Love Covenant

David was introduced to us in last week’s scripture as a young boy playing a harp providing music therapy to a mentally disturbed king. David’s music soothed the soul of the king, so he became a commuter. He plays for the king when the king is in one of his moods, and he leaves the kings quarters to return to his home to shepherd his father’s sheep. One day in the royal court; one day leading sheep out to pasture.

As the story goes, the next time the reader hears of this young shepherd, harpist David, a giant is causing trouble. Not the fe-fi-foe, or Jolly Green kind of Giant, but a giant Philistine, the enemy of Israel. It’s one of the most common stories of children’s Sunday School, for little David slays the giant with slingshot sharp shot, five smooth stones and faith. After that feat, David is promoted to full-time palace duty. No more sheep tending for him.

The next scene is the scripture we heard today. The King’s son, Jonathan, forms an intimate bond with the new guy in the royal court. The text reads:
The soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.

That’s an intimate love scene. Not a lust scene; it’s not a wild party, orgy R-rated scene. It is a love scene. These two young men find love at the soul level. The text says Jonathan loved David “as himself” or “as his soul.” The Hebrew word here means “the essential life of a person- the whole being.” Jonathan loved David as an essential essence of his life. Jonathan makes a covenant with David. In the Bible, covenants are marked with a sign. For example, the rainbow is a sign of a covenant of life. As a sign of his covenant, Jonathan strips off his robe and all his armor. He becomes naked and defenseless, vulnerable and open.

You see Jonathan was the king’s son. Call him Prince Jonathan. That means Jonathan could have hoped to inherit his father’s throne someday. At this point David has found favor with King Saul, and Saul has basically adopted him as his own. Jonathan could have resented David for displacing his position in the family, for threatening to usurp the lineage of royal descent. Jonathan could have seen David as a rival, competition to destroy. Instead, he takes off his robe, the symbol of the prince of the kingdom, and he gives it to David. Jonathan acknowledges David will be the next king- not himself. He swears his love emotionally, physically, spiritually and politically in covenant loyalty with David.

Now, Jonathan is not the only one to love David. David is a young man, but with quite charisma it appears. First King Saul says he loves David (that is until Saul sets his goal to kill David). Then one of Saul’s daughters announces her love for David. Then the text says that all the women from “all the towns” loved David. Finally, Saul’s son, Jonathan, also declares his love for David.

As David rises in popularity, everyone falling in love with David, the King grows jealous. Jonathan might not have seen David as a threat, but King Saul certainly did. The king tells his son, Prince Jonathan, to kill David.

Relationships are hard. Families can be complicated. Here Jonathan is caught in a triangle. He’s caught between his loyalty to his father the king on one side and the covenant of his heart to David whom he loves with all his soul on the other. Loyalty to either one means betrayal to the other.

Have you ever been caught in a loyalty triangle? Or caught in a moral triangle? Or caught in a relationship triangle? Whereby two options / opposing actions / two relationships / or two different paths are before you – each one pulling you in opposite directions? To take the one means to abandon the other.

The scriptures tell of one other meeting between Jonathan and David. Jonathan does not want to believe that his father wants David dead; he would rather deny his Father’s madness, instead his fears are only confirmed over and over and Saul continues trying to kill David. Two chapters after the initial covenant declaration of Jonathan’s love and loyalty to David, they arrange an rendezvous “out in a field.” Imagine that field, like you might see on the big screen: green grass blowing in the wind, there are some boulders near the edges of the learning that are large enough for a man to hide behind. Tall trees fringe the clearing. Blue sky overhead and gentle breeze blows. Jonathan signals to David that he is not safe in the royal family. David emerges from behind the large rock and the two men were towards one another. The text says:
David “bowed down before Jonathan three times with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together – but David wept the most. “ (1 Sam 20:41)

With tears streaming down their faces, they reaffirmed their covenant to one another, “God is in the between of me and you, and our descendants forever.” Then Jonathan chooses his path. He turns away from David, the man he has sworn eternal love, the man whose soul is one with him. In an act of family loyalty and utter heartbreak, Jonathan returns to his father’s side.

This love story doesn’t not have “happily ever after” ending. Love is not without costs, risks, and self-sacrifice. Jonathan and David had no more rendezvous out in the field. Their last time together was when these affirmations of eternal love were spoken and soul-crushing tears streamed down their faces. Jonathan trusted that David would become the next king of Israel, but he lived and died in battle beside his father.

David, the boy shepherd and harpist, the giant-slayer and warrior does become the next King of Israel. He is a great king that will unite a divided nation and bring her into her glory days. The warrior king, man after God’s own heart, loved by so many (all the women), was also a poet. Years later, he scribed a lament,
“I grieve for you , Jonathan, my brother; greatly beloved were you to me- your love to me was wonderful, surpassing the love of all women.” (2 Samuel 1:26)

David recalls to memory Jonathan’s love. Probably the most authentic love story of the Bible was one told between these two men.

I find it intriguing that we know this story. The scriptures were oral stories told and retold for generations. Finally, the stories were put to scroll. Then the scrolls were gathered, copied by hand, revised and edited for centuries. Then translated for centuries more. Many stories, entire books, characters from the ages fell into oblivion through the passing of time and the process of assembling the Bible in our hands today. In all the story telling and revisions, in all those edits, translations and redactions, the love story of David and Jonathan had ample opportunities to get scrubbed or deleted or condemned.

Yet, the story of their love, pure love, soul love between these two men remains as Holy for all to hear. May we always proclaim God’s love for all. May we make and keep a way to honor all loving relationships. May everyone born know such deep love in our lifetime, for all love is a gift and covenant from God. Amen.