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.
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.
There are very few weaknesses mentioned about Jonathan in the Bible. We know that everyone has sin. There is one borderline questionable practice when Saul confronted Jonathan about David’s whereabouts.
Jonathan did not speak the truth about the real reason why David didn’t go or at least not the whole truth. 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:
1. 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.
2. We learn about the person God uses from Jonathan in 1 Samuel 14 –
I. The person God uses is willing to go.
While everyone else is hiding or “staying,” Jonathan had a different attitude. Jonathan was active where they were passive. Jonathan says “Come, let’s go.” Others were afraid. Others were waiting for someone else to do something. Others were waiting for something to happen. Jonathan takes initiative. No one made him do it. But he sees what needs to be done, and he does something about it.
Throughout the Bible we see that the primary characteristic God is looking for in His messengers is willingness.
In Isaiah 6:8-9 it says, “ 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
9 He said, “Go and tell this people.”
God doesn’t always choose the most educated people, the people with the highest IQ, or the most talented. He is looking for people who are willing. He says “who will go?” Jonathan was willing to go.
So each of us needs to answer two questions:
1. Are you willing? Are you willing to be used by God?
Sometimes we are reluctant. We may think that we don’t know enough. We may think that we are not good enough yet. We may think that no one will listen to us. But God can overcome all of these issues. The real question is are we willing to say “yes” to God and to be used by Him. If we are willing, then He will help us. Moses made many excuses to God about not going. One of them was that he wasn’t good at talking. Another is that he was afraid people wouldn’t listen to him. Finally he said, “send someone else.” To all of these, God’s answer was “I will be with you.” If you are willing to be used by God, then He promises to be with you each step of the way.
2. Will you go?
Not only should we be willing, but we should also take action. How many of you have ever had someone knock on your door and say, “Please share the gospel with me. I want to believe in Jesus.” This is very rare. Jonathan said “let’s go.” In Isaiah God asks, “who will go?” The Great Commission says, “Go!” God wants you to take initiative.
We go out of our houses. We go out of our comfort zones. This means we take initiative to start conversations. Ask your friend, “Would you like to meet me for lunch? I would like to share about the Bible with you.” Share your testimonies. Go to your sick friend and say, “may I pray for you?”
I had a co-worker who was going through a hard time. She had never expressed any interest in Christ. But I asked her “can I pray for you?” She let me and she was so touched that I would be willing to pray for her. Tears were streaming down her face. I had to leave my comfort zone. I was afraid “what if God did not answer according to what she hoped for?” I knew God wanted me to go out of my comfort zone and take initiative to pray for her.
If you are willing to be used by God, would you just pray silently in your heart to Him now and say “God I am willing to be your tool. I am willing to go. Just show me where.”
II. The person God uses has a big vision.
William Carey once said “Attempt great things for God, expect great things of God.”
We see that Jonathan is doing that in this passage. Jonathan had a big vision; he had a high goal. He wasn’t out to catch a straggler or perhaps steal a sheep or carry a raid and get a few weapons. He wanted to take out a fortified outpost defended by many men. What do you think Saul would have said if Jonathan had told him this plan? Probably something along the lines of “your crazy!” Apparently there is a reason Jonathan didn’t tell him about it. Most people’s goals were very low “survive, live.” Jonathan attempted something that most people would laugh at.
But he didn’t attempt this in his own strength. He didn’t think his own military prowess would give him the victory. Instead he places his faith in God. He says, “perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving.” He believed that God would be with them and give them the victory. He knew it was God’s power.
Our view of God is directly correlated to the steps of faith we take. Let me say that again. Our view of God is directly correlated to the steps of faith we take. What does that mean?
If you believe in a big God you will attempt big things for God. If you believe in a little God, you will be afraid of trying in fear that He will let you down.
For example, some of you have relatives who are hostile to the gospel and seem very hard hearted. Do you believe God is big and powerful enough to change their hearts or are they a lost cause? If you believe in a big God, you will keep praying and you will keep sharing with this person. If you believe in a little God, you will give up and say “you don’t know my uncle, there is no way someone like him would ever believe the gospel.”
Will you believe God is big enough to do something great? God is big enough to change the heart of the most skeptical unbeliever. God is big enough to help you start a Bible study on a campus where there are no other believers. God is big enough to reach your school for the gospel, to reach your city, to save your government leaders.
Do you have goals for how you can be used by God? If not, then setting goals is a good first step. But maybe today is the day we need to set our goals higher. Are you praying for one person to trust Christ in your school? Maybe you need to pray for 5, for 50, for 5000. Are you hoping that one Bible study will start in your district? Maybe we should pray for 100 or 1000 or 10000.
Jesus told the disciples that even faith as small as a mustard seed can grow into a great tree. Will you have that faith to set what to you might seem like a huge goal and then to work toward it and pray toward it and believe that perhaps, maybe, God will do the impossible?
