Digging in Deeper: 1 Samuel 20:41-42

“When the servant had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone Ezel, fell facedown to the ground, and paid homage three times. Then he and Jonathan kissed each other and wept with each other, though David wept more. Jonathan then said to David, ‘Go in the assurance the two of us pledged in the name of the Lord when we said, “The Lord will be a witness between you and me and between my offspring and your offspring forever.”’ Then David left, and Jonathan went into the city.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Friendship is a good thing. Nowadays, though, it is all too rare of a thing. Across the world, modern nations are suffering from loneliness epidemics. In spite of being digitally connected in ways previous generations could not possibly have imagined, we are more isolated than we have ever been. Never had there been a time in human history when having friends—real friends, not merely online connections—was both more important and also more difficult than it has ever been. Making things even more difficult is the hypersexualized nature of our culture. Let’s talk this morning about an example from the world, a supposed example from the culture, and why we need something the world simply can’t offer us.

The story of David and Jonathan is one of the most beautiful pictures of friendship ever told. There is certainly no better presentation of friendship in the whole of the Scriptures. Theirs is the kind of story that becomes legendary and a model for all other friendships down through the ages. I’m sure there must be at least one book about friendship using their story as its model. If not, it is one just waiting to be written.

David was the youngest son of Jesse, a shepherd, who was anointed by the prophet and judge, Samuel, to be the next king of Israel after Saul had proven himself to be spectacularly unworthy of the office. Jonathan was Saul’s oldest son and the natural successor to the throne minus God’s intervention due to his father’s profound failure to live up to the high standards God held for the position. Nothing about these two men set them up for the kind of relationship they enjoyed, and yet there they were. Their souls resonated in a way that drew them together in a permanent bond.

As beautiful is their tale, though, it ends in tragedy because of Saul’s devastating character flaws. While the timing of exactly how David became associated with the royal household is a bit murky (the chronology of 1 Samuel 15-16 isn’t at all clear), he and Jonathan hit it off immediately. When Saul discovered that Samuel had anointed David to be his successor, though, he fell straight into a pit of jealousy and paranoia. This resulted in more than one attempt on David’s life. Somehow, Saul hid this from Jonathan. This chapter (which is worth your reading in its entirety) tells the story of how David convinced him of the truth and the permanent separation it forced on them.

We only ever get the story from David’s perspective in the Scriptures. A bit of creative thinking, though, let’s us see things from Jonathan’s side of the story which serves to make their friendship (not to mention Jonathan’s character) even more remarkable. Jonathan was the next in line for the throne. He was on a short track to becoming the most powerful man in Israel. David represented the single greatest threat to his ability to step into that role. Generally speaking, that kind of situation is a setup for a violent political drama, not a story of friendship. Jonathan’s personal humility, courage, and commitment to righteousness are utterly astounding in their own right.

These couple of verses tell us of the end of their relationship. While their friendship and love for each other would endure (the incredible story of how David keeps his promise here is told in 2 Samuel 9), the pair would never see each other again. Their parting here is as beautiful as it is tragic. They shared a deep love for one another; a bond that nothing could break.

And our culture today doesn’t know what to do with it.

Today, many folks look at this scene, see the description of their parting kiss, and immediately view the whole thing through a sexual lens. Obviously, because they kiss, they were really lovers, not mere friends. Clearly, this offers positive evidence of ancient, biblical support for homosexuality that the sexually repressive first century followers of Jesus tried to suppress. This view, though, says a great deal more about our sex-addicted culture than it does about the relationship of David and Jonathan.

Let me state this as plainly as I can: There was nothing sexual about the friendship of David and Jonathan. At all. In any way. They were not gay. They were not bi. They didn’t fall anywhere along the ever-growing LGBT spectrum. They were simply friends; best friends of the highest order. Any arguments to the contrary come from seeing their story through the lens of modernity, not from taking it on its own terms. Our culture today is so sexually broken and insane that we literally cannot imagine a close relationship between two people that is not sexualized.

The recent HBO series, The Last of Us, offers a perfect example of this. I did a review of the series a few weeks ago after having watched the first two episodes (read that here), so I’m not going to talk about it from that angle at all. The series has mostly stuck to the saga of Joel and Ellie’s navigating the country and the various dangers they have encountered along the way. Two episodes, however (three and seven), offered up only backstory details as a means of giving the audience a breather from the otherwise unrelenting action.

