“The Shame of Your Mother’s Nakedness”?
Based on 1 Samuel 20:30, is it possible that Saul thought Jonathan was a homosexual?
The passage in question reads: “Then Saul’s anger was aroused against Jonathan, and he said to him, ‘You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?’” The word rendered “confusion” in the KJV is the normal Hebrew word for “shame.”1 It has the same latitude of meaning that our English word has. It does not include any hint of homosexuality. The word is used throughout the Old Testament to refer to the disgrace or shame that one experiences due to one’s own behavior, or the shame/disgrace brought upon a person by the behavior of another. See, for example, Jeremiah 2:26 where the prophet compares the shame of the caught thief to Israel’s shame due to her incessant involvement in idolatry. Or consider Bildad’s admonition to Job to admit his sin so that “Those who hate you will be clothed with shame” (Job 8:22). Regarding his enemies, David used a trilogy of synonyms in his request of God that they “be ashamed (bohsh) and brought to mutual confusion (chah-pher)” and “clothed with shame (boh-sheth) and dishonor” (Psalm 35:26). The word rendered “confusion” in the NKJV is rendered “confounded” in several other translations and means to “humiliate,” “embarrass,” “bewilder,” “baffle,” or “discomfit.” In the midst of national defeat, the psalmist moans: “My dishonor is continually before me, and the shame (boh-sheth) of my face has covered me.” Micah refers to the “naked shame” of the inhabitants of Shaphir (Micah 1:11). Hence, the word is even used of the mistreatment/shame that Jesus endured from His opponents: “You know my reproach, my shame, and my dishonor; My adversaries are all before You” (Psalm 69:19; cf. Acts 5:41). In a psalm that possesses Messianic overtones, God declares concerning the Messiah: “His enemies I will clothe with shame” (Psalm 132:18). Again, in all these instances, no reference is being made to anything sexual in nature.
The context, indeed, all of 1 Samuel and Saul’s 40-year reign, makes clear that Saul was upset about the threat that David posed to his own throne and, therefore, Jonathan’s prospects for becoming the next king. Saul considered David a serious rival to the throne (his own in particular). Spiritually-minded Jonathan demonstrated that he was perfectly submissive to God’s intention to make David the next king. Hence, “chosen” refers to Jonathan’s willingness to acquiesce to David’s right to the throne. Other translations render the word “siding with” (CSB), “allied yourself with” (CEB), “chosen to be loyal to” (CEV), “chosen to support” (ERV), “on the side of” (NCV), “you are choosing” (NASB). The NLT says it well: “Do you think I don’t know that you want him to be king in your place?” No hint of anything sexual is in the text. Further, the allusion to “your mother’s nakedness” is simply a Hebrew way to refer to a woman giving birth to a child. Hence, Saul was using a harsh insult to try to bully his son into siding with himself by suggesting that by siding with David, Jonathan was disgracing/shaming the mother who gave him birth.
1 Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs (1906), The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004 reprint), p. 102.
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