We’re continuing in our series of 1 Samuel—Kingdom and Chaos—and over the last few weeks the volume has been steadily increasing on the “chaos.” Ultimately the story of Israel told in 1 Samuel is the story of God working to form a people who will bring the blessing to the world… and the story how we reject God’s reign and plunge ourselves into darkness. All too often we reject the kingdom of heaven and experience the chaos of hell. Chaos is what happens when you reject the kingdom.
We watch this pattern play out on any level of existence… on the large canvas of world history, the medium canvas of the nation of Israel, and the small canvases of individual lives. Over the last few weeks—through the middle chapters of 1 Samuel—we’ve watched this pattern unfold in the life of the man named Saul.
Saul—once the appointed king of Israel—has been since been relieved of that responsibility… but he won’t let go of the throne. God has made it clear: “You’re not the chosen one, Saul.”And Saul has dug his heels in… he’ll die protecting his right to be supreme: “You can have my crown when you pry it off my cold, dead brow.”
David arrived in Saul’s life a couple of weeks ago in chapter 17, defeating the gigantic champion of Gath called Goliath… and since then Saul has been becoming increasingly obsessed with David. The people are cheering David on—singing songs like:
“Saul has slain thousands,1 Samuel 18v7
but David tens of thousands.”
“Saul slays soliders, but David slays squadrons.”
“Saul conquers enemies, but David conquers armies.”
That’s the number one hit in Israel and it’s making Saul crazy. The people are falling in love with David; and Saul’s own family is falling in love with David. Saul’s son Jonathan feels deep camaraderie with and love for and loyalty to David (18v3). And Saul’s daughter Michal falls madly in love with David (18v20), and been given in marriage to David. So David—in Saul’s mind—is the kid who conquers giants, the general who leads his armies, the new family member that all his children love, and the star of Israel’s favorite song. It’s making Saul crazy.
When he’s eating, he’s thinking about David.
When he’s sleeping, he’s dreaming about David.
When he’s sitting on his throne, he’s brooding about David.
Saul is increasingly obsessed with David because Saul is absolutely consumed with himself. That’s the way it works, isn’t it? We find ourselves absolutely obsessed with something—or with someone—with what they’re doing, with where they’re traveling, with how well they’re performing—but—at the heart of it—we’re obsessed with them because we’re consumed with ourselves.
Their promotion at work makes us so angry, because, really, we’re consumed with why we didn’t get it. Their Facebook posts about traveling eat us alive because, internally, we’re consumed with the fact that we’re not traveling. We obsess about them and their latest purchase—the car, the clothes, the TV—because we’re consumed with wishing we had them. Self-obsession frequently disguises itself as obsession with others.
So when you could get to the heart of it… Saul is increasingly obsessed with David because Saul is absolutely consumed with himself. David is driving Saul crazy, and it’s not David’s fault. Saul is just so consumed with himself—and what he wants (namely, keeping his throne)—that he sees David doing all the right things and he hates him.
Conspiracy theories multiply in his mind:
“David is secretly working to overthrow me.”
“The masses will storm my palace and make David king.”
“My son Jonathan hates me and has thrown in with David.”
And it’s all because Saul is clinging to something that God has rejected. God has said: “That’s not the way your life goes Saul. You were king—but no longer. You’ve got to let go of the throne.” But Saul clings to what God has rejected. And his life—his mind, his personality, everything—descends into chaos.
And so over the last couple of chapters it’s gotten to the point where weapons are coming out. Over the last couple of chapters, we’ve actually seen:
David was playing the lyre, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand and he hurled it, saying to himself, “I’ll pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice.1 Samuel 18v10-11
Saul tried to pin him to the wall with his spear, but David eluded him as Saul drove the spear into the wall. That night David made good his escape.1 Samuel 19v10
…but Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him.1 Samuel 20v33
That last one, however, is interesting. Because do you know who the “him” is at the end of that sentence? That “him” isn’t David. That “him” is Jonathan. Saul’s self-obsession—his refusal to let go of his dreams for his life and to submit to God’s direction—has driven him to this. Not just trying to kill David. Now he’s trying to kill his own son. Trying to kill Jonathan.
Our passage today is the story of how we get to that tragic moment in verse 33:
Then David fled from Naioth at Ramah and went to Jonathan and asked, “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to kill me?”1 Samuel 20v1
So David has been faithfully serving his king and gotten a few spears thrown his way as thanks: “We’re friends, Jonathan… what gives? Your dad doesn’t just seem cranky… he’s, like, trying to kill me.”
“Never!” Jonathan replied. “You are not going to die! Look, my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without letting me know. Why would he hide this from me? It isn’t so!”
But David took an oath and said, “Your father knows very well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he has said to himself, ‘Jonathan must not know this or he will be grieved.’ Yet as surely as the Lord lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death.”
Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.”1 Samuel 20v2-4
So David concocts a plan (v5-11):
“There’s going to be a giant feast—the New Moon festival. I’m supposed to sit at the royal table with you guys… my seat will be empty, and your dad will ask where I am. Tell him I’ve got to Bethlehem for a family thing. If he seems chill about it, then I’m probably ok. But if he flips his lid, we’ll know he wanted me here for something more than dinner.”
