1 Samuel 20


So last week we read about the four ways Saul tried to kill David. Firstly, he asked Jonathan and all his attendants to kill David. ‘If you see him, kill him.’ But at that time, Jonathan managed to persuade his father that David had done nothing wrong and it would be wrong to kill him. Secondly, Saul tried to pin David to the wall with his spear. But David managed to get out of the way and he made his escape. Thirdly, he sent men to David’s house to kill him. But David’s wife found out and warned David so that he climbed out of a window and escaped. And fourthly, Saul sent men to get David at Ramah. But the Lord stopped the men by sending his Spirit on them so that they began to prophesy and were kept from killing David. And, when Saul himself came to kill David, the same thing happened to him: he was overcome by the Spirit and fell on the ground and prophesied.

So, four times Saul tried to kill David; and on every occasion, the Lord kept David safe.

The Text

Since Saul had come to Naioth near Ramah to kill David, it’s no surprise to read at the beginning of chapter 20 that David now fled from that place. And he went to see his friend, Jonathan. Remember that Jonathan is Saul’s son, but in chapter 18, he made a covenant with David, because they loved one another. And by this covenant they bound themselves to each other. And at that time, Jonathan took off his royal robe and gave it to David to signify that as far as he was concerned David deserved to be the next king of Israel.

Well, David asked Jonathan: What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to take my life? He’s saying: Do you know, Jonathan, why your father is treating me like this? And Jonathan replied: Never! He means: You’ve got it wrong. You’re not going to die. My father doesn’t intend to kill you. If he did, he would have told me, because he doesn’t do anything without telling me. So, you’ve got it wrong. He doesn’t intend to kill you. So, Jonathan thinks David is wrong about his father. However, David suggests to Jonathan in verse 3 that Saul has kept from Jonathan his intention to kill David because he knows Jonathan and David are friends and it would only upset Jonathan if he knew the truth. And the truth is: because of Saul, there’s only a step between David and death.

So, who is right? Is David right? Does Saul want to kill him? Or is Jonathan right? Does Saul have no intention of harming David? Who is right? Well, David proposes this plan which will make clear what Saul really thinks of him. And the plan is there in verses 5 to 8. David says that tomorrow is the time of the New Moon Festival. Instead of showing up to it, I’ll go and hide in the fields. You tell Saul that you gave me permission to be excused and to go to Bethlehem instead. If Saul isn’t bothered, then I’m wrong: he doesn’t want to kill me. But if Saul reacts angrily, then I’m right: he hates me and wants to kill me.

And in verses 11 to 17 Jonathan agreed to the plan and he added that he would let David know the outcome so that David can get away safely if necessary. How will Jonathan let David know? Well, that’s what verses 18 to 23 are about. When David is hiding in the field, Jonathan will go out with one of his servants. He’ll fire his arrows and send the servant to fetch them. Depending on what he says to the servant, David will know whether it’s safe to come home or whether his life is in danger and he must flee.

So, that’s the plan. And in verses 24 to 40, the plan is put into action. When the New Moon Festival began, everyone apart from David gathered for the festivities. When Saul noticed that David’s seat was empty, he said nothing at first, because he assumed something must have happened to prevent David from coming. But when David was missing on the second day, Saul spoke up and asked Jonathan why David hadn’t come. Jonathan told him what David told him to say: that Jonathan had given him permission to be excused and he’s gone to Bethlehem. And look how Saul reacted in verse 30: his anger flared up at Jonathan. And he called him names and accused him of siding with David. And when Jonathan tried to defend David, his father took his spear and hurled it at his son. And so we read at the end of verse 33: ‘Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.’ Well, at that point, it was obvious, wasn’t it?

And so, in the morning, Jonathan went out with the servant and fired the arrows and shouted what he needed to shout to signal to David that he wasn’t safe and he needed to run for it.

And after the servant had gone, David came out of hiding. He bowed before Jonathan three times. And then they kissed each other and they wept together, David weeping the most. No doubt they wept because these good friends would now be separated; and who knows if they will see each other again? And no doubt they wept because it was just so awful: that David’s life was in danger because of Jonathan’s father. And so, David left; and Jonathan went back to the town.


So, that’s a summary of the passage. But let’s now consider a little more deeply the things Jonathan and David said to one another. Firstly, in verses 5 to 8, David proposes his plan to Jonathan. And in verse 8, he said to Jonathan: ‘As for you, show kindness to your servant [that is, to David], for you have brought him into a covenant with you before the Lord.’ So, he’s appealing to Jonathan to show kindness to him on the basis of the covenant they made with one another. He’s referring to the covenant which they made with one another at the beginning of chapter 18, when they bound themselves to each other.

