I understand that some people are more observant than others. I reminded myself of this fact when I read a recent cover story in Entertainment Weekly that profiled stars from the upcoming Liberace biopic. This film examines the flamboyant icon’s life, part of which involved disguising his sexual identity—apparently he had a fling with a heterosexual woman at some point. How anyone could have mistaken this talented musician for straight is beyond me. But then again, homosexuality was not discussed as freely when Liberace was performing as it is now, so maybe people didn’t know a gay person when they saw one. But maybe Liberace is a bad example. After all, people know a lot of gay people without knowing their sexual preference. Unlike with race, most people have to announce their sexual entity—well, some do. Liberace wore his sexual identity like an expensive, attention-grabbing-rhinestone encrusted cape. Maybe it’s just obvious now, since we’ve become so much more accustomed to the obvious clues.
In the book of Samuel (1 and 2), the relationship between David and Jonathan contains some of the obvious clues that what was between them was more than just an ancient example of a non-sexual bro-mance. These two were clearly in love with one another, though why people have not pointed to it as an example of Old Testament man-on-man love is not all that shocking. If you’re going to say that the Bible says being gay is wrong, you can’t also have it contain a nice example of some homosexual love.
The affection/devotion between David and Saul’s son, Jonathan, is so strong that these two care little about what other people think. Otherwise, you would think, they would have attempted to disguise their feelings for one another. They don’t. Given how unique this relationship between two men is thus far in the Old Testament, it’s rather difficult to see it as something less than love.
We first see their bond forming when Saul orders Jonathan and his attendants to kill David (19:1). Because Jonathan is “fond” of David, he warns him. Now, being fond is such an obvious clue of sexual love. But their relationship deepens. When later David is fleeing from Saul, he runs to Jonathan for some insight into what he did to deserve his present predicament (20:1). With phrases punctuated aplenty with exclamation points (a little too much passion for what they’re discussing), Jonathan pledges that he will do anything for David (20:4). In fact, the two make a covenant with one another, something David does “because he loved [Jonathan] as he loved himself (20:17).
This is perhaps a deep expression of brotherly love between two men. Since we’re not told other reasons why their bond runs deep, the clues we do have suggest passionate love. This gets even clearer when, after Jonathan devises a plan to ascertain the depth of his father’s intent to kill David, they have an extra special emotional moment, complete with tears and kissing (20:41). Since there has been little of this type of behavior depicted between men thus far, this stands out.
Their support for one another continues, when Jonathan arrives at Ziph to assist David (23:16). Although his attention might be understood as his desire to serve as second under David when he assumes power, his affection is clearly the bigger motivator.
If this was so “wrong,” then why has God not stepped in and struck them down, perhaps afflicted them with tumors, etc.? And why have the people at the time not even remarked on it? As stories of Sodom and Gomorrah as well as the Israel tribe from Judges make clear, people were perfectly aware of homosexual sex. So they know it when they see it, right? As open with one another as these two were, this would have been impossible to ignore.
Sadly, their story has an unhappy ending, for in the beginning of Samuel 2, while mourning the death of Jonathan, in his lament, David says that Jonathan’s love “was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women” (1:26). Hmm. This sentiment is placed in the context of David mourning Jonathan, who was like a brother to him. But even still, a love stronger than that of a woman? If there was no emotional or physical love between them, why would he compare the love he felt to that of a woman?
David has plenty of women to fall back on, so his heart goes on. But he never seems as happy as when his true love was present.
Next Up: the story continues in Samuel 2. Why’d they cut this in half? Is this what inspired filmmakers to take a story and cut it in half just because they could?