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النشر الإلكتروني

THE TRAGICAL QUALITY

IN THE HISTORY OF THE

FRIENDSHIP OF JONATHAN AND DAVID.1

THERE are few characters in the Old Testament which are delineated in a light so advantageous and so worthy of love as that of Jonathan, the brave son of king Saul. An intimate friendship requires, by its very nature, that every strong and noble feeling in man should be mingled with it. We accordingly observe that all the virtues of Jonathan were concentrated and pictured in his friendship for David. Hence Jonathan and David rightfully take the first place in the distinguished instances of friendship handed down to us from antiquity. The bewitching charm which surrounds the history of this friendship consists, perhaps, very much in the circumstance, that the dark, back ground in which it is invested, makes it appear but the more touching. The picture of so fine a sensibility, and of such a heroic and virtuous companionship, in a troubled and confused period, refreshes us like a star in a gloomy night; and it is clearly the design of the historian, in interweaving this picture, to place in stronger relief the exasperated, suspicious and hateful feelings of king Saul-contrasted with the transparent and lovely character of his son. But the story of Jonathan's friendship strongly attracts our attention and sympathy, in consequence of its tragical course. This point, hitherto but little considered, I may be here allowed to illustrate at some length. Many single portions of the narrative are exhibited in a better light and with greater prominence, from the circumstance that our historian, with all apparent simplicity, delineates human manners as few writers do. It is wonderful, how often, by a single word or by the position of a word, he indicates the finest traits in character.

See Note at the end of this Article.

The history is tragical, since, either in itself or in its consequences, it so exhibits important events, that our sympathy is awakened, and our sensibility deeply excited. An action is strongly characterized as tragical, when, though never fully accomplished, it exhibits a vehement struggle after something good, lofty and noble, developed by a complication of circumstances, involving a severe struggle between inclination and duty, or between two conflicting inclinations. How much all this entered into Jonathan's history, may be seen by the following observations.

1. The friendship of Jonathan is not only in its origin, generous in the highest degree, but it springs up suddenly, as if by a stroke of enchantment. When David, the shepherd's heroic son, was returning from the slaughter of the giant Goliath, bearing in his hand the head of his enemy, and was introduced to Saul by his general, Abner, then, as it appears from 1 Sam. 18: 1, compared with 20: 17, "the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and he loved him as his own soul, and he made a covenant with him." How touchingly do these words delineate the nature of true friendship, as well as that delicate connection between two persons, (compare Gen. 44: 30), whereby they melt, as it were, into one! But such friendship is wont to be awakened, as certainly in the present case, in a manner one knows not how. Some occurrence at a particular juncture reveals unexpectedly that oneness of inclination and action which lies at the foundation of the friendship. David had slain the champion of the Philistines, those hereditary enemies of Israel, with whom Jonathan also was constantly contending, and from whom he had, on one occasion, borne off a splendid trophy, 1 Sam. xiv. The courage and the modesty, the gallantry and the caution which David had shown in this encounter, were the very same qualities which pervaded Jonathan's great soul. He, consequently, did not think of the difference between a king's son and an unknown shepherd's boy. No vestige of envy lest David should divest him of his military glory found a place in his heart. Involuntarily and irresistibly he felt himself drawn to the youthful hero. This moment determined forever the direction of his feelings.

2. We may have observed, that friendship has rarely, on both sides, an equal degree of vehemence. In the case of one of two friends, there will be more of a disposition to communicate and to make sacrifices, regardless of self; while the other, on the contrary,

will be rather in the attitude of him who receives and acknowledges favors. Such is the fact in the present instance. David's friendship was as sincere, but it was less glowing than that of Jonathan. His spirit, born for dominion, was struggling upward, and did not permit itself to be ruled by any single passion. Large plans for the future, and thirst for glory and for exploits occupied his mind. He must have felt, indeed, highly honored by the proposition made by the king's son; heartily he must have returned his affection; still he had room in his soul for something else. The friendship of Jonathan made him courageous under the calamities of his adventurous course; but, in addition, he restlessly followed his widely extended enterprises. Jonathan, on the other hand, felt himself to be thenceforth merely in David, and he lived, as it were, only for David. Even at the outset, he gave his friend every thing which he had at hand, in order to bind himself to him in the most intimate manner. He tendered his mantle, his coat and his girdle-also his sword and his bow, without once reflecting, that the son of Jesse could give him nothing in return. Willingly he acknowledged David's superiority, and when he knew that the throne, of which he was the heir, was destined for David, 1 Sam. 28: 30, 23, 18, even this could not make him faithless. He was ready to do everything for his friend, 20: 4-everything, and to offer up life itself. Hence, he subsequently gave him information not only of the plots of his father, but defended him also, in repeated instances, against Saul's aspersions and attacks. On one occasion, he actually succeeded in reconciling Saul to David, 1 Sam. 19: 1-7. When he had concealed his friend in such a manner that he could be an unseen witness of the conversation, Jonathan said to his father: "Let not the king sin against his servant, who hath been so useful to him!" Then Saul swore that he would not kill David, and David came

again into his presence. But the fire which glimmered under the

ashes soon broke out afresh. David now exhibited solicitude lest Jonathan should finally, though with the best intentions, leave him in the hands of Saul, 20: 1-23. Remembering his subordinate condition, he falls immediately into the tone of one addressing a superior, and says: "Show mercy unto thy servant, with whom thou hast entered into covenant, and slay me thyself rather than expose me to thy father." Then Jonathan retired with his friend to a solitary place, in order that he might pour out his heart undisturbed.

