A Love Story Too Seldom Told Rev Dr Durrell Watkins February 1st, 2015 I want to share one of my very favorite stories in all of scripture. It’s a story I’ve shared with you a few times, in some measure, but there is a part of the story that I haven’t shared with you…until today. […]
A Love Story Too Seldom Told
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
February 1st, 2015
I want to share one of my very favorite stories in all of scripture. It’s a story I’ve shared with you a few times, in some measure, but there is a part of the story that I haven’t shared with you…until today.
The story is about Jonathan and David. Saul was Israel’s first king, and Jonathan was his son and presumptive heir. During Saul’s reign, the youngest son of a simple family gained some notoriety by slaying a Philistine giant. Now, in our world, we might not glorify such vigilante justice, but in the ancient, warrior culture that gives us the story, David was thought to be heroic for killing an enemy of his country, especially since so many skilled warriors had been unable to do so. David becomes somewhat famous, and starts running with the big dogs. In that setting, he becomes quite close with King Saul’s son, Jonathan. And that’s where our story today begins.
1 Sam 18
1st Samuel chapter 18 says that Jonathan had become as fond of David as if his life depended on him; he loved David as if David was his very soul…And Jonathan entered into a covenantal relationship with David, because he loved him so completely.
King Saul, Jonathan’s father, became a little crazed not long after and even tried to kill David by throwing spears at him, but David escaped. Saul then devised a plan to have David killed on the battlefield. So he proposed to offer his daughter for David to marry, and Saul said all he wanted in return for inviting David into his family was for David to slaughter 100 Philistines (mass murder, that’s all). David did kill 100 Philistines, while remaining very much alive himself, and Saul was bound by his word to let his daughter Michal marry David.
Now, not only did David have a special relationship with the king’s son, he was married to the king’s daughter, and was a war hero to boot! Saul’s petty jealousy and insecurity plagued him; he saw David as a great threat.
I Sam 19
Saul kept trying to dream up ways to kill David, and for some reason, confided his murderous plans to his son Jonathan, the one who loved David like his life depended on him! So of course Jonathan rushed to David to warn him that he was in danger and then he went back and tried to persuade King Saul that David was a good guy. Saul promised that he wouldn’t hurt David, but the bible says an evil spirit came over Saul, he went a little nuts again; and he threw a spear at David again. Of course, he missed and David got away.
I Sam 20
David went into hiding and met with Jonathan. He said, “What have I done to so threaten your father that he should want to kill me?” Jonathan only said, “I will always tell you when he is plotting against you. I’ll keep you safe.”
But then David said, “Your father is well are that I have a special place in your heart, and so he will keep things from you now. You won’t always know when he’s plotting against me.”
But Jonathan promised to do all he could to keep Jonathan safe, and he and David made a vow to each other that they would always love and protect each other. In fact, the text says, “In his love for David, Jonathan renewed his oath to him, because he loved him as his very own soul.”
Later, Saul asked Jonathan why he hadn’t seen David in a couple of days. As his son-in-law, David would have been expected to eat at the king’s table, but David can only have so many spears tossed at him before he goes into hiding. Jonathan tries to make excuses for David’s absence, saying that he has some business to tend to in Bethlehem. But Saul didn’t just fall off the cabbage truck! And he snaps. And what he shouts at Jonathan is one of the most telling things about Jonathan and David’s relationship. Saul says to his son Jonathan, “Don’t you think I know that you are David’s companion?!” And Saul then hurled a spear at Jonathan! Saul, luckily for Jonathan and David, has consistently poor aim.
Jonathan then rushes to David to tell him his father has lost it and is determined to kill him. And when Jonathan reached David, they embraced, and kissed each other, and wept together (you know, like buddies do!).
2 Sam 1
Well, eventually, Saul and Jonathan go into a battle and both are killed. David eulogizes them in a song, and that song ends with David saying, “I grieve for you my dear Jonathan. You were so dear to me. More precious have I held love for you than love for women;” a verse that biblical literalists never seem to take literally for some unknown reason.
