Perhaps the only thing harder for prideful humans than humbly wielding power is humbly yielding power. And perhaps the most beautiful Old Testament example of this is Jonathan, who not only yielded the throne to David, but, as we see in 1 Samuel 23:15-18, he did everything in his power to help him.
Abinadab1 had watched his fugitive younger brother receive Jonathan like royalty. He saw how David embraced him, talked so intimately, and wept in farewell. What had David divulged to the enemy’s son?
He stepped beside David at the cave’s entrance as they watched Jonathan depart—to serve beside his father whose homicidal jealousy was forcing them to run like foxes and live like badgers.
“David, you won’t like my asking, but I need to. Is it wise just letting him go back to Saul?”
“My life is never safer than when it’s in his keeping.”
Abinadab shifted uneasily. “I know you love him. You’re very loyal. Very trusting. It’s one of your great qualities. I just hope your loyalty isn’t naïve here.”
David said nothing, his eyes still fixed on Jonathan.
Abinidab continued, “Brother, these are treacherous days. You barely escaped Doeg’s loose tongue.2 And those cowards of Keilah would have offered you as a peace offering to Saul despite the fact that you had just saved their necks from the Philistines.4 If he came out of love then he risked his life and all of ours. Why?”
“To strengthen my hand in God, Abinadab. Because he knows me. He knows how discouraged I can get.” David looked down and smiled. “God sent him because he knows how dark it’s been for me. I know God has promised me the throne. But with barely a step between me and death5 it’s like I forget.”
David sat on the rock near his gear and pulled some parchment from his satchel. “I’ve been working on this psalm. Let me read you the first lines:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
And by night, but I find no rest.”6
“Today,” David paused to clench back sobs. “Today Jonathan risked his life to help me rest—to remind me that God is not far at all. What he said to me was, ‘Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel,’” David paused again as tears flowed freely, “‘and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this.’”
“Jonathan believes God, Abinadab. It’s his faith I trust. Jonathan loves God more than he loves power. And more than he loves me. He loves me because he loves God. That makes him the safest man in the world to me. He has no equal.” David hung his head. “I only hope he survives his father’s insane faithlessness. I so desperately want him next to me.”
David had a very difficult calling: to wield the power of Israel’s kingship with God-dependent humility.
Jonathan’s calling may have been more difficult: to yield the power of Israel’s kingship with God-dependent humility.
But Jonathan didn’t just yield the kingship to David. He loved David (1 Samuel 18:1), empowered David (1 Samuel 18:4), protected and advocated for David (1 Samuel 20), and when David’s faith-hand was losing its grip, he sought him out and “strengthened his hand” by reminding him of God’s promises (1 Samuel 23:17). He could have only done this if he trusted in the Lord with all his heart (Proverbs 3:5).
Jonathan reminds us that sometimes God’s will is for us to yield the role we have, or thought we would have, in his kingdom to another. But we’re called to do more than just yield to them. We’re called to love them and do everything in our power to help them succeed.
Like Jonathan, God wants us to seek first the kingdom (Matthew 6:33), not our prominence in it. When we yield our prominence for God’s purposes it’s a sign and wonder. And nothing else quite images the Philippians 2:5-11 glory of Jesus.
God loves when we humbly strengthen each other’s faith. And to encourage you in this ministry, we’re pointing you this month to John Piper’s sermon titled, “Strengthen Each Other's Hand in God.” And as you listen, remember: your prayerful financial support of DG is what makes thousands of hand-strengthening resources like this available free to millions of people around the world. On behalf of the entire DG team, thank you!
Jonathan did not consider the throne a thing to be grasped, but for the sake of God he made himself nothing and became a Christ-like servant. Let us also “have this mind” (Philippians 2:5).
Seeking the kingdom first with you,