Sermon on 1 Samuel 20:1-42 – “Covenant Loyalty”

Sermon for Sunday, June 2, 2024 at Unionville Presbyterian Church, BPC


Old Testament reading:

[Deu 7:6-11 ESV] 6 “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, 10 and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. 11 You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.


New Testament reading:

[Rom 3:1-4 ESV] 1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”

Gospel reading:

[Jhn 15:12-17 ESV] 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.


Scripture Reading:
[1Sa 20:1-42 ESV] 1 Then David fled from Naioth in Ramah and came and said before Jonathan, “What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” 2 And he said to him, “Far from it! You shall not die. Behold, my father does nothing either great or small without disclosing it to me. And why should my father hide this from me? It is not so.” 3 But David vowed again, saying, “Your father knows well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he thinks, ‘Do not let Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved.’ But truly, as the LORD lives and as your soul lives, 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, “Behold, tomorrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit at table with the king. But let me go, that I may hide myself in the field till the third day at 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 clan.’ 7 If he says, ‘Good!’ it will be well with your servant, but if he is angry, then know that harm is determined by him. 8 Therefore deal kindly with your servant, for you have brought your servant into a covenant of the LORD with you. But if there is guilt in me, kill me yourself, for why should you bring me to your father?” 9 And Jonathan said, “Far be it from you! If I knew that it was determined by my father that harm should come to you, would I not tell you?” 10 Then David said to Jonathan, “Who will tell me if your father answers you roughly?” 11 And Jonathan said to David, “Come, let us go out into the field.” So they both went out into the field. 12 And Jonathan said to David, “The LORD, the God of Israel, be witness! When I have sounded out my father, about this time tomorrow, or the third day, behold, if he is well disposed toward David, shall I not then send and disclose it to you? 13 But should it please my father 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, 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 steadfast love of the LORD, that I may not die; 15 and do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever, when the LORD cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” 16 And Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the LORD take vengeance on David’s enemies.” 17 And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul. 18 Then Jonathan said to him, “Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed, because your seat will be empty. 19 On the third day go down quickly to the place where you hid yourself when the matter was in hand, and remain beside the stone heap. 20 And I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I shot at a mark. 21 And behold, 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, take 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 youth, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then go, for the LORD has sent you away. 23 And as for the matter of which you and I have spoken, behold, the LORD is between you and me forever.” 24 So David hid himself in the field. And when the new moon came, the king sat down to eat food. 25 The king sat on his seat, as at other times, on the seat by the wall. Jonathan sat opposite, and Abner sat by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty. 26 Yet Saul did not say anything that day, for he thought, “Something has happened to him. He is not clean; surely he is not clean.” 27 But on the second day, the day after the new moon, David’s place was empty. And Saul said to Jonathan his son, “Why has not the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?” 28 Jonathan answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem. 29 He said, ‘Let me go, for our clan holds a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to be there. So now, if I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away and see my brothers.’ For this reason he has not come to the king’s table.” 30 Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? 31 For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Therefore send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.” 32 Then Jonathan answered Saul his father, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” 33 But Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him. So Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death. 34 And Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had disgraced him. 35 In the morning Jonathan went out into the field to the appointment with David, and with him a little boy. 36 And he said to his boy, “Run and find the arrows that I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. 37 And when the boy came to the place of the arrow that Jonathan had shot, Jonathan called after the boy and said, “Is not the arrow beyond you?” 38 And Jonathan called after the boy, “Hurry! Be quick! Do not stay!” So Jonathan’s boy gathered up the arrows and came to his master. 39 But the boy knew nothing. Only Jonathan and David knew the matter. 40 And Jonathan gave his weapons to his boy and said to him, “Go and carry them to the city.” 41 And as soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground and bowed three times. And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most. 42 Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.'” And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.


It has been a few weeks since we were last in 1st Samuel, so it might benefit us to recap the last few chapters and give context for where we are now in the book.

Following the death of Goliath by the hands of David, a number of things happened.

– Jonathan, the son of the king, made a Covenant of loving friendship with David.

– But Saul, the king, was jealous of David because the people were attributing greater victories to David than to Saul.


