Resisting Envy

 

Introduction 

When you think of the book of Samuel; its theology, themes, and characters, you may not have given much of a consideration to Jonathan. You may not hear many Sunday sermons on Jonathan, and I understand why. Samuel is the prophet raised up by God to bring Yahweh’s word to all Israel (1 Samuel 4:1), Saul is the first anointed king (1 Samuel 10), and David, whose life takes up most of the book, typifies the Lord Jesus Christ. However, looming in the background, is an exemplary man, who truly is a model disciple.

You may think of Jonathan as a hero of the faith, but he’s no hero in the eyes of pagan culture. Heroes in the eyes of the world are consumed with their own name, reputation, honor, family, and homeland; and they will act to preserve all of it, no matter the cost. However, for the Christian, personal honor is laid at the foot of the cross so that Christ’s honor and Kingdom would be magnified. The Christian is willing, like his Lord, to suffer shame and disgrace. This is foolish in the eyes of pagan culture. The Christian hero of the faith is concerned first with Christ’s Kingdom, not his own, and doesn’t think of himself more highly than he ought to think (Romans 12:3). He lays down his rights and privileges. In the case of Jonathan, he doesn’t count equality with David a thing to be grasped.

 

When Rivalry Gets Bloody 

An underlying theme in the book of Samuel is rivalry. Rivalry is birthed when we want things other people have or when two or more parties have the same desire. When you and I strongly desire the same thing, we begin to compete for it. The greater our desire, the greater the potential for violent fighting. This is multiplied by proximity. The closer I am to someone the greater potential for rivalry. Look no further than the sporting world. What creates the bitter rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees? The desire for a championship and don’t be mistaken, they will kill each other to get it.

When David comes on the scene in 1 Samuel 16, there is potential for rivalry. Saul is currently king of Israel, but is spiraling downward, and was rejected (1 Samuel 15:26).  David is anointed king (1 Samuel 16), but he must patiently wait for the throne. Jonathan is next in line for the throne, being the king’s son. Saul has the throne and doesn’t want to lose it, Jonathan is in line, David has the Spirit.

Saul is a warning sign to us, displaying what can pour forth from an envious heart. Bitter jealousy and envy was beginning to brew in Saul after David crushed the head of the serpent, Goliath, and led Israel in defeat of the Philistines (1 Samuel 17:50-54). Saul was angry, and was not pleased with the singing that came from the mouths of the Israelite women (1 Samuel 18:7). He began to keep a close eye on David from that day on (1 Samuel 18:8-9). As you continue reading, you will find that Saul tries to kill David himself (1 Samuel 18:11), seeks to employ the Philistines to kill David for him (18:17), and ultimately tells his son and servants to kill David (1 Samuel 19:1). The thirst for envious blood increases rapidly. In the New Testament, the Scribes and Pharisees wanted Jesus killed, and even Pilate (a pagan) knew it was due to envy (Mark 15:10). 

Oh be warned, “where jealousy and selfish ambition exists, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:16). “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1-2). Don’t think yourself wiser than the word of God. When you sense envy beginning to brew in your heart (and it will happen), you must kill it, immediately.

 

Ponder This In Your Heart  

Jonathan is commanded by his father to kill David (1 Samuel 19:1), but he will have none of it. Jonathan is not a man concerned about his own kingdom. He is not a man who holds on to his rights and privileges, and is not concerned about his reputation. When he watches David slay Goliath he gives glory to Yahweh (1 Samuel 19:5). Jonathan’s humility and resistance of envying David becomes all the more wonderful when we consider the age difference between Jonathan and David. If you picture them in your mind you will probably picture two men of similar age. Maybe early twenties. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jonathan is at least thirty years older than David! Let me explain. David became king at thirty years old (2 Samuel 5:4). We know that Saul reigned as king for forty years (Acts 13:21). Doing the math, you can figure out that David was born ten years into Saul’s reign. At the beginning of Saul’s reign Jonathan is fighting for the Israelite army (1 Samuel 13). We know that you must be at least twenty years old to be enlisted in Israel’s army (Numbers 1:45). Therefore, Jonathan is at least twenty years old at the beginning of Saul’s kingship, and David is born ten years later. Ten plus twenty is thirty. Jonathan is probably around forty-seven years old watching a seventeen year old David slay Goliath. Instead of hating and despising this up and coming young David, Jonathan loves him and makes a covenant with him (1 Samuel 18:1-5). Let that sink in for a moment. Jonathan must decrease, so that David can increase. Jonathan did not think of himself more highly than he ought to think.  

 

Killing Envy

Let’s take a moment to examine the piety of Jonathan and learn how we might kill envy in the heart. First, instead of hating David, Jonathan loved him as himself (1 Samuel 18:1). This love led to a covenant initiated by Jonathan. This covenant was the backbone of their relationship. The covenant was based on love and proceeded from love. Jonathan gave up his position as the next king in the symbolic act of exchanging his robe and gear with David. Clothing in the Scriptures is a symbol of position, authority, and glory. The robe is a symbol of kingship (1 Samuel 15:27-28, Isaiah 6:1). It is only when we surrender our rights to Christ, the anointed one, are we able to love one another as we ought. Jonathan acts in faith, and it is faith that causes us to surrender our perceived “rights” to Christ, who is Israel’s true King. 

