Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com. This week I take a look at a covenant between friends taken from I Samuel 18:1-5 and 19:1-7. In this lesson we see a friend’s loyalty tested by someone in authority. But it’s not just anyone and it’s a test that could mean life or death. In this text we see Jonathan essentially committing treason against his father Saul. Saul is the King. His commands are absolute. Yet, Jonathan’s love for his friend David is more powerful than Jonathan’s willingness to obey his father. It’s easy to say right is right and wrong is wrong; but Jonathan had to choose between loyalty to his father the king and loyalty to his friend David. In this week’s lesson we see a glimpse of how he chose between the two and how Jonathan put himself at risk of death to save his friend. I am reminded of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr as he said “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends”. Jonathan was not silent. He spoke up for and on behalf of his friend. It took courage. He spoke truth to power. I am convinced that our communities, our cities, states, and our country would be better if our real friends would only speak up. Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms:
This week’s lesson begins the first of three lessons in the Old Testament. These lessons deal with covenants between people. This week the covenant is between Jonathan and David and the next two week’s will come from the book of Ruth. With that in mind I’ll give a broad overview of the Old Testament, an overview of the book of Samuel, and then a few background thoughts on chapters surrounding this week’s lesson.
What Christians call the Old Testament are also Jewish scripture. Michael Coogan’s “The Old Testament, A Very Short Introduction” notes that “Bible originally meant book but the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament is not one book but many, an anthology of ancient Israelite and early Jewish religious writings”. The first part is the Torah, also known as the Law. The Torah or The Law consists of the first five books of the Bible. The second part is the Prophets. The Prophets section is divided into the former and the latter prophets. The Former Prophets are Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. The latter prophets are books named after individual prophets (Coogan). The third section is known as the Writings. Our lesson this week comes from the section known as the Former Prophets.
The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary notes that “1 and 2 Samuel were originally one work. They bear the name of Samuel, yet Samuel is the focal character only in the first eight chapters of 1 Samuel, dies before 1 Samuel ends, and is not mentioned in 2 Samuel. The main interest of both books is David. First Samuel tells of his rise and 2 Samuel of his kingship”. It also notes that 1 Samuel is pro-Davidic. Saul can do nothing right and David can do nothing wrong”.
This week’s lesson comes from chapters 18 and 19 of 1 Samuel. These chapters focus on David in Saul’s Court and highlight Saul’s hatred of David, Jonathan’s love of David, and the value of covenant between friends. “While Jonathan’s love is that of a close personal relationship, “love” in the ancient Near East is also a way of conveying political loyalty. Thus Jonathan, heir to Saul’s throne, is loyal to David” (NIBOVC).
Our text this week deals with a covenant between friends. The challenge faced by one of these friends will reveal the loyalty he has placed in his friendship. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends”. Covenants have meaning. The mettle of this friendship is tested in ways that require courage and commitment. Some important words to consider from this text include:
Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:
Last week our lesson began in Matthew 7 verses one. Verses one and two started the chapter with the admonition “do not judge, so that you will not be judged”. I noted that in this context, Jesus was telling us not to look down on or speak against others as if we are morally superior. Verse two helped us know that when we judge we will be judged in the same manner. When you were growing up you may have heard someone say “what goes around, comes around”. That may not be in the scripture, but the principle certainly is. You can think of sowing and reaping in 2 Corinthians 9:6.
I noted how verses three through five dealt with hypocrisy and provided a theological definition of hypocrisy as “the outward appearance of conveying truth or righteousness that masks the inner state of mind or intention of untruth or evilness”. Those verses helped us understand that we cannot act morally superior to others whose faults are small compared to our own very large faults. We should first evaluate our own motives and actions before evaluating the behavior and motives of others. I thought it was important to mention that while behavior is easy to see, a person’s motives are not always clear. It’s easy to say “right is right” and “wrong is wrong” but sometimes what we think is right or wrong really isn’t so clear cut.
Verse six moved away from telling the disciples and crowd to not be hypocrites. Instead it essentially tells them to be good stewards of discernment. As I stated in previous lessons, Matthew’s Gospel is not kind to the scribes and Pharisees. When Jesus talks about not giving that which is holy to dogs and not casting your pearls before swine, he is talking about the scribes and Pharisees. Standard Lesson Commentary noted that Jesus “does not want them to be hypocrites like the scribes and Pharisees yet Jesus knows the potential for misuse of his exhortation not to judge”. Equally important was knowing that some people will take advantage of your kindness. This verse helps us to be on guard for the unrighteous who are not really concerned about righteousness or doing right by others.
