In our current world, “friending” is a verb and is sometimes applied to someone you know in passing. Perhaps more than in passing, but not always someone you know well. Consequently, as our use of a word changes, our understanding of the relating concept changes as well. As “friends” become more casual, it’s easy to forget the role real friends play in our lives, the closeness we can have with them, the pain we can feel at their betrayal, the true mourning we experience at their loss. When I think of the word friend, abstractly, I think of Anne Frank referring to Kitty (the addressee of her diary) as her bosom friend, which leads my thoughts to the Beloved Disciple (unnamed) reclining against Jesus at the last supper- a bosom friend, indeed.
Friends give us support, a place to vent, a new audience for our laughter and stories, a shoulder to cry on, a place to be ourselves. Even the most introverted among us has one or two people with whom to share.
In the Bible, there are no greater friends than David and Jonathan. There is a contemporary argument that they were lovers, that their friendship extended into the sharing of their bodies. There may well be a case to be made for that and it could be a good case, but I find interpreting them as friends to be more significant and more impressive.
Jonathan first sees David when the latter comes to make a report to Saul, Jonathan’s father, after killing Goliath. (1 Sam 18:1-5)
1 By the time David had finished reporting to Saul, Jonathan was deeply impressed with David—an immediate bond was forged between them. He became totally committed to David. From that point on he would be David's number-one advocate and friend.
2 Saul received David into his own household that day, no more to return to the home of his father.
3-4 Jonathan, out of his deep love for David, made a covenant with him. He formalized it with solemn gifts: his own royal robe and weapons—armor, sword, bow, and belt.
5 Whatever Saul gave David to do, he did it—and did it well. So well that Saul put him in charge of his military operations. Everybody, both the people in general and Saul's servants, approved of and admired David's leadership.
David and Jonathan become close friends and confidantes, but Saul becomes frustrated and, then, angry with David’s popularity. Jonathan warns David of Saul’s plan to kill him and helps him escape, with the assistance of Michal (David’s wife, Saul’s daughter, Jonathan’s sister). (1 Samuel 20:1-4)
1 David got out of Naioth in Ramah alive and went to Jonathan. "What do I do now? What wrong have I inflicted on your father that makes him so determined to kill me?"
2 "Nothing," said Jonathan. "You've done nothing wrong. And you're not going to die. Really, you're not! My father tells me everything. He does nothing, whether big or little, without confiding in me. So why would he do this behind my back? It can't be."
3 But David said, "Your father knows that we are the best of friends. So he says to himself, 'Jonathan must know nothing of this. If he does, he'll side with David.' But it's true—as sure as God lives, and as sure as you're alive before me right now—he's determined to kill me."
4 Jonathan said, "Tell me what you have in mind. I'll do anything for you."
Jonathan tells Saul a lie about where David has gone. (1 Sam. 20:27-33)
27 But the day after the New Moon, day two of the holiday, David's seat was still empty. Saul asked Jonathan his son, "So where's that son of Jesse? He hasn't eaten with us either yesterday or today."
28-29 Jonathan said, "David asked my special permission to go to Bethlehem. He said, 'Give me leave to attend a family reunion back home. My brothers have ordered me to be there. If it seems all right to you, let me go and see my brothers.' That's why he's not here at the king's table."
30-31 Saul exploded in anger at Jonathan: "You son of a slut! Don't you think I know that you're in cahoots with the son of Jesse, disgracing both you and your mother? For as long as the son of Jesse is walking around free on this earth, your future in this kingdom is at risk. Now go get him. Bring him here. From this moment, he's as good as dead!"
32 Jonathan stood up to his father. "Why dead? What's he done?"
33 Saul threw his spear at him to kill him. That convinced Jonathan that his father was fixated on killing David.
David and Jonathan know that they will not be able to see each other again as David goes on the run to escape Saul. They have a tearful goodbye. (1 Samuel 20:40-41)
41 Jonathan gave his quiver and bow to the boy and sent him back to town. After the servant was gone, David got up from his hiding place beside the boulder, then fell on his face to the ground—three times prostrating himself! And then they kissed one another and wept, friend over friend, David weeping especially hard.
Jonathan and Saul are killed in the battle with the Philistines. When David hears, he is overcome with grief and composes a song (like you do). (2 Samuel 1:23-27)
23 Saul and Jonathan—beloved, beautiful!
Together in life, together in death.
Swifter than plummeting eagles,
stronger than proud lions.
24-25 Women of Israel, weep for Saul.
He dressed you in finest cottons and silks,
spared no expense in making you elegant.
The mighty warriors—fallen, fallen
in the middle of the fight!
Jonathan—struck down on your hills!
26 O my dear brother Jonathan,
I'm crushed by your death.
Your friendship was a miracle-wonder,
love far exceeding anything I've known—
or ever hope to know.
27 The mighty warriors—fallen, fallen.
And the arms of war broken to bits.
I suppose this is a good time to mention that I used the Message translation (Eugene Petersen) because I like the way it reads and it supports my thesis of the friendship between David and Jonathan. In truth, there does exist reasonable argument for an erotic relationship between them, the depth of their friendship (platonic) is more what I can relate to and what is revealed to me.
Sometimes we put too much expectation and weight on romantic relationships, thus making the relationship between spouses or sexual partners the life relationship with the most significance, only topped (or closely followed) by the relationship between loving parents and children. But there are other relationships that have meaning, for which we are willing to make sacrifices, in which we are spiritually bound to another person. Our sibling relationships and our friendships can also be among the most significant relationships of our lives.
I think, in Jonathan, David found a brother for his heart. In David, Jonathan found the man example of the man he wanted to be- apart from his father. The strength of their relationship, the depth of their love for one another, reveals a truth about the way God works. We do find, we do need, the family we create as much (and sometimes more) than the family we choose. It is by grace that our paths cross with those people and we’re able to recognize our kindred souls.
We like to think about the Bible as a family book and it is. But it doesn’t necessarily support the American 1950s ideal family. Instead, the Bible reminds us that we may find love, platonic love, agape love, in places where we do not expect it. And that kind of love has the same costs, perhaps more, than romantic love.
The story of David and Jonathan remains crucial to the biblical tale because it reminds us that we need friends, deep, close bosom friends, and that God blesses those relationships as well.