Three Arrows at Sunrise
I Samuel 18-23
September 10, 2000
Several years ago a man named David Smith wrote a book that became very popular. The title tells you everything you need to know. He called it The Friendless American Male. The thesis of the book is that most American men don’t have very many friends. And a lot of men don’t have any friends at all.
So how many friends do you have this morning? And I’m not talking about casual acquaintances. I’m talking about good friends, close friends, intimate friends. Most of us don’t have very many. Almost a year ago, I sat in the living room of a couple that no longer attend this church, and the wife said to me, “I come to church and feel lonely. If only I had one friend I could talk to.” She smiled ruefully and said, “I know how to be a good friend. I really do.”
The writer of Proverbs said it this way: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (17:17). “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (18:24). Have you ever had a friend who stuck closer than a brother? I have had two or maybe three in my lifetime. Such a friendship is a rare gift from God. It is pure grace—not earned or deserved.
In the famous children’s book Charlotte’s Web, there’s a wonderful passage that illustrates what friendship is all about. It comes at the end of the book after Charlotte weaved her messages to protect Wilbur the pig. You remember the story. She first wrote “Some Pig” in the web, then “Terrific,” then “Humble,” and then “Radiant.” As a result, Wilbur’s life was saved. Now Charlotte has almost come to the end of her own life. Wilbur asks her, “Why did you do all this for me? I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”
“You have been my friend,” Charlotte replies. “That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life could use a little of that.”
“Well,” said Wilbur. “I’m no good at making speeches. I haven’t got your gift for words. But you have saved me, Charlotte, and I would gladly give my life for you—I really would.”
This is a sermon about friendship. The text is from the book of Proverbs-“A friend loves at all times” and “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” And the biblical illustration is the story of the most famous friendship in all the Bible-the story of David and Jonathan. That story is found in the book of I Samuel. We get four glimpses of the relationship between David and Jonathan. Each one teaches us something about the qualities of biblical friendship. For everyone here who has known the pain of loneliness, for everyone who has wished for just one person with whom you could just be yourself, for everyone who would like a friend who sticks closer than a brother, this sermon is for you.
I. Commitment I Samuel 18:1-4
The first glimpse we get of David and Jonathan comes in I Samuel 18:1-4. It is only moments after David has killed Goliath. He takes the giant’s severed head in to show King Saul. Wild celebration fills the streets. David is the man of the hour, the year, the decade, the century. No one has ever done what David has done.
And we read that “after David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and loved him as himself” (v.1). It will help to know a couple of facts behind that statement. First, Jonathan is the son of King Saul which means he is next in line for the throne of Israel. Second, Jonathan is himself a brave warrior. He had proved it in the Battle of Michmash some months earlier when he led the fight against the Philistines. In fact, killing Philistines was his favorite outdoor sport. Third, Jonathan had witnessed the mighty victory David won over Goliath. No doubt that explains why this friendship was born. Jonathan saw in David a kindred spirit. David was a warrior just like him. David was a patriot just like him. David was a man of faith just like him.
But there’s more to it than that. Our text says, “Jonathan became one in spirit with David.” That’s really not a very good translation. It happens that the King James Version is more accurate when it says, “the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David.” One soul knit with another. It’s a word which means to bind together with ropes. You might even say, the soul of Jonathan was knotted to the soul of David. Joined inseparably. When you knit two pieces of thread together, the two are joined into something bigger and better than they were before. So it was with David and Jonathan.
The Bible adds an interesting fact when it says that Jonathan loved David as himself. It never says the reverse. In fact, all the way through it seems like the initiative always come from Jonathan. It wasn’t a completely equal relationship. There’s no such thing-not on earth anyway. I don’t think David ever knew the depth of friendship for Jonathan that Jonathan knew for David. They loved each other but Jonathan loved David even more.
That’s a fact we all have to face. In almost every relationship one person will put more in than the other will. I think God knew that David needed a friend. And he gave David the friend he needed. All the way through the burden is on Jonathan and every time he comes through because “a friend loves at all times” and “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
Does that seem unfair? If it does, maybe it’s because we tend to evaluate our friendships on the basis of whether they meet our needs and not on the basis of whether they meet the needs of someone else. As long as I focus on myself, I’m not ever going to have many close friends.
