In 1 Samuel 20, David and Jonathan arrange an elaborate plan to allow Jonathan to secretly communicate with David regarding Saul's plans to kill David:

1 Samuel 20:18-23 (NIV)

18  Then Jonathan said to David, “Tomorrow is the New Moon feast. You will be missed, because your seat will be empty. 19  The day after tomorrow, toward evening, go to the place where you hid when this trouble began, and wait by the stone Ezel. 20  I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I were shooting at a target. 21  Then I will send a boy and say, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to him, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you; bring them here,’ then come, because, as surely as the Lord lives, you are safe; there is no danger. 22  But if I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then you must go, because the Lord has sent you away. 23  And about the matter you and I discussed—remember, the Lord is witness between you and me forever.”

Two days later they execute their plan, and once Jonathan sends his assistant away, David comes out from his hiding place and says his farewell to Jonathan:

1 Samuel 20:41 (NIV)

41  After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most.

What was the purpose of their secret plan, given that David and Jonathan talked face-to-face immediately afterwards? Why didn't Jonathan simply tell David the bad news in person and skip the archery charade?


2 Answers 2


I've thought a lot about this too. Cause like you said it doesn't make any sense. The only reason I can come up with, is that Jonathan concocted this plan to explain his absence from the feast.

Saul is super paranoid at this point and his son disappears for a bit when he should be partying with him. Shortly afterward Saul finds out that David has fled to the Wilderness and is hiding from Saul. He might not have been the sharpest tool in the shed but I think Saul could have put two and two together.

So simply, I think Jonathan's plan is to give his dad a reasonable excuse for his whereabouts.

  • I thought of that too, but it doesn't explain why the secret code was necessary. Jonathan could have shot a few arrows, sent his boy away, and then delivered the news to David in person. Jun 26, 2014 at 12:36

The answer is in the narrative. Jonathan devises this plan, not so he can give David his last goodbye, but to see if there is any change in his father's attitude towards David. If you go to 1 Sam. 19:4-6,

"And Jonathan spake good of David unto Saul his father, and said unto him, Let not the king sin against his servant, against David; because he hath not sinned against thee, and because his works have been to thee-ward very good: 5 For he did put his life in his hand, and slew the Philistine, and the Lord wrought a great salvation for all Israel: thou sawest it, and didst rejoice: wherefore then wilt thou sin against innocent blood, to slay David without a cause? 6 And Saul hearkened unto the voice of Jonathan: and Saul sware, As the Lord liveth, he shall not be slain.

The evil spirit that would come upon Saul would provoke Saul to wrath against David; otherwise Saul had adopted David as another son,(1 Sam. 18:2)

And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father's house.

Saul's anger was really with God, who rejected him from being king. David was innocent in the matter, and yet when it was apparent that God's favor rested on David and not Saul, the spirit of jealousy overtook Saul to the point that David had to run for his life. So when Jonathan had petitioned his father again in 1 Sam. 20:28-29, and he cursed Jonathan, and threw a javelin at him, he knew David's life was in peril and there was no more reconciling Saul towards David. But he had to keep the matter hid from his father and his father's servants,(vs 28-29)

It became apparent from then on that David would be a fugitive from Saul.

  • I realize that the purpose of the plan was to alert David about Saul's intentions. What I'm wondering is why they needed the elaborate arrow-shooting plan when they could have simply talked to each other in person (since they greet each other face-to-face once Jonathan's assistant leaves). Jun 26, 2014 at 12:39
  • @NathanFriend To keep from betraying David's location, if Saul changed his mind. The idea was 'hopefully' David could come out and re-unite himself with Saul's family, BUT, if that didn't work out, then a way had to be devised to reveal Saul's intentions and not reveal David's location. Saul knew his son and David were 'buddy-buddies' and Jonathan's servant would have revealed David's location. Since Jonathan was merely engaged in a little target practice, the 'heat' was off and Jonathan's servant left Jonathan(and David) alone.
    – Tau
    Jun 27, 2014 at 1:51

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