Young Adult Blog

Lessons From Jonathan: Son of a Faithless Father

Having a father who is a negative influence can be difficult. What can we learn from the example of a son who overcame his father’s bad example?

A chip off the old block. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Like father, like son.

Popular sayings like these show that fathers can have a great influence over children. But what if your father isn’t a great example? What if your father is a criminal, abusive or has turned his back on you or God?

Consider the first prince of Israel—his example provides many lessons to people in this unfortunate situation.

The first time we read about Jonathan, the son of Saul, he is already mentioned as a leader. In 1 Samuel 13:2 it mentions that he had 1,000 of his father’s troops under his command. But the more we learn about Jonathan, the more his father’s story worsens. Jonathan watched his father crumble and fail, yet somehow didn’t crumble himself. Instead Jonathan became one of the most valiant and noble characters in the Old Testament. Jonathan may never have been a king of Israel, but his leadership provides an important counterpoint to his father’s failings.

How did he do it? How did Jonathan overcome his father’s bad example and become such a great example himself?

Faith and faithlessness

Right after God rejected Saul as Israel’s king in 1 Samuel 13:13-14, Jonathan defeated a group of Philistines by leading a very small force against a large number. He expressed his faith in God’s involvement by saying “nothing restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6). God worked a miracle, creating great confusion in the Philistine camp (verse 20).

During this same time, instead of putting the situation in God’s hands, Saul tried to gain control of the situation by attempting to motivate his troops. He made a rash vow, saying, “Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies” (verse 24). Note that there is no mention of God’s vengeance, but only Saul’s. Saul failed to acknowledge that the situation was in God’s hands.

Jonathan stepped out on faith, and when he learned of his father’s reckless actions, he rightly judged that his father had “troubled the land” (verse 29).

Selfishness and selflessness

Saul was still king, yet he had lost God’s favor. God was now working with David. This angered Saul, and in his selfishness and fear he wanted to kill David. He hunted David continually throughout the remainder of the book. Saul explained his motivations, saying to his son, “As long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, you shall not be established, nor your kingdom” (1 Samuel 20:31).

Jonathan wanted nothing to do with his father’s murderous plotting. In fact, he even warned David of Saul’s plans (verses 35-42). Jonathan put what he knew was right before his personal right to the throne—and he even risked his own life to help his friend David. 

A faithful son

But, despite Saul’s many failings, Jonathan never abandoned him. In fact, Jonathan died fighting in battle alongside his faithless father (1 Samuel 31).

We can learn many lessons from Jonathan and his relationship with his father. Loyalty to God and what is right should surpass any other loyalties in our lives. We should recognize wrong behavior and attitudes in our parents and avoid making the same mistakes.

But even if a parent is flawed, we can still do our best to be respectful of him or her. It can be hard to honor a parent who isn’t a good example, but Jonathan provides an excellent example of responding in a mature, godly manner. 

To learn more about properly honoring your parents, read “Fifth Commandment: Honor Your Father and Your Mother.”

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