Jonathan; or one thing lacking.

My attention was called at a reading meeting in Gloucestershire, some time ago, to the sad circumstances of the death of Jonathan on Mount Gilboa. Israel fled from before the enemy, and fell. Saul was slain, and his three sons were slain with him. It was the total overthrow of the kingdom of Saul. What a sad picture — the body of Saul and the bodies of his three sons fastened to the walls of Bethshan! Was not this a sad, sad end for any man to come to? But for such a man as Jonathan to come to such a shameful end! How was this? why was this? and what is the lesson that God would have us learn for these last days, in this inspired history?

Perhaps my reader is not very familiar with the inspired record of the life and times of Jonathan. I shall be happy to go over the leading points of this wonderful history; and I may tell you at the outset, that I believe we shall find the story contain some very valuable typical instruction for the present time.

The turning-point in Jonathan’s history is in 1 Samuel 18, and this also illustrates the turning-point in the history of every soul born from above.

True, we find him before this a mighty man of the house of Saul. “He smote the garrison of the Philistines that were in Geba.” “And Saul blew the trumpet throughout the land, saying, Let the Hebrews hear.” (1 Samuel 13:3.) And again, we find him a valiant man at the pass of Michmash. Ten centuries after these events, another could say, “I was alive without the law once.” “If any other man thinks that he has whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more … an Hebrew of the Hebrews.”

Now the turning-point in the life of Jonathan was, in type, very much like the turning-point in the life of Paul on his way to Damascus.

The subject opens. What a study! Israel were gathered together, and pitched by the valley of Elah. On the other side of the valley stood the adversary of the house of Saul — the defier of the armies of Israel. And there was no deliverer in the house of Saul. God sent a saviour king that day — that despised shepherd — a stripling. Ah that despised one is God’s anointed king of Israel. The mighty foe was slain that day by the youngest son of Jesse. “And Saul said to him, Whose son art thou, thou young man? And David said, I am the son of thy servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.” “And it came to pass when he had made an end of speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” (Chap. 18:1.) Ah! Jonathan had looked across that valley of Elah, and beheld that terrible adversary, Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span; and Saul and all Israel were dismayed and greatly afraid. Not one day merely, or two, but for forty days, he thus presented himself, and with him all the armies of Philistia. How gracious of God to send to the camp that saviour David, the unknown king. There he stood, having finished the work God gave him to do. Complete was that victory — the champion was dead, and the Philistines fled. Look at David now. Is not this a figure of that greater victory of David’s greater son?

As Jonathan looked across the valley of Elah, so a soul is sometimes brought to look across the valley of death. And, oh how terrible the dismay, if the great adversary is there, and all the sins of a past life there, all standing in dread array, like the hosts of the Philistines. May I ask you to look across the narrow deep valley, and tell me, has the Saviour Jesus been revealed to your soul, as the saviour David stood revealed to Jonathan? Surely the one is only a picture of the other. But there was reality and certainty to Jonathan, and this for ever won his heart to David. This matter is so momentous — the valley that separates us from eternity so narrow — another, nay, perhaps not another breath, and then, after death, is it to you the judgment? If so, surely you have greater cause for dismay than Israel had in that day. You may have been as mighty a prince in your day as Jonathan. Saul’s trumpet may have often sounded your praise. But has God revealed Jesus to your soul — the sent one of God — the despised and rejected sent one of God? Do you see Him? Then tell me, What are those wounds in His hands and His side? Sweetly do they speak to the heart, “I have finished the work that thou gavest me to do.” Look at the mighty Conqueror, the sent one of God. “Behold the Lamb of God!” Oh, how wonderful the effect of simple faith in Jesus, as the one who has finished the work of redemption! Forty days had this adversary defied Israel: but for forty centuries had Satan defied man and dishonoured God. Who but the holy Substitute could meet the adversary and maintain the glory of God? Yes, as David smote Goliath in the valley of Elah, so has Jesus met the whole power of Satan in the valley of Death. Oh, my soul, well doest thou to meditate on this: every sin that the accuser could bring against thee, has been borne by Jesus.

There were two things produced in Jonathan by this first revelation, so to speak, of David: he loved him as his own soul; and be stripped himself. Surely this was very simple and natural. How did he look in the face of that shepherd youth, who, taking his own life in his hand, with his sling and his stone had wrought such a great deliverance! And can you look at Jesus who gave His precious life, who bore the wrath due to your sins, who shows you His hands and His side, who sweetly says, Peace be to you — when you know this? Can you not love Him because He thus first loved you?

