This week's passage recalls David's reaction to hearing about the deaths of Saul and Jonathon. Despite the fact that Saul had previously sought David's life, his memory is recorded respectfully as might be expected of Israel's first king. However it is the relationship between David and Jonathon that normally draws people's attention here, particularly the phrase "my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women".
The bond between David and Jonathon was apparently very strong. Before we discuss it further, let's just look back at some other descriptions of these two:
1 Samuel 18:1 When he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2 Saul took David that day, and would not let him return to his father’s house. 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.Before we get carried away, let's remember that we are dealing with an ancient culture that is strongly patriarchal and has rigid moral structures. David was married several times, possibly in an attempt to fortify relationships with regional patriarchs by taking their daughters into his household. He is famously remembered for committing both adultery and later murder on account of Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.
1 Samuel 20:41 And as soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground. He bowed three times; and they (David and Jonathan) kissed each other, and wept with each other, until David recovered himself.
Given this history, we might well have cause to question David's assessment of the 'love of women'. To be drawn into a debate about sexual morality here however would distract from what seems to be a genuinely deep and mutual affection between two people that breaks expected convention. At the very least, Jonathon is betraying his father through his friendship with David.
We might also have cause here to pause briefly in order to reflect upon the cost of war. Lives lost are not merely numbers, but people in relationship with mothers, siblings, children, friends and lovers. I wrote this recently in an essay on fundamentalism: "The other vital component for contemporary religion will be a clear mandate for non-violence. Religions that either explicitly or implicitly encourage, condone or allow violence no longer have any integrity. People are rightly tired of religious wars and crusades. This is a point on which all religions must ultimately agree – that no more blood should be shed on account of any God."