Steadfast Love — Part Two
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Steadfast Love — Part Two

1 Samuel 20:12–42  (ID: 3415)

Our decisions can impact both our immediate and our future circumstances. Jonathan realized the time had come for him to place his trust in David’s steadfast love and to set himself against David’s enemies—including his own father, Saul. Jonathan’s choice to side with God’s appointed king, explains Alistair Begg, secured his descendants’ safety. Like Jonathan, we too must consider our position toward the one true King, Jesus. Will we side with Christ’s foes, or will we place our trust in His covenant love?

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 and 2 Samuel, Volume 3

David, a Man after God’s Heart 1 Samuel 16:1–20:42 Series ID: 109013

Sermon Transcript: Print

I’d like to read from 1 Samuel and chapter 20, beginning to read at the twelfth verse. And I encourage you to follow along if you’re able to. First Samuel 20:12:

“And Jonathan said to David, ‘The Lord, the God of Israel, be witness! When I have sounded out my father, about this time tomorrow, or the third day, behold, if he is well disposed toward David, shall I not then send and disclose it to you? But should it please my father to do you harm, the Lord do so to Jonathan and more also if I do not disclose it to you and send you away, that you may go in safety. May the Lord be with you, as he has been with my father. If I[’m] still alive, show me the steadfast love of the Lord, that I may not die; and do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever, when the Lord cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.’ And Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, ‘May the Lord take vengeance on David’s enemies.’ And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul.

“Then Jonathan said to him, ‘Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed, because your seat will be empty. On the third day go down quickly to the place where you hid yourself when the matter was in hand, and remain beside the stone heap. And I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I shot at a mark. And behold, I will send the boy, saying, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you, take them,’ then you are to come, for, as the Lord lives, it is safe for you and there is no danger. But if I say to the youth, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then go, for the Lord has sent you away. And as for the matter of which you and I have spoken, behold, the Lord is between you and me forever.’

“So David hid himself in the field. And when the new moon came, the king sat down to eat food. The king sat on his seat, as at other times, on the seat by the wall. Jonathan sat opposite, and Abner sat by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty.

“Yet Saul did not say anything that day, for he thought, ‘Something has happened to him. He[’s] not clean; surely he[’s] not clean.’ But on the second day, the day after the new moon, David’s place was empty. And Saul said to Jonathan his son, ‘Why has not the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?’ Jonathan answered Saul, ‘David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem. He said, “Let me go, for our clan holds a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to be there. So now, if I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away and see my brothers.” For this reason he has not come to the king’s table.’

“Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, ‘You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Therefore send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.’ Then Jonathan answered Saul his father, ‘Why should he be put to death? What has he done?’ But Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him. So Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death. And Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had disgraced him.

“In the morning Jonathan went out into the field to the appointment with David, and with him a little boy. And he said to his boy, ‘Run and find the arrows that I shoot.’ As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. And when the boy came to the place of the arrow that Jonathan had shot, Jonathan called after the boy and said, ‘Is not the arrow beyond you?’ And Jonathan called after the boy, ‘Hurry! Be quick! Do not stay!’ So Jonathan’s boy gathered up the arrows and came to his master. But the boy knew nothing. Only Jonathan and David knew the matter. And Jonathan gave his weapons to his boy and said to him, ‘Go and carry them to the city.’ And as soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground and bowed three times. And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most. Then Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, “The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.”’ And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.”


Father, as we prepare to turn to your Word, the Bible, grant that the Holy Spirit may open it up that we might see, and open up the heart of our understanding in order that we might believe and trust. We seek you earnestly. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Well, as you turn—I hope, many of you—to 1 Samuel 20, where we’re resuming from where we left off last Sunday morning, I want to acknowledge again just how daunting I have found it to be to marshal this chapter in a way that I can teach it and allow you to follow along. And I have to let you know that what we do now this morning will feel as though we’ve only eaten half of the meal, because the evening study is really vital to bring closure to what we’re doing now. You say, “Oh, well, that’s just a clever way for you to try and get us to come to the evening service.” No, absolutely not. It hasn’t worked in the past. I don’t see why it would work now. But it is an honest acknowledgment of the fact that as I studied this, I realized pretty early on in the week that I would not be able, without doing despite to the passage, to compress it into one study, and for all kinds of reasons, I did not want it to run into another Sunday. I wanted to finally get to the end of chapter 20 today. And so I need to ask for your help in this and your patience in this as we look at the text together.

