Jonathan—‘One Man in a Thousand’
WISE King Solomon observed: “One man out of a thousand I have found.” (Eccl. 7:28) This indicates that an ideal man is rare. Few stand out in moral excellence. One who did was Jonathan, the son of King Saul. He was courageous, loyal and unselfish. If there ever was a man who might have been justified in yielding to feelings of jealousy, rivalry or envy, Jonathan was that man. But he manifested great affection for and loyalty to the very person whom less noble men would have regarded as a serious threat to their position.
Early in the reign of his father, Jonathan distinguished himself as a brave warrior. With a thousand poorly equipped men, he overcame the armed Philistine garrison at Geba. (1 Sam. 13:1-3) Jonathan must have been at least 20 years old then, as that was the minimum age for Israel’s soldiers.—Num. 1:3.
Later, with divine help, Jonathan and his armor-bearer struck down about 20 enemy Philistines. This deed paved the way for the Israelites to gain a victory over their foes. During this campaign, Jonathan unknowingly disregarded his father’s rash oath. For Saul to carry out the full consequences of this oath required that his son be executed. Jonathan did not shrink back in fear but said to his father: “Here I am! Let me die!” Recognizing that Jehovah had been with Jonathan, the people, however, redeemed him.—1 Sam. 14:1-45.
It was nearly 20 years later that David killed the Philistine giant Goliath. David’s courageous act, carried out with full faith in Jehovah’s saving power, stirred the heart of Jonathan. The Bible reports: “Jonathan’s very soul became bound up with the soul of David, and Jonathan began to love him as his own soul.” (1 Sam. 18:1) In token of his friendship, Jonathan gave David his garments, his sword, his bow and his belt.—1 Sam. 18:4.
When David later showed himself courageous in leading the Israelite forces in battle against the Philistines, the women greeted the returning victors with song and dances. They sang: “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” (1 Sam. 18:5-7) This incited Saul to even greater jealousy, and he began regarding David with extreme suspicion. Failing in his attempt to kill David with a spear, Saul later agreed to give him Michal his daughter in marriage, provided that David present proof of his having killed 100 enemy Philistines. In this Saul fully believed that David would fall at enemy hands. However, David returned with 200 foreskins of the Philistines—evidence that he had slain that many. This only intensified Saul’s fear of and hatred for David.—1 Sam. 18:8-29.
But Jonathan did not allow his father’s jealous hatred to destroy his friendship with David. When Saul openly expressed his desire to have David put to death, Jonathan intervened and succeeded in getting his father to promise not to kill his friend. Later, however, David was forced to flee for his life, since Saul again threw a spear at him. The king also sent men to watch David’s house during the night, with the understanding that they would kill him in the morning. That night David made a successful escape through a window in his home.—1 Sam. 19:1-12.
Thereafter Jonathan cooperated with David in an effort to determine just how his father felt about his friend. Saul became enraged and lashed out against his son with the words: “You son of a rebellious maid, do I not well know that you are choosing the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the secret parts of your mother? For all the days that the son of Jesse is alive on the ground, you and your kingship will not be firmly established. So now send and fetch him to me, for he is destined for death.” When Jonathan protested, his infuriated father hurled the spear at him.—1 Sam. 20:1-33.
Subsequently, at a previously arranged spot, Jonathan met David. Both men reaffirmed their friendship and their loyalty. (1 Sam. 20:35-42) That such a friendship came into existence and continued is indeed remarkable. Jonathan was the heir apparent to the throne and knew that the kingship would eventually come into the hands of David. Additionally, he was David’s senior by about 30 years. Yet Jonathan was able to rejoice in David’s successes and to weep with him in his affliction. Doubtless the friendship of Jonathan helped David to maintain proper regard for the king so as not to take advantage of opportunities to harm him. While Saul was ruthlessly pursuing David, Jonathan had occasion to strengthen his friend. Regarding one instance, we read: “Jonathan the son of Saul now rose up and went to David at Horesh, that he might strengthen his hand in regard to God. And he went on to say to him: ‘Do not be afraid; for the hand of Saul my father will not find you, and you yourself will be king over Israel, and I myself shall become second to you; and Saul my father also has knowledge to that effect.’”—1 Sam. 23:16, 17.
How noble Jonathan was in being content to take the second place in the kingdom! Such unselfish devotion was possible because Jonathan accepted David as Jehovah’s choice for the kingship and loved him for his fine qualities.
Jonathan, though, did not become second in the kingdom but died along with his father in battle. (1 Sam. 31:2) The death of Saul and Jonathan provided the occasion for David to compose a dirge, called “The Bow.” Initially, this dirge became part of the collection of poems, songs and other writings that constituted the book of Jashar. Thereafter “The Bow” was set forth in the inspired record of 2 Samuel. The composition itself was to be taught to the sons of Judah.—2 Sam. 1:17-27.
When we consider the marvelous bond of friendship that existed between David and Jonathan, we can readily appreciate why David expressed himself as he did in “The Bow.” He lamented as follows: “I am distressed over you, my brother Jonathan, very pleasant you were to me. More wonderful was your love to me than the love from women.” (2 Sam. 1:26) Truly, Jonathan was ‘one man in a thousand.’