Thus you see faith must produce love. How beautifully simple is all this! But the stripping — Why did Jonathan strip himself? Well that other Hebrew of the Hebrews tells us why he did. And I think the one just explains why the other did it. I take these two because each of them was the finest Hebrew of his day. He was a noble Jew — that Jonathan of our type; and Saul of Tarsus was one of the finest Pharisees that ever stood up in his own righteousness. Turn to Philippians 3 and read the honest account he gives of himself. He says, “touching the righteousness which is in the law blameless.” This was what this Hebrew of the Hebrews could say; and, oh! how many a poor pharisee in our time sighs to say it! But now let us put Jonathan’s question to Paul. Why did Paul strip himself? How clear and simple his answer: “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is of God by faith.” (Phil. 3:7-9.)

Very beautiful and very becoming, surely, this stripping is! The despised Jesus, who had died on the cross for his sins, now appearing to this Hebrew of the Hebrews, this pharisee of the Pharisees, in glory above the brightness of the sun. “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” What a change those words produced! A new heart was given, and a heart for ever linked with that Jesus in glory. In after years how could this Paul write of the glorious One that had been delivered for our offences, and raised from the dead for our justification, to be our subsisting righteousness yea, that God had raised Him from among the dead, the holy righteous one, our perfect and everlasting righteousness before God and the whole universe.* And, oh! the peace of God that fills the soul that thus knows Him and the power of His resurrection.

{*Rom. 4:25; Rom. 5:18; 1 Cor. 1:30; Phil. 3:9-10.}

Now we must see that all which had exalted Saul the Hebrew of the Hebrews was a discount against Christ; and, hence, oh! how gladly he strips himself that Christ may be all. Is your heart thus knit to Jesus? and are you thus stripped?

As Paul stripped off all, so “Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.” What a sense of the worthiness of David the saviour king! As a military prince, this giving up of the sword is very significant — what a surrender! It is written of the enthroned four and twenty elders that they “cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power.”

I take these, then, to be two very blessed marks of a Christian as illustrated in our Jonathan. Such a sense of the value of redemption through the blood of Jesus that the heart is knit to Him in love; and such a sense of what He is as our righteousness or justification, risen from the dead, as at once to strip us of the old robe of self-righteousness — yea, every rag, and sword, and girdle — all, all that is of self, its righteousness, its effort, fighting, and walk; all given up to Jesus the righteousness of God — Christ in resurrection. And sure I am, dear reader, if Christ has not thus been revealed to you, as David stood revealed to Jonathan, nothing could induce you to give up your old robe, garment, sword, and girdle. If you cannot feel quite sure that your old robe is fit for the presence of God, the devil bids you hope that you may yet fight a better fight, and walk a better walk: it may be mass-making, law-keeping, rites and ceremonies — anything, if Satan can only keep you out of Jonathan’s stripping-room, where you are nothing and Christ is all.

We will now look a little further at this instructive history. (1 Sam. 19.) Where Christ is truly known, there is not a mere momentary excitement, but abiding love to Jesus and increasing faith in His finished work — such faith as must confess him before men, at whatever cost. Surely we see this in Paul and in all the members of the early Church; and so I read in our chapter, “But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David.” “Delighted much!” We should notice at this point of the history a striking parallel. At this time the kingdom of Israel was outwardly governed by the house of Saul. But God had rejected him and his house, and Samuel had anointed David. And faith knew him as the anointed and coming king. In like manner faith now knows from the record of God’s word that the glory of this world, with its kingdoms and its god, is all judged and about to be swept away at the coming of the King of Righteousness and Prince of Peace. Well, so it was, I say, in Israel at this time. The hatred that is now manifested to Christ and His true followers was in a like manner shown by Saul to David and his true little band of men. Do not forget this — will you? for you will find the world’s hatred to Christ a true test of your own heart. Thus was Jonathan tested. “Saul spake to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David.” And what does the loving Jonathan do? He told David. Is not this beautiful? O that you and I may go and do likewise! Have you not at times been greatly surprised to find hatred to Jesus where you least expected it? You may have been invited to meet a few friends, nearly all professors. (Saul was a professor, by the by.) Very soon you find that any subject or person may be introduced for conversation, except your much-loved Jesus, in whom you greatly delight. And as to the thought that He is the glorious coming King, you must not name such a thing. Oh rise up from among these hypocrites! Go first and tell Jesus, and then speak for Jesus as Jonathan spake for David; or remember, if you do not, you, silently at least, deny your Lord, by even sitting with them who practically welcome Barabbas and say, Away with the returning Lord.

