field.
12 And Jonathan said unto David, O LORD God of Israel, when I
have sounded my father about to morrow any time, or the third
day, and, behold, if there be good toward David, and I then
send not unto thee, and shew it thee;
13 The LORD do so and much more to Jonathan: but if it please
my father to do thee evil, then I will shew it thee, and send
thee away, that thou mayest go in peace: and the LORD be with
thee, as he hath been with my father.
14 And thou shalt not only while yet I live shew me the
kindness of the LORD, that I die not:
15 But also thou shalt not cut off thy kindness from my house
for ever: no, not when the LORD hath cut off the enemies of David
every one from the face of the earth.
16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David,
saying, Let the LORD even require it at the hand of David's
17 And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved
him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.
18 Then Jonathan said to David, To morrow is the new moon:
and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty.
19 And when thou hast stayed three days, then thou shalt go
down quickly, and come to the place where thou didst hide thyself
when the business was in hand, and shalt remain by the stone
20 And I will shoot three arrows on the side thereof, as
though I shot at a mark.
21 And, behold, I will send a lad, saying, Go, find out the
arrows. If I expressly say unto the lad, Behold, the arrows are
on this side of thee, take them; then come thou: for there is
peace to thee, and no hurt; as the LORD liveth.
22 But if I say thus unto the young man, Behold, the arrows
are beyond thee; go thy way: for the LORD hath sent thee away.
23 And as touching the matter which thou and I have spoken
of, behold, the LORD be between thee and me for ever.
I. Jonathan protests his fidelity to David in his distress.
Notwithstanding the strong confidence David had in Jonathan, yet,
because he might have some reason to fear that his father's influence,
and his own interest, should make him warp, or grow cool towards him,
Jonathan thought it requisite solemnly to renew the professions of his
friendship to him
(1 Samuel 20:9):
"Far be it from thee to think that I suspect thee of any crime
for which I should either slay thee myself or deliver thee to my
father; no, if thou hast any jealousy of that, Come let us go into
(1 Samuel 20:11),
and talk it over more fully." He did not challenge him to the field to
fight him for an affront, but to fix him in his friendship. He
faithfully promised him that he would let him know how, upon trial, he
found his father affected towards him, and would make the matter
neither better nor worse than it was. "If there be good towards
thee, I will show it thee, that thou mayest be easy
(1 Samuel 20:12),
if evil, I will send thee away, that thou mayest be safe"
(1 Samuel 20:13);
and thus he would help to deliver him from the evil if it were real and
from the fear of evil if it were but imaginary. For the confirmation of
his promise he appeals to God,
1. As a witness
(1 Samuel 20:12):
"O Lord God of Israel, thou knowest I mean sincerely, and think
as I speak." The strength of his passion made the manner of his
speaking concise and abrupt.
