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. 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

    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. 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. 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.


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