Was Jonathan David's boyfriend? Dumb question, I know, but since homosexual revisionists are trying to prooftext their immorality from Scripture by making that claim, it's one of those things which Christians need to be able to refute.
A couple of general points before we consider the details:
i) Some homosexual apologists claim the canonical version has been redacted. That the original account was more explicit about their homosexuality. That's a backdoor admission that they can't get what the need from the text as it stands.
ii) The very same book records David's notorious affair with Bathsheba. Odd behavior for an alleged homosexual! This isn't like wedding a royal daughter, which he might do for the political benefits. Rather, that's straightforward heterosexual lust.
At best, then, homosexual apologists will have to contend that David was bisexual rather than homosexual.
As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul…3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul (1 Sam 18:1,3).
i) As commentators point out, "love" is stock jargon in ANE diplomacy. For instance:
Now Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father, for Hiram always loved David (1 Kgs 5:1).
That's standard, suzerain/vassal terminology. And that's reinforced by the explicit covenantal framework in v3, where Jonathan initiates a treaty with David . So this is about Jonathan's political allegiance to David and vice versa.
ii) That said, we shouldn't deny the fact that David and Jonathan were best friends. Straight men can love each other–platonic love.
iii) There's probably a degree of professional admiration, soldier-to-soldier, at seeing David defeat Goliath. Jonathan is a combatant, too, so he'd be impressed by David's brave performance. Mind you, a lesser man that Jonathan would resent David's triumph.
And 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 Sam 18:4).
i) Some readers think that's a racy description, but notice the parallel with King Saul:
38 Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, 39 and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off (1 Sam 17:38-39).
Just as Saul's action has no sexual connotations, neither does the comparable action by Jonathan.
ii) It's a symbolic gesture. Jonathan is the heir apparent. Yet he's relinquishing his "rightful" claim to the throne in favor of David. An emblematic transfer of power. Cf. "And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son" (Num 20:28); "Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him" (1 Kgs 19:19); "and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand" (Isa 22:21).
iii) It foreshadows David's ascension to the throne. How could Jonathan be so prescient? Perhaps he overheard what Samuel told Saul. Or perhaps that was reported to him. It's not as if Saul was necessarily alone when Samuel spoke to him. Likewise, he may have gotten wind of Samuel anointing David, to take Saul's place. Cf. 1 Sam 13 &15. Or maybe he spoke to Samuel directly.
In any case, he realizes that the Saulide succession is probably doomed. So there's an element of self-interest in his action. If David is God's chosen replacement for Saul, then it's prudent for Jonathan to befriend David and assume a subordinate role. For if David regards Jonathan as a dangerous rival to the throne, then that's a hazardous position for Jonathan to be in. Jonathan fears for the safety of his own family, and takes precautionary measures to care for them.
41 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.
i) As the crown prince, Jonathan is technically David's social superior.
ii) This isn't something they did on a regular basis. It's a tearful farewell between best friends.
iii) Males kissing each other on the cheek is customary etiquette in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures. It has no sexual connotations. I remember sitting at an outdoor cafe, some years ago, in Aix-en-Provence, as I saw a couple of school boys returning home. They greeted their older male relatives with a kiss.
Most of us have seen news footage of Arab leaders kissing each other on the cheeks. This despite the fact that they may hate each other.
iv)There's nothing abnormal about straight men expressing physical affection. Take this description of West Point cadets:
Cadets are sentimental about any departure; there are hugs, back slaps and complicated handshakes. The corps feels like one huge team exiting the locker room. D. Lipsky, Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point (Vintage 2004), 39.
A military academy is about as macho as you can get. Same thing with physical affection among football players, UFC fighters, &c.
42 Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.’” And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city (1 Sam 20:41-42).
This reinforces the pragmatic aspect of their mutual defense pact. It isn't just that Jonathan is very fond of David. Jonathan is a married man. He's looking out for the welfare of his owns sons by forming a private alliance with David. Ensuring the survival of his own line.
14 If I am still alive, show me the steadfast love of the Lord, that I may not die; 15 and do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever, when the Lord cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth (1 Sam 20:14-15).
Jonathan tactfully reminds David to honor their agreement. "Loving kindness" (Heb=hesed) is covenant nomenclature. Fidelity to the terms of the oath or treaty. Cf. "But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Saul's son Jonathan, because of the oath of the Lord that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul" (2 Sam 21:7).
In the ANE, establishing a new dynasty typically involved assassinating the descendants of the old king, to preemptively eliminate the threat of "pretenders" to the throne.
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 Sam 1:26).
In a warrior culture, comrades were often closer to each other than they were to their wives. Fighting side-by-side is a "bonding" experience. Having someone watch your back. Risking your own life to protect your comrade, and vice versa. The friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu furnishes another ANE example.
Conversely, marriage could be a fairly pragmatic affair. A way to produce legitimate heirs.