III. The person God uses has great faith.
One of the most memorable phrases in this chapter is Jonathan’s amazing statement of faith in God where he says “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” Jonathan knew that it wasn’t about the number of soldiers. It was all about God’s power. He had an almost insurmountable challenge, but he believed in God’s power to bring about victory.
Likewise God has given us a huge task, telling us to make disciples of all nations, to reach the world for Christ.
The current population of the world is roughly 7,699,102,112. That is increasing by about 82 million per year, which is about 224,000 per day.
There are 17,703 distinct people groups in the world. Over 7000 of these are unreached, which is about 40% of the world. That means that they need outside assistance to reach them with the gospel.
This is a big task. But God can use one willing person in a great way. Through Jonathan Israel’s enemies were defeated. Just the twelve disciples “turned the world upside down.” Through the efforts of William Wilberforce the slave trade was ended.
When Adiniram Judson started sharing the gospel in Burma there was no church, no Bible, and virtually no believers. When he died there were 100 churches, 8,000 believers, and a finished Bible in their language.
The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. The good news is that God can use only a few to accomplish great things. He is not restrained to save by many or by few. In today’s world people seek ease, comfort, safety, convenience and avoid trouble, worry, difficulty. God does not call us to a life of ease. God does not call us to a life of comfort! God does not call us to a life of pleasure! He calls us to make disciples. This is not easy. This is not comfortable. This is not safe.
There are two kinds of people. Zealous goers. And the disobedient. Which kind of person are you?
IV. The people God use have their own unique role.
We have focused on Jonathan so far. Jonathan stepped up. He took initiative. He took the lead. He served as a model. At the same time, there are two key people in this story. The armor bearer is also very important. He is not as famous. We don’t even know his name.
But he too was willing to go. He too was brave. He too had faith. Sometimes you may be the first one to step out and take initiative to build God’s kingdom and that is good. Other times you may see others step out and follow them. That is good too.
Every person has a role in building God’s kingdom. Our roles are not necessarily the same, but they are important and we work together in unity for a common person.
Do you know what your role in building God’s kingdom is? Are you willing to take it up? I hope that at the end of the day today, the answer to both of those questions will be a resounding “yes.”
V. The person God uses recognizes it is God’s victory.
In verse 12 Jonathan claims that “the Lord has given them into the hands of Israel.” In verse 15 we see that God sends a panic which engulfs the entire Philistine army.
These verses remind us of the fact that God is the one who gives victory.
Proverbs 21:31 – The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD.
Jonathan gave all the credit and all the glory to God who is the one who deserved it. Whenever and wherever we serve God we need to embrace that same attitude of humility. Once we start becoming prideful and start trusting in ourselves, our own logic, our own reasoning, our own strength, we will not be effective.
Can you persuade someone to believe in Jesus? I have tried before. I gave the best evidences and arguments I could (the other guy was a lawyer). In the end, as far as I know, he never believed. Knowing that we cannot persuade people forces us to rely on God and to pray for His Spirit to work in their hearts. At the same time though, I find it is very calming. If I say the wrong word or stumble over my words it is not going to be my fault that a person goes to hell. God can overcome my own weaknesses. This is not an excuse not share the gospel, but it does give us a calm confidence in the Lord.
VI. The person God uses can be a catalyst for a movement.
Before Jonathan took action the people were hiding in caves and resting under trees. No one was doing anything. Everyone was waiting for someone else to do something. Into this vacuum of vision, Jonathan steps up. He doesn’t wait for someone else to make the first move.
That takes a lot of bravery!
There is an Asian idiom “di yi ge chi pang xie de ren?” It means “the first person to eat a crab.” The first person to eat a crab must have been quite brave. After all, they look kind of ugly and have hard shells and sharp claws. But now crabs are one of the world’s favorite delicacies. Someone was the first person to be bold enough to try eating one.
When Jonathan stepped up, God gave the victory. But then notice what happens to the rest of the Israelites. They all come out of their caves and join the fight! They are inspired. They are motivated. A movement starts which sweeps through the land. And the Philistines are swept away.
Luke 10:2 – “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
My hope is simple. I hope that each one of you will become a worker in God’s harvest field. I hope that you will be a person that God uses. I hope that you will work in the harvest field around you. I pray that movements will start with you which will change the world.
Application: If you are willing to make a commitment before God pray right now and tell Him, “I am willing to be a worker for you” then pray in your own heart that God will make you into a person that He uses. Pray that He will help you be willing to go and show you where to go. Pray that He will give you a big vision, a giant vision, His vision. Pray that He will give you faith. Pray that He will show you your role. Pray that you will always rely on Him and not your own strength. Pray for a movement.
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.
Character Study E-book Study Guide
Mordecai and Haman
Joseph step-father of Jesus
John the Baptist
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