The Story of David and Jonathan
"There is something divine in deep friendship between men (as in deep friendship between women) that the other sex cannot fully understand or know, a love that can be passionate but not sexual, similar to brotherly or fatherly bond but different. It's a unique relationship, something sacred. The relationship between David and Jonathan in the Bible is an articulate example of this type of brother-love friendship." - The Wicker Chronicles
The story of David and Jonathan - I have wanted to write about it for the longest time because I think it’s speaks of our own longing for intimate friendship. It was a few years ago when I first heard my pastor preached on it. I marveled at the friendship between them. Sacred - is indeed an accurate word. Pastor showed us how this story of intimate friendship reveals Jesus as our covenant friend. It was fascinating to say the least. I was both captivated and intrigued.
I am moved by Jonathan’s unfailing devotion and loyalty to David. He faced a loyalty dilemma with his father, who grew insanely jealous of his son’s friendship with David. Insecure and guilt-ridden over past misdeeds, Saul feared that young David would take away his crown. Although Jonathan tried to stay loyal to both father and friend, his father made it impossible. Soon Jonathan would realize that Saul would kill David if he caught him. Once, in a blind rage, Saul hurled a spear at his own son for standing up for David. As Saul’s son, he stood next in line for the throne. By siding with David, he would ultimately harm himself. Even so, at the risk of his own neck, Jonathan chose to help David escape. He told David he would happily follow his friend as his number-two man. Tragically, the two friends never got the chance to rule together. In a battle against the Philistines, Jonathan fought at his father’s side and was killed. David, mourning his dearest friend, sang a poignant song in tribute. Their loyalty and love make for one of the most beautiful stories of friendship ever told.
“…How the mighty have fallen in battle!
Jonathan lies slain on your heights
I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother
You were very dear to me
Your love for me was wonderful
More wonderful than that of women…”
It has never crossed my mind to question the purity of their friendship. When I first heard or read those accusations, I was both surprised and disturbed. It felt almost like an Adam and Eve moment, when the serpent planted a doubt in them regarding God’s goodness. Isn’t it possible that God is withholding something good from you? Isn’t it possible that what David and Jonathan shared was more than just friendship? Could theirs have been a homosexual relationship? Granted, it wasn’t like any other kind of friendship that we encounter these days. It was something much deeper. But that does not mean it has to be something sexual. So the question now is, are such friendships possible without turning sexual? I believe it is. Although David and Jonathan had a very special bond (they are covenant friends mind you), there is nothing in the Bible that suggests they could be sexually involved with each other. I suspect those who believe otherwise could have missed the context of the story and lack an understanding of covenant relationships. And for the same reason - and also because I do not wish to turn this into some sort of Bible study - I won’t quote verses out of its context here. But you may read the full story for yourself in the first and second book of Samuel in the Bible, particularly 1 Samuel 18-20 and 2 Samuel 1. Perhaps much of it depends on how we interpret inward or outward show of affection in close friendship between the same sexes. Wicker rightly observes,
“Quickly, close friendships between men become suspect, as if men are incapable of supporting friendships with any emotional depth, intimacy or honesty without the relationship becoming sexual. The story of David and Jonathan in the Bible becomes distorted through this lens. Any male closeness is labeled as a sign of homosexuality by the traditional culture and the gay movement. One side is overeager to keep men from "becoming" gay by stopping any "inappropriate" inward or outward show of emotion or affection, and the other is overeager to prove that gay men are everywhere, under every rock and bush. Men who are biologically straight, yet are naturally inclined toward close friendships with other men, are forced to choose: enforce rigid, quasi-Victorian/Puritanical boundaries of emotional distance, or admit to themselves that they are gay or bisexual *only* because they crave the company of other men. This is a great disservice to the entire society. All men should feel free, gay or straight, to enter into friendships with other men that are not pre-judged and pre-determined by hypersexualized, distorted gender stereotypes.”
I believe the David and Jonathan friendship is the sort of friendship God wishes for all of us. Unfortunately some have distorted it – either by pushing the boundaries of such friendship beyond its healthy limits or by pre-judging those who are capable of holding them, by their own perverted thoughts. An important factor that has led to this distortion, I believe, is that we are often confused about our feelings and desires - why we feel a certain way and what they reveal about us? I do not know if many of us ask ourselves these questions or do we just presume someone must be gay or lesbian if they have such feelings. I find the work of John Eldredge particularly helpful in turning our feelings and desires into pathways of understanding our heart. Of course there could be a myriad of other reasons why we could be vulnerable to same-sex attraction. But I have observed and I find true to my own experience that we do not have to act on our feelings and desires if we are not sure what they mean or know that they are contrary to God's ways. We can't control how we feel but we can choose not to act on it. It's not going to be easy but I know it is a wiser choice.