Question: "What was the relationship between David and Jonathan?"
Answer: We know from 1 Samuel 18:1 that Jonathan loved David. Second Samuel 1:26 records David’s lament after Jonathan’s death, in which he said that his love for Jonathan was more wonderful than the love of a woman. Some use these two passages to suggest a homosexual relationship between David and Jonathan. This interpretation, however, should be rejected for at least three reasons.
First, the Hebrew word for “love” used here is not the typical word used for sexual activity. This word for “love” has clear political and diplomatic connotations (see 1 Samuel 16:21 and 1 Kings 5:1). Second, David’s comparison of his relationship with Jonathan with that of women is probably a reference to his experience with King Saul’s daughter. He was promised one of Saul’s daughters for killing Goliath. But Saul continued to add conditions upon this marriage with the underlying desire to have David killed in battle (1 Samuel 18:17, 25). The love David had received from Jonathan was greater than anything he could have received from Saul’s daughter. Third, the Bible clearly and consistently denounces homosexuality (Genesis 1:26-27; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:18-25). Extolling a homosexual love between David and Jonathan would be contradicting the prohibitions of it found throughout the Bible.
The friendship between David and Jonathan was a covenantal relationship. In 1 Samuel 18:1-5, we read of David and Jonathan forming an agreement. In this agreement, Jonathan was to be second in command in David’s future reign, and David was to protect Jonathan’s family (1 Samuel 20:16-17, 42; 23:16-18).
Obviously, these two men were also very good friends. In their relationship we can see at least three qualities of true friendship. First, they sacrificed for one another. In 1 Samuel 18:4, we read that Jonathan gave David his clothes and military garb. The significance of this gift was that Jonathan recognized that David would one day be king of Israel. Rather than being envious or jealous, Jonathan submitted to God’s will and sacrificed his own right to the throne. Second, in 1 Samuel 19:1-3, we read of Jonathan’s loyalty toward and defense of David. King Saul told his followers to kill David. Jonathan rebuked his father and recalled David’s faithfulness to him in killing Goliath. Finally, Jonathan and David were also free to express their emotions with one another. In 1 Samuel 20, we read of a plan concocted by Jonathan to reveal his father’s plans toward David. Jonathan was going to practice his archery. If he told his servant that the arrows he shot were to the side of the target, David was safe. If Jonathan told his servant that the arrows were beyond the target, David was to leave and not return. Jonathan told the servant that the arrows were beyond the target, meaning that David should flee. After releasing his servant, Jonathan found David and the two men cried together.
Rather than being evidence for a homosexual relationship in the Bible, the account of David and Jonathan is an example of true biblical friendship. True friendship, according to the Bible, involves loyalty, sacrifice, compromise, and yes, emotional attachment. That is what we should learn from David and Jonathan. The idea that the only person in the Bible described as “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), was a practicing homosexual (or bisexual) is ridiculous and has no true biblical basis.