Jonathan Character Bible Study Background and Lessons
Meaning of name: Jehovah’s Gift
Ancestry and family life: Jonathan was a prince, the son of the first king of Israel, Saul. As such he was a leader in Israel and part of the royal line. He was of the family of Benjamin, a tribe noted for its heroes and warriors. Jonathan ended up in the middle of a conflict involving Saul and David. He was about thirty years old when first introduced in the book of 1 Samuel.
When and where he lived: Jonathan lived in Israel at about 1000 B.C. Towards the beginning of his life it was a difficult time and Israel was subject to the Philistines and other foreign powers. Saul was crowned the first king over Israel and under his rule Israel become a local power in the region. It was the beginning of the “golden years” for Israel.
Events surrounding birth: No info.
Training and occupation: As a prince, Jonathan likely had a higher education than most of the people. He was skilled in war and lived at the royal court. He had great leadership abilities and all the people looked up to him.
Place in history: Jonathan was the first prince of Israel. He was in line to become the second king. Yet because of Saul’s unfaithfulness this never happened and instead Jonathan is remembered as a loyal friend to David and a devoted leader of his country.
Special traits: Strong warrior, skilled with a bow, leader of the people.
1. Deceptive (1 Sam 20:29)- Jonathan did not speak the truth about the real reason why David didn’t go. Since this would have incriminated David he could have kept silent.
Unselfish love (1 Sam 18:1-4)- Jonathan truly kept the command to “love thy neighbor” as yourself. Most people would have considered David to be Jonathan’s enemy. Jonathan was heir to the throne, but God appointed David instead. Saul fought against this with all his might, but Jonathan was willing to forget his own self-interest in his love for David. Jonathan and David represent a picture of true friendship. Not only did Jonathan not bear animosity towards David, but he made a lasting covenant with him! He went so far as to protect his future rival for the throne.
Courage (1 Sam 13-14)- Jonathan was famed for his courage. He didn’t let numbers deter him. Because of his deep trust in God he wasn’t afraid to go up against enormous opposition.
Submission to the will of God (1 Samuel 20:31, 42, 1 Sam 23:17)- Jonathan humble submitted himself to the will of God, even when it meant giving up his future kingdom. He didn’t pursue his own interests or push for his own way. When he realized that God wanted to establish David and not himself, he humbly bowed out of the picture and submitted to God’s hand.
Loyalty- Jonathan was extremely loyal. He saved David’s life on more than one occasion and was a loyal friend. However, he was also a loyal son and didn’t reject his own father. They remained “undivided even in death” (2 Sam 1:23). Jonathan even said that Saul did nothing without discussing it with him (1 Sam 20:2).
Important acts and events: 1. He smote the garrison of the Philistines and starting the war to free Israel from their power (1 Sam 13:3). 2. Attacked the Philistines with only his armor bearer and started a route that drove the Philistines before them.
How he died: Jonathan died by the hand of the Philistines in a war. He was killed in battle fighting for his country.
Lessons from his life:
Nothing is impossible with God. Jonathan attacked the Philistines practically single-handedly and had success. He had success because he was within God’s will and looked to God for help. When we are confronted with enormous odds or difficulties we should not fear. If we remain in God’s will, He will grant us victory (1 Sam 14:6). When the going gets tough will we turn back in fear or keep pursuing the goal?
Are we willing to follow God’s will for our lives and put Him first? Are we willing to sacrifice our plans and hopes to follow God and submit ourselves to Him? That is what Jonathan did. He gave up his future kingdom because it wasn’t in God’s plan. So many times believers know what is the right thing to do, but willfully reject it because it would require a sacrifice or because it is not the way they want to do things.
We can learn from Jonathan how to be a true friend (cf 1 Sam 23:16). Jonathan loved David as himself. He was willing to give everything that belonged to him to David. He encouraged David in the Lord. He protected David. This wasn’t friendship with the purpose of gaining something as so many friendships are in the world. In the world people say, “I will be your friend if you do these things for me.” Jonathan was selfless and this is how we should relate to our friends.
E-book – If you found this character study helpful, get our Character Studies E-book, with an extended lesson on Jonathan and 8 different practical lessons on important Bible heroes of the faith.