I Samuel 20

The Word Made Fresh

1Then David ran from Naioth in Ramah and found Jonathan and asked, “What have I done? What am I guilty of? What did I do to make your father want to kill me?”

2“Heaven forbid!” Jonathan exclaimed. “You’re not going to die. My father doesn’t do anything, big or small, without running it by me. He would never hide this from me. Never!”

3David swore. “Your father knows very well that I’m your best friend,” he said. “He’s thinking he can’t let you know because you will be hurt. But you know as well as I do that there’s just one step between me and death.”

4“Then tell me what I should do,” Jonathan replied.

5David said, “Tomorrow is the festival of the new moon, and I’m supposed to be at the king’s table. But let me be excused, and I will hide in the field until the evening of the next day. 6If your father notices I’m not there, tell him I urged you to allow me to go to Bethlehem to attend an annual gathering with my family. 7If he is okay with that, I’m safe. But if he loses his temper, you’ll know he has planned something terrible to happen to me. 8Be kind to me. You have made a pact with me with the LORD as a witness. If I’m guilty of anything, then kill me yourself. Don’t bring me to your father.”

9Jonathan answered, “No! Don’t you know I would tell you if my father was planning to do anything bad to you?”

10“How will I know if your father loses his temper at my absence?” David asked.

11Jonathan said, “Let’s go out into the field,” and they went out together. 12Then Jonathan said, “I swear by my LORD, the God of Israel, that when I have determined my father’s feelings toward you tomorrow or the next day, and he is happy with you, I will let you know. 13But if my father intends to harm you, then may the LORD do the same to me and more if I don’t tell you and help you escape so you will be safe. May the LORD be with you as the LORD has been with my father. 14As long as I live, be faithful to me as you are to the LORD. And if I die, 15never cast my family’s love for you aside even if the LORD eliminates every one of your enemies from the face of the earth.”

16And Jonathan made a pact with the family of David. “May the LORD ferret out every enemy of David.” 17He made David promise always to be his friend, for he loved David as he loved his own life. 18He said, “Your seat will be empty tomorrow at the new moon banquet, and you will be missed.19On the next day go all the way down to the place where you hid yourself before and stay close to the rocky crag there. 20I will shoot three arrows near it, as though I were shooting at a target. 21Then I will send my servant to find the arrows. If I call out to him, “You’ve gone too far; the arrows are back this way,” then you can come out because the LORD has removed every danger from you. 22But if I call out, ‘The arrows are further beyond you,’ then leave, because that means the LORD is sending you away. 23As for the matter we discussed, the LORD is there between us forever.”

24So, David stayed hidden in the area. The new moon rose, and the king came to the feast. 25He sat near the wall in his accustomed place. Jonathan stood across from him, and Abner was sitting beside him. David’s place was empty. 26Saul said nothing that day, thinking, “Something has happened to him and he is ritually unclean. Surely that’s why he isn’t here.” 27But the next day David’s place was still empty, and Saul said to Jonathan, “Why has the son of Jesse not come to the feast? He wasn’t here yesterday, nor today.”

28Jonathan said, “David asked me to excuse him so that he could go to Bethlehem. 29He told me his family is gathering for a sacrifice there and his brothers demanded that he come, and that is why he asked my leave to see his brothers. That’s why he isn’t here at the king’s table.”

30Saul was furious. “You son of a stubborn, defiant woman. I know full well that you have attached yourself to the son of Jesse, to your own downfall and to your mother’s shame. 31As long as the son of Jesse lives you have no chance of inheriting the kingdom. Now send for him and bring him here. He has to die!”

32Jonathan answered, “Why must he die? What has he done?”

33Then Saul flung his spear at Jonathan and would have killed him, and Jonathan knew his father had decided to kill David. 34He rose from the table angrily and refused to take part in the banquet on the second day, agonizing over his father’s threat against David.

35The next morning Jonathan went out to the field, taking a young boy with him. 36He told the boy to run find the arrows he was shooting, and as the boy was running, he shot arrows past him. 37As the boy reached the spot where the arrows had landed, he called out to him, “Keep going. Didn’t the arrow land further than that? 38Hurry up. Don’t be slow.” The boy picked up the arrows and returned to Jonathan, 39not realizing anything that Jonathan and David had planned. 40Jonathan then handed his bow and quiver to the boy and told him to carry them back to the city. 41When the boy had gone David came out from his hiding place near the rocky crag and fell face down, then bowed three times before Jonathan. They kissed one another and wept, and David was overwhelmed.

41“Go in peace,” Jonathan told him. “We have sworn together before the LORD and asked the LORD to watch between us and between our children forever.” Then David left, and Jonathan returned to the city.


1-11: David confronts Jonathan with Saul’s plans to kill him, but Jonathan does not believe his father has such plans. David suggests a test: he will be absent from the king’s table at a time when he is expected. If the king accepts the excuse he offers, all is well. If the king is angry, Jonathan will know that Saul regards David with murderous intent. Jonathan seems to be reluctant to such a test, although fervently declaring his friendship with David. The last line in verse 11 gives an ominous effect: “Let’s go out into the field,” the same words Cain said to Abel!

12-17: But, of course, the reason for going out into the field is to obtain privacy for their conversation. Jonathan means David no harm and is even willing to risk his own life to find out what Saul’s real disposition is toward him. In return he wants David to swear to protect his family (presumably he is married with children) if he is killed, implying that he is well aware of his father’s unpredictable rages.

18-23: Jonathan devises a strange and seemingly unnecessary signal to let David know Saul’s reaction to his absence at the feast. Why not leave his boy behind and just go and tell David? The plan is similar to the one Jonathan outlined in 19:2-3.

24-29: David is absent at the new moon dinner — probably an administrative routine, a sort of monthly staff meeting with Saul and his military leaders. A new moon sheds no light, making that a safe time for them to meet, since an enemy would not be likely to attack without at least moonlight to see by. Saul notes David’s absence but doesn’t bring it up on the first day. The next day he asks about him, and Jonathan gives the planned explanation.

30-34: Saul is enraged — but not with David; rather, with Jonathan! A tense scene follows. Saul curses his own wife and son. He instinctively knows that David is his chief rival for the throne and accuses Jonathan of collusion with David to his own detriment as the heir. He slings a spear at him — his preferred way to dispel his rage — and misses just as he has on other occasions with David (do you think he is not really aiming very carefully?). Jonathan leaves the table in anger.

35-42: Jonathan goes to the field the next day to exercise the plan to let David know of Saul’s intent. The plan is pointless, for as soon as the boy gathers the arrows, Jonathan sends him back to the city and he and David meet face to face! Why use the boy and the arrows at all? In any event, David is warned. He and Jonathan repeat their covenant of friendship, knowing the days ahead are fraught with dangers.


If you keep looking over your shoulder searching for some rival who might be plotting to unseat you from your comfortable position, you are focusing on the wrong thing. If you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, you need not waste emotional time and energy on suspicions of anyone else.