Now usually, David’s lament for Jonathan is where we end the story, but that isn’t the end of the story. And so today, I want to share with you something about the story of Jonathan and David you may not have heard before.
2 Sam 9
David becomes king. And remember, Jonathan and David have made vows to each other. They have promised to take care of each other, always. Now that David is in power, one day he asks, “Is there anyone from Saul’s family still alive that I could show faithful love for Jonathan’s sake?”
Ziba, a servant form Saul’s household was summoned. Ziba told King David, “Jonathan had a son, Merribaal (also called Mephisbosheth, though Merribaal is easier for me to say, so that’s his name).
Merribaal is still alive and living in a remote place called Lodebar, sent there to hide because when a new dynasty takes over, family members from the old dynasty are often in danger. So, for his safety, Merribaal is in exile, but David sends for him, not to hurt him, but to honor the love that David had for Merribaal’s father, Jonathan.
Merribaal, son of Jonathan, grandson of Saul, nephew of David’s wife Michal, was brought from Lodebar to David. And David honored Merribaal and Merribaal ate at David’s table as if he were one of David’s own children.
~ Jonathan loved David like his own soul.
~ David loved Jonathan in a way that he couldn’t love women.
~ Jonathan and David held each other and kissed each other and cried in each other’s arms, and probably did other mushy stuff.
~ Jonathan and David make a lifelong vow to each other.
~ And David raises Jonathan’s son as his own.
If Jonathan and David are historical figures, I have no doubt that theirs was a romantic relationship. And as there are historical records about a House of David, I do believe that they were historical figures.
Now, there are two observations about that story that I want to share with you, two things I hope you will take from the story of Jonathan and David.
Firstly, not quite a month after marriage equality came to Florida, I want to feature this biblical story showing that what makes a relationship sacred isn’t the gender identities of those in love; what makes the relationship sacred is that it is honest, it is mutual, it is genuine, and it is kept by covenantal fidelity, that is, those who entered into the relationship freely also freely make and keep promises to each other: Vows, if you will. We have a biblical model of lifelong love and covenantal fidelity between persons of the same gender.
The second thing I want you to notice about the story is that Saul is possessed by an evil spirit. Not the lovers, Jonathan and David, but the hater, Saul…that’s who is tormented by an evil spirit. Genuine Love is holy. The love between Jonathan and David is heralded, celebrated, commemorated, and lifted up as a model of loving promises made and kept to and beyond death. It is Saul who is poisoned by the demons of jealousy, hatred, pettiness, insecurity, and hardness of heart. Saul could have resisted those psychological demons, those character flaws, but he didn’t. He held on to them and they tormented him for the rest of his life; they tarnished his legacy, they hurt is relationship with his family. By holding onto the unclean spirits, that is, the negative attitudes, Saul never lived into his full potential and he was never as happy as he was meant to be.
But then we hear in the gospel today, “Jesus commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” But that isn’t because Jesus has some special mojo that nobody else has; it is because Jesus chose optimism over despair, love over loathing, and peace over pugnacity. Saul held on tightly to his demons, his self-sabotaging attitudes, but Jesus shows that we can let those negative attitudes go. We can choose different thoughts, form different attitudes, and create different experiences. We can command, or we could say deny, the unclean spirits, the negative attitudes, and they must obey; and we can then replace them with our positive affirmations and healing will be the result.
What are the demons that have tormented you? Self-loathing? Low self-esteem? Self-pity? Fear? Regret? Hatred? Jealousy? Bitterness? Whatever they are, we don’t have to be like Saul…we don’t have to take those monsters with us to the grave. We can, instead, follow Jesus’ example, command those negative attitudes to fade into nothingness, and begin to replace them with hope and happiness. Once we identify the demons, we can release them, commanding them to leave us forever, and they must obey. It’s time to celebrate all of who we are, to love ourselves completely, and to live in the happiness that God has always wanted us to enjoy. And this is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2015
Bitterness must go today.
I release regret, right now.
I banish fear from my consciousness.
I choose to love myself as I am.