Friends to the End

A person with a true friend is most fortunate. He has one with whom he can share his innermost thoughts – one with whom he can rejoice – one with whom he can weep when deep trials and testings come. To have one who cares, who understands, and who is just there means so much. Nothing can take the place of a true friend. Especially rare is that person who is a friend for life, and who stands by to the very end.

Jesus had a few friends like that. One of them was the beloved Apostle John, from that inner circle of disciples, who stood with Him even unto His death on the cross. That friendship caused our Lord to tum His mother, Mary, over to John’s care. Also, Jesus revealed Himself to John during the last hours of John’s life, when he was banished to the island of Patmos. They were friends to the very end.

David had one true friend. Nothing, not even death, could break their relationship. Jonathan and David convenanted that friendship one with the other. It lasted throughout their troubled lives. David kept the vows of his covenants even after the death of his friend. They were friends to the end.


Their Ages

Although the Bible does not say, Jonathan was probably a few years older than David. This son of Saul comes on the biblical scene already a soldier. He commanded a thousand troops in Gibeah (1 Sam. 13:2). He had defeated the garrison of the Philistines in Geba (1 Sam. 13:3). As the result of this, the enemy had retrenched and was ready to do battle with Israel once more. The Israelites were afraid and hid anywhere they could -in caves, thickets, rocks and pits (1 Sam. 13:6). While Saul looked for the high priest, Samuel, and sinned by intruding into the priest’s office, Jonathan took the leadership position. He went out to defeat the Philistines again (1 Sam. 13:8-14:15). Jonathan was old enough to be an established military leader in Israel.

Meanwhile, as all this transpired, David had not been involved in battle. He was the youngest son of Jesse and was still at home. Several of his older brothers were in the army of Israel. The first time we meet David, he was brought from tending his father’s sheep to become Saul’s armor-bearer (1 Sam. 16:22). This was a position usually held by a younger lad. Later, when David volunteered to fight Goliath, he was reminded, “. . . thou art but a youth” (1 Sam. 17:33). After David had slain the giant, Saul said, “Inquire thou whose son the stripling is” (1 Sam. 17:56). David was apparently at least several years younger than Saul’s son, Jonathan.

Their Meeting

The Bible is not clear as to when these two friends first met. It is obvious they had several opportunities to do so. Soon after David was anointed king, he was called to Saul’s court to soothe the troubled monarch by playing his harp. His music refreshed the king, and the evil spirit departed from him. Perhaps Jonathan came home to see his father and met David on one of those occasions.

Since Jonathan was a leader of troops in the army of Israel, he may have met David as the lad brought food from his father in Bethlehem to his brothers who were lined up against the Philistines in the valley of Elah. Jonathan could have come to know the brave young warrior when he single­ handedly  defeated  Goliath.

Though we do not know exactly where or just how they met, it is very evident that shortly after the incident with Goliath, their friendship blossomed into a real love one for another. It became a deep and abiding one that would last for life.

And it came to pass, when he had ceased speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jona­than was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul (1 Sam. 18:1).

. . . he loved him as his own soul (1 Sam. 18:3).

Interestingly enough, Jonathan was heir ap­parent to the throne. However, because of Saul’s disobedience and sin, the right of family succession had been forfeited. Instructed by God, Samuel had already anointed David to be the next king. The plot now thickens. Saul was jealous for Jonathan to succeed him. God had promised this would not be so. Since David and Jonathan had become friends, in the mind of Saul there was only one thing to do. He had to kill David. He felt this would secure the throne for his son.

Their Covenants

A covenant between two people was a very important event in the day of our subjects. They were secure. They were never to be broken. When the oath of the covenant was taken, it was until death. There is biblical evidence that David and Jonathan made three lasting covenants.

The first of these is recorded in 1 Samuel 18:1-4. The souls of David and Jonathan were joined together. Jonathan loved David as his own soul. To seal that covenant, Saul’s son removed his garments, including his robe, and gave them to David. He even went so far as to give him his sword, his bow and his girdle. These men were very serious about the promises made between them.

The second covenant between these two dear friends is recorded in 1 Samuel 20. This pact dealt with Jonathan protecting the life of David. David promised, in return, to protect Jonathan’s line following his death and even after David would gain control of the kingdom. (The third covenant will be examined in a later paragraph.)

Their covenants were secure, binding until death. Their friendship was a deep and abiding one that transcended the greatest of barriers.


Jonathan’s Intervention

Saul made it very clear to Jonathan and all his servants that they were to kill David (1 Sam. 19:1). Jonathan certainly could not allow death to come to his best friend. After all, they had already made promises one to another.

Jonathan told David of the king’s plot and warned him to hide. He would intervene with his father on David’s behalf. The next morning Jonathan reminded Saul of David’s faithfulness. Had he not killed the Philistine and delivered Israel? Had not his works always been good toward Saul? Had he not spared the king’s life, when it would have been very easy to have killed him? Saul listened to his son. His heart was quieted. Therefore he lifted the command to kill David. Temporarily David was again accepted in the presence of the king.

Shortly after this intervention, Saul was again controlled by the evil spirit from the Lord. In his rage, he tried to kill David once more. David fled again!

