Covenant Faithfulness In An Unfaithful Age

By Phillip G. Kayser · 1 Samuel 20:18-42 · 2011-4-10

By Phillip G. Kayser at DCC on 4-10-2011

Introduction – the whole chapter speaks of covenant faithfulness

Last week Rodney touched on the wonderful doctrine that God always keeps His promises. Another way of saying it is that He is a faithful God. We can count on Him. We won't need to worry that God will change His mind about us in 25,000 years and kick us out of heaven. When He makes a promise, He keeps it, even when it is to His own hurt. And of course the suffering of the cross shows the extent to which God kept His promises that He made before the foundation of the world. He is a covenant keeping God and He calls us to be covenant-keeping people.

But it is hard to do that when you are immersed in a world of unfaithfulness. From the top of our nation to the bottom of our nation, men, women and children constantly break their promises. I was talking with a politician recently who told me which way he would vote on a given issue. And when I challenged him about the constitutionality of that vote, he agreed that in terms of original intent it could not be justified. But he said that you've got to be practical, "I live in an agricultural state." And I asked him, "Would that not be perjuring yourself when you have taken an oath to uphold and defend the constitution?" But it just doesn't seem to faze these guys. In fact, it is strict faithfulness that seems so odd and out of place and sometimes even heroic, when it ought to be what everybody does.

I think this is illustrated so well in the story of J. P. Hayes. Back in November of 2009 his story was all over the news, and he was being touted as being such an amazing guy. And he did do a good thing. I'm not knocking that. He disqualified himself from the PGA tour over a mistake that no one would have known about. What happened was that he was playing in Q School trying to qualify for the PGA tour. Well, he did qualify by being in the top five. But he realized later that he had made a big mistake. Apparently four weeks before he had tested out a prototype golf ball for Titleist. Somehow it was still in his golf bag, and when his caddy threw him a ball, it was the non-conforming one. The next day he realized that he had used the wrong ball. He knew that not even his caddy realized that it was the wrong ball, so he could have easily gotten away with saying nothing. But he did the right thing – he called up the officials and told them what he had done, and was disqualified. I'm glad he did that. But what is amazing to me is how many people were blown away by that. There was a time in America where that would have been considered the norm. But nowadays it seems that some people only do the honorable thing when it is convenient or when they might get caught not doing it.

Today's sermon is covenant faithfulness in an unfaithful age. King Saul stands as a representative of what is normal in our present age. He repeatedly broke his promises. In chapter 9 he entered into covenant to become Israel's king, then got cold feet in chapter 10 and hid. In chapter 13 he promised to wait for Samuel, but when it became inconvenient to do so, he broke his promise. In chapter 14 he made a rash promise that should never have been made. In chapter 15 he fudged the truth and then told an outright lie to Samuel. He did not follow through on what he had promised. In chapter 17 Saul promised Merab in marriage to the man who would kill Goliath, and then went back on his promise. In chapter 18 he again promised Merab in marriage to David, and almost immediately broke his promise. In chapter 19 he swore an oath to Jonathan that he would not lay a hand on David, but broke his oath repeatedly. Saul represents our age of unfaithfulness and broken promises. And if you think it is easy to resist that trend, you do not understand the pressures that the world can exert. I can sympathize with Christians who break their promises. That's the easy thing to do. But in this sermon I want to exhort us all to be promise keepers.

Faithfulness during hurts and misunderstandings (vv. 1-17 – dealt with last time)

During the last message we saw that both Jonathan and David said hurtful words to each other, wondering if the other would be just as unfaithful to their covenant promises. But there was no need. They both had the heart of God and had determined to be faithful.

Faithfulness in planning the well-being of another (vv. 18-22)

We are going to pick up at verse 18 and see how this faithfulness would be tested in various ways. These verses show that faithfulness does not take the future for granted. It involves planning.

1Samuel 20:18 "Then Jonathan said to David, "Tomorrow is the New Moon; and you will be missed, because your seat will be empty."

1Samuel 20:19 "And when you have stayed three days, go down quickly and come to the place where you hid on the day of the deed; and remain by the stone Ezel."

