Because David was in great danger, both he and Jonathan would have to act secretly.
Davidís plan was to go quickly to Bethlehem (20:6). That would take him two days. He would not follow the usual route along the roads and through the towns. That was too dangerous to him. Instead, he would go through the fields and the open country so that nobody would see him.
He probably wanted to go there in order to warn his father Jesse and his brothers. They too would have to hide (see 1 Samuel 22:1-4). When Saul was angry with someone, he would not hesitate to kill that personís whole family (22:11-18).
During those two days, Jonathan had promised to find out whether Saul really was trying to kill David. Of course, Jonathan could not let anyone see where David was. So Jonathan worked out a way to tell David secretly about Saulís intentions.
Jonathan often went out of the town with his bow and arrows. This was not a sport; he was improving his skills for war. He would shoot the arrows and a boy would run to collect them for him.
Jonathan told David to hide near a particular stone. There, David would be able to hear the instructions that Jonathan shouted to the boy. David would be safe because nobody could see him in that place.
If David was not in danger, Jonathan would shoot his arrows only for a short distance. Then he could tell the boy to come back towards him. The real meaning was that David could come back safely.
However, if Saul was still trying to kill David, Jonathan would shoot his arrows a long way. He would then tell the boy that he must go away to get the arrows. The real meaning was that David must run away. He was in great danger.
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© 2014, Keith Simons.