One of the most clearly illuminated snapshots of blood covenant presented in the Bible is the covenant between Jonathan and David. In purely human terms, this blood covenant relationship is a ridiculous arrangement. Jonathan is the son of Saul, the king of all Israel. He is also the heir to the throne. David is a shepherd boy, the last born son of Jesse the Bethlehemite. The great disparity in their social standing aside, making matters much worse is the fact that the prophet Samuel has, at God’s command, already anointed David as the next king of Israel, the same honor bestowed upon Jonathan as the son of the king.
I’m not going to review all of the very familiar story of how David kills Goliath, but kill him he did. It is interesting that neither the current king, Saul, nor the commander of the army of Israel, Abner, went out to engage Goliath, the Philistine giant. Rather, it was God’s anointed who won the victory for Israel.
As the story is told, David hears the taunt of the super-sized Philistine and soon learns of a reward for the one who would kill this champion of the enemy. David volunteers for the mission and approaches his foe on the battlefield armed with a slingshot and five stones. He then twirls the slingshot above his head and fires a stone at Goliath hitting him in the forehead. The giant falls, and David goes to him, takes his opponent’s sword and cuts off his head to shouts of victory from the onlooking army of Israel. This is where we join the Biblical record.
57 So when David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul with the Philistine’s head in his hand.
58 Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.” (1 Samuel 17:57-58)
It is probably true that Saul knew of Samuel anointing David as the next king of Israel. And he knew that meant Jonathan would not follow him to the throne, and the family of Saul would cease to be the royal family. This is evidenced when Saul expresses his anger at Jonathan for making a covenant with David. “For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Therefore now, send and bring him to me, for he must surely die.” (1 Samuel 20:31) Of course, Jonathan would have none of it because of the great love, a covenant love, between he and David.
Saul must have believed in the idea of keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer, because he takes David into his service. At the conclusion of David’s interview with the king, we learn there was something else taking place during this entire episode.
Now it came about when he [David] had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. (1 Samuel 18-1)
To say that he “loved him as himself” is an indication of a covenant kind of love … the love that puts your partner ahead of your concerns and needs at all times. It is this love that drives Jonathan to bring David into this most sacred of relationships as seen in the third verse.
Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. (1 Samuel 18:3)
Love First, Covenant Later
I want to emphasize this because it is important that you understand the sequence. Blood covenants are not entered into with the idea or hope that the partners will acquire the necessary mutual love. It is deceptive to enter a blood covenant if you do not love the other party with an unconditional, self-sacrificing, covenant love. This love is indicated as lovingkindness in the Old Covenant and by the Greek word agapē (translated as love) in the New Covenant. The self-sacrificing love Jonathan had for David always precedes the making of a covenant. Only covenant love can cause a person to lay down his life for another. It is this kind of love that drove Jesus to the cross to make covenant with mankind.
6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man ; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.
8 But God demonstrates His own love [agapē] toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us [He died to make covenant]. (Romans 5:6-8)
Recall from my previous article, Identifying Covenant Terms In The Bible, that Jesus spoke to the disciples concerning this covenant love.
12 “This is My commandment, that you love [agapaō] one another, just as I have loved [agapaō] you.
13 “Greater love [agapē] has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his [covenant] friends.
14 “You are My [covenant] friends if you do what I command you.
15 “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you [covenant] friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
16 “You did not choose Me but I chose you.” (John 15:12-16a)
Jesus loved us with a covenant love before any of us ever thought about Him. The type of person we are, or had been, had nothing to do with his love for us. He saw something about each one of us that overshadowed the type of person we were, and the things we had done that were contrary to His commandments. He died for us while we were sinners because of the great love He had for us. He chooses us, not because of who we were or who we are, but because He loves us. So all-consuming is this love that the Father was willing to send His Son to the cross, and Jesus was willing to go. Our only response to this extraordinary act of lovingkindness must be a corresponding love of our own. It is when this covenant kind of love overtakes us that we are then moved to repentance … to lay down our own life to make covenant with Jesus Christ because we already love Him as we love ourselves.
There is much said in just about every sect of Christendom concerning God’s great love for us. And, of course, His love for us should never be understated. There are as well numerous ways offered by which one can become a Christian. Unfortunately, most do not involve a requirement to first Love Him As Yourself. Merely admit to being a sinner, ask for forgiveness, and Christ will come in to your heart, and you will be saved. However, repeating a prayer and asking for forgiveness will not produce the expected result without first coming to have a covenant love for the Lord Jesus Christ … it is this love alone that drives a person to willingly give everything, i.e., all your heart and all your soul, to be in this most solemn of relationships with the One by whom all things were created. All your heart and all your soul: This is laying down your life … this is how you crucify your flesh for Jesus as He did for you … this is true repentance. And repentance is the way you get to enter the kingdom of heaven. (See Matthew 3:1-2; 4:17; Acts 2:37-38) It is for this reason, in my opinion, that many “believers” are not receiving even a small portion of the “anythings” and “whatevers” Jesus promised to those who were joined to Him in blood covenant. (See John 14:13-15) One must make covenant to be in covenant, and the death of the covenant makers is required. The requirement of death on the part of covenant makers is explained in Hebrews.
