Jonathan is one of the most charming personalities and one of the most attractive of Bible characters. He was a man of sincere faith (1 Sam. 14 : 6), and of great courage and devotion to duty (1 Sam. 13: 14). His defeat of the Philistine garrison on two singular occasions was second only to the later triumph of David over Goliath. The envy, that begets strife and division, which so characterized Saul in his attitude to David, and led him to such lengths in his persecution, was not at all manifest in Jonathan. He was the Barnabas of those difficult and stormy days, a true son of consolation, very pleasant to David.
His name first appears in 1 Sam. 13, in the very early years of his father’s reign, when Israel was oppressed and held in abomination by the Philistines. Jonathan led a revolt against them and, single handed, he smote the garrison at Geba. Of those days it is recorded that “in the day of battle, there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people … but with Saul and with Jonathan was there found” (1 Sam. 13: 32). The people had goads and other agricultural implements, but no weapons of war! As the Philistines did then, so Rome does today. She forbids the word of God to the people, and leaves them nothing but rosaries and valueless prayer books. The man God used was the man with the sword. That day he wrought a great salvation in Israel (1 Sam. 14: 45). Moreover the meaningless and disastrous curse pronounced by his father had not reached his ears, so he was free to eat the honey. How good it is to see men free from mere human injunctions and traditions, free to enjoy the good things of God.
David’s conquest of Goliath and the subsequent rout of the Philistines led to a rather lengthy audience with the King, with Jonathan evidently present. That day “the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” Seven times over the personal devotion of Jonathan to David is referred to, the last being David’s own confession. “Thy love to me was wonderful” (2 Sam. 1: 26 ). Not only was there such true heart devotion to David as enabled him to say, “Whatsoever thy soul desireth I will even do it for thee” (1 Sam. 20: 4), but also an unreserved abdication in favour of David’s right to the throne. Jonathan stripped himself of his princely attire, his robe and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle. It is the Old Testament classic illustration of Phil. 3:7.
Furthermore, he “spake good of David.” He bore an open confession to David’s integrity and to the great salvation the Lord had wrought for all Israel through him (1 Sam. 19: 4). He was a true friend at court to David, even to the extent of endangering his life (1 Sam. 20: 30-34). Moreover he had a clear apprehension of the divine purpose for the future. To David he said, “Thou shalt be King over Israel.” In view of this, and “by his love toward him,” he had made a covenant with David and had caused David to swear to it. This made sure to him and to his house the kindness of the Lord in the day when David’s enemies would be cut off (1 Sam. 20: 14-17). Thus, in the promise and the oath, he had a strong consolation. On two occasions, after David had become a fugitive, Jonathan sought him out, and, in the outside place, they pledged and renewed each other’s troth in solitary and solemn communion (1 Sam. 20: 41; 23: 16-18).
When David escaped to the cave Adullam, his father’s house went down thither to him, and every one that was in distress, and in debt, and discontented gathered themselves unto him. Strong though Jonathan’s love to David was, it was too weak to drive him to turn his back on the city and the house (1 Sam. 20: 42; 23: 18). There was nothing in the cave and little in the company to attract a prince like Jonathan. Indeed later we read of sons of Belial being with David, while the son of consolation was with Saul, the King whom God had rejected. What an anomaly! It would have cost him much to follow David to the cave, whereas it cost some others little or nothing. But if there was a price to pay for such devotion, staying in the camp proved to be even more expensive. The man who, single handed, had defeated the Philistines, was at last slain by them. He who had stripped himself of his princely garments and sword was stripped by the uncircumcised on Mount Gilboa, and his body ignominiously fastened to the walls of Bethshan! “Thou shalt be king” – That was fulfilled. “And I shall be next unto thee.” That might have been, had he counted all things but loss for the fellowship of David’s sufferings. Little wonder that David, in his wonderful tribute, lamented with this lamentation over Jonathan:
“O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places.
I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan.”
He had died fighting, and that the Philistines, but to no avail. Had he gone forth to David, sharing his rejection, what an honoured place would have been his among the mighty men?