Summer 2020: Old Testament Heroes
September 6, 2020
Rev. Fritz Nelson
Text: 1 Samuel 20:1-17
This morning we’re ending our summer series on Old Testament characters with Jonathan, crown prince of Israel, the son of King Saul, commander in chief of Israel’s armies, best friend, and brother-in-law, of the shepherd boy David.
The entire second half of First Samuel recounts the relationship between David, Saul and Jonathan. By the time of today’s reading, taken from 1 Samuel 20, Saul has realized David is a threat to his throne, and tried to kill David twice. David is on the run but has circled back to Saul’s palace to meet with Jonathan and assess his status with Saul and the royal court. As you listen, pick a character – Saul, David, Jonathan or Michal, Saul’s daughter and David’s wife. Consider what they might be feeling and how they might respond.
READ 1 SAMUEL 20:1-17
Shortly after David kills Goliath an astonishing scene takes place between David and his friend Jonathan. First Jonathan makes a covenant with his friend, a lifetime pledge of support. Then Jonathan takes off his royal robe and puts it on David. Then he takes off his armor, also presenting it to his friend. After the armor comes his sword; after the sword, his bow; after the bow his belt. Stripped of all symbols of royal authority, Jonathan stands vulnerable before his friend, his friend who will, in time, sit on the throne of his father, sit on the throne belonging to him.
God put Saul on the throne. Then, when Saul doesn’t act as God desires, God gives Saul’s throne to David, disinheriting Jonathan in the process. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. The Lord blessed Eli’s family with care of the Ark of the Covenant, and then, due to the corruption of Eli’s sons, revokes their blessing. The Lord gives Job honor and glory and wealth, and then allows Satan to strip it all away. The Lord builds the garden around Adam and Eve, and then, when they eat of the fruit, expels them from paradise. As Job says after the death of his entire family: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Or, if you’re a little less holy than Job, cursed be our God who has taken from me what is rightly mine! Sometimes, when we read across the Old Testament, God gives humans tasks they can’t possibly manage, and, when they inevitably screw up, takes away the divine blessing. Even Moses messes up and is banned from entering the promised land.
In The Good Place, a show starring Ted Danson as a heavenly host and Kristin Bell as Eleanor, a not so good person, its God who screws up. By some glitch of the system, Eleanor – the last person in the world you’d want to be friends with – gets confused with Eleanor, the human rights lawyer. Eleanor the mean girl ends up in The Good Place, a utopian heaven powered by the saintliness of its inhabitants. Needless to say, try as she might Eleanor can’t meet the standard. She messes up the finely tuned system, causing chaos to enter utopia. Finally she’s forced to confess her not belonging, to accept her fate and face eviction to The Bad Place.
How do we handle the consequences of our sin, and the sin of others? Eleanor knows right away she doesn’t belong. But she doesn’t want to lose the blessing she has, so she tries to fit in, lies about her past and tries to frame others for the chaos caused by her own sin. Saul, Jonathan and David each respond differently to Saul’s sin. Remember, David is a member of Saul’s court, married to Saul’s daughter. Jonathan is David’s best friend, and his brother-in-law.
Jonathan, we’ve seen, accepts his father’s failure, his own uncertain future, and supports David as the one who should rightly hold the crown.
Saul, unwilling to lose power, has a mental breakdown. He begins stalking David, trying to murder him at court and ultimately chasing David across the kingdom.
David never stops respecting Saul as God’s anointed king. He never usurps the throne, never tries to kill his father-in-law, never raises an army against the crown. After Saul and Jonathan die in battle, when David ultimately takes the throne, he honors his predecessor and protects Jonathan’s family.
Exiled from the garden of Eden, Eve gives her children names of divine blessing. In all Job’s pain and suffering he never loses sight of his deep relationship with God. In The Good Place, after Eleanor confesses her not belonging, after she receives her sentence of exile, Michael, the heavenly host, realizes he doesn’t want her to go. Neither do the other residents. Nothing, the Apostle Paul says, can separate us from the Love of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus died to show God’s love for us, to reconcile our sin damaged lives to the divine presence, so we can receive blessing. Jesus reconciles Paul, the Christian killer, to himself, so Paul and those who knew him could find blessing. Jesus reconciles Peter, who denied him, to himself, so Peter and those who knew him could find blessing.
Nothing can separate us from God’s love except ourselves. Like Saul we can cling so hard to our sense of grievance, to our unjust hold on power, to our anger, our hatred, our lives of greed and lust, our sense of victimization, as to cast ourselves off from God forever. Or like Jonathan we can accept the consequences of the world’s sin and strive to find blessings through the hurt, pain and loss. And, if, like David, we’re among the blessed, we can remember our blessing comes not from what we may have done, or not done, but from the hand of the Lord – who giveth, who taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.