Men as Friends
I Samuel 17:57-18:4
As human beings, relationships with other people are an integral part of our lives. Outside our family, you and I refer to these relationships as “friends.” In our modern usage of the word, a friend can denote someone who is merely a passing acquaintance whose company you enjoy. It can refer to someone you have contact with on social media, even though you really don’t know them very well. Or it can be used of someone in whom you would confide your deepest secrets.
You’ve heard the saying; “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” In other words, a friend who supports you in your time of need, is a true friend. You may have experienced relationships where so-called friends deserted you in your time of need. Their failure to stand by you led you to conclude they most likely never were a real friend. Many people see friendship as a tool to get what they can for themselves. If their relationships involve a personal cost to them, they’re gone!
The Roman statesman and philosopher, Cicero, said that “a [true] friend is another self, one before whom you could utter your thoughts aloud.” Do you have any friends like that? I don’t know if Cicero was influenced by Solomon’s proverbs, but his statement reminds me of Proverbs 17:17. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
The Bible teaches the importance of friendships. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 we read “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falls; for he has not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevails against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
For the past weeks we have been focusing on the subject of biblical manhood. In this concluding message under that theme, I want us to understand how important friendships are for godly men. The moral and gender confusion of our culture has caused many men to shy away from developing close friendships with other men. They fear others will think they have homosexual desires, even though that is the farthest thing from their mind.
To demonstrate the importance and value of masculine friendships we will look into the lives of the biblical characters, David, and Jonathan. Their relationship presents an example of the value of masculine friendships. So, listen now as I read our text, First Samuel 17:57 to 18:4.
In this text we see three ACTIONS that enable men to develop lasting, powerful friendships.
The First ACTION is,
The Understanding of Character
One of the first questions that arise from this text is, why? Why was the soul of Jonathan knit with David? What did Jonathan, the crown prince, see in this son of Jesse, a shepherd, that brought forth a desire for friendship? Jonathan was heir-apparent to the throne of Israel. Why did he need friendship with a “stripling,” as Saul referred to him in chapter seventeen?
Jonathan’s introduction to David is in the setting where an untrained, youthful shepherd boy up-stages the seasoned battle veterans of Israel. He does this by defeating a man who was paralyzing them with fear. Nobody would fight this Philistine giant, Goliath. In fact, when he came out, they all ran away! Not one of them had the courage to take on this giant, even with the promise of great reward.
Enter David. While he sees the impressive size of Goliath, and the lethal nature of his armaments, he sees beyond these to the real battle. And he volunteers to go and fight. As he advances on Goliath, and receives his taunts, he reveals his insight into the greater conflict; “…I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” After promising Goliath that he, David, would take off his head, he stated the reason for his confidence; “…that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.”
In our text, David is in the presence of Saul and Jonathan, and he’s holding in his hand the head of Goliath; this man who had so terrorized the veterans of Israel’s army. That alone would impress any man. One who is willing to step forward and volunteer for a task which may mean certain death inspires the admiration of everyone. One so committed inspires others with the strength of his character. And character is at the root of friendship.
Now, notice chapter eighteen and verse one. This gives us the second reason why Jonathan was attracted to David as a friend. He heard David’s first-hand report of this incredible turn of events. Remember, for forty days this uncircumcised Philistine had defied the armies of Israel and in doing so he defied Israel’s God. Now, the giant is dead and the whole Philistine army is routed.
While chapter eighteen does not tell us what David actually said, we can assume his statements were similar to those in chapter seventeen as he was preparing to go out to meet the giant. His focus was not on himself, his focus was on the honor and glory of God’s name. And that, my friend, is what God is most jealous of, His name and His glory. David was not interested in “tooting his own horn” as we say. He wasn’t there to promote himself. No, when he opened his mouth and gave glory to God, he revealed the thoughts and the motives of his heart.
After hearing David’s report, the soul of Jonathan was knit, it was interwoven or intertwined with the soul of David. David’s conduct and speech revealed a man who understood the important things of life. Jonathan had a chance to observe his father, and all the other supposedly brave warriors of Israel. But none of them could measure up to the strength of character in this young man. In David, Jonathan saw a friend who would not only be trustworthy, loyal, and true, a man who could face overwhelming odds and not back down; he saw a man from whom he could learn the real meaning of life.
As men, you and I need to choose our friends like Jonathan did; based on the strength of their character and commitment to God. Your friends say a lot about who you really are! Proverbs 13:20 tells us, “He that walks with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” And Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron; so, a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” You and I need to align ourselves with those who will “sharpen” us, who will bring out the best in us, who will motivate us to draw closer to God.
These kinds of relationships will call for humility on our part; a willingness to be vulnerable, to allow others to observe our failures and to speak truth into our lives. Ideally, we need to embody both the character of David and the character of Jonathan. We need to be men who are worthy of trust, men who will keep our word even when it costs us more than we counted on. We also need to be men who can see the value of being friends with those who are farther along on the path of righteousness and truth. We need to seek out those whose gracious speech is matched by their strength of character and develop lasting, powerful, life-transforming friendships.