“Jonathan spake good of David to Saul his father, and said to him, Let not the king sin against his servant, against David; because he has not sinned against thee, and because his works have been to thee-ward very good. For he did put his life in his hand, and slew the Philistine, and the Lord wrought a great salvation for all Israel: thou sawest it and didst rejoice; wherefore then wilt thou sin against innocent blood, to slay David without a cause?”

Now was not this a good confession? We find Paul in the same track: “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.” And Jesus says, “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38.) And as Jonathan spake good of David, O cannot we speak good of Jesus? Has he not wrought a great salvation? Apart from Jesus, is there anything truly great or good! Has any other one glorified God about sin, as He has on the cross? Does any other thing or person give eternal life but the risen Jesus? Nay, does any other thing give peace even to a guilty conscience but the blood of Jesus? I am not aware of anything in the history of this world, of all nations, that enables man to stand on the brink of the grave, that valley of Elah, and look steadfastly into eternity, and say, We are always confident. “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” And far more, tell me, Has not Jesus brought life and incorruptibility to light? Yea, though the self-existing One, by whom all created things began to exist; yet has he not through death taken a new place for man, beyond sin and death? And, as the beginning of that new creation, is he not what we in resurrection shall for ever be, “when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality?” And is He so soon to be manifested who is indeed God manifest — ineffable centre of universal worship, whose smile shall fill a universe with joy? Oh in these few remaining days of His rejection here below, shall we be ashamed of Jesus? As our Jonathan confessed David in the doomed house of Saul, so, and more, may we confess Jesus before this doomed world!

Come, let us now pursue our Jonathan a little further in 1 Samuel 20. Saul still seeks the life of David. “But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him (that was born) after the Spirit, even so it is now.” But persecution marks out the true followers of Jesus: “Ye are they that have continued with me in my temptations.” This was very tenderly expressed, but it showed how the heart of Jesus valued the faithful fellowship of His disciples, however dull, when the outward house sought His life and took counsel to put Him to death. Surely this was beautifully foreshadowed in our chapter. Precious to David was the sympathy of devoted Jonathan. How it sweetened the bitter cup!
Those words, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou ME?” tell out fully how the heart of Jesus beats for all the members here below. And do they not also show how dear to Him is sympathy with the hated and persecuted ones? Oh what a strange thing man’s hatred of Jesus was, and still is! Have you not noticed from that day to this, man’s hatred is in proportion to the Christian’s faithfulness to Christ? Is it not so? Who are really hated by the great outward house of our day, but the despised few who desire to really tread in His blessed footsteps? Are any others slandered and hated as these? But, from the days of Paul to this moment, the worst lie against Christ is this, that if we give to Him the honour of complete and everlasting salvation, without works of our own as a make-weight, that this doctrine is immoral, or at least will lead to disobedience, and carelessness of walk. How fully this lie is rebuked in our Jonathan. “Then said Jonathan to David, Whatsoever thy soul desires, I will even do it for thee.” Precious obedience, heart obedience, fruit of faith! I might point everywhere in the New Testament and find the same fruit. “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” is the first impulse of the new-born Paul.

Is this the language of your heart to your precious Lord? “Whatsoever thy soul desires I will even do it for thee.” This goes very far beyond the law, good and holy and just as it was. It is the heaven-implanted desire to do the will of the Lord, even whatsoever He desires me to do. And there was this readiness in Jonathan to serve David in the house of his father, and to show David the disposition of his father, be it kindness or hatred. I think we may say he was truly David’s man in the house of Saul.

Judging from outward appearance, David was the rejected outcast; and yet how beautifully faith knew him as the chosen of Jehovah. “And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.” And when the new moon was come, and the king sat in his seat, David’s place was empty; yet how fully did Jonathan confess David, though this confession brought down upon him the severe anger of his father, Saul. “And he said to him, Thou son of the perverse and rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and to the confusion of thy mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives upon the ground, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him to me, for he shall surely die.” Still Jonathan speaks good for David. “Wherefore shall he be slain? what has he done?” “If they have hated me, they will hate you also.”

