After David had slain Goliath, King Saul was so impressed with the young man’s ability and courage that he took him into his own household. It was there that David became the best of friends with Jonathan, Saul’s oldest son. Their admiration for each other quickly developed into such a strong bond that the Bible says, “the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” And the two made a covenant to honor their friendship forever.
So strongly did Jonathan feel about their pledge that he “stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle [belt].”
Whatever task King Saul gave to David he excelled at it. And when Saul set David over a legion of soldiers to fight against the Philistines, he was victorious. The Israelites had accepted David as a great leader and when he returned from the fighting there was singing and dancing and much celebrating. As the women played their instruments and sang, they rejoiced and called to one another, “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”
To hear such praise heaped upon David caused Saul to become very angry, and the seeds of jealousy and suspicion began to grow in his heart. The next day, as he had done many times before to soothe Saul’s nerves, David played his harp for the king. But the music didn’t gentle the king’s soul. Instead, a spirit of evil entered his heart, and he threw a javelin (spear) he was holding at David and tried to kill him—not once but twice. However, the deadly javelin missed David both times as he dodged out of the way.
King Saul then made David his captain over a thousand soldiers, hoping that he would be killed in battle. But “David behaved himself wisely in all his ways; and the Lord was with him. Wherefore … Saul … was afraid of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David.”
When he was unsuccessful in getting rid of David as he had planned, Saul ordered all his servants and also Jonathan to slay David. But Jonathan had covenanted with David to be his friend, so he warned David to go into hiding. Then he pleaded with his father, “Let not the king sin against his servant … David; because he hath not sinned against thee, and because his works have been to thee-ward very good.”
Jonathan reminded his father how valiant David had been in battle and how he had saved Israel from their Philistine enemies. He concluded by saying, “Thou sawest it, and didst rejoice: wherefore then wilt thou sin against innocent blood, to slay David without a cause?”
Saul’s heart softened at these words, and he promised that his son’s friend would not be slain. Jonathan was very happy and brought David to be reunited with Saul. But when there was a war again and David and his army were victorious, King Saul was furious that the Lord so favored David. When David innocently played and sang as before for the king, an evil spirit entered into Saul and again he tried to kill David with his javelin. But it just missed David and thudded into the wall next to him.
David fled into the night and Saul in his fierce anger sent messengers after him to slay him. Saul’s changeable attitude was frightening and puzzling to David. When he met secretly with his friend Jonathan, he said, “What have I done? what is mine iniquity? and what is my sin before thy father, that he seeketh my life?”
It was difficult for Jonathan to believe that his father would break his promise to let David live. But when Saul in his fury tried to kill Jonathan, too, Jonathan warned David by a prearranged signal of spent arrows that his friend’s life was in great danger.
When the two friends knew that for David’s safety they must part, they kissed one another as brothers and wept bitterly. “And Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, The Lord be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever. And he arose and departed: and Jonathan went into the city.” (1 Sam. 18–20.)