Best of Friends

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1 Samuel 20:1-42 (David and Jonathan)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is on David and Saul, but our message today actually focuses on David and Jonathan. Jonathan was Saul’s son, and he and David were best of friends. We already saw David and Jonathan make their covenant of friendship back in chapter 18, but now here in chapter 20 we see the fullness and richness of their friendship together in a whole new way. (Read 1 Samuel 20:41-42 and pray)

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What does it mean to be best friends? What moves us from the category of acquaintances to friends to best friends?

There is certainly a chemistry that develops between two people that helps them grow and develop as friends. But the heart of friendship is really commitment. Best friends make certain commitments to each other. And without those commitments, there really isn’t much of a friendship.

This morning as we look at David and Jonathan’s friendship, we are going to learn about making commitments, acting on your commitments, and then following through on your commitments. And in the process, we will learn what it means not only to be a good friend but the best of friends.

I. Making commitments (1-17)

First, let’s talk about making commitments. Because in this chapter we see David and Jonathan making various commitments of friendship to each other.

   A. Committed to being available (1-4)
      – Proverbs 17:17

And the first of those commitments is such a basic ingredient of friendship – committed to being available. Friends are committed to being available to each other. Look at 1 Samuel 20:1-4:

Then David fled from Naioth at Ramah and went to Jonathan and asked, “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to take my life?” 2 “Never!” Jonathan replied. “You are not going to die! Look, my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without confiding in me. Why would he hide this from me? It’s not so!” 3 But David took an oath and said, “Your father knows very well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he has said to himself, ‘Jonathan must not know this or he will be grieved.’ Yet as surely as the Lord lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death.” 4 Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.” (1 Samuel 20:1-4)

David flees from Saul at Naioth and goes to his friend, Jonathan. Jonathan commits himself to being available to David whatever David might need him to do, no questions asked. Now that’s friendship!

At this point Jonathan is not convinced that Saul still wants David dead. Remember, Saul made an oath to Jonathan that David would not be put to death. Now David is pretty convinced that Saul wants to kill him, especially after the four attempts on his life back in chapter 19. Jonathan is not so sure, but he still makes himself available to David. He tells David, “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.”

Proverbs 17:17 says: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17) This is such an important part of friendship, just being there for each other, being available to each other in good times and bad. That’s the first commitment of friendship. Friends are committed to being available.

   B. Committed to kindness (5-8)
      – Job 6:14 (ESV)

A second commitment is that of kindness. Friends are committed to being kind to each other. Look at 1 Samuel 20:5-8:

So David said, “Look, tomorrow is the New Moon festival, and I am supposed to dine with the king; but let me go and hide in the field until the evening of the day after tomorrow. 6 If your father misses me at all, tell him, ‘David earnestly asked my permission to hurry to Bethlehem, his hometown, because an annual sacrifice is being made there for his whole clan.’ 7 If he says, ‘Very well,’ then your servant is safe. But if he loses his temper, you can be sure that he is determined to harm me. 8 As for you, show kindness to your servant, for you have brought him into a covenant with you before the Lord. If I am guilty, then kill me yourself! Why hand me over to your father?” (1 Samuel 20:5-8)

David tells Jonathan what he needs and asks Jonathan to show kindness to him. Notice David bases his request for kindness on the covenant of friendship Jonathan has already made with him before the Lord.

Job 6:14 says: “He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” (Job 6:14 ESV) Kindness is another basic commitment of friendship. Friends are committed to being kind to each other.

Now you may have noticed the problem of lying in this passage again. We saw this last week with Michal lying to save David’s life, and here David urges Jonathan to lie to Saul. And as we said last week, even though we see several examples of people lying with good motives in Scripture, that doesn’t necessarily make lying right, which is ironic when we look at the next commitment of friendship.

   C. Committed to truthfulness (9-11)
      – Proverbs 27:5-6

Because the next commitment is truthfulness. Friends are committed to being truthful with each other. Look at 1 Samuel 20:9-11 where Jonathan replies to David’s suggestion, “If I’m guilty, then kill me yourself! Why hand me over to your father?”