So far he is anticipating the reactions of others, taking precautions, and looking out for David's welfare. Verse 20:

1Samuel 20:20 "Then I will shoot three arrows to the side, as though I shot at a target;"

1Samuel 20:21 "and there I will send a lad, saying, "Go, find the arrows.' If I expressly say to the lad, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you; get them and come'—then, as the LORD lives, there is safety for you and no harm."

1Samuel 20:22 "But if I say thus to the young man, "Look, the arrows are beyond you'—go your way, for the LORD has sent you away."

In those verses we see that Jonathan plans to be cautious and to not allow his page to know what they are doing even if it appears to be safe. He has carefully planned out the next three days.

Planning is often the main forgotten part of being faithful. People have good intentions, but because they fail to plan, they fail to deliver on their promises. Almost every reason that might make us break our promises (other than character) could be prevented if we would do a little planning.

If you are forgetful, you can plan to be faithful by developing a reminder system. Your reminder system might be your spouse, a written calendar, a schedule, a personal information management system, or a string around your finger, or something else.

If you fail to follow through because of last minute financial setbacks, you might try developing a realistic budget, with safety valves built in. Benjamin Franklin said, "Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship." It is often because the little expenses aren't budgeted, that our ability to deliver on the overall plan gets messed up. Budgeting is just another kind of planning.

If you fail to follow through because of making too many commitments, you might develop a family calendar or an office calendar that can keep track of multiple commitments. You might want to make a habit of sitting on a decision for one day before giving an answer. Better not to answer than to promise and not deliver. So planning plays a big part in faithfulness. God's faithfulness rests on the fact that he planned out everything before the foundation of the world. He was the ultimate planner.

Faithfulness in making God the center of your plans (v. 23)

And that brings up point III - if planning leaves God out of the equation, we have humanistic plans, and we will lack what is needed to keep us faithful. In verse 23 Jonathan wanted God to be at the heart of his plans for their relationship.

1Samuel 20:23 "And as for the matter which you and I have spoken of, indeed the LORD be between you and me forever."

If the Lord was to be between them in the matter of these plans, that meant that God was at the center of those plans. And we should never make a promise that we do not first consult with the Lord on. James warns about making plans apart from God. We should say, "If the Lord wills, we will do such and such." If it is the Lord who makes us faithful, then our promises must be pleasing in His sight.

Faithfulness in not procrastinating (vv. 24ff)

The fourth thing that is obvious in this chapter was that neither Jonathan nor David procrastinated. They immediately began to put their plans into action. We see that in verses 24 and following.

It's easy to make promises, but faithfulness is about following through on those promises. And we ought to ask God to make us action oriented, and not simply talk oriented. John Calvin said in his Institutes, "Faith is known by its promptitude."

I remember one story about General Douglas McArthur during World War II. He had asked an engineer how long it would take to build a bridge over a river that he needed to cross. The engineer told him it would take three days. McArthur told him to go ahead and draw up the plans. Three days later McArthur asked for the plans. The engineer looked surprised, and said, "Oh, the bridge is finished. You can cross it now. If you want plans, you have to wait a little longer. We haven't finished those yet." I love that story because it shows that faithfulness is driven to produce. It doesn't procrastinate. This engineer was an action-oriented guy that McArthur learned to count on. As John Calvin said, "Faith is known by its promptitude." If you are a boy or a girl who loves to procrastinate, realize that this is not a characteristic of a faithful person. When our kids have broken their promises to do a chore, it has often been because of forgetfulness that came after procrastination. A faithful person is compelled by his character to be prompt in obedience.

Faithfulness during mounting tensions (vv. 24-26)

But now come some of the tests of whether Jonathan would remain faithful or not. As we read through verses 24-26 you will notice mounting tensions.

1Samuel 20:24 "Then David hid in the field. And when the New Moon had come, the king sat down to eat the feast."

1Samuel 20:25 "Now the king sat on his seat, as at other times, on a seat by the wall. And Jonathan arose, and Abner sat by Saul's side, but David's place was empty."

