1 Samuel 23:14-18 – Encouraging Others in Hard Times

David stayed in hideouts in the hill country of Ziph Desert. Saul kept searching, but God never let Saul catch him.

One time, David was at Horesh in Ziph Desert. He was afraid because Saul had come to the area to kill him. But Jonathan went to see David, and God helped him encourage David. “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan said. “My father Saul will never get his hands on you. In fact, you’re going to be the next king of Israel, and I’ll be your highest official. Even my father knows it’s true.”

They both promised the Lord that they would always be loyal to each other. Then Jonathan went home, but David stayed at Horesh. (Contemporary English Version)

Encouraging with Help

There is an old Hasidic story of a rabbi who had a conversation with the Lord about Heaven and Hell.

“I will show you Hell,” said the Lord, and led the rabbi into a room containing a group of famished, desperate people sitting around a large, circular table. In the center of the table rested an enormous pot of stew, more than enough for everyone. The smell of the stew was delicious and made the rabbi’s mouth water. Yet no one ate.

Each diner at the table held a very long-handled spoon – long enough to reach the pot and scoop up a spoonful of stew, but too long to get the food into one’s mouth. The rabbi saw that their suffering was indeed terrible and bowed his head in compassion.

“Now I will show you Heaven,” said the Lord, and they entered another room, identical to the first – same large, round table, same enormous pot of stew, same long-handled spoons. Yet there was gaiety in the air; everyone appeared well nourished, plump, and exuberant.

The rabbi could not understand and looked to the Lord. “It is simple,” said the Lord, “but it requires a certain skill. You see, the people in this room have learned to feed each other!”

We as humans are hard-wired for community. Ideally, we seamlessly move between being providers of help and receivers of help. A healthy life is a balanced life consisting of consistent rhythms of giving and receiving. And where we are all participating together, there is Heaven.

Encouraging through Friendship

For sure, there will be times we become discouraged. To remain optimistic and encouraged, all the time, is difficult. We need help to keep going and not give up hope. Sometimes we just need a darned good friend.

David, a man who seemed fearless, became afraid. And understandably so. I can only imagine what it would be like to be hyper-vigilant, too scared to shut your eyes and go to sleep, wondering if this might be your last day or night on earth. It’s one thing to die. It’s altogether another thing to be hunted like an animal so that another person can snuff out your life.

Of course, David was scared. And in this state of fright, Jonathan enters. The friend par excellence. True friendship is resilient and reliable. Jonathan did what a loyal friend does: encourage. David was emotionally drained and spiritually weak. So, Jonathan came to David’s side, was present with him, and helped him find his faith and strength in God again.

Encouraging by Affirmation

The helpful encouragement came in the form of truth and affirmation. Those are two indispensable elements to encouragement. Real friendship is built upon the solid foundation of truth, with continual overtures of affirming loyalty and commitment.

Two peas in a pod. Fits like a hand in a glove. Littermates. Cut from the same cloth. Whichever way you choose to say it, Jonathan was the warm gravy to David’s cold mashed potatoes. There was no way Jonathan was going to sit on the sidelines, knowing his best friend was on the run from danger. He proactively took action and was there to help feed David when there was nothing but a long-handled spoon to eat from.

Take note of the four encouraging and affirming truths Jonathan told David to help encourage him and strengthen his faith:

  1. Saul will not find you, despite his paranoid persistence. The sovereign God is in control – not King Saul. Your capture is not in the Lord’s plan.
  2. You will be king. You have been anointed as such. It will come.
  3. I will be second to you. I am with you, all the way. I am your humble servant. I am your faithful friend.
  4. Saul himself knows the truth, which is why he’s so zealous to take you out.

Through Jonathan’s encouragement, David gained newfound optimism, fresh hope, with affirmation and confirmation of the truth. And David needed this to face the upcoming cat and mouse games he would be playing with Saul.

Encouraging the Truth

In the New Testament, the verse, Romans 8:28, is still true. Yes, it gets overused by some as a mere platitude which sometimes invalidates a person’s experience and emotions. Yet, it remains nonetheless true:

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Romans 8:28, NLT

The year, 2020, was a kick in the pants for a lot of people. For some, it felt like the disease was hunting them down, trying to take their life. And it did, as of this writing, for 3.5 million people worldwide. The economic and social toll is inestimable. Add to this grim reality that all the socio-economic problems, political issues, and other diseases and disasters of the world have continued, unabated, throughout the pandemic.

It can be difficult to see how any of this could work for good. Yet, this is when friendship is found to be at its best – giving incredible encouragement while in the teeth of terrible circumstances.

Ultimately, death and disease do not have the last word. No matter what happens, we are and will remain children of the King. Jesus steps in and calls us “friend,” acting on our behalf. And God’s Spirit is forever with us, vigilant to support us when we can no longer stand.

God of all encouragement, when evil darkens our world, give us light. When despair numbs our souls, give us hope. When we stumble and fall, lift us up. When doubts assail us, give us faith. When nothing seems sure, give us trust. When ideals fade, give us vision. When we lose our way, be our guide! May you help us find serenity in your presence, and purpose in doing your will. Amen.

