This fall the Bible study we host in our home is studying lesser-known OT figures. This week was Jonathan, the son of Saul and friend of David.
There are several passages describing David and Jonathan’s friendship.
As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, 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 Samuel 18:1-4)
And as soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground and bowed three times. And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most. Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.’” And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.
(1 Samuel 20:41-42)
“How the mighty have fallen
in the midst of the battle!
“Jonathan lies slain on your high places.
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 Samuel 1:25-26)
Be honest: These passages make you a little uncomfortable, don’t they? They do me. I don’t talk like this with my guy friends. And as you might expect, there’s no shortage of speculation about the details of David and Jonathan’s relationship. Interestingly, the same is true of Abraham Lincoln. There are ridiculously unsubstantiated fringe rumors that Lincoln was homosexual, based on his healthy friendships with men and the fact that he shared a bed with another man in a rooming-house– an entirely normal practice in his day.
In fact, read letters between men from about 1900 or earlier and you’ll be surprised at how open they are in expressing affection. In contrast, guys today typically express our positive regard by making fun of each other, or we don’t express it at all. Our loss. (It’s worth noting that David and Jonathan, who were willing to express themselves as above, were quite masculine, what with all the bear/lion/giant-killing and the multiple-soldiers-overtaking and such. It’s not like they were over at the coffeehouse reading Derrida all day.)
Why is this? I think that, ironically, it has to do with our culture’s obsession with normalizing homosexuality and blurring the distinction between the sexes. It is very rare that you’ll find an article about Christianity and homosexuality that doesn’t bring up David and Jonathan (or, even more strangely, Naomi and Ruth). The reason that’s ironic is that the alleged sexual liberators are supposed to be the ones who are comfortable with people being secure and free about their feelings. But let two men express affection, and suddenly they’re a closet case. Men have learned this lesson, and now we know: Don’t show your love for another dude. It’ll be taken the wrong way.
It’s a shame that this is where we are. It’s a shame that our culture can’t appreciate masculinity and femininity in all their varied forms, that we have to flatten the distinctions and ignore the obvious, lest we be accused of bigotry. But we don’t have to bow to it, guys. We need good, healthy, life-giving, and yes, affectionate relationships with other men. Part of getting there is being willing to express our love for each other, without fearing that it will make things weird.