There are many interpretations of the friendship between David and Jonathan, but the biblical fact remains that these two young men were friends for life, bonded by oath and fealty and that their bond endured youth, adulthood and even upon Jonathan’s death.
David was the youngest son of Jesse, a shepherd, whose three eldest brothers fought in Saul’s army. When no one could be found to be champion against the Philistine, Goliath, David (who had been delivering food to the army at the behest of his father) took up his slingshot and volunteered his service. Although he was young, his experience protecting his sheep allowed him to strike the fatal blow and defeat Goliath, leading to the fall of the Philistine army and bringing David to the attention of King Saul.
Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou has defied. This day will the LORD deliver thee unto mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel … And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, that David hasted, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a sword, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David. —1 Samuel 17:31-50
Saul’s son Jonathan was present upon that occasion, and David’s heroism in the face of impossible odds impressed him, as it did his father. Jonathan instantly felt a bond with him, as two young men on the field of battle who had faced adversity often do. He was more than a brother to him, and they declared a covenant of friendship strong enough to withstand distance, adversity and the test of time.
And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house. Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him,and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and his bow, and to his girdle. —1 Samuel 18:1-4, KJV
David was made part of Saul’s household and was, for all purposes, considered to be Jonathan’s brother. He eventually became Saul’s son-in-law. David’s accomplishments on the battlefield when defeating Goliath, won him praise and accolades from the crowds. This made Saul jealous and resentful almost from the beginning. He regretted championing the young Israelite, and set him up time and time again for death and failure, but David persevered and triumphed as God’s champion despite Saul’s attempts to murder him and the pursuit from Saul’s armies. Somehow, David and Jonathan’s friendship survived into manhood, when they renewed their covenant upon meeting for the last time.
When David learned of Jonathan’s death at mount Gilboa, he was devastated and wrote a lament about his friend, their love for each other and their enduring friendship.
And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son: (Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: behold it is written in the book of Jasher.) The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen! Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the high streets of Askelon: lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph. Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings: for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil. From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan turned not back,and the sword of Saul returned not empty. Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel. How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places. I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. How are the mighty fallen and the weapons of war perished! —2 Samuel 1:17-27, KJV
Their friendship surpassed so many obstacles. When Jonathan could have been jealous of David’s successes, he instead embraced David as his friend and brother. Even Saul’s betrayals seem to have made David and Jonathan’s friendship stronger. Most telling is that David mourned both Saul and Jonathan as his father and brother. He showed his Christian charity by forgiving Saul and praising him as a mighty leader, a king and his father. He revered Jonathan as brother, warrior and more, as meaning more to him than any woman. Such love and connection gives true meaning to friendship.