1 Samuel 20:17

“And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as himself.” – 1 Sam. 20:17 (NIV)

What a place for unclear antecedents. Unfortunately, I don’t know a lick of Hebrew, but that’s never stopped me before.

With the context of 1 Sam. 18:3, I’m assuming “Jonathan loved David as himself.” The question is: who renews the oath, and whose love motivates the renewal?

A couple translations (HCSB, GW) are almost the opposite of the NIV, having Jonathan renew the promise rather than David. Again, I don’t know Hebrew, but I’m siding with the majority that have David actually reaffirming the oath (only after Jonathan asks him to).

NLT – “And Jonathan made David reaffirm his vow of friendship again, for Jonathan loved David as he loved himself.”

NRSV – “Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him; for he loved him as he loved his own life.”

Even in the differing translations, Jonathan seems to always take the initiative.

So whose love motivates the action?

“Jonathan had David, out of love for Jonathan, reaffirm his [David’s] oath.”

“Jonathan, out of love for David, had David reaffirm his oath.”

Why would Jonathan have to have/make/cause David to renew his covenant if David was doing it out of love? At the same time, if a true covenant is mutual – reciprocal – maybe both can be true; Jonathan asks out of love, and David answers out of love.

Any way you translate or interpret it, it seems Jonathan is the one who takes initiative, who asks for his friend’s reaffirmation, who loves first.

In the end, the question of who has love for whom doesn’t change the end result of covenant renewal. It may not impact the reader today to know for sure if David reciprocated his friend’s brotherly love, but I imagine it meant a great deal to Jonathan.

(It mattered enough for him to ask his friend to say it out loud, anyway.)

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