1 Samuel 20 – “Jonathan Helps David Flee”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
David angers Saul when he skips the meal for the new moon. Jonathan betrays his father by helping David flee for his life.

II. Photo
Jonathan devises a plan to communicate with David: “Now I will shoot three arrows to one side of it, as though I were shooting at a mark, and I will order the boy to go and find the arrows. If I call to the boy, ‘Hey! the arrows are on this side of you,’ be reassured and come, for you are safe and there is no danger — as the Lord lives! But if, instead, I call to the lad, ‘Hey! the arrows are beyond you,’ then leave, for the Lord has sent you away.”  (vv. 20-22)

III. Important Verses
1: David fled from Naioth in Ramah; he came to Jonathan and said, “What have I done, what is my crime and my guilt against your father, that he seeks my life?”
13-16: [Jonathan said to David:] “But if my father intends to do you harm, may the LORD do thus to Jonathan and more if I do [not] disclose it to you and send you off to escape unharmed. May the LORD be with you, as He used to be with my father. Nor shall you fail to show me the LORD’s faithfulness, while I am alive; nor, when I am dead, shall you ever discontinue your faithfulness to my house — not even after the LORD has wiped out every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth. Thus has Jonathan covenanted with the house of David; and may the LORD requite the enemies of David!”
20-22: Now I will shoot three arrows to one side of it, as though I were shooting at a mark, and I will order the boy to go and find the arrows. If I call to the boy, ‘Hey! the arrows are on this side of you,’ be reassured and come, for you are safe and there is no danger — as the LORD lives! But if, instead, I call to the lad, ‘Hey! the arrows are beyond you,’ then leave, for the LORD has sent you away.
30-32: Saul flew into a rage against Jonathan. “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman!” he shouted. “I know that you side with the son of Jesse — to your shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness! For as long as the son of Jesse lives on earth, neither you nor your kingship will be secure. Now then, have him brought to me, for he is marked for death.” But Jonathan spoke up and said to his father, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?”
41: When the boy got there, David emerged from his concealment at the Negeb. He flung himself face down on the ground and bowed low three times. They kissed each other and wept together; David wept the longer.

IV. Outline
1-16. Jonathan vows to help David
17-23. The plan for communication
24-31. Saul is enraged by David’s absence from the meal for the New Moon
32. Jonathan defends David
33-34. Saul fails to kill Jonathan
35-42. Jonathan sends David off into hiding

V. Comment
Chapter 20 relates how Jonathan helps David flee from Saul. What is David’s sin? The answer, according to chapter 20, seems to be “nothing.” Indeed, the entire account assumes that David is innocent. For example, v. 1 relates: “David fled from Naioth in Ramah; he came to Jonathan and said, ‘What have I done, what is my crime and my guilt against your father, that he seeks my life?’” Similarly, after Saul casts aspersions on David at the meal for the new moon, Jonathan responds: “But Jonathan spoke up and said to his father, ‘Why should he be put to death? What has he done?’” (v. 32) It is for this reason that many scholars call this account “apologetic.”  Collins writes: “The stories of interaction between David and Saul in 1 Samuel 19-24 provide the closest analogies to the genre of apology, or justification of the actions of a king who might be accused of usurping the throne. Saul repeatedly tries to kill David, for no reason other than jealousy. Saul’s own family, Jonathan and Michal, side with David in the conflict. Saul commits an outrage by slaughtering the priests of Nob (a shrine north of Jerusalem, near Gibeah), for befriending and defending David. Nonetheless, when David has Saul at his mercy he refrains, declaring, ‘I will not raise my hand against the Lord’s anointed’ (24:10). Even Saul acknowledges that ‘you are more righteous than I.’” (228)

The story of chapter 20 revolves around the meal for the “new moon” (chodesh). What was the significance of the new moon in ancient Israel? Although there is no pericope in the Hebrew Bible that lists the traditions associated with this festival, scholars point to many scattered verses that illuminate the significance of the holiday. The new moon, according to Amos 8:4-5, seems to have been a day when work was forbidden: “Listen to this, you who devour the needy, annihilating the poor of the land, saying, ‘If only the new moon were over, so that we could sell grain; the sabbath, so that we could offer wheat for sale, using an ephah that is too small, and a shekel that is too big, tilting a dishonest scale…’” According to 2 Kings 4:22-23 people would visit prophets on the day of the new moon: “Then she called to her husband: ‘Please, send me one of the servants and one of the she-asses, so I can hurry to the man of God and back.’ But he said, ‘Why are you going to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.’ She answered, ‘It’s all right.’” Our chapter specifies that the new moon was a day for feasting (vv. 5, 18, 29), and Numbers 28:11-15 describes the sacrifices that were offered in the temple. It is interesting to note that there were more offerings brought on the day of the new moon than the Sabbath (the new moon: 2 bulls, 1 ram, 7 lambs; the sabbath: 2 lambs), possibly indicating that this day was of greater import in Biblical Israel than the Sabbath.

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Klein, Ralph W. “1 Samuel” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 10 (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1983).
McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr. “1 Samuel,” Anchor Bible vol. 8 (New York: Doubleday, 1980).
Photo taken from http://www.schmitthenner.com/images/wararrows_01.jpg

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