In this series of posts about GBs in The Bible, I’m providing examples of God Buddies in Scripture and explaining how their Christ-like characteristics helped transform one or both people for God’s bigger purposes.
This week’s example is one of the most famous – and also one of the most controversial, relationships in the Bible: that of Jonathan and David.
A King’s Son and the Giant Killer
The friendship between David and Jonathan demonstrates three more important aspects of God Buddy relationships: selflessness, loyalty, and an emotional openness between men.
While often misinterpreted, this relationship needs both biblical context and an understanding of how male friendships have changed over the last century.
The story of the well-known giant slayer, David and his relationship with Jonathan, son of a not-so-great father, yet still God-appointed king of Israel, is found in the Old Testament books of Samuel.
The first time we read about Jonathan, he is already mentioned as a leader. As next in line to the throne, Jonathan was “the crown prince” with many of the attributes of a king. Even as a young man his courage, loyalty, wisdom, and honor shows potential to be one of Israel’s greatest. 1 Samuel 13:2 mentions that Jonathan already had 1,000 of his father’s troops under his command.
Jonathan was the oldest of four sons and two daughters of King Saul (not to be confused with Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul mentioned in an earlier post in this series about Paul and Barnabas). Saul had the outward qualities of a good king but he was very insecure and impulsive by nature; often overstepping his bounds to cover his inability to meet the expectations of his lofty position.
Young David –he of slingshot and stone fame, is best known for slaying Goliath (1 Sam. 17:57), the champion of a Philistine army who was already in a standoff with the armies of Saul. The victorious David was brought before the King, still holding the giant’s severed head.
Connected in a “Soul Level”
Jonathan immediately has an admiration for David, this new young leader. Scripture tells us that the two formed a friendship that connected them “soul level”:
“As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”–1 Samuel 18:1
Jonathan then made a covenant with David, giving of his rich garments, sword, and his bow (1 Samuel 18:4). As David returned from subsequent battles to high praises, King Saul became so violently jealous that he hurled his spear at David (1 Samuel 18:5-11).
David’s reputation continued to grow and Saul saw him as a serious threat and attempted to do away with him several more times. At one point, Saul even ordered Jonathan to assassinate David, but Jonathan warned David of his father’s treachery and intent.
The bond between Jonathan and David was so strong that they were unafraid of sharing their feelings for each other. It became a friendship of sacrificial love and loyalty. In the end, the two friends “kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most.” (1 Samuel 20:42)
Now, this friendship is often viewed controversially so let’s also see how dramatically the way males relate to one another has changed during the last century.
I Love You Man!
According to a post by Wesley Baines, The 5 Greatest Friendships of the Bible, the Hebrew word for love used in 1 Samuel is about a clear diplomatic and platonic friendship. Baines believes David and Jonathan are a fantastic example of the type of deep friendships that we lack today since men don’t often form such close bonds. He says God created both men and women to establish intimate, life-long friendships and to strive for anything less is to miss out on something wonderful.
Brett McKay, author of one of my favorite websites, the Art of Manlinessprovides some historical context about the changing viewpoints of male relationships.
In his two posts, The History and Nature of Man Friendships and Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection, McKay writes about the decline of male intimacy over the last century. He states male friendships underwent a serious transformation; moving from lavishing endearing words on each other and holding hands, to avoiding too much emotional bonding and physical affections whatsoever for fear of being called “gay” or “homosexual”. McKay suggests the Industrial Revolution and Social Darwinism changed the way men viewed each other since the guy next to you was your competition. He also suggests that the increased mobility of the 20th century contributes to the decline in male friendships since it has become harder to set down roots and make true friends.
J. Lee Grady, former editor of Charisma magazine and author of several other books, including The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale states his position well:
“We should encourage healthy male friendships instead of sexualizing them. In our fatherless culture, men are starved for affirmation and encouragement. God wired men to need close friends, but few of us are willing to build those kinds of relationships because of insecurity, inferiority or pride. Many guys are lonely, isolated and afraid to admit they need help.”–J. Lee Grady
All told, its no wonder men today are so uncomfortable getting too close with other guys.
The GB Lessons
It is very important that we overcome our fears of having deeper friendships.
Jonathan’s sacrifice, love, and emotional openness for David show some of the essential traits needed for a God Buddy friendship to thrive. Jonathan was also a faithful and loyal son. Despite his father’s many failings, Jonathan never abandoned Saul and even died fighting in battle alongside his faithless father (1 Samuel 31).
Their relationship should also encourage us to become more comfortable with emotional openness with other men. According to Scripture, Jonathan and David were both married to women and fathered children. While Jonathan’s wife is not named, he did father a son named Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 4:4;1 Chronicles 8:34). David had several wives and many children (2 Samuel 5:13-16). He is anointed King David, from whose genealogy comes Jesus Christ.
These two GBs must have been very comfortable in their manliness to enjoy such a close friendship. The key is that they shared a common goal and made an oath of friendship “in the name of Jehovah.” (1 Samuel 20:41, 42). Their obedience to God was a high priority and the foundation of their relationship which is a model for us even today.
As always, feel free to comment below.