Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. - 1 Samuel 18, 3
Jonathan son of Saul had been raised to be a warrior king from the day he was weaned from his mother’s breast. He was taught to fight and found he enjoyed the soldiers’ rough company more than fine banquets with foreign guests and his father’s councillors, although he saw the need for diplomacy and politics. Once he reached manhood he got married, as was his duty both before the Lord and before his King, but while he visited his wife’s chambers when his presence in Gibeah coincided with the times that she was not impure, it was from a sense of duty, not because he yearned for a woman’s touch.
Most soldiers shared this preference for male company, the world of women a foreign country they only visited occasionally, but most of them still sought out the camp followers and prostitutes in the towns they were stationed in. Jonathan never felt the urge to do the same, and it had nothing to do with setting the example of a pious and clean life as leader of his people. He knew that this was what was whispered, that the King’s eldest son and heir was a shining example of manhood and pleasing in the eyes of the Lord, both for his prowess in battle and for his blameless life in peacetime. If they were aware of the truth, their whispers would be much less favourable, this Jonathan also knew.
The truth was that Israel’s crown prince preferred the company of men in every way, had done so ever since his first shield bearer, a grown man when Jonathan had still been a beardless youth, had embraced him one night during his first campaign and shown him that two men could find more pleasure together than one man alone in the solitary sin of Onan. For Aaron it had only been a way to pass the time, but Jonathan had found deeper meaning in it, a closeness he did not find when he lay with women.
For a time it had tormented him, the knowledge that his very nature was certainly an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. It was only when he encountered men from foreign parts at his father’s Court, merchants from across the sea who told stories of great warriors who shared a bond deeper than that between husband and wife and were made better by it, that Jonathan once more dared to look to the Lord for guidance. The Lord did not speak to him directly, but after he had laid himself bare before Him, Jonathan felt directed to attack a Philistine garrison with only the young man who had succeeded Aaron as his shield bearer by his side. They were granted victory, and when Saul tried to kill him for having unknowingly broken the fast his father had commanded, the soldiers’ protests were loud enough to save his life. To Jonathan it was a sure sign of the Lord’s forgiveness and good will towards the crown prince.
After he was made clean again from the impurity of killing, Jonathan sacrificed a ram before the Tabernacle in gratitude, vowing to always put the Lord’s will before all else, even the will of his father Saul, the anointed king. And from this day forward there was peace in Jonathan’s soul, stemming from the knowledge that he had been made by the Lord and was not divided from Him because of his desires towards men.
In the years that followed Jonathan tried to be the best he could be in all things - son, husband, soldier, leader - but it was only when he laid eyes on David, son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that he learned what true fulfilment was. It was as if the moment he laid eyes on the young shepherd, grimy and poorly-dressed but with a smile brighter than the brightest gold, his soul was suddenly made whole.
Saul invited the young man to his table that evening, and instead of being cowed as most would be in the face of their king and his household, sumptuous even on the field of battle, David simply stood up straighter and accepted with a natural grace that touched Jonathan’s heart. Therefore, after Saul had dismissed him, the prince immediately sought out David and offered his friendship and loyalty, feeling as if his actions were being led by the Lord Himself.
Much to his delight the younger man accepted this with as much grace as he had accepted Saul’s invitation, but his eyes shone even brighter and bore into Jonathan’s, and something passed between them that went deeper than any words they exchanged. It was this which led Jonathan to invite David into his tent, where he stripped the shepherd of his worn clothes before stepping out of his own royal robes and armour. They cleaned one another of the dirt of battle, and Jonathan found that David tasted sweeter than anyone, man or woman, he had ever kissed before.
That night at the feast David wore Jonathan’s clothes and armour, so Saul and the rest of the people saw that the hero of Elah had been honoured by Jonathan, their prince, and the people cheered in approval to see two men they loved and admired thus united. Saul, however, whose armour David had refused to wear before he went out to meet Goliath the Philistine, looked at them, and Jonathan saw shadows in his father’s eyes, which only disappeared when David bowed deeply before his king. Then Saul nodded and Jonathan breathed more easily, for his father had been plagued by dark moods before, which had made him unpredictable and feared. It was only then that Jonathan remembered the young musician whose music had soothed the king’s spirit years earlier, and he looked at David seated beside him and saw that it was the same boy, grown to manhood.
After the feast and every other night after that which saw them in the same place, Jonathan invited David to play for him in his quarters, after which they lay down together, and David always accepted gladly, for the love between the two men was strong. However, there were many days and nights during which they were apart, because Saul quickly grew jealous of David’s prowess and popularity and sent him out on ever more dangerous errands.