I can really feel for Jonathan in this situation. He is sitting and waiting – waiting for a reaction from his father; dreading a reaction from his father. But no reaction comes. There is just an awkward silence. Abner knows something is not right. In fact, everyone senses that something is not right, but no one is saying anything. Sometimes it is the silence that is harder to take because it doesn't allow for a resolution of the tension. That tension keeps mounting and mounting inside of you. You start to second guess yourself and wonder if what you are doing is the right thing.

Sometimes we can make the right decision when it is an instantaneous decision. We will metaphorically jump on the grenade. But when time elapses it can easily wear down the resolve to do the right thing. If you have five minutes to think about it, you are not as likely to jump on the metaphorical grenade, right? It has been the mounting tension involved in simple silence that has made more than one strong person buckle. And we are not only talking about buckling under the pressure of tyrants in communist countries. We have all experienced the pressures to compromise when there has been mounting tension at work or in other places.

The boss wants you to do something, but you can't do it because you want to be faithful. The boss comes into the room and you are waiting and praying, "Lord, whatever I need to say, make it the right word. I want to do the right thing." And providentially, the Lord doesn't resolve the crisis, and you are still left hanging.

Look at verse 26:

1Samuel 20:26 "Nevertheless Saul did not say anything that day, for he thought, "Something has happened to him; he is unclean, surely he is unclean."

It's amazing to me that Saul expects him to come after he has tried to kill him. But anyway, at the end of that day, Jonathan still doesn't know. So some people are tempted to buckle in the mounting tension before they get in trouble.

Faithfulness when confronted with the dreaded question (v. 27-29).

But other people buckle when they are actually confronted with the dreaded question. Verse 27:

1Samuel 20:27 "And it happened the next day, the second day of the month, that David's place was empty. And Saul said to Jonathan his son, "Why has the son of Jesse not come to eat, either yesterday or today?"

This was the question that Jonathan dreaded. And everything hinged on a right answer. The right answer for you might involve confessing to having done something wrong. It might be sticking up for someone like Jonathan did. For United States Senator Edmund G. Ross of Kansas, it involved making the right vote.

It was the year 1866, and radicals had won firm control of both houses of Congress. In the previous year the president, Andrew Johnson, had infuriated the radicals by vetoing all the unconstitutional laws they had passed. They were trying to punish the south, and he wanted reconciliation. Furthermore, the new bills took away many constitutional rights of the Southerners, took away access to the court system, and put them under military rule. So the president vetoed them. But now with the new elections, the bills were veto proof. But the president refused to implement the bills. He did after all hold the executive office. But Congress took Reconstruction into its own hands with Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. That was a breach of separation of powers, so the president fired him. They said, "That's illegal. We passed a law that you can't fire someone that we have approved."[1] Johnson said that their law was unconstitutional and that Stanton remains fired. I won't repeat some of the filthy language that the radicals used against the president. But these were times of high emotion. For example, Republican Senator, Wendell Phillips of Massachusetts had previously said, "…let there be no compromise until every breathing soul who holds to the old American principles of Constitutionalism ceases to breath."[2] So there were Republicans who hated the Constitution. But there were other Republicans who loved the Constitution, saw this as an attack on the constitution, and didn't want to have anything to do with it.

But Thaddeus Stevens talked the Congress into impeaching the president. They accused him of "high crimes and misdemeanors," ultimately bringing 11 charges against President Johnson. Johnson refused to attend the proceedings, but his lawyers defended him. And the first republican to bring charges against Johnson was from Massachusetts. He had the audacity to tell the Senators not to think of themselves as a court trying a criminal case, but as a congress settling a political issue. He said that the political issue was that Johnson was not the right man for the presidency, and that was the only question they needed to settle. He knew they had no case for trying Johnson on criminal issues. Of course, that posed an incredible constitutional crisis. But they just bullied their way forward.

