To those who love the Lord, there is much that is powerfully attractive in the life of Jonathan. At the same time, sadly, what is attractive is intermingled with what causes sorrow and grief. This must be so for his history is one that is interwoven with the contrasting lives of David and Saul like a garment of wool and linen. A garment of such “mixed material” (Deut 22: 11) was forbidden under the law. Nor does mixture have any place in the present day. The assembly in Laodicea was “lukewarm” (Rev. 3: 16)—a combination of hot and cold—and the Lord rebuked them in the strongest possible terms. It is not difficult to see that the so–called ‘Ecumenical Movement’ is a mixture of this character.
Now to understand the history of Jonathan, we must know something of what both David and Saul typify, although, like all the OT types they fall short and are imperfect.
David is generally figurative of Christ as “the Beloved” (Eph. 1: 6), one whom God could describe as “a man after his own heart” (1 Sam. 13: 14). He represents the Lord Jesus at the present time, the Man who will ultimately have the throne and reign supreme but who for the moment is rejected and cast out. Yet Christ in rejection has His own people, and so David while still a fugitive had a company gathered to him that typify the Assembly or Church.
Saul is a man of a different kind. He represents the first order of man, man in the flesh, the man of nature, and the man that is opposed to David and thus Christ. Taking the figure to the extreme he represents Satan himself, as “the prince of this world” (John 12: 31). There may be that in Saul which appears to accept David at times, but beneath the surface there is only hatred. Jonathan’s life is threaded with the lives of these two men.
The early history of Jonathan details his service for Israel, the then people of God. This activity may have been largely individual in character but it was certainly quite outstanding. The Philistines, against whom he fought, were those who claimed a place in Israel’s inheritance but really had no right there. They would represent all that would hinder the people of God from enjoying the fruit of the land—for example, unconverted men seeking positions of dominance among the saints. For the Christian, Israel’s inheritance speaks of that which God has secured for them through the death of Christ (see Acts 20: 32) and which can be enjoyed now in the power of the Holy Spirit (see Eph. 1: 14). There are many dear servants of God who shine like Jonathan shone. They generally move on independent lines and stand out as individuals seeking to liberate Christians from the domination of Philistine elements in order to enjoy their heavenly inheritance. But they do so in company with Saul rather than with David. As individuals their light is brilliant but they fail to see the real character of the present moment as determined by the position of the true David. Their ministry largely deals with what is individual rather than what is collective. Many of the great reformers of the sixteenth century were on this line, recovering saints to such vital and precious truths as justification, but stopping short of the truth of the Assembly. They did not see that the Assembly is a called–out company, and as a result were often heavily involved in the politics of the world.
Jonathan’s greatest recorded victory, and an outstanding example of his faith in God, was accomplished apart from Saul and his army. I refer to the occasion when he went with his armour–bearer to attack the garrison of the Philistines at the passage of Michmash (see 1 Sam. 14: 1–23). This incident must not be devalued in any way for it teaches a salutary lesson that all of us need to learn, namely that the flesh (as typified by Saul) and all associated with it contribute nothing to spiritual warfare (see Eph. 6: 13–20).
The greatest test for Jonathan’s faith was David, just as Christ is always the true touchstone for our faith today. His first link with David is when he witnessed David’s defeat of the Philistine champion. Our links with the true David, the anointed of God, likewise begin here. For us it is faith in the work of Christ, the One who has annulled “him who has the might of death, that is, the devil” so that He “might set free all those who through fear of death through the whole of their life were subject to bondage” (Heb. 2: 14, 15). David’s great victory over Goliath in the valley of terebinths eclipsed that of Jonathan over the Philistine garrison at Michmash, for while Jonathan went with his armour–bearer, David was absolutely alone. Jonathan fought with Philistines, but David slew the Philistine.
Subsequent to David’s great victory, we read “that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Sam. 18: 1). Three times the love of Jonathan is recorded in these terms (see 1 Sam. 18: 1, 3; 20: 17). So great was his love that he stripped himself of everything and gave it to David (see 1 Sam. 18: 4) yet the very words that convey the greatness of his love also tell us of its limitation. It was “as his own soul”. He would give up everything that was rightfully his but, as his later history shows, he would not leave the company of Saul for the company of David. However, in speaking of Jonathan’s shortcoming, I would not in the slightest degree want to weaken the magnitude of that thrice–mentioned love for “a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecc. 4: 12). Would that the love for Christ of many of us was but a fraction of Jonathan’s affection for David!
When Saul’s true attitude to David comes to light and he wants to slay him, all voices are silent but Jonathan’s (see 1 Sam. 20: 32–34). He alone will speak up for David in the court of Saul but he will not leave his father for David. While there is much that can be credited to Jonathan, He does not qualify for that honoured group of persons described in Matt. 19: 29 “And every one who has left houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit life eternal”. Sadly, in Jonathan we see the diversity of a mixed garment. We read that “Jonathan Saul’s son delighted much in David” (1 Sam. 19: 2) but nonetheless we cannot but see that the ties of nature were stronger. The link with Saul remained undiminished.