2. As a judge: "The Lord do so and much more to Jonathan
(1 Samuel 20:13),
if I speak deceitfully, or break my word with my friend." He expressed
himself thus solemnly that David might be abundantly assured of his
sincerity. And thus God has confirmed his promises to us, that we might
have strong consolation,
Jonathan adds to his protestations his hearty prayers: "The Lord be
with thee, to protect and prosper thee, as he has been
formerly with my father, though now he has withdrawn." Thus he
imitates his belief that David would be in his father's place, and his
good wishes that he might prosper in it better than his father now
II. He provides for the entail of the covenant of friendship with David
upon his posterity,
1 Samuel 20:14-16.
He engages David to be a friend to his family when he was gone
(1 Samuel 20:15):
Thou shalt promise that thou wilt not cut off thy kindness
from my house for ever. This he spoke from a natural affection he
had to his children, whom he desired it might go well with after his
decease, and for whose future welfare he desired to improve his present
interest. It also intimates his firm belief of David's advancement, and
that it would be in the power of his hand to do a kindness or
unkindness to his seed; for, in process of time, the Lord would cut
off his enemies, Saul himself was not expected; then "Do not
thou cut off thy kindness from my house, nor revenge my father's
wrongs upon my children." The house of David must likewise be bound to
the house of Jonathan from generation to generation; he made a
(1 Samuel 20:16)
with the house of David. Note, True friends cannot but covet to
transmit to theirs after them their mutual affections. Thy own
friend, and thy father's friend, forsake not. This kindness,
1. He calls the kindness of the Lord, because it is such
kindness as God shows to those he takes into covenant with himself; for
he is a God to them and to their seed; they are beloved for the
2. He secures it by an imprecation
(1 Samuel 20:16):
The Lord require it at the hand of David's seed (for of David
himself he had no suspicion) if they prove so far David's enemies as to
deal wrongfully with the posterity of Jonathan, David's friend. He
feared lest David, or some of his, should hereafter be tempted, for the
clearing and confirming of their title to the throne, to do by his seed
as Abimelech had done by the sons of Gideon
and this he would effectually prevent; but the reason given
(1 Samuel 20:17)
why Jonathan was so earnest to have the friendship entailed is purely
generous, and has nothing of self in it; it was because he loved him
as he loved his own soul, and therefore desired that he and his
might be beloved by him. David, though now in disgrace at court and in
distress, was as amiable in the eyes of Jonathan as ever he had been,
and he loved him never the less for his father's hating him, so pure
were the principles on which his friendship was built. Having himself
sworn to David, he caused David to swear to him, and (as we read it)
to swear again, which David consented to (for he that bears an
honest mind does not startle at assurances), to swear by his love to
him, which he looked upon as a sacred thing. Jonathan's heart was so
much upon it that, when they parted this time, he concluded with a
solemn appeal to God: The Lord be between me and thee for ever
(1 Samuel 20:23),
that is, "God himself be judge between us and our families for ever, if
on either side this league of friendship be violated." It was in
remembrance of this covenant that David was kind to Mephibosheth,
2 Samuel 9:7,21:7.
It will be a kindness to ourselves and ours to secure an interest in
those whom God favours and to make his friends ours.
III. He settles the method of intelligence, and by what signs and
tokens he would give him notice how his father stood affected towards
him. David would be missed the first day, or at least the second day,
of the new moon, and would be enquired after,
1 Samuel 20:18.
On the third day, by which time he would have returned from Bethlehem,
he must be at such a place
(1 Samuel 20:19),
and Jonathan would come towards that place with his bow and arrows to
shoot for diversion
(1 Samuel 20:20),
would send his lad to fetch his arrows, and, if they were shot short of
the lad, David must take it for a signal of safety, and not be afraid
to show his head
(1 Samuel 20:21);
but, if he shot beyond the lad, it was a signal of danger, and he must
shift for his safety,
1 Samuel 20:22.
This expedient he fixed lest he should not have the opportunity, which
yet it proved he had, of talking with David, and making the report by
word of mouth.
|Jonathan Excuses David to Saul.
||B. C. 1058.|
24 So David hid himself in the field: and when the new moon was
come, the king sat him down to eat meat.
25 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.
26 Nevertheless Saul spake not any thing that day: for he
thought, Something hath befallen him, he is not clean; surely
he is not clean.
27 And it came to pass on the morrow, which was the second
day of the month, that David's place was empty: and Saul said
unto Jonathan his son, Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse to
meat, neither yesterday, nor to day?
28 And Jonathan answered Saul, David earnestly asked leave of
me to go to Bethlehem:
29 And he said, Let me go, I pray thee; for our family hath a
sacrifice in the city; and my brother, he hath commanded me to
be there: and now, if I have found favour in thine eyes, let me
get away, I pray thee, and see my brethren. Therefore he cometh
not unto the king's table.
30 Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said
unto him, Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do not I
know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own
confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness?
31 For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the ground, thou
shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom. Wherefore now send and
fetch him unto me, for he shall surely die.
32 And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said unto him,
Wherefore shall he be slain? what hath he done?
33 And Saul cast a javelin at him to smite him: whereby
Jonathan knew that it was determined of his father to slay David.
34 So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did
eat no meat the second day of the month: for he was grieved for
David, because his father had done him shame.
Jonathan is here effectually convinced of that which he was so loth to
believe, that his father had an implacable enmity to David, and would
certainly be the death of him if it were in his power; and he had like
to have paid very dearly himself for the conviction.
I. David is missed from the feast on the first day, but nothing is said
of him. The king sat upon his seat, to feast upon the
peace-offerings as at other times
(1 Samuel 20:25),
and yet had his heart as full of envy and malice against David as it
could hold. He should first have been reconciled to him, and then have
come and offered his gift; but, instead of that, he hoped, at this
feast, to drink the blood of David. What an abomination was that
sacrifice which was brought with such a wicked mind as this!
