Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Jonathan -- always a bridesmaid, never a bride

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride -- this common English idiom means such a person never manages to fulfill his dreams or ambitions. He gets close, but never reaches the pinnacle. Jonathan's life was something like that. He was the oldest son of Saul, the first anointed king of Israel. As the eldest, he was the natural heir to the throne. He was the best friend of David, the anointed future king of Israel. Because of his father's sins and God's choice of David, Jonathan would ever be son and best friend of kings -- but never the king. He was caught in the middle, playing second fiddle; always a bridesmaid, never a bride. His response to this life's calling makes him a standout character of the Old Testament.

Be strong and of a good courage. Jonathan was a man of courage and bravery -- a quality of spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, pain and/or difficulties with confidence. Often in war this is called valor -- "boldness or determination in facing great danger." Jonathan exhibited courage in battle. He was a warrior and a leader. His confidence rested not in himself or his strength, though he was "swifter than eagles" and "stronger than lions". He understood the battle is the Lord's, to win with either many or few as God wills. As Jonathan said to the young man that bare his armour, Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: it may be that the LORD will work for us: for there is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few. Like David, Jonathan understood "the battle is the LORD'S." This was true of every battle Jonathan fought against the Philistines, even the battle in which "the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Malchishua, Saul's sons." The bow of Jonathan turned not back.

Honor thy father and thy mother. We know nothing of Jonathan's mother beyond her name Ahinoam. His father was a Benjamite, the son of Kish, and the first king of Israel. Saul reigned 40 years. He was a contradiction, an enigma and a madman. Despite that, Jonathan honored his father. Sure, at times he can be found at odds with him. On the occasion of "disobeying" Saul by eating honey in battle, he had not even heard his father's oath and curse. Jonathan operated by obeying God first. After being informed, he viewed Saul's curse as a military blunder and one that later led the people to extravagance in flying to eat the spoils without bleeding the animals (contrary to the law). Jonathan maintained a friendship and loyalty to David from the time of their first meeting. In spite of the fact that David was anointed king to replace Saul and Saul's madness against him, David remained loyal to Saul, never sought to harm him, and waited on God's time to ascend to the throne. Thus Jonathan's faithfulness to David is justified and he is vindicated of any charge of disloyalty to his father in his dealings with David. Despite some differences the adult Jonathan had with his father King Saul in their lives, "in their death they were not divided."

A faithful man who can find? Faithfulness or loyalty is "feeling of devotion that one holds for one's country, creed, family, or friends; faithfulness to commitments or obligations." A similar word is fidelity, which implies unwavering devotion and allegiance to a person, or principle." Caught in the middle between two men he loved -- his father Saul and his friend David -- Jonathan exhibited faithfulness in royal fashion. He was called on to play second fiddle; he himself could never rise to first position. He "divided" his loyalty well. Jonathan fought for his country, interceded for his friend in his father's madness, and died in battle fighting for and beside his father -- true to the end. He must die and David must reign. Perhaps it was his faithfulness to God that bolstered his faithfulness to the people of God and the men God anointed over them. Jonathan took it all in stride, acknowledging it as God's will.

Thy will by done. Both in battle and in life, whether in victory or in death, Jonathan resigned himself to God's will. When he went against a host of Philistines with only his armourbearer behind him, Jonathan could do so because "it may be that the LORD will work for us: for there is no restraint to the LORD." If God were in it, that there were only two of them did not matter; if He were not, it would not matter how many they could muster. When he cast his lot with David, Jonathan could not see all the future held. But he did it with the full understanding that he would never be king. With Joseph he could agree, "God meant it unto good."

He must increase, but I must decrease. If I have reviewed the Scriptures carefully, Jonathan son of Saul is not mentioned outside the Old Testament historical books and never in the New Testament. In contrast his bosom friend David receives mention throughout. Jonathan's role might be thought of a somewhat like that of John the Baptist, a forerunner of the coming King. Like John, his role is initially important but then fades from view with the rising of the anointed one. Jonathan's lesson for us is faithfulness -- to run with patience the race that is set before us; to learn in whatsoever state we find ourselves to be content; and to know the Lord will deliver us from every evil work; even if that deliverance should come by way of a sharp blade of a two-edged sword or the swift arrows of a bitter enemy's bow. Second fiddle sounds good when played correctly. It's not bad being a bridesmaid if it is that to which you are called.

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