The first told the story of Frank and Bill. Frank was a Doomsday prepper before the apocalypse hit. When the fungal zombie plague hit, he was ready. After hiding out in his secret bomb shelter when the government came along to clear out his small town in Massachusetts, he emerged and set about using his knowledge and supplies to create a little post-apocalyptic paradise. A bit of a loner and a gruff curmudgeon, he was perfectly content all by himself until a stranger named Bill fell in one of his traps outside his compound’s perimeter.

After deciding not to shoot him, Frank intends to merely feed him and send him on his way. Instead, in what is presented as a touching and beautiful love story, both men embrace their heretofore secret homosexuality, and become lovers who live out the next twenty plus years in perfect bliss until they die in each other’s arms, both by suicide when Bill is dying from cancer and Frank can’t imagine being alone anymore.

The second episode tells of how Ellie got bit by one of the fungal zombies (which allowed for the discovery of her immunity and the major plot of the series). It happened on what turned out to be her last night with her best friend, Riley.

Riley had disappeared a few weeks before the episode begins and was presumed dead. Then, one night, she breaks into Ellie’s room and takes her on what she promises to be the best night of her life. They wind up at a mall that has long been sealed off because of all the infected dwelling in it, but which is really empty. With the power recently restored the two girls enjoy a night of all the teenage fun they can manage on this side of the apocalypse. The episode is a really touching picture of their deep friendship (and tragic one when they are attacked by the last remaining infected hiding there and both bitten) right up to the point that they kiss…and not like Jonathan and David did. The director doesn’t linger on the scene, but it is meant to make it feel even more tragic because the pair could have been lovers had they both lived through the experience.

Although I have deep theological and moral disagreements with the LGBT element of these two episodes, my point here is not specifically to criticize that part of them. Rather, it is to observe that the series’ writers had the chance here to tell two beautiful stories of friendship enduring in spite of globally tragic circumstances, and they couldn’t do it without making both of them sexual. Sex didn’t add anything to these two relationships that they wouldn’t have enjoyed without it. Except sex. And that’s the point. As a culture, we can’t imagine relationships without sex, and it is killing us.

We need friends. Desperately. We need good friends; people who know us and who are known by us. We need people who share our secrets and our struggles, who can help bear our heaviest burdens and hold us accountable when we are veering off track. We need people who with a single look know how we’re doing and just what we need to feel better.

And, yes, marriage absolutely gives us one valuable place to find this, but it can’t be the only place we find it. It can’t be the only place to find it because we need these kinds of friends of our same gender, and marriage is definitionally a male-female relationship.

Neither do I think that sex isn’t a good thing. It is a gift from God. There’s no question on that. But it is a gift given to be enjoyed in a single context (marriage) that isn’t something everyone is called to experience. And outside of that context it doesn’t make relationships stronger, it makes them weaker. It erodes them at their very foundations. This is because it isn’t meant to be enjoyed there. When you take a powerful gift and use it other than as it is intended, you are setting yourself up for disaster and tragedy.

Well…welcome to the modern world.

Sex isn’t ultimate. As long as we keep treating it like an absolute right that everyone should be able to enjoy however and wherever they please we will continue to suffer and struggle through the terrible consequences of that. The cultural fallout from our sexual insanity is great and growing. A great many of our social problems can be traced back to our misuse of this incredible gift. Our friendless loneliness is one of them. And it is killing us.

You need friends. If you are married, your spouse is going to be the best of your friends. That’s good. But you need totally platonic friends of the same gender too. Guys gain relational benefits from hanging around with other guys that they don’t get from girls. Girls gain relational benefits from hanging around with other girls that they don’t get from guys. We need that. You need that. And you’re not going to find it online.

Making friends is risky. It’s hard. It takes work. It requires a level of vulnerability that can be terrifying. But it’s worth it. Your life not only won’t be the same without it, it’ll be less without it. So, go today and make a friend. Be a friend. Make the investment and enjoy the sweet rewards that come from it. You—and them—will be glad you did.

3 thoughts on “Digging in Deeper: 1 Samuel 20:41-42

  1. john kuddes

    Jonathan: Have your written on:
    1. Infant baptism v. adult?
    2. Once saved always saved?

    If so, I would appreciate what you believe and have said? You have my email. Thank you!


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