-While Saul did fulfill his promise to marry off his daughter to man who defeated Goliath (that being David), his jealously continued to rage and he sought multiple more times to kill David.


– Three times he throws a spear at David in what I call “Pin the Spear on the David.” But the Lord is with David and keeps him safe.


– Then in the last chapter (Chapter 19) Saul again tries to kill David but his attempts are thwarted by Jonathan, and by David’s agility, and by David’s wife Michal, and then finally by the Holy Spirit.


– In that final scene of the chapter we saw Saul under the power or under the spell of the Holy Spirit prophesying along with the prophets at Naioth in Ramah. He went their to kill David, but instead the Holy Spirit brought him and his men in something like a trance so that they could not carry out the plan.

That sets the stage for where we are now. David takes the opportunity to escape from Saul while Saul is bound in his trance. And he had to get out quick because he feared that when Saul came back to his normal self, that his jealousy and rage against David would continue.

David flees Naioth in Ramah and goes to Jonathan, his great friend with whom he has a Covenant of love. That was back in chapter 18, verse 3: “Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.”

Now, and this is the focus of today’s sermon, JONATHAN IS LOYAL TO THAT COVENANT. We’ll be looking today at “Covenant Loyalty.”

David is at the point where he needs to decide whether it is necessary for him to get away into the country and take up arms for his own defense. But before he does so, he will consult with Jonathan.

Knowing what has transpired previously, it should be fully evident and clear that Saul wants to kill David. David is convinced of this truth. But now he is in a sense giving Saul one more chance; and this is to help convince Jonathan of that truth.

Jonathan isn’t yet convinced that his father Saul wants to kill David. And so David and Jonathan have a discussion about that fearful concern.

That is the first of 3 Acts or Scenes in this chapter.

Scene 1. (vs. 1-23) – David and Jonathan’s discussion about Saul’s intentions.
Scene 2. (vs. 24-34) – A rowdy family dinner.
Scene 3. (vs. 35-42) – Covenant loyalty displayed.

So first we have scene 1:

Scene 1. (vs. 1-23) – David and Jonathan’s discussion about Saul’s intentions.

David comes to Jonathan in distress, asking about Jonathan’s father Saul:

“What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?”

Jonathan remembers his covenant with David.

But there is a tension here. Jonathan doesn’t just throw his father under the bus. He has an obligation to honor his father. Jonathan is a godly man.

He starts, in fact, defending his father.

“Far from it! You shall not die. Behold, my father does nothing either great or small without disclosing it to me. And why should my father hide this from me? It is not so.”

Jonathan must not know about the spear-throwing incidents! He’ll soon know about it himself, when old dad throws a spear at him. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

There is a strong covenant of friendship between David and Jonathan and they are loyal to it. And so they devise a plan.

Here we must admit that David and Jonathan are complicit in a lie. Perhaps someone could argue that the lie was justified, something like Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ordeal whether a Christian should kill Hitler if given a chance. But what is important here is to recognize that the Bible tells WHAT happened; it never tells us that this lie was acceptable. It merely reports; it does not judge in this instance.

So David and Jonathan SAY that David is going back home (to Bethlehem) for a new moon feast. David’s a devout man after all, and so this isn’t a far-fetched idea. But in reality David is hiding in the field for three days. All the while, the plan is, when Saul has a meal (and all his close associates are at the table) he will notice that David is missing, and if Saul is angry then this confirms for Jonathan what David has already said: “your father is a murderous raving psychopath out to get me.”

The plan then is that Saul will shoot arrows into a field and have a servant collect them. And if he shoots an arrow beyond the servant, this will be an indication to David that Saul is indeed angry and continues to desire to kill him.

So there are flying spears and flying arrows in this story.

We than have the plan carried out in the second scene, I call “A rowdy family dinner.”

Scene 2. (vs. 24-34) – A rowdy family dinner.

Well, the first meal isn’t rowdy. Saul sees that David is missing and just assumes that David is “unclean.” A person would be temporarily unclean if, for example, they touched the carcass of an unclean animal. So on the first day Saul says nothing.

