Our First Love

By Amber Noel

A Reading from 1 Samuel 20:1-23

1 David fled from Naioth in Ramah. He came before Jonathan and said, “What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin against your father that he is trying to take my life?” 2 He said to him, “Perish the thought! You shall not die. My father does nothing either great or small without disclosing it to me; and why should my father hide this from me? Never!” 3 But David also swore, “Your father knows well that you like me; and he thinks, “Do not let Jonathan know this, or he will be grieved.” But truly, as the Lord lives and as you yourself live, there is but a step between me and death.” 4 Then Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you say, I will do for you.” 5 David said to Jonathan, “Tomorrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at the meal; but let me go, so that I may hide in the field until the third evening. 6 If your father misses me at all, then say, ‘David earnestly asked leave of me to run to Bethlehem his city; for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family.’ 7 If he says, ‘Good!’ it will be well with your servant; but if he is angry, then know that evil has been determined by him. 8 Therefore deal kindly with your servant, for you have brought your servant into a sacred covenant with you. But if there is guilt in me, kill me yourself; why should you bring me to your father?” 9 Jonathan said, “Far be it from you! If I knew that it was decided by my father that evil should come upon you, would I not tell you?” 10 Then David said to Jonathan, “Who will tell me if your father answers you harshly?” 11 Jonathan replied to David, “Come, let us go out into the field.” So they both went out into the field.

12 Jonathan said to David, “By the Lord, the God of Israel! When I have sounded out my father, about this time tomorrow, or on the third day, if he is well disposed towards David, shall I not then send and disclose it to you? 13 But if my father intends to do you harm, the Lord do so to Jonathan, and more also, if I do not disclose it to you, and send you away, so that you may go in safety. May the Lord be with you, as he has been with my father. 14 If I am still alive, show me the faithful love of the Lord; but if I die, 15 never cut off your faithful love from my house, even if the Lord were to cut off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” 16 Thus Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord seek out the enemies of David.” 17 Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him; for he loved him as he loved his own life.

18 Jonathan said to him, “Tomorrow is the new moon; you will be missed, because your place will be empty. 19 On the day after tomorrow, you shall go a long way down; go to the place where you hid yourself earlier, and remain beside the stone there. 20 I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I shot at a mark. 21 Then I will send the boy, saying, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you, collect them,’ then you are to come, for, as the Lord lives, it is safe for you and there is no danger. 22 But if I say to the young man, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then go; for the Lord has sent you away. 23 As for the matter about which you and I have spoken, the Lord is witness between you and me for ever.”


Close father-son relationships are perhaps rare. Saul’s and Jonathan’s relationship, already complex and tenuous, still, amazingly, retained an element of trust. But now a decisive wedge is driven between them. It’s not that Jonathan chooses David over Saul in this passage so much as he admits that he already has. Instead of trying to serve two masters whose goals are at odds, even if he loves them both, Jonathan stakes his life on one: “Whatever you say, I will do for you.”

We might think of Jesus’ words of warning to those who would truly love him: “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34), dividing even between close family members. His claim to our loyalty and dependence is primary and total. It cuts off the competing claim of any other bond. Our other human bonds can only come back to us, can only develop the potential for lasting fruitfulness and spiritually licit sweetness, when they submit to this first love. If they do not, there will be division.

Who is this that makes this claim on us? The King, the Lord, the Anointed One. Yes. We see this image in David, his kingly forerunner. But as David also reminds us here, and in all the psalms of running and hiding, Christ our divine claimant is also guiltless, guileless, humble, and pure of heart. He is “a green olive tree in the house of God” (Ps. 52:8). Neither his majestic power nor his vulnerable humanity can be fathomed. And they are the same glory.

Though the story of Jonathan and David is the story of two flawed human friends, their mutual faithfulness is a prism through which God beams an image of his own kingship, persecution, humility, capacity for friendship, and invitation to us to a total joining of lives with his, an everlasting primary bond, a dedication without remainder, a love that will not fail.

Amber Noel, M.Div., is Associate Editor at the Living Church and Associate Director of The Living Church Institute. Off the clock, she is the author of short fiction, book and culture reviews, and work for the stage.

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Today we pray for:

St. Francis in the Fields Episcopal Church, Harrod’s Creek, Ky.
The Diocese of Maridi (Province of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan)


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