Jonathan’s servant heart points us to the sacrificial love of Christ. We must first love God, then our service is an act of worship, a laying down of self.
And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt. (1 Samuel 18:4)
Jonathan was a remarkable young man who is a prophetic picture of a servant heart. He was caught between two conflicting loyalties, both of which involved the divinely anointed kings of Israel – present and future. One was his father, King Saul, a powerful but paranoid man sliding slowly into demonically controlled madness. The other was David, already anointed by God to succeed Saul – the king-in-waiting. Technically, as Saul’s oldest son, Jonathan was ‘heir-apparent.’ By the reckoning of men, he had every right to the throne of Israel. While much is said about the friendship between David and Jonathan, and the loyalty of latter, we seldom look at the very real challenges and conflicts this evoked.
Jonathan’s servant heart was also a king’s heart.
The nobility in Jonathan’s nature is obvious. He had been raised as the king’s son, the heir-apparent, and had the ear of the king. He proved himself a diplomat – soothing Saul’s hatred for David more than once – and a bold and courageous warrior. Wisdom and common sense often prevailed over Saul’s demented ravings and foolish battle commands. In every single way, he had the makings of a great king. The reality is that he would likely have made a far better king than his father. The indications are also that he was favoured by the people. There seems to be little doubt that he could, quite easily, have stirred up the nation of Israel to support him against David. He could also have thrown his lot in with his father and betrayed his friend – the man who stood between him and the throne.
Jonathan would also have had the support of his four brothers, if only for the privileges of being the king’s brother. Having all been raised as royal, it’s unlikely that they would have resisted the opportunity to retain these advantages. But Jonathan possessed another unique quality – a servant heart. His very nobility and integrity – the things that would have made him a great and powerful king – empowered his sacrifice. It could not have been an easy thing for a young man in the prime of his life to set aside what could have been considered a rightful claim. More importantly, Jonathan behaved with dignity. We see no sulking or grudging acceptance. His servant heart was fully committed to the choice he made in love. It reminds us of another King, doesn’t it?
A servant heart sees God’s purposes.
Here was a man who could easily have become embittered by the way things worked out. He could have resented his father for the foolishness that caused the family to lose the kingdom. Had Saul been obedient and not tried to blame his sin on others, things might well have turned out differently. But Jonathan’s servant heart recognised and honoured God’s purposes. As a result, he lived in something of a minefield. It could not have been easy, caught between two divinely anointed kings, yet he managed to do so with dignity and honesty, and an endearing humility. To Jonathan, what was important was that both men had been anointed by God. This was a truth that demanded his loyalty – not the men but the purpose of God in their lives.
Jonathan’s second choice could have been to throw in with David and defeat Saul. He could even have justified this. After all, Saul had incurred the wrath of God and another king already anointed to take his place. David was extremely popular with the people, a hero Israel would have happily followed were Saul and his machinations removed from the picture. Yet Jonathan remains the peacekeeper as far as he is able. While he aids David’s escape, he also honours his father. In fact, he protects Saul from killing God’s chosen king. His servant heart enabled him to love both his friend and his father, and to serve the kings God had anointed with absolute loyalty. His service, ultimately, was to God’s will and purposes.
The sacrificial nature of a servant heart.
Jonathan epitomises a servant heart. I have no doubt that the hand of God was upon him, and that he had been raised up for that particular time and place. Things could well have worked out very differently had he not been there. But he reminds us that a servant heart is sacrificial in nature. This is the same nature that empowered the ministry of Christ. It’s one that sets aside ‘rights’ and expectations, that loves and willingly forgives. The sacrificial love in Jonathan is a powerful example infused with the grace of God. When we set aside our own dreams, aspirations, and expectations to live the purposes of God, great things are always accomplished. A servant heart can determine the future of a nation.
The world pushes us to constantly focus on self. The litany is ‘all about me.’ Jonathan challenges us on a deep level – are we really serving sacrificially? Or is our service about what we expect to gain and what we’re not willing to yield? Essentially, Jonathan’s entire life was vested in his status as heir-apparent. He had everything to gain and nothing to lose if he pushed for what could be considered his rightful inheritance. Yet at no point does he negotiate with David. He makes no effort to demand favours or privilege. Jonathan chooses God’s purposes above his own and lives a difficult life as a result. This is the visible evidence of a servant heart. It’s one we should study and learn from because it looks forward to the sacrificial heart of Christ Himself.
A servant heart is one which loves God.
Jonathan walked with courage and integrity because the hand of God was upon him. Self – especially one shaped by privilege and power – is a strong persuader. What shines through Jonathan’s servant heart is a love for God. He lived to honour Him and His will and purposes. We see no hesitation and no resentment. Yet Jonathan was human, just as we are. He wasn’t endowed with some supernatural ability that overrode frail human nature. He simply made a choice – to love God. When we love Him, we will obey Him. It is our love for God and desire to serve Him that enables a servant heart. Alone, we cannot do it. But what we yield, willingly and joyfully, He will use. Today, let us choose the path of sacrificial love and lay down self at the throne of the King of king.
Gracious Lord, thank You for providing us with flesh-and-blood examples of Your grace at work in the lives of men. Enable us, like Jonathan, to choose the right path and to desire a servant heart. Stir up in us a sacrificial love to that we can serve where Your purposes we are called to serve. Help us to look past our assumed rights and expectations and seek Your will wherever we find ourselves. Above all, teach us in grace and mercy to love You as we should for we know that service flows from pure worship.