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Friendship in the Bible: David and Jonathan

For years I thought that God was inefficient. It just didn't seem to make sense that the Bible could be so big and so full of complicated stories. Surely if God really wanted us to know what he was like and how to live, he could have done it in less space, surely? And with the use of a few, well-placed bullet points. Thankfully, as I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate efficiency less and relationships more. Now that I understand that God operates in relational ways, it makes sense that his story is told within the rough-and-tumble of relationships in history. The Bible is full of friendships − between God and people and between people themselves. We can learn a lot about our own relationships by looking at theirs. DAVID AND JONATHAN The most famous friendship of the Bible has to be that of David and Jonathan. The close, intense relationship between the shepherd boy turned warrior/anointed king-in-waiting and the reigning king's son has inspired art and literature throughout history.

Personally, I think this pair should be known as Jonathan and David, because Jonathan did most of the creating and maintaining of the friendship−at least in the beginning.

The Bible says that Jonathan took a real liking to David. He made a covenant with him. He loved him ‘as himself’. He gave him presents and provided for him. He warned David about plots against him by his father, he spoke out for him to his father and he used his influence to keep him safe.

It's not surprising that Jonathan was the main player in the relationship at first, because as the son of the king, he was the one with the power in this relationship. But it is a power that he used for the good of his friend−and at a cost to himself in the end. Every time he kept David safe or promoted his interests, he was destroying his own chances of inheriting his father's throne. Jonathan's friendship with David was at the cost of his own career and reputation.

Jonathan was a friend with some pretty impressive qualities. His loyalty to David and courage in the face of political pressure, and an angry, murderous father was unquestioned. He had the humility to say openly that he would never be king. He followed up his commitments, he was generous and he did it all 'before the Lord'. He showed genuine affection, loyalty and openness. He was the friend everyone would love to have.

But David was not just a passive 'taker' in all of this either. As time went on their friendship grew so that by the end it was definitely a two-way relationship between equals. When the pair had to part, the story says that David 'wept the most'.

One of the particularly beautiful aspects of this friendship was the way David and Jonathan covenanted to do good to each other's family and descendents. They knew that as technical rivals to the same throne, it was more than likely that their families and heirs could grow to hate each other and try to eliminate their opponents. They took steps to stop the cycle of rivalry and hate.

Jonathan and David's friendship has a lot to teach us about power, self-sacrifice and loyalty. Most of us today are unlikely to be in a situation where we become best friends with our greatest rivals but we may stand to lose status, money or power because of a friendship. Are we willing to put our friends first?

Read 1 Samuel 20. In the end Jonathan did not follow David in getting away from Saul. Why not? Was it a failure in their friendship? Would he have shown more loyalty by going with him?


Cecily Paterson writes uplifting, warm hearted fiction for young teenage girls. Visit her website

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