Here he gave full vent to the overflowings of his enthusiastic friendship. Once and again, he swore eternal fidelity, v. 16, 17;1 and took the same oath of him, v. 23. Since David had, in addition, made mention of his own death, Jonathan would still as it were, outbid him, 66 as soon as thou hast become a king, thou mayest indeed slay me, if only thou wilt remain my friend," v. 14, 15.2

He was conscious, that he could not find words sufficient to protest how ready he was to sacrifice throne and life for his friend. He was not contented merely with words, 1 Sam. 20: 24-42. Saul, on one occasion, passed over in silence David's absence from the royal table on the first day of the new moon. But as his seat was vacant on the second day, he inquired the reason. Jonathan, in accordance with a previous agreement with David, answered, that the son of Jesse, on account of some family business, had asked leave of him to go to Bethlehem. But the splenetic king, noticing the pretence, abusively exclaimed, "Thou foolish rebel !3 well know I, that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse, to the disgrace of thyself and of thy mother who bore thee. For so long as he lives, thou wilt not attain to the throne! Well, bring him here! for he must die." Then Jonathan defended his friend, with all boldness: "Why should he be put to death? And wherein has he offended ?" And when his father, infuriated with rage, hurled a spear at him, he sprung from the table, "full of indignation and grief, because his father had treated David shamefully." He hastened to David, to warn him of the impending danger, " And they kissed one another, and wept one with another." When the circumstance is added,

The passage, etc. is elliptical and is an expression of certainty. "He made a covenant with David, and (said), 'Jehovah will certainly punish all David's enemies, (me also, should I become his enemy.")

These affecting, accumulated words are variously misinterpreted by the translators. Jonathan plays on David's words, v. 8, "Show me kindness and slay me." He now says in reply: "Thou wilt not need that I should then live-thou wilt then have no occasion to show kindness (like that of God) to me, in order to preserve my life (i. e. when thou art made a king, then thou mayest well put me to death, if policy should require it), if only thou wilt not withdraw thy kindness from my (guiltless) posterity."

3 I do not believe, that the word is intended to attach any guilt to Jonathan's mother, when she is rather mentioned with honor in what follows. But the participle feminine stands for the abstract, and 12, by a Hebraism, forms the concrete: "Thou son of the perverseness of rebellion."

that" David exceeded" in weeping, it is a stroke full of meaning. David now saw the sorrowful future that was before him. The dissension between himself and Saul was incurable. He must wander on in misery. Jonathan, on the contrary, in order to keep up the spirits of his friend, assumed a firmer tone than he had employed, v. 41. On this account, he thus spoke briefly in parting, "As we have sworn that there shall be an eternal covenant between us and our posterity (so let it remain !)! Subsequently, when David had wandered in various places, for a long time, Jonathan sought him out in a wood among the Ziphites, as a proof of his unalterable friendship, and certainly not without personal danger. They here once more joined their hands instead of an oath (□), and Jonathan added, " that David need not fear, for Saul could not find him; he also knew that David would be king.”

3. Jonathan, however, in consequence of his profound and glowing friendship, now came into circumstances of the most painful collision; and it is this which gives to his history such a deep tragical character. In repeated instances, Saul had publicly declared his son to be a miserable traitor, who had entered into a conspiracy with the enemies of his king and his father. It is touching to see, how Jonathan did everything possible to remove this reproach from himself, without becoming false, in the least degree, to his friendship. In order to avoid the inquiries of his father for the absent David, he resigned to Abner his accustomed place at the royal table next the king, and took a seat at a greater distance, 20: 25.2 Besides, when Saul had fully resolved upon the destruction of David, the latter was warned of his danger by Jonathan, and in such a way that by means of privately concerted signals, no one discovered it. On a certain occasion, he concealed David, outside of the city, 20: 40, at the stone Ezel, where, according to the probable conjecture of Josephus,3 was his field for military exercise, somewhat like a gymnasium— where also his solitary retirement could not be discovered. He now called to the boy, whose duty it was to collect the arrows which had been shot away, "Is not the arrow beyond thee?" He thus gave his friend a hint that it was necessary for him to flee. Under

These words are too full of feeling to permit the ellipsis to be supplied. 2 This seems at least, to be the meaning of the obscure expression 1. 3 Brov pruvačiueros dietide, it is called in Archaeol. 6, 11, 8. So also 1 Sam. 20: 20, "Here he was accustomed to shoot at a mark (3).

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