Now that we’ve gone through the “clobber” verses in Scripture, one might ask the question, “Okay, so we know the Bible has been abused to condemn GLBT people wrongly…now what?” The Bible is replete with genuine human stories. By this, I mean that the stories we read in Scripture are about real people with real flaws and real quirks.
With the exception of Jesus Christ Himself, every person in Scripture is shown for exactly who they were. They were imperfect, scarred, and in some cases, we wonder how on earth they ever got to be used by God. For example, Peter was quick to speak, rash, and made a jerk out of himself on more than one occasion. Jesus even once equated him with Satan:
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
(Matthew 16:22-24, NIV)
To add insult to injury, Peter denied Christ three times; once while looking him in the eye:
Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
(Luke 22:60-62, NIV, emphasis added)
And yet, Peter is the very person to whom Jesus “gave the keys of the kingdom” and would become the first clear leader in the early church. This is part of what makes the Bible so unique in its presentation. Its heroes are people just like us. Even James says this:
Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.(James 5:17, NIV)
Over and over, we see how the Lord uses “broken vessels” for His glory. This great truth is sometimes overlooked by our desire to see the people in the Bible as prime examples of the best that humanity ever had to offer. The reality is that they were all just as imperfect as we are.
One such person was a King by the name of David. His story is one of the most profound examples of God’s love and grace ever seen in Scripture. It’s a story of how a young, sheep-dung-covered shepherd boy became the most revered king in Israel’s history. It’s the story of a king who refused to take the throne until God placed him in it. His story is one of humility, and one of great arrogance.
Like all kings before and after him, David abused his power. He even did the unimaginable; to prevent his friend Uriah from finding out that David had gotten his wife pregnant, he arranged to have him killed:
In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, “Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”(1 Samuel 11:14-15, NIV)
And yet, God called David “a man after his own heart.” Why? David had a heart of repentance. Even when he tried to squelch his feelings of guilt, he knew that he had sinned against God and man. Was David perfect? Absolutely not. But he was one of the most remarkable men ever told about in the Bible.
David was, if anything, a man who knew how to love. His first love, however, was one that might surprise some of us: a prince named Jonathan.
This incredible love story is often dismissed as “good friends” or “male bonding.” But if we dare to read the story as it is, we just might see that it’s much, much more. But, like any love story, we need to set the stage.
When we first meet David, he’s a young teenager, ruddy (or red-faced), and in a field surrounded by sheep. His father and brothers liked it that way. “Just a shepherd boy,” they might have said. When Samuel came along to anoint the next king of Israel, he went through all of Jesse’s sons, and the Lord said that none of them were to be anointed. I’ll paraphrase what happened next:
“Are there any more sons?” Samuel asked.
“There’s still the kid,” Jesse said. “But he’s tending the sheep.” Translation: “You’ve got be kidding me. Surely you don’t want him!”
Indeed the Lord did want him. “He is the one,” God told Samuel. He anointed David to be the next king. So now we know that David was to be a man of destiny. He had a clear calling. But for now, he had to go back to the sheep. And yes, sheep bite.
It was a time of war. The battle lines had been drawn in a place called Socoh. The two sides, the Israelites and the Philistines, were encamped on either side of the valley:
Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Socoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Socoh and Azekah. Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.
(1 Samuel 17:1-3, NIV)
The situation is grim. The Philistines had sent out their greatest champion, a man the Israelites knew only as Goliath. This guy was a behemoth of a man who was over nine feet tall, according to Scripture.
Then, in what was tradition for the day, Goliath called out to the Israelites with a challenge and lots of taunting:
Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.(1 Samuel 8-11, NIV)
Naturally, no one wanted to fight this ox of a man. At nine feet tall, his hand would have been as large as an average man’s chest. During the stalemate, Jesse sent for David to bring some supplies to the camp. David, of course, was still tending the sheep.
When David arrived, he heard Goliath’s taunts. He was astonished that no one would stand up to the enemy. Most of us know the story from this point on. He went to the King and got permission to fight the giant. Goliath laughed at the tiny stature of the boy who then nailed him in the forehead with a well-placed shot from his sling.
Goliath fell. David cut off his head and the other army ran. The war ended with a single pebble from a boy who suddenly became a hero.
