In the morning Jonathan went out into the field to the appointment with David, and with him a little boy. And he said to his boy, “Run and find the arrows that I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. And when the boy came to the place of the arrow that Jonathan had shot, Jonathan called after the boy and said, “Is not the arrow beyond you?” And Jonathan called after the boy, “Hurry! Be quick! Do not stay!” So Jonathan’s boy gathered up the arrows and came to his master. But the boy knew nothing. Only Jonathan and David knew the matter. And Jonathan gave his weapons to his boy and said to him, “Go and carry them to the city.” And as soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground and bowed three times. And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most. Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.’” And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city. – 1 Samuel 20:35-42 ESV
David had experienced incredible life change over a very short period of time. He had gone from shepherding his family’s flocks to serving as the king’s armor bearer. He had been anointed by the prophet of God. He had slain Goliath. He had become a great military leader and champion against the Philistines. The people loved him. They even composed songs about him. But at the same time, David had gone through his incredibly confusing, totally inexplicable on-again, off-again relationship with Saul. One day the king loved him. The next, the king was trying to pin him against the wall with a spear. Saul had even tried to use David’s wife (Saul’s daughter) and best friend (Saul’s son) against him. He had sent troops to hunt David down and kill him. And in the process, David suffered great loss. He had lost his position on the king’s staff. He had lost his prominence as one of the king’s warriors. He had lost his wife, as he was forced to flee for his life. And now he was going to lose best friend, as he received the news from Jonathan that all was not well. He was not going to be able to return to the court, because Saul wanted him dead.
What is so important for us to remember in all of this is that David had been anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel. It is still unclear from the text whether David knew or fully understood what his anointing by Samuel had meant. At no point in the story so far, have we seen any sign that David recognized Saul’s evil intentions against him as the result of Saul’s jealousy over David’s anointing. In fact, David asked Jonathan, “What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” (1 Samuel 20:1 ESV). He seemed genuinely at a loss as to why Saul wanted him dead. And David shows no sign of understanding why Jonathan, the son of the king and natural heir to the throne, might have a problem with his anointing to be the next king. It would seem, at least at this point in the story, that David is oblivious to God’s future plans for his life. All he could see was loss. Whatever Samuel’s anointing had meant, it had left David suffering great loss. He was now going to be a man on the run, a fugitive. He was losing his family, wife, job, best friend, dignity, and any hope of living a normal life. When he and Jonathan parted ways, it says, “they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most” (1 Samuel 20:41 ESV). This was a sad day. And the chapter ends on a very sad note, with the words, “And he rose and departed.”
Whether he fully understood it or not, David was the next king of Israel. He had been hand-chosen by God. “The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people” (1 Samuel 13:14 ESV). David was to the God-ordained replacement for King Saul. And with God’s help and the Holy Spirit’s anointing, David would become the greatest king is Israel’s history. But long before David gained access to the throne of Israel, he would know what it was like to suffer great loss. It was as if God was knocking all the props on which David leaned out from under him. He had been a good and faithful shepherd, but God had removed him from the pasture and placed him in the palace. He had been the king’s armor bearer, but God promoted him to giant-slayer. He had been a mighty warrior, defeating the enemies of Israel, but now he be fighting for his life. David had been a happily married man, but had been forced to leave his wife behind in order to stay alive. He had enjoyed a deep and lasting friendship with Jonathan, but the two of them had to part ways, never expecting to see one another again. Everything David had in his life that brought him any fulfillment, joy, support, love, dignity, recognition, accomplishment or sense of self-worth, was being removed. He would give up the comfort of the palace for the dark and dank confines of a cave. He would learn what it was like to go hungry and without sleep. He would struggle with self-doubt, fear, loneliness, despair, and a growing sense of his own weakness.
But God was in it all. I am reminded of the words of Jesus, spoken to His disciples.
“I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” – Matthew 19:28-30 NLT
Like David, the disciples had been called by God. And that calling would prove costly for all of them. Jesus had warned them:
“Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” – Matthew 10:16-20 NLT
Most of them would die as martyrs. All of them would suffer loss and know what it was like to be hated, despised, abused and rejected by men. But God had great plans for their lives. He would use each of them to accomplish His will and, as Jesus promised them, they would do greater works than He had done while on earth.
“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” – John 14:12-14 NLT
David was going to learn that the great gain God had in store for him was going to require great loss. God was in the process of making David God-dependent, not self-sufficient. He was teaching David the invaluable lesson of reliance upon Him. All of us have crutches in life, upon which we learn to lean and with which we grow comfortably incapacitated. But God would have us lean on Him. He would have us find our hope, help, strength, worth, fulfillment, and purpose for life in Him. David was a gifted young man, but God was out to make him a godly king. David had in Jonathan a true friend, but he would learn what it meant to have God as his companion. David had risked his life killing 200 Philistines in order to gain the right to marry Michal. But soon, David would discover what it was like to love and be loved by God – a relationship unlike any other in life.
In all of this, David was going to learn the truth behind the words of Jesus, spoken centuries later: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24 NLT). True allegiance to God requires complete dependence upon God. Experiencing the full power of God demands that we lose our reliance upon any source of support other than God. David was going to be forced to give up a lot, but what he would gain in return would be well worth it.
I love you, Lord; you are my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. – Psalm 18:1-2 NLT