More Than Just Friends? (Ruth and Naomi and David and Jonathan)

A triangular rainbow pendant necklace on top of a Bible with an image of the cross on its cover

Recent conversation around the workplace has called to mind a few notes I scratched down probably six years ago in hopes that I’d some day give some attention to the subject.

Today, that piece of paper is covered with all sorts of things — doodling, Morse Code dashes & dots, an assortment of numbers, some math, the letters “p” and “pm,” and and tick marks counting something lost to the passage of time (“III II I I II I”).

I titled the page, “Were Ruth and David Homosexuals?” For years, the only content attached to that question were the verse references in question: Ruth 1:16, 17; 2:10, 11 and 1 Samuel 18:3, 4; 20:41; 2 Samuel 1:26.

I’m sure that back then I had stumbled across some website making the claim that homosexuality was okay because David & Ruth apparently were. What that website was, I have no idea, and apparently keeping accurate citations (or citations of any kind, for that matter) wasn’t a practice I had taken to heart back then.

Before I go anywhere with this, let me just get out of the way that I do not believe homosexuality is an acceptable practice; it is forbidden not only in the Law of Moses but also in Romans 1, and it renders one as guilty before God as idolatry, lying, adultery, or murder would. I consider those things to be nonnegotiable, but you are welcome to discuss it if you’d like.

Naomi & Ruth

Here are the relevant verses as noted above (English Standard Version):

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” Ruth 1:16, 17

Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” 11But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. Ruth 2:10, 11

In light of the first two verses quoted, there are people who claim Ruth & Naomi’s relationship was akin go a married couple’s.

However, nowhere in the Book of Ruth is it even hinted at that Naomi & Ruth shared a sexual or otherwise physical relationship, thereby removing homosexuality from the equation.

Actually, what we do see are two women — who, according to the second set of verses, were in-laws — who were devoted family. In the opening verses of Ruth, we read that Naomi was married to Elimelech, and they had two sons, Mahlon and Chilion.

While sojourning in the foreign country of Moab, Mahlon and Chilion took wives, one of whom was Ruth. By the time we reach verse 5, we find that Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion had all died, leaving Naomi with her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah.

In verse 7, Naomi begins to return to her homeland of Judah, and in verse 8 she urges both her daughters-in-law to return to their natural mothers. From verses 9 through 13, the daughters resist leaving Naomi, while Naomi bears her hearts to them, desiring that they return where they should be able to marry, for Naomi would be incapable of bearing them husbands again, and even if she could, would they really wait for them to grow up (v. 13)?

Ultimately, Orpah caves to Naomi’s pleas and returns to Moab. Ruth, however, clings to her mother-in-law (vv. 14, 15).

There is a familial devotion expressed here which is all but so often lost or neglected in our world, and to our shame Ruth & Naomi are not even related by blood! Actually, if you really want something to think about, the relationship between Naomi and her two daughters-in-law show us the validity of the “in-law” family; if marriage is but a mere social contract, then the “in-law” family is but a formality, a legal stipulation to the marriage contract. However, if what the Bible says is true and that marriage takes two people and unites them as one in the eyes of our Heavenly Father, then the “in-law” family is just as much a family as the natural family is.

In other words, Ruth shows fervent devotion to Naomi because she is viewing her as her de facto mother.

Later in the Book of Ruth (most of chapters 3 and 4), we see that the relationship between Ruth & Boaz blossom into a marriage (4:13). All of this was initiated by Naomi, who told her daughter-in-law to follow Boaz to where he sleeps, to uncover his feet, and to lay down with him (3:4). ((It’s a good thing Ruth had never read I Kissed Dating Goodbye, or she wouldn’t have been caught dead spending the night at the feet of someone who wasn’t her husband! Kind of an interesting situation Naomi has Ruth getting into here… …With a closer look, though, Naomi has already pointed out that Boaz is kin and by right of Deuteronomy 25:5 should become Ruth’s husband.)) And all of this culminates with the birth of Obed to Ruth and Boaz (4:13, 17), a child which it seems was adopted by Noami, a terrific blessing which brought untold fulfillment to her life after having lost her husband and two sons already.

