I Samuel 20:1-34
A RELATIONSHIP THICKER THAN BLOOD
Scriptures: I Samuel 20:1-16, Mark 3:31-35
There is more to this story than a conflict between
Jonathan's love for his father and Jonathan's love for his friend. The deeper conflict is between the future that Jonathan's father wants for him and the future that God has in mind.
Two chapters earlier in I Samuel 18:3-4 the Bible says,
Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.
This is not just an act of friendship: this is an act of
abdication. Jonathan is the son of King Saul, the reigning king of Israel, which means that Jonathan is the rightful heir to the throne. But when Jonathan hands over his robe to David, he is handing over his claim to the throne. He literally hands over his sword to David.
This is what infuriates Jonathan's father Saul. Later in I
Samuel 20:30-31, Saul explodes at his son Jonathan and says,
You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! [When your child is not turning out the way you want, blame the other parent.] Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse [David is the son of Jesse] to your own shame . For as long as the son of Jesse lives upon the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established.
Saul considers David a threat not only to his own kingship
but to his dreams for his son. Saul wants Jonathan to inherit the throne after him and sees David as a threat to that.
But Jonathan believes that the future of God's kingdom lies
with David. In verses 14-15, he says to David, "If I am still alive, show me the faithful love of the Lord; but if I die, never cut off your faithful love from my house." Jonathan knows that his own future and the future of his children will be secured not by getting rid of David but by serving him.
This is a story of family dynamics colliding with the
promises of God. On Saul's side there is a destructive obsession with control. Later in chapter 20 when Saul cannot convince Jonathan to abandon his allegiance to David, Saul throws a spear at him. When he cannot control his son, he tries to kill him rather than letting him serve David.
For Jonathan's part, his closeness to his father has blinded him to
what his father is doing. When David says to Jonathan, "Why is your father trying to kill me?" Jonathan says in effect, "Don't be ridiculous. My father is not trying to kill you. If my father were trying to kill you, I would know about it."
The fact is that Saul has tried to kill David nine times in the two
previous chapters. Nine times in two chapters-you can count them. But because Jonathan is so close to his father, he does not see what is going on. He is blind to what his father is doing.
Which brings me to the first scripture that we heard from Mark 3.
Jesus says, "Who are my mother and brothers? Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." What does Jesus mean here? Is Jesus forcing us to choose between our family and him? Like Jonathan, must we choose between trusting in our family and trusting in the promises of God?
Well, sometimes yes. Don't get me wrong. God wants us to love and
care for our families. Jonathan never quits loving and trying to help his father. Nor did Jesus ever quit loving and caring for his mother, as he demonstrated on the cross when he commissioned John, the beloved disciple, to care for his mother after he was gone. God never commands us to quit loving our family. But we have to love God more. We have to love God first, otherwise our love for our family can become blind, like it did for Jonathan, or destructive like it did for Saul.
There is a great example of this in C. S. Lewis' book The Great
Divorce. I have mentioned this book before. A bus load of tourists from hell are allowed to visit heaven and stay if they want to. The tourists from hell are referred to as ghosts because they are insubstantial compared to the people from heaven; they are shallow. One of the ghosts on the bus is a woman who takes the trip to heaven because she wants to find her son Michael who died previously. When she arrives she says to her tour guide, "When am I going to be allowed to see my son?" The tour guide says, "There's no question of being allowed. As soon as it's possible for him to see you, of course he will. You need to be thickened up a bit."
"How?" said the Ghost. "I'm afraid the first step is a hard one," [says the tour guide].
"You will become solid enough for Michael to perceive you when you learn to want someone else besides Michael. I don't say 'more than Michael,' not as a beginning. That will come later. It's only the little germ of a desire for God that we need to start the process."
"Oh, you mean religion and all that sort of thing?" [says the Ghost].
"Well, never mind. I'll do whatever's necessary. What do you want me to do? Come on. The sooner I begin it, the sooner they'll let me see my boy. I'm quite ready."
[The tour guide says,] "But don't you see you are not beginning at all
as long as you are in that state of mind? You're treating God only as a means to Michael. But the whole thickening treatment consists in learning to want God for His own sake."
"This is all nonsense," [says the Ghost], "cruel and wicked nonsense.
What right have you to say things like that about Mother-love? It is the highest and holiest feeling in human nature."
[The tour guide says,] "No natural feelings are high or low, holy or
unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God's hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods."
"My love for Michael would never have gone bad. Not if we'd lived
together for millions of years."
"You are mistaken," [says the tour guide]. "Haven't you met-down
there-mothers who have their sons with them in Hell? Does their love make them happy?"
"Give me my boy," [screams the Ghost]. "I don't care about all your
rules and regulations. I don't believe in a God who keeps mother and son apart. I believe in a God of Love. No one has a right to come between me and my son. Not even God. Tell him that to His face. I want my boy, and I mean to have him. He is mine, do you understand? Mine, mine, mine" (pp. 91-95).
You get the feeling she would gladly take her son with her back to
hell rather than let him go on living in heaven. She is like King Saul, who would rather destroy his son than allow his son to believe the promises of God.
That's what happens when family-even something as good and holy as
family-becomes more important than God. When our family relationships become more important than our relationship to God, they become toxic. We become blind to what is going on, like Jonathan did, or we become obsessive about controlling one another, as Saul did.
God wants us to love our families. Jonathan understood that as well
as anyone. But it works only when we love God first. The only way for Jonathan to secure a future for his children was to trust God's promises to David. And the only way for us to see God's promises fulfilled for our children or grandchildren is to seek first God's kingdom and righteousness. Then all our other relationships will find their proper place.