Leaving Friends

Every time I read through 1 Samuel, I think that David’ and Jonathan’s plan is a bit nonsensical. Perhaps you’ve head the story before: Jonathan is King Saul’s son, David is King Saul’s court musician, and the two have become fast friends. In fact, they’re profound friends—“the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1). Thus, when Saul gets jealous of David’s accolades, revealing some dark and violent schemes, David asks Jonathan to help him get out of town.

They start with a clever plan. David doesn’t want to leave his whole life behind—his steady job, his apartment, and, most of all, his dear friend—so he asks Jonathan to do a little sleuthing.

He says, essentially, “Go in and see if Saul is really out to get me; perhaps his anger has cooled. I’ll lay low here for a few days, and when your dad finally notices I’m gone, you let me know how he reacts.”

They both start getting into the logistics of the plan. They arrange a meeting point, a cover story, a secret code: David will hide in the field just outside town, and when Jonathan has the message, he’ll come out for some “target practice” assisted by a boy from the palace.

“If my dad’s not mad, I’ll send the boy out to fetch the arrows, but say, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you, take them.’ But if I say, ‘Look the arrows are beyond you,’ he’s out for blood.”

On the third day, Saul discovers David’s absence, and loses his temper. Jonathan, excusing himself from the table, gathers his bow and arrows, inviting the boy along. Weeping, he flings the first arrow, then the second, and the third. He sends the boy out, shouting, all too soon, “Look…the arrows are beyond you.” The boy, none the wiser, runs back with the bolts. After sending the boy home, Jonathan drops himself in the dust.

He hears only crickets, but knows his dear friend lies hidden in the field. On the other side, David, watching his friend from behind a pile of stones, slowly rises. Scripture says he, “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” (20:41).

This is where the story makes no sense to me. Why craft a surreptitious signal, only to meet one another openly, erasing any point of the plan? This morning, as I read the story in the Keflavik airport, having left Gordon-Conwell in May, having left Seattle in July, now leaving Europe to head to a new home with new friends and a new endeavor, I realized that David didn’t plan to show himself, and Jonathan didn’t plan to run out to him. Yet, when the moment came, they couldn’t part without embracing. Really, it’s a story of two men who got caught up in the logistics, whose love stopped them short at the moment of truth.

I identify with David and Jonathan. I miss our friends from Gordon-Conwell, whose kids are starting school—Jimmy and Emily who just had their baby!—I want to catch up with them, hear about their summers, sit down to classes together, but that won’t happen any time soon. Even if we head back to New England for a weekend this fall (which I hope to do!), half our friends will be gone.

During our six weeks in Seattle this summer, I was reminded how many friends I unconsciously miss every day. Tyler and Emily just had a baby too, and I want to see her more than once in six months! I miss the friends who can make me laugh all evening long, who know me in ways I don’t even know myself.

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Europe was fun, beautiful, charming, but this morning, as we wait for our flight, I’m most sad to be leaving Kyle and Amy’s continent. In fact, the moment that gave me a window in David and Jonathan’s story was saying goodbye to them.

I’m thankful that God, being omnipresent, acknowledges and care about the partings of dear friends. How gracious of him to not only tell this story in his Word, but to also live this story as the Word, saying, “I no longer call you servants…but I have called you friends” (John 15:15) and “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29)

This story ends with a small word of hope on Jonathan’s lips. “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”’” (1 Samuel 20:42).

So, my friends, I’m sad to leave for now, but know that “the Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.” Parting is sad, but it’s not hopeless if we share the same Spirit. It’s not hopeless if we look forward to the same resurrection. This is our hope in parting, that though we do not now have enough time with those we love, we need not fear parting or making new friends with whom we must then part again, because we will have enough time, in God’s new creation.

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