David runs away at Jonathan’s insistence so that he can stay out of Saul’s reach. David doesn’t understand why Saul is so angry with him, and Jonathan promises to protect him. “And David said to Jonathan, ‘Behold, tomorrow is the new moon, and I am accustomed to sit with the king, to eat. And you shall let me go, that I may hide in the field until the evening of the third day (Samuel I 20:5).” The two devise a plan. Jonathan will gauge Saul’s feelings and tell him one of two things, depending on his reaction. “So shall the Lord do to Jonathan and more also, if it pleases my father to evil upon you, I shall reveal it to you, and I shall send you away, that you may go in peace, and may the Lord be with you as He was with my father (Samuel I 20:13).” It seems like Jonathan is starting to see that David might be the next heir, but any jealousy is absolved because of how much he loves him.
The two men come up with a signal. David will hide in the field for three days, and on the third day, Jonathan will come to the field. “And I shall shoot three arrows to the side, as though I shot at a mark (Samuel I 20:20).” Jonathan will bring a servant with him, and if things are safe for David to come home, he’ll tell the servant that the arrows are on this side of him, but if David is in danger, Jonathan will say to the servant that the arrows are beyond him. That’s the signal for David to run away.
Saul plots to kill David once again, and even throws a spear at Jonathan for questioning him. So Jonathan goes to warn David. “And Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace! (And bear in mind) that we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘May the Lord be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever (Samuel I 20:42).'” With this pledge, the rivalry between Saul and David remains between the two men, not between their houses. Jonathan is completely caught in the middle between his father and his best friend/potential lover. It sounds like a heartbreaking position to be in, and is one that I don’t envy at all. But at least for now, Jonathan is able to play both sides, saving David and staying in his place by his father.