You and Your Kingdom
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Bible Passage: 1 Samuel 20
This is one of the longest chapters in the book, and long in the Bible means important so let’s get in there. 1 Samuel 20.
1 Then David fled from Naioth in Ramah and came and said before Jonathan, “What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” 2 And he said to him, “Far from it! You shall not die. Behold, my father does nothing either great or small without disclosing it to me. And why should my father hide this from me? It is not so.”
3 But David vowed again, saying, “Your father knows well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he thinks, ‘Do not let Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved.’ But truly, as the Lord lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death.” 4 Then Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you say, I will do for you.”
David knows that Saul is trying to kill him, but Jonathan doesn’t realize it yet. So, David comes up with a plan to convince Jonathan. There’s a feast about to happen and David will be expected to attend. David is going to skip the feast, claiming that he has to attend a sacrifice in Bethlehem. Jonathan will tell Saul about it. If Saul gets angry, then Jonathan will know his father intends to kill David.
Jonathan agrees to the plan, but he asks David to promise he will show grace to Jonathan’s family. Then they make a covenant.
16 And Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord take vengeance on David’s enemies.” 17 And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul.
A covenant was not just an oath. It was a ritual. Normally, it involved cutting up animals and separating their parts to create a path of blood. The two men would pass by each other, walking between the animals. The idea was that they are promising something and if they fail to keep the promise they are saying “may I be cursed and slaughtered like these animals.”
Specifically, Jonathan is asking David for grace. He knows that if David is right, if Saul wants him dead, then they may never see each other again. This is a costly covenant because it means their relationship might be ending.
It is also costly, because protecting David might cost Jonathan his life. But it will definitely cost him the kingdom. Jonathan will never be king.
Normally, the son of the king would be the next king. If someone else takes over the kingdom, that man would almost always kill the entire family of the old king to protect his own lineage.
Jonathan knows this and he is asking his friend for grace. And all of this happens in a field.
This makes Jonathan something like an anti-Cain. Do you remember the story of Cain and Abel – the two sons of Adam? Cain was jealous of the favor God showed Abel, so he killed his brother.
Jonathan had every reason to be jealous and angry with David, but instead he willingly gives up his crown and defends David’s life at the risk of his own.
I love what Ralph Davis says here, “Life does not consist of achieving your goals but in fulfilling your promises.” And so Jonathan gives up everything for the sake of this relationship.
Are you beginning to see why this chapter is so important? This story is incredibly rich with shadows of the Gospel. And it gets even better. Jonathan tells him he will send word to David on “the third day”, a phrase repeated three times to make sure we don’t miss it.
That’s a big neon sign reminding us of the death and resurrection of Jesus, who was raised from the dead on “the third day”.
24 So David hid himself in the field. And when the new moon came, the king sat down to eat food. 25 The king sat on his seat, as at other times, on the seat by the wall. Jonathan sat opposite, and Abner sat by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty.
On the second day, Saul asks about David’s absence and Jonathan gives the excuse they planned.
30 Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?
Notice that Saul refers to David as “son of Jesse”, meaning he is rejecting David as a member of his household. He’s also disowning Jonathan.
31 For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Therefore, send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.”
“You nor your kingdom” – hold onto that phrase, we will come back to it.
32 Then Jonathan answered Saul his father, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” 33 But Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him. So, Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death.
The next morning, on the third day, Jonathan sneaks out to tell David goodbye. And this is how the chapter ends:
42 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.
“Go in peace” he says, which may sound a little strange. Jonathan knows that things are not going to be peaceful. Things are about to become very difficult for both of them. But that’s not his point. He says, “Go in peace, because we have taken vows to be at peace with one another.”
And brothers and sisters, that is the promise of the Gospel to the Christian. We should not expect a peaceful, easy life. In fact, we should expect our lives to be quite difficult. But the offer on the table is peace between us and God – the relationship that matters most and anchors everything else.
But why? Why do we need peace with God? Why is that so important, even if nothing else in our lives is stable? Why does peace with God matter if we don’t have peace anywhere else?
We can find some clues in this story to help make sense of that question. David and Jonathan are friends. They love each other like brothers. But their friendship is being tested, because only one of them can be the king.
This is why Saul was so angry with Jonathan. He says it plainly. Jonathan chose David and David’s kingdom over his own kingdom. He gave up a kingdom and all the power and glory with it for a friend.
And that is exactly the issue between us and God. God loves his children. He created us. He weeps when we suffer. But there is an issue of rebellion between us and God. We cannot both be king. Am I king or is God King? Will it be my kingdom or His?
That is always the question at the heart of faith and repentance. Will it be me and my kingdom or Jesus and His kingdom?
In the Gospel of Mark, these are the first words of Jesus – “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Right now is the time. God’s kingdom is here. What are you going to do with that news?
Or listen to how Jesus taught his disciples to pray:
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
“For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”
Not me God, but you. Not my will, but yours. Not my kingdom, but your kingdom. This is how we are supposed to understand the dilemma of the Gospel and our need for repentance.
Jonathan makes his choice and chooses David. He also asks David for grace – the word hesed in Hebrew. Hesed, if you remember, is the word for God’s steadfast love – his covenant love. It’s also the word for favor that we don’t deserve, that we have not earned.
And that is the irony of the choice that Jonathan makes. It’s a false choice, because God has already taken the kingdom from Saul and given it to David. Jonathan had no chance of getting the crown. God was not going to let that happen. If Jonathan rejected David and tried to keep the kingdom for himself, it would have been a foolish choice because it would have been impossible. The choice was only to accept or reject God’s decision.
And the same is true for us. We are tempted to hold on to the idea that we are in control of our lives, that we will get what we want in the end if we work hard enough, that we don’t actually need God.
But Jesus is already King. He doesn’t need our acceptance or our approval. We have no control. We have no power. We have earned no glory. It is all a delusion.
What we are being offered is the truth. And God offers it to us the way David offered it to Jonathan – by way of a covenant promise.
And that is exactly how God is able to offer us the truth – through a covenant.
Jesus emptied Himself of His rights, like Jonathan. He stepped down from His throne to embrace us as brothers. But unlike Jonathan and David, Jesus walked the covenant path alone. He played the role of both covenant keeper and covenant breaker. He took our place.
He was mocked as a “king” with a crown of thorns and sign above His head while His broken body was crushed for our sins on the cross. The justice of God met the grace of God in the only One worthy to be our King.
Now what do you think he wants from his followers? Of course, He wants our faithfulness and our obedience. He wants our trust. He wants our hearts. He wants our lives to be shaped by the cross. In other words, He wants us to give up our kingdom for His.