The radicals had persuaded, bribed, or intimidated most of the Republicans into voting their way. Anyone showing the slightest hint that he might not vote "guilty" was eventually threatened with blackmail. They were digging up all the dirt they could find on these swing-vote Republicans. One key swing-voter, Lyman Trumball of Illinois, was warned by the Republican Campaign Committee President, Charles Spencer, that he would be hung from a lamppost if he returned to Chicago. It was a scary time to be in politics. The radicals knew for sure that they had 35 votes in their pocket. They needed 36 votes to impeach Johnson, so they put enormous pressure on seven Republican Senators who had not yet committed themselves. Six of them eventually made it clear that they were not going to vote "guilty." That made it come down to Edmund G. Ross of Kansas who refused to say which way he would vote. Just to give you an idea of the dirtiness of their business, his brother was offered $20,000 to find out which way Ross would vote. That really meant that they would give Ross's brother $20,000 if he could convince Edmund Ross to vote "guilty." When that got nowhere, Ben Butler said, "Tell the d_______ scoundrel that if he wants money there is a bushel of it to be had." Everywhere Ross turned there were people demanding that he vote "guilty." So don't just think it is modern politics that is dirty. It has been dirty before.

Anyway, the vote took place on May 16, and every seat in the Senate room was filled. This was high drama for the nation. The chief justice began to call for votes, with each Senator either saying "guilty" or "not guilty." They finally got to Senator Ross. He stood up, and every eye was on him. He later said, "It was like looking down into an open grave. Friendship, position, wealth – everything that makes life desirable to an ambitious man – were about to be swept away by my answer." He spoke softly, and many could not hear him. So the chief justice asked him to repeat his vote. This time, his answer came across loud and clear – "not guilty." The radicals lost by one vote. On every other charge against Johnson, the results were the same.[3]

If you have never been in a position like that, it is hard to appreciate the difficulty of standing for principle against your party. And it's not just the peer pressure – it is the fear of the repercussions, which is the next point.

Faithfulness when assaulted with fury (vv. 30-34).

Point VII. Jonathan was faithful when assaulted with fury. We'll begin reading at verse 30:

1Samuel 20:30 "Then Saul's anger was aroused against Jonathan, and he said to him, "You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother's nakedness?"

1Samuel 20:31 "For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, you shall not be established, nor your kingdom. Now therefore, send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die."

1Samuel 20:32 "And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said to him, "Why should he be killed? What has he done?"

1Samuel 20:33 "Then Saul cast a spear at him to kill him, by which Jonathan knew that it was determined by his father to kill David."

1Samuel 20:34 "So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had treated him shamefully."

Probably everyone there was amazed that Saul would try to kill his own son – especially after he had just said that the whole purpose of killing David was that he wanted to preserve the throne for his son. But that's the way it is with anger. It is usually irrational. It makes you lash out at the very people that you love. In this case, it almost made Saul murder his own son. Irrational. And if you have such irrational anger, you need to ask for help to conquer it. God told Cain that if he didn't conquer it, it would conquer him. And it did. Cain ended up literally murdering his own brother.

But let's get back to our whole discussion of faithfulness under pressure. When Saul verbally lashed out at Jonathan in verses 30-31, it would be easy to give in, in order to have peace. And it would have been even easier for Jonathan since he loved his father and was loyal to his father. You can think of it as Jonathan being in the same political party as his dad, and things will not go well with him if he doesn't learn to pay his dues to the speaker of the house. But when Jonathan continued to defend David, all hell was unleashed against him. And I think it literally was hell that was unleashed, because I think this was demonic. A lot of anger is.

That's what happened to Senator Edmund Ross. The floodgates of vilification were opened up against him and the six other Republicans who refused to cave in. If you want to get a tiny insight into why your representatives change their principles, read stories like that. The pressures are enormous. Ross and the other Republican holdouts were called traitors. Friends and supporters condemned them. Dirt was dug up on them. Slander was spread about them. And it is no surprise that none of them were able to get reelected to the Senate or to any other political office. Their careers were trashed. They were treated like dirt. It was a heavy price to pay, and yet every one of them said that they believed that it was the right thing to do. We need more men like that. The Senator from Kansas told his wife, "The millions of men cursing me today will bless me tomorrow for having saved the country from the greatest threat it ever faced."

Very few Congressmen and Senators today are willing to do the right things or even the necessary things that could save our nation from bankruptcy. They cave in to pressure. They cave in to the threats of the power brokers. But brothers and sisters, you don't need to be a somebody in order to frustrate tyrants. Senator Ross was a nobody – at least up until that vote. It wasn't because he was powerful that he made a difference. It was because he was faithful to do the right thing no matter what fury might be unleashed against him. He was a promise keeper. He had promised to uphold the constitution, and he kept his word. Ask God for the backbone needed to be faithful.

