Note: The Digging Deeper section is for the more advanced Bible student who wants a more in-depth study. If that’s not you, we encourage you to read about Jonathan and David here.
Understanding Jonathan’s relationship with David requires a careful study of Scripture. It’s important to look at several amazing stories.
Jonathan’s father is Saul. Scripture tells us that Saul is the tall, handsome son of a wealthy family of the tribe of Benjamin.
One day several of the family’s donkeys seem to get lost and Saul is dispatched to go look for them. He takes one of his men along and they search high and low, but there’s no sign of the animals.
Saul decides to return home, concerned that his father will be worried, but the man with him suggests that they first consult the local prophet. Apparently, everything the Godly man says comes true.
“Perhaps he can tell us the way we should go,” Saul’s man says. 1 Samuel 9:6 ESV
So, off they go in search of the prophet.
Meanwhile, God has already told Samuel, the prophet, to expect a man from the tribe of Benjamin that day. Samuel is to anoint him to lead Israel.
So, the bottom line here is that Saul leaves home in search of lost donkeys and returns as the first King of Israel. His family doesn’t learn of it right away, but can you imagine how stunned they were? Especially his oldest son Jonathan?
Saul’s age and reign are subject to disagreement, but most translations claim that he was 30 years old when he became king and ruled 42 years. Acts says 40 years. 1 Samuel 13:1, Acts 13:21
His age is important because two years into his reign, Saul and his son take on the enemy Philistines. Saul has an army of 2,000 and Jonathan has an army of 1,000. But if Saul is only 32, how old can his son possibly be? Sixteen at best, yet Saul clearly has faith in him. 1 Samuel 13:1-2
The Philistines at this time control Israel; no Israelite is allowed a weapon, only farming equipment which must be sharpened by the Philistines. So, when the Israelites go to war, only Saul and Jonathan have a spear and sword. 1 Samuel 13:18-23
Scripture says “Jonathan defeated the garrison of the Philistines that was at Geba.” 1 Samuel 13:3
It seems that Jonathan slips out of the Israelite camp with his armor-bearer. The young crown prince then hurries toward the Philistine garrison that sits at the top of a rocky crag. But first he inquires of God as to whether the two can take the garrison. When God gives Jonathan a sign, the youth doesn’t hesitate. He climbs that crag on his hands and feet and kills 20 Philistines along with his armor-bearer. God then sends an earthquake which throws the rest of the Philistine garrison into panic and chaos. Seeing this from afar, Saul rallies the Israelite army and chases the Philistines who flee to their country.
There’s more detail at my column here and also at 1 Samuel 14:1-23.
Many think Jonathan and David were contemporaries, but that’s not so. We know that Saul is roughly 70-72 when he’s killed in battle along with Jonathan, who would have been roughly 54-56. We also know David is 30 at the time of their deaths. 2 Samuel 5:4
Accordingly, Jonathan and David were about 25 years apart.
There’s no clear indication of David’s age when he fights Goliath except that he’s a “youth.” Whether that means 15, 16, or 18, Jonathan would be in his forties.
When young David steps forth to fight Goliath, Jonathan sees that David believes wholeheartedly that God will give him the victory just as Jonathan had when he took on the Philistine garrison.
It’s fair to say that Jonathan may have never met anyone else who was as great a warrior as he’d been and who trusted God as completely.
Jonathan sees himself in David, which produces the greatest of friendships — they were kindred spirits.
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