1 Samuel 20:24-34 (NIV)I’ve been following the ongoing story of Saul, Jonathan and David via the lectionary for a few days now, so I know there’s a lot more going on here than just a dad and his son disagreeing over the boy’s best friend. It’s also going to get a lot heavier from this point forward, in keeping with the intense, bloody drama that is the Old Testament.
So David hid in the field, and when the New Moon feast came, the king sat down to eat. He sat in his customary place by the wall, opposite Jonathan, and Abner sat next to Saul, but David’s place was empty. Saul said nothing that day, for he thought, “Something must have happened to David to make him ceremonially unclean — surely he is unclean.” But the next day, the second day of the month, David’s place was empty again. Then Saul said to his son Jonathan, “Why hasn’t the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?”
Jonathan answered, “David earnestly asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem. He said, ‘Let me go, because our family is observing a sacrifice in the town and my brother has ordered me to be there. If I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away to see my brothers.’ That is why he has not come to the king’s table.”
Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!”
“Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Jonathan asked his father. But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.
Jonathan got up from the table in fierce anger; on that second day of the feast he did not eat, because he was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David.
But for a brief moment, when reading the verse about Jonathan storming away from the banquet table and holing himself up somewhere, away from the party, all I could think was how we’ve all been there at one point. If not as the parent, then likely as the child. At the very least I would imagine nearly everyone has at least witnessed this kind of dinner table fracas, when parent and child blow up at one another to the point where one party disappears.
That this breakdown happened during the New Moon feast calls forth similarities to the emotionally-loaded Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners that make excellent fodder for movies and television shows. I thankfully can’t recall any holidays totally ruined in such a fashion, though there are more than enough memories of people getting bent out of shape over something insignificant — or worse, unavoidable or inaccurate — when they should have been busy celebrating the blessings of family. Probably my mother is holding onto a memory of something foolish I said or did in my youth, but she’s in Colorado right now and I wouldn’t want to dredge up the memory anyway.
Hopefully we’ll be able to avoid such drama with our kids as they get older, but if you take four boys and multiply them by the number of holidays we’ll likely spend together, factoring in the potential of their friends or significant others, not to mention my own temper, stubbornness and repeated failure to think before I speak/act and, well, the outlook isn’t brilliant.
The good news is there are no spears in our house to be flung at anyone. Also in our favor is that I, even at my most impulsive, am not dumb enough to refer to my wife as perverse or rebellious. And none of our kids are in line to inherit any thrones. But all kidding aside, stories about the way these people interacted, though part of a much grander narrative about the Israelites, can still serve as useful, cautionary tales about the family dynamic. For me, at least, they present a golden opportunity to think not just about the way God’s chosen people struggled and suffered, but simply to consider my life as a dad and how to fulfill that role in a manner worthy of God’s respect.
I might not always be sure if I’m doing the right thing, but I usually have pretty good indicators when I’m doing the wrong thing. And when that happens, I turn to God for help in getting pointed back in a proper direction. I wish I didn’t need that assistance so frequently, but I’m ever thankful it’s always available.
A prayer for July 18:
Lord, please help me be a force of peace in my family. Teach me to control my temper and to be tolerant of the natural conflicts my children will have with each other and us as their parents. Show us all the ways to resolve or differences calmly, and may we remember to love each other fully regardless of circumstance. I am grateful for the blessings of family and hope never to be blind to how lucky we are to have each other. Amen.