The gospel has taught us this. As a new humanity under the headship of Christ we live as new men and women (Ephesians 4:17 – 5:2). We are members, one of another. We put away all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander. We are kind, tenderhearted, and we forgive each other. We walk in love toward one another as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. You know that you have passed from death to life because you love the brothers, God’s people (1 John 3:14). Whoever loves has been born of God.

Consider this: Jonathan is the “older brother” who is replaced by his “younger brother” David. When this happens in the Scriptures, it is a recipe for blood. Cain killed Abel, his younger brother when his offering wasn’t accepted (Genesis 4), Esau wanted his younger brother Jacob dead after Isaac blessed him (Genesis 27:41), and Joseph’s older brothers wanted him killed after learning they would one day bow down to him (Genesis 37:5,8,18), and they were filled with jealousy (Acts 7:9). In light of this, Jonathan’s love for his younger brother David is all the more glorious. He doesn’t want him killed and isn’t filled with envious jealousy. Don’t think little of the power of love in the life of a man.

Secondly, instead of envying David, Jonathan praises David’s success (1 Samuel 19:1-5). Saul tells Jonathan to kill David, but we read that Jonathan “spoke well of David”. He tells Saul that David has done him good, and that through David Yahweh has worked great salvation for all Israel. Jonathan’s praise of David’s success doesn’t come from ignorance. He saw David kill Goliath, he heard the Israelite women singing their songs, but Jonathan isn’t concerned for his own kingdom or his own rights, though Saul thinks he ought to be, “For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established” (1 Samuel 20:31, italics mine). Jonathan will have none of it. David is having success wherever he goes (1 Samuel 18:14) and he has a brother in the Lord who is willing to praise him for it. 

Lastly, instead of envying David, Jonathan provides encouragement to David in the midst of great trials (1 Samuel 23:15-18). David was just betrayed by his fellow Judahites, the men of Keilah (Joshua 15:44) and after his encounter with Jonathan, the Ziphites will betray him. David has been in constant danger, constantly fleeing, Saul is on his heels and you think to yourself, how much more can a man endure! Here comes faithful Jonathan. Jonathan strengthened David’s hand in God (1 Samuel 23:16). This will be the last time these two brothers ever see each other in person which makes this account all the more precious. 

 

Examination

Do you follow Jonathan’s example? Do you praise the success of your brothers and sisters? When you see them advancing in Christianity, or when you see God’s blessing on them, or when you see them being used of God in greater degrees than yourself or when you see them get “the thing” you wanted so badly, do you praise them? Or are you too filled with jealousy and bitterness? Maybe you slander them instead. Maybe you drag their name through the mud, behind closed doors of course, to make yourself look good in the eyes of others. Remember, slander that comes from the mouth proceeds from the heart (Matthew 15:18). When you love your brothers and sisters you can’t help but speak well of them. If you’re a new Christian (many in my church are) you may not have dealt with this yet, but you will. The temptation will come. 

I’ve seen with my own eyes how envy can ruin people. When someone wants to be in a position of ministry so badly and they see a “rival” enter it instead of them, they can’t bring themselves to praise the success. Don’t be deceived, disorder and every vile practice will follow (James 3:16). If you want to kill envy, praise the success of your brothers.

 

Take Notice

Notice Jonathan’s initiative. He rose and went to David (1 Samuel 23:16). One thing you can be sure of, is that if you have an envious heart, you will not initiate encouragement to a hurting brother or sister. Their greatest need can’t be met by you, because your mind is filled with ill thoughts of them and you think they deserve the suffering anyway. However, this is not the way we learned Christ! Christians encourage one another. This is what we do. You see the word one hundred and five times in the New Testament. You see Barnabas encouraging new Christians in Acts 11:23. His name testifies to his character, he was the “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36). We are commanded to encourage one another every day because sin is deceitful (Hebrews 3:12-13).

The command to encourage one another isn’t just for the pastors of the church, it’s not just for the extroverts, it’s not just for men to do, not just for those in ministry. It’s for all of you. Notice also that Jonathan strengthened David in God, and he gave David the promise that he would be the next king (1 Samuel 23:17). God would not allow him to be forsaken, David ought not fear. We ought to encourage one another with the Scriptures. Encourage your brother and sister with the sure word of God, for it gives us hope (Romans 15:4). If you want to kill envy, go to your brothers and sisters and encourage them with the promises of God and you won’t be able to keep your heart filled with envy for long. 

 

A Greater Than Jonathan   

Jonathan was a faithful friend and brother. He resisted bitter envy, jealousy, and rivalry. He humbled himself. He did not count equality with David a thing to be grasped. He came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life for his brother. He was with David always in his time of need. Do we not have a much more faithful Friend and Brother in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:11)? Our Lord, the one who initiated covenant with us (John 15:16), who constantly intercedes on our behalf at the right hand of the Father (Romans 8:34), and who will never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) is a much greater Jonathan. Indeed, as Paul said at his first defense no one came to stand by him, but all deserted him. But the Lord stood by him and strengthened him (2 Timothy 4:17). 

Christian, it is of utmost importance that you resist an envious spirit in your heart. Your very life depends on it. Don’t be foolish, but instead remember that these things were written for your instruction. Look at the fruit that Saul reaped. He lost everything and died a forsaken man. Yet Jonathan lost everything the world had to offer, but he gained the Christ, the true King of Israel.

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