In 1 Samuel 20:11–23, a remarkable transformation occurs in the narrative beginning at v. 11 and extending through v. 23 as David, the most dynamic character in 1, 2 Samuel, becomes a silent and passive presence on the story line.
In this passage, Jonathan “made a covenant with the house of David” (1 Samuel 20:16). The treaty sought the mutual welfare of both parties and was motivated by the noble kind of love described in the Torah, for Jonathan loved David “as he loved himself” (1 Samuel 20:17).
Jonathan provided the specific details about how he would pass the information along to David. Since David would be expected to participate in the New Moon Festival meals, his absence would certainly be noted because his seat would be empty (1 Samuel 20:18). David was to wait for Jonathan at the place where David “hid when this trouble began.” David was to “wait by the stone Ezel.”
On the third day Jonathan, accompanied by a young servant, would journey to that location for some target practice. The king’s son would “shoot three arrows.” The placement of the arrows, and especially the words Jonathan would shout to his attendant, would convey the essential information to David.
If the signal was given indicating that it was safe to return to Gibeah, David needed to be absolutely certain that the information was accurate and trustworthy. Knowing this, Jonathan swore a solemn oath; ““as the Lord lives” that he would not lead David to return unless he knew that “there is no danger” (1 Samuel 20:21).
In there was a continued threat against him in Gibeah, then David “must go” (1 Samuel 20:22). This turn of events would be tragic for both Jonathan and David. But, demonstrating rare spiritual maturity, Jonathan provided a remarkable theological framework. If it happened, it would be because “the Lord has sent you away.” If the Lord were to permit such an experience in David and Jonathan’s life, it must also be for God’s unchanging divine purposes.
In addition, Jonathan reminded David that the Lord was overseeing their relationship. God might permit their physical separation, but he would preserve their relationship. David and Jonathan’s commitment to loyalty and mutual protection would remain “forever.”