Faithfulness to keep fulfilling his promises even after experiencing backlash (v. 35ff)

OK – point number VIII. Despite the danger that he now faced, Jonathan showed his faithfulness by continuing to fulfill his other promises even though he had just experienced the backlash that can occur when you do so. He been burned by being faithful, but he continues to be faithful anyway. Verse 35: "And so it was, in the morning, that Jonathan went out into the field at the time appointed with David, and a little lad was with him." And it goes on to show how Jonathan carried through on everything that he had promised. Brothers and sisters, he was a promise keeper even after having suffered for keeping his promises. And if you are not a promise keeper; if you find the tentacles of the world's unfaithfulness gripping your heart and making it hard to be faithful, by faith start slashing at those tentacles right now.

You can do so first by recognizing promise breaking as the wicked thing that it is. Tag-teaming with Rodney from last week I would urge you to start meditating on passages like Psalm 24, and Galatians 3:15 and come into agreement with God that promise breaking is a heinous sin. It is not a trifle. There are Christians who threaten divorce when they get mad. Even if you never follow through on such threats it is a horrid thing to even threaten to be a promise breaker. God considers it a great wickedness. So we need to first of all come into agreement with God that the unfaithfulness we see all around us defiles the land and is a stench in God's nostrils. It will help you to face the pressures if you see how wicked it really is. Proverbs 20:23 says that diverse weights and dishonest scales are an abomination to God. This means that the current monetary system must be seen as an abomination to us. Ezekiel 16 and 18 call breaking contracts an abomination. Luke 16:15 says, "What is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God." There are a lot of things in Washington that are an abomination in the sight of God. That is certainly true of breaking promises.

Secondly, we need to repent of it and to turn away from it.

Thirdly, by faith we need to receive faithfulness from God's hand. Faithfulness is a gift of God's grace. And God doesn't call us to produce good things through our fleshly striving. Galatians 3 is quite clear on that. He tells us to be conformed to God's will by His grace and through the renewing of our minds. And that is all received by faith.

And then fourthly, we need to reinforce all of that by modeling faithfulness to others, teaching faithfulness to our children, disciplining them for unfaithfulness, praying faithfulness into existence, and honoring the faithfulness of others. Let's be a congregation of promise keepers.

Faithfulness and the use of caution (vv. 36-40)

I won't spend a lot of time on it, but in verses 36-40 we see that faithfulness is not naïve, or in your face, or boasting, or flaunting itself. Jonathan doesn't need to prove his faithfulness by starting a protest against his father. He proves his faithfulness by quietly being faithful.

But look at the caution that Jonathan uses in verses 36-40.

1Samuel 20:36 "Then he said to his lad, "Now run, find the arrows which I shoot." As the lad ran, he shot an arrow beyond him."

1Samuel 20:37 "When the lad had come to the place where the arrow was which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan cried out after the lad and said, "Is not the arrow beyond you?"

1Samuel 20:38 "And Jonathan cried out after the lad, "Make haste, hurry, do not delay!" So Jonathan's lad gathered up the arrows and came back to his master."

1Samuel 20:39 "But the lad did not know anything. Only Jonathan and David knew of the matter."

1Samuel 20:40 "Then Jonathan gave his weapons to his lad, and said to him, "Go, carry them to the city."

Even though the lad was his own servant, Jonathan was being very careful. He didn't want even the lad to know anything. Maybe it was even for the child's own safety. And faithfulness with us must sometimes take cautions. These cautions could be as simple as making sure that your wife and children are cared for should you die. Or the cautions could be to not provoke attack upon yourself and your family with political foolishness. There is a big difference between being willing to stand strong like Senator Ross did, and deliberately inviting attack. Ross didn't invite attack. Some people seem to relish the confrontation more than they do the cause that they are being faithful to. In fact, some people jeopardize the cause of faithfulness out of a love for the fight. Jonathan doesn't take needless risks in his attempt to fulfill his vows.

