Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death. 1 Samuel 19: 9
There are several types of mentor relationships and sometimes age is not a factor. The more traditional one that we think of is an older person (not necessarily in age but in experience) with a younger one. That’s what I have called a “Sensei” relationship, which, in Japanese, means “one who comes before another.” But there is another type – what I term “peer mentoring” – surrounding yourself with one or more people of similar age that you can trust, confide in and develop a mutual support system. I’ve been in a peer mentoring relationship with two other men for close to 24 years. We met weekly throughout these years. It’s a powerful force in my life. Over the years, I’ve learned that Christianity is like a “team sport” and the person that plays “solo” is creating unnecessary risks of failure.
The term “I’ve got your back” has been popularized in the sports world in the U.S., although it is also used on the battlefield. If you are playing a team sport like soccer or football, it is the concept that if you fail on defense and the person with the ball gets past you, there is someone behind you to cover for you. In American football, the last defensive man is a position called “safety” because he is the last defensive man to protect the goal. The safety always has the back of the other ten defensive players on the field. On the battlefield, it is the image of two soldiers fighting with their backs to each other so that neither is risking an attack from behind that they can’t see. Your greatest vulnerability comes from your back because you can’t see a threat. In the real world, we are all vulnerable to things we either don’t see (i.e. blind spots), or things we choose not to see. Either of them can be trouble.
The story of Jonathan and David in 1 Samuel 18-20 is a biblical illustration of several principles of peer mentoring. Jonathan and David remained loyal to each other during the end of King Saul’s reign. Today’s post will cover two of the principles and a later post will cover the other two.
The story starts in 1 Samuel 18, which begins just after David has killed Goliath, the giant Philistine. Saul is interested in David because of his feat of defeating Goliath. So is Jonathan, Saul’s son and heir to the throne. In verse 1, it says that Jonathan became “one in spirit” with David and “loved him as himself”, and in verses 3 and 4 it reports that Jonathan made a covenant with David and gave him his robe, tunic, sword, bow and belt.
Saul, in the meantime, becomes paranoid because he sees David’s star rising and that the Lord has his hand on David. He felt threatened, and in the ensuing chapters, Saul repeatedly tries to kill David, but each time, Jonathan intervenes, either by convincing Saul that David is a benefit to Saul, or by warning David of impending danger from Saul. David recognizes the loyalty of Jonathan in 1 Samuel 20:3-4 when he takes an oath with Jonathan to recognize Jonathan as being the only step between David and death. What a picture! This is saying that Jonathan had David’s back. He was protecting David from threats that David couldn’t see.
Saul is still angry and disgruntled, and throws a spear at Jonathan who is pleading on David’s behalf. Jonathan was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David. David again averts being killed and Jonathan confirms his loyalty, which is between he and David “and their descendants forever”. As punishment, Saul takes out his anger on Jonathan and bars him from succeeding on the throne.
There are several lessons or take aways here, each of which are instructive:
- Every David needs a Jonathan. Jonathan protected David from Saul, or as we say in the US, he “had his back.” The goalie on the soccer team tells the other players “I’ve got your back” so that they will feel free to be aggressive. Jonathan told David: “I’ve got your back.” We all need that, although most of us won’t be in a life or death situation. We need others to help us cover for our weaknesses or blind spots. We all have blind spots – things that we can’t see, or, more often, chose not to see about our behavior that could hurt us.
- Jonathan’s loyalty to David was intentional. This relationship was not accidental. It didn’t just happen. It was based on an articulated understanding – a covenant – that Jonathan and David had with each other: to love the other as themselves. Jesus says in John 15:13 that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends. Peer mentors makes intentional commitments to each other – to pray for them, to help them through struggles, and encourage them to be all that God wants them to be. There is no limit to the list of to-do’s that a peer mentor does because life itself can’t be defined in the future – you don’t know that is around that next curve in the road, but it is comforting to know that you are not alone in your journey. The point here is that you won’t stumble into this kind of relationship. It takes commitment and conviction – it won’t happen accidentally.
In picking your friends, do you ever think about what they can do for you, or do you think about what you can do for them? Pick your friends carefully based on shared values and make the relationship a covenant relationship – one that will last through good times and bad. If you are a “David”, do you have a Jonathan in your camp? Your challenge is to seek a relationship with one or more friends which is intentional and mutual – it’s not just what you get out of it, but what you can give back to each other by protecting each other’s backs. Think of it of playing a team sport.