Jonath(2)

See also Jonathan

The eldest son of Saul, the first king of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin.

1. Three Periods:

The life of Jonathan, as far as we are told about him, falls naturally into 3 periods.

(1) First Period.


(2) Second Period.

The 2nd period of the life of Jonathan is that of his friendship for David. The narrative is too well known to need recapitulating, and the simple tale would only be spoiled by telling it in other words. Jonathan’s devotion to David was such that he not only took his part against his father, Saul (1Sa 18; 19), but was willing to surrender to him his undoubted claim to become Saul’s successor (1Sa 20). Their last meeting took place in the "desert" of Ziph, to the South of Hebron, some time after David had been driven into outlawry (1Sa 23:16-18).

(3) Third Period.

The 3rd phase of Jonathan’s life is that of the exile of David, when Saul was directing his energies to combat what he no doubt considered the rebellion of the son of Jesse. During this civil war, if that can be called war in which one of the two sides refuses to take the offensive against the other, Jonathan remained entirely passive. He could not take part in proceedings which were directed against his friend whom he believed to be destined to occupy the place which he himself should in the ordinary course of events have filled. We therefore hear no more of Jonathan until the encroachments of the Philistines once more compelled Saul to leave the pursuit of the lesser enemy in order to defend himself against the greater. Saul’s last campaign against the Philistines was short and decisive: it ended in the defeat of Gilboa and the death of himself and his sons. The men of Jabesh-gilead, out of gratitude for Saul’s rescue of their town at the beginning of his reign, crossed over to Beth-shan, on the walls of which town the Philistines had hung in chains the bodies of Saul and Jonathan, and took them down under cover of darkness and carried them to Jabesh. There they burned the bodies after the manner of the primitive inhabitants of the land, and buried the bones.

2. His Character:

If we may judge from the little which has been handed down to us concerning him, Jonathan must have been one of the finest spirits that ever lived. His character is, as far as our knowledge goes, nearly perfect. He was athletic and brave (1Sa 14:13; 2Sa 1:22,23).

3. Military Qualities:

He could keep his plans secret when secrecy was necessary in order to carry them to a successful issue (1Sa 14:1), and could decide on what course of action to follow and act upon it on the instant. His attack upon the Philistine garrison at Geba (or Gibeah, if we adopt the reading of the Septuagint and Targum of 1Sa 13:3; compare 10:5) was delivered at the right moment, and was as wise as it was daring. If he had a fault, from a military point of view, it may have been an inability to follow up an advantage. The pursuit of the Philistines on the occasion referred to ended with nightfall. In this respect, however, he perhaps cannot be censured with justice, as he never had an entirely free hand.

4. Filial Piety:

Jonathan’s independence and capacity for acting on his own responsibility were combined with devotion to his father. While holding his own opinion and taking his own course, he conformed as far as possible to his father’s views and wishes. While convinced of the high deserts of David, he sought by all means to mitigate Saul’s hatred toward him, and up to a certain point he succeeded (1Sa 19:6). Filial duty could not have been more severely tested than was that of Jonathan, but his conduct toward both his father and his friend is above criticism. Only on one occasion did his anger get the better of him (1Sa 20:34) under gross provocation, Saul having impugned the honor of Jonathan’s mother (1Sa 20:30, Septuagint) Ahinoam (1Sa 14:50), and attempted his life. The estrangement was momentary; Saul and Jonathan were undivided in life and in death (2Sa 1:23 to be so read).

5. Friendship for David:

But it is as the befriender of David that Jonathan will always be remembered. He is the type of the very perfect friend, as well as of the chivalrous knight, for all time. His devotion to David was altogether human; had it been dictated by a superstitious belief in David’s destiny as the future ruler of his people (1Sa 23:17), that belief would have been shared by Saul, which was not the case (1Sa 20:31). In disinterestedness and willingness to efface his own claims and give up his own titles the conduct of Jonathan is unsurpassed, and presents a pleasing contrast to some of the characters with whom we meet in the Bible. In this respect he resembles `Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, who was the bravest of the brave, save when fighting in his own cause, and who had no ambition to fill the highest posts. So Jonathan preferred to serve rather than to command (1Sa 23:17). Jonathan and David stand for the highest ideal of Hebrew friendship, as do Damon and Pythias in Greek literature.

6. Inspired Affection:

We may be sure that Jonathan won the affection of the people. His squire was ready to follow him anywhere (1Sa 14:7). David’s devotion to him seems to have been sincere, although it unfortunately coincided with his own self-interest. Jonathan appears to have inspired as great an affection as he himself felt (1Sa 20:41; 2Sa 1:26). His quarrel with his father was largely due to the solicitude of the latter for his son’s interests (1Sa 18:29; 20:31).

7. His Descendants:

Jonathan’s sons were, in common with his brother’s, killed in the wars. One alone--Meribbaal (Mephibosheth)--survived. Jonathan’s posterity through him lasted several generations. A table of them is given in 1Ch 8:33 ff parallel 9:40 ff (compare 2Sa 9:12). They were famous soldiers and were, like their ancestors, distinguished in the use of the bow (1Ch 8:40).