Jonathan and David can certainly be described as best friends. They were closer, even, than brothers. So why did Jonathan remain with his father, Saul—David’s sworn enemy—and not join forces with David? No doubt Jonathan must have wanted to be a good and loyal son. But was that really enough to justify joining the army dedicated to killing his best friend?
David and Jonathan took a natural liking to each other. They got along famously and had common views and a common heart for their people. Several times, they swore loyalty to each other before God (1 Samuel 20:8, 17, 42; 23:18). But Jonathan also knew that his father envied and wanted to kill David. The best way for Jonathan to ensure that his friend would be safe was to remain behind with his father.
That couldn’t have been easy for Jonathan. Not only was David dear to him, but Jonathan also saw David as the rightful king of Israel. So he chose to separate from David in order to protect him. Being a trusted leader in Saul’s army gave Jonathan inside information that he could pass on to David. Ultimately, this tactic cost Jonathan his life at the Battle of Gilboa. But in a sense, Jonathan had been giving up his life for his friend during the entire time of their separation. Like Jesus, Jonathan demonstrated self-giving love that put his friend above his own interests.
This is the face of love. This is the face of mercy, offered to us during this Year of Mercy. True friendship gives of itself for the other. In a world where we are encouraged to measure friendships based on what we get out of them, God wants us to look at our relationships in light of the sacrificial love shown by Jonathan, and more perfectly by Our Lord. It’s not a matter of what we are getting out of our friendships; it’s a matter of what we are putting in to them. God isn’t asking us to be constantly sacrificing for our friends. He just wants us to make sure that we are giving as well as receiving. Experience teaches us that this is the best way to deepen any friendship.