1 Samuel 20:1-27-42 – A Relationship Sustained in Truth

But the next day, the second day of the month, David’s place was empty again. Then Saul said to his son Jonathan, “Why hasn’t the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?”

Jonathan answered, “David earnestly asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem. He said, ‘Let me go, because our family is observing a sacrifice in the town and my brother has ordered me to be there. If I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away to see my brothers.’ That is why he has not come to the king’s table.”

Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!”

“Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Jonathan asked his father. But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.

Jonathan got up from the table in fierce anger; on that second day of the feast he did not eat, because he was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David.

In the morning Jonathan went out to the field for his meeting with David. He had a small boy with him, and he said to the boy, “Run and find the arrows I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. When the boy came to the place where Jonathan’s arrow had fallen, Jonathan called out after him, “Isn’t the arrow beyond you?” Then he shouted, “Hurry! Go quickly! Don’t stop!” The boy picked up the arrow and returned to his master. (The boy knew nothing about all this; only Jonathan and David knew.) Then Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said, “Go, carry them back to town.”

After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most.

Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town. (New International Version)

“An acquaintance merely enjoys your company, a fair-weather companion flatters when all is well, a true friend has your best interests at heart and the pluck to tell you what you need to hear.”

E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly

Sometimes you think you know somebody, and you find out you really didn’t know them well at all. 

It even happens within families, not to mention churches. Jonathan, the warrior son of King Saul, had to come to grips with the fact that his father was going down a path to the dark side and becoming Darth Saul. 

Jonathan heard some hard truth from his best friend, David, about his father. David confronted Jonathan with the reality that Saul was trying to kill him. It was difficult to process such information. Yet, to Jonathan’s credit, he was open to the possibility of what David, a trusted and close friend, had to say.

David wisely did not show up for an appointed feast, knowing his life was at risk. Jonathan used the opportunity to find out if what David had said was true, or not. Furthermore, Jonathan and David together had developed a plan, in case King Saul had really turned to the dark side.

Relationships must be based upon truth. A true friend is willing to reprove and rebuke with care and grace. That friend will listen to the truth and is not concerned with trying to manipulate or take advantage of the relationship. 

Jonathan, as a person of integrity, was willing to find out the truth about his father. Once he determined the awful realization of his father’s true intentions, Jonathan was willing to adjust his life to fit the new information.

There is some high level relational work going on in this Old Testament lesson for today. It is tragic when people are willing to settle for superficial relationships. Building relational intimacy takes time and effort, the kind of work that both Jonathan and David were willing to put into their friendship. 

They found themselves in turbulent times, but the friends found their ultimate security in the Lord and continually reminded each other of God’s ability to sustain them. Jonathan and David truly had a model relationship for us all to emulate.

Sovereign God, you are supreme over all creation. May the glue of truth hold all of my relationships together. May they be centered fully and completely around the Lord Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

*Above icon of Jonathan and David painted by Br. Robert Lentz

1 Samuel 17:55-18:5 – True Friendship

As Saul watched David go out to fight the Philistine, he asked Abner, the commander of his army, “Abner, whose son is this young man?”

“I really don’t know,” Abner declared.

“Well, find out who he is!” the king told him.

As soon as David returned from killing Goliath, Abner brought him to Saul with the Philistine’s head still in his hand. “Tell me about your father, young man,” Saul said.

And David replied, “His name is Jesse, and we live in Bethlehem.”

After David had finished talking with Saul, he met Jonathan, the king’s son. There was an immediate bond between them, for Jonathan loved David. From that day on Saul kept David with him and wouldn’t let him return home. And Jonathan made a solemn pact with David because he loved him as he loved himself. Jonathan sealed the pact by taking off his robe and giving it to David, together with his tunic, sword, bow, and belt.

Whatever Saul asked David to do, David did it successfully. So, Saul made him a commander over the men of war, an appointment that was welcomed by the people and Saul’s officers alike. (New Living Translation)

“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.”

Seneca (5 B.C.E.-65 C.E)

We may have numerous acquaintances; social media friends; friends we do activities with; family friends and cousin friends; and even some good close friends. However, there are few, maybe only one or two people, who are so close as to be your best friend and a kindred spirit.

That person is the one whom you know always has your back; is the first person you call in the middle of the night in an emergency; and is the confidant you can say anything to, and they won’t freak out about it. They will always shoot straight with you and are your biggest encourager and fan. There is nothing they would not do for you.

I hope you have such a friend because they are rare gems. Such relationships typically begin by hitting it off well together. Usually, some event or particular place brings two people to a point of discovering they have such commonality of thinking and a commitment to living a certain way that their hearts are immediately drawn to each other. This is exactly what happened to Jonathan and David.

Before Jonathan and David’s friendship emerged, Jonathan (King Saul’s son) took it upon himself to step up and step out in single-handedly taking on the Philistine army. Jonathan faced them with only his armor-bearer behind him, climbed a cliff to other side where the Philistines were, and attacked all by himself. One guy deliberately went against an entire army. 