Subsequently, David was scheduled to have a meal with the king to celebrate the new moon. Fearing for his life, he asked his friend Jonathan to determine what Saul’s attitude was toward him. He soon found out! Saul’s wrath was so strong that he even attempted to kill his own son, Jonathan, because of his friendship with David. Jonathan was furious with Saul, but he grieved for David his friend. His own father had shamed him.

Jonathan’s Parting

Using a plan they had secretly devised, Jonathan warned David to flee. Before parting, they met for a fleeting moment. It was an emotional meeting, as they kissed one another good-bye. They wept until they could weep no more and promised again to keep the covenants they had made.

Later, as Saul continued his constant pursuit of David, the young man hid in a forest in the wilderness of Ziph. In spite of the terrible consequences that could have accrued had his father learned of it, Jonathan sought out his friend one last time. His desire was to strengthen the fugitive, David, in the Lord (1 Sam. 23:16). He came to David in an attitude of friendship and love, encouraging him in his deep distress.

What a beautiful picture! Jonathan knew he would never be king and that David would rule in his place. Saul knew this as well, and he was all the more determined to destroy David. But, his friend Jonathan came and brought him encouragement in the Lord. The Lord and their friendship were far more powerful than the arrows of the enemy.

Though they were already under oath one to another, they still made a third covenant. This was  their  last recorded meeting. They would never see one another again. Truly, they were friends to the end. The details of this third covenant are recorded in 1 Samuel 23:17-18: “And he said unto him, Fear not; for the hand of Saul, my father, shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth. And they two made a covenant before the Lord . . . .”

Jonathan’s Death

And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Malchi­ shua, Saul’s sons . . . So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, that same day together (1 Sam. 31:2, 6).

It all happened at Gilboa. The dreaded Philistine military machine once more came up against Israel. In the ensuing battle, Saul and three of his sons, including Jonathan, were killed. They further humiliated the Israelites by cutting off the head of Saul and removing his armor. These objects were sent back to Philistia to let the people know of their victory. His armor was later put in the house of Ashtaroth to impress the people that the Philistine gods were more power­ful than the God of Israel.

David would no longer be hounded by the king. His days of running were ended. Normally, we would expect the fugitive to rejoice. But, when David learned of the death of both his adversary and friend in the same battle, he was broken­ hearted.

Then David took hold of his clothes, and tore them; and likewise all the men who were with him. And they mourned, and wept, and fasted until evening; for Saul, and for Jonathan, his son, and for the people of the Lord, and for the house of Israel, because they were fallen by the sword (2 Sam. 1:11-12).

And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan, his son . . . Thy glory, O Israel, is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen! Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the un­circumcised triumph. Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain upon you, nor fields of offerings; for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been  anointed with oil. From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty. Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel. How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!  O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places.  I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan; very pleas­ant hast thou been unto me. Thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished! (2 Sam. 1:17, 19-27). ·

David penned the above lamentation, calling Saul as well as Jonathan lovely and pleasant. There was no malice, there was no bitterness or hatred on his part toward Saul. There was no gloating over his death. He called for the people of Israel to weep  because of the death of their king. But, oh, how he loved Jonathan. Distress filled his soul over the loss of his companion. David’s love was true to the end. But, would it end here?

Jonathan’s Son

And Jonathan, Saul’s son, had a son who was lame in his feet. He was five years old when tidings came of Saul and Jonathan out of Jezreel, and his nurse took him up, and fled; and it came to pass, as she made haste to flee, that he fell, and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 4:4).

David did not know of this young child, for later he asked, “Is there yet any who is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Sam. 9:1). David wanted to know, for he had made a covenant with Jonathan, and he was a man of his word. If there were children left to Jonathan, David had promised he would show them his kindness as long as he lived (1 Sam. 20:15)

Ziba told David that there was one son left to Jonathan. Servants were sent to bring Mephibosheth unto him. He promised not only to provide food for him at the king’s table but also to restore to him the land of Saul.

Later, Ziba lied to David. He accused Mephibosheth of trying to revolt against David and take over the kingdom. Mephibosheth really had no part in this rebellion and came brokenhearted before the king. To remove a famine from the land, seven sons of Saul were hanged. The line was to be cut off. However, David, true to his covenant, spared this one lame son of Jonathan.

But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, because of the Lord’s oath that was between them, be­tween David and Jonathan, the son of Saul (2 Sam. 21:7).

David had befriended Jonathan. He carefully kept all the promises of the covenants they had made, even after the death  of his friend. He considered their covenant an oath made with the Lord. He was really a friend to the end.

Jonathan’s Burial

One of the highest privileges of a man in the ancient world was to be properly buried in his own land at the grave site of his fathers. The Old Testament Scriptures often speak of men being buried with their fathers.

David, remembering the covenant with Jonathan, and that Saul was king, set out to see that they had a proper burial. When David learned that Rizpah, the concubine of Saul, had protected the dead bodies of the sons who were hanged, he immediately made preparation and buried them. Included in this was the reburial of the bones of Jonathan and Saul in the sepulcher of Kish, Saul’s father (2 Sam. 21:12-14). The commitment of David continued far beyond death.


True friendship is a blessing. We would be very fortunate to have a friend like David. Yet, the believer does. He is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. We have a friend who keeps His friendship, covenant and love even beyond our death. We have a friend with whom we will spend eternity. His covenant will never be broken. His name is Jesus! He is our Friend to the end!

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Ev’rything  to  God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Ev’rything to God in prayer!

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