When the king came to take his seat Jonathan arose, in reverence to him
both as a father and as his sovereign; every one knew his place, but
David's was empty. It did not use to be so. None more content than he
in attending holy duties; nor had he been absent now but that he must
have come at the peril of his life; self-preservation obliged him to
withdraw. In imminent peril present opportunities may be waived, nay,
we ought not to throw ourselves into the mouth of danger. Christ him
self absconded often, till he knew that his hour had come. But that day
Saul took no notice that he missed David, but said within himself,
"Surely he is not clean,
1 Samuel 20:26.
Some ceremonial pollution has befallen him, which forbids him to eat of
the holy things till he has washed his clothes, and bathed his flesh
in water, and been unclean until the evening." Saul knew what
conscience David made of the law, and that he would rather keep away
from the holy feast than come in his uncleanness. Blessed be God, no
uncleanness is now a restraint upon us, but what we may by faith and
repentance be washed from in the fountain opened,
II. He is enquired for the second day,
1 Samuel 20:27.
Saul asked Jonathan, who he knew was his confidant, Wherefore cometh
not the son of Jesse to meat? He was his own son by marriage, but
he calls him in disdain, the son of Jesse. He asks for him as if
he were not pleased that he should be absent from a religious feast;
and so it should be example to masters of families to see to it that
those under their charge be not absent from the worship of God, either
in public or in the family. It is a bad thing for us, except in case
of necessity, to omit an opportunity of statedly attending on God in
solemn ordinances. Thomas lost a sight of Christ by being once absent
from a meeting of the disciples. But that which displeased Saul was
that hereby he missed the opportunity he expected of doing David a
III. Jonathan makes his excuse,
1 Samuel 20:28,29.
1. That he was absent upon a good occasion, keeping the feast in
another place, though not here, sent for by his elder brother, who was
now more respectful to him than he had been
(1 Samuel 17:28),
and that he had gone to pay his respects to his relations, for the
keeping up of brotherly love; and no master would deny a servant
liberty to do that in due time. He pleads,
2. That he did not go without leave humbly asked and obtained from
Jonathan, who, as his superior officer, was proper to be applied to for
it. Thus he represents David as not wanting in any instance of respect
and duty to the government.
IV. Saul hereupon breaks out into a most extravagant passion, and rages
like a lion disappointed of his prey. David was out of his reach, but
he falls upon Jonathan for his sake
(1 Samuel 20:30,31),
gives him base language, not fit for a gentleman, a prince, to give to
any man, especially his own son, heir apparent to his crown, a son that
served him, the greatest stay and ornament of his family, before a
great deal of company, at a feast, when all should be in good humour,
at a sacred feast, by which all irregular passions should be mortified
and subdued; yet he does in effect call him,
1. A bastard: Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman; that
is, according to the foolish filthy language of men's brutish passion
now a day, "Thou son of a whore." He tells him he was born to the
confusion of his mother, that is, he had given the world cause to
suspect that he was not the legitimate son of Saul, because he loved
him whom Saul hated and supported him who would be the destruction of
2. A traitor: Thou son of a perverse rebellion (so the word is),
that is, "thou perverse rebel." At other times he reckoned no
counsellor or commander that he had more trusty and well-beloved than
Jonathan; yet now in this passion he represents him as dangerous to his
crown and life.
3. A fool: Thou hast chosen the son of Jesse for thy friend
to thy own confusion, for while he lives thou shalt never be
established. Jonathan indeed did wisely and well for himself and
family to secure an interest in David, whom Heaven had destined to the
throne, yet, for this, he is branded as most impolitic. It is good
taking God's people for our people and going with those that have him
with them. It will prove to our advantage at last, however for the
present it may be thought a disparagement, and a prejudice to our
secular interest. It is probable Saul knew that David was anointed to
the kingdom by the same hand that anointed him, and then not Jonathan,
but himself, was the fool, to think to defeat the counsels of God. Yet
nothing will serve him but David must die, and Jonathan must fetch him
to execution. See how ill Saul's passion looks, and let it warn us
against the indulgence of any thing like it in ourselves. Anger is
madness, and he that hates his brother is a murderer.