The Second ACTION is,
The Initiation of a Covenant
A covenant is an agreement or treaty between God and men, rulers and subjects, or between households or individuals. One of the first covenants we observe in Scripture is the one God made with Noah after the worldwide flood. That covenant was a solemn promise that God would never again destroy the earth with water. In most cases, including God’s covenant with Noah, the ratification of a covenant was sealed by the offering of sacrifices.
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament states that “…the action involving covenant making employs the idiom “to cut a covenant” (as in Genesis chapter 15), that is making a bloody sacrifice as part of the covenant ritual.” Often, the parties to the covenant would pass between the pieces of the sacrifice. By this action they were saying, “This is what will happen to me if I do not keep the terms of this covenant. In God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15, God passes alone through the pieces of the slain animals. By this He swore faithfulness to His promises and placed the obligations for their fulfilment on Himself.
Verse 3 of our text states, “Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.”In other words, Jonathan loved David so much that he, Jonathan, initiated the covenant. Jonathan saw in David a man who was wholly committed to following God and vindicating God’s name! If you go back to First Samuel chapter 14 you get some amazing insight into the character of Jonathan. In a situation against incredible odds, Jonathan told his armor-bearer; “If they (the Philistines) say ‘Come up unto us,’ then we will go up: for the Lord has delivered them into our hand…”
Looking at the lives of these two men and their implicit trust in the Lord, the covenant they made would seem to have been a covenant made by equals. But we must not forget that David was a mere shepherd, while Jonathan was heir to the throne of his father, Saul. It is also believed that Jonathan was about 30 years older than David. Their love for each other was not based on some outward circumstance or characteristic they had no control over, like size or physical attractiveness. No, their attraction to each other found its roots in their shared purpose on the deepest level of life. Both of them were wholly committed to the Lord.
Somehow, perhaps because he was more in tune with God than his father, Jonathan, knew that God was with David and would ultimately give David the kingdom. Though he personally had the most to lose, Jonathan surrendered to the will of God and pledged his love and friendship to David. And though that covenant was severely tested in a variety of circumstances, both men were faithful to their friendship.
Men, do you have a Jonathan or a David in your life? The perversion of sexuality in our culture has scared many men, even godly men, away from close relationships with other men. But the example of Jonathan and David models for us a genuine, deep, and lasting friendship. You may recall that when David was mourning the death of Saul and Jonathan he said, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women.” Theirs was not a sensual love, as some would try to present it. No, there’s was a love of spirit centered on their love for God and commitment to His cause. We need more men who love each other in the Lord with that depth of commitment.
The Final ACTION is,
The Symbolism of the Confirmation
When covenants were initiated among men, they were often accompanied by the exchange of gifts. Verse four of our text confirms that Jonathan initiated the covenant. He is the only one who gave gifts of tangible property. It may be that David had nothing to give. And Jonathan’s gift also confirms his motives for being David’s friend. This friendship was not about what Jonathan could gain for himself.
Notice with me what Jonathan gave to David. First, he gave his robe. That may not mean much to us today. We can easily give someone a piece of clothing and think little of it. But when Jonathan took off his robe and put it on David that was significant. Jonathan’s robe symbolized his position as the crown-prince. David, the young man, the keeper of sheep, was the servant. Jonathan the crown-prince was the master. In essence, his gift acknowledged a reversal of roles. Jonathan was putting himself at David’s service. And if you read through the rest of the experiences of Jonathan’s life, you see how devoted he was to David.
He also gave David his other garments. This most likely refers to his military uniform and included his sword, his bow, and his belt. For Jonathan to voluntarily give his personal armaments to David was an amazing sacrifice, especially in light of the circumstances. First Samuel 13:20 tells us, “Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel: for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears: But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his plowshare, and his mattock, and his axe, and his sickle… So, it came to pass in the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people that were with Saul and Jonathan: except with Saul and with Jonathan…”
By these gifts Jonathan was acknowledging and submitting to God’s word through the prophet Samuel that Saul’s kingdom, because of his disobedience, would not continue. Instead, it would be given to another man, a man after God’s own heart (First Samuel 13:14). By this, Jonathan demonstrated his submission to God’s plan even at great personal cost. In David, he found a kindred spirit; one who was willing to lay everything on the line in order to protect God’s name and his reputation. No wonder the soul of Jonathan was interwoven with the soul of David.
Men, do you have another brother to whom you can be a Jonathan? Do you have someone who has made a Jonathan-like investment in your life? If not, why not? As I look at the Scripture, at my own life, and at the lives of other Christian men, I perceive that we are too individualistic. If you’re like me, you may have some flaws in your character that you don’t want others to see, and your pride wants to keep them covered. Perhaps because of some past experience we’re fearful of what a close relationship may reveal about us to our brother.
We also live in a time when covenant commitments are not common. Men don’t want to make unconditional promises, not to another man, not to a church congregation, not even to a wife. Most men want an escape hatch, a way to get out of a relationship if things don’t work out to their advantage. But what an example Jonathan is, even following David into the wilderness to encourage him and minister to him. Placing his own life in jeopardy with his father to honor his covenant with David. Oh, that every one of us men could know a friendship like theirs!
What do you have that you can give to invest in the life of another brother? Are you willing to sacrifice your position, your possessions, your prestige, for the sake of your brother? Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” What kind of friend are you?