Notice verse 4: “Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.” His robe was the robe the Crown Prince wore. It symbolized that he was next in line for the throne. By giving it to David, he was saying, “I know that you will someday be king, and not me.”
For so many of us, our friendships are only veiled competitions. Our envy keeps us from ever getting too close. We feel like we have to keep score. Jonathan loved David as himself and he said, in effect, I’m going to be your friend and I’m going to throw away the scorecard. I’m fully committed to seeing God’s best in your life even if it means I take the second spot.
Where does biblical friendship begin? It begins with commitment. That commitment has two parts: First, it is a commitment made on the basis of a shared faith in God. The covenant of friendship meant something because it was made in the presence of God. Second, it is a commitment to see God’s plan come about no matter what it costs me personally. Jonathan said, “David, someday you’re going to be king and that means I will never be king. You’re going to be the top man and get all the glory and that’s all right by me.”
For so many of us, our friendships are only veiled competitions. Our envy keeps us from ever getting too close. We feel like we have to keep score. Jonathan loved David as himself and he said, in effect, I’m going to be your friend and I’m going to throw away the scorecard.
II. Protection I Samuel 19:1-7
That’s the first glimpse of this great friendship. The next is in I Samuel 19:1-7. It reveals to us the quality of protection. But between these two texts is the account of Saul’s exploding jealousy. You remember the little ditty the women started singing, “Saul has slain his thousands but David his tens of thousands.” Inside the fevered brain of Saul, envy spreads like cancer. It makes him paranoid and turns him into a killer. Six times he tries to kill David.
That puts Jonathan in a difficult position. “Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan was very fond of David and warned him, ‘My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out’” (19:1-3).
The text goes on to tell how Jonathan spoke up to his father Saul in David’s defense and pointed out that David had done nothing wrong and had in fact saved Israel by killing Goliath. He also told his father that if he killed David, innocent blood would be on his hands.
It was a gutsy, courageous thing to do. He didn’t have to do it. He did it because he wanted to.
What does it mean to protect your friends? Two things, primarily. Number one, it means you aren’t ashamed to stand by them when things get rough. We all have our share of fair-weather friends whose major talent is disappearing when the hard times come. But “a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Number two, it means you go out of your way to get your friends out of the jam they’re in. If that means covering for them, you cover for them. If that means speaking up for them, then that’s what you do. That’s what Jonathan did for David.
III. Risk I Samuel 20
The third glimpse comes in chapter 20. It’s the quality of risk. It’s simply a step beyond protection. It means going out on a limb so far that if you don’t rescue your friend, you are both going to fall together. This is what love is all about.
David now is convinced that Saul will never change his mind. Within hours he must leave Saul’s court forever. He is about to become Public Enemy Number One. But before he leaves, Jonathan wants to try one more time to patch things up with Saul. So they cook up an ingenious plan. It has to do with setting up a test to see how Saul will react to David’s absence from a New Moon Festival.
This is all for Jonathan’s sake. David knows how Saul is going to react but he has to convince Jonathan. Here’s how the plan would work. While Jonathan was at the New Moon Festival with his father, David would go out into a field and hide near a pile of stones called Ezel. Then Jonathan would come out with a young lad and shoot three arrows near the pile of stones. When the boy went to pick up the arrows, Jonathan would either say, “The arrows are near you,” that would mean David was safe. If he said, “The arrows are beyond you,” that would mean David was in danger and must run for his life.
When Jonathan went in to see his father, things blew up in his face. Look at verse 30: “Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, ‘You son of a perverse and rebellious woman [we have a modern swear word very similar to this]. Don’t I know you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and the shame of the mother who bore you?’” He said to his son, “You make me sick. I wish you had never been born.” Verse 33 says, “But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.”
Early the next morning, just after sunrise, Jonathan went out and shot the three arrows, sent the lad out by the pile of stones and cried out, “Isn’t the arrow beyond you?” And then he added, “Hurry! Go quickly! Don’t stop!” It was a sign David was in desperate danger.
The boy went back into town. David was supposed to leave but he couldn’t leave his Jonathan like that. The Bible says that David bowed down before Jonathan three times with his face to the ground. Then it says something that embarrasses most men. It says, “They kissed each other and wept together” (v. 41). The Bible adds that David wept the most. Why? Because he recognized what Jonathan had done for him. He had risked his life to save him. And he had done it gladly, without complaint, because that’s what friends do for each other.