But on the second day, Saul again notices that David’s place at the table is empty, and so he asks Jonathan,

“Why has not the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?”

This sounds like an innocent enough question, but Saul is out to get David. The fact that he calls him “the son of Jesse” is indicative of his disdain for him. David is Saul’s own son-in-law. He’s part of HIS family now. Calling him “the son of Jesse” diminishes that true familial connection they have; David is married to Saul’s daughter Michal.

Well, Jonathan then answers as planned.

“David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem.” He said, “Let me go, for our clan holds a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to be their. So now if I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away and see my brothers.”

And (skipping over the fact that this is a lie), it is a perfectly good and reasonable explanation. Saul had previously demoted David to a lesser role in the army, and so Saul would be in the right asking Jonathan (his superior) to take leave.

But Saul’s anger is (again) kindled.

A commentator says “Saul hereupon breaks out into a most extravagant passion, and rages like a lion disappointed of his prey.”

And look at his IRATE response.

1. He verbally attacks Jonathan. “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?” “For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established.” He is essentially calling Jonathan a bastard, an illegitimate child, born to the confusion of his mother. Saul is ready to disown his own child over his desire to kill David.

2. Then Saul asks Jonathan to bring David to him so that he can kill him.

3. But when Jonathan questions what guilt David has, Saul tries to kill Jonathan, throwing a spear at him!

And you think you have family problems? The very worst thanksgiving dinner you’ve ever had, I HOPE, doesn’t look like this! A father trying to kill his own son at a religious feast.

This confirms the truth that Saul a raging murderous man, not only against David but even lacking concern for his own son.

Jonathan leaves the scene, and he is angry too. But his is a righteous anger. He takes heed of that saying, “be angry and do not sin.”

One other thing – both David to Jonathan now Jonathan to Saul on David’s behalf ask “what sin has been committed?” This is pretty good support for our 6th Amendment to the Constitution where it says that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused … is to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation.”

As for the news in our nation, I think many don’t really know what crimes the former president has even being accused of in the various trials. He is, no doubt, a very sinful man. But we should all be concerned about these types of trials and what this means for our nation going forward. No man is to be “above the law” but neither should politics lead to harassment via the court. We shall see in due time the out-workings of the decisions of the past week.

Back to our text, we then come to the third seen, “Covenant loyalty displayed.”

Scene 3. (vs. 35-42) – Covenant loyalty displayed.

Here the original plan is carried out. The next morning Jonathan shoots arrows in the field. He sends a servant boy out to gather the arrows, and then shoots one beyond the boy so that David knows the confirmation of Saul’s anger. This is a sign to David that he needs to “get out of Dodge.”

After the boy leaves, Jonathan and David say their farewells, in tears, and remembering the covenant between them.

Jonathan even says that the covenant is between not only he and David, but between their offspring forever.

He says,

‘The LORD shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.'”

But this is no surprise to Presbyterians. We recognize that this is an element of covenants throughout the Scriptures. God’s Covenant of Grace extends to “you and your children.”

Luke explained:

[Act 2:39 ESV] 39 For the promise is for you AND FOR YOUR CHILDREN and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

And when Joshua announced to the people that they had to make a choice whom to serve, he said,

[Jos 24:15 ESV] But as for me AND MY HOUSE, we will serve the LORD.”

This is why I have ZERO hesitation in gives the sign of the covenant—Baptism—to children of believers. Children of believers were given the sign of the covenant (circumcision) in the Old Testament, and they are to be given the sign of the covenant (Baptism) in our day. And this is all because it is a GOD’s covenant. It is HIS Promise that is pointed to in Baptism. Baptism is NOT YOUR PROMISE to follow him (though you should do so), Baptism is GOD’s PROMISE that He washes away the sins of his people.

God is loyal to the covenant, even when we fail.

So the loyalty of Jonathan and of David to their covenant points to the greater loyalty of Christ to fulfill the covenant promises of God.

Christ fulfills the promise that a messiah would save God’s people from their sins and give them faith through which they can know the grace of God.

And that is the promise the you and to your household, to you and your offspring — ALL who believe in Jesus Christ have the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.