This is when we meet Jonathan, who was immediately taken in with the lad:
After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.(1 Samuel 18:1, NIV)
This particular statement is worth mentioning. Jonathan “became one in spirit with David,” it says. The instant bond between the two is clear, and is just the first of four major points that establish their relationship as being one of romance, not just of “friendship.”
Jonathan’s interest became clear with the next few verses:
From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return to his father’s house. And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.
(1 Samuel 18:2-4, NIV)
Okay, let’s do the math. Jonathan took off his tunic, sword, bow, and belt. In short, he stripped. A lot of us have heard all kinds of symbolic references in this story, but in the end, it’s about two men who love each other completely. Let me be clear. My intention is to show that the two men’s relationship was romantic more than anything. Whether they ever had any kind of sexual relationship or not is ultimately between them.
Rev. Jeff Miner and John Tyler Connoley boldly say in their book, The Children are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same-Sex Relationships, “Let’s face it, the author of 1 Samuel is describing a classic love-at-first-sight encounter that happens to involve two men.”
And that’s just the beginning. David instantly gained popularity with the people after his skill as a warrior became known. “Saul has slain his thousands, David his ten thousands!” was the mantra at the time. David was a hero, a genuine war hero. After a while, Saul became jealous. So jealous, in fact, that he decided to kill the hero:
The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the harp, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand and he hurled it, saying to himself, “I’ll pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice.
(1 Samuel 18:10-11, NIV)
Later, after several plots to discredit or otherwise harm David, Saul decided it was time to try something a little less subtle:
Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan was very fond of David and warned him, “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out.”
(1 Samuel 19:1-3, NIV)
Jonathan wasn’t about to let his beloved come to harm, even from his own father. He warned David to go into hiding before anything could happen. Saul’s jealousy and hatred for David had just come to the surface. Jonathan then reasoned with his father to let David come back to the palace.
But Saul’s truce was short lived. Time after time he tried to kill his son-in law. David knew what was going on, but Jonathan refused to believe it.
Then David fled from Naioth at Ramah and went to Jonathan and asked, “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to take my life?”
“Never!” Jonathan replied. “You are not going to die! Look, my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without confiding in me. Why would he hide this from me? It’s not so!”
(1 Samuel 20:1-2, NIV)
Jonathan didn’t realize that he had been left out of the loop because his father was on to them. After some persistence from David, Jonathan finally agreed to see for himself and to discover the truth about Saul’s true intentions. They decided to go out into the field and discuss what they would do. While there, Jonathan reaffirmed his love for David:
So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the LORD call David’s enemies to account.” And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.
(1 Samuel 20:16-17)
In their plan, David would sit out from the new moon dinner the following night, and Jonathan would see if Saul got angry. Jonathan would then come out and use his arrows as a secret signal to David.
When the time for the New Moon dinner came, Jonathan went alone. The dinner was a three-day affair, and Jonathan was able to explain away David’s absence on the first night. The second night, however was a different story. Jonathan said that David was with his family, but Saul didn’t buy it:
Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send and bring him to me, for he must die!”
(1 Samuel 20:30-31, NIV)
Saul’s reaction to Jonathan’s defense of David is very telling. Saul was clearly on to them. Miner and Connoley’s description of the event is very relevant:
Many gay men have experienced similar conversations that sounded very similar to this one. They made the mistake of talking about their lover at the table, and their father became furious. More often than not, the blame goes first to their mother, who was “too soft,” or “too harsh,” or who “perverted” her son somehow. Then the father turns his anger toward the son: “Can’t you see how you’re shaming the whole family? Don’t you even care what this will do to your career? You’re never amount to anything until you give up this foolishness!”
In the Biblical text, the arguments are the same. And, even more significantly, Saul’s reference to shaming his Jonathan’s mother’s nakedness carries a sexual connotation. Uncovering the nakedness of a family member was a euphemism for incest in the holiness codes of the Old Testament (according to Leviticus 18:6-18), and Saul would not have used this phrase lightly. The implication is that Jonathan is bringing sexual shame on his family.
(The Children are Free; page 36)
Finally, Jonathan reacted very much like many of us would. Out of shock and anger, he demanded to know why David should be put to death. Saul’s only response was to hurl the spear at Jonathan (verse 32)! Scripture then says that he got up from the table in fierce anger and he then realized that Saul truly did mean to kill David.