“Never!” Jonathan said. “If I had the least inkling that my father was determined to harm you, wouldn’t I tell you?” 10 David asked, “Who will tell me if your father answers you harshly?” 11 “Come,” Jonathan said, “let’s go out into the field.” So they went there together. (1 Samuel 20:9-11)

Jonathan commits to being truthful with David about his father Saul, even if it’s bad news. He tells his friend, “If I had the least inkling that my father was determined to harm you, wouldn’t I tell you?” Of course, he would!

Proverbs 27 says: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:5-6) Truthfulness is another basic commitment of friendship. Friends tell each other the truth even when the truth may be something we don’t want to hear. Friends tells each other the truth even when the truth hurts.

David trusts Jonathan to tell him the truth, but he still wants to know the plan. Who will tell him if Saul answers Jonathan harshly? “Come,” Jonathan said, “let’s go out into the field.”

   D. Committed to loyalty (12-15)
      – Proverbs 18:24

And this leads us to a fourth commitment of friendship which is loyalty. Friends are committed to being loyal to each other. Look at 1 Samuel 20:12-15:

Then Jonathan said to David: “By the Lord, the God of Israel, I will surely sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow! If he is favorably disposed toward you, will I not send you word and let you know? 13 But if my father is inclined to harm you, may the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away safely. May the Lord be with you as he has been with my father. 14 But show me unfailing kindness like that of the Lord as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, 15 and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family – not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.” (1 Samuel 20:12-15)

Jonathan commits to loyalty to David, and he asks David to pledge loyalty to him as well. Jonathan even calls a curse upon himself if he does not prove loyal to David.

In verse 14 Jonathan asks David to show “unfailing kindness like that of the Lord” to him and his descendants. It’s a beautiful phrase in the original language. Literally he asks David to show him “the Lord’s kindness.” The word translated “kindness” in verse 14 is the Hebrew word “hesed.” It is a beautiful word in the Bible, usually used of God’s love for us. It is a word that speaks of God’s covenant love for us – God’s loyal, devoted, unfailing love and kindness towards his people.

Jonathan expects this loyalty from David to extend to his whole family. He says, “Do not ever cut off your kindness from my family – not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.” Remember, when Jonathan speaks of God cutting off all of David’s enemies, who is David’s public enemy number one? Saul! Jonathan is loyal to David even over his own father, Saul.

Proverbs 18:24 says: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24) This is the commitment of loyalty. God is loyal to his covenant, and we are called to love each other as God loves us. True friends show each other “unfailing kindness like that of the Lord.”

   E. Mutual love and commitment (16-17)
      – Proverbs 27:17

We’ve looked at the friendship commitments of availability, kindness, truthfulness and loyalty. We should also note that true friendship requires mutual love and commitment. Look at 1 Samuel 20:16-17:

So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.” 17 And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself. (1 Samuel 20:16-17)

Notice that David and Jonathan make mutual commitments of love and friendship to each other. Friendship is a two-way street. True friendship is never one-sided. You can befriend a person who doesn’t reciprocate. But you cannot “be friends” with someone unless it goes both ways.

Proverbs 27:17 says: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) True friendship goes both ways. True friends share a relationship of mutual love and commitment.

II. Acting on your commitments (18-34)

So, we’ve looked at the various commitments of friendship and how Jonathan and David made those commitments with each other. But the next step after making commitments of friendship is acting on those commitments. It doesn’t do any good to make commitments if you don’t act on them. And that’s what we see next in our passage, Jonathan and David acting on their commitments to each other.

   A. Watching out for each other (18-23)
      – Galatians 6:2

One way we act on our commitments as friends is by watching out for each other. And that’s what we see Jonathan doing for David in this next section. Look at 1 Samuel 20:18-23:

Then Jonathan said to David: “Tomorrow is the New Moon festival. You will be missed, because your seat will be empty. 19 The day after tomorrow, toward evening, go to the place where you hid when this trouble began, and wait by the stone Ezel. 20 I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I were shooting at a target. 21 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. 22 But if I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then you must go, because the Lord has sent you away. 23 And about the matter you and I discussed—remember, the Lord is witness between you and me forever.” (1 Samuel 20:18-23)

Jonathan watches out for David by putting a plan into action to discern Saul’s motives and to let David know where Saul stands. Jonathan will put the previous plan at the feast into action, and then he will communicate to David in the field through the shooting of the arrows. Jonathan will shoot three arrows rather than one, so it will seem as though he is shooting at a target, whereas just shooting one arrow might look more like a signal. This way David will know whether it is safe to stay or not.

