A Godly Friendship Revealed Through Jonathan in the Bible

Jonathan is from the tribe of Benjamin. His clan is Matrites. Jonathan’s grandfather was Kish. His father is the infamous Saul, the first king of Israel. His mother is Ahinoam daughter of Ahimaaz.

He had three younger brothers: Abinadab, Malchishua, Ish-bosheth (traditional spellings), and two sisters: Merab and Michal. His son is Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 4:4), his grandson is Micah son of Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9:12).

Jonathan and David’s Loyal Friendship

The friendship of Prince Jonathan and Israel’s future king, David, is one of the most amazing friendships ever recorded.

Jonathan is described as a great warrior (1 Samuel 13:3; 1 Samuel 14:1-13) who is honest (1 Samuel 14:43) and willing to face death as a result (1 Samuel 14:43). How unlike his father Saul!

After David defeats Goliath, Jonathan is drawn to David. He makes a covenant with David, stripping himself of his robe and armor (his privilege and position) and giving it all to David. He loves David “as himself” (twice in 1 Samuel 18:1-3).

In this way, he is a prime example of the Bible’s greatest command: to love the Lord God wholeheartedly and “love your neighbor as yourself.”

It appears that Jonathan’s covenant with David is unilateral: Jonathan is committing himself totally to his friend David, whom he had evidently befriended when David served in King Saul’s court (1 Samuel 16) and whom he recognized as God’s anointed future king of Israel.

The former is astounding when you think of what the latter meant. Without knowing what would happen in the years to come, Jonathan willingly confers his right to the throne to his friend. What remarkable, self-sacrificing love!

After King Saul drives David away, Jonathan restores David to fellowship with his growingly insane father (1 Samuel 19:1-7). It doesn’t last long.

A while later, Jonathan makes a second covenant with David because of his loyal love for him (1 Samuel 20:1-17), promising he will do anything for David (1 Samuel 20:4). Then, despite his father’s attacks, Jonathan asks David to show kindness and mercy to his family, which David gladly promises to do (and gladly does in 2 Samuel 9:1-13).

Jonathan again attempts to restore David to fellowship with his father, King Saul (1 Samuel 20:18-34), only to narrowly escape his father’s spear himself.

Jonathan finally realizes the unstoppable nature of his father’s insane anger and jealousy against David and tells David to flee. Before David goes, they reaffirm their covenant (1 Samuel 20:35-42).

Later, Jonathan seeks out David and finds him. This appears to be their last time together. Jonathan encourages David and again puts himself under David (1 Samuel 23:16-18).

Jonathan isn’t mentioned again until 1 Samuel 31, when he obediently goes with his father to fight against the Philistines, only to be killed in battle.

Jonathan’s life is an example of true friendship and character, marred by an insane father’s jealousy and rage against his dear friend.

Jonathan’s Relevance

David Wilkerson never said it when he lived among the gangs of New York. Amy Carmichael and Mother Teresa never said it while living in the slums of India. Like these and others who have ventured into dangerous regions or have toiled at difficult tasks, Jonathan never said, “I’m just one person. What can God do through me?”

This is especially evident when Jonathan almost single-handedly defeats a group of Philistine soldiers (1 Samuel 14). Bold for God and dependent on Him alone, Jonathan attempts difficult tasks for God’s glory.

He always seeks God’s will before taking risks, of course. And he doesn’t go it alone. Then again, neither is his trust in his armor-bearer, whom Jonathan instructs to climb up behind and not ahead of him.

Down one cliff and up another, Jonathan and his armor-bearer are easy targets for the Philistine soldiers. Yet Jonathan is confident that God has a plan to beat the odds and use them to defeat the enemy.

These two men do much more than kill 20 soldiers that day. They set in motion a state of panic which, amplified by an earthquake, causes the entire Philistine army to scatter. The Israelite army then pursues and defeats them.

No wonder Jonathan is drawn to David as a committed friend for life. The cliff climber meets the giant slayer. The first young man goes up the side of a mountain on his hands and feet to fight a well-armed contingency.

The other young man takes five small stones and slings one in the face of a giant. Both young men know what it is to trust God’s power in the face of overwhelming odds.

Statistics may look intimidating in full-color graphs. Depending on God’s power and seeking God’s glory, however, you and I can overcome anything despite what the numbers say.

Scriptures about Jonathan

If you’re going to read only three Bible chapters about Jonathan, take 10 minutes and read 1 Samuel 14, 1 Samuel 19, and 1 Samuel 20. Or take a minute to read 2 Samuel 1:17-27, which features David’s deep lament, “How the mighty have fallen.”

Most of Jonathan’s story is told in 1 Samuel 13-14 and 1 Samuel 18-20. His death is recorded in 1 Samuel 31:2, 2 Samuel 1:4-5, and 1 Chronicles 10:2, and (as noted above) his death is lamented in 2 Samuel 1:17-27. His burial is noted in 1 Chronicles 21:12-14.

Jonathan and his descendants are named in 2 Samuel 4:4, 9:1-13, and 21:7. Their genealogy is noted in 1 Chronicles 8:33-34 and 1 Chronicles 9:39-40.

In all other cases from 2 Samuel 15:27 to Jeremiah 40:8, “Jonathan” refers to others by the same name who lived after Prince Jonathan’s time.

For further reading: 

How Do I Love My Neighbor as Myself During COVID-19?

What Is the Love of Christ?

What Does Agape Love Really Mean in the Bible?

On the Front Step with a Woman of Courage

How Samuel Served God at Every Age

How Did a Man after God’s Own Heart Fall So Far into Sin?

What Does Love in Action Look Like?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Finn Hafemann


headshot of David Sanford new 2020 David Sanford’s book and Bible projects have been published by Zondervan, Tyndale, Thomas Nelson, Doubleday, Barbour, and Amazon. His newest book is Life Map Devotional for Men published concurrently with his wife Renee’s new book, Life Map Devotional for Women.

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