Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Friendship

King David Series- 4

 

Psalm 7, 1st Samuel 18:1-4 and 20:41-42

 As Christians, we believe the defining reality of life is God’s love.  It informs and gives meaning to everything we experience in this world.  But let’s be honest and admit that on day by day basis, we are likely to encounter as much hatred and hostility as love.  

 David certainly experienced a lot of hatred in his life.  Some of it he brought on himself by some of his own choices.  But a lot of it, and especially what he experienced from Saul, was completely undeserved.  

 We are looking today at chapters 18, 19, and 20 of 1st Samuel.  Throughout these chapters, David is in almost constant danger from Saul.  And yet, we also find that the whole episode is book-ended by two accounts of Jonathan’s love and affection and friendship with David.  

 The story picks up after David has killed Goliath and saved the nation from the Philistines.  He meets Jonathan, Saul’s oldest son and heir apparent to the throne.  They strike up an immediate friendship.  The text says that they loved each other.  This particular Hebrew word, AHEV, typically described the kind of love that occurred between friends, but also between political allies.  It meant a “favorable disposition.”  But the text also says that they became “one in spirit.”  This meant something more profound.  It was the same phrase used to describe Jacob’s special affection for his youngest son Benjamin.  

 They make a covenant together to remain friends for life and to protect and care for each other.  The seal of this covenant is that Jonathan gives David his robe, that would be his royal robe as crown prince, and also his weapons, his bow and sword.  This could easily be seen as a sign not only of Jonathan’s submission to David, but also of him transferring his place to David.  Earlier, King Saul tried to give David his own armor and weapons, but David wouldn’t take them.  Now he takes them from Jonathan.  The implication is that while David will not usurp the throne by killing Saul, he is the heir apparent to the throne, taking over that place from his friend Jonathan.  

 It seems that from the very beginning, Jonathan sees something special in David.  And he’s not the only one.  David exhibited great leadership skills and also a lot of personal charisma.  People just plain liked him.  And many of them became intensely loyal to David.  Today we might call him “a born leader” or “someone with a great

personality.”  But the Bible simply says that “God was with David in everything he did.”  Leadership is a gift of God’s Spirit.

 Even Saul’s own loyal servants and family found something admirable in David.  And in his moments of clarity, so did Saul.  Saul would not let David leave the royal court after this.  Part of that was David’s usefulness as a musician and soldier and captain.  And part of it was apparently the great love that his own son Jonathan had for David.  He did everything well.  He was a good musician, a good soldier, a good friend.

 But there was something about David’s goodness that exposed Saul’s rottenness.  And it wasn’t long before Saul’s paranoid jealousy got the better of him.  He soon turned to murder.

 The first two murder attempts were in sudden fits of white hot rage.  David was playing the harp, and Saul’s jealousy overwhelmed him and he tried to kill David.  

But soon Saul became coolly deliberate in his plans.  He even used his own daughters to try to arrange for David’s death.  He was reluctant to plan out David’s murder on his own, so he figured, “I’ll send him off to fight the Philistines in exchange for my daughter’s hand, and I’ll let them do the dirty work of killing him.”  First he offered his oldest daughter Merab to David.  David did the required task, and Saul went back on his word.  David, for his part, was reluctant to marry into Saul’s family.  He didn’t think his family was important enough to marry into the royal family, even though he was the anointed king!

And then another opportunity arose.  Saul’s daughter Michal fell in love with David, and once again David was sent off to kill some Philistines as a marriage dowry.  David was reluctant to do it, but he was encouraged by Saul’s men.  So he did the task and married the king’s daughter.

 Foiled again, Saul became more deliberate in his plots.  He tried to recruit someone to murder David, even turning to David’s best friend Jonathan.  But Jonathan stood up for David and defended him, and successfully persuaded Saul not to harm David, at least for a little while.

 But then there was another rage-filled incident with a spear while David was playing the harp.  And Saul decided enough was enough.  He sent a squad of men to

murder David in his home.  This time his own daughter Michal foiled the plot and David escaped.

 After six murder attempts, David fled from Saul’s court, never to return.  He sought out Jonathan.  In pain, he asked, “What have I done wrong?  What is my crime?  Why is your father out to kill me?”  Psalm 7, which we heard earlier, was written during this time, as David poured out the pain of experiencing Saul’s hatred before God.  

 Jonathan didn’t want to believe that Saul was really out to kill David.  But together they come up with a plan to determine Saul’s intentions once and for all.  When David is absent from Saul’s court, Saul becomes angry and asks where he is.  Jonathan says, “I sent him home, just as he requested.”  Saul flies into a rage and accuses David of trying to usurp the throne.  Jonathan tries to defend him again, and this time Saul tries to murder his own son!  

 The next day, according to their plan, Jonathan informs David of Saul’s intentions, and the two friends have a tearful goodbye.  Saul’s hatred will not allow them to be together, in spite of their friendship.  They renew their covenant and part ways.  Only one more time in their lives will they see each other.  Jonathan seeks out David in the wilderness in chapter 23 to continue to encourage him to become the king that Jonathan knows he will one day be.

 In the midst of the pain and the danger of Saul’s paranoid jealousy and rage, David finds true friendship in Jonathan.  We can’t choose our family, and sometimes they will be a source of pain for us.  Saul was Jonathan’s father and David’s father-in-law, and he was certainly a source of pain for both.  But we can choose our friends, so we should choose them wisely!  

 Jonathan’s friendship with David entered into David’s heart in a way that Saul’s hatred never did.  David never gave into hatred, and Jonathan’s love was part of the reason that he did not.  Their covenant was lived out in a context of hatred and hostility, but rather than the hatred destroying the covenant, God used the covenant to overcome the hatred.  Without this covenant, I think it’s likely that David would have given up on God’s anointing.  He may well have become just as murderous as Saul was.  But Jonathan’s love helped to restrain the natural tendency to return hatred for hatred.

 You see, starting well is easy.  It’s easy to start anything well, including the life of faithfulness to God.  But finishing well is very difficult.  And one of the factors that can

help us to finish well is to be surrounded by friends who will encourage us along the way.  Friendship can get us to the finish line.

 What is true friendship?  Theologian Martin Buber said that the greatest thing we can do for another person is to see and confirm the deepest things in them and to encourage them.  Most people will see us for how they can use us.  That’s just a fact of life.  But a friend sees us for who we are and accepts us for who we are.  But they also see us for who we can become and they encourage us to become all that we are capable of by God’s grace.

 One of my best friends is Joe, who is the senior leader of the Algonquin canoe program.  I first met him when I was an immature, hot-headed teenager.  I don’t think I was a pleasure to have along on my first trip to Algonquin, 23 years ago.    

 I can’t imagine what potential Joe saw in me. But he certainly has encouraged me over the years, first as a teenager, later as a student in college and seminary, and finally as I became a pastor.  He has helped me to become what I am today and continues to encourage me to become more because he has seen potential in me, and encouraged that potential, even when I didn’t see it for myself.  

 Do you have someone like that in your life?  And more importantly, are you that person in someone else’s life?  

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