The text then skipped to verses fifteen through twenty-three. I provided the theological definition of prophet as “One who speaks on behalf of God to God’s people, most prominently the Hebrew prophets whose writings are found in the Old Testament. In verse fifteen Jesus cautioned his disciples and listeners to beware of false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing but are inwardly ravening wolves. I noted other words that describe people like this as huckster, grifter, charlatan, imposter, swindler, cheat, fraud, deceiver, and fake. Jesus tells us to beware of these kinds of people. Jesus loves everybody, but that love does not mean we should let ourselves be taken advantage of by them.
Verse sixteen reminded us that we will know them by their fruits. It’s true that you can’t know what is in a person’s heart. But it is just as true that you can see what they do. You can see who and what they support, and you can see what they condone and how they conduct themselves. You will know them by their fruit.
Verses seventeen and eighteen say it plainly. A good tree produces good fruit and a corrupt tree produces corrupt fruit. In other words, good prophets will do good things and bring about good on behalf of God. Corrupt prophets will do corrupt things and bring about corruption in the name of God. But keep in mind that not every false prophet started out corrupt. Sometimes they fall into corruption somewhere along the journey and become corrupt. So the point for us is to always keep our eyes on Jesus as our guide and not on a human who is capable of failing us.
Verses nineteen and twenty told us that trees not producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire and that we will know them by their fruits. Ultimately the end of false prophets will be destruction. Unrepentant abusers of God’s people have no place among the righteous.
In verse twenty-one Jesus explained that those who make it into his kingdom will be those who “walk the walk” not just “talk the talk”. Jesus expects us to live this Christian life.
Verses twenty-two and twenty-three closed last week’s lesson on spiritual discernment showing us that many will say they have prophesied, cast out demons, and done many wonderful works in the name of Jesus. Yet, in the end Jesus will tell them “I never knew you, go away from me you evildoers. I noted that what should be frightening to us is that there will be many who say they have done this in Jesus name. We must be vigilant and diligent so that we are not deceived by these charlatans, grifters, imposters, frauds, and deceivers otherwise known as false prophets. Our goal is to walk in God’s perfect love and if we do so with discernment we won’t become victims of these false prophets.
This week’s lesson deals specifically with a covenant between friends. It’s good to have friends and it’s even better to have good friends. Good friends don’t need to talk every day, week, or even every month. What makes the difference is that when called upon, a good friend will do everything within their power to aid and assist you as best they can. If you are blessed with a good friend and even better, blessed with a lifelong good friend, you are indeed blessed. Townsend, Boyd’s, and Standard Lesson Commentary title the lesson A Covenant Between Friends. The scripture text comes from I Samuel 18:1-5 and 19:1-7.
What Takes Place in This Passage:
These first five verses of chapter eighteen are a continuation of the David and Goliath story. In verse one David has already killed Goliath and presented Goliath’s head to Saul. David is a hero. He has won the war and single handedly defeated the Philistine enemy of Israel. Verse one tells us that the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David. Townsend Commentary notes that “the traditional, mainstream view of the relationship between David and Jonathan is that it was platonic, brotherly love”.
Verse two leads us to understand that at least at this point, Saul is pleased with David because Saul “took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house”. But soon we will see that feelings and opinions can sometimes change like the wind.
Verses three and four help us to understand a mutual agreement between Jonathan and David. They made a covenant. Verse three tells us that Jonathan loved David as his own soul. The terms of the covenant are not mentioned but based on the actions of Jonathan in verse four we can consider Jonathan’s loyalty to David surpassed his own claim to the throne.
Verse five shows us David’s obedience and wisdom. David conducted himself wisely. He was successful in all that Saul put before him. He was so successful that “all the people, even the servants of Saul approved”.
At this point the lesson text skips to chapter 19. I should note that between verses 6 and the beginning of Chapter nineteen a lot transpires. Townsend Commentary notes that “the events of 1 Samuel 18-20 occurred between 1018 and 1013 BC, and David would have been between fifteen and twenty-two. He spent approximately seven years living with King Saul before Saul began trying to kill him”. Additionally, “There is a twenty-five year age gap between David and Jonathan”.
Verse one of chapter 19 tells us that Saul speaks to Jonathan and to all his servants that they should kill David. Saul is jealous of David. This jealousy is the basis of his hatred for David without cause.
