The covenant made between Jonathan and David in chapter 18 culminates into the climactic tension in which the covenantal relationship is challenged. Is Jonathan to break the covenant which he made with David upon responding to David’s melodic words of humility and service (1 Samuel 17)? Or shall he find his refuge in his father Saul, who is now persecuting the mediator and saviour of Israel by whom the LORD wrought victory and salvation which even Saul rejoiced in?
There are several themes explored in this chapter – but the predominant one is that of fatherhood and covenant relationship. The fatherhood of Saul in which there is an implicit covenant relationship between him and Jonathan as father and son; and the typological fatherhood between David and Jonathan as that of Christ and us as his co-heirs (Romans 8:17; Galatians 4:7) and children (1 John 2-4), a covenant relationship established between the two as their souls are knit as one – as we are one with Christ and as Christ is one with his Father as well (John 17).
This chapter, therefore, explores thoroughly Jonathan’s object of faith. Is it his father, the representative of the idolatrous, rebellious physical Israel who would rather emulate the culture of pagan kings who fight with swords? Or to fall in love with the true David who bruised the head of the Goliath, provided salvation for Israel even when Israel rejected him?
v.1-10 is an exploration of how David challenges Jonathan – is Jonathan hiding the truth from David? Does David command Jonathan’s honesty, and is Jonathan standing before David with a clear conscience? Is Jonathan a type of Judas, to betray David, or is he the Baptist, preparing the path for the Saviour? Jonathan’s words of obedience are reminiscent of the words of Jesus’ disciples: “Whatever you say, I will do for you” (v.4). This is an interesting display of affection as even Jonathan’s armor-bearer (1 Samuel 14), too, has the same allegiance for him; and yet Jonathan, like the Baptist, did not consider himself worthy enough in comparison to David (John 1:27). Yet, Saul hides the secrets of his heart from Jonathan, only to have a taste of his own medicine as he witnesses the covenant made between David and Jonathan as a disclosed secret which he could have partaken in if he had only truly accepted David as the new king. Such are the mysteries of our LORD revealed fully in Christ Jesus (John 18:20; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:9, 3, 5:32; Colossians 1:26-27), these mysteries being near synonymous to the Eastern Orthodox usage of the term for sacrament, similar to Augustine’s words: “The sacraments (mysteries) of the Jews were different in their signs, but equal in the thing signified; different in visible appearance, but equal in spiritual power” – and such is the fullness of the mystery revealed when David and Jonathan’s love is at its highest!
Thus, we come to the plan of David to hide in the field till the third day at the evening after the new moon (v.5), to test the heart of Saul. This too is a period of testing for Jonathan. While David is gone, who will tell him if Jonathan’s father answers him roughly (v.10)? This entire scenario is filled with allusion to Christ on the cross (Acts 8:1; Romans 8:35). And the declaration of Jonathan is nothing short of covenant imagery which cannot be disconnected from Christ: “May the LORD be with you, as he has been with my father. If I am still alive, show me the steadfast love of the LORD, that I may not die; and do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever, when the LORD cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth” (v.15), followed by “And Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the LORD take vengeance on David’s enemies” (v.16). Can we dare say that this is exclusively about David the son of Jesse, or have we begun to see that the House of David is the same as the House of Joseph; the covenant with Abraham the same as the covenant between the Father and the Son that all may be blessed through these types? May the LORD take vengeance on the enemies of Christ! It is only at Christ’s feet that His love is not extinguished but rather, his steadfast love is shown as we stand in His household! This cannot possibly apply to the physical house of Abraham and David, for both have died; both are but men; and both are sinners who must utter the same covenant declaration as Jonathan did towards the true One Whom they are but types of. Such is the love of a disciple to Christ that we are to love him with our heart, mind, and soul, to love Him as we love ourselves (v.17).
And so the rest of the chapter is a historical parable of the testing of Jonathan’s faith. Will he waver whilst Saul accuses David of being ‘unclean’ for the three days (v.26)? Will we waver as we wonder whether or not our allegiance to him is true when he was dead for three days and revealed once more on the third day?