In 1 Samuel 20:24–29 David and Jonathan’s plan was now to take place. David “hid in the countryside” (1 Samuel 20:24). At the meal of the new Moon Festival, “Saul sat down to eat.” The king sat “by the wall” (1 Samuel 20:25). Around the table were seats for Jonathan, Abner, and David. Of course, “David’s place was empty.”
Though Saul noted David’s absence, he reasoned that David had somehow become “ceremonially unclean” (1 Samuel 20:26) David, a devout man, was absent at a ritual meal. This ceremonial uncleanness could be caused by accidental contact with anything ritually unclean or detestable as described in the Torah.
But Saul was forced to change his mind the next day. As David had suspected, Saul expressed concern about David’s absence. The king began his investigation by interrogating David’s best friend—“his son Jonathan”—with words that mark a dramatic shift in attitude. Saul addressed his son, Jonathan, with a tone of alienation and hostility. No longer did Saul mention David by name; instead, his son-in-law had become the “son of Jesse.” This marks the first recorded instance where Saul refers to David in this manner, but it will be by no means the last.
In response to Saul’s subtly hostile questioning, Jonathan presented the cover-up story as convincingly as possible: the son of Jesse was “observing a sacrifice” in Bethlehem with the family of Jesse. David was not acting subversively or secretly in this matter; he went because a family member “ordered” him to, and he had sought permission from a member of the royal family before making the trek.