Why Jonathan believed David, despite lack of proof that David was in imminent danger
Valerie’s post yesterday stimulated me to have a deeper look at why Jonathan was such a strong supporter of David when David was in danger from Saul. I’m publishing what I found today (and breaking our norm of ‘No posts on Tuesday’) because it flows directly from yesterday’s post which highlighted how Jonathan fully believed David’s claim that his life was in danger, immediate danger, from Saul, despite the lack of objective empirical evidence to support David’s claim that he was at high risk and that his life was imperiled.
Valerie’s post focused on Jonathan’s amazing, open-ended, unrestricted offer of help to David: “Whatever you say, I will do for you.” Let’s just remember the passage (1 Samuel 20:1-4) —
Then David fled from Naioth in Ramah and came and said before Jonathan, “What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” And he said to him, “Far from it! You shall not die. Behold, my father does nothing either great or small without disclosing it to me. And why should my father hide this from me? It is not so.” But David vowed again, saying, “Your father knows well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he thinks, ‘Do not let Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved.’ But truly, as the LORD lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death.” Then Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you say, I will do for you.”
Not long before this episode, Jonathan had successfully persuaded Saul to lay aside his wicked designs on David’s life, and all had seemed to be rosy again in the palace (1 Samuel 19:1-7) —
And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David. [Saul had intent and plan to murder David.] But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David. 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. 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.”
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. 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?” And Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan. Saul swore, “As the LORD lives, he shall not be put to death.”
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.
It was discussed in yesterday’s post how amazing it was that Jonathan believed David’s claim that he was in current and imminent danger, even though David could give him no proof.
I started to wonder:
Why was Jonathan unlike so many of the people that we have been unlucky enough to encounter? Why was Jonathan willing to believe David’s claim that he was in serious danger from the abuser Saul, even though David couldn’t produce current evidence that Saul had murderous intent towards him?
Partly, of course, it was because Jonathan knew very well, having heard it with his own ears, that Saul had once spoken to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David. But I don’t think that is the only reason; after all, Jonathan had successfully been the diplomat and conciliator in persuading Saul to back down from that plan. And Jonathan had not witnessed Saul throwing the spear at David after that reconciliation, so he didn’t have proof that Saul had reverted to his wickedness of heart. All Jonathan had evidence of was that David had left the palace and was now hiding out in Naioth.
It could have been all to easy for Jonathan to hear David’s claim that his life was in immediate danger, and to think to himself, “David is exaggerating, or making this up, or too sensitive, or paranoid — and why did he leave the palace anyway! He’s probably just a drama addict, an attention seeker; maybe he even stole something from the palace or did something immoral to a woman in the palace and is hiding out because he is afraid of getting caught and facing punishment. Or maybe he is triangulating me and my father for his own strange ends. Or maybe. . . ”
There are any number of reasons that Jonathan could have thought up to explain the circumstances. And even though he knew that Saul and once, yes, clearly given a command that David be killed, well, that was in the past! And Jonathan had been so successful at persuading his father to be nice towards David again! (— mediator’s halo glistening just a wee bit)
And Jonathan was confident that Saul would be open with him about any intent he might have to kill David: he had been totally open about his murderous plan the first time, so open that not only did he tell Jonathan his son, he instructed all his servants to carry it out. Why wouldn’t he be similarly open again, if his heart had re-set on such a plan? Didn’t Jonathan know his dad pretty well? Sure he did.
And that’s the point. Jonathan knew his dad really well. He not only knew that his dad had once given an open order to kill David. He also knew that his dad had recklessly and foolishly put his own life, Jonathan’s life, in danger. Saul been willing to have his own son killed. Jonathan’s life had hung by a thread once because of Saul’s crazy, prideful, foolish self-centerdness.
Jonathan knew; he remembered all too well how his father could be quicksilver, sudden lightning in clear sky, stupid lashing out. It was not just knowledge from report, or observation at a distance. It was visceral knowledge, the kind of knowledge that is buried in the cell memory, the kind of knowledge that springs to life vividly, floodingly, when we get triggered by memories of having been abused.
Let’s remember where that memory came from. What happened.
In 1 Samuel 14, Jonathan initiates a faith inspired and very brave and risky enterprise: he and his armor bearer went over, on their own, to the the Philistine garrison and slaughtered a whole lot of Philistines. This led to Saul rousing all his soldiers to battle and having a big victory over the Philistines. But during the battle, Saul foolishly laid an oath on his people:
And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.” So none of the people had tasted food. (1 Samuel 14:24)
Jonathan, not being aware of the oath, had a mouthful of honey during the battle. The soldiers nearby warned him that he had broken the oath and he replied:
“My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.” (vv 29-30)
So even then in those early days, way before David came on the scene in the Goliath narrative, Jonathan had seen that his father Saul was a dangerously headstrong reckless man, an impetuous foolhardy man. And Jonathan had not been afraid to say so publicly when the situation called for it. “My father has troubled the land.”
Not long afterwards, the consequences for the breach of oath started to poke their wiggly heads above the ground. The people were so famished from having not eaten anything all day that when the battle was ending they slaughtered animals and ate them with the blood. Consequence number one. Saul had to put a big stone up and make them slaughter the beasts on the stone and drain the blood before they consumed them. But then Saul, in a typically manic switch, got the grandiose idea they should further plunder and decimate the Philistines right though the night. His soldiers went along with the idea; they probably knew it was useless to object to Saul’s tempestuous decisions. The priest, however, bravely tried to put the brakes on:
Then Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night and plunder them until the morning light; let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.”
But the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.” And Saul inquired of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into the hand of Israel?” But he did not answer him that day. And Saul said, “Come here, all you leaders of the people, and know and see how this sin has arisen today. For as the LORD lives who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.”
But there was not a man among all the people who answered him.
Then he said to all Israel, “You shall be on one side, and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side.” And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.” Therefore Saul said, “O LORD God of Israel, why have you not answered your servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O LORD, God of Israel, give Urim. But if this guilt is in your people Israel, give Thummim.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped. Then Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.” And Jonathan was taken.
Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.” And Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan.” [consequence number two]
Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the LORD lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die. (14:36-45)
Jonathan knew what it was like to be suddenly, unreasonably threatened with death by Saul. No wonder he believed David! He empathized. He had been a victim himself.