1 Samuel 18:1-5
As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.
David has just defeated Goliath, prompting the armies of Israel to storm the enemy trenches, before forcing the armies of Philistia into retreat. Afterward, Abner, commander of Saul’s army, presents David to the king. King Saul’s son, Jonathan, is there. Jonathan immediately recognizes a kindred spirit, and following a brief exchange of introductions between David and Saul, is moved to make covenant with David. This would not be unusual, especially in those days. What would be unusual is that Saul is not moved to do so.
Suppose this had occurred at another place and in another time. A young hero has just rescued a kingdom from imminent disaster. It would not be unusual for the master of that kingdom to present our young hero with a token measure of wealth; a gift of land, perhaps; and a title of nobility. This is what Jonathan approximates. He gifts David with his own princely robe, his own armor, his own sword and bow, and his own belt. In effect, by gifting David with these things, Jonathan has signified that he is bringing David into the prince’s trusted inner circle, showing David that the prince now counts him as closer than a brother.
Saul, on the other hand, gifts David with nothing. Saul trusts no one and counts no one as his brother.
Time passes and soon the people are expressing their love for David. They chant a song upon his return from battle. “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” Saul is worried. Is David to be the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise spoken through Samuel? Is this how the Lord will tear the kingdom out from under Saul? (1 Samuel 15:28).
Saul tries to convince Jonathan that killing David is the best thing for the kingdom. Jonathan is appalled. He refuses and defends David.
1 Samuel 19:1-7
And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David. 2 And Jonathan told David, “Saul my father seeks to kill you. Therefore be on your guard in the morning. Stay in a secret place and hide yourself. 3 And I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you. And if I learn anything I will tell you.” 4 And Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you. 5 For he took his life in his hand and he struck down the Philistine, and the Lord worked a great salvation for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced. Why then will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without cause?” 6 And Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan. Saul swore, “As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death.” 7 And Jonathan called David, and Jonathan reported to him all these things. And Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as before.
But Saul’s jealousy does not stay dormant for long. Soon, war again breaks out between Israel and Philistia, and once more the people are singing their song. “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”
One evening, having caught the refrain of the people’s song one too many times in his ear, Saul snatches up a javelin. He hurls it towards David. But David dives. The javelin’s sails harmlessly high above David’s head, before sticking fast into the wall behind him.
David stares in surprise, first at the javelin, then at Saul, before he turns on his heels to flee the king’s presence. He escapes to Samuel, who immediately takes him into hiding. Saul musters his men, and together they give chase. They discover where Samuel is hiding, but they are stopped just short after the Spirit of the Lord falls upon them, forcing them to strip naked and prophesy the entire day before Samuel, from sunrise to sunset.
David seizes his opportunity. He flees again. This time he races to see Jonathan.
At first Jonathan is taken aback. He is unaware his father has resumed the attempt to kill David. Even after David fills him in, Jonathan still doesn’t know what to think. He assures David that he will learn of his father’s true intention. During their conversation, Jonathan reminds David of the covenant they had made.
1 Samuel 20:13-17
13 But should it please my father to do you harm, the Lord do so to Jonathan and more also if I do not disclose it to you and send you away, that you may go in safety. May the Lord be with you, as he has been with my father. 14 If I am still alive, show me the steadfast love of the Lord, that I may not die; 15 and do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever, when the Lord cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” 16 And Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord take vengeance on David’s enemies.” 17 And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul.
Notice the language here, and pay very close attention to verse 16. Recall that Jonathan had already made covenant with David back into 1 Samuel 18. There would be no reason to make another covenant with David unless something about their relationship had changed.
Recall that the covenant Jonathan had made with David in 1 Samuel 18 was one in which the prince had bestowed gifts upon the hero. But the prince had continued to remain the prince. Nothing had changed about this fact. However, look now at what the prince says here in 1 Samuel 20. If I am still alive, show me the steadfast love of the Lord that I may not die, and do not cut off your steadfast love from my house, when the Lord cuts off all your enemies. Do you see what’s happening? Jonathan is asking David for gifts!
Jonathan, the rightful heir to the throne of Israel, recognizes that God does indeed plan to make David king. But unlike his father, Saul, rather than attempt to cling to his right to rule, Jonathan instead submits to the Lord! He even asks that David be kind to him and to his children after David comes into his kingdom. What an awesome example of faith we see in Jonathan.
David agrees to everything Jonathan asks, and together they remake the covenant. He and Jonathan then hatch a plan. Jonathan will have dinner at the king’s table. David’s seat will be empty. When Saul asks of David’s whereabouts, Jonathan will tell him that David is visiting his brothers in Bethlehem. If Saul is pleased, then David and Jonathan will know Saul is not angry with David. But if Saul is angry, then Jonathan will know that Saul has resumed his attempt to kill David.
1 Samuel 20:26-34
26 Yet Saul did not say anything that day, for he thought, “Something has happened to him. He is not clean; surely he is not clean.” 27 But on the second day, the day after the new moon, David’s place was empty. And Saul said to Jonathan his son, “Why has not the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?” 28 Jonathan answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem. 29 He said, ‘Let me go, for our clan holds a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to be there. So now, if I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away and see my brothers.’ For this reason he has not come to the king’s table.” 30 Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? 31 For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Therefore send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.” 32 Then Jonathan answered Saul his father, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” 33 But Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him. So Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death. 34 And Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had disgraced him.
