We’ve looked at how King Saul’s life was affected by depression in 1 Samuel. However, Saul’s struggle with mental illness affected more people than just himself. His warrior son, Jonathan, was not immune to the consequences of Saul’s depression. Today, we’re looking at the relationship of Jonathan and Saul.
But Jonathan had not heard that his father had bound the people with the oath, so he reached out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it into the honeycomb. He raised his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened. Then one of the soldiers told him, “Your father bound the army under a strict oath, saying, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food today!’ That is why the men are faint.”
Jonathan said, “My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?”1 Samuel 14:27-30 NIV
Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan had taken a great liking to David and warned him, “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out.”
Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly. He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The LORD won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?”
Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the LORD lives, David will not be put to death.”1 Samuel 19:1-6 NIV
The Relationship of Jonathan and Saul
Jonathan shows the unfortunately difficult parts of living with someone struggling with mental illness. While fighting depression surely took its toll on Saul, it also affected Jonathan’s actions. As shown in 1 Samuel 14 and 19, Jonathan spent most of his time undoing his father’s poor choices. When Saul forbade the men from eating food, Jonathan had to accept the consequences of breaking the oath. (Thankfully, the men saved him from dying.) When Saul decided yet again to kill David, Jonathan tried to make peace between them. He hid David and attempted to reason with his father multiple times. Unfortunately, he wasn’t always successful.
While Jonathan may not have inherited his father’s mental struggles like his siblings did, countering Saul’s unreasonableness came with its own stress. Jonathan never knew when a spear would fly across the room. He could not let his battle instincts relax in his own home. On top of all of that, Jonathan never got to see his best friend David again when David went on the run from Saul.
I hope the story of Jonathan reminds us that mental illness touches more than just the mind of the person battling it. When we seek to support those fighting mental illness, let’s also remember and support the family members and close friends who often bear the brunt of outbursts. Moreover, I think the relationship of Jonathan and Saul shows us how important it is to treat mental illness as soon as possible. Had Saul learned to cope with his depression early on, he might have had a closer relationship with his son.
Jonathan was not the only family member affected by Saul’s mental illness. Stay tuned next week as we look at the stories of two more of Saul’s children.