A covenant — you might recall — is a relationship based on a promise. A marriage is a covenant, because, when they’re married, the man and his wife bind themselves to each other with a promise to be loving, faithful and dutiful to each other so long as they both shall live. That’s one form of covenant which we’re familiar with today. But in Bible times, there were other kinds of covenants. And David and Jonathan had made a covenant with one another. And on the basis of that agreement, David appealed to Jonathan to show him kindness. And the word translated ‘kindness’ is that Hebrew word ‘hesed’ which is often translated ‘steadfast love’. It’s normally used to refer to God’s covenant love, his steadfast love, for his people. So, believers can count on God to help us, because he has promised to love us with his covenant love. It’s God’s loyal love. His unfailing love. And David was counting on Jonathan to help him, because Jonathan had promised to love him with an unfailing love.

Now, let’s turn our attention to verses 13 to 17. Jonathan has agreed to carry out David’s plan. And then in verse 14 he asks David to show him unfailing kindness like that of the Lord. Well, he’s using the very same word, that Hebrew word ‘hesed’ which can be translated steadfast love or loyal love or unfailing love. And in verse 15 he asks David to continue to show the same kindness or loyal love to Jonathan’s family. You see, Jonathan believes that David will one day be king. And in ancient times, when one king overthrew another king, very often the first act of business of the new king was to kill the descendants of the old king. You don’t want the old king’s son or grandson rising up in rebellion and trying to take revenge on the new king. So, new kings would wipe out the old king’s family. But here’s Jonathan asking David not to do that to Jonathan’s family. So: when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth and has made David king in Saul’s place, please spare my family. And he bases his appeal to David on the covenant they have made with one another, when they promised to show each other unfailing, loyal, steadfast love.

And in verse 16, we’re told that Jonathan made a covenant with David. That presumably means that they confirmed the covenant they had already made, because in verse 17 we’re told that Jonathan made David reaffirm his oath. He’s looking for reassurance that David will not break his word. He wants reassurance that out of love for Jonathan, David will keep his family safe.

And then jump to the end of the chapter. In verse 42 Jonathan said to David: ‘Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord.’ He’s referring again to the covenant between them, which was made in the name of the Lord. In other words, God is the witness between them; and they are accountable to him if either of them breaks it. And because of the covenant they have made, there is peace between them, because they have bound themselves to one another to show kindness and loyal love to one another always. Even though Jonathan’s father, Saul, hates David, Jonathan himself will always love David. And even though David will one day replace Saul as king, David will never treat Jonathan and his family as enemies to be destroyed. There will always be peace between them.


Well, in the Bible, the relationship between God and his people is presented to us as a covenant. And it’s presented to us as a covenant to reassure us that there is peace between God and us and to reassure us that we can always count on the Lord and his steadfast love, who has promised not to harm us, but to do us good.

Though we are by nature sinners who sin against the Lord continually; and though we therefore deserve God’s wrath and curse and we deserve to be condemned by him for our many sins and sent out of his presence to be punished forever; nevertheless, because God is gracious and merciful, he has established a covenant with us. He has bound himself to us with a promise that he would send his one and only Son into the world as one of us to suffer and to die in our place to pay for our sins and to make peace between us forever. And he has promised to bless us by forgiving us our sins and by giving us his Spirit as the deposit, guaranteeing the eternal life to come. And he has promised never to leave us or to forsake us and to love us with an an everlasting love so that we can always expect good things from the Lord; and there is nothing in heaven or in earth, in this life or the next, which is able to separate us from his love.

That’s what he has promised us. And all we need to do in order to receive peace with God is to trust in his Son who is the only Saviour of the world, and who has paid for our sins with his life when he died on the cross to save us.

God’s relationship to his people is presented to us in the Bible as a covenant to reassure us that we have peace with God. And the bread we’re about to eat and the cup we’re about to drink are visible signs of God’s covenant and his willingness to pardon our sins and to give us eternal life for the sake of Christ whose body was broken and whose blood was shed for sinners. And so, we’re to take the bread and we’re to take the cup and we’re to rejoice and give thanks to God for his kindness to us in Christ Jesus, because though we were once his enemies, he now regards us as his friends for the sake of Christ our Saviour. And just as David could count on Jonathan, and just as Jonathan could count on David, so you can count on the Lord your God who has promised to be your God and Saviour and to love you with an everlasting love.