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The Service and Testimonies of Saul, David and Jonathan (3): Jonathan

C Cann, Glastonbury

Saul's failures were obvious but David, too, was less than perfect as shown in his relationship with Bathsheba and his liaison with the Philistines to escape from Saul. If both had pursued their own ways aggressively there would have been a disastrous conflict that would have destroyed, or at least weakened and diminished the kingdom making it easy prey for their many enemies. This did not happen because God in His mercy and wisdom provided an intermediary between them. The intermediary was Jonathan who remained until the day of his death a faithful son to Saul and loyal friend to David. He was never found lacking in either of these responsibilities. We read nothing derogatory of Jonathan other than that he expressed anger on one occasion over his father's attitude towards David (1 Sam 20.33-34). The testimony of Scripture is that of a faithful, conciliatory servant of the God of Israel.

Jonathan recognised that the throne occupied by his father would never be his but that did not alter his affection for David. John Baptist's statement about the Lord Jesus centuries later - "He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn 3.30) - was foreshadowed in this relationship.

The temptation to mediate by compromise (the way of the world) is always present in such situations, but Jonathan remained a man of integrity who honoured God and His word. David never had any occasion to doubt Jonathan's friendship: the covenant between them was never under threat. Nor did his father ever question Jonathan's loyalty: they fought side by side and died together on Mount Gilboa during the battle against the Philistines (1 Sam 31). To have marred his relationship with either Saul or David would have disqualified Jonathan from functioning as God's intermediary.

Some very important Scriptural principles are illustrated in the conduct of Jonathan. He recognised that service for God did not relieve him of obligation to the word of God. He also understood that God's way did not always equate with the convenience of his circumstances. These principles are constants and operate correspondingly in our day. Our limited view and perspective must always be subservient to God's knowledge and His eternal purpose.

1 Samuel 20.42 records Jonathan's penultimate meeting with David (their final meeting is recorded in 1 Samuel 23.16-18) when Jonathan confirmed Saul's unalterable hatred and determination to kill David. After this meeting Jonathan and David went their own ways. We read: "and he (David) arose and departed: and Jonathan went into the city". David went into exile but Jonathan returned to the palace and to his father. This reference causes some to have misgivings about Jonathan's complete allegiance to David. To have followed David into exile would have been the easier choice for Jonathan: his life would have been saved and he would have enjoyed high office in David's kingdom. He chose rather to obey the commandment of the Lord: "Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" (Ex 20.12) although the latter part of this was not to be his experience.

Again, to illustrate and emphasise these principles it is necessary to examine events outside the immediate context of 1 Samuel. In Acts 12.12,25 and 15.37-39 we read about John Mark, Barnabas, and the Apostle Paul. Barnabas was a key figure in events of the early church. He was a faithful man used by God and trusted by the apostles. It was Barnabas' recommendation that overcame the doubts of the church at Jerusalem about Paul's salvation (Acts 9.27-28). When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Gentiles had received the gospel, it was Barnabas who was sent to Antioch to verify that it was so (Acts 11.22). Barnabas was also the man who later sought out Paul and brought him to the church at Antioch (vv.25-26). In v.24 he is described as "a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith".

When Barnabas and Paul, named there by his Jewish name Saul (that is the order of Acts 13.2), were separated to the work the Lord had prepared for them (the first missionary journey) they took John Mark, nephew of Barnabas, with them but when they arrived at Perga, John Mark decided to return to Jerusalem (Acts 13.13). When preparing for the second missionary journey it was proposed that John Mark should again accompany them. There was sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas resulting in Barnabas taking John Mark and sailing to Cyprus and Paul setting out on his journey accompanied by Silas (Acts 15.37-40).

We note here the faithful witness of Scripture. It carefully records for our learning this perhaps surprising disagreement between Barnabas and Paul which gives rise to some important questions: "How was the matter resolved?" "What effect did it have upon other believers?" "Did the fact that John Mark was Barnabas' nephew influence the situation?" "Were there matters that motivated John Mark of which Paul was not aware?". We have the privilege of the perspective of time and also the availability of the completed canon of Scripture. From these we know, and perhaps at the time Paul did not know, that God was preparing John Mark for the important task of writing his Gospel which was to be addressed to the Romans who had been directly responsible for the physical crucifixion of Christ. Mark's Gospel presents Jesus as the faithful Servant of the Lord, a subject that must have been very much on John Mark's mind when he was excluded from accompanying Paul on the second missionary journey. We do not read of Barnabas again in the Scriptural record. This "good man…full of the Holy Ghost and of faith" was prepared to submit to what he knew to be God's purpose for John Mark even though it meant separating from Paul and taking a less prominent role. His gracious withdrawal and the passage of time enabled the matter to be resolved. Paul's words, written later to Timothy, show a change of attitude towards John Mark. He writes: "Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry" (2 Tim 4.11).

Such then are the indelible testimonies to the service for God of these three men whose lives were inseparably linked. In our day God still needs men and women to serve faithfully amongst His people and He still prepares, equips and encourages willing service. The examples we have considered reveal pathways that remain open.

The example of Saul, who placed his own status and ideas above the way of the Lord, still presents a way that leads to disaster. It causes division and unrest amongst God's people and is an approach we do well to shun. The words of Proverbs 14.12 and 16.25 put this pathway in its correct perspective: "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death".

Rather should the servant of the Lord endeavour to follow the example and pathway taken by David. He behaved himself wisely and honoured the word of the Lord. He was not without failings, but Scripture records God's gracious recommendation and blessing upon Him: "a man after his (God's) own heart" (1 Sam 13.14); "the throne of David shall be established before the Lord for ever" (1 Kings 2.45).

But could it be in our day when the things of the Lord and His Word are being challenged as never before, that our attention should be particularly upon the example of Jonathan? How necessary are wise, gracious intermediaries amongst the people of God, "speaking the truth in love…(making) increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Eph 4.15-16). Above and beyond all our service for God is the example of Christ. He is ever the Captain and Leader of His people. Compared with Him we are, at best, unworthy servants (Lk 17.10). May it be our greatest endeavour to serve God's people as faithful mediators of the things of God.



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