Tuesday is Valentine’s Day, the holiday of love. In 1 Samuel 18, we will see the theme of love highlighted. We learn how David was the beloved son of Israel.
While he was hated by Saul, David was adored by everyone else. Saul’s kingdom loved David (vs. 16), Saul’s servants loved David (vs. 22), and Saul’s own daughter loved David (vs. 20). Not only that, but we also learn in this chapter that Saul’s son, “Jonathan loved David.” (vs. 1) In today’s world, that last quote probably raises both plenty of eyebrows and questions.
There is no doubt that Scripture highlights and even emphasizes the relationship between Jonathan and David. It was an important bond. It was a personal bond. But some want to say that this special relationship also implies a sexual one. They claim that they were secret lovers.
What does the Bible really say?
The Case For A Gay David & Jonathan
A few interpreters have argued that there are homosexual hints in this story. (To be fair, this is not a major argument used by religious LGBT advocates.) One book states that “homophilic innuendos permeate the story.” Parallels are drawn between the Hebrew words found in this narrative and those in the Song of Solomon. The author of 1 Samuel, they claim, is suppressing but clearly suggesting a forbidden tryst. They will point out that the Bible says:
The men loved each other.
They were soul mates.
The men kissed.
David wrote a song for Jonathan.
At first glance, some may read this and be persuaded that the men were gay. But that is the danger of a thin reading of the Bible. We must study it carefully.
The Case Against A Gay David & Jonathan
Finding homosexuality in the Jonathan and David story is like finding socialism (a modern economic theory) in the record of Acts 2 (where believers shared all things in common.) It may sound right at first, but it’s not. Let me explain.
Yes, The Men Loved Each Other But…
Jonathan “loved David as himself.” That’s true. But as we all know, the word love is a flexible one. We talk about loving pizza, loving a style of music, loving a famous author, and loving a spouse. It means something different in each context. Love does not always include sex. It was common, in the ancient world, to express not just sexual, but personal and political alliances this way. If you read the text
carefully, David and Jonathan became brothers, not romantic partners. That kinship, that family bond, was real and loving, as it should be. (FYI – The normal words for sexual activity are notably absent from every verse about Jonathan and David.)
Yes, The Bible Calls them Soul Mates But…
1 Samuel 18:1 says, “Jonathan’s soul was knit to the soul of David.” The Western idea of a soul mate is pregnant with romantic overtones. But the Eastern notion is not. This same phrase is used in Genesis 44 to talk about Jacob’s relationship to Benjamin. That was a father-son bond, clearly not sexual.
Yes, David and Jonathan had similar interests, similar hopes, and a similar faith. It’s no wonder they got along so well! I think what the text is describing is what we call friendship. CS Lewis quipped that friendship arises from that moment when you look at another person and say, “What? You too!?” Jonathan and David clearly had that moment again and again. In our hollow, social-media-obsessed world built around supposed “Friends,” I think we can learn a thing or two from these men who had a close, meaningful connection with one another.
Yes, The Men Kissed But…
Once Jonathan made his political loyalty to David clear, Saul was enraged. For safety’s sake, the two men had to say goodbye. They did so in a way common to the Middle East, by bowing and kissing. (See 1 Samuel 20:41) The bow implies a political connection. The kiss implies an emotional one. But their kisses were not sexual but sorrowful. They even cried together. Given all that they had been through, they should have. Ask any person who has lived in the Middle East (or parts of Europe), and they will tell you that this kind of kissing is normal and not sexual.
Yes, David Wrote a Song for Jonathan But..
2 Samuel 1:17-27 contains a song that David wrote. But it was a funeral dirge, not a love song, as we think. It was about Jonathan and Saul. It is true that vs. 26 says, “Jonathan’s love to me was more wonderful than the love of women.” That’s because it was! Jonathan’s kindness, loyalty, friendship, and support were real, meaningful, and satisfying to him. David experienced true, rich intimacy with another man. But intimacy does not require sex. We need to remember that as a culture.
There is one more point that should be made. For all his virtues, David did commit sexual sin. The Bible is not shy about that. Remember, the same writer who tells us of David and Jonathan also tells us about David and Bathsheba. The author willingly presents David’s sexual sin for what it is. He never “evades or excuses” it but rather exposes and condemns it. Surely, he would have done the same with a youthful homosexual fling had it existed.
Were David and Jonathan lovers? The answer is both no and yes. If by lovers you mean homosexual lovers, then no. But if by lovers, you men two men who loved God, His people, and one another in a life-changing way, then yes they were.
(My thanks to Robert Gagnon’s work The Bible and Homosexual Practice.)