All because of Christ’s Covenant Loyalty. It strikes me that a church I know is called “Christ Covenant.” What a great name for a church. A real reminder that Jesus Christ fulfills the promises of God. He is loyal, and so you are saved.

David is saved temporally by the loyalty of Jonathan to his covenant, but YOU are saved eternally by the loyalty of Christ to the greatest covenant of all, the Covenant of God’s Grace.

That indeed, we should know, and see from this text.

Then, some other applications.

1. Do not retain anger.

In the Lord’s prayer we have the statement “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Or “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

This isn’t says “We do a good job of forgiving, so Lord please be like us.”
It is an appeal to both “forgive us” and “help us to forgive others.”

The inability to forgive is not a characteristic of a Christian.
The inability to forgive is not a characteristic of a believer, but un unbeliever.

We are to forgive.

But there is something more in the case in our text. David hasn’t sinned. Saul’s anger against him is not for sin. So it is not forgiveness that Saul needs to learn. His is a broader category of anger. He needs to drop the anger, whether a reason exists for it or not.

Here there is no reason. No good reason. It is Saul’s jealousy, HIS SIN, that leads to anger.

And it is an IMPLACABLE anger. Implacable – unable to be placated. Not capable of changing your mind. This is the worst kind of anger. And anger that we as Christians should not harbor. We are not to retain anger. We must be willing to discuss our issues without violence.

Then, on the other side of the matter, our second application is “prepare to be hated.” So you are not to harbor anger, but yet you must expect to be hated. So prepare for it.

II. Prepare to be hated.

David is hated by Saul, but only for the good thing he has done, for the death of Goliath and the ensuring victory over the Philistines.

David is “hated without cause.”

That is the same situation we find Christ in when he is on trial before his death. Hated without cause. Like Jonathan asks about David, we can ask about Christ, “What sin did he commit?”

There was no sin in Christ, the spotless lamb brought to slaughter.

He was hated because he is righteous.
He was hated for hanging out with sinners and tax collectors.
He was hated because he spoke the truth, declaring himself to be God.

We should expect to be hated too, for we declare that same truth: “Jesus is Lord.”

Now, I think this is vitally important … Let the truth of God alone be the reason you are hated. That is, don’t make it easy for others to hate you. Don’t try to be hated. And don’t embrace a victim complex. Some Christians say “So and so hates me because I’m a Christian” when the truth may be that they’ve actually been a real jerk to others. This is why the Scriptures tell us to “speak truth in love.” Let not your attitude or actions cause you to be hated, but let only the truth which you proclaim cause you to be hated.

We might think of the phrase “Bible Thumper.” There is no need to thump someone with the Bible, if that means you aggressively and combatively argue against them. Rather, just speak the Biblical truth. Let the words of the Bible do the thumping. And the words of God are of such power that they can knock a person into next Tuesday, they can CHANGE a person, wake them up, turn them around in repentance, conviction of sin, and bring faith in Jesus Christ.

So prepare, expect, to be hated for the truth, but don’t seek to be hated.

Then finally, our last application: “have covenant loyalty.”

3. Have Covenant Loyalty.

Follow through on your promises. Be loyal to the your word, and have Covenant follow-through.

Of course we recognize that while our loyalty to the Covenant with God SHOULD be there, we don’t match up. We sin, we fail, we break the covenant. But Christ’s loyalty to the covenant, his fulfillment of the Covenant, is literally our saving grace.

Yet, we should seek to have Covenant Loyalty, nonetheless. Not to win over God (for He is already won over in Christ) but to honor God and thank Him for His love to us. Let us have covenant loyalty.

Jonathan is loyal to the covenant EVEN OVER AND ABOVE loyalty to his father!

So are we to be.

Jesus said,

[Mat 10:37 ESV] 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Jonathan is willing to go against his evil father, and even to give up his claim to the throne as the crown-prince, because of the Covenant he has in the Lord with David. He trusts in God and know that the Way of the Lord is more valuable than all things of the world.

Let us honor God with loyalty to his Covenant, giving glory to Him who has been loyal to his Covenant with us, and so called us to be sons of God.

Let us pray.