Notice Jonathan’s trust in God’s sovereignty in all of this. If he cries out, “Look, the arrows are beyond you,” that is a sign that David must go because “the Lord has sent you away.” Jonathan knows that God is sovereign over the situation, even if Saul continues to be angry with David. Jonathan puts his plan together fully trusting God’s sovereignty over the situation and watching over his friend.

True friends watch out for each other. Galatians 6:2 says: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) True friends carry each other’s burdens. They watch out for each other and help where they can.

   B. Speaking up for each other (24-32)
      – Proverbs 31:9

Another way we act on our commitments as friends is by speaking up for each other. Look at 1 Samuel 20:24-32:

So David hid in the field, and when the New Moon festival came, the king sat down to eat. 25 He sat in his customary place by the wall, opposite Jonathan, and Abner sat next to Saul, but David’s place was empty. 26 Saul said nothing that day, for he thought, “Something must have happened to David to make him ceremonially unclean—surely he is unclean.” 27 But the next day, the second day of the month, David’s place was empty again. Then Saul said to his son Jonathan, “Why hasn’t the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?”

28 Jonathan answered, “David earnestly asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem. 29 He said, ‘Let me go, because our family is observing a sacrifice in the town and my brother has ordered me to be there. If I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away to see my brothers.’ That is why he has not come to the king’s table.”

30 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? 31 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!” 32 “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Jonathan asked his father. (1 Samuel 20:24-32)

Jonathan speaks up for David. Notice Saul despises David so much by this time that he doesn’t even call David by his name anymore. Three times he refers to him as “the son of Jesse” rather than actually speaking his name. But Jonathan speaks David’s name. He speaks up for his friend and vouches for his innocence.

Saul tries to manipulate Jonathan with guilt by bringing Jonathan’s mother into the situation. “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?” He then tries to tempt Jonathan with the kingdom. “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!” Saul is basically dangling the kingdom before Jonathan. “It’s supposed to be you, son! You’re supposed to be the next king!”

But Jonathan refuses to take the bait. He continues to speak up for his friend. “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” This is the same question David asked Jonathan at the beginning of the chapter. “What have I done?”

Proverbs 31:9 says: “Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:9) A second way we act on our commitments as friends is by speaking up for each other. I had the opportunity to do this just this past week. Someone said something negative about one of my friends, so I spoke up. I told them that person was a good friend of mine and a great person. I told them maybe there was a misunderstanding or perhaps they just caught them on a bad day, that if they truly got to know them, they would see what a great person they are. True friends speak up for each other.

   C. Truly caring for each other (33-34)
      – 1 Peter 4:8

And then we act on our friendship commitments by truly caring for each other. Look at 1 Samuel 20:33-34:

But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David. 34 Jonathan got up from the table in fierce anger; on that second day of the month he did not eat, because he was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David. (1 Samuel 20:33-34)

Saul is so angry at Jonathan speaking up for David that he throws his spear at his own son this time! Jonathan gets up from the table and is so upset that he doesn’t even eat. But notice that he’s not so upset about his father trying to kill him in a moment of anger as he is grieved at his father’s treatment of David. He cares more about Saul’s mistreatment of David than the fact that his own father just threw a spear at him.

1 Peter 4:8 says: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) Friendship involves heartfelt love and deep affection for each other. True friendship involves making commitments to each other, and then acting on those commitments – by watching out for each other, by speaking up for each other, and by truly caring for each other.

III. Following through on your commitments (35-42)

We have seen Jonathan and David making commitments of friendship to each other. We have seen them acting on those commitments. Finally, we see Jonathan and David following through on their commitments. True friendship is for the long haul, and we need to follow through on our commitments if our friendship is to go the distance.

