alone take out a whole phalanx of
Philistine warriors) and the fervent
loyalty of Israel’s army (in another,
Saul’s own troops defy their king to
Jonathan is loved. He’s respected.
And he has only one obstacle to
his eventual ascension to the
throne – David.
And yet here’s what he does at
their first meeting:
Jonathan became one in spirit
with David, and he loved him as
himself.… And Jonathan made
a covenant with David because
he loved him as himself. Jona-
than took off the robe he was
wearing and gave it to David,
along with his tunic, and even
his sword, his bow and his belt
(1 Samuel 18:1, 3–4).
In other words, right at the start
Jonathan gives to David all his royal
insignia. It’s as if he pre-abdicates
Later, at nearly their last meet-
ing, when Saul is about to drive
David away, this happens:
“…show me unfailing kind-
ness like the Lord’s kindness as
long as I live, so that I may not
be killed, and do not ever cut off
your kindness from my family
– not even when the Lord has
cut off every one of David’s
enemies from the face of the
So Jonathan made a coven-
ant with the house of David,
saying, “May the Lord call
David’s enemies to account.”
And Jonathan had David re-
affirm his oath out of love for
him, because he loved him as
he loved himself (1 Samuel
David is at his most vulnerable here.
He has no power at this moment.
Jonathan holds his fate in his hands.
He could easily betray David, have
him eliminated as a rival with just
one false word. But he doesn’t. Instead, he pleads with David for his
life. He treats David as though he is
From the start, and all the way
through, Jonathan risks his own life
and future for David’s. He gives up
his birthright to ensure David’s
destiny. He becomes less so David
can become greater.
Which gets to the heart of their
friendship, and maybe all friendships: Jonathan discerns what God is
doing in David’s life, and spares no
expense to make it happen. I can’t
think of a better description of true
friendship – seeing what God is up
to in your friend’s life, and doing
whatever it takes to help fulfil that.
My wife has a friend like that.
Neither spares any expense to help
further what they believe God is
doing with and in and through the
other. Time, money, energy – all is put
at the disposal of the other’s needs.
Sometimes this means one’s
needs eclipse the other’s. But mostly it means a dance of mutual
self-giving. I get to watch both of
them become more fully themselves, to see, as each serves the
other, both of them step more
confidently into their God-given
identity and calling.
Either would give up her birthright for the sake of the other’s
destiny. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s a
friendship in the spirit of David
But David, it seems, had few
friends. Maybe, actually, only Jonathan. He had priests, prophets,
courtiers, henchmen, mercenaries,
tributaries, advisers, lackeys, toadies, hangers-on. He had a harem of
wives and another of concubines.
He had people who told him
what he wanted to hear, and at least
one person – the prophet Nathan
– who told him what he didn’t want
to hear, but needed to.
He had buddies, perhaps. But
What he did collect in abundance throughout his lifetime were
enemies. Of course, his nemesis
Saul. But that relationship serves
as a kind of terrible motif in David’s
life. The one close to him who betrays him.
There is, for instance, the slow
mutual erosion of trust between
him and Joab, his nephew and chief
army captain. There is the sudden
and catastrophic treason of his
closest and wisest advisor Ahitophel.
And there is, most tragic of all, the
betrayal and assault of his own son
Absalom, who stages a palace coup
and seeks David’s very life.
Several of David’s most poignant
psalms – Psalm 55, especially verses
12–14 – map the emotional terrain of
these kinds of losses and betrayals.
But the two stories about enemies I want to explore here involve
marginal characters, men who
hate David mostly, if not solely, for
political reasons. These are men
with whom he has had no prior
relationship. There is no friendship
to betray, no closeness to lose. They
despise David because of what he
I’m thinking of Nabal and Shimei. Why pick these two? Because
the way David deals with each tells
us something that might help us
here and now, when so many of our
animosities are politically or ideologically or doctrinally motivated.
First, there’s Nabal. David never
actually meets the man. The conflict between them and its resolution are all mediated through
others. David’s sends a delegation
of men to Nabal to collect on a debt
he feels is owed him. Nabal scoffs
at the idea, and sends the men away
David, hearing the report from
IS DOING IN
TO MAKE IT