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The Friendship of David and Jonathan

By Rev D. Richard Stuckwisch

As we consider what the Word of God has to say concerning the friendship between David and Jonathan, we also ask what the Lord here teaches us about the vocation of friendship in our lives. How are we to think about and deal with our friends, as such, and to rejoice in the unique relationship that we are blessed to have and share with them? Of course, the story of David and Jonathan is not prescriptive (it does not command what we must do), but it describes a relationship blessed by God in its own day, and permanently honored by its place in Scripture.

Several times it is recorded that Jonathan loved David as he loved himself (1 Samuel 18:1, 3; 20:17). Such a friendship, therefore, exemplifies the sort of love that we are commanded to have for each and all of our neighbors; for “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; Luke 10:25ff.). To have a friend, whom you love “as yourself” provides you with a specific and particularized opportunity to live according to the Word of the Lord. Otherwise, it is easy to “love everyone” with noble sentiment and good intention, without really loving anyone.

Jonathan and David were united in their very souls (1 Samuel 18:1). This sort of language, at least on the surface of it, recalls the popular notion of “soul mates.” It bears no romantic connotations, however; nor is it an example of pop psychology. Rather, it touches upon the spiritual and theological significance of friendship, and of our relationship with others, in which we live in love toward our neighbor in faith and love toward the one true God. Consider, for example, what St. John writes in his first epistle: “If someone says,‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:20–21). In this respect, again, friendship provides us with specific and particular relationships, in which our love for God—and the Christian love that we are required to have for all of our neighbors—is able to become focused and concrete.

David and Jonathan had a “covenant” between them (1 Samuel 18:3; 20:8, 12–16ff.). In this, once more, we may think of friendship as a “synod” of individuals: a covenant between friends—in, with, and under the Lord Himself (in faith toward Him, with fervent love toward one another). All human relationships, including friendship, ultimately flow out of the original human relationship that God established and bestowed in His creation of man and woman in His own divine image (Genesis 1:27).

Among the many and various sorts of relationships that we are given to have with the people all around us in every aspect of life, there is a unique and special place for friendship. It is neither marriage nor family, on the one hand; nor is a friend simply an acquaintance or a colleague, on the other hand; although friendship does bear similarities to each of these other relationships. True friendship is a rare and precious kind of love (philos again), and a relationship that enables us to know and understand ourselves, without being curved in upon ourselves (in the way of sin).

It helps us to be turned toward others (our neighbors), outside of ourselves, as God has turned His own divine, eternal Love, outside of Himself, toward us in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son. Christ has, in fact, called us His “friends” in this very sense (John 15:12–17).

We see a reflection of ourselves in our friends because we see in them others who share the same interests and commitments, the same values and passions, as we do. We see in them others who relate to the world, and who make their way through life,in much the same way that we do. So it is that, in relating to our friends, we are enabled to better understand our own place in the world, and to make sense of who and what we are, of why we are here and what we are doing. All of this without sinking into self-centeredness, but being opened in love toward others. We certainly find a marvelous example of unselfishness in Jonathan’s friendship with David!

All things considered, friendship itself, and each of our friends in particular, are among the Holy Triune God’s First Article gifts of “daily bread” (as the Catechism also identifies). They are also among the ways in which we are assisted, by God, in rejoicing in His Creation: as we engage in projects, hobbies, and other activities together with our friends. To enjoy a sport (like archery, as in the case of Jonathan), or an art (such as music, as in the case of David), or whatever other sort of interest we may share and appreciate—together with our friends—is to receive and use the good gifts of God as He has intended.

The Rev. Dr. D. Richard Stuckwisch is pastor of Emmaus Lutheran Church in South Bend, Indiana.