You will notice that we had ended at verse 10 and verse 11, where, after the interaction between David and Jonathan, David had finally said to Jonathan, “You know, how am I gonna find out what kind of response is coming from your father?” And as a result of that, Jonathan said, “Well, listen, let’s actually go out into the field,” presumably “so that we can talk to one another without fear of being overheard.”[1] And if you are looking at verse 11, look down at verse 18 and realize how easy it would be to go from verse 11 to verse 18. In fact, let me read them: “And Jonathan said”—verse 11—“to David, ‘Come, let us go out into the field.’ So they both went out into the field.” Verse 18: “Then Jonathan said to him, ‘Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed, because your seat will be empty.’”

So why, then, verses 12–17? Some people say, “Well, it was an insertion from another source.” Usually liberal scholarship comes up with that kind of notion. For myself, I take it that it is a purposeful interruption—in other words, that the writer of this story is more concerned at this point in our reading for us to understand what he now conveys in verses 12–17 than it is for us to be able to chase immediately to verse 18 and to the resolution of the story.

All of the material that we’re dealing with is historical, and all of it is theological, in that it is teaching us, giving us information and truth about God. But in one sense, this section, 12–17, is particularly so. And it is a reminder to us that when we read passages like this, we are reading them in such a way that we might learn about God and his unfolding purposes. And in the last occasion, we realize that David, in dealing with the predicament that was before him in terms of Saul’s desire to murder him, was addressed by him finding security in the covenant love of God.

Jonathan’s Need for Encouragement

And now, as we come to this section, we discover that Jonathan’s need for encouragement—not in view of the immediacy of things but in view of taking the long view—his need is exactly the same and is to be met in the exact same way.

Some of you, years ago, like me, will have looked into a book written by Suzy Welch, who was the wife—or is the wife, I’m not sure—of Jack Welch of GE. And she wrote a book about decision-making which, I recall, was entitled 10-10-10. I didn’t read the entire book. I got the gist of it early on and figured I didn’t need to read the rest of it, because in actual fact, all you needed to read was the cover. Because the thesis was straightforward. When you make a decision, she says, it is important that you think in terms of the implications of that decision in the light of ten minutes, ten months, ten years,[2] so that a decision that is made in a moment has ramifications. We understand that.

And the decisions that are being made in this chapter here are not only addressing the immediate impact of the threats on David’s life, they’re not only addressing the longevity of David’s coming kingdom, but they’re actually, beyond that, dealing with the matter of forever. I don’t know if you noticed how twice this comes up. In verse 23, where Jonathan is speaking, and he says, “As for the matter of which you and I have spoken, behold, the Lord is between you and me forever.” And in the closing verse of the chapter, to which we’ll come this evening—but just look at it—verse 42, again: “The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.” Now, that “forever” is important, and it is an indication to us, I think, of just why it is that we have this particular section in this place in this chapter. The preoccupation of David is an immediate one. The concern of Jonathan is a long-term one, as will become apparent.

Now, here in verse 12, Jonathan addresses David. And notice how he does so: “The Lord, the God of Israel, be witness!” So in other words, he’s making the point, and the writer is allowing us to understand, that what Jonathan is about to say now is a matter of great significance. What he is saying to David is underneath, if you like, the gaze of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Jacob. After all, this whole drama here is about Israel; it is about the people of God; it’s about the king that has been rejected; it is about the one who has been anointed, and so on. And so there is a solemnity about Jonathan’s words.

