“I know it’s a lot to ask, but I need you to believe me. My experience is real. It has redefined my life. I feel alone, because no one else sees it. I feel rejected, because no one else will risk facing it. I need you to take me seriously. I need you to walk this with me.”
David was still struggling to believe it himself. Saul, his beloved mentor, his idolized king, was also his manipulative abuser. After years of living in Saul’s home, fighting his battles, comforting his spirit, and being part of his family, the realization was just starting to sink in that David’s perception of their entire relationship had been a lie. Saul didn’t love him. Saul didn’t care two wits about him. Saul had only kept him close so that could control him, use him, and when that was finished, eliminate him.
A friend’s denial of abuse adds insult to injury.
The blow of not being believed re-opens the wounds of abuse.
This was such a radical paradigm shift that David was still wrestling with his own voice of denial. Hearing the same doubts reflected in his best friend’s voice sent him into an emotional tailspin.
Then David fled from Naioth at Ramah and went to Jonathan and asked, “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to take my life?”
1 Samuel 20:1
As soon as possible, he had come to Jonathan for support. He always felt safe with Jonathan, secure in their friendship and confident that they saw eye-to-eye. In fact, Jonathan was the one who had first warned him that things weren’t right with Saul. If anyone would believe him about just how bad it was and be willing to stand with him through the mess ahead, it would be Jonathan.
“Never!” Jonathan replied. “You are not going to die! Look, my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without confiding in me. Why would he hide this from me? It’s not so!”
1 Samuel 20:2
Jonathan’s quick denial caught David off-guard. It was the last thing he had expected. Then again, everything in David’s life was turning out to be the opposite of what he had expected. Had Jonathan’s friendship been a lie, too? How could he not see what was now so painfully obvious to David? And yet David recognized his friend’s predicament. The abuser that he was naming was Jonathan’s father. For Jonathan, believing his friend would cost him his father. Accepting David’s veracity would mean affirming his father’s depravity.
But David took an oath and said, “Your father knows very well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he has said to himself, ‘Jonathan must not know this or he will be grieved.’ Yet as surely as the LORD lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death.”
1 Samuel 20:3
David could hardly control the hysteria rising in his voice. This was a matter of life and death. He had never imagined that his best friend would doubt his word. The wound of being unbelieved would only add to the agony of the wounds from his abuse.
If I am guilty, then kill me yourself ! Why hand me over to your father?”
“Never!” Jonathan said. “If I had the least inkling that my father was determined to harm you, wouldn’t I tell you?”
1 Samuel 20:8-11
Jonathan was uncertain. He knew his father wasn’t perfect, but it was hard to believe that he was capable of such atrocity. Surely there was some other explanation, some other way to reconcile David’s testimony with his father’s. But he recognized that if he really loved his friend, he would have to consider the possibility that his painful story was true. To deny David’s experience would be to deny their friendship.
Then Jonathan said to David: “By the LORD, the God of Israel, I will surely sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow! … But if my father is inclined to harm you, may the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away safely. May the LORD be with you as he has been with my father.
1 Samuel 20:12-13
Jonathan started listening to David. He quit trying to smooth things over, quit trying to explain them away, and started seriously listening to David’s terrified, trembling report. He would do whatever it took to verify David’s claims. He would help however he could to get David out of danger, despite the cost to himself.
Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send and bring him to me, for he must die!”
“Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Jonathan asked his father.
But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him.
1 Samuel 20:30-33
And, as Jonathan would soon experience, uncovering the truth about David’s abuser would cost him greatly. Probing deeper into his father’s relationship with David would reveal the true nature of his father’s relationship with himself. Manipulative accusations. Violent reactions. Now it was Jonathan’s turn to experience pain, terror, and disillusionment. The solidarity of Jonathan’s love for his friend deepened as he shared in his sufferings.
So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the LORD call David’s enemies to account.” And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.
1 Samuel 20:16-17
David was blessed to have a true friend like Jonathan who would walk with him through the messy aftermath of abuse. So many friendships fail to survive this difficult test, disintegrating at the very moment when they are most needed. But a friend who recommits his love in the midst of crisis is a healing friend.
Healing love manifests itself through willingness to share in the sufferings of an abused friend.
True love manifests itself through willingness to share in the sufferings of an abused friend. But when friends and family fail to step up and acknowledge the full horror of abuse, then where else can a desperate, trembling survivor turn?
…but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
His name is Jesus.
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends, if you do what I command. John 15:13-14