Faithfulness that lets you part in peace (vv. 41-42)

I see further evidence of faithfulness in the touching farewell that they give to each other in verses 41-42.

1Samuel 20:41 "As soon as the lad had gone, David arose from a place toward the south, fell on his face to the ground, and bowed down three times. And they kissed one another; and they wept together, but David more so."

1Samuel 20:42 "Then Jonathan said to David, "Go in peace, since we have both sworn in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘May the LORD be between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants, forever.' " So he arose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city."

He says, "Go in peace." They could each go in peace because they were doing what was right and they knew the Lord would honor that. It didn't make their departure easy. But it did make their departure bearable. Do you live at peace with your own soul? What is not bearable (at least to me) is having a guilty conscience. That eats at you and eats at you and won't let you go. Faithfulness let's you go in peace. And when you are focused on God's faithfulness to you, as these two were, it makes your faithfulness seem worthwhile. They were doing their duty and trusting the Lord for the results.

And I would urge you to a life of faithfulness, knowing beyond any shadow of a doubt that the Lord will prove faithful to you. Scripture says that every word of God is pure. You can trust it. Scripture says that all the promises of God are yea and amen in Christ.

Faithfulness is focused in Christ. God's faithfulness was demonstrated in the cross and our faithfulness flows from the cross. John Calvin said, "True faith confines its view so entirely to Christ that it neither knows, nor desires to know, anything else."[4] If you learn to have a supreme focus on the cross of Christ, you will more and more admire the faithfulness of God and more and more be able to imitate Him in that faithfulness. Faithfulness is not about trying harder in our own flesh, as Rodney's last two sermons demonstrated. It is about faith in Christ and seeing Him live His faithfulness through you more and more.

Faithfulness during the pressures of conflicting loyalties (v. 42b with 23:14-18)

Jonathan and David would face continuing pressures in the coming years. The last phrase of this chapter shows that Jonathan went back home to serve his dad. That would be very tough. We aren't told if Jonathan stayed home when his dad pursued David with his army. I've often wondered, "Where is Jonathan," during the times that Saul pursued David. We aren't told. We are told in chapter 23 that Jonathan snuck away, found David, encouraged David's heart, told David that David would be king and that he wanted to be David's right hand man. But Jonathan was going to face pressure upon pressure to compromise in the coming chapters. Yet he did not break his promises. He allowed the pressures to drive him to God's grace.

Conclusion

And in conclusion, I want to read a poem that gives a Christ-centered focus on being faithful despite the pressures to break our word. I've seen this poem attributed to A. B. Simpson, Mrs. Charles Cowman, and Annie Johnson Flint. So I don't really know who wrote it. But it is true to life. It says,

Pressed out of measure and pressed to all length;

Pressed so intensely, it seems beyond strength;

Pressed in the body, and pressed in the soul;

Pressed in the mind, till the dark surges roll.

Pressure by foes, and pressure by friends--

Pressure on pressure, till life nearly ends.

Pressed into knowing no helper but God;

Pressed into loving the staff and the rod.

Pressed into liberty where nothing clings;

Pressed into faith for impossible things.

Pressed into tasting the joy of the Lord;

Pressed into loving a Christ-life outpoured.

Brothers and sisters, when you are pressed by your society, your circumstances, and your friends to be unfaithful, look to the cross of Christ. It not only demonstrates that God keeps His promises to His own hurt, but it empowers you to keep your promises by His grace. In an age of unfaithfulness, please be a faithful people. Amen.

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![](./1Samuel 20_18-42/media/image2.jpeg)![](./1Samuel 20_18-42/media/image3.jpeg)![](./1Samuel 20_18-42/media/image4.jpeg)Covenant Faithfulness In An Unfaithful Age


  1. Paraphrasing them.

  2. John J. Dwyer, The War Between the States (Denton, TX: Bluebonnet Press, 2005), p. 179.

  3. Jon Johnston, ::asin|0896937941|Courage - You Can Stand Strong in the Face of Fear::, 1990, SP Publications, pp. 56-58. See also John J. Dwyer, The War Between the States (Denton, TX: Bluebonnet Press, 2005), chapter 34.

  4. See Calvin's comments on Ephesians 4:13.


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