This child Obed would eventually become the grandfather of the mighty King David; what a legacy! And what a segue, for we now turn to David and Jonathan.

David & Jonathan

Here are the relevant verses as noted above (English Standard Version):

Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. 1 Samuel 18:3, 4

And as soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground and bowed three times. And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most. 1 Samuel 20:41

I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women. 2 Samuel 1:26

It is a mark of shame against our the hearts of men that the accounts of Jonathan and David could be read and that “They must have been gay” is the thought that comes to mind. Sinners, for whatever reasons, want badly to be justified by the Bible in what they do — murderers claim they received a vision from God, dictators claim they’re inaugurating God’s kingdom, racists and bigots claim they are righteously judging, and homosexuals find the closest thing they can to unpunished homosexuality in the Scriptures.

Bear in mind — always bear in mind — that if someone comes to you rejecting the teaching of Romans 1 about unnatural sexuality, ((Romans 1:26, 27.)) chances are that it’s because they have willingly exchanged the truth of God for a lie, God having given them over to lustful impurity. ((Romans 1:24, 25.))

What then is going on between David and Jonathan?

Well, if you ask me, ((You are asking me, right?)) it seems as though we are getting a glimpse of what real friendship is all about.

We see that a covenant or bond was formed between the two men and that they loved each other as themselves. Does not Proverbs 17:17 tell us that a friend loves at all times? Does not the Law which David and Jonathan live under ((Leviticus 19:18.)) call everyone to love others even as they loved themselves?

Jonathan’s act of stripping himself of his robes and vestments and placing them upon David was symbolic, not by any means erotic; Jonathan was the son of Saul, the then king of Israel. His robes were royal. By placing them upon David, he was declaring his loyalty to David as the next rightful king of Israel, a fact which he states very plainly in 1 Samuel 23:17.

We also see David and Jonathan sharing an apparently very emotional moment. Sadly, and again to our culture’s shame, the expression of sadness via crying is seen as a sign of weakness. Not only do we often hear “big girls don’t cry,” but how many men do you know who honestly see no shame in expressing sadness or grief — either in themselves or others? That’s another topic altogether which could easily take over this post if I let it, but here are two close friends who are as brothers to one another… They are on the verge of going separate ways, and they have no assurance that they’ll ever see each other again.

Wouldn’t that make you sad? I know it certainly would me, and we can see that it did David as well; the King James Version states that they weeped and that David “exceeded.” He didn’t just cry more, he exceedingly cried more. We would expect that, for David had more that he was leaving — a wife and family, friends, the sanctuary and service of God, and so on.

After some time has passed, Jonathan was slain, which brings us to the third relevant passage quoted above. David in mourning Jonathan’s passing praises their friendship.

David calls Jonathan brother, for that they certainly were as David had wed Jonathan’s sister. Yet Proverbs 18:24 tells us that there is “a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Likewise the Law mentions a “friend who is as your own soul” ((Deuteronomy 13:6.)) It’s almost as if the biblical idea of a “soul mate” has less to do with marriage and more to do with a best friend, which is interesting to say the least: marriage partners are described as being “one flesh” while a certain friend may be “as your own soul.”

We haven’t quoted it yet, but 1 Samuel 18:1 says in no uncertain terms that “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” Any thoughts on that?

While mourning for Jonathan and praising his friend, David confesses that the love Jonathan had for him was wonderful, surpassing the love of women. David was married to both Ahinoam and Abigail, and the Targum ((An ancient Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.)) renders the passage as “more than the love of two women.” ((See John Gill’s commentary.))

This isn’t “physical love” as would be required be anyone wishing homosexuality to be read into the lives of these men; the sexual act is never referred to as “love making” and is never equated with love in the Scriptures. Rather, to love someone is to be selfless toward him or her. Give 1 Corinthians 13 a good read over for what it means to love.

