Jonathan—“It Was With God That He Worked”
THE son of Israel’s first king visits an outlaw in hiding. “Do not be afraid,” he tells the fugitive, “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.”—1 Samuel 23:17.
The visitor is Jonathan; the fugitive, David. Had it not been for Jonathan’s death soon thereafter, it is possible that he would have become David’s right-hand man.
Jonathan’s friendship with David was remarkable. In fact, Jonathan was a remarkable man. His contemporaries thought so too, for they said of him: “It was with God that he worked.” (1 Samuel 14:45) Why did they say this? What qualities did Jonathan have? And of what relevance is his life story to you?
Israelites “in Sore Straits”
Jehovah stated, however, that he would not desert his people, and Jonathan was confident of that. It was concerning his father, Saul, that God had said: “He must save my people from the hand of the Philistines.” Jonathan trusted that statement. He himself had already led 1,000 poorly armed Israelites to victory over the Philistines. Now he wanted to eliminate the Philistine threat completely.—1 Samuel 9:16; 12:22; 13:2, 3, 22.
A Daring Raid
Jonathan targeted a Philistine outpost near the ravine pass of Michmash. (1 Samuel 13:23) To reach it, he would have to climb, using “his hands and his feet.” That did not deter him. Jonathan decided to attack with his armor-bearer alone and told him: “Perhaps Jehovah will work for us, for there is no hindrance to Jehovah to save by many or by few.”—1 Samuel 14:6, 13.
The two Israelites sought a sign from Jehovah. They would show themselves to the men at the outpost. If the Philistines said: “Stand still until we make contact with you!” Jonathan and his armor-bearer would not go up to them. But if the enemies said: “Come up against us!” that would mean that Jehovah would give Jonathan and his armor-bearer the victory. If Jonathan was sure of God’s support, he intended to go up to the outpost to fight.—1 Samuel 14:8-10.
What could two men do against the soldiers of a whole outpost? Well, did Jehovah not help Judge Ehud when he led Israel against Moab? Was God not with Shamgar, enabling him to strike down 600 Philistines with a cattle goad? And did Jehovah not empower Samson in his single-handed exploits against the Philistines? Jonathan trusted that God would help him too.—Judges 3:12-31; 15:6-8, 15; 16:29, 30.
On seeing the two Israelites, the Philistines shouted: “Come on up to us, and we will let you know a thing!” Jonathan and his armor-bearer did go up. Courageously, they attacked and killed about 20 of the enemy soldiers, throwing the outpost into panic. Perhaps the Philistines imagined that many Israelite warriors were following the first two. Thereafter, “a trembling occurred . . . among all the people of the outpost,” says the account, “and the earth began quaking, and it developed into a trembling from God.” Because of the divinely sent earthquake, turmoil spread among the Philistines, so that “the sword of each one [came] to be against his fellowman.” When Israel’s troops saw this, they took courage. Joined by Israelites who had been in hiding and those who had sided with the Philistines, “they kept striking down the Philistines from Michmash to Aijalon.”—1 Samuel 14:11-23, 31.
Redeemed by the People
King Saul unwisely imposed a curse on any of his soldiers who ate before the battle had been won. For some reason, Jonathan was unaware of this. Jonathan did eat. He dipped his rod into a honeycomb and ate some honey. Apparently, that gave him renewed vigor to finish the fight.—1 Samuel 14:24-27.
Upon learning that Jonathan had eaten, Saul decreed that he should die. Jonathan did not shrink from death. “Here I am! Let me die!” he said. “But the people said to Saul: ‘Is Jonathan to die, who has performed this great salvation in Israel? It is unthinkable! As Jehovah is alive, not as much as a single hair of his head will fall to the earth; for it was with God that he worked this day.’ With that the people redeemed Jonathan, and he did not die.”—1 Samuel 14:38-45.
A present-day servant of God does not fight in literal wars, but there may be times in your life when you too need faith and courage. It may be hard to do what is right when everyone around you is doing wrong. Jehovah, however, will strengthen you and bless your desire to uphold his righteous standards. You may need courage to undertake some privilege of service within Jehovah’s organization, such as expanding your ministry, accepting new privileges, or moving to serve where the need for Kingdom proclaimers is greater. You may wonder whether you are up to the challenge. Be assured, though, that you are doing a fine thing if you make yourself available so that Jehovah can use you in a way he considers appropriate. Remember Jonathan! “It was with God that he worked.”
