I Samuel 20: David and Jonathan
In the last passage Saul tried to kill David, and David had to flee for his life. However, in this passage we find out that Jonathan didn’t know about it. David goes to Jonathan to find out what his crime might have been, that Saul would be out to kill him, and Jonathan tells David that Saul couldn’t possibly be trying to kill him—he would never do anything so important without telling Jonathan about it. But David counters that Saul probably didn’t tell Jonathan because he knew about his friendship with David.
This seems to make sense to Jonathan, because he asks David what he can do for him. David hatches a plan: It’s the time for the New Moon festival, and David decides not to go. (That’s not the clever bit.) He tells Jonathan to make an excuse for him, and if Saul is fine with David being absent, it means that everything is fine, but if Saul gets angry about it, it means that he really does want to kill David. And, if Saul wants to kill David, he asks for Jonathan’s mercy—or, if David really is guilty of something, Jonathan can kill David himself. Of course, Jonathan tells David that if his father really wanted to kill him, Jonathan would tell him.
David is worried about how he’ll get word from Jonathan, so they hatch an additional plan: Jonathan figures it will be a couple of days before Saul asks about David’s absence, so they make plans to meet at this field in a couple of days. David is to hide, and Jonathan will come with a servant, and shoot some arrows. When the servant goes to retrieve the arrows, Jonathan will use a code:
“Then I will send a boy and say, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to him, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you; bring them here,’ then come, because, as surely as the LORD lives, you are safe; there is no danger. But if I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then you must go, because the LORD has sent you away.’” (verses 21–22)
So David goes off to hide, and Jonathan goes to the New Moon festival with Saul. The first day that David is gone is no big deal, but on the second day Saul asks Jonathan about it. Jonathan gives the story he had agreed on with David, and Saul blows his top.
Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send and bring him to me, for he must die!”
“Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Jonathan asked his father. But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.
So Jonathan gets up and leaves, angry with is father, and doesn’t eat for the rest of the day, because of his anger. He goes out to the field, and they go through the thing with the arrows, except that when he tells his servant that the arrow is beyond him—the code for David to know that Saul really does intend to kill him—Jonathan loses control, and says “Hurry! Go quickly! Don’t stop!” (verse 38)—which must have been strange for the servant, who didn’t know what was going on.
But David doesn’t hurry, he waits until the servant is gone, and then goes to Jonathan, and they weep and say goodbye.
I don’t know how old David and Jonathan are at this point, but I believe they’re still fairly young. Which might explain why they keep coming up with these little plans; “I’ll shoot an arrow, and then make up a code to tell you the results of my talk with Dad.” It sounds like the type of thing boys would do. It’s especially amusing when Jonathan shouts for David to hurry and run, but David doesn’t; he just waits to say goodbye to Jonathan.
It’s interesting that Saul tells Jonathan that as long as David lives, Jonathan’s kingdom will never be established. This is more than the ranting of a crazy man, it’s also Saul’s worry that David will claim the kingship, and kill all of Saul’s descendants—a common practice, at the time, to prevent the old king’s descendants from seeking revenge. One might also consider it a prophecy; with all of Saul’s prophesying in previous passages, did he foresee this?