Verse two tells us of Jonathan’s treason against his father Saul. Jonathan’s love for David and his covenant with David means more to him than carrying out the wishes of his father the King. Jonathan warns David and advises him to hide in a secret place until morning.
Verses three, four, and five detail the plan Jonathan comes up with to save his friend and how with courage and commitment he speaks truth to power. In verse three Jonathan details how he will report back to David his conversation with his father. If warning David wasn’t treason, reporting his private conversation with the King surly is. Verse four shows Jonathan speaking up for and on behalf of David his friend. In verse five Jonathan reminds his father the King how David risked his own life to kill the Philistine. He reminds the King that David is innocent. In this way, Jonathan shows his true loyalty. He risked his own life for the safety of his friend. He spoke truth to power. He was courageous and committed to the covenant he made with David.
Verses six and seven reveal the results of Jonathan’s plea to his father. Saul listened to his son and he swore “as the Lord lives, he shall not be slain”. Jonathan took the risk for his friend and in this occasion it was worth it. It was a tremendous risk for Jonathan. He had to choose between loyalty to his father and loyalty to his friend. As Jonathan noted, David was innocent. Jonathan choose to stand up for what was right. His loyalty was to his friend, but his loyalty was also to what was right.
That should be our goal. To stand up for what’s right; to be loyal to our friends but more so, to truth and righteousness.
Silence implies consent. If you won’t speak up about what bothers you then perhaps you aren’t really bothered. Perhaps you’re okay with the situation. Perhaps you aren’t directly impacted so you have nothing to gain by personally speaking up. Perhaps speaking up disturbs your comfort. Your silence implies your consent. If you don’t speak up for what is right you accept what is wrong by default. The real question is why. Why don’t we speak up for others? Could it be fear? Fear of what others may think of us. Fear of losing social standing. Fear of losing future opportunities.
We should not be driven by fear; instead we should be driven by love. A love to set right what is wrong in our relationships, our communities, cities, states, and our country. We should be driven by a fierce love that at times requires the courage to confront our relatives, neighbors, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. It takes courage to confront others. It takes courage to speak truth to power. But when confrontation and speaking truth is based in love we can be sure that we are doing right by God and God’s people. That’s the basis of righteousness. Jonathan spoke up for his friend. He wasn’t silent. David knew where Jonathan stood. He didn’t have to guess or wonder. Jonathan’s friendship and his loyalty were based in a covenant of love. As followers of Jesus Christ righteousness should be our guiding principle and love our guiding light. Even when, if not especially when, we are called to speak up for others.
Key Characters in the text:
King Saul – The first king of Israel. “He was plagued by an evil spirit that tormented him to madness, and he was envious of David’s fame and victory” (Townsend).
Jonathan – “He is the eldest son of King Saul. He is a biblical model of faithful friendship and fidelity” (Townsend).
David – “He is the eighth son of Jesse. He was a shepherd, a musician, and a soldier. He faithfully served and recognized Saul as God’s chosen servant” (Townsend).
Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion):
Loyal / Loyalty – 1. Faithful to one’s sovereign, government, or state: 2. faithful to one’s oath, commitments, or obligations: 3. faithful to any leader, party, or cause, or to any person or thing conceived as deserving fidelity.
Treason – 1. The offense of acting to overthrow one’s government or to harm or kill its sovereign. 2. A violation of allegiance to one’s sovereign or to one’s state. 3. The betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.
Jealousy – Jealous resentment against a rival, a person enjoying success or advantage, etc., or against another’s success or advantage itself.
Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas:
1. What kind of friend are you; fair-weather or true?
2. When so-called friends don’t speak up.
1. Jonathan had to choose between loyalty to his father and loyalty to his friend. Discuss the criteria he used to decide between the two.
2. Discuss ways you can speak up for others.
3. When is it appropriate to be faithful to friends or loyal to civil authorities (Boyd’s Commentary)?
This week’s lesson teaches us about faithful friendship through a covenant between friends. True friends are hard to find. After David killed Goliath he was the real MVP (most valuable player). Everyone loved, praised, and celebrated the great victory over the Philistine. But like the wind, some people’s opinion of you can change. In this week’s text David may have started out as the real MVP but when he needed a real friend it was Jonathan who came to his rescue. True friends are hard to find. A true friend is a friend in good times and bad times.
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week we study the first of two lessons in the book of Ruth. As we continue to learn about covenants between people we will explore the love of Ruth for her mother-in-law Naomi. This is one of the most powerful love stories in all scripture. Next week the text comes from Ruth 1:6-11 and 14-18.