Jonathan and David|
A Biblical Account of Same Gender Marriage
By John of AllFaith © 6.18.98 (updated 10.22.12)
Through Scriptures, synagogues, churches, books and movies the fame of King David has been widely proclaimed. And rightly so! David was a passionate and powerful person whose zeal for life was only surpassed by his devotion to G-d and his unmistakable humanity. In David we see how a fallen human being with obvious imperfections can become one of God's most useful and respected servants. If David can do it, so can we!
Because of his love for God and country, David boldly slew the giant Philistine Goliath and performed many other Herculean acts. He spared the life of King Saul, despite Saul's intent to destroy him because "...Adonai forbid it me, that I should do this thing unto my lord, Adonai's anointed, to put forth my hand against him, seeing he is Adonai's anointed.'" (I Samuel 24:6). He valiantly led the armies of Israel against all enemies. And he penned most of the Psalms, some of the most moving poetry of all time. David was also the most famous ancestor of Jesus of Nazareth. Our Rebbe isn't called the Son of Abraham or the Son of Moses, but he is universally celebrated as the Son of David:"And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the son of David; they were sore displeased" (Matthew 21:15).
More than any other Biblical character, David fully typifies the extremes of human nature and divine potential. II Samuel 11:1-15 tells us that in order to marry Uriah the Hittite's wife Bathsheba, David had Uriah sent to the front lines to die! Such unscrupulous actions stand in sharp contrast to his beautiful Psalms by which one's soul is lifted into the ecstasies of pure love of God. Through his varied and colorful experiences Jews, Christians and Muslims all find in David a macho image of what a man should be. He was, in modern parlance, a man's man, a true macho man. But, how about the GLBT community? Is there anything in this powerful servant of God's varied experiences that would recommend him to lesbian and gay people as an example? What would you say if I told you that David was, at the very least, bisexual and that the love of his life was another man? What if the man traditional Judaism, Christianity and Islamic religion promotes as the epitome of godliness, the standard to be emulated by all godly men, was among the five to fifteen percent of any given population whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual? Absurd? Blasphemous?
Well, lets see. If you would like to follow along in your Bible, please turn to the Book of I Samuel. After killing Goliath, the Gath Philistine, David went to King Saul for an honorific ceremony. Following that meeting, it appears, David met Saul's gay son Jonathan. It was, if we take the Scripture literally, love at first sight.
I Samuel 18:1, in the Authorized King James Version, tells us that: "... the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him [David] as his own soul." Jonathan loved (Hebrew: 'ahab which includes both familial and sexual love) David at first sight. Their souls were knit together (Hebrew:Qashar which is to tie, physically or mentally in love, league). Their feelings were very strong from the very beginning, however at this point their love could be interpreted as platonic, although platonic love is almost never referred to as love at first sight.
At Saul's insistence, David moved into the royal household and things quickly heated up between Jonathan and David. I Samuel 18:3,4, in the Byington Translation, says that they: "pledged themselves to each other, in the love that he had for him ..." and "Jonathan stripped off the robe he had on and gave it to David..." The JPS has it this way: 18:3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.
18:4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his apparel, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle. This ritualistically represented the establishment of a love covenant relationship between the two men: What's mine is yours, what's yours is mine.
From this point on there is no question about their relationship being platonic. This sharing of clothing and weapons, even to their undergarments, and covering each other, states that this was more than friendship in the context of their culture.
After this Jonathan and David consummated their love and Jonathan's father, King Saul, quickly arranged for David to marry his daughter (Jonathan's sister) Merab. From all appearances Saul knew about their love and was trying to intervene by offering David his daughter instead: "He just needs a good woman!" How many parents have told themselves that when their child comes out to them.
The Jewish people at this time were still as homophobic as anyone else (though it was due to their desire for offspring, not over any alleged moral concerns). The only condition Saul set for the marriage was that David be "valiant" for him (I Samuel 18:17)."And Saul said to David, Behold my elder daughter Merab, her will I give thee to wife: only be thou valiant [Hebrew: ben chayil] for me, and fight the LORD'S battles. For Saul said, Let not mine hand be upon him, but let the hand of the Philistines be upon him."
Why did Saul give his daughter to David in marriage? This was before the real problems we know about arose between the two men. Marrying the king's daughter elevated a person and was considered a great honor, however in this case, Merab was given to David to bribe him into going off to battle the Philistines, believing that in such a battle David would be killed. Why would Saul, at this point, want David killed? We only know of one reason from the text: his relationship with Jonathan.
