We are studying 1 Samuel 18:1-5 and 1 Samuel 19:1-7 for Sunday, August 4. These are two short texts that describe the legendary friendship between Jonathan and David. [My notes on the text are here.] Here are a few questions about the text that we might want to reflect on before class or discuss in class:
Let’s think about the way we tell stories about things that have happened to us in our lives. What kinds of things do we include, and what do we leave out? Why?
What might our understanding about how we ourselves tell personal stories, and the kinds of stories we tell, inform how we read these two stories? [For instance, does it suggest that some things have been left out? Which things? Or that they reflect a particular point of view? Or … ?]
What do we learn about Jonathan’s character from these two stories? What makes us say that?
What do we learn about David’s character from these two stories? What makes us say that?
What do we learn about Saul’s character from these two stories? What makes us say that?
[When I say “What makes us say that?” I’m wondering whether it’s: Something in the text? What? Something we assume about the text? What? Something we know from somewhere else in the Bible? What? Something else we know about “people”? What? Something else? What?]
What do we think is the importance of the covenant that Jonathan makes with David in 1 Samuel 18:3?
How is a friendship that involves a covenant different from a friendship that doesn’t, do we think? [We might think of other examples of covenants that we know, either from the Bible (e.g., Genesis 15, Genesis 17, Exodus 34), or from our culture (e.g., marriage; neighborhood associations).]
How does knowing about this covenant affect the way we think about Jonathan and David’s friendship? Why is that?
Jonathan has a specific political role in the kingdom of Israel, because he is the son of the current king of Israel, Saul. On the other hand, David has also been anointed king of Israel (secretly, by Samuel, in 1 Samuel 16). In light of that, do we think Jonathan’s covenant with David has a political significance as well as a personal significance? Why?
Do we think that political significance matters for this story? [For instance, do we think it could affect what the story means? The reason it might have been included in the larger story? Or …?] Why do we think that, or why not?
How does that ancient political significance matter for us, as contemporary readers of the Bible? Why do we say that?
What do we think “we are supposed to learn” from this story? According to whom? Why do we think that?
What questions does this story raise for us? Why is that? What are some of the different answers to those questions that come to our minds? Why is that, do we think? Which of those answers appeal to us? Which don’t? Why is that?
What do we learn about ourselves, and about God, from thinking about this story?
Overall: I have already gone on record as not being a romantic when it comes to David.
The more I think about this story, and consider how it works in the larger narrative of 1-2 Samuel, the more convinced I am that this story is here for a reason, or more likely several reasons, and that at least one of those reasons has to do with further legitimizing the Davidic monarchy in the history of ancient Israel. [“Even Jonathan was for David against Saul, for heaven’s sake!”]
It seems to me that, as devoted readers of scripture, we ought to notice that.
Assuming we do let ourselves notice that, it will probably raise a number of profound questions for us, about the way God works in history (or anyhow, the way we think God works in history), the way God speaks to us in scripture (or anyhow, the way we think God speaks to us in scripture), and what we can, or should, learn from a text like this about how we ought to think and act in our own lives.
I will go on record on this one, too: I think asking ourselves those questions is important. In the end, honestly, more important than getting the “one right answer” to them, which it seems to me there is a good chance we will not do on Sunday morning.
In this case, I believe we honor God with our questions, and our engagement, in light of our ultimate conviction that the God we know through Jesus Christ is real and faithful and not created by us according to our image of how we would like God to be.
In fact, I think we honor God more with those questions than we do with pat answers that embody a mushy piety that is – in the end – ultimately more about our desire to make the Bible into a “good book” than it is about a faithful reading of the Biblical text.