What do men need from other men? How can men help other men become better men? These were asked at a recent mens retreat for Zionsville Fellowship. Important questions.
Jonathan’s friendship with David gives three foundational things that every man needs. We can think of the relationship between Jonathan and David in terms of a bond. That’s how it’s referred to in 1 Samuel 18:1: “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David.” The word for “knit” refers to tying something together. Binding together. And this bond has three marks.
1. Brotherly Affection
“The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (18:1). Their souls were bound together, and Jonathan loved David as himself.
This isn’t the only time that Jonathan’s affection for David is mentioned. Elsewhere it says that Jonathan “delighted much in David” (19:1). This affection for David, and the bond that it sustained, was a great loss to David when Jonathan died. David spoke of the pleasure he had in him, and spoke of it as a love that surpassed that of a woman (2 Sam 2:25-26).
Men don’t help one another just by doing particular actions. It would view things too narrowly to simply focus on the particular actions that Jonathan did to help David. Relationships are more complex than that. We can’t reduce the help we give to one another to a few actions. We know deep within that much of the strength we get from another comes from simply knowing their affection. Knowing that they’re for you. Knowing that they deeply respect you.
This brotherly affection is real, it is normal, it is human. It is not sexual. It does not have to be weird. It can and should feel strong. Every man either has this bond with one or more men, or he needs it.
2. Expressed Commitment
“And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul” (18:2-3)
Jonathan made a covenant with David. Friendships don’t need a covenant, but they do need commitment. And it should, at some points and in some ways, be expressed.
David later brings up Jonathan’s commitment and appeals on its basis. He says, “therefore deal kindly with your servant, for you have brought your servant into a covenant of the Lord with you” (20:8). This word “kindly” is the great Hebrew word, hesed; most often translated steadfast love. It carries with it both affection and commitment.
We don’t need formal covenant ceremonies and we don’t need written statements or formal agreements, but we do need hesed. Our commitment doesn’t need to be formal, but it does need to be felt. Men need men who are willing to look at each other and say, I’m in your corner
3. Sacrificial Support
The third mark is sacrificial support. “And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war” (18:4-5).
Jonathan immediately expresses his commitment to do David good by giving him what he needs to be successful. David is going to be in the army, so Jonathan gets him armor, a sword, a bow, and his belt. David used it, and it led to his success in battle.
This is self-sacrifice. Jonathan gave him his own armor and weapons. This is deeper still. Jonathan gave his robe, a likely symbol of his royal status. He was heir to the throne. By giving David that robe, along with his armor, he is making a statement: he won’t be king; David will. And he gladly acknowledges it. He believes that David is the one anointed by God to be king; and he submits to it. He is saying here, “He must increase, I must decrease.” And he is committed to David’s flourishing in this calling.
The True Friend
Many of us do not have this kind of bond. We may not share a mutual affection, we may not have expressed commitment, and there may be little self-sacrifice.
Good news. David isn’t the only one who points forward to Jesus in this story. David points forward to him as the great King; Jonathan as the great Friend. When we trust Christ, we find that he has a deep affection for us and a firm commitment to us. He binds himself to us in a covenant to do good to us now and forever. All of us – if we’ll have him – can have this friend in Christ. We become heirs with him, for he gives us his robe. He is the Man who helps men become better men.
Having received this bond in Christ, we’re freed up from needing others to fill this void. We can now walk into a room looking to be a giver rather than a taker. We walk in to strengthen others, having already been strengthened ourselves.