David and Jonathan

Old Testament Lesson #23 | BYU Studies


Damien F. Mackey

In I Samuel 20, we find David again having to turn to Jonathan for help against King Saul. Jonathan, we have learned, was content to play a John the Baptist type of rôle, humbly deferring to the Lord’s anointed one. But Jonathan was naturally, in the eyes of King Saul, the eldest son who will establish Saul’s kingdom.


From a spiritual point of view, David’s life of hardship (the ‘Way of the Cross’), well endured, was a path safer than was his son Solomon’s presumably more comfortable, peaceful one. Solomon, thanks to the efforts of his great father, did not have to concern himself overmuch – at least for the most part of his reign – with fighting off enemies. These had all been defeated. David, on the other hand, was constantly on the run, from King Saul – due to his spear-throwing manic episodes – or from the Philistines, or from the Amalekites.

Mystical writer supreme, St. John of the Cross, likened the spiritual Dark Night of the Soul to David’s having to walk these “hard roads” (Psalm 16:4: Vulgate), yet, however, “passing through these trials without losing heart or allowing her [the soul’s] confidence to be shaken in her Beloved”:


This whiteness of Faith the soul wears when she sallies forth into this dark night, and she journeys (as we have said above) in darkness and interior conflict, deprived of all comfort of intellectual light, as well as celestial, since the sky seems shut to her, and God is hiding; nor yet does she find it from below, since those who instructed her satisfied her not, yet still she bore it all with constancy and persevered, and passing through these trials without losing heart or allowing her confidence to be shaken in her Beloved; He, who in trials and tribulations proves the Faith of His Spouse, after such sort that she may afterwards acclaim, in all truth, in the words of David: Propter verba [labiorum] tuorum ego custodivi vias duras? By reason of the words of thy lips, I was held to hard roads.


The phrase vias duras is, of course, the Latin translation of what David would actually have said in the Hebrew version of this Psalm (17, apart from the Vulgate): namely, arechot pari’tz (אָרְחוֹת פָּרִיץ).


Hebrews 11:33, 34, 36, 37-38:

“David [and Samuel] … through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions … escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies … faced jeers … went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground”.


Much of the early greatness of King Solomon, his Prayer for Wisdom, his Temple blueprint, the wealth required to carry through his immense projects, his partnership with King Hiram, all of these were already at hand in the advice, the resources and the alliances of the now old King David. Solomon’s greatness – according to biblical estimates of what is great lasting to about the half-way point of his reign – may have been in great part due to the impetus initially provided for him by his noble father.

But once that guiding force had begun to lose momentum – once the influence of King David had begun to peter out in Solomon’s life, when he became his own man – he began to fall away: a very wise man leaving behind him something of a foolish legacy.

David’s last words to his son were, tellingly (I Kings 2:2): ‘I am going the way of all the earth. So be strong. Show yourself to be a man’. Perhaps Solomon would remain merely a boy as long as he was under his father’s strong influence, then finally becoming a man after he had released himself from that salutary influence.


Again, in I Samuel 19:1-6, we find King Saul seeking to kill David, who is saved by his friend Jonathan’s intercession:


Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan had taken a great liking to David and warned him, ‘My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out’.

Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, ‘Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly. He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The Lord won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?’

Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: ‘As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death’.


King Saul, predictable only as to his unpredictability!

(V. 7): “So Jonathan called David and told him the whole conversation. He brought him to Saul, and David was with Saul as before”.


David then goes out and routs the Philistines – much to Saul’s demonic chagrin (vv. 8-11):


Once more war broke out, and David went out and fought the Philistines. He struck them with such force that they fled before him.

But an evil spirit from the Lord came on Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand. While David was playing the lyre, Saul tried to pin him to the wall with his spear, but David eluded him as Saul drove the spear into the wall. That night David made good his escape. Saul sent men to David’s house to watch it and to kill him in the morning.


David’s wife, Michal (daughter of Saul), will now rescue David from his pursuers in a fashion similar to that employed by Rahab the harlot, at Jericho, in the case of the two Israelite spies (v. 12): “… Michal let David down through a window, and he fled and escaped” – which intervention leaves Michal having to lie her way out of it to distract the angry Saul (vv. 13-17).


In I Samuel 20, we find David again having to turn to Jonathan for help against King Saul. Jonathan, we have learned, was content to play a John the Baptist type of rôle, humbly deferring to the Lord’s anointed one. But Jonathan was naturally, in the eyes of King Saul, the eldest son who will establish Saul’s kingdom. Not surprisingly, then, King Saul, suspecting Jonathan’s partnership with David, will round abusively on his son (vv. 30-33):


‘You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!’

