In the interactions of David, Saul, and Jonathan, 1 Samuel 23 teaches us much about the nature of true kingship. We learn here what God’s true king should look like—and what it would look like for us to identify with that king covenantally.
David, for his part, has committed himself to protecting the people of Israel from their enemies, regardless of the cost to himself. When David hears that the Philistines have attacked the people of the city of Keilah, he urgently inquires of Yahweh, and Yahweh sends him immediately to their defense (1 Sam. 23:1–5). David is doing what the king of Israel should do by intervening without hesitation as a mighty warrior in defense of his people.
Nevertheless, this act is not without danger for David—and not merely danger from the Philistines with whom he is battling. Once Saul finds out David has come to Keilah, Saul sets out to kill him. David inquires again of Yahweh and learns that the people of Keilah will hand him over to Saul, regardless of the fact that he has just saved their lives (1 Sam. 23:10–12). The rest of 1 Samuel, until the point that Saul dies, is summarized in 1 Samuel 23:14: “And Saul sought him every day, but God did not give him into his hand.”
In this light, it is interesting to read Jonathan’s understanding of his relationship to David. Jonathan knows that he will not be king and that David will be king, despite the fact that Jonathan is the current prince of Israel. In this thought, Jonathan takes joy, saying to David, “You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you” (1 Sam. 23:17). Where Jonathan’s father sees David’s kingship as a threat, Jonathan sees David’s kingship as his hope and his joy, so he enters into a covenant with David yet again (1 Sam. 23:18).
In this story, a picture of Jesus is emerging. Jesus, like David, was the rightful king of Israel, but his own people did not receive him (John 1:11)—and more than that, his own people handed him over to be crucified according to the prompting of the religious leaders, who wanted to cling to their power and influence in Israel. We, then, are called to follow in the footsteps of Jonathan, so we must renounce any claim to the thrones of our lives—Jesus must increase, and we must decrease (John 3:30). Let us put our old, sinful desires to death, so that we may embrace Jesus as king through faith in the covenant he made with his broken body and shed blood.
And in this, we find our hope: if we endure with Jesus in the suffering we face in this life, we will most assuredly also reign with him through eternity (2 Timothy 2:12