A Covenant of Friendship

“Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle” (1 Samuel 18:3-4).

Introduction

Jonathan and David were like-minded and of a kindred spirit. They vowed to be lifelong friends. Such friendship has always been very rare and often misunderstood. The Lord Jesus Christ makes reference to such loyal and sacrificial friendship when He said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Covenant or contract?

We have a habit of legalising everything. We sign duplicate and triplicate contracts in ink to protect and commit ourselves. Then along comes a lawyer who searches for loopholes when we do not keep our end of the bargain. But the covenant David and Jonathan agreed to was before themselves and God alone. They faithfully promised to watch out for each other and be there in times of need. They vowed that nothing, but death, would break this bond. While some devious people read a homosexual allegiance between the pair, it is actually not too far removed from what we would call “male bonding.”

This covenant is special because it goes beyond the norm. No matter how close we are to our friends, we hold back from full and total commitment to one another. This is why few friendships will last a lifetime. So the missing ingredients are commitment and permanence. If we are unwilling to protect, provide for the well-being, and always and unreservedly uphold the honour of our friends, then it is nowhere near the friendship of David and Jonathan. This covenant continued long after Jonathan’s death. “And David said, Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1).

Take it all

Jonathan literally gave David the shirt off his back. In giving him his robe, sword, bow, and belt, he was saying, “What’s mine is yours.” The giving of his royal garments might also indicate that Jonathan was relinquishing the throne to David. “Thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee” (1 Samuel 23:17). “To receive any part of the dress which had been worn by a sovereign, or his eldest son and heir, is deemed in the East the highest honour which could be conferred on a subject” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary). “For the man whom the king delighteth to honour, Let the royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head. And let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that they may array the man withal whom the king delighteth to honour, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour” (Esther 6:7-9).

Jonathan was willing to deny himself for David. If only we would be the true friends of Christ! “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:14) … “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

King Saul had tried to dress David up in his armour, but it was refused. Yet he accepted Jonathan’s robes. The reason probably lies in the motives of each person. Saul was willing for the shepherd boy to go to what he believed was a sure death, but if David did win the battle, then the king could claim a part in the victory. Jonathan simply wanted to be known as David’s loyal friend. Anyone seeing him dressed in Jonathan’s robe would know that he was equal to the prince. The weapons that Jonathan gave would not protect David any more than those of Saul, but it was God’s plan to totally reject Saul as king of Israel. Accepting what Jonathan gave would be a sign that David was not an upstart seeking to overthrow the monarchy, but in fact was a loyal subject who had been offered the right to rule.

Conclusion

In offering David his robe, sword, bow and belt, Jonathan was doing more than being generous; instead it is a symbol-filled gesture that was ordained by the Spirit of God. Here is the beginning of the pact that the two had made. Jonathan was bowing out of the scene in much the same way as another John had done. “John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all” (John 3:27-31). Our Friend has given us His royal robes. “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).

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