He was so grieved he didn’t eat that night. He had to tell David what happened. He had to tell his beloved. Secrets be damned. Everyone knew anyway. But, they had a plan:
In the morning Jonathan went out to the field for his meeting with David. He had a small boy with him, and he said to the boy, “Run and find the arrows I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. When the boy came to the place where Jonathan’s arrow had fallen, Jonathan called out after him, “Isn’t the arrow beyond you?” 38 Then he shouted, “Hurry! Go quickly! Don’t stop!” The boy picked up the arrow and returned to his master. (The boy knew nothing of all this; only Jonathan and David knew.) Then Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said, “Go, carry them back to town.”
(1 Samuel 20:35-40, NIV)
What happened next is the stuff of legend. It’s what makes Hollywood films cue the romantic music and start that spin around the two lovers:
After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most.(1 Samuel 20:41, NIV)
The KJV says that they kissed until David exceeded. Clearly, they knew they would never see each other again. Their love would never again be shared. David then went into hiding.
As we explore these Scriptures in their context, we can begin to see the pattern. Jonathan fell in love with David at first sight. Their love was evident to all, especially Saul who insisted that David marry his daughter. He did, but even still, his love for Jonathan was evident. Saul’s jealousy and anger toward Jonathan revealed that he knew what was really going on, and that final kiss between David and Jonathan was one for the books.
But that’s not the end. They saw each other one more time:
While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.” The two of them made a covenant before the LORD. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh.
(1 Samuel 23:15-17, NIV)
David had been in hiding for months, if not years. And like most couples who are estranged, it was exceedingly awkward for both of them. But in the end, Jonathan came through. He helped David “find his strength in God.” They had matured, and yet their love remained.
Jonathan also knew that he would never be king. He humbled himself before his beloved, and knew that David was the rightful ruler of Israel. Jonathan had invested of himself into David and this was the final piece. This, my friends, is true love. Jonathan expected nothing, but gave everything.
Later, just after Saul and Jonathan died in battle, David wrote a psalm of remembrance:
“”Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights.
How the mighty have fallen!”Tell it not in Gath,
proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad,
lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.
“O mountains of Gilboa,
may you have neither dew nor rain,
nor fields that yield offerings of grain .
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
the shield of Saul—no longer rubbed with oil.
From the blood of the slain,
from the flesh of the mighty,
the bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.
Saul and Jonathan—
in life they were loved and gracious,
and in death they were not parted.
They were swifter than eagles,
they were stronger than lions.
“O daughters of Israel,
weep for Saul,
who clothed you in scarlet and finery,
who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.
“How the mighty have fallen in battle!
Jonathan lies slain on your heights.
I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
more wonderful than that of women.
“How the mighty have fallen!
The weapons of war have perished!”
(2 Samuel 1:19-25, emphasis mine)
Miner and Connoley call this the ‘smoking gun’ of their relationship. So many of us choose to glaze over this passionate love story and simply assume that the two men are just “friends” or “brothers.” Clearly, this went beyond that.
When we realize that the Levitical condemnation was for prostitution and other forms of immorality, it’s obvious that the love between David and Jonathan does not apply. They had a special bond, a bond that the writer of 1 and 2 Samuel celebrated.
David was no minor player in Biblical history. His was the line from which Jesus came; and God called him a man after his own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). Truly, David knew how to love. And it’s that love that we can all embrace.
Finally, no matter how flawed David was, one of those flaws was not his love for Jonathan. Jonathan gave of himself at every opportunity. David could have easily manipulated the situation, but he did not. His love for Jonathan showed his character and his humility. In the end, Jonathan is the real hero of this story. His support, strength, and humility helped David become the man he was. We can learn much from their love.
Note: This is the introduction of a special series on The Bible and Homosexuality. The links below are other installments:
- Part 1: Can a person be gay and a Christian?
- Part 2: Exploring Romans 1:26-27
- Part 3: What was Sodom & Gomorrah all about?
- Part 4: All those abominations! Leviticus uncovered
- Part 5: 1 Corinthians 6:9-10…who inherits the Kingdom?
- Part 6: David & Jonathan
- Part 7: Other Biblical stories of note
- Part 8: How then shall we live?