In 1 Samuel 20:30–34, When Jonathan lied to his father regarding David’s absence, “Saul became angry with Jonathan and shouted” at him (1 Samuel 20:30). Furthermore, Saul distanced himself from Jonathan: no longer was the royal heir referred to as “my son” (1 Samuel 14:39–42); he had now become the “son of a perverse and rebellious woman” (1 Samuel 20:30). Saul now accused his own heir of being in league with the very one whom Saul believed would destroy the family dynasty.
In an apparent effort to bring Jonathan back to his side, Saul appealed to three powerful motivators: shame, guilt, and greed.
- First, he noted that Jonathan’s scandalous betrayal was bringing about personal “shame.”
- Second, in an attempt to elicit feelings of guilt, Saul noted that Jonathan’s actions were also bringing shame on “the mother who bore you.” (whom, by the way, he himself had just shamed by calling her “perverse and rebellious.”
- Third, Saul appealed to his son’s greed, noting that “you and your kingship are not secure” (1 Samuel 20:31).
Having thrust these three barbs into Jonathan’s soul, Saul then issued a royal command, ordering his son to “send and bring” David, “for he must die!”
Remarkably, however, Jonathan resisted all urges (shame, guilt, and greed) and defended David. The defense took the form of asking his father two parallel questions that hit at the heart of Saul’s responsibilities as God’s representative: “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” (1 Sam 20:32). As king over God’s people and thus chief enforcer of the Torah, Saul must not execute the innocent (Exodus 23:7), and David had not committed any offense worthy of execution.
However, Saul was no longer acting as God’s representative. The king’s mad drive to eliminate David was now controlling him. Since Saul’s son had chosen to identify himself with David, he must be treated like David. Remarkably, “Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him” (1 Sam 20:33). Though Saul’s spear missed him, Jonathan got the point—“his father intended to kill David.”
Immediately Jonathan left the room “in fierce anger” (1 Sam 20:34) and spent the remainder of the day fasting and grieving. The reason for Jonathan’s understandable reactions is not one that could have been anticipated; Jonathan did not grieve because of the humiliating or murderous treatment of his father but because of “his father’s shameful treatment of David.” Jonathan’s reaction serves as one of the purest displays of human loyalty found in the bible!