That’s the plan. See how Saul reacts when David isn’t around—when it seems like David might have flown the coop. Then we get the passage we heard read today:
Then Jonathan says to David, “I swear by Yahweh. I will sound out my father—I’ll let you know how he acts when you’re not around. If he favors you… or if he intends to harm you.1 Samuel 20v12, 13
And then they vow to each other to protect each others’ families (v14-16).
…Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David saying, “May the LORD call David’s enemies to account.” And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.1 Samuel 20v16, 17
The pronouns get a little blurred right there. He loved him as he loved himself. Who’s the “he”? And who’s the “him”? It doesn’t really matter, because it applies both ways. David loves Jonathan. Jonathan loves David.
And this is costly for Jonathan. When he says in verse 13:
…may the Lord be with you as he has been with my father…1 Samuel 20v13b
He’s acknowledging that David is the chosen one—that David is the rightful king of Israel. And that. is. staggering. Because Saul and Jonathan share almost everything in common, but they have one crucial, life-changing difference. Father and son are both likable, they’re both leaders, they’re both from the same of tribe of Benjamin… and both of them are rejected from the kingship of Israel. Neither Saul nor Jonathan are Yahweh’s chosen king. God has rejected the royal line of Saul.
Saul is driven crazy by trying to cling to something that God has rejected: “My life must be this, my life must be this, I must be king.” But Jonathan has discovered something few of us do: there is spacious freedom in following the supreme instead of fighting the supreme.
God has made it clear: “You’re not the chosen one, Saul.” And the effect of that is the same for Saul’s son: “You’re not the chosen one, Jonathan.” And what is Jonathan’s response? “Well, that’s just fine—who is? I am NOT the chosen one. I am NOT destined to King. Where is God’s anointed one… who is it that I can serve?”
Here is the crucial, life-changing difference between Saul and his son: one will go to his grave clinging to the fantasy that he is supreme, while the other recognizes his life as full and free serving the true supreme. Jonathan has committed his life to something bigger than his life.
And so the scene unfolds:
So David hid in the field, and when the New Moon feast came, the king sat down to eat. He sat in his customary place by the wall, opposite Jonathan, and Abner sat next to Saul, but David’s place was empty. Saul said nothing that day, for he thought, “Something must have happened to David to make him ceremonially unclean—surely he is unclean.” But the next day, the second day of the month, David’s place was empty again. Then Saul said to his son Jonathan, “Why hasn’t the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?”
Jonathan answered, “David earnestly asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem. He said, ‘Let me go, because our family is observing a sacrifice in the town and my brother has ordered me to be there. If I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away to see my brothers.’ That is why he has not come to the king’s table.”
Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!”
“Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Jonathan asked his father. But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.
Jonathan got up from the table in fierce anger; on that second day of the feast he did not eat, because he was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David.1 Samuel 20v24-34
What’s crazy about this story (other than a father trying to kill his own son) is that Saul can’t imagine why David isn’t there. Saul looks around, and is genuinely surprised that David isn’t there. “Why isn’t David here?” (Bro—by my count, you’ve tried to kill him three times!) It’s like the more hate has filled Saul, the more confusion has filled Saul. It’s like the less Saul loves, the less Saul understands the world. Saul has not learned the spacious freedom of serving a supreme… his life is absolutely consumed with being supreme.
Saul and Jonathan are both experiencing the same thing: “You are not the Chosen One… it’s someone else.” They both experience the same thing but it has radically different results in their lives. On the one hand, Saul is filled with delusion, confusion, anger and crazy. On the other hand, Jonathan is filled with clarity, humility, love and generosity. That’s because Saul and his son have two fundamentally different postures about their own lives.
Saul sees his life as primarily about him. “Me—Saul—I’m the center of the story. I’m the center of my own life.”And Saul ultimately can’t deal with a world that won’t revolve around him. Saul can’t deal with a God who won’t bow down to him. (I’m so glad we’re never like this…)
Jonathan, however, sees his life as a gift to be given to God and to whoever God chooses. “Me—Jonathan—I’m a gift. However my life plays out, whatever God chooses—whoever God chooses—I’m going to give myself.”
We could say it this way:
Me at the center of my life makes for madness, but me as a gift to give away makes for meaning.
The most pervasive form of chaos in the world is a person with their self at the center of their life. We find a way to make everything about us… our dreams, our desires, our talents, our career, our children, our ministry… we find endless ways to make the world about us. How we can actualized, how we recognized, how we can be fulfilled? We find endless ways of trying to be supreme… and it makes us crazy.
Where’s the madness in your life? What’s weighing you, distorting you, twisting you— throwing your whole life out of whack, out of proportion, out of balance? However it appears in our lives—and it looks different for all of us—the disease is the same. It’s the madness of me, me, me. It’s the twisted inward posture that no one has to teach us. And it’s what God comes in flesh to save us from.
The true supreme comes to set us free:
“…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”Mark 10:43-45
Jesus comes to each of us and untwists our deepest selves—to teach us the true way of being alive—to live for others. Me is not the center. Me is a gift. for. others.
What would it look like to let go of the delusion that you are supreme? One of the surest signs of God’s kingdom breaking in to the world is a person losing their life for the sake of others. Because that person is actually finding life. There is the path of ever-increasing frustration and selfishness and madness; and there’s another path—the path of the cross. The path of blazed by God himself in Jesus—the path of true meaning and purpose and freedom. One is the path of death… that we’re all familiar with. One is the path of life… that the Spirit is always drawing us to join.