The Man Who Wouldn’t Be King

by William J. Stewart

When unexpected circumstances come, it can turn our lives upside-down. Jonathan, Saul’s son, was heir to the throne of Israel, until his father’s sin removed the monarchy from the family (1 Samuel 13:7-14; 15:24-28). This loss could have destroyed him, but he did not allow it. Instead we see a man of godly character, living a life worthy of imitation. Let’s consider Jonathan, the son of Saul.

BOLDNESS (1 Samuel 14:1-14)

1 Samuel 13 describes the army of Israel as a group of men who were distressed, hiding, walking away and trembling (1 Samuel 13:6-7). There was no confidence in the camp that they could be victorious over the Philistines. Though his father was caught up in this lack of faith, Jonathan wasn’t. He and the young man who bore his armor went out against a Philistine garrison—by themselves! Hear the faith of the then future king of Israel:

Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the LORD will work for us. For nothing restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few. (1 Samuel 14:6)

It is doubtful that either of these young men had much experience in military action, but that didn’t matter. They approached their enemy with confidence in God’s power to save. God can accomplish great things through those who serve Him in faith.

  • When it came time to set His people free from Egyptian captivity, God didn’t send an army to Pharaoh’s doorstep—it was just Moses and Aaron, armed with the message and power of God (Exodus 5:1).
  • When Gideon was called to go to war with his men, God had him reduce the number of soldiers. Who excludes men from going to war based upon how they drink water from a creek? But the people had to understand the victory was not in them, but in the Lord (Judges 7:2-7).
  • The showdown at Mount Carmel saw Elijah in one corner and 450 prophets of Baal in the other. By the end of the ‘bout,’ it was the God of Israel who was victorious (1 Kings 18:22-24, 39).
  • The friends of Daniel, faced with a furnace so hot that those who prepared it were consumed, declared to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter … our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king” (Daniel 3:16-17)
  • Daniel himself would later have a similar experience in a den of lions (Daniel 6:16-23).

In each of these cases, we see servants of God who trusted in God’s power to save, and with that confidence, each of them were willing to stand for the Lord when those who do not walk by faith would crumble.

Friend, we are challenged to have boldness as we serve the Lord (Philippians 1:14, 20; 1 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Timothy 1:6-8). As God’s people, will we not put our hand to whatever task He has given us to do, and do so with perseverance, trust that God will give the victory.

SUBMISSION (1 Samuel 14:37-45)

Saul made a senseless oath (1 Samuel 14:24) which Jonathan unknowingly violated (1 Samuel 14:26-28). He was a wise young man, and knew that his father’s decree was harmful, not helpful to the people (1 Samuel 14:29-30).

God’s counsel was withheld from Saul, not because the oath was broken (as he concluded), but because of his sin (1 Samuel 14:37). Saul was adamant that whoever broke the oath be put to death. Jonathan revealed his actions and accepted his fate (1 Samuel 14:43), submitting to his father, despite the fact he had done no wrong. Fortunately, the people saved Jonathan from Saul’s wickedness (1 Samuel 14:45).

LOVE (1 Samuel 18:1-3)

It would have been easy for Jonathan to have been jealous of David, who would become king instead of him. However, what we see is love. Jonathan looked at David as a kindred spirit, for they both were bold in serving God and willing to submit to authority. The writer tells us that Jonathan loved David “…as his own soul…” Displaying his love, he gave gifts to David (his robe, armor, bow and belt). One commentator has said of this:

To receive any part of the dress which had been worn by a sovereign, or his eldest son and heir, is deemed, in the East, the highest honor which can be conferred on a subject (Jameson, Fausset, Brown).

How do we react when another is blessed? What if the blessing they have received should have come to us? God’s word tells us to show love for one another (John 13:34-35) and rejoice with others when good things come their way (Romans 12:15; 1 Corinthians 12:26).

INTERVENTION (1 Samuel 19:1-7)

Though David had been loyal to Saul, Saul hated him (1 Samuel 18:8-12, 28-29). In fact, Saul commanded his servants to kill David (1 Samuel 19:1). Jonathan stood for his friend, warning him, acknowledging his goodness to Saul, and securing safety, albeit, short lived (1 Samuel 19:2-11). When we have an opportunity to intervene, to help someone, to make a difference, do we? (Acts 9:26-28; Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 6:18; Titus 3:8).

ENCOURAGEMENT (1 Samuel 23:14-17)

David was still on the run, still Saul’s prey. It had to be very discouraging to be persecuted for doing good. Jonathan met with his friend to strengthen him. The indication is that they didn’t have long together, but I’m sure it lifted David’s spirit. We are to be a source of encouragement for one another (Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24-25; Acts 14:19-22; 15:41; 18:23). Are we?

Jonathan would not be king, not through any fault of his own, but due to his Father’s sin, and yet his response was wonderful. He served God with boldness, was submissive to those in authority, had pure and boundless love, intervened when he was able to help someone, and sought to encourage the downtrodden. May we imitate him in our lives! 

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