‘Why should he be put to death? What has he done?’ Jonathan asked his father. But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David’.


Jonathan, too, could become fiercely angry, but whilst his was a just anger, his father’s was an uncontrolled and uncontrollable anger, arising from his jealousy and ambition (v. 34): “Jonathan got up from the table in fierce anger; on that second day of the feast he did not eat, because he was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David”.


But things were not going to get any better for David, he the walker of “hard roads”.

In fact, they were about to get even worse.


To Nob and Beyond


I Samuel 21:1-2: “David went to Nob, to Ahimelek the priest. Ahimelek trembled when he met him, and asked, ‘Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?’

 David answered Ahimelek the priest, ‘The king sent me on a mission and said to me, ‘No one is to know anything about the mission I am sending you on’.”


This location of Nob will become famous in the days of the prophet Isaiah, as a culminating point reached by the Rabshakeh (“Chief Cupbearer”) of the massive Assyrian army, to mock the beleaguered citizens of Jerusalem (Isaiah 10:32): “As yet shall he remain at Nob that day: he shall shake his fist against the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem”.


Some highly significant things will happen there at Nob for David, also.

But a sinister force is lurking there as well, and the outcome of this will be most tragic (v. 7): “Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the Lord; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s chief shepherd”.


Firstly, there is the irregular situation whereby the priest Ahimelek will provide David, for his hungry men, with the consecrated bread to eat (v. 6):

“So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the Lord and replaced by hot bread on the day it was taken away”.

Jesus, the “Lord of the Sabbath” will recall this controversial incident about a millennium later (Matthew 12:1-8):


At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, ‘Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath’.

He answered, ‘Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the Temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath’.


Secondly David, now without any weapons, will receive back the wondrous Sword of Goliath (vv. 8-9): “David asked Ahimelek, ‘Don’t you have a spear or a sword here? I haven’t brought my sword or any other weapon, because the king’s mission was urgent’.

The priest replied, ‘The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one’.

David said, ‘There is none like it; give it to me’.”


Centuries later, another Jewish warrior-hero, Judas Maccabeus (“the Hammer’), will receive a glittering, death-dealing sword from a priest: (2 Maccabees 15:15-16): “Jeremiah stretched out his right hand and gave to Judas a golden sword, and as he gave it he addressed him thus: ‘Take this holy sword, a gift from God, with which you will strike down your adversaries’.”


Then, much later still, another great warrior – in one of those strange historical ‘afterglows’ – the Frankish Charles Martel (c. 700 AD), bearing that very same epithet, “the Hammer”, will yield a sword that was rumoured to have been inherited later by Saint Joan of Arc. Here is an account of it: http://www.stjoan-center.com/JoansSword/TheSwordFromHeaven.html


[The judges to Joan of Arc] “Have you sometimes placed your sword upon an altar; and, in so placing it, was it that your sword might be more fortunate?”


Jehanne [Joan] responded, “Not that I know of.”


Of course she knew that she hadn’t. But now the questions were becoming ridiculous and she had no patience for such things. Besides, she could easily see that her learned judges were attempting to trap her into admitting superstitious behavior.


Undeterred, they continued. “Have you sometimes prayed that it might be more fortunate?”


She laughed. “It is good to know that I wished my armor might have good fortune!”


Of course she wished that her armor might have been more fortunate. After all, hadn’t she taken a crossbow bolt to her shoulder during the Battle of Orleans?

And hadn’t one pierced her thigh outside of Paris? Given these two events, anyone would have wished for better armor. But the judges were more interested in her attitude towards her sword, not her armor. It was no secret that her armor had been made by an Armagnac blacksmith. But the sword? That was different. Rumors abounded. Some said that the sword had once belonged to Charles Martel; other said that God Himself had sent it to earth. Some said that both were true.


They continued with their interrogation, “Had you your sword when you were taken prisoner?”


“No, I had one which had been taken off a Burgundian.”


“Where was the sword of Fierbois left?” asked a priest.

“Was that the one you offered at Saint-Denise?” interrupted another.


Jehanne looked at her second questioner and replied, “I offered at Saint-Denis a sword and armor; it was not this sword.”


Then, turning to the first she replied, “I had that at Lagny; from Lagny to Compiegne, I bore the sword of this Burgundian; it was a good sword for fighting – very good for giving stout buffets and hard clouts.”


All the judges shifted forward in their seats. “Where is your Fierbois sword now?” intoned the Bishop of Beauvais.


