It’s safe to say most people have a favorite figure from the Bible. Jesus is understandably at the top of most lists, but beyond him there are no shortage of ancestors in the faith we love, learn from, and relate to.
Some people enjoy reading about Paul; others can’t get enough of David’s psalms, Joseph’s rags-to-riches journey, Daniel’s powerful witness, or Peter’s relatable stubbornness. For me, especially growing up reading the Bible from a very young age, one of my absolute favorite figures has always been Jonathan.
Comparatively speaking, we don’t know a lot about Jonathan. We know he was Saul’s son, one of the heirs to the throne; we know he was probably married, because he had a son, an heir of his own; and we know he was an invaluable friend to David.
I think that’s what always drew me toward their story as a child: the Bible cuts no corners in making it clear that David and Jonathan loved each other like brothers. As a girl growing up with an older brother who was my best friend, that was something that made a lot more sense to me than how water could turn into wine or someone could pull down city gates with their bare hands. Or eat locusts and honey, two of my least favorite things.
But Jonathan wasn’t only a shining example of a godly, loving friend who stuck closer than a brother; he was also an example of how, under any circumstances, a person can choose to accept and embrace God’s plan with absolute humility, no matter the effect it has on their personal ambitions, future, or fate.
To clarify my point, let’s take a closer look at the story of David’s ascension to the throne:
The David Story
To start with, we have Saul, who’s king…and, let’s be frank, he’s not a very good one. Even when he’s leading his men on military strikes, his blunders and flashes of cowardice are costing Israel a lot.
In contrast, you have Jonathan, the prince who takes his armor-bearer, leaves camp in the dead of night, and slaughters twenty Philistines, putting the rest of them in a frenzy. By military standards, Jonathan was a pretty awesome dude—the kind you’d want to have next in line for the throne.
Which he was.
Then along comes David. God’s anointed one. The Man Who Would Be King. David is in close quarters with Saul pretty often after that whole Goliath incident, where David did Saul a serious favor. If you follow the biblical record, David continues to gain rank and favor in the eyes of the people, becoming a musician and a military man— even marrying Saul’s daughter. He’s practically moving into Saul’s house! He’s gone from shepherd boy to son-in-law. Things are looking up for him.
By this point, it becomes more and more clear that David has God’s favor as well as the people’s, and we see Saul consumed by jealousy…eaten alive by it. He isn’t a fool; he knows this shepherd boy is going to take his throne someday. Saul’s opinion of David sours pretty quickly after that, and a lot has been said about the contention between them—almost a cat-and-mouse game carried out over the years as David fled and Saul pursued.
Not a lot gets said about Jonathan during all of this, other than the time when he helped David discover Saul’s murderous intent on his life and then sent him away. But that’s exactly what I want to focus on, because Jonathan’s choice right there, innocuous though it may seem, is a lesson for us all.
The Jonathan Subplot
Think about it this way: Saul was king, but Jonathan was a prince. If he was the eldest, he might’ve even been next in line for the throne.
Talk about a big deal, especially as the son of Israel’s very first king! Jonathan had likely been groomed for royalty for many, many years. He was militaristically adept, a man of prestige and influence—not a shepherd boy by any means—and he had what must’ve looked like a pretty bright and locked-in destiny.
So when David showed up on the scene, Jonathan had every opportunity to indulge in the same blind fury as his father; he could’ve campaigned with Saul against David, deceived him with an imitation of friendship, or fought him outright for the throne—the same way David’s own sons squabbled for rights to rulership years later.
But the powerful testimony of Jonathan’s life—the lesson I want to focus on—was that he did none of those things. He may as well have stripped off his sword and laid it at David’s feet. He saw the ordination of God on David’s life, and rather than fighting against it tooth and claw the way Saul did for the sake of his own pride, Jonathan—a prince of Israel—embraced David’s calling. He welcomed him as king and brother, forging a fast friendship that, following Jonathan’s death, David declared was “more wonderful than the love of women.” (And David loved a few women in his time. So he probably knew what he was talking about.)
Jonathan loved David with an unselfish, unpretentious and fearless brotherly love…it had no strings attached. He helped David escape Saul’s wrath, lied to Saul’s face about it, and nearly lost his head because of that—all for God’s chosen king.
What Would You Choose?
Here’s the question I want to pose to each of us: what would we do if we stood in the same place as Jonathan? What HAVE we done?
How often do we think we’re owed something, that we deserve something, and then we lose it? I know I don’t tend to be a graceful loser when it comes down to it—and I’m never deprived of something as monumental as the potential future throne of an entire nation.
But the plans of the Father don’t always end with us coming out in the spotlight, and Jonathan set an amazing example with his conduct when the spotlight passed away from him. On the one hand, he saw what his father was doing to David; on the other, he saw God’s plan for David’s life. And then he followed that plan, trusting that God knew best with whoever He chose for that throne.
Understanding the truth of Jonathan’s life, his acceptance of God’s plans, and even the role he played in helping David survive and take the throne, was a powerful lesson for me. Sometimes we have to surrender the things we want—even the things we think we deserve—because God’s will is going in a different direction.
Are we going to fight it, like Saul? Or surrender and serve, like Jonathan?
Because just like these two men—like Jonathan, the man who would never become king—we have a choice. We can rebel against God’s way and see how far that gets us, or we can embrace the ordination of the Creator, place ourselves wholeheartedly in His footsteps, and bind ourselves to His purposes with a selfless, consuming love.
What would YOU choose to do?