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Just before David left Saul's service for the last time, he and Jonathan arraigned a way to communicate with one another in code:

Jonathan, out of his love for David, adjured him again, for he loved him as himself. Jonathan said to him, “Tomorrow will be the new moon; and you will be missed when your seat remains vacant. So the day after tomorrow, go down all the way to the place where you hid the other time, and stay close to the Ezel stone. Now I will shoot three arrows to one side of it, as though I were shooting at a mark, and I will order the boy to go and find the arrows. If I call to the boy, ‘Hey! the arrows are on this side of you,’ be reassured and come, for you are safe and there is no danger—as the Lord lives! But if, instead, I call to the lad, ‘Hey! the arrows are beyond you,’ then leave, for the Lord has sent you away. As for the promise we made to each other, may the Lord be [witness] between you and me forever.”—1st Samuel 20:17-23 (NJPS)

But after they execute their plan, they end up meeting with one another directly:

The boy suspected nothing; only Jonathan and David knew the arrangement.—Jonathan handed the gear to his boy and told him, “Take these back to the town.” When the boy got there, David emerged from his concealment at the Negeb. He flung himself face down on the ground and bowed low three times. They kissed each other and wept together; David wept the longer.

Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace! For we two have sworn to each other in the name of the Lord: ‘May the Lord be [witness] between you and me, and between your offspring and mine, forever!’”—1st Samuel 20:39-42 (NJPS)

If David and Jonathan are able to meet even when Saul is in a rage against both of them for friendship, what was the purpose of setting up the arrow signal?

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This question has gone through my mind before also. – Frank Luke Apr 6 '12 at 21:15
My suspicion is that the answer is found earlier. David is hiding in a field to avoid being in the presence of Saul during the New Moon festival. "... go down all the way to the place where you hid the other time" may be the place where this arrow scene takes place. Perhaps Jonathan would have needed a cover story to leave, given his known relationship with David, and David's conspicuous absence. The servant boy would have provided an adequate cover (assistance with target practice). – swasheck Apr 6 '12 at 22:17
Once there, the plan is Jonathan's way of communicating with David without saying a word to him. I think that this may actually be a behavioral pattern with Jonathan. – swasheck Apr 6 '12 at 22:20
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I think this question must be broken down in two:

  1. Why did Jonathan and David make up this plan?
  2. Why did the author of the book include this detail in the narrative?

The first question has never really bothered me, thus this answer is not the result of extensive study, nor have I consulted any commentaries. I have always envisioned that they made the plan not knowing how safe the rendezvous would be, if there would be anyone present that might tell Saul, etc. But then it simply turned out that the arrows would not be needed. David saw that Jonathan was alone and simply walked up to him.

As for the second question I think this story reinforces the greater narrative about Saul's animosity towards David being evil and caused by wrong motives. Jonathan is the contrast and him and David being really affectionate friends also shows how David is not an usurper or driven by malice towards Saul and his family.

The plot with the arrows emphasize the danger and the care Jonathan takes to help David. The actual meeting emphasize the affection and purity of their hearts.

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! So if, say, Saul had decided to come shooting with Jonathan, David could still be warned? Makes sense, I suppose. Point #2 is well taken. Thank you and +1. – Jon Ericson Apr 7 '12 at 23:32

There is a deeper kabbalistic meaning in this secret arrangement. Jonathan and David are talking about three arrow destined for these three male sephirots:

Yesod, Hesed, Gevurah

That means that mashiah Saul is trying to destroy these three sephirots in David's soul.

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

Can you expand your answer to explain in more depth your reasoning? We need to be able to understand why you reach a conclusion, not just that you do! – Jack Douglas Jun 29 '14 at 6:25
What is a "sephirot"? – curiousdannii Jun 29 '14 at 22:01
Thanks for responding Habakook. A few points if I may: ① Answers here should stand on their own, so if your reasoning is similar to that in another answer, you need to include it in your answer too (please edit it in. ② I am not 'questioning findings'. This meta post is very useful reading because it'll help you understand the metrics by which we do judge answers (hint: by how clearly understandable the working is, not by whether we agree with the conclusions). – Jack Douglas Jun 30 '14 at 6:26
③ I'm not familiar with your hermeneutic, but that's precisely why I want to encourage you to help us by showing us more of your thinking: I'd be delighted if you contribute more so your interesting conclusions can be better appreciated and understood. – Jack Douglas Jun 30 '14 at 6:30
I think this is a poor answer because it is only understandable to those who already share your hermeneutical framework. This doesn't mean that you should include a complete overview of Kabbalah, but I think you should explain what a 'sephirot' is, what 'Yesod', 'Hesed' and 'Gevurah' are, what 'mashiah' means and why you think Saul wants to destroy those sephirots. – curiousdannii Jun 30 '14 at 8:00

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