“And Saul cast a javelin at him to smite him.” Well did he now know the determined hatred of his father to David. How much his heart felt as the arrow of warning was shot, we may gather from this: “As soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of a place toward the south, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times; and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded. And Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, The Lord be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever. And he arose and departed; and Jonathan went into the city.” The sorrows of God’s anointed David were but shadows of the deeper sorrows of God’s only begotten Son, whether we look at the manifold sufferings by which He was perfected as the Captain of our salvation, or at the suffering of death, by which He is now glorified at the right hand of God. No doubt, the pressure on the heart of David was used in giving utterance to those then future sorrows of our Jesus.

But at this point of Jonathan’s history — and it is a solemn point — we must remember that David was now an outcast from the house of Saul, and that the Lord Jesus is at this moment an outcast from this world. That as Saul hated David, so, and more so, has this world hated, rejected, cast out, yea murdered, the anointed Christ of God. And that He is still the hated and rejected Jesus.

But there was another side of the picture. God had rejected the house of Saul, though He long bore with it; yea, during all the time of David’s rejection. And He had chosen and anointed David. And the Lord was with David, even as He was not with Saul. Surely Samuel knew this, and David knew this, though faith was sorely tried. And Jonathan knew this, as we shall see in his next and last interview with David. But I must now tell you of the one thing lacking in our Jonathan. It is very painful to do so; shall I tell you why? Ah, there are so many Jonathans in our day. Is it not sad to know Jesus, and to love Jesus, to confess Him, to delight much in Jesus, to desire to serve Him in this evil world, and yet to stop short of the one thing lacking? What can this one thing be? My reader may say, through the grace of God, All that you have said of this typical Jonathan as yet, is true of me. You can then remember the time when God brought your sins before you, and the adversary was permitted to harass your soul, as Goliath defied the armies of Israel at the valley of Elah, and you found no deliverance, no peace, until the Holy Spirit revealed Jesus to your soul, the sent one of God, and told you how He had finished the great work of redemption, and that through His precious blood your sins were for ever gone, as the Philistines fled from the valley of Elah. And did this win your heart to Jesus, as Jonathan was knit to David? You may have had many a crushing of human pride since then. But can you say, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee? And have you been stripped of all self-righteousness? Are you fairly shut up to Jesus? Is He all and you nothing? Is He precious to your soul? Can you say, I delight much in Him? For sure I am He is much delighted in, even as we learn the emptiness of all else, and the worthlessness of all that is of man. And have you confessed Jesus in your own society, in, it may be, your own house? Have you held on, speaking well of Jesus in the face of all hatred and opposition! As Jonathan was David’s witness, David’s man, have you been the witness of Jesus? Has it been your delight to hold communion with and serve Jesus, as Jonathan delighted to tell David and serve him? If so, is it not painful that there should be all this, and yet come short of the one thing lacking?

Did you notice the last few words as to our Jonathan? (chap. 20:42), “And David arose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.” And where did David depart to? In chapter 22 we find him in the cave of Adullam. “And when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him. And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves to him; and he became a captain over them; and there were with him about four hundred men.” But there was one that was not with him, and that one was even our Jonathan. But perhaps you ask, Is it possible that Jonathan knew of the coming reign of David, and not be with him? Well, let us read Jonathan’s last interview with David, and we shall see there can be no mistake about that.

“And Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee: and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next to thee; and that also Saul my father knows. And they two made a covenant before the Lord. And David abode in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house” — and that house the house of the rejected Saul. Yes, it is quite clear he well knew the coming reign of his beloved David; and as well did he know the rejection of Saul’s house: and yet he failed to go outside and take his place, the true place of faith, with God’s chosen and coming king.

Do you know, my reader, the end of the present age? Do you know that when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction comes? — that judgment must begin at the house of God? — that as the apostate house of Saul was cut off, so shall apostate Christendom be spued out of His mouth? Now do you not see much around you bearing this character of soul? What a day of blowing of trumpets! Let the Hebrews hear what we are doing! Never was there such a day of man’s doing and trumpeting. “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” This is our Lord’s own description of the last state of the great outward doomed house. (Rev. 3.) Great in the world, indeed, was Saul when compared with the outcast David, but how wretched and miserable his end!

