1 Samuel 20 - True Lies
Thou shalt not bear false witness... unless you need to.
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Read 1 Samuel 20
CONTEXT: The tension between King Saul and David is increasing, so David asks his best friend, Saul's son Jonathan, to help determine the level of Saul's anger.If you have time, read the entire chapter, but we'll be focusing on the highlighted portions.
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 kill me?”
2 “Never!” Jonathan replied. “You are not going to die! Look, my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without letting me know. Why would he hide this from me? It isn’t so!”
3 But David took an oath and said, “Your father knows very well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he has said to himself, ‘Jonathan must not know this or he will be grieved.’ Yet as surely as the Lord lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death.”
4 Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.”
5 So David said, “Look, tomorrow is the New Moon feast, and I am supposed to dine with the king; but let me go and hide in the field until the evening of the day after tomorrow. 6 If your father misses me at all, tell him, ‘David earnestly asked my permission to hurry to Bethlehem, his hometown, because an annual sacrifice is being made there for his whole clan.’ 7 If he says, ‘Very well,’ then your servant is safe. But if he loses his temper, you can be sure that he is determined to harm me.
8 As for you, show kindness to your servant, for you have brought him into a covenant with you before the Lord. If I am guilty, then kill me yourself! Why hand me over to your father?”
9 “Never!” Jonathan said. “If I had the least inkling that my father was determined to harm you, wouldn’t I tell you?”
10 David asked, “Who will tell me if your father answers you harshly?”
11 “Come,” Jonathan said, “let’s go out into the field.” So they went there together.
12 Then Jonathan said to David, “I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, that I will surely sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow! If he is favorably disposed toward you, will I not send you word and let you know? 13 But if my father intends to harm you, may the Lord deal with Jonathan, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away in peace. May the Lord be with you as he has been with my father. 14 But show me unfailing kindness like the Lord’s kindness as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, 15 and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family—not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.”
16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.” 17 And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.
18 Then Jonathan said to David, “Tomorrow is the New Moon feast. You will be missed, because your seat will be empty. 19 The day after tomorrow, toward evening, go to the place where you hid when this trouble began, and wait by the stone Ezel. 20 I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I were shooting at a target. 21 Then I will send a boy and say, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to him, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you; bring them here,’ then come, because, as surely as the Lord lives, you are safe; there is no danger. 22 But if I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then you must go, because the Lord has sent you away. 23 And about the matter you and I discussed—remember, the Lord is witness between you and me forever.”
24 So David hid in the field, and when the New Moon feast came, the king sat down to eat. 25 He sat in his customary place by the wall, opposite Jonathan, and Abner sat next to Saul, but David’s place was empty. 26 Saul said nothing that day, for he thought, “Something must have happened to David to make him ceremonially unclean—surely he is unclean.” 27 But the next day, the second day of the month, David’s place was empty again. Then Saul said to his son Jonathan, “Why hasn’t the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?”
28 Jonathan answered, “David earnestly asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem. 29 He said, ‘Let me go, because our family is observing a sacrifice in the town and my brother has ordered me to be there. If I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away to see my brothers.’ That is why he has not come to the king’s table.”
30 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? 31 As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!”
32 “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Jonathan asked his father.
33 But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.
34 Jonathan got up from the table in fierce anger; on that second day of the feast he did not eat, because he was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David.
35 In the morning Jonathan went out to the field for his meeting with David. He had a small boy with him, 36 and he said to the boy, “Run and find the arrows I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. 37 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. 39 (The boy knew nothing about all this; only Jonathan and David knew.) 40 Then Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said, “Go, carry them back to town.”
41 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.
42 Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’ ” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.
Listen to passage & devotional:
Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 112
Q. What is God’s will for you
in the ninth commandment?
A. God’s will is that I
never give false testimony
twist no one’s words,
not gossip or slander,
nor join in condemning anyone
without a hearing
or without a just cause.
Rather, in court and everywhere else,
I should avoid lying
and deceit of every kind;
these are devices the
devil himself uses,
and they would call down on me
God’s intense anger.
I should love the truth,
speak it candidly,
and openly acknowledge it.
And I should do what I can
to guard and advance my
neighbor’s good name.
King Saul knows what's at stake when he said to his son Jonathan, "As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established (v31)." It would have been in Jonathan's best interest to let his father eliminate David, so that Jonathan would inherit the throne. It would have been so easy for Jonathan to rat David out, let Saul do the dirty work, and be all but guaranteed that the kingdom would be his.
But Jonathan both honored God's will and loved his friend David, and he demonstrated that love and commitment by not only sacrificing his own future, but putting himself in grave danger to defend David's honor. When Saul demanded that David be hauled in and killed, Jonathan lied in order to, as the Catechism teaches us, "guard and advance his neighbor's good name."
Any curiosity that David & Jonathan had regarding Saul's intentions were settled when Saul's spear went hurling across the room towards Jonathan. Jonathan continued to put himself in danger by secretly messaging David that he needed to flee.
It's ironic that in this particular incident, Jonathan needed to lie in order to ultimately keep the 9th commandment to not bear false witness. Being truthful about David's whereabouts would have not only ended David's life, but would have put an end to the line that would ultimately lead to Christ. It would have been a greater betrayal of truth for Jonathan not to lie in this situation.
But Jonathan is not the only righteous liar that helped usher in our redemption. When Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill the Hebrew newborns, the midwives lied and said the Hebrew moms always gave birth before they arrived. Rahab lied to her fellow citizens about the Jewish spies she hid, which led to Jericho's defeat. The wise men didn't report the location of baby Jesus to murderous King Herod as they'd been ordered to do.
Christian ethics are not always simple. Sometimes doing the right thing forces a person to do what would otherwise be considered the wrong thing.
When you find yourself stuck between an ethical rock and a hard place, don't try to figure it out on your own. Spend much time in prayer, study God's Word, and lean on the wisdom of the Christian community God has placed you in.
ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, the King of kings and the Lord of lords;
ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray for wisdom in dealing with complicated ethical situations;
ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED:
Read the New Testament in a year, a chapter a day - John 10