   A. Keeping your promises (35-40)
      – Proverbs 25:19

One of the most important ways of following through on your commitments as friends is by keeping your promises. Look at 1 Samuel 20:35-40:

In the morning Jonathan went out to the field for his meeting with David. He had a small boy with him, 36 and he said to the boy, “Run and find the arrows I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. 37 When the boy came to the place where Jonathan’s arrow had fallen, Jonathan called out after him, “Isn’t the arrow beyond you?” 38 Then he shouted, “Hurry! Go quickly! Don’t stop!” The boy picked up the arrow and returned to his master. 39 (The boy knew nothing of all this; only Jonathan and David knew.) 40 Then Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said, “Go, carry them back to town.” (1 Samuel 20:35-40)

Jonathan keeps his promise to David and acts out the arrow scenario in the field. He has a small boy with him, but apparently there is no one else around, so Jonathan doesn’t even need to shoot all three arrows. He just shoots the one arrow, calls out the signal, and sends the boy home with the weapons. Jonathan keeps his promise to David and is now ready to meet his friend unarmed.

Proverbs 25:19 says: “Like a bad tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in times of trouble.” (Proverbs 25:19) Imagine if David was out there waiting in the field and Jonathan didn’t show? What if Jonathan had left his friend hanging? What if Jonathan didn’t follow through by keeping his promise to David? It wouldn’t have said much for their friendship, would it? One of the most important ways we follow through on our commitments as friends is by keeping our promises to each other.

   B. Forever friends (41-42)
      – 1 Thessalonians 4:17

And when you do all these things, when you make these precious commitments as friends, when you act on those commitments by watching out for each other, by speaking up for each other, by truly caring for each other, when you follow through on your commitments by keeping your promises, then you will not only be best of friends. You will be forever friends. Even distance won’t stop your friendship. Look at 1 Samuel 20:41-42:

After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together – but David wept the most. 42 Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’ ” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town. (1 Samuel 20:41-42)

Jonathan and David meet in the field. David bows down before Jonathan three times, an expression of extreme respect for his friend. They kiss each other, a common custom in those days when bidding farewell to a friend. They weep together, a sign of their deep love and affection, as they say goodbye and pledge forever friendship.

David had to leave. It wasn’t safe anymore. He was on the run, but he would never forget Jonathan or his covenant of friendship with him. In fact, long after Jonathan dies and David becomes king, David will remember his covenant with Jonathan and look after Jonathan’s family. (2 Samuel 9:1)

It hurts to say goodbye to a friend, but that doesn’t mean the friendship has to end. You can still be there for each other, just in different ways.

And if you’re Christian friends, then you truly are forever friends. Even death cannot end your friendship, for when Christ returns, the dead in Christ will be raised, and we will be joined together with them. In the words of 1 Thessalonians 4:17: “And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thessalonians 4:17)

CONCLUSION: 1 Samuel 20 is a beautiful chapter about a beautiful friendship between David and Jonathan. We learn so much from this chapter about our own friendships and how to be a better friend to those around us. Best friends make certain commitments to each other. They act on those commitments, and they follow through on those commitments.

But we can take it all one step deeper when we think in terms of Jesus and his friendship with us. Because no matter how good your friendships are here on earth, Jesus is the very best of friends. Let’s run through our friendship grid one more time, but this time look at it in terms of Jesus.

How about the commitments of friendship? Jesus is available. As he says in Matthew 28:20: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Jesus is kind. We read in Titus 3: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (Titus 3:4-5) Jesus is absolutely truthful. Jesus said in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Jesus is completely loyal. He says in Hebrews 13:5: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) And friendship with Jesus is mutual. We also have responsibilities and commitments. Jesus said in John 15:14: “You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:14) Although we can never be as good a friend to Jesus as Jesus is to us, we are still called into a true relationship with him, where love and commitment flow in both directions.

How about acting on your commitments? Jesus watches out for you. We read in Psalm 121: “The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 121:7-8) Jesus speaks up for you. 1 John 2:1 tells us: “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 John 2:1) Jesus truly cares for you. He cares for you so much that he gave his life for you. Jesus said in John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

How about following through on your commitments? Jesus keeps his promises. Psalm 145:13 says: “The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.” (Psalm 145:13) And Jesus is a forever friend. As we already read in 1 Thessalonians 4:17: “And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thessalonians 4:17)

Friendship is a precious gift from God. The best way to make a friend is to be a friend. When we make these commitments of friendship to each other, we can know the blessing of friendship in a whole new way. I pray as a result of this sermon that you will seek to be a better friend with your friends. And I pray that you will also give thanks to God for his friendship with you through our Lord Jesus, who is the very best of friends.

© Ray Fowler

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