16 For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it.
17 For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. (Hebrews 9:16-17)
Jesus died on the cross, putting to death His physical flesh. We enter covenant with Him by putting to death our spiritual self, i.e., giving all of our hearts and souls to Him as Moses reminded the Israelites before crossing the Jordan, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) These are the same words Jesus used when asked what was the greatest commandment, “And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” (Matthew 22:37)
Since it is impossible to be partly dead and at the same time partly alive, no such thing as a carnal Christian can exist. The truth is, if you haven’t died, you haven’t made covenant, and you haven’t actually repented, and therefore you are sadly not saved as you might suspect. You have been effectively deceived by a very crafty serpent, the deceiver of the whole world. (See Revelation 12:9)
Covenant Making Components
The covenant making ceremony was often undertaken in public before witnesses. However, even if no witnesses were in attendance, it was always understood in ancient Israel that God was not only a witness, but also the mediator of the covenant being made. Although a complete covenant making ceremony is not described in the Bible, it is believed from other sources that such ceremonies did occur. It seems likely that all of the elements of the ceremony did not always take place due to circumstances. The various elements of the covenant making process are listed below.
- Exchange Robes Or Coats — This exchange signifies giving of one’s self … this could also be called one’s identity.
- Exchange Belts — In Biblical days, belts were used to hold a man’s weapons. This exchange signifies a pledge to be the other’s protector.
- Animal Sacrifice — Blood covenants are said to be cut rather than made … the sacrificial death of an animal (often a lamb) signifies the giving of the covenanter’s own lives; more than their identity, but their very breath of life. It also signifies the consequence associated with not honoring and keeping the covenant.
- Intermingling Of Blood — Cuts in the palms of their right hands would act to intermingle the blood of the covenant makers. They then joined their cut hands above their heads causing their blood to mix and the intermingled blood to run down their arms. The Bible teaches that the life is in the blood, thus, the intermingling of the covenant maker’s blood signifies the intermingling of their lives. Sometimes cuts would also be made on their right forearms.
- Create A Visible Scar — A substance that would not lead to infection would be rubbed into the cuts so a clearly recognizable scar would forever be a witness to the fact that each person was joined to another in a blood covenant of peace and security.
- Exchange Names — Each party of the covenant adds a part of the other’s name to theirs, or they may take on an entirely new name, signifying that a new identity has been formed, and the two have become one new person comprised of both … they are now two in one, or stated mathematically … 1 + 1 = 1.
- Blessings And Curses — Each party has given ALL to the other … nothing was held back … there is no regret. Both blessings and curses are proclaimed by each party as incentives to keep the covenant. And remember it is God who is the mediator of the covenant as well as the one who executes the blessings and curses.
- Share A Memorial Meal — This involves eating the same bread and drinking the same wine. This could be done as part of an entire meal such as the Passover meal Jesus ate with His disciples. Sharing the same bread and wine represents the intermingling of two lives as they become one, i.e., that each party is in the other, by symbolically eating and drinking each other’s body and blood.
- Place A Memorial — This could be a pillar as described in Genesis 31:44-52 or a tree as in Genesis 21:33. Either would act as a memorial to the covenant-making event that took place in that spot.
The above components are also covenant indicators found in the Bible. For instance, the Passover meal Jesus shared with His disciples was much more that the last supper He would have with them, it became a covenant-making meal as indicated by Jesus offering His body and blood to them in the form of bread and wine.
Jesus would complete the covenant process when scars were created by the spikes driven into His hands, His blood that flowed and His consequent giving of His life upon the cross. And before He gave up His spirit He made this proclamation, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) Everything that needed to be done for all of mankind to be able to make covenant with Jesus, and through Jesus with the Father, was done when Jesus breathed His final breath. What had begun 2,000 years earlier with a covenant between God and Abraham was now fulfilled in the final act of Jesus. With His death, the one promise God made to Abraham that had not been fulfilled, that Abraham would be the father of not only Israel, but many nations, could become a reality.
Back To Jonathan And David
We now return to the making of a covenant between Jonathan and David and the account in 1 Samuel. As stated above, 1 Samuel 18:3 says, “Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.”
Now let’s look at what happens next.
Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt. (1 Samuel 18:4)
This verse contains enough information to clearly indicate there was a covenant relationship entered into between Jonathan and David.
Now as David was growing in favor with the Lord and prospering in all he did, Saul feared and dreaded him. Twice Saul tried to kill David with a spear, and he made other attempts on David’s life. He also instructs Jonathan to kill David as we see in the following verse.
Now Saul told Jonathan his son and all his servants to put David to death. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, greatly delighted in David. (1 Samuel 19:1)
“Jonathan greatly delighted in David.” In other words, he loved him with a self-denying covenant love. He had a blood covenant with David that was more important than family ties. He has no intention of breaking the covenant, even though it meant disobedience to his father, the king.
