Jonathan: The Man Who Would Have Been King

I had a delightful opportunity to have lunch with one of my favorite Seminary professors. We had a great discussion over many topics. One side-topic that came up was Jonathan, the son of King Saul. In the sovereign providence of God, the Sunday School material I have been using with my men’s Sunday School class covered Jonathan and David the very week before!

My professor-friend said something quite profound. He said, “Nobody wants to be a Jonathan, but everybody wants to be a David.” This statement got us talking and, subsequently, had me thinking.

My professor friend is exactly right. You do not have to look very far today to see how much people are into themselves. It is as if everyone today (Christians included) live in such a way so as to expect the world to revolve around them.

Here is a tangible example: When was the last time you went to the grocery store? You drive through the crowded parking lot looking for a parking space. Then you notice a good spot close to the front door of the store and you go to park in that spot, until, that is, you notice a discarded shopping cart (or carts!) littering your parking spot. What makes this worse is when the cart return is just one spot over!!!!

The “I-Me” self-absorption of people today is shockingly bad. It seems that no one cares about anyone else. It is as if everyone is screaming “Serve Me, serve me–meet my wants.” It is sad to say that most people today choose churches on the basis of what they can get rather than what we can give.

When we turn to the Bible, we see a bright, shining example of what it is to put other people first. Jonathan, son of King Saul of Israel, is a great example of how we, as Christians, are to live to serve.

Israel, King Saul, and King David

Saul was Israel’s first king. The first time we see Saul is in 1 Samuel 9. Saul’s family, we are told, was wealthy and Saul, it is said, was a very handsome and tall man. Interestingly, the first time we see Saul doing something he is chasing his father’s donkeys, which had escaped.

Saul stands in sharp contrast to Israel’s second king–David. The first time we see David, he is a young shepherd and is simply overlooked by the family when the Prophet Samuel comes to visit. Samuel is looking to anoint the next king of Israel and all of Jesse’s sons, except David, pass before him, but no suitable king is found. David is the youngest (or smallest) of Jesse’s sons and he is off faithfully tending his father’s sheep. Samuel sends for and subsequently anoints David to be Israel’s next king.

Even though David is said to be ruddy and handsome, it is clear that Saul possesses all physical characteristics people look for in a king. Unfortunately, Saul possess none of the intangible qualities that God thinks are important. David possess the intangible qualities–qualities important to God.

Saul Rejected

Unfortunately, Saul’s reign is marked by failure and willful disobedience. 1 Samuel 13 and 1 Samuel 15 show Saul’s most notable failures. In 1 Samuel 13, Saul does not wait for Samuel to arrive to perform a sacrifice. Instead, Saul takes it upon himself to make the sacrifice. In 1 Samuel 15, Saul does not completely destroy the Amalekites as he was commanded to do. For these instances of willful disobedience, we are told by Samuel, God will not allow Saul or his children to remain on the throne of Israel. In other words, the throne will be given to another family.

Jonathan: The Would-Be King

Jonathan was the prince of Israel. At the demise of Saul, Jonathan would have become king, had God not removed Saul. Unlike his father, Jonathan is a man of strong character and a man of unwavering devotion to God and to His will.

Jonathan the Warrior

Jonathan was known for being a warrior and he was pro-active in defeating the enemies of Israel. More importantly, however, was his attitude in battle. At one point Jonathan says, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6)

Note that Jonathan puts his fate in God’s hands. It seems as if he is willing to do whatever God will have him do and it seems that God is foremost in Jonathan’s mind. Jonathan’s attitude is similar to David’s attitude in the face of fighting Goliath. It is obvious that Jonathan is not Saul–he is much more concerned with the things of God.

Jonathan the Friend

Jonathan, being the son of Saul, would not be allowed to be the so-called “Crowned Prince.” Instead the “Crowned Prince” would be David. This is what makes the relationship between Jonathan and David seem so odd to us. Jonathan is best of friends with David–the man who would be on the throne of Israel in his place.

It is likely that Jonathan, being the oldest son of Saul, was privy to the goings on of Israel. It is likely he knew that his father (and therefore himself) was disallowed from the throne and it is likely he knew David was the new “prince,” having been anointed by Samuel.

