And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. 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.
1 Samuel 18:3-4
Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.
1 Samuel 20:42
If Ruth and Naomi are the epitome of Old Testament friendship between women, David and Jonathan are the exemplar of male friendship.
As the friendship covenant is made in 1 Samuel 18, Jonathan, son of King Saul, strips himself of his armour and hands it to David, a man who had been anointed future King just two chapters previously. This is not just a spontaneous act of generosity from Jonathan to David, but a recognition of David’s worth: Jonathan is renouncing his power and throne in favour of a friend whom God had chosen, and whose character and godly faith he admires.
The presentation of cloak and tunic not only shows the closeness of their bond, but it really is a declaration by Jonathan that David will be King, a job which was Jonathan’s birthright.
What a declaration of friendship this is. Not only do David and Jonathan covenant their lives to one another in friendship, but Jonathan lays down his birthright to prefer David, the King chosen by God. It can even be seen as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ declaration that ‘greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15:13). Replace ‘life’ for ‘birthright’, and this is what Jonathan does for David.
What about us? Can we really say that we love our friends ‘as ourselves’? What would it look like if we were to do so? Maybe it’s less about giving up our birthright, and probably not laying down our physical lives, but what about surrendering our pride?
How can we prefer our friends, even when we desperately want, or feel that we have a right to, something that God has given to them instead? A job, a partner, a house, a family…
The second of these passages shows that it is the dependability of the Lord who guarantees David and Jonathan’s covenant of friendship, and provides firm ground for the future, insecure though their situations were at the time.
This presents another challenge: what are your friendships built on? Are they what Aristotle called ‘utility’ friendships, or are they built on something more solid, like God’s loving faithfulness?
May we seek to build and maintain friendships built not on personal gain, situations, or circumstances, but instead grounded in God’s faithfulness to us, and an unconditional love for one another.