Waiting for David to return, Jonathan prayed to the Lord to keep the young man safe and to give his father peace. When David came back to the palace, he rested his weary body in Jonathan’s bed and told him that the Lord had chosen him to be the next king of Israel and had him anointed by Samuel, His prophet. Holding David close, Jonathan listened and was glad to know that his beloved had found favour in the eyes of the Lord, so his arm never faltered and he always returned victorious to Saul and to Jonathan.
So when Saul spoke aloud of killing David, Jonathan warned his beloved but told him not to be afraid, for Jonathan had proven himself in his father’s eyes and Saul listened to his counsel. Knowing he owed his life to the prince, David embraced Jonathan gratefully, and they swore to be as one soul and took great pleasure in one another, mouth to mouth and thigh to thigh.
After this, all seemed well between Saul and David, and Saul even promised Michal, his daughter, to David as a wife, and Jonathan and David rejoiced at the prospect of being brothers. However, Saul kept sending David into danger and kept his intentions hidden from Jonathan, and it was only because it pleased the Lord to protect David that he remained alive and won victory after victory over Israel’s enemies.
After he had fulfilled Saul’s impossible demands, David got married to Michal, and Jonathan stood by his side, knowing marriage was part of every man’s life and enjoying the idea of their children being of one blood. And if Saul had hoped to gain control over his son-in-law he was thwarted, for Michal came to love David more than her father and saved his life when Saul attempted again to kill David. So two of Saul’s children had chosen David’s side, and when he returned to Gibeah David sought out Jonathan and told him about the king’s intentions.
Jonathan felt great sadness as he held David, who was afraid for his life and trembling in his arms, because the prince was loath to think that his father would no longer confide in him. But it pained Jonathan even more to see his strong friend so cowed, so he agreed to test his father and see whether he indeed planned to murder David. Their plan would have to wait until the next day, however, as it was night, and they were sitting in a field outside the city walls.
Jonathan closed his eyes and enjoyed the sensation of David’s warm body against his, and in whispers he vowed that he would die rather than harm David, not only because of the love he bore him but because he believed that it was the Lord’s plan that the House of David should replace the House of Saul. Without hesitation David swore his love in return and promised on the Holiest of Holy that their lot and the lot of their descendants should be forever entwined.
This reassured Jonathan, whose wife had borne him a son who would never rule, because it was David’s destiny to be king, a fate Jonathan was content with, not desiring to follow in his father’s footsteps. He hoped that David’s suspicions against Saul were unfounded, but neither man really believed it, and they spent the rest of the night taking pleasure in each other’s company, aware how precious each hour was.
Still, when Saul grew furious over David’s absence and did not believe Jonathan’s excuses, it pained Jonathan, and he closed his ears to the insults the king was hurling at him, knowing them to be true at their core, for Jonathan had indeed chosen David’s side over his father’s. Knowing that David would have to leave or risk death at Saul’s hand, Jonathan himself grew angry and fierce, and he did not flinch when Saul hurled his spear at him in a rage, feeling shame for his father’s failure to accept the Lord’s plans for Israel.
As they had agreed, the next day Jonathan went out of the city with a boy to practice his archery, and he spoke the words that told the hiding David to flee, that their fears had been justified. Having done so, he still felt David’s eyes on him despite the danger, so he sent the boy back, and David came to him and they embraced with sadness and longing. Holding back tears, Jonathan kissed away David’s bitter cries, for foreboding filled the younger man’s heart and he did not want to leave. After a while their kisses became deeper, and they knew each other and loved each other even more because they might not see one another again in this life. When David finally left, Jonathan’s heart, while heavy, felt peace because the Lord had blessed them by allowing their souls to meet.
In exile, David went from victory to victory, while Jonathan ruled and fought by his father’s side as was his duty, although he never took up arms against David or his followers. News about the Lord’s chosen king spread, but no one was gladder to hear about the feats of David than the crown prince, who smiled whenever he heard the name of his beloved.
Then came the day that Saul’s army met the Philistines at Mount Gilboa, and the soldiers of Israel were overtaken. Not once did Jonathan falter as he fought alongside his men, using every bit of skill he had learned in all his years as a soldier, but in the end he was slain together with his father and brothers. Yet even as he lay dying Jonathan was not afraid, for he had lived a good life, fathered a son and found a love greater than he had ever thought possible. Thus Jonathan’s last thoughts were with his beloved, praying to the Lord that David would be a wise ruler and great king, for the prince knew that kingship came with a price, which Jonathan would have gladly helped carry.
Yet this had not been the Lord’s plan, and all that remained were bones carefully collected and a vow never broken, for when he allowed revenge on the house of Saul king David spared only Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son. And no matter how many wives and concubines he had, David never loved anyone as he had loved Jonathan, the warrior prince with his strong, gentle heart.
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, for ever.’” And David rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city. - 1 Samuel 20, 42