He lets David know that he’s going to operate once again in the way that he had done previously at the beginning of chapter 19: “I’m going to sound out my father about this time tomorrow, or the third day.” And he says, “If he’s well disposed towards David, shall I not then send and disclose it to you? I will definitely let you know. But should it please my father to do you harm…”

Let’s just pause on that for a moment. Who takes pleasure in doing people harm? That is actually sadistic. That is a sadistic pleasure where people take great delight in harming other people. And what we’ve already seen in the kind of deconstruction of Saul as a personality is that he apparently has a dreadful capacity for doing this, and that it is not that he’s just a little bit miffed about the fact that David appears to be very popular while he seemingly has just gone right off the scale in terms of the popularity amongst his people. It’s not just that. No.

So, “If it should please my father to do you harm,” says Jonathan humbly, so there’s a solemnity to it, there’s an honesty to it, there’s a humility to it, “the Lord do so to Jonathan”—see how he speaks in the third person here?—“and more also if I do[n’t] disclose it to you and send you away, that you may go in safety.”

Now, at the risk of undue repetition, let me say again, so that we understand what has happened here: the plan which has been conceived, that we’ve already considered at the beginning of the chapter and to which we will return—the plan for immediate application to deal with the predicament that is facing David—is now lost sight of in this section. It has actually faded from view, because in the long-term view, it is Jonathan, now, who feels himself to be in the place of danger. He is concerned about the well-being of David, but he also recognizes that when David becomes the king, everything will be flipped, and he is the one who will be threatened, potentially, by David’s kingship.

Consider the closing sentence there in verse 13, where, as he addresses him in this way, he says, “May the Lord be with you, as he has been with my father.” Now, when I read that, I had to make a little note of it, because I knew that there would be a number of people who, when we came to this, would say, “Oh, wait a minute! You said that we are not supposed to pray, ‘The Lord be with you’—or at least you alluded to it, and you warned us against it.”

Well, I wasn’t laying down laws about what you’re allowed to say in your prayers. If you recall correctly, in studying the prayers in the Ephesian letter, we were remarking on the fact of how unlike our prayers are the prayers of Paul. And I said, “For example, he doesn’t spend any time praying about somebody’s particular illness—not that it’s wrong to do so and so on—but his prayers were big; they were kingdom prayers; they were beyond us.” And I said, “And you certainly don’t find him saying, ‘And the Lord be with this person, and be with that person, and be with the next person,’ because, after all, the Lord is already with them. Right?” Then I looked at this and I said, “What are you gonna do with that?” And that’s what some of you are thinking. Yeah!

Well, is Jonathan just falling foul of that? Is he guilty of doing what we cautioned one another about? I believe I can say categorically that the answer is no. Absolutely not. This is not a pious wish on the part of Jonathan. This is actually a significant statement—because think about it: In what way was the Lord with Saul? He was with Saul in establishing him and enabling him in the fulfillment of the role of king. Remember, the Spirit of the Lord had “rushed upon” Saul,[3] and he was peculiarly with him in being set apart to this task. But now, of course, that’s no longer the case. Saul has been rejected, the kingdom has been torn from him, and it has been given to a neighbor who Samuel told him “is better than you.”[4] Right? And Jonathan now has at least an inkling of the fact that this neighbor who is better than his father is none other than David, whom he now addresses in this dialogue. And so when he says, “May the Lord be with you, as he has been with my father,” the Hebrew scholars tell me that that might equally be translated “May the Lord be with you as he was with my father,” making the past tense all the more striking. In other words, what he’s saying is this: “May you become the king. May you become the king. May you be enthroned as king.”

Now, you may consider these things, and you are sensible people. But the appeal that he makes to this end is actually along the lines of before. And you will notice this: “If I am still alive,” verse 14—“if I haven’t died before all this happens”—“show me the steadfast love of the Lord, that I may not die.” Now, we’ll deal with this in just a moment. But you’ll notice: “If I’m still alive, show me the steadfast love of the Lord, so that I don’t die.” Okay?

First to notice is the fact that the same word is used here as was used back in verse 8. Back in verse 8, you will recall, it was used by David in making his appeal to Jonathan: “Deal kindly with your servant,” verse 8, “for you have brought your servant into a covenant of the Lord with you.” So that is his appeal. Now the same way: “Show me the steadfast love of the Lord.”