And what does the Bible say? “Greater love has not man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That’s what Jonathan did for David. That’s what Jesus did for us. That’s what we are called to do for each other.
IV. Encouragement I Samuel 23:15-18
There is a fourth and final glimpse of David and Jonathan. It’s found in I Samuel 23:16-18. It is the quality of encouragement. Some time has passed now. Months, perhaps years. David is long gone from Saul’s court. Now he is nothing more than a bandit, a fugitive, a man on the run, a hunted animal.
He has come to one of the most desolate places in all of Israel. It is the Wilderness of Ziph. We would call it the Negev Desert. David wanders from place to place, running, hiding, always looking over his shoulder. He is tired…and scared…and frustrated. Saul and his men are closing in for the final kill. In fact, the Bible says that Saul sent all his forces to capture David and kill him.
No one can really understand this who hasn’t been in trouble for a long period of time. David has been down so long he has to look up to see bottom. Where is God now? The victory over Goliath is just a dim memory. Where is the Lord when I need him? Has he gone to sleep? Doesn’t he know what I’m going through? If you want to know what David is thinking, read Psalm 54. He wrote it in the Wilderness of Ziph.
And just at the moment of crisis, Jonathan shows up. How he got wind of David’s whereabouts, we don’t know. How he slipped past Saul’s army, we don’t know. Somehow, Jonathan shows up just when David needs him the most. One of the marks of a true friend is that he is there when there is every reason for him not to be. “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God” (23:16). Literally, “he strengthened his hand in God.”
That is the final quality of biblical friendship. It is the finest thing one friend can do for another. To help you friend find strength in God. That goes beyond commitment, beyond protection, beyond risk. To encourage someone is to put courage back into someone. To strengthen the hands that are weak, to lift up the arms that have dropped, to pick up the runner and put him back in the race.
See how Jonathan does it. He says four things to David. First, my father Saul will not lay a hand on you. Second, you will someday be king of Israel. Third, I will serve by your side. Fourth, even my father knows this is true (v. 17). What a man. What faith in God. Jonathan has risked his life to make his way to David and say to this fugitive, this bandit, “My friend, you are going to make it. God has promised and someday you’re going to be king and I will serve by your side.”
That was the last time David ever saw Jonathan alive. They never met again. Jonathan would later die by his father’s side fighting the Philistines on Mount Gilboa. When David heard the news of Jonathan’s death, he said of his friend, “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.” Then he cried out, “O, how the mighty have fallen” (II Samuel 1:26-27).
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There are four qualities we’ve talked about: Commitment, Protection, Risk, Encouragement. Those words describe this friendship, but they don’t explain it. You have to go deeper if you want to understand. Back in chapter 20, verse 23 is the answer. Jonathan is talking to David and he says, “Remember, the Lord is witness between you and me forever.” Literally, it reads, “Remember, the Lord is between you and me forever.” When the Lord is between two people, their friendship can grow and develop and last forever. When the Lord is between two people, their friendship can survive separation, misunderstanding, and hard times.
A godly friendship is a friendship built on God. It rests on him and he is between the friends holding them together. When Joshua was much younger and had just learned to talk, we used to play a little game together. We made up a little phrase, I don’t know where we got it-“You and me buddy, friends forever.” He would crawl up in my lap and I would say, “You and me, buddy.” And he would answer, “Friends forever.” When the Lord is between two people, they can be friends forever.
About a month ago, we had the farewell service for Andy and Alice McQuitty. As part of it, we played a song that has come to be very close to my heart. It sums up-butter than I could-everything I’ve tried to say this morning. The song is by Michael W. Smith. It’s called Friends are Friends Forever. Listen to the words of the chorus:
Friends are friends forever,
When the Lord is the Lord of them.
And a friend will not say never
For the welcome will not end.
Though it’s hard to let you go,
In the Father’s hands we know,
That a lifetime is not too long
To live as friends.
Deepen us, Lord, for we live too much in the shallows of casual relationships. We take each other for granted and pass by without really looking. We listen without really hearing. Help us to be like Jesus who laid down his life for his friends. We pray in his name, Amen.