At that moment righteous anger rose from the tip of her spine to the crown of her head. Her dark eyes blazed. “To tell what became of the other sword does not concern this Case, and I will not answer about it now. My brothers have all my goods – my horses, my sword, so far as I know, and the rest, which are worth more than twelve thousand crowns”.



David, now armed, will proceed to verify what St. Paul would write in Hebrews 11 about the dire circumstances faced by the heroes of faith. He has to flee from King Saul to the Philistines.

Had David now sold out?

John R. Salverda, who has written a series of articles on David as influencing the Greek hero, Cadmus, will raise a most interesting point about David and the – Gittite (Gath) at least – Philistines (http://www.academia.edu/3856448/David_as_Cadmus_Part_One_


Another source of David’s army, a group of volunteers from Gath, called “Gittites” (also called “might men” or “Gibborim.” These Gittites are called Gibborim by the Septuagint and by Josephus.) may have served as an “inspirational” model for the Greek myth.

David seems to have earned no small measure of respect amongst the Philistines, especially those of Goliath’s hometown Gath, this may be due to the giant’s, little noted, taunting pledge;


“And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, . . . And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, . . . choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us.” (1st Samuel 17:4-9).


These, the words of Goliath’s own mouth, may indeed have had something to do with the fact that David was able to find refuge among the Philistines at the city of Gath when King Saul had made him his enemy.

David stayed with the Philistines for more than a year and was eventually made a commander of a Gittite contingent of the Philistine army. David retained the city of Ziklag and 600 soldiers from Gath who swore allegiance to him and were his faithful men. It is almost as if many of the Philistines from the city of Gath, the home town of Goliath, were honoring the pledge of their champion to serve under David in the event that he should kill Goliath. This is perhaps another way to understand how Cadmus could obtain soldiers from the teeth (his word) of the slain monster (Goliath). ….


But David’s command of the “Gittite contingent” will occur somewhat later.

For the present, he has been reduced to the status of a fugitive, “moving from place to place”.


David’s bodyguard will later consist of “Cherethites and Pelethites” (2 Samuel 8:18; 22:23), which are explained as follows: https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/encyclopedia-of-the-bible/Cherethim-Cherethites

“The Cherethites are generally said to have been Cretans on the basis of the similarity of the two names (Crete bore that name already in Homeric times) and the connection between the Cherethites and the Philistines. On the other hand, Prignaud feels that, although they are related to the Philistines, the Cherethites are never directly associated with Crete and may have had another origin but were subsequently assimilated by the Philistines. The Pelethites are generally held to be Philistines, the difference of name being explained in a number of ways: (1) The term Pelethites, which is always used in conjunction with Cherethites, is formed by analogy to the latter term (Greenfield, IDB); (2) Phonetic assimilation took place by which pəlištī became pəlētī (Montgomery, ICC, Kings); (3) The form Pelethites was intentionally created to avoid the suggestion that the Philistines were too intimately associated with David (Prignaud)”.


David’s roving band as Habiru


David’s first most humiliating episode with the Gittites will end in his being bluntly rejected by the highly descriptive (‘Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me?’) Achish king of Gath (I Samuel 21:10-15):


That day David fled from Saul and went to Achish king of Gath. But the servants of Achish said to him, ‘Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances:

‘Saul has slain his thousands,

and David his tens of thousands’?


David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.

Achish said to his servants, ‘Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?’.


David, continuing to walk the “hard roads” of faith, will now be found in the Cave of Adullam (I Samuel 22:1).

Cf. Hebrews 11:38: “They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground”.

Meanwhile, the paranoid King Saul, now trusting no one at all, but his spear only, “seated, spear in hand, under the tamarisk tree on the hill at Gibeah” (vv. 6-8), will be informed by that sinister presence previously at Nob, Doeg the Edomite, about David’s visit there (vv. 9-10).

Then King Saul (Dr. Velikovsky’s great hero of Israel, remember) will outdo himself in his sacrilege and vengeful butchery (vv. 17-19):


Then the king ordered the guards at his side: ‘Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because they too have sided with David. They knew he was fleeing, yet they did not tell me’.

But the king’s officials were unwilling to raise a hand to strike the priests of the Lord.

The king then ordered Doeg, ‘You turn and strike down the priests’. So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck them down. That day he killed eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. He also put to the sword Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep.


Abiathar alone, Ahimelek’s grandson, will escape (vv. 20-23) and will become David’s priest.

I Samuel 23:6: “Now Abiathar son of Ahimelek had brought the ephod down with him when he fled to David at Keilah”.

David routed the Philistines in the region, thereby saving the people of Keilah (vv. 4-6).

