David and Jonathan were natural rivals – they should have been enemies. They both aspired to be king and Jonathan was the legal heir to the throne. Instead, they were like brothers. They loved each other with a self-giving, self-sacrificing love. We are told that Jonathan loved David “as himself” and stripped himself of his princely robes, armor, and weapons and gave them to David. Essentially, Jonathan was surrendering his claim to the throne of Israel in favor of David.
King’s Saul’s jealousy raged against David. He knew that David was a threat against his dynasty and he sought to kill David. Saul tried to keep his intent from Jonathan because he knew of their friendship. Even as Saul conspired to kill David, Jonathan conspired against his father to save David.
David’s life and Jonathan’s life were knit together by heroic love and reverence for God. They established a covenant which was witnessed and sealed by God. If either friend betrayed the covenant, God would act to judge the offender. Their friendship would extend beyond their own lives.
In times of relational conflict and civil strife we must offer heroic friendship.
David and Jonathan were heroic friends when the nation of Israel was politically divided. Jonathan represented the house of King Saul and was heir to the throne. David represented the new dynasty promised by God. They should have been opponents. But, even though they represented opposing parties they maintained their intimate friendship. Jesus encouraged,
Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison (Matthew 5:25).
An “opponent at law” could very well be someone with divergent political views. Politics is the practice of “cold war” – a state of hostility just short of violence. If passions are enflamed a cold war can quickly become violent. Jesus is suggesting that heroic friendship is possible even among political rivals and opponents. This requires negotiation and the willingness to coexist in peace. Successful negotiation with an opponent requires allowing one’s opponent to preserve his dignity. This is called face-saving.
After four years of civil war, General Ulysses Grant and General Robert E. Lee met at Appomattox Courthouse to negotiate the surrender of Lee’s army (1865). Grant agreed to allow the surrendering Confederate soldiers to keep their personal firearms and horses. He understood that these men would need their firearms to hunt for food and their horses to work their farms when they returned home. Also, as Lee exited the courthouse, some Union soldiers began to jeer. Grant immediately ordered that they salute the surrendering general. When asked about his generosity towards the Confederates, Grant replied, “The rebels are our countrymen again.” Grant allowed Lee, and his army, to preserve their dignity even in defeat.
As political tensions rise Christians must be willing to demonstrate heroic friendship by befriending rivals and opponents lest we fan the flames of hate and violence.
The covenant friendship between David and Jonathan was forever, that is, it lasted beyond their natural lives. This demonstrates one of the ways in which heroic friendship is “more wonderful than the love of women.” Marriage is “until we are separated by death.” Heroic friendship transcends death. After David became King, some of his political allies sought to curry his favor by killing the remaining family of Saul. When two men killed Jonathan’s brother, Ish-bothseth, David ordered their execution. David later inquired,
Is there yet anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake? (2 Samuel 9:1).
He was told that Mephibosheth, the lame son of Jonathan, was still alive. David ordered that Mephibosheth be brought to him. When Mephibosheth arrived David declared,
Do not fear, for I will surely show kindness to you for the sake of your father Jonathan, and will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul; and you shall eat at my table regularly (2 Samuel 9:7).
In fact, David adopted Mephibosheth as his own son (2 Samuel 9:11). David refused to allow the bitterness of Saul’s jealousy to destroy his friendship with Jonathan. Instead, long after Jonathan was dead, David honored his friend by caring for Jonathan’s descendants.
When politics divides a nation, the church within the nation is often divided as well. There are sincere Christians on both sides of the political aisle. A divided nation needs Christian leaders to step forward and offer heroic love – acts of kindness. Republicans and Democrats must genuinely care for the constituency of their opponents.