V. Jonathan is sorely grieved and put into disorder by his father's
barbarous passion, and the more because he had hoped better things,
1 Samuel 20:2.
He was troubled for his father, that he should be such a brute,
troubled for his friend, whom he knew to be a friend of God, that he
should be so basely abused; he was grieved for David
(1 Samuel 20:34),
and troubled for himself too, because his father had done him
shame, and, though most unjustly, yet he must submit to it. One
would pity Jonathan to see how he was put,
1. Into the peril of sin. Much ado that wise and good man had to keep
his temper, upon such a provocation as this. His father's reflections
upon himself made no return to; it becomes inferiors to bear with
meekness and silence the contempts put upon them in wrath and passion.
When thou art the anvil lie thou still. But his dooming David to
die he could not bear: to that he replied with some heat
(1 Samuel 20:32),
Wherefore shall he be slain? What has he done? Generous
spirits can much more easily bear to be abused themselves than to hear
their friends abused.
2. Into the peril of death. Saul was now so outrageous that he threw
his javelin at Jonathan,
1 Samuel 20:33.
He seemed to be in great care
(1 Samuel 20:31)
than Jonathan should be established in his kingdom, and yet now he
himself aims at his life. What fools, what savage beasts and worse does
anger make men! How necessary it is to put a hook in its nose and a
bridle in its jaws! Jonathan was fully satisfied that evil was
determined against David, which put him out of frame exceedingly: he
rose from table, thinking it high time when his life was struck
at, and would eat no meat, for they were not to eat of the holy
things in their mourning. All the guests, we may suppose, were
discomposed, and the mirth of the feast was spoiled. He that is
cruel troubles his own flesh,
|David Informed of His Danger.
||B. C. 1058.|
35 And it came to pass in the morning, that Jonathan went out
into the field at the time appointed with David, and a little lad
36 And he said unto his lad, Run, find out now the arrows which
I shoot. And as the lad ran, he shot an arrow beyond him.
37 And when the lad was come to the place of the arrow which
Jonathan had shot, Jonathan cried after the lad, and said, Is
not the arrow beyond thee?
38 And Jonathan cried after the lad, Make speed, haste, stay
not. And Jonathan's lad gathered up the arrows, and came to his
39 But the lad knew not any thing: only Jonathan and David knew
40 And Jonathan gave his artillery unto his lad, and said unto
him, Go, carry them to the city.
41 And as soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of a
place toward the south, and fell on his face to the ground, and
bowed himself three times: and they kissed one another, and wept
one with another, until David exceeded.
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. And he arose and departed: and Jonathan went into the city.
1. Jonathan's faithful performance of his promise to give David notice
of the success of his dangerous experiment. He went at the time and to
the place appointed
(1 Samuel 20:35),
within sight of which he knew David lay hid, sent his footboy to fetch
his arrows, which he would shoot at random
(1 Samuel 20:36),
and gave David the fatal signal by shooting an arrow beyond the lad
(1 Samuel 20:37):
Is not the arrow beyond thee? That word [beyond] David
knew the meaning of better than the lad. Jonathan dismissed the lad,
who knew nothing of the matter, and, finding the coast clear and no
danger of a discovery, he presumed upon one minute's personal
conversation with David after he had bidden him flee for his life.
2. The most sorrowful parting of these two friends, who, for aught
that appears, never came together again but once, and that was by
stealth in a wood,
1 Samuel 23:16.
(1.) David addressed himself to Jonathan with the reverence of a
servant rather than the freedom of a friend: He fell on his face to
the ground, and bowed himself three times, as one deeply sensible
of his obligations to him for the good services he had done him.
(2.) They took leave of each other with the greatest affection
imaginable, with kisses and tears; they wept on each other's neck
till David exceeded,
1 Samuel 20:41.
The separation of two such faithful friends was equally grievous to
them both, but David's case was the more deplorable; for, when Jonathan
was returning to his family and friends, David was leaving all his
comforts, even those of God's sanctuary, and therefore his grief
exceeded Jonathan's, or perhaps it was because his temper was more
tender and his passions were stronger.
(3.) They referred themselves to the covenant of friendship that was
between them, both of them comforting themselves with this in this
mournful separation: "We have sworn both of us in the name of the
Lord, for ourselves and our heirs, that we and they will be
faithful and kind to each other from generation to generation." Thus,
while we are at home in the body and absent from the Lord, this is our
comfort, that he has made with us an everlasting covenant.