But do you know, my reader, that the earth-rejected Jesus is even now at the right hand of the Majesty on high, and that He will quickly come, and with an assembling shout call up His saints to meet Him in the air? (1 Thess. 4.) And that afterwards He will come in judgment on them that have not obeyed the gospel (2 Thess. 1.); and that then the glorious reign of the now rejected Jesus will surely take place? Do you say, Yes, I know all these things will surely come to pass. And do you know that God has by His Spirit gathered a few of the Lord’s redeemed ones to the now despised Jesus, as David’s four hundred were gathered to him in the cave of Adullam? True, they were a sorry company, those four hundred, but they were gathered to such a David. Ah! if Jonathan had been one of them, would his body have ever been fastened to the walls of Bethshan?

But it is high time to put the question to you: Where are you? Are you building wood, hay, and stubble in the great house of Saul — the outward, showy Christendom — that which professes to be the Church of God, but which has indeed become the church of the world? Or have you taken your place outside the camp with the rejected but coming Jesus? Ah! I think I hear you say, Oh! those separated Christians, they are such dreadful people! So our Jonathan might have said of David’s four hundred. But what of Jesus? Is He not worthy that you should forsake everything, and identify yourself alone with Him? You will find a few others, through mercy, in the same blessed place; though indeed the religious world tries hard to make them a sect, and, as they were in the days of Paul, a sect everywhere spoken against. I do not mince the matter. There is the great outward house like the house of Saul; and there is separation from it, and identification with Jesus in His rejection, like the four hundred with David; and if you are a Christian, you are certainly in one place or the other.
Perhaps you say, “I get my bread in this great worldly system.” Well, that is, I grant, a very serious matter. But so did Jonathan, and you see the end of it in his case — walls of Bethshan. But, says another, Do you not see the influence I have by staying where I am? what a congregation! what opportunities to speak for Jesus? Do you think I should have the same, or anything like the same opportunities, if I took my place outside in the name of Jesus? And think how much my own relations would be against it! And to leave all the splendour and comfort of all that is admired in the world, where one can truly speak for Jesus. Ah, my friend, Jonathan could have said all this. But why did he lose his reward for his love and service to David? and why did he come to the shameful walls of Bethshan? Was it not because he acted on the very same principle that so many act upon now? He clung to the outward, which God had rejected, and failed to take his place with the poor and despised followers of God’s anointed one. You know, my reader, that God is not with the bazaars and worldliness and tolerated evil of the professing church. If you delight much in Jesus; if you desire to do whatsoever He desires you; then surely His own voice will be heard in these precious scriptures concerning Himself. Oh, is it not sad to be spending your time in and for that which is to be destroyed at the coming of the Lord? Occasional visits and communion, and then back to the outward house of Saul! Ah, this will not do. You may have Jonathan’s four marks of true conversion to Christ, and yet lose your reward. Like Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:1.) — 1. You may have been filled with love to Jesus. Beholding Him the Lamb of God that has put away your sins. 2. Stripped of self for Jesus. (Ver. 4.) 3. Make full confession of Jesus, delighting much in Him. (Chap. 19:1-5.) 4. You may have desired to do whatsoever Jesus desires. (Chap. 20:4.) But, as Rebecca left all for her coming Isaac, are you willing to leave all and take your place of devoted identification with Jesus?

We hear no more of our Jonathan from the sad, sad moment he left David in the wood of Ziph! (O beware of doing the same!) until we come to the last chapter (31) of his history.

And there will be a last chapter in your history and mine. It is not here a question of salvation: some shall be saved so as by fire, and all their works burned up. (1 Cor. 3.) And did not Jonathan lose all the reward of his early devoted love and service? Slain on Gilboa with his wretched father, and his body nailed with his to the walls of Bethshan.

David’s lament shows how much Jonathan lost. (2 Samuel 1.) These are but a few feeble thoughts on this wondrous lesson. Do ponder it well. The dark cloud of judgment on the outward house of Christendom is gathering. Like the house of Saul, its days are numbered; and the glory of our Jesus is about to burst forth. Would you have an abundant entrance into His kingdom and glory? Then do not leave Him in the wood and return to the house. Blessed companionship with Jesus! Oh! “let us go forth therefore to him without the camp [of the religious world] bearing his reproach.”

Saul’s javelin was allowed to miss David: but the world was allowed to nail Jesus to the cross. And “know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” Can we be outside Saul’s house, and yet alive in it? Are you, my reader, dead with Christ? are you risen with Him? Then surely you are called to be, as it were, one of David’s four hundred — a witness of the dead and risen Christ. Oh, if you have been washed in His blood, saved by His finished work, then may He give you, and give me, grace to cleave to Himself, with full purpose of heart. C. S.