His forces now numbered some 600 men (v. 13): “So David and his men, about six hundred in number, left Keilah and kept moving from place to place. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he did not go there”.


David and his fighting band of fugitives – a bit like Robin Hood and his Merry Men driven to outlawry – have been likened to the habiru rebels who figure prominently in the El Amarna [EA] letters. In the past, and owing to a conventional dating of EA about 500 years too early, habiru was equated with Hebrews, and it was common to read that the EA habiru rebels were either the Hebrews of the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or perhaps the newly arrived Hebrews (Israelites) under Joshua.

In a revised EA, the habiru were most likely Philistine rebels against the crown, at the time of King Jehoram of Judah, as explained by Peter James (“The Dating of the El-Amarna Letters”, SIS Review, Vol. II, No. 3, 1977/78, p. 84):


To sum up: the disasters that befell Jehoram of Judah and Abdi-Hiba of Jerusalem were identical. Both suffered revolts of their subject territories from Philistia to Edom. During the reign of both the Philistines [James’s habiru] invaded and swept right across Judah, entering Jerusalem itself, in concert with the sack of the king’s palace by “men of the land of Kaši” or men “that were near the Cushites”. These peculiar circumstances could hardly be duplicated in such detail after a period of five hundred years. It is clear that Velikovsky’s general placement of the el-Amarna letters in the mid-ninth century must be correct, and that the modification of his original model suggested here, that Abdi-Hiba was Jehoram rather than Jehoshaphat, is preferable.


That, though, does not disqualify David and his men (from a period earlier than EA) from being classified also as habiru (http://www.northforest.org/BiblicalArchaeology/david.html):


“The Amarna Letters refer to a group of people called the Habiru who were roaming all over Palestine during the time of King Saul offering their services as mercenaries. The Habiru are David’s Hebrews as well as other refugees.


The Habiru were stateless persons who were outside the protection of city-state laws. The adult males were fighting men who hired themselves out to the local rulers as mercenaries. ….


Examples of the Hebrews exploits. . . .


From the Bible Commentary
Page numbers from “Pharaohs and Kings” by David Rohl
So David and the six hundred men with him left and went over to Achish. . . king of Gath. (1 Samuel 27:2) David was a Hebrew. The rebel king David broke away from King Saul and offered his services to the Philistine king of Gath. (pg 201)

600 men was a veritable army! (pg 202)

So on that day Achish gave him Ziklag. (1 Samuel 27:6) Achish assigned them quarters in Ziklag. (pg 202)
Those Hebrews who had previously been with the Philistines and had gone up with them to their camp went over to the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. (1 Samuel 14:21) The Hebrews made up part of the armed forces of King Saul. (pg 201)
Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? . . . Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?” (1 Samuel 25:10-11)

Night and day [David and his men] were a wall around us all the time we were herding our sheep near them. (1 Samuel 25:16)

David’s gang roam the countryside seeking favor and protection of cities, wealthy individuals and kings. (pg 201-202)


…. In biblical traditions there are repeated examples of the sort of phenomena associated with the Amarna Habiru. The clearest example is that of David. He lost status in the Israelite community by flight caused by the enmity of king Saul. There gathered around him other refugees motivated by economic as well as other concerns. All were similarly without legal protection and had to maintain themselves by forming a band under the leadership of David. (pg 201)


The most striking parallels by far are found in the story of David’s outlawry. David’s gang roam the countryside seeking favor and protection of cities, wealthy individuals and kings. Finally David offers the services of his band to Achish, king of Gath. Ziklag becomes the military base of their marauding operations. (pg 201-202) …”.


I Samuel 23:13-15:

“So David and his men, about six hundred in number, left Keilah and kept moving from place to place. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he did not go there.

David stayed in the wilderness strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands.

While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God”.

It will be on this occasion that the noble Jonathan will clearly concede that David is first before himself (v. 17): “‘Don’t be afraid’, he said. ‘My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this’.”

A reassuring sentiment – but Jonathan really had no control at all over his uncontrollable father, King Saul, who will continue his relentless pursuit of David right until his violent death.


Twice, David will have an opportunity to kill Saul. But he is too noble for that.

The Duke of Wellington, at Waterloo, would not allow one his sharpshooters to pick off the emperor Napoleon when “Boney” had wandered within range of a rifle shot.

In David’s case, King Saul was “the Lord’s anointed”, and hence inviolable. David, in fact, would berate himself for having even cut off a piece of Saul’s robe (v. 5-6): “Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord’.”


A rare nobility is to be found in both David and Jonathan, and this may perhaps go a long way towards explaining the special bond of mutual love that existed between them.

They were like-minded souls.




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