Jonathan and David
Some 20 years later, the Philistine champion Goliath taunted the Israelite army, but David slew him. Although Jonathan was likely 30 years David’s senior, the two had much in common.a The courage that Jonathan displayed at Michmash was evident also in David. More than all else, David had the same faith in Jehovah’s saving power, enabling him to face Goliath fearlessly when all other Israelites shrank from the challenge. So it was that “Jonathan’s very soul became bound up with the soul of David, and Jonathan began to love him as his own soul.”—1 Samuel 17:1–18:4.
Although David’s prowess made King Saul see him as a rival, no trace of jealousy darkened Jonathan’s countenance. He and David became very close friends, and it is likely that in their confidential talk, Jonathan learned about David’s anointing to be Israel’s next king. Jonathan respected God’s decision.
When King Saul spoke to his son and servants about killing David, Jonathan warned David. Jonathan convinced Saul that he had nothing to fear from David. Why, David had not sinned against the king at all! Had David not risked his life in facing Goliath? Jonathan’s impassioned plea for his wronged friend placated Saul. However, the king soon reverted to murderous scheming and made further attempts on David’s life, forcing him to flee.—1 Samuel 19:1-18.
Jonathan stood by David. The two friends met to plan what was to be done. Loyal to his friend and still striving to be loyal to his father, Jonathan said to David: “It is unthinkable! You will not die.” However, David told Jonathan: “There is just about a step between me and death!”—1 Samuel 20:1-3.
Jonathan and David worked out a plan to test Saul’s intentions. If David’s absence from the king’s table was noticed, Jonathan was to tell his father that David had asked to be excused to take part in a family sacrifice. If Saul reacted angrily, that was a sign of ill will toward David. Jonathan blessed him and implicitly acknowledged his future kingship, saying: “May Jehovah prove to be with you, just as he proved to be with my father.” The two swore loyalty to each other and decided how Jonathan would let David know about the outcome of the test.—1 Samuel 20:5-24.
When Saul saw that David was absent, Jonathan explained that David had begged him: “If I have found favor in your eyes, let me slip away, please, that I may see my brothers.” Jonathan was not afraid to admit that David had his favor. The king was furious! He insulted Jonathan and ranted that David was a threat to his son’s succession as king. Saul demanded that Jonathan bring David to him as one destined to die. Jonathan retorted: “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” In a fit of rage, Saul hurled his spear at his son. Jonathan escaped unharmed but was deeply hurt at heart respecting David.—1 Samuel 20:25-34.
What loyalty Jonathan displayed! In purely human terms, he had little to gain and much to lose from his friendship with David. Yet, Jehovah had ordained that David would succeed Saul as king, and what God had purposed was for Jonathan’s own good and that of others.
A Tearful Parting
Jonathan met David secretly to give him the news. It was clear that David could never again set foot in Saul’s court. The two men wept and embraced. Then David went into hiding.—1 Samuel 20:35-42.
Jonathan saw the fugitive just once more, when David was hiding from Saul “in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh.” It was then that Jonathan encouraged David with the words: “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 Samuel 23:15-18) Soon thereafter, Jonathan and Saul died in a battle against the Philistines.—1 Samuel 31:1-4.
All who love God would do well to contemplate the course pursued by Jonathan. Do you face a conflict of loyalties? Then remember that Saul urged Jonathan to seek his own interests. Jonathan, however, honored Jehovah with heartfelt submission and reverence and rejoiced that the one whom God chose would be Israel’s next king. Yes, Jonathan supported David and was loyal to Jehovah.
Jonathan had admirable qualities. Imitate them! Then people will be able to say of you as they did of Jonathan: “It was with God that he worked.”—1 Samuel 14:45.
a Jonathan was at least 20 years old when he was first mentioned as a military commander early in Saul’s 40-year reign. (Numbers 1:3; 1 Samuel 13:2) So Jonathan must have been approaching 60 when he died in about 1078 B.C.E. Since David was 30 at that time, Jonathan was evidently about 30 years older than David.—1 Samuel 31:2; 2 Samuel 5:4.
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Jonathan was not jealous of David