First Reading 1 Samuel 17:57-18:16
Second Reading 2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Gospel Reading John 15: 9-17
Sermon: “Johnathan, A Friend Closer Than a Brother”
As a young man, David certainly did not have an easy life. He needed friends – really good friends, and he had several, but none was as good as Jonathan – the eldest son of King Saul. Johnathan was evidently a few years older than David, since he was already one of Saul’s experienced commanders in his army. Like David, Johnathan was one of those rare people that it seemed everybody admired. The first major incident that scripture records of Johnathan makes his daring courage, and his well loved reputation very clear.
I’ m going to read you several parts of his story, so the you can get a feeling for what kind of a man he was and how far he would go for his friend. It begins like this:
(1 Samuel 14:1-45 NIV)  One day Jonathan son of Saul said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side.” But he did not tell his father. … No one was aware that Jonathan had left.  On each side of the pass that Jonathan intended to cross to reach the Philistine outpost was a cliff;… Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few. ”  “Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.”  Jonathan said, “Come on, then; we will cross over toward them and let them see us.  If they say to us, ‘Wait there until we come to you,’ we will stay where we are and not go up to them.  But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the Lord has given them into our hands. ”  So both of them showed themselves to the Philistine outpost. “Look!” said the Philistines. “The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in.”  The men of the outpost shouted to Jonathan and his armor-bearer, “Come up to us and we’ll teach you a lesson. ” So Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Climb up after me; the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.”  Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him.  In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.  Then panic struck the whole army—those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties—and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God.
 Saul’s lookouts at Gibeah in Benjamin saw the Philistine army melting away in all directions.  Then Saul said to the men who were with him, “Muster the forces and see who has left us.” When they did, it was Jonathan and his armor-bearer who were not there.  Then Saul and all his men assembled and went to the battle. They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords… So on that day the Lord saved Israel, and the battle moved on beyond Beth Aven.
Poor Saul has a way of messing up things and so it was this time too. The story continues:  Now the Israelites were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, “Cursed be anyone who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!” So none of the troops tasted food.  The entire army entered the woods, and there was honey on the ground.  When they went into the woods, they saw the honey oozing out; yet no one put his hand to his mouth, because they feared the oath.  But Jonathan had not heard that his father had bound the people with the oath, so he reached out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it into the honeycomb. He raised his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened.  Then one of the soldiers told him, “Your father bound the army under a strict oath, saying, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food today!’ That is why the men are faint.”  Jonathan said, “My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey.  How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?”
So far we have leaned that Johnathan was a brave and practical man and quite capable of standing up to his father’s foolish and sometimes deadly moods. The story goes on to tell how Saul soon finds out what Johnathan has done when God does not answer him. What follows is a strange conversation indeed.
 Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” So Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the end of my staff. And now I must die!”  Saul said, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan. ”  But the men said to Saul, “Should Jonathan die—he who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the LORD lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he did this today with God’s help.” So the men rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death.
Saul’s deadly moods of course extended to David, where it was made much worse by a fierce jealously that was fanned into flame by that song that Saul heard the women singing after one of their their victories against the Philistines: (1 Samuel 18:7-8 NIV)
 As they danced, they sang: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”  Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” Saul and David had a strange relationship indeed at this time – several times Saul hurled his spear at David yet at other times he appointed him a commander in the army and gave him important assignments. The fact that he carried them out very well only enraged Saul’s jealousy further. It got so bad that Saul told Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan was a true friend to David and warned him instead: (1 Samuel 19:2-7) “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out.”  Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly.  He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The Lord won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?”  Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death.”  So Jonathan called David and told him the whole conversation. He brought him to Saul, and David was with Saul as before.” Now that is the action of a true friend!
But alas the reconciliation would not last. Saul’s growing madness would not allow it. He tried to kill David twice more until David fled for his life and went to his friend Johnathan one last time and asked (1 Samuel 20:1-42 NIV)
 … “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to kill me?”  “Never!” Jonathan replied. “You are not going to die! Look, my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without letting me know. Why would he hide this from me? It isn’t so!”  But David took an oath and said, “Your father knows very well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he has said to himself, ‘Jonathan must not know this or he will be grieved.’ Yet as surely as the Lord lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death.”  Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.”  So David said, “Look, tomorrow is the New Moon feast, and I am supposed to dine with the king; but let me go and hide in the field until the evening of the day after tomorrow.  If your father misses me at all, tell him, ‘David earnestly asked my permission to hurry to Bethlehem, his hometown, because an annual sacrifice is being made there for his whole clan.’  If he says, ‘Very well,’ then your servant is safe. But if he loses his temper, you can be sure that he is determined to harm me. … Then Jonathan said to David, “I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, that I will surely sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow! If he is favorably disposed toward you, will I not send you word and let you know?  But if my father intends to harm you, may the Lord deal with Jonathan, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away in peace. May the Lord be with you as he has been with my father.  But show me unfailing kindness 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 earth.”  So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account. ”  And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.
Together they plan signal for Johnathan to tell David if he needs to flee for good. So it was when David did not show up for the dinner that –  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.
There are a couple of Proverbs that I want you to hear this morning as we discuss the wonderful friendship between Johnathan and David. (Proverbs 17:17) “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” And (Proverbs 18:24) “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Johnathan was a true friend. We know it because of what he was willing to do for him and the abuse and danger that he exposed himself to on David’s account. Only a true friend would do that. We know they were true friends because of the deep and completely honest conversations they shared and the promises they made to each other regardless of the consequences. Johnathan knew that David would be king one day instead of himself and yet he defended him at the risk of his life. David promised to protect and honor Johnathan’s family when he became king – even at the risk of protecting a potential usurper. Such things are the indicators of true friendship.
So a few closing thoughts now that we have looked closely at the relationship of David and Johnathan. What does it mean when Jesus calls his disciple his friends as you heard him do in today’s gospel reading? Surely it means even more than it did between David and Johnathan, because Jesus is more. To what extent was Jesus willing to go for his friends (which blessedly includes us by the way)? All the way to the cross – bearing the sins of all. In him we find not only friendly warnings and advice, but eternal life and eternal fellowship. Jesus has given us the words of life – no necessary secret is withheld from us. We are to have no secrets from Jesus either (nor is it possible by the way) We are invited to share our joys and our sorrows, our sins and our pain. In Jesus we find love and grace, because he is our truest friend. In return, it is our joyous privilege to live in fellowship with the Holy Spirit and the seek to love, serve and obey the one who is both our Savior and our Friend.