If you were hanging off a cliff at the end of a rope, you would want someone like Jonathan on the other end. He’s not going to let you fall. This is the kind of loyalty we hope to have in friends, family members, even colleagues, if we were honest. In fact, someone like Jonathan would have intervened before you went over the edge.
We don’t use the term loyalty so often these days. As a character trait, its meaning has been maligned over the years. Being loyal has been perverted to mean something more weak than strong – something puppyish, short-sighted, or weak-willed. Occasionally, loyalty can bring to mind allegiances that serve our own purposes. It’s who you know, right, in advancing in the work force, for example.
Yet, when we look at Jonathan, in the Bible, loyalty is the character quality that comes to mind immediately. Deep, unwavering, costly loyalty. To his friend, David, yes, but also to his flawed king and father, Saul, and most importantly to the Lord Himself.
Jonathan’s story is found in 1 Samuel (beginning in 1 Samuel 13:2), as his father, King Saul, falters and then eventually falls as king of Israel. It’s a fast read to the end of this book and worth your time, if you want to see this picture of Jonathan’s true and steadfast loyalty.
I’ve read this passage many times, but this time, God opened my eyes to the “so much more” that lies at the heart of Biblical loyalty. Read the full account (1 Samuel 13-31) for the mesmerizing details, but here, in brief, is how Jonathan’s life has affected my own today.
The Loyalty of Jonathan
1) He acted on his loyalty – courageously and without hesitation. Jonathan was Saul’s oldest son and heir to the throne as next King of Israel. He was often in battle and led his troops valiantly, even at great risk to his own life (1 Samuel 14). He was loyal to the purposes of God and the direction of his father, King Saul. When his father did not lead well, or at all, Jonathan stayed true to the purposes of God. He found favor among the people (v. 45).
2) He was inclusive, as much as was possible for him to be. Jonathan met David after David killed the giant Goliath. When they met, their souls were knit together (1 Samuel 18:1). A deep love and loyalty grew between these two friends. Jonathan however still obeyed his father as much as he could. He would not follow the king’s orders if they went against God, but when he could obey, he did. [I love this about Jonathan that he didn’t cast off his relationship with his father with the advent of his relationship with David.] Jonathan’s loyalty extended to his God (and God’s purposes for Israel), his father, and his friend.
3) He was selfless in his loyalty, for the sake of those he loved. In reading, the account of Jonathan’s life in 1 Samuel, it became clear pretty early that he would not be heir of Israel’s kingdom after all. He would never be king. What bitterness that could birth in a lesser man! Jonathan must have had a profound trust in God. It seemed the throne was of little consequence to him in comparison to righting the relationships between his father and David. He did everything he could to reconcile the two, even with the knowledge that he would gain nothing more than he had already. That is the purest, truest kind of loyalty. A God-glorifying, unconditional love and loyalty.
4) He did not waver in his loyalty even at great cost. I hope you read the accounts in 1 Samuel that tell Jonathan’s story. From a human standpoint, it doesn’t lead to a happy ending. He dies in battle at his father’s side. David is elsewhere, fighting his own battles, and staying clear of the king who wanted him dead.
Jonathan dies, fighting the enemies of Israel, in obedience to God and his father…faithful, loyal, courageous to the end. Earlier in his story (1 Samuel 23:17), Jonathan pledged to David, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.” David did become king, but Jonathan would not be at his side. Still, the king that David became was forever altered by how God used Jonathan in his life.
And Jonathan? What of Jonathan? Generations of us who have read his story have squared our shoulders, fixed our gaze, and resolved, with God’s help, to love like Jonathan did…to be truly loyal as he was. This is a greater legacy than being any king…
How would our churches, workplaces, families and friendships be different today if we determined to be wholly and intentionally loyal in our relationships? How would our relationships be with the Lord?
Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and of people. – Proverbs 3:3-4 NRV