AND why would Saul first marry David to Merab? As king, Saul could have ordered David to join the war without giving up his daughter. There's only one contextual reason: to justify the closeness that existed between Jonathan and David: "Sure they were close, David was his brother-in-law!" There's no other logical explanation for this turn of events.
The idea of being "valiant" here in the Hebrew is two-fold. First, to be valiant David was to be ben, (a father to children); and secondly, he must be chayil (a good fighter). Now, one might expect the condition of loyalty to the king as a good soldier, but why would Saul also make David promise to father children? The obvious contextual answer, in light of the preceding verses, is that this was Saul's way of saying: "Hey look, your a good fighter, the people love and respect you, but this thing with my son has got to stop. You just need a good woman" (which is still a common misconception by those who view homosexuality as anything other than a natural orientation).
Granted, these verses are insufficient by themselves to establish conclusively that Jonathan and David were lovers, although I think its pretty clear already. A more orthodox assessment of the situation might be that Jonathan accepted David as a compatriot and that the act of exchanging clothing with him might indicate Jonathan's bestowal of his royalty on David as a political commitment. After all, the texts we've looked at thus far do not specifically state that there was a sexual component to their relationship. Among the problems with this view is that as the prince Jonathan had no such authority to confer the equivalent of knighthood on another, such would have been treason. This objection is merely wishful thinking not scriptural extrapolation.
This is only the beginning however, there is much more.
At 19:2 the plot thickens. As stated, due to reasons not specifically revealed in the text, Saul wanted David killed. While the text as it has come down to us does not specifically say so, it is quite feasible that David and Jonathan's continuing relationship may have been largely responsible for Saul's determination to do away with David. Saul obviously intended for Jonathan to succeed him to the throne and for this Jonathan needed to "valiant" himself and father an heir and prince. In such a culture an openly gay king of Israel would have been unthinkable! Jonathan's homosexuality, in Saul's mind, would have constituted a threat to Saul's continuing lineage and legacy.
Nothing in the text contradicts this idea and it would explain the passion with which Saul sought David's death. Looked at objectively, this is by far the most likely cause of Saul's determination to have David killed and his giving his own daughter to him in marriage.
When Jonathan learned of Saul's plans to kill David, he quickly warned him, as a lover would. The reason for this warning is quite interesting. The Authorized King James Version, the Masoretic Text (the Hebrew Tanakh), and The Revised Standard Version all agree that Jonathan quote, "delighted much in David." The Byington translation says that "Jonathan liked David very much," The Jerusalem Bible says "Jonathan held David in great affection," while the NIV paraphrase says "but Jonathan was very fond of David," and so sought to divert Saul's wrath.
Was Jonathan's fondness for David simply platonic? The Hebrew text says literally that Jonathan desired (chaphets) David. This is the same word used in verses such as Genesis 34:19 where Shechem sexually desired Dinah. The two men desired one another sexually.
At I Samuel 20:24-30 the homosexual aspect of their relationship becomes undeniable:24 So David hid himself in the field: and when the new moon was come, the king sat him down to eat meat.
25 And the king sat upon his seat, as at other times, even upon a seat by the wall: and Jonathan arose, and Abner sat by Saul's side, and David's place was empty.
26 Nevertheless Saul spake not any thing that day: for he thought, Something hath befallen him, he is not clean; surely he is not clean.
27 And it came to pass on the morrow, which was the second day of the month, that David's place was empty: and Saul said unto Jonathan his son, Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse to meat, neither yesterday, nor to day?
28 And Jonathan answered Saul, David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem:
29 And he said, Let me go, I pray thee; for our family hath a sacrifice in the city; and my brother, he hath commanded me to be there: and now, if I have found favour in thine eyes, let me get away, I pray thee, and see my brethren. Therefore he cometh not unto the king's table.
30 Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse [Hebrew:‛âvâh] rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness?