On one occasion, the power of the love that Jonathan had for David lent such weight to his reasoning on David’s behalf that Saul appeared genuinely swayed (see 1 Sam. 19: 6, 7). But the flesh is never really changed and David ultimately has to flee. Jonathan thought he knew his father (see 1 Sam. 20: 2) and many a saint has supposed that they knew the flesh and imagined they could change it, but the Lord’s own words echo down the ages “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3: 6).
Jonathan may have thought that he could do more for David if he remained in the place of worldly privilege and power than join David and be hunted like “a partridge on the mountains” (1 Sam. 26: 20). He says to David “What thy soul may say, I will even do it for thee” (1 Sam. 20: 4). He would do anything for David—except join him in his rejection. Like many today, he failed to realise the true character of the moment. God has set Saul aside as king and David has been anointed in his place, but God’s anointed is rejected and Jonathan’s true place lay with David in rejection. He would go to David in a crisis but he would not remain with David and make it his place too.
Outwardly, David has a seat at Saul’s table but that place is empty (see 1 Sam. 20: 25). In the same way, men in power may nominally give a place to Christ but He is not there, He is absent. All admit the absence of Christ, but few admit the reason for it. He has been rejected by Jew and Gentile alike and it is this that colours the present time.
Believers today belong to the Church, or to use the better word, the Assembly (Greek ekklesia), those called out, initially from the Jews and now from both Jew and Gentile. They are a called–out company to One who, although anointed, is at present rejected. While every one who has believed the Gospel is in the Assembly, not every believer has taken the Assembly position as called out of God from the world and the order of man that rules there. Such, I believe, are typified by Jonathan. He was not where the call of God would have him—he was not in separation from that which hated Christ. Sadly, Jonathan was in the wrong place: God was not with Saul, but David.
Jonathan was not ignorant of the future. He had no doubt that one day David would reign. He says “Fear not; for the hand of Saul my father will not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next to thee; and that also Saul my father knows” (1 Sam. 23: 17). He genuinely had that prospect in view. He wanted to share in the kingdom then, but he would not share in the rejection now. His weakness was not regarding the future, but the present. It is the same today. Many rejoice in the anticipation of sharing the kingdom with their Lord and look forward to the day when He will be supreme, but they will not share in His present rejection. They want the throne in Jerusalem but not the cave of Adullam (see 1 Sam. 22: 1). Yet God’s way to the throne is through the cave.
Yet there was no lack of boldness with Jonathan. There is no recorded occasion when he failed to speak up for David, even in the most hostile of circumstances. Jonathan’s tremendous love for God’s anointed makes his false position all the more regrettable. He was even prepared to put his own life on the line for David, but he stayed with Saul to the end. When David was in the cave of Adullam, Jonathan remained in Saul’s court. He met with David in the field but left him to go back into the city. Again, he went to David in a wood in the wilderness of Ziph but then returned to his own house (see 1 Sam. 20:32–34, 35–42; 23: 15–18). When Saul hunts for David, there is no record that Jonathan is in that company—he would hold himself apart from such a murderous quest. Yet he is not in David’s company either! Jonathan was ever in the wrong place. He remained with a scene that would shortly come under judgment on Mount Gilboa. He is always associated with Saul and the kingdom that he ruled, and, as a result, he falls with Saul and all connected with him (see 1 Sam. 31: 1–7). It is where many are today. They have a place among the rulers of the world. Some even desire that place so that they can speak for the Lord, and indeed, there may be considerable power in their testimony. However, their place ignores the cross of Christ: “But far be it from me to boast save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom [the] world is crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6: 14––my emphasis). How can I desire a place in that which “crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2: 8)? In the religious sphere most of what claims to be the Church also demands a place in the administration of this world. Witness, for example, Rome and Canterbury—systems that, like Saul’s court, are really apostate. And yet there is many a Jonathan within their walls, many a one that does not fail to speak boldly for Christ against what is evil in those systems! But, (and this is what really matters) Christ is outside (comp. Rev. 3: 20).
Place, however, is not everything. We may be critical of Jonathan for being in the wrong place, but his Christ–like character is not in doubt. In contrast, some of those who gathered at the cave of Adullam were there on account of an “embittered spirit” (1 Sam. 22: 2), and later there were even those with David who are described by the Spirit of God as “wicked men, and [men] of Belial” (1 Sam. 30: 22)! They had not David’s character—it could hardly be said of such “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 8: 9). Taking an outwardly correct position in separation from the world does not even mean that one is converted. On another occasion there were those of David’s company who were ready to stone him (see 1 Sam. 30: 6). You can be in the right place but lack the character that belongs to the place. Many have come into the right position through family and friends without personal exercise. Those who easily take such a position will just as easily leave it under the first sign of combat. The word to each one of us is “therefore let us go forth to him without the camp, bearing his reproach: for we have not here an abiding city, but we seek the coming one” (Heb. 13: 13, 14). It is not going to a position, but to a Person—not the cave of Adullam exactly, but David. It is only as attracted to the Person that the position will be held in power for God. Position without power will ultimately collapse—to which Church history is a solemn witness. What is needed is both position and power: the power that attracts the soul to a position with Christ apart from all that is of the first order of man. Jonathan, sadly, never took his place with David, though he had the character suited to it. May we be stimulated to take Christ’s place and bear His character!