Go thy way: Jonathan’s warning to David

by Jonathan S Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Introduction


Jonathan, the son of Saul and crown prince of Israel, knew he would never be king. That didn’t stop him from being a true friend to God’s choice, namely, David. The book of 1 Samuel has several episodes, we could say, where Jonathan took David’s side and even protected him. This is the setting for this study in the series for the phrase, “go thy way”.

The text is from 1 Samuel, chapter 20, verses 17 through 23, from the King James version:

17 And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul. 18 Then Jonathan said to David, To morrow is the new moon: and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty. 19 And when thou hast stayed three days, then thou shalt go down quickly, and come to the place where thou didst hide thyself when the business was in hand, and shalt remain by the stone Ezel. 20 And I will shoot three arrows on the side thereof, as though I shot at a mark. 21 And, behold, I will send a lad, saying, Go, find out the arrows. If I expressly say unto the lad, Behold, the arrows are on this side of thee, take them; then come thou: for there is peace to thee, and no hurt; as the LORD liveth. 22 But if I say thus unto the young man, Behold, the arrows are beyond thee; go thy way: for the LORD hath sent thee away. 23 And as touching the matter which thou and I have spoken of, behold, the LORD be between thee and me for ever.

David faced a dilemma

David had the privilege and uncomfortable position of being a member of Saul’s staff. He had served, apparently for some time, as Saul’s armor-bearer (1 Sam 16:21); a musician (to help Saul when an evil spirit would afflict him, 1 Sam 16:23), and, perhaps, commander in chief of the army (1 Sam 18:15). He had already married Michal, Saul’s daughter, so he was Saul’s son-in-law (1 Sam 18:27). Even so, Saul was jealous of David and tried to kill him at least twice!

So, David has been living on the run for some time. This gives us his dilemma, namely, he didn’t know what should he do. Should he stay where he was and risk being put to death by Saul, or leave and risk being, you guessed it, put to death by Saul? Remember that in chapter 19, David had to leave his wife because Saul’s men were after him, and even when David went to Naioth, Saul himself came down after him!

It’s in this context where chapter 20 begins. Verse 1 of 1 Samuel 20 has David’s question to Jonathan, basically, was “why is your father trying to kill me?” Jonathan gave all the assurance he could (see verses 2, 9, and 12-15 for these words of assurance) and, as we will see, lived up to the promises he made to David.

Jonathan acted on David’s behalf

Jonathan and David agreed to a plan of action, when Jonathan would find out for certain what Saul planned to do. Then, Jonathan would send word to David by a most careful means. Jonathan would shoot three arrows, just like aiming at a target, and would give verbal instructions to the youth (lad, in the text) as to what to do next. The lad would probably not make any kind of guess or suspicion; probably, he was just doing what he had been told to do.

Jonathan also gave David a clear message, namely, the words to the lad would also be a message to David. If Jonathan told the boy that the arrows were beyond him, that would mean trouble and David would need to leave, or, as in the text, “go thy way”.

We can only imagine the thoughts and emotions going through each man here. In David’s case, even though he was Jonathan’s brother-in-law, and his best friend ever, I’m sure he had issues of trust. Understandably, David knew well what Saul had done and was capable of doing and David was going to be the king at some day—even though Saul was already king at the time! We can read about some of David’s concerns as recorded earlier in the chapter.

Jonathan wasn’t going to have an easy time of it, either. He not only had to honor his father, Saul, but had also promised to find out what Saul was going to do. At the very least, he wanted to intercede on David’s behalf, because David had never done anything less than honorable all the days he had served Saul.

The final outcome

Saul made it very clear what he intended to do. Take a look at the following verses:

1Sa 20:24-34 KJV] 24 So David hid himself in the field: and when the new moon was come, the king sat him down to eat meat. 25 And the king sat upon his seat, as at other times, even upon a seat by the wall: and Jonathan arose, and Abner sat by Saul's side, and David's place was empty. 26 Nevertheless Saul spake not any thing that day: for he thought, Something hath befallen him, he is not clean; surely he is not clean. 27 And it came to pass on the morrow, which was the second day of the month, that David's place was empty: and Saul said unto Jonathan his son, Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse to meat, neither yesterday, nor to day? 28 And Jonathan answered Saul, David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem: 29 And he said, Let me go, I pray thee; for our family hath a sacrifice in the city; and my brother, he hath commanded me to be there: and now, if I have found favour in thine eyes, let me get away, I pray thee, and see my brethren. Therefore he cometh not unto the king's table. 30 Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness? 31 For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the ground, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him unto me, for he shall surely die. 32 And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said unto him, Wherefore shall he be slain? what hath he done? 33 And Saul cast a javelin at him to smite him: whereby Jonathan knew that it was determined of his father to slay David. 34 So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did eat no meat the second day of the month: for he was grieved for David, because his father had done him shame.

Saul noticed that David wasn’t in place for the feast of the new moon, not even for the second day. After this, Saul demanded to know where David was and then ordered Jonathan to have David brought in for execution! It doesn’t get much clearer than this, when anyone hears directly what the king plans to do.

Jonathan, true to his promise, shot the arrows, warned David, and gave him one of the most endearing farewells ever recorded in Scripture. Even sadder, this may have been the last time Jonathan and David ever saw each other on this earth. David ran for his life, even seeking refuge among the Philistines—Israel’s sworn enemies!—in order to get away from Saul. These events, of course, happened later in the book of 1 Samuel.

Conclusion

David was convinced that Saul was out to kill him, and, as it turned out, David was right. He had reason to fear Saul, humanly speaking, and yet he trusted in God. We too can trust in the Lord no matter where we are, and no matter what problems we face.

And yet, David didn’t stay and risk execution. Jonathan told him, after he found out Saul’s intentions, to “go thy way” or “Get out of town!” to avoid the risk of capture. Perhaps there is a lesson for us, as well. The Lord may tell us to stay in a given place; or, He may give us a clear warning to get away from the problem or trouble facing us. If we’re in a burning building, and there is a way to get out, we probably won’t please the Lord if we pray for deliverance but die in the fire! David saw what was happening, took Jonathan’s advice, and lived to become king of Israel in God’s timing.

What will you and I do when we are told to “go thy way”? We must pray, trust, and take the appropriate action as directed by the Lord. Our situations are unique, but the Lord will guide us into the best choice if we listen to Him, as David did.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible.

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