While six-hundred Israelite soldiers were hiding, too afraid to face the enemy, Jonathan took it upon himself to act. It was not a rash action but a decision of faith:

Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come on, let’s go over to the fort of these uncircumcised men. Maybe the Lord will act on our behalf. After all, nothing can stop the Lord from saving, whether there are many soldiers or few.” (1 Samuel 14:6, CEB) 

Jonathan passionately believed the Lord was with him and would achieve the victory. Indeed, God sent a panic throughout the Philistine camp when Jonathan acted. The result was a complete rout.

David had his own act of faith with the Philistine giant, Goliath. While everyone in the Israelite camp was fearful of the larger than life enemy, David saw him through the eyes of faith, and stepped up to challenge someone twice his size. 

It just so happens, that on that day, Jonathan had a front row seat to the entire event. It was immediately after David killed Goliath that Jonathan knew this was a guy with remarkably similar sensibilities. David possessed Jonathan’s same passion for God; same zealous faith that takes enormous risk; same heart for God’s people and God’s name. They clicked – and became kindred spirits, as if knowing the one of them was to know the other.

It was true friendship at its absolute best. Jonathan had David’s back. There was nothing he would not do for him, and vice versa. So, he made a covenant with David. And it turned out to be a lasting commitment neither of them ever regretted. 

Jonathan did not make the covenant with David just to buddy-up with the new popular person. No, Jonathan is a timeless example of one who was humbly unselfish. He gave up his robe and his weapons to David. This was a magnanimous gesture. Jonathan believed David was the next true king, so he gave his kingly objects to him.

As the king’s son, Jonathan stood in line to be the next king. In fact, everything we know about Jonathan informs us he would likely be a darn good king. Yet, Jonathan recognized David was a more worthy candidate than himself. So, he gave up his right to the throne and handed over his symbols of potential kingship.

Jonathan delighted in David’s success. He joyfully watched David become a great warrior and successful leader. Jonathan was always the first one to give David a pat on the back and do whatever was needed in supporting him. 

Jonathan didn’t mind that David upped him on the battlefield and commanded ever larger numbers of soldiers.  Jonathan could have pulled rank on David as the king’s son – but he never did, because he honestly believed his friend was the real king.

“If Christ Jesus dwells in a person as his friend and noble leader, that person can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend.”

St. Teresa of Ávila

In the New Testament, we see a person with the same spirit and devotion as Jonathan. John the Baptist was out in the wilderness being a literal wild man. And he gained quite a following. All kinds of people went out into the desert to be baptized by John and to be his disciples. Yet, John recognized that he himself was not the true king. Concerning Jesus, John said:

“This is the one I told you would come! He is greater than I am because he was alive before I was born.” (John 1:15, CEV)

“I am not the Messiah…. I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (John 1:20, 23, NIV)

“Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal.” (John 1:27, NLT)

“I have seen and testified that this one is God’s Son.” (John 1:34, CEB)

John never became jealous, envious, or concerned that his cousin Jesus was greater than himself. In fact, he celebrated it:

“I am so happy that he is here. He must become more and more important, and I must become less important.” (John 3:29-30, ERV)      

John was focused on God. He therefore was able to respond rightly and humbly to Jesus, the true king. 

Jonathan was focused on God, and so was able to respond rightly and humbly to David, the true king.

Jesus is both king and friend. Jesus can be your kindred spirit, the one who always has your back. You can call, and he will be there. And we can delightfully watch Christ increase while we decrease. His success is our success. 

Divine friendship is possible. God’s people can enjoy incredible unity because Jesus has gone before us – he has won the victory over sin, death, and hell on our behalf. By faith we step out and act with the knowledge God is with us.

Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15, NKJV)

**Above wood sculpture of Jonathan and David by Olen Bryant (1927-2017)

1 Samuel 20:1-23, 35-42

            Sometimes you think you know somebody, and you find out you really didn’t know them well at all.  It even happens within families, not to mention churches.  Jonathan, the warrior son of King Saul, had to come to grips with the fact that his father was going down the path to the dark side and becoming Darth Saul.  Jonathan had to hear some hard truth from his best friend, David.  David confronted Jonathan with the reality that Saul was trying to kill him.
 
            Relationships must be based upon truth.  A true friend is willing to tell you your faults; will listen to the truth; and, is not concerned with trying to manipulate or take advantage of the relationship.  Jonathan, much to his credit, was willing to find out the truth about his Dad.  Once he determined the terrible realization of his father’s true intentions, Jonathan was willing to adjust his life to fit new information.
 
            There is some high level relational work going on in this Old Testament lesson for today.  It is truly tragic when people are willing to settle for superficial relationships.  Building relational intimacy takes time and effort, the kind of work that both Jonathan and David were willing to put into their friendship.  They found themselves in turbulent times, but the friends found their ultimate security in the Lord and continually reminded each other of God’s ability to sustain them.  Their relationship is a model for us all to emulate.
 

 

            Sovereign God, you are supreme over all your creation.  May the glue of truth hold all of my relationships together.  May they be centered fully and completely around the Lord Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.