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Jonathan signalling to David by shooting arrows




An Indirect Communication event occurred about 3000 years ago at the time when Saul was King and David was the King's General and son-in-law.  The background to the story is that Jonathan, the King's son, and David were great friends.  At the time of a new moon David was expected to dine with the King and his family but David did not know if he would be received with friendliness or enmity by the King.  If the latter, he could well lose his life.  The King was therefore to be told that David was away on a higher mission, namely visiting his old home at Bethlehem for the yearly sacrifice for all the family, and hoped to return on the third day of the new moon festivities:

1 Samuel 20 v6

In fact David remained in close proximity and Jonathan arranged to signal to David on the third day whether he should attend or stay away.  With David in hiding but in earshot the warning or otherwise was to be embedded in words addressed to a boy whose job it was to pick up some arrows shot by Jonathan:

1 Samuel 20 vv18-22

Jonathan was to call out to the boy that the arrows had fallen short if David would be well received and so would be safe.  Conversely however a call to the boy that the arrows were beyond him would mean that David's life was in danger and he should therefore stay away.# Jonathan was left in no doubt that Saul intended to have David killed so he sent the appropriate signal as arranged.

1 Samuel 20 vv32-39



The signalling system arranged by Jonathan with David was very well matched to the security circumstances in which they found themselves.   David could not be seen by anyone in the vicinity as he  was supposed to be elsewhere. Even more important Jonathan could not be seen to be talking to David.  The signal therefore had to be sent by sound.  The firing of arrows and the sending of the boy to pick them up was an elaborate cover - designed to fool the casual or deliberate onlooker - to the calling out of the coded message.  The choice of a boy was well made - a more mature person might have realised there was a hidden agenda.# In part, the message to David was in accordance with a prearranged code but there was an impromptu addition.   This was the  adding of a note of urgency and the indicating of the intensity of Saul's enmity towards David by the words "Make speed, haste, stay not" in his call to the boy (v38).  Moreover the lad was unaware of his role as a completely passive intermediary (v39).# It is interesting to note that the code agreed between Jonathan and David was of the verbal indirect type; if however the actual physical location of the arrows had been used as the basis of the message rather than words about their supposed location, the code would have been of a non-verbal indirect form.  This form can also be used to great effect, though in the particular case of Jonathan inaccurate shooting of the arrows could have proved disastrous for David and it would have been difficult to communicate the further message about the intensity of Saul's feelings.  One general conclusion which can be drawn from this single example is that the choice of method of indirect communication must be made with very great care.# Clearly this indirect communication, proposed by Jonathan, was devised at the highest echelon of society.  Was indirect communication a feature of the ruling class?  Was there a Court behavioural technologist advising the rulers in such techniques.

How far down the hierarchy of society did the use of such techniques extend?  David was a shepherd when he was anointed by Samuel.  Did he acquire indirect communication skills as he moved up the ladder, perhaps becoming aware of them through Jonathan, the King's son?  If he learnt the techniques of indirect communication, did he use them?

All the above assumes that the events happened as recorded and were not embellished by the writer of the Book of Samuel.  Another fascinating point is how the story of the arrow signalling became known to the writer of the Book anyway.  Indirect communication is by its nature hidden and usually remains so.  As is recorded "only Jonathan and David knew the matter" (v39) so how did it get into the public domain?



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