Now, remember that the two of them are out in the field. And the reason they’re out in the field is because David is afraid of Saul and appeals to Jonathan for his help. But now what is strange and yet striking is that it is Jonathan who’s the one who’s afraid. Jonathan is afraid of the one who is afraid. They’re out in the field because David is afraid, and Jonathan now says to him, “I’m afraid! I’m afraid that if I’m still alive when you become the king, that you might put me to death—and not only me, but you might cut off your steadfast love,” same word, “from my house forever.” David, on that occasion, will be the one in the position of power.

The relationship between Jonathan and David drives us forward to the future King, to the King of Kings, so that each one will be forced to decide whether they stand with him or they stand with his enemies.

And Jonathan is essentially saying here words that are most familiar on the lips of somebody much later in the game and far, far on. You remember the man turned to Jesus and he said, “[Lord,] remember me when you come into your kingdom”?[5] That is essentially what Jonathan is saying here: “If I’m still alive, show me the steadfast love of the Lord. I don’t want to die. Don’t cut off your steadfast love from my house forever when,” notice, “Yahweh cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” Now, who was enemy number one of David? Saul, Jonathan’s father.

Now, think about this, and we’ll come back to it in the evening, in terms of its striking impact. What is Jonathan saying here? He’s at least saying this: “David, I take my side with you. I side with you. You show me the steadfast love of the Lord when you come into your kingdom, and I know that on that occasion Yahweh will defeat all of your enemies. But in the midst of it all, save me.”

Now, the background to this is pretty straightforward. The historical practice at this time, in this period of history, was that when a new kingdom was established, it was customary for the previous members of the previous regime to be purged. To be purged. You just get rid of them. Now, we see this in the transition of political power: somebody comes in, and to the extent that they’re able to, they get rid of all of the previous group. We’ve seen it with Brexit in the UK in the last while with the reshuffling of the Cabinet. Well, it’s one thing to reshuffle a Cabinet; you know, you might not have the chair that you had before, but at least you’ve got your head. And so, even when the headlines read in the reshuffling of Boris’s cabinet, you know, “Heads Will Roll,” mercifully, that is a metaphor. But in this case, in this period, it wasn’t a metaphor. And the conventional political policy was straightforwardly consolidation by liquidation. So what did you do? You simply got rid of them all. So, it is in that context that Jonathan’s appeal is being made.

The point, you see, to which this little interruption, as I put it, comes is to make the case clearly, because of the future dimension of it, that there has come a time now for Jonathan in his love for David, the future king, to set himself against the enemies of that king, no matter who those enemies may be. And in this case, that first of all means his father—that the familial ties of blood and life and privilege and opportunity and so on that are represented within the house of Saul, which are being dismantled as we read, confront Jonathan with a decision, a 10-10-10 decision: What will this mean 10 minutes from now? What will this mean 10 months from now? What will this mean 10 years from now? What will this mean forever? And the point that we ought to make sure we do not miss is that this is driving us forward to the future King, to the King of Kings, so that each one will be forced to decide whether they stand with him or they stand with his enemies.

Now, it is this appeal which is made, and at this point in the story, that’s all we have. The appeal is a straightforward appeal: “I appeal to you on the basis of love.” We have to actually go considerably forward to find out if David actually follows through. And because I know many of you will be unable to eat your lunch if you don’t at least get some resolution to this, you can turn to 2 Samuel chapter 9. If any of us live long enough to study 2 Samuel 9, then we will find here in 2 Samuel 9 that the appeal that Jonathan made, David honored. So here in 2 Samuel 9:1: “And David said, ‘Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness,’” hesed, steadfast love, “‘for Jonathan’s sake?’” And then you have this little detailing of this group of individuals. We pick it up in verse 6: “And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, ‘Mephibosheth!’”—which is actually not that easy to say—“‘Mephibosheth!’ And he answered, ‘Behold, I am your servant.’ And David said to him, ‘Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.’”

