The following is an excerpt from Where Two or Three are Gathered: Essays on Friendship edited by Scott Keith (1517 Publishing, 2019).
As important as they are for mutual conversation, encouragement, and consolation, on a deeper level friends keep us rooted in a genuinely human life—that is, a life in which we live outside ourselves, gladly caught up in the web of a another’s life, where we can love and serve them in moments of self-forgetfulness.
We see something like a parable of this in the friendship of David and Jonathan. Shortly after David slew Goliath, he was brought before King Saul. The youth and the king spoke about who David was and what he had done. After David had finished the conversation with Saul, the king’s son, Jonathan became united to David in a deep and abiding friendship.
“The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt” (1 Sam 18:1–4).
Jonathan saw in David a reflection of who he himself was. This recognition pulled him outside himself and bound him to another.
Much later, after the death of Jonathan and his father on the battlefield, David sang a lament in which he said of his friend, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women” (2 Sam 1:26).
The language used to describe the bond between David and Jonathan is indicative not only of the intensity of their friendship but the way in which their friendship rooted them deeply in a life of love—that is, a life of being truly human.
Jonathan’s soul was “knit” (Hebrew: qashar) to the soul of David. The basic meaning of this verb is to bind, to tie together, as a scarlet thread was tied (qashar) to the hand of Zerah, or Rahab tied (qashar) a piece of scarlet to her window (Gen 38:28; Josh 2:18). The same verb is used to describe how God’s words are to be qashar to the foreheads and hands of Israel (Deut 6:8). By extension, then, it is applied to the knot of love that ties people together. Jacob’s soul was qashar to the soul of his youngest son, Benjamin (Gen 44:30), just as Jonathan’s was to David. That Jonathan “loved him as his own soul” is expressive of what this soul-qashar meant. He saw in David a reflection of who he himself was. This recognition pulled him outside himself and bound him to another. It simultaneously emptied and filled him: emptied himself of a life all about him and filled him with the life of another. We see this emptying out illustrated in his stripping off of his robe and weapons and giving them to David. What was his—his inward soul and his outward possessions—became another’s. Jonathan’s friendship benefited not only David but himself as well. He discovered in this friend who he was: a love-giver, a gift-giver, one who empties himself into the life and soul of a friend. In short, Jonathan’s actions are an epiphany of what it means to be truly human.
In the friendship of David and Jonathan, the Lord has given us an example of what this bond between friends enacts in two people.
David’s words of lamentation echo and reinforce Jonathan’s actions; they also take them to a higher level. His friend had been very “pleasant” (Hebrew: na’em) to David. The root and derivatives of this word are used to describe beauty, goodness, and kindness. They’re applied also to the God of Israel. His divine name is na’im (Ps 135:3). The psalmist wants to behold the no’am of the Lord in his temple (Ps 27:4). David saw in Jonathan one whose kindness and pleasantness mirrored that of God himself. Moreover, Jonathan’s love for him was “extraordinary” (from the Hebrew verb pala). This root is commonly used to describe wondrous divine acts that are beyond our ability to grasp or understand. This love, David says, was greater than the love of women. The love of a woman for a man, or a man for a woman, is an extraordinary gift. It is frequently held up as a mirror of the love between God and his people. In David and Jonathan’s case, however, the bond of love between them was even higher than what exists between a man and woman. It was, like divine actions, pala. Wonderful. Extraordinary. Surpassing all expectation. As such, this love of friends mirrored even more closely the love of God for his people. Indeed, it was a gift from God, designed to enable David and Jonathan to experience in their friendship an earthly reflection of the celestial love of Yahweh for Israel. And at the same time, it was a gift for them so they could grow into the love-givers and love-receivers they were made to be as those crafted in the image of the loving God.
In the friendship of David and Jonathan, therefore, the Lord has given us an example of what this bond between friends enacts in the two people. They are tied together in such a way that one’s soul mirrors the other’s. This mirroring pulls us out of ourselves. It shows us who we truly are. And in the reception of the love of another, we see too the love of God—the extraordinary, pleasant favor of Yahweh toward us.