Those of us of a certain age can remember when Carole King and James Taylor both came out with a version of one of her songs. It said that even when you are troubled and nothing seems right, “you’ve got a friend.” There is a meme going around that says essentially that best friends can go years without seeing each other and then take up the same conversation they had the last time they were together. The Bible says a lot about friends.
The first specific mention of a friend in the King James Version of the Bible was Judah’s friend Hirah the Adullamite. (Gen 38:12) The word used there is actually used earlier, in Genesis 11, when those in Ur decided to build a tower to heaven and spoke to one another. It is a word that comes from a root meaning a shepherd or one who feeds another. By extension it came to mean a companion or a friend. It is more often translatedAs God’s friend, we boldly walk into the throne room and sit down. as neighbor, but for the purposes of this article we will limit it to those instances when it clearly means a friend.
Sometimes it seems that friends don’t always act in a way that is best for each other. Hirah the Adullamite assisted Judah in visiting a prostitute (who turned out to be his own daughter-in-law). Amnon had a friend Jonadab (2 Sam 13) who advised him how he could seduce his half-sister.
Perhaps the most famous trio of friends in the Bible are those who visited Job in his affliction. They were pretty good friends for a week, when they kept silent. Then they opened their mouths and proved to be less than loyal. Each accused Job of sin, saying that was why he was suffering as he was. Of course, none of them knew what he was talking about, and none act in the supportive way a friend should. Nevertheless, after all was said and done Job forgave them.
Solomon summed up the fickle friend in the Proverbs. “Wealth maketh many friends; but the poor is separated from his friend.” (Prov 19:4) But the wise man also shows the value of true friendship. “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Prov 17:17)
There are many other examples of this kind of friendship, but the best seems to be found in Exodus 33:11. “And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” This would be the ultimate friendship/companionship. Moses’ case may be considered unique in his age; but that is no longer the case.
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb 10:19-22)
It may seem presumptuous to enter into God’s presence at will, as a friend would. The writer to the Hebrews here says that we may boldly do so “with full assurance.” We don’t need anyone to speak to God on our behalf. We can speak to him in prayer, and if we have trouble with that, we even have an interpreter. “The Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Rom 8:26)
When Esther was asked to intercede for her people, she pointed out that only those could enter the king’s presence were those he asked for. To enter unbidden was to risk death, unless the king held out his scepter to the person. Moses was able to face God without such restriction. Nor do we need fear that the scepter will not be held out to us. As God’s friend, we boldly walk into the throne room and sit down.
There is an interesting verse in Proverbs 18:24. “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” It is interesting in that the translators used the same word, friend, for two different Hebrew words. It might be rephrased, “One that has companions must show himself companionable; and there is a beloved that sticks closer than a brother.”
This is the same word that is used in Proverbs 17:17, quoted earlier, that a friend (companion) loves (the second word translated friend in 18:24) at all times.
It may not be significant, but Moses spoke with God as a friend (companion), but Abraham was held in this seemingly higher regard. At least King Jehoshaphat seemed to make the distinction.
Art not thou our God, who didst drive out the inhabitants of this land before thy people Israel, and gavest it to the seed of Abraham thy friend for ever? (2 Chron 20:7)
God uses the same word, beloved, in speaking through Isaiah. “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.” (Isa 41:8) James uses the Greek equivalent of this word in making a commentary on Genesis 15:16.
And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. (Jas 2:23)
James uses the word philos, from which we get such words as philosopher (a lover of wisdom) and philanthropist (a lover of people). In addition to Abraham being beloved of God, the New Testament bears witness to a number of examples, positive and negative, of friends.
Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. (Jas 4:4)
Sometimes we can have any number of friends. Sometimes friendships are mutually exclusive. We have to choose between friendship with the world or with God. Sometimes in our lives such a choice has been forced on us by a friend. “If you like him, you cannot be my friend.” Usually that is based on subjective criteria, and is often said selfishly. In God’s case, however, it is not based on jealousy but on true friendship with us. He knows that if you maintain a friendship with the world you will choose to cut off a friendship with God.
In a similar way, the Jews accused Pilate. “If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend.” (Jn 19:12)
Jesus was called “a friend of publicans and sinners.” (Matt 11:19; Lk 7:34) And so he was. He didn’t care about the A list, although he would have been their friend, too, if they would have let him. Instead he befriended those most in need of a true friend. Those A-listers who called him this were afraid of what would become of them if it were known they were his friend. Thus Nicodemus came by night, and Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple secretly.
There were two people who distrusted each other because of their positions in the Roman government. One was the appointed Roman governor; the other was the usurper king over Galilee. During the trial of Jesus, Pilate sent him to be questioned by King Herod. This one act made a difference in their relationship. “And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves.” (Lk 23:12) Sometimes friendship is predicated on such small terms as this.
Friends in this world can turn on you. Jesus pointed this out. “And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. (Lk 21:16) Perhaps he is the greatest example of that. Judas, after all, was one of the chosen twelve.
On the other hand, Jesus spoke well of true friendship. He had friends. He called Lazarus “our friend.” (Jn 11:11) He called the apostles friends. “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends.” (Jn 15:15)
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. (Jn 15:13-14)
Jesus brings up a point. Maintaining a friendship is not easy, especially when one half of that friendship is the savior of the world. Even in our worldly friendships we see this. A group of friends get together for a sandlot football game. At some point an argument ensues, and the organizer says, “I’m going to take my ball and go home.”If you maintain a friendship with the world you will choose to cut off a friendship with God. Jesus isn’t petty like that, but he does expect us to work at our friendship with him by doing what he commands. And for that simple act of friendship he was willing to lay down his life.
Cornelius the Centurion had some friends. Cornelius was advised by God to send for Peter to hear a specific message. (Acts 10) He did so. While they were waiting, he “called together his kinsmen and near friends.” (Acts 10:24) If you look at the original language, these are his “indispensable friends.” Whatever he was about to hear, he had to make sure that his closest friends, those he could not do without, would hear it too. As it happened, Peter came and preached the gospel, the Holy Spirit fell upon those in the house in the same way it had on the apostles at Pentecost, and the indispensable friends of Cornelius became part of the first group of true gentiles to be welcomed into the church without having to become Jewish converts first. Cornelius probably did not know the exact nature of what Peter was being called to say or do. Since he had been specifically instructed by God in the matter, he knew it was important. If it was that important to God, he wanted to make sure his best friends were in on it. Sometimes it seems that the people we find hardest to talk to about the gospel are our close friends. Cornelius had a different take on the matter.
Friends can be good or bad. Some may come and go. When it comes to God, however, “ain’t it good to know, you have a friend!”