So, it will become clear to us as the journey continues that David is a man of loyalty. He honors the covenant promise in being made to his friend. And if Jonathan’s plea pointed us to the man who was crucified beside Jesus, then surely what we see here in David is an indication of the loving commitment of Jesus as King to those who are his own. In John’s Gospel, John records, in chapter 13, these words: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”[6] “He loved them to the end.”

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.”[7] And the endurance in the immediate for David, and the encouragement in the prospect of the long haul for Jonathan, and the issue for us of the 10-10-10-forever dimension—the answer is the same in each case. That’s why we’ve sung what we’ve sung. The steadfast love of the Lord. It’s the love of every loves the best. It is the love that is not some kind of squishy sentimental notion, but it is the love of which was read for us in 1 John 4, that “herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and [he] sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins”[8]—in other words, that this King wore a crown of thorns, that this King’s love extended to the giving of himself, and “having loved his own …, he loved them to the [very] end.” How do you know that he will keep his promise? Because he promised. How could Jonathan have any assurance? Because of David’s covenant commitment—and vice versa.

Some people—I meet them all the time—they’re telling me, “Oh, I don’t get that, Alistair. I think what I have to do is I’ve gotta try my best, I’ve gotta do my best, I’ve gotta keep this commitment and that commitment and the next commitment, and perhaps, when I finally get it all front-loaded in that way, I will have sufficient to be able to present myself before God.” What a bizarre idea, when you consider it in the light of “the love that drew salvation’s plan,” the love that “brought it down to man … the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary!” Because, you see, “mercy there was great, and grace was free,” and “pardon there is multiplied”[9] to the one who will come and say, “According to your steadfast love…”

You prepare a table before me
  in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil.[10]

I wonder, did Jesus have that psalm in mind when on that amazing occasion, that lady came in, and she broke that alabaster jar of ointment, and she anointed his head? And his own folks said, “This is kind of ridiculous. Why would she do this? This could have been sold and given to the poor,” and so on. You remember the event. And Jesus says, “Hey, not so fast. She is preparing me for my burial.”[11] His enemies were all around him. He was anointed. David has been anointed. David is going to become king. Jonathan says, “If I’m still alive when you do, show me the steadfast love of the Lord, so that I don’t die. And David, I’m relying entirely upon your word.”

You’re either resting in your morality or you’re resting in God’s mercy.

My dear friends, if you’re in Christ, that is exactly what you’re going to say on that day:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to your cross I cling;
Naked, come to you for dress;
And helpless come to you for rest.[12]

“I’m a stinker, and to your fountain now I fly. Wash me, Jesus, or I’m a dead man,[13] for I rest in your steadfast love.” My friends, I say to you again: you’re either resting in your morality or you’re resting in God’s mercy. May your proud endeavors to patch yourself up crumble before you before the day is over, and may you cast yourself on the steadfast love of the Lord, which never, ever comes to an end.

Tonight we will get back to the Robin Hood part, with the arrows and the little boy. But for now, a brief prayer. And if you would like to pray with someone or think these issues through or take literature away with you, through the doors to my right and your left you will have the opportunity to do so.

Lord, thank you that your Word never, ever returns to you empty but accomplishes its purposes,[14] even when it’s a kind of rambling story as we’ve had to work through this morning. Our confidence remains the same: not in the ability of somebody to try and package the material but in the very truth of the Word of God itself. Thank you for your unbounded love in Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.

[1] 1 Samuel 20:10–11 (paraphrased).

[2] Suzy Welch, 10-10-10: A Life-Transforming Idea (New York: Scribner, 2009), 9.

[3] 1 Samuel 10:10 (ESV).

[4] 1 Samuel 15:28 (ESV).

[5] Luke 23:42 (ESV).

[6] John 13:1 (ESV).

[7] Lamentations 3:22 (ESV).

[8] 1 John 4:10 (KJV).

[9] William R. Newell, “At Calvary” (1895).

[10] Psalm 23:5 (ESV).

[11] See Matthew 26:6–12; Mark 14:3–8; John 12:1–7.

[12] Augustus M. Toplady, “Rock of Ages” (1776). Lyrics lightly altered.

[13] Toplady. Paraphrased.

[14] See Isaiah 55:11.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.