The next morning Jonathan hurries to meet David out in the field. He conveys the awful truth to David; Saul seeks to kill him. After a heartbreaking and tearful farewell, Jonathan reminds David of their covenant, before he takes flight to the city in an attempt to send Saul’s men searching in the wrong direction.
Some years pass. Once more, war breaks out between Israel and Philistia. This time David is not there to kill his ten thousands and rescue Israel. Saul has driven Israel’s hero into hiding.
Tragedy comes of this. Both Saul and Jonathan are struck down and killed in battle. When news of their deaths reach Saul’s household, the family flies into a panic. Jonathan has a son whose name is Mephibosheth. He is only five-years old at the time. His nurse, hearing the news of the prince’s death, snatches little Mephibosheth up in her arms. She turns to flee with the rest of the family, but at the last moment trips. She drops to the floor and topples hard upon little Mephibosheth, crushing his little ankles. For the rest of his life he will hobble about as a cripple.
2 Samuel 4:4
4 Jonathan, the son of Saul, had a son who was crippled in his feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel, and his nurse took him up and fled, and as she fled in her haste, he fell and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth.
A long and bloody civil war ensues between those who support Saul and those who support David. The war lasts seven years. David’s house grows stronger, while Saul’s house wavers. The war concludes with the murder of Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, and Abner, Saul’s commander. David is made king.
The surviving members of Saul’s family who had fled after hearing of Saul and Jonathan’s death have gone into hiding in Lo-debar. There they remain during the war, and there they continue to remain after David is made king.
Five more years pass. Mephibosheth is now seventeen, a young man crippled and in hiding. He would have been the next in line to be king after his father, Jonathan, had that traitor David not betrayed his grandfather, Saul. All that is now history though. Rather than palaces and luxury, he will instead live out the rest of his days like a rat in the sewers, hiding the fact of his birth, and praying David will not find the last surviving member of the family who had waged war against his house.
But at last the day Mephibosheth fears most has arrived. The traitor David has managed to locate his hideout.
2 Samuel 9:1-5
And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” 2 Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “I am your servant.” 3 And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” 4 The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” 5 Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.
Can you imagine what Mephibosheth must have thought when the soldiers arrived to carry him to see the king. The horror, the terror, the panic. The nature of his lameness would have meant that he lived his life on his knees, his calves and ankles bound tight to a plank of wood while he used his arms and hands like crutches to propel himself about. There were no wheelchairs back then. He would have resembled an old Civil War soldier who had lost both legs.
Can you imagine what might have played on his mind as David’s men scooped him up by his armpits, one man to his either side, and then carried him up the palace steps to meet the king? Would the traitor kill him quickly? Or would he make him suffer? To Mephibosheth’s surprise, David did neither.
2 Samuel 9:6-13
6 And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” 7 And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” 8 And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?” 9 Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson. 10 And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master’s grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master’s grandson shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. 11 Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s[a] table, like one of the king’s sons. 12 And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba’s house became Mephibosheth’s servants. 13 So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet.
Rather than discovering death awaiting him, Mephibosheth instead found grace and kindness. Not for his sake, but purely for the sake of his father, Jonathan. David had made covenant with Jonathan long before Mephibosheth was even born. Based solely upon the faithfulness of his father, Jonathan, Mephibosheth now found himself showered with kindness.
Many centuries later, a similar covenant would play out. Except this time, its repercussions would be eternal, and its location the Garden of Gethsemane.
The eternally faithful Son of God, the only person who had the true right to rule –
“Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”
– nevertheless surrendered His right in order to carry out the fulfillment of His Father’s will.
Christ’s obedience, His death upon a cross, is the reason why God showers His people with grace and kindness. There is no other reason. There is no other cause.
This covenant between Father, Son and Spirit was made long before any of us existed. We have all, like sinners, gone astray. We are all conceived in sin and born into iniquity. We are each all, born convinced that, like Adam, we are rightful kings, each a god like as God. Like Mephibosheth, hiding out in the wilderness of Lo-debar, we are taught the lie about God, about how He stole our crown and has even now seated His King upon the throne.
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
We seeth in our hatred of God. The traitor! How unfair that He has stolen our right to rule. We refuse to submit to the authority of His King.
But then one day, the Spirit finds His people. The gospel message reaches their ears, and the Spirit opens their minds to receive it. He showers them with kindness in the gospel, showing them all the things that are now theirs solely due to the Son’s faithfulness.
God is not kind to His people because He is some hippy God that grooves out on being precious to His creation. He hates some of His creation!
Nor is God kind to His people because He is some sort of modern Wall Street accountant, neglecting to keep a tally of sins while crediting righteousness in exchange for the occasional effort to be morally good.
No, God is kind to His people simply, purely, solely, exclusively, only because Jesus, the only true King, was faithful even to the point of dying on a cross for their sins.
Jonathan submitted his crown to God’s purposes for David. His son Mephibosheth reaped the reward of David’s kindness for this. Christ submitted His right to reign to the Father’s will. Christ’s elect reap the reward of God’s kindness for this.