Here Jonathan desperately attempts to defend David from his father's wrath. Saul's response is unmistakable, and for too many quite familiar! The Authorized King James Version is surprisingly candid here: "Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness?" In The New King James Version Saul becomes angry with Jonathan for lying to him about David's whereabouts, and so shouts: "You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse [David] to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother's nakedness?" What could be more clear? Saul here calls Jonathan a shameful pervert [Hebrew:?a^va^h]. Depending on where the English translations place the comma (ancient Hebrew didn't use them), before or after the words perverse and woman, he may even be calling his son a perverse woman, in other words, a homosexual, directly. Different versions handle it variously (for instance the Judaica Press version has it: "You son of a straying woman deserving of punishment!"). But regardless, Saul here accuses Jonathan directly: "Don't lie to me, I know about you and David, you're a couple of sexual perverts who shame both me and your mother!" This is what Saul is saying.
After this emotional event, Jonathan and David met secretly in the woods. The biblical record of their rendezvous at 20:41 is charged with love and sexual passion as they intimately kiss and embrace:"And as soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of a place toward the south, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times: and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded."
"...until David exceeded." What does this mean? The Hebrew word used here is Gadal and is an interesting word to use. It literally means "to grow, become great or important, promote, make powerful, praise, magnify, do great things." Now, this was one of the low points in David's life. His mentor, King Saul, was seeking his death, Jonathan had just come into the woods where he was hiding to tell David he needed to flee for his life. As in English, the context in which a word is used can alter its meaning. In this case, David obviously didn't remain hidden in the woods until becoming the great leader he eventually became. The meaning of the word Gadal here is surely that as they embraced and kissed David had "grown great" or become erect, until he, and obviously Jonathan, became erect and made physical love. This is the only conceivable meaning. After this touching scene, David fled from Saul's wrath, kissing his lover good-bye.
At 23:16-18 Jonathan again meets David in the woods and the two re-swear their undying love and devotion:16 And Jonathan Saul's son arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God.
17 And he said unto him, Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth.
18 And they two made a covenant before the LORD: and David abode in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house.
The Bible in Basic English has it this way:23:17 And [Jonathan] said to him, Have no fear, for Saul my father will not get you into his power; and you will be king of Israel, and I will be by your side, and my father Saul is certain of this.
If this was a heterosexual couple there would be no debate about how the episode should be understood: David was again living in the forest. Jonathan went to him, encouraged him in God and the two men made a "covenant" to one another before God. What was this covenant? The text clearly tells us with yet another unmistakable confirmation about their marriage: "... you will be king of Israel, and I will be by your side." In other words, You David will be the king and I will be, so to speak, your queen!
You recall how I interpreted Saul's accusation that Jonathan and David were "sexual perverts who shame both me and your mother!" Here Jonathan confirms this understanding. Not only does he promise loyalty to David, to be his "queen," he also says, "I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth." What does Saul also know? It is obvious!
II Samuel 1:26 tells us that after Saul and Jonathan's death, David remembered his lover fondly and lamented: "I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant hast thou been unto me. Thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women."
With the possible exception of certain of his Psalms, one seeks in vain for any description of love more profound or heartfelt from David than this. He had sex with women, many of them, but these relationships seem to have been little more than sexual conquests of political expediency, with the possible exception of his relationship with Bathsheba for whom he lusted. But clearly Jonathan was the love of David's life. He loved him with a love surpassing all the others. Jonathan was David's husband and one true love, the others meant nothing by comparison.
Such a profound love is a wonderful example for all gay and lesbian people. Despite what we are told by the homophobic culture in which live, and as millions have discovered on their own, like David and Jonathan, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people can indeed find lasting love, both with God and with one another.
The GLBT couples can share the words of the convert Ruth to Naomi:
Sound familiar? Ruth's vow to Naomi forms the basis of the traditional wedding ceremony used today. Rejoice in the Love of God and the sexual orientation you have been given by our Creator! May the endless and matchless blessings of our Heavenly Father and God be with you.Wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
Adonai do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.
BIBLICAL VERSIONS EMPLOYED
Hebrew Translations from: Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: A Concise Dictionary of the Hebrew Bible, James Strong, S.T.D.,LL.D., MacDonald Publishing Co. McLean Virginia, no date given.
AV: Authorized (King James) Version, New Scofield edition, Oxford University Press, New York, 1967 BT: Stephan T. Byington Translation, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1972 (please note: this is not the New World Translation by the same publishers). HS: The Holy Scriptures: A Jewish Bible According to the Masoretic Text, "SINAI" Publishing, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1977 JB: The Jerusalem Bible, Doubleday, New York, 1968 Judaica Press, http://www.chabad.org NIV: The New International Version, International Bible Society, East Brunswick, NJ, 1978 RSV: The Revised Standard Version, American Bible Society, New York, 1971