1 Samuel 17 provides an alternative description of Saul and David’s first meeting. In 1 Samuel 17:12 we read, “Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons.” This is said as though we have never met David before, even though David has already been introduced in 1 Samuel 16. Then, at the end of chapter 17, Saul asks who David is, as though he has never met him, even though in chapter 16 David plays the lyre for Saul. The only reasonable explanation of this is that we have here two different sources on the life of David that are being combined in the narrative of 1 Samuel. The second source begins with the famous story of David and Goliath.
Though Michelangelo’s sculpture of David is indeed a stunning work of art and well deserving of all the praise that has been lauded upon it, that sculpture is really not in keeping with the depiction of David in this passage. In Michelangelo’s sculpture we are presented with a David who is super-human, more than life size. There is no doubt that such a David would have been able to wipe out Goliath without batting a single stone eyelash.
However, the David we meet in 1 Samuel 17 is a mere boy (although ruddy and handsome in appearance, Michelangelo would be glad to know). This David has no experience with armor and thus rejects the extra weight and protection of Saul’s offered kit. Shepherd-boy David trusts more in his sling and five smooth stones from the wadi than he does in the armor or sword of a king. However, more than anything else, the boy David trusts in “the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel”.
The account of David and Goliath is beautifully written. We can imagine each step, and even each facial nuance in the confrontation. No wonder that this single story in Scripture has provoked the work of artists down the centuries, perhaps more than any other tale from the Hebrew Scriptures. Furthermore, this story has given inspiration to countless “little guys,” both individual and political entities, going up against the giants of the world. It would appear that the political powers that be in Florence five hundred years ago had a political purpose in commissioning Michelangelo’s statue of David in the first place. (See: Michelangelo's David.)
1 Samuel 18-20 regales us with the story of the relationship between David and Saul’s son Jonathan. The king’s son is present when David presents the head of Goliath to Saul. We read:
When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul…. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. (1 Samuel 18:1,3-4)
I cannot think of any other description in the Bible of such extreme love and devotion between two human beings. We are told twice that Jonathan loved David as his own soul. Of course, Leviticus instructs us all to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. However, something more seems to be going on here for “Jonathan was bound to the soul of David”. Moreover, he makes a covenant with David as well, though we are not told the nature of this covenant. Then Jonathan does the amazing symbolic (?) deed of stripping himself of his own clothing, armor, sword, belt, and giving it all to David. Is this something that mere friends do for one another? Later on in chapter 18 we are told that Saul’s daughter Michal “loved” David, but that expression of love is rather barren compared to Jonathan’s effusive one.
Jonathan’s love for David continues despite his father’s growing animosity and intention to kill his young warrior (1 Samuel 19:1). Then, in 1 Samuel 20:17, Jonathan makes “David swear again by his love for him; for he loved him as he loved his own life.” Thus, we are now informed that the love is mutual.
When Jonathan speaks up for David at the height of his father’s anger against David, Saul's anger extends to Jonathan as well. Saul says to his son, “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?” Why is Jonathan a shame to his mother’s nakedness? Why does Saul’s attack have this sexual edge to it?
After this incident, Jonathan goes to his pre-arranged meeting with David to warn him of Saul’s intentions. At this meeting, the two kiss each other and weep together and we read that: “David wept the more”.
Looking ahead to the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, we find in 2 Samuel that David composes a formal lament for them, one to be taught to the people of Judah. In the conclusion to that lament David says,
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful,
passing the love of women. (2 Samuel 1:26)
The nature of the love between Jonathan and David has not only been questioned in recent times, but down through history. You can read more about that here: David and Jonathan. Whatever the nature of that love, whether it be friendship, agape, or something with tinges of Eros to it, there is no question that it was a great and beautiful love, one that every human being could only wish for in a relationship with another human being. I mean: would not everyone be blessed to have a friend who would die for them? In fact, we do have such a friend. His name is Jesus....