That Jonathan loved David even more than his wives is a great testament to the friendship the two shared.

In Conclusion

I’ve written more than I had originally planned and more than I probably should have — there is great value in brevity, I’ve learned. Still, I hope I have shown that neither Ruth and Naomi nor David and Jonathan were homosexuals, despite whatever other faults they may have possessed (David at one point being a lustful, adulterating murderer, for example).

To warp or twist the lives of these “heroes of the Bible” is to do them a great injustice and does little more than to show the biblical illiteracy of the one doing the warping.

What we do see from the two pairs, though, are things from which we may learn. In both instances, we see family devotion across marriages — Naomi was Ruth’s mother-in-law; David was Jonathan’s brother-in-law — and we also see what friendship ought to be like.

Friendship is by no means shallow. It is a selfless bond with another person with whom you ought to express love as laid out in 1 Corinthians 13. This kind of friendship is becoming altogether too hard to find nowadays; if you have found a friend with whom your soul is “knit,” count your blessings, and thank the Lord for knitting you both together.

4 thoughts on “More Than Just Friends? (Ruth and Naomi and David and Jonathan)

  1. Sandi says:

    From your words, I feel the relationship between the women was that of mother/daughter. I don’t find that at all hard to think of-mothers taking in children is natural. The men on the other hand are a different story. I don’t think of a homosexual relationship, but I don’t see a normal relationship. I agree, friendship is important and so is being loyal to your friends. However, I cannot imagine a friendship that I would choose over my spouse. As much as I love my friends and will do anything I can to help them, my ultimate loyalty is to my family-son then husband.

  2. Christian Brother says:

    You know, even if the relationship between David and Jonathan was sexual, that doesn’t prove David was a homosexual. At best we could conclude that he was bisexual, because let us not forget that he had many wives, he committed adultery with Bathsheba, and killed Uriah in order to have Bathsheba for himself.

    But that is beside the point, because as you have shown, there was nothing sexual going on between David and Jonathan.

  3. Rick Beckman says:
    Student of the sciences, the religions, the science fictions, and the fantasies… But mostly I’m just trying to find my groove in this big, crazy world.

    Sandi: I don’t think that they were choosing each other over their spouses; what is said is that the love that Jonathan expressed for David was better than that of women. This can be taken to mean a variety of things — including that Jonathan was more patient, more understanding, more selfless than the women in David’s life. It could also simply be something David said out of desperation for his lost friend.

    While biblical infallibility demands that it be a matter of fact that David did indeed say what he did about Jonathan, it does not demand that what David said itself was absolute truth. David was human just like your or I and was likely just as apt to use exaggeration and to succumb to exasperation, saying things which may not even necessarily be true.

    Whatever the case may be, that portion of the account was mentioned just to show that it didn’t refer to “making love”; the sexual act wasn’t referred to as “love making” or similar in the Scripture. Rather, love is something separate from emotion and passion — love is the patience, kindness, selflessness, and so on that we show to others (spouses, family, friends… even to total strangers). Love is also wishing the best for others, which is what it means to love others as ourselves. We don’t always feel the best about ourselves, but we do wish the best for us — at least do not wish harm upon ourselves — and the Golden Rule beckons us to love others in the same way, desiring good for them, rather than evil.

  4. Tom says:

    Good job. Western culture has little knowledge of male friendship like this…it’s ancient world and it’s NOT Western… MEN in other cultures can actually love one another and it not be about sex. I have lived in other cultures where MEN will be even extremely physical without it being erotic or sexual. We should not read Scripture ONLY through our cultural grid. ALSO, as honest as the Scriptures are about King David’s flaws – why would they not just SPELL it out IF he indeed was homosexual or had those types of relationships. The Bible is clear about his “other” exploits!! It’s because it’s not there. He wasn’t. Jonathan simply loved David and say the writing on the wall that he was not to be KING. He was mature and wise… and saw in David someone to stand with…even against his own father. Thanks again.

    Tom

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