Best of Daily Reflections: The Conflict of Interest That Saved David’s Life

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly.

1 Samuel 19:1-7

The idea of a conflict of interest goes back to at least Babylonian times, when judges were forbidden from accepting bribes from people involved in legal disputes. (Yes, this sounds like a no-brainer, but it must have been a significant enough problem for it to be forbidden.) The origin of the phrase “conflict of interest” is less certain, but it was in use in the English language by the 1740s, primarily in a legal context.

One of the best examples of conflict of interest occurs in the book of 1 Samuel. And yet the account never raises the question itself.

It’s a familiar story. Jonathan, the son of Saul, is the friend of David. That friendship saves David’s life, over and over again. It also put Jonathan squarely in the middle of at least three types of conflict of interest:

  • Family
    • Jonathan repeatedly disobeyed his father. Not disobeying Saul never seemed to have entered Jonathan’s mind. He loved David. Jonathan became “one in spirit” with his friend and “loved him as himself.” The two seemed closer than close brothers. Asked and told several times by Saul to find, betray, and even kill David, Jonathan always managed to find a way to avoid doing that. He also escaped his father’s wrath, although Saul does throw a spear at him at one point.
  • Nation
    • Saul was the king. Rightly or wrongly, what he decreed had the force of law. For Jonathan to disobey his father the king was essentially to commit treason, even if the instructions were wrong. Yet the account in 1 Samuel never says that Jonathan agonized or debated with himself. It was as if Jonathan instinctively responded in ways to protect David.
  • Personal
    • We know Jonathan had at least two brothers and two sisters. We don’t know if he was the oldest or where he stood in the succession. But he did stand in the succession. He was a prince. And he must have known that protecting David, who was born of a sheepherder’s family, was ultimately forfeiting his own rights to the throne of Israel. But again, he never hesitates to save his dearly loved friend.

Several times, Jonathan pleaded with Saul for David. Sometimes the pleas worked, and Saul relented; sometimes they didn’t, and Jonathan was forced to resort to deceptions and stratagems, some quite elaborate. But he acted with no doubt and no reservation. Forced repeatedly to choose between his father and his friend, he chose his friend.

And yet he would die standing with his father and brothers, not against David (David would not fight the anointed king of Israel) but while fighting the Philistines. It must have been a poignant scene, Jonathan’s body lying not far from the father he had disobeyed so many times.


Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan had taken a great liking to David and warned him, “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out.”

Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly. He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The Lord won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?”

Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death.”

So Jonathan called David and told him the whole conversation. He brought him to Saul, and David was with Saul as before.

1 Samuel 19:1-7

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you experienced conflict of interest because of a friendship? Have you sacrificed your own position to help or protect the position of others? How would you resolve a conflict between authority and friendship?

PRAYER: Lord, when we face conflicts of interest, help us discern your desire and your will. Help us understand how to grow lesser so that you become greater. Show us how to set standing and position aside. And bring Jonathans into our lives as friends. Amen.