1 Samuel 18 shows a remarkable friendship between Jonathan and David:

1 As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2 And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. 5 And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.

When we read 1 Samuel 18 several things become shockingly apparent: (1) Jonathan gives David all the outward, physical symbols of being the crowned prince of Israel. It is one thing to have the presumptive new king to be a friend, it is another thing entirely to give him the symbols (your symbols!) that show him, not you, to be the crowned prince of Israel. (2) Jonathan seems to embody a phrase coined by a good friend of mine–Saul may be my father, but David is my king. (thanks Chris for this wonderful assessment!) (3) Jonathan knows his future does not include the throne of Israel and rather than try to kill David (as Saul tried to do), Jonathan seeks to protect David with his very own life.

Jonathan the Yahweh Worshiper

It is clear from Jonathan’s life that he held God and the things of God in much higher esteem than his father Saul did. Saul is the proverbial poster child for a life lived in superficial obedience or outright rebellion to God and His commands. Jonathan, on the other hand, is the perfect model of a life rightly submitted to God and His will–even if His will causes disappointment or trauma. Jonathan embodies the idea “Obedience is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22).

Living a “Jonathan” life

(1) We must be God-worshipers, not self-worshipers.

Saul’s life has one stunning, overriding component: Self worship. Saul gave superficial, lip-service obedience to God and His commands. Many of us do the same thing. We are more worried about what people think of us and how they see us rather than working to live right, biblically-based, and Christ-like lives.

The Broadway show Wicked is the back story to the Wizard of Oz. In this show, there is a song that Galinda (who would become Glinda the “good” witch) sings to Elphaba (who would become the wicked witch of the west)–it is called “Popular.”

Popular! You’re gonna be popular!
I’ll teach you the proper poise
When you talk to boys
Little ways to flirt and flounce
Ooh! I’ll show you what shoes to wear
How to fix your hair
Everything that really counts

To be popular
I’ll help you be popular!
You’ll hang with the right cohorts
You’ll be good at sports
Know the slang you’ve got to know
So let’s start ’cause you’ve got an awfully long way to go

…It’s all about popular!
It’s not about aptitude
It’s the way you’re viewed

So it’s very shrewd to be
Very very popular like me!

(Source; emphasis mine)

You can see the superficial mindset in this song. As Christians, we are not to be superficial. Knowing the right people, hanging with the right people or fixing your hair is not what we are supposed to be. For the Christian, we are to measure our lives by our Christ-likeness and our “fruits” of repentance and faith. The Christian life is not a popularity contest. In fact, if you live your Christian life to be popular, you are seeking man’s approval over and against God’s approval. A true Christian simply seeks to please God by actively conforming their lives and their persons to His will and His commands, regardless of what man thinks.

(2) We must be good friends to our fellow Christians.

Many of us see friends get the “good” jobs or the better paying jobs or a job at the “perfect” church and we instantly become resentful and bitter. It is so easy for us to forget that God is sovereign, we are not. He is directing things for His purposes. So, when we see something good happen to our friends (especially if we were competing against them for a job) we should rejoice for them. We should rejoice that God’s will has been revealed and done.

It seems that it is much easier to cry with someone who is hurting. We are to do that, but we must also rejoice with those who are rejoicing, even if that rejoicing comes at our disappointment.

(3) We must be warriors for the things of God.

We find it easy to point out moral decay in our society and in other people, yet we rarely if ever see these things in our own lives. Why? We become warriors for the things of us, not the things of God. We must place our own lives and our own agendas aside and take up the banner of God and His agenda.

Part of advancing God’s agenda is making ourselves over in His image. We are to order our lives in such a way that we grow to be more Christ-like and we need to call others to do the same.

We cannot spend our time and efforts fighting each other over our own agendas. We must take up the banner of the Lord and advance His kingdom, not our own.

Be a “Jonathan”

Far too many of us want the limelight that David was given. Certainly, if God wills, that limelight is not necessarily wrong. Life, though, is not about limelight; life is about obedience to God and His will. Put other people first and ask yourself this question, “What can I give?” and quit asking “What can I get?” Even if God calls you to be a David, adopt Jonathan’s attitude and, as a Jonathan, be the best David you can be.

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Filed under "Doing" Church, "Pop Culture", Biblical Theology, Uncategorized

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