1 Samuel 23:16-18
And Jonathan Saul's son arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God.…
I. THE DISCOURAGEMENT OF DAVID. The citizens of Keilah, after he had with his good sword delivered them from the Philistine marauders, were so ungrateful, perhaps so much afraid of sharing the fate of the city of Nob at the hand of Saul, that they were ready to betray the son of Jesse and surrender him to the king. From this danger he no sooner escaped than the people of Ziph - though he did not compromise them by entering their town, but eneamped in a wood - were not only willing, but eager, to reveal his hiding place. And the pursuit was hot. "Saul sought him every day." To add to the danger, David had with him 600 armed men - too many to be easily concealed, but too few to encounter the force which Saul led against him, and which was numbered by thousands. It was therefore a critical time for David; and his poetic, sensitive nature felt the ingratitude and injustice more keenly than he dreaded the actual peril, so that he began to be quite chagrined and disheartened. The Apostle Paul had a similar tendency to depression. He felt ingratitude and calumny most acute]y, and was more cast down by these than by any of the physical sufferings and mortal risks that befell him. But Paul was like David too in his quick susceptibility to words of kindness, and in drawing strength from fellowship with congenial minds.
II. THE FRIEND IN TIME OF NEED. St. Paul tells, "When we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears. Nevertheless God, who comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus." In like manner did God comfort David amidst fightings and fears by the coming of Jonathan. This noble-minded prince cheered the fugitive in the forest of Ziph -
1. By showing to him a generous human affection. This was love indeed, which clave to David in exile as closely as ever it had done when he was in the sunshine of public favour, and which was willing to run great risks for the delight of clasping hand in hand and talking face to face. Here was genuine friendship, which is perhaps more rare than love. Cynics point out that the celebrated friendships, as of David and Jonathan in the Bible, and Damon and Pythias the Pythagoreans in Greek story, belong to "the heroic and simple period of the world;" and they allege that these cannot be reproduced in the sophisticated society of modern times. There is something in this, though it is not absolutely true. The tone of "In Memoriam" may be too intense for most of us, but it is not incomprehensible. That is a rare and lofty friendship which prefers another in honour above ourselves. From the early days of David's promotion Jonathan augured his advancement to the throne, and took generous delight in the prospect. He still retained and openly expressed the same feeling. David would be king, and he, his friend and brother, would share his joy and stand at his right hand. It was not to be so. But we see David, when established on the throne, looking, if we may so speak, for Jonathan. "And David said, Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?" (2 Samuel 9:1).
2. By lifting his thoughts to God. It was not possible or proper for Jonathan to levy troops and lead them to the help of his friend against the king his father. But he did what he could, and did the best thing possible in such a case, when he animated the faith, and hope of David in the promise and providence of God. He referred to the Divine purpose as no secret, but revealed, and known to Saul himself, though he struggled against it. The counsel of the Lord must stand. How could David doubt it? But David did sometimes doubt and fear, and he is not alone in the weakness. Sarah had the promise of God that her son should be Abraham's heir and successor, and yet she was uneasy lest he should be dispossessed or hurt by the son of Hagar. Jacob at Bethel got a promise that he and his posterity would possess the lung on which he lay, yet when he returned to it he was quite alarmed lest Esau should destroy his family and himself. And so also many persons who have eternal life in the gospel and in the sure provision of grace by Christ Jesus grow faint and raise foreboding questions: What if God forget me? What if I perish after all? The best thing that a friend can do for such a doubter is to show him that God cannot lie and cannot be defeated. For his name's sake he will do as he has said. So one may strengthen the weak hands of another in God.
III. THOUGHTS SUGGESTED BY THE MEETING IN THE WOOD.
1. The value of an early friendship in the fear of God. It is in youth that the strongest friendships are formed, and permit interchanges of criticism and correction that are not so palatable when years have increased our reserve, and perhaps our obstinacy. This is especially true of the moral and religious aspect and use of friendship. Old men, even when they are on terms of cordial personal regard, do not easily exchange spiritual confidences. But young friends can do so; and never do they put the bond between them to better use than when they warn each other of moral risks and snares, and encourage one another to trust in God.
2. The great part which secondary personages in history may play. David takes a primary or front place in sacred story; but he was much indebted to the kindly help of others who take a less conspicuous rank - e.g., Jonathan encouraging him in the wood, and Abigail turning him back from hasty bloodshedding. Again we pass on in thought to the Apostle Paul, who fills a very high place in the Christian annals, but was much helped by men and women in quite a secondary position. Himself tells us so, joyfully acknowledging his obligation to such as Aquila and Priscilla, Mary, Urbane, Timothy, Epaphroditus, John Mark, Luke, and Aristarchus. These Christians did direct work for the Lord; but perhaps did their best piece of service when they helped Paul, and encouraged his hand in God. So is it at all times with the greatest men in both Church and State. They owe much to others who are far less known than themselves, if known at all. A sympathetic wife, a faithful friend, a humble helper, quite incapable of taking the conspicuous position or doing the public work, supplies a strengthening, restoring element in hours of discouragement or weariness, and so does much to preserve a notable career from failure. In fact every great man draws up into his thought and work the cogitations of many minds, the desire of many hearts, the faith or fortitude of many spirits; and the efforts and sympathies of many combine in the results which are associated with his name.
3. The uncertainty that friends who part will meet again on earth. "They two made a covenant before the Lord," and parted, little knowing that each was taking the last look of his friend. Their thoughts were of days to come, when they should not need to meet by stealth. They would be always together by and by - take counsel together fight side by side against the enemies of Israel, do exploits for their nation, and reestablish the worship of Jehovah and the honour of his sanctuary. The elevation of one would be the elevation of both; and the spirit of jealousy which now darkened the court and the kingdom would give place to generous confidence and love. So they proposed; but God disposed otherwise. Jonathan never saw David again. Death broke their "fair companionship," and the elevation of David was bedewed with tender sorrow for his friend, "the comrade of his choice, the human-hearted man he loved." There is one Friend, only one, from whom we cannot be severed. Oh, what a Friend we have in Jesus! especially helpful to us in cloudy days and seasons of distress. He comes to us when we are in the wood, perplexed, embarrassed, cast down. Let us tell all our straits and misgivings to him. This Friend will never die. And not even our death can break the friendship or separate us from the love of Christ. - F.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Jonathan Saul's son arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God.