2 So Jonathan told David saying, “Saul my father is seeking to put you to death. Now therefore, please be on guard in the morning, and stay in a secret place and hide yourself.
3 “I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak with my father about you; if I find out anything, then I will tell you.” (1 Samuel 19:2-3)
Keeping his word to David, Jonathan speaks well of him to his father.
4 Then Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Do not let the king sin against his servant David, since he has not sinned against you, and since his deeds have been very beneficial to you.
5 “For he took his life in his hand and struck the Philistine, and the LORD brought about a great deliverance for all Israel; you saw it and rejoiced. Why then will you sin against innocent blood by putting David to death without a cause?”
6 Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan, and Saul vowed, “As the LORD lives, he shall not be put to death.” (1 Samuel 19:4-6)
However, there is an evil spirit on Saul, and he later tries to kill David with a spear, again unsuccessfully. Saul also sends men to David’s house to lay in wait for him to kill him, but David’s wife, Saul’s daughter, warns him and he slips away.
So David, fearing for his life, flees and meets with Jonathan.
1 Then David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said to Jonathan, “What have I done? What is my iniquity? And what is my sin before your father, that he is seeking my life?”
2 He [Jonathan] said to him, “Far from it, you shall not die. Behold, my father does nothing either great or small without disclosing it to me. So why should my father hide this thing from me? It is not so!”
3 Yet David vowed again, saying, “Your father knows well that I have found favor in your sight [Saul knew they had made covenant], and he has said, ‘Do not let Jonathan know this [that he wanted to kill David], or he will be grieved.’ But truly as the LORD lives and as your soul lives, there is hardly a step between me and death.”
4 Then Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you say, I will do for you.” (1 Samuel 20:1-4)
Note: You know from the previous article that the phrase Jonathan speaks to David in verse 4 above is an expression of covenant love. Recall the words of Jesus in John 14, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. [But] If you [also] love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:13-15) Jonathan was indeed serious about this covenant relationship.
Following Jonathan’s declaration, David does make a request, he asks him to let him know if the king is angry because David is not in attendance at the king’s dinner. If he is angry, then David must leave for his own safety because the king surely means to kill him. Then he says to Jonathan:
“Therefore deal kindly with your servant, for you have brought your servant into a covenant of the LORD with you. But if there is iniquity in me, put me to death yourself; for why then should you bring me to your father?” (1 Samuel 20:8)
And Jonathan responds:
Jonathan said, “Far be it from you! For if I should indeed learn that evil has been decided by my father to come upon you, then would I not tell you about it?” (1 Samuel 20:9)
Jonathan again confirms his love for David.
12 Then Jonathan said to David, “The LORD, the God of Israel, be witness! [God is the mediator of the covenant.] When I have sounded out my father about this time tomorrow, or the third day, behold, if there is good feeling toward David, shall I not then send to you and make it known to you?
13 “If it please my father to do you harm, may the LORD do so to Jonathan and more also, if I do not make it known to you and send you away, that you may go in safety. And may the LORD be with you as He has been with my father.” (1 Samuel 20:12-13)
Then Jonathan makes a request of David.
14 “If I am still alive, will you not show me the lovingkindness of the LORD [lovingkindness is covenant love], that I may not die ?
15 “You shall not cut off your lovingkindness from my house forever, not even when the LORD cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.”
Note: Jonathan knows that David will be king of Israel, and when that happens, every one of the family of Saul who could lay claim to the throne will be killed. So Jonathan asks his covenant friend to show the lovingkindness (covenant love) of the Lord to him and his family.
16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the LORD require it at the hands of David’s enemies.”
17 Jonathan made David vow again because of his love for him, because he loved him as he loved his own life. (1 Samuel 20:14-17)
When Jonathan attempts to explain David’s absence to the king, we’re told that Saul’s anger burned against Jonathan.
30 Then Saul’s anger burned against Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you are choosing the son of Jesse to your own shame [because of his covenant with David he has relinquished his title to the throne] and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?
31 “For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Therefore now, send and bring him to me, for he must surely die.”
32 But Jonathan answered Saul his father and said to him, “Why should he be put to death ? What has he done?”
33 Then Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him down; so Jonathan knew that his father had decided to put David to death. (1 Samuel 20:30-33)
Following this, David and Jonathan meet secretly according to their prearranged plan. This would be the last time the two would see each other.
41 When the lad was gone, David rose from the south side and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed three times [what a tremendous show of respect]. And they kissed each other and wept together, but David wept the more.
42 Jonathan said to David, “Go in safety, inasmuch as we have sworn to each other in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD will be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever.’” Then he rose and departed, while Jonathan went into the city. (1 Samuel 20:41-42)
A Concluding Question
This covenant between Jonathan and David provides us with a beautiful picture of the character of a blood covenant relationship. We also see that the parties of the covenant willingly accept an obligation with no boundaries, no limits. Each will willingly do whatever is asked of them by their friend.
If this is the nature of the love of two people in covenant, how much more significant, solemn and momentous is a covenant with Jesus Christ through which we are brought into blood covenant relationship with Almighty God the Father and Creator of all?