Loving like Jonathan

It is easy to get the impression from the stories told by our contemporary culture that love is essentially about sex – that is, if love is mentioned at all. However, it is possible to love someone deeply, to have an intimate bond with another human being without it having to be sexual at all. In fact, according to Jesus, the greatest expression of love is to give oneself for others:

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

We are to be self-sacrificial, not self-centred. Followers of Christ are to love their neighbours as themselves – to do so is to keep God’s law (Galatians 5:14).

The story of Jonathan and David found in 1 Samuel is a great Old Testament example of these principles in action. In 1 Samuel 18:3 it says that Jonathan “made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself”. Jonathan is an example from the Old Testament of what the New Testament people of God are to aspire to.

There are several specific aspects of the story of David and Jonathan that reveal Jonathan’s incredible love for David. The following examples are taken from 1 Samuel 20:

1.      Jonathan put himself at risk for David’s sake. To find out precisely what Saul’s attitude to David was, Jonathan risked not only upsetting his father, but becoming a target for his anger himself. Asking probing questions when David had warned him of Saul’s angry, vengeful attitude was a real personal risk.

2.      Jonathan relinquished his claim to the throne for David’s sake and out of obedience to God. Although he might have expected to inherit the throne from his father Saul, Jonathan knew that God was with David and wanted him to be king. Rather than stubbornly oppose this, Jonathan stepped to one side, even supporting his friend.

3.      Jonathan didn’t just let David go so that he could escape Saul, he encouraged him to do so. It must have been terribly hard to see David leave. Jonathan wouldn’t know if or when he’d see David again or how Saul would treat him went he went home to his father. Jonathan watched his best friend leave, putting aside his own wishes to be with him for the sake of David’s safety.

4.      Jonathan is also faithful to his family and remains with Saul. He could have fled with David and taken sides against his own family, but he didn’t. He drew the line when he had to, but that didn’t stop him being loyal at other times. Clearly, he also loved others as well as David. Having one good, loving relationship to which he was loyal was not enough.

In 1 Samuel 20:14 – Jonathan asks David to show him the “faithful love of the Lord” (NRSV) – hesed. As Jonathan has protected David and his dynasty to come, he requests that David reciprocate the covenant faithfulness and love and protect Jonathan and his family. This hesed is a mixture of love, loyalty/faithfulness and other such qualities as exhibited in God’s relationship with Israel.

Like Jonathan requested David to, we are to show the “faithful love” of God, being like Him in relationship with God and others. This is what Jonathan had already been doing for David, of course. Their relationship was one of mutual love and concern, not just one-sided. We cannot expect healthy relationships to be one-sided either. Yes, we might expect others to look out for us, but we also must play our part and support them.

Jonathan’s love for David is costly, it comes with personal risk and a willingness to lower himself so that David might become the person God intended. It is a self-sacrificial love, giving of himself for the sake of the person he loves. Jonathan theoretically laid down his life for David – he didn’t know if Saul would kill his own son or not.

Jonathan shows what Jesus told us and later did himself – “greater love has no one than this: that they lay down their life for their friends”.

Jonathan and David aren’t “lovers”, but this is certainly a story of deep, deep, love in relationship. This is a story about God-like, godly relationship – a man who chose to give himself self-sacrificially for his friend rather than try to play God and put himself at the centre of the universe. He is an inspiration to all of us.

© Joe Lenton, August 2012

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