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Friendship, God’s Way

Friends overlook Jerusalem with a tour guide.

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”  (Proverbs 27:17)

When was the last time someone whispered a secret in your ear? Did you feel special? Honored?

God wants to confide in us and tell us things that only friends share.

The Scriptures have a lot to say about how to be friends with God and with each other in a way that glorifies Him.

Friendship with God gives us special access to His heart.

Let’s look at what God’s kind of friendship is and how we can nurture it with Him and others.

Nahalat Shiva neighborhood cafe, Jerusalem

Friends meet at a cafe in the quaint Nahalat Shiva neighborhood of Jerusalem.

The Names of Friendship in Hebrew

Most of the words describing friendship in the Tanakh (Old Testament) come from two ancient Hebrew root words.

One of them is the common kind of relationship found in Exodus 33:11:

“The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend [רע–reah].”

We find this word embedded in the beautiful Hebrew boy’s name:  reu-El – רְעוּאֵל, meaning friend of God, which even non-Jewish families name their sons.

It is also one of the names of Moses’ father-in-law who we know as Jethro, or Yitro in Hebrew.

“When the girls returned to their father Reuel, he asked them, ‘Why have you returned so early today?’”  (Exodus 2:18)

Jethro hosted Moses in his land while he shepherded for 40 years.  Afterward, he helped Moses become a better administrator of the Israel nation that God had made him responsible for.  That’s a good friend!

Jethro and Moses-James Tissot

Jethro instructs Moses, by James Tissot

Another important Bible character is Ruth who has the Hebrew name Re’ut – רְעוּת, meaning friendship.

In Hebrew we pronounce it, root – רוּת.

Ruth chose to be a friend to her mother-in-law Naomi.  It wasn’t easy as she had to leave her family, friends and country behind.

However, it was a sacrifice worth making because through Naomi, she also entered into relationship with the God of Israel, who provided for her in every way possible.

As Ruth shows us, Biblical friendship with her mother-in-law Naomi was not a matter of  “here today, gone tomorrow.”   It was a lifelong commitment to one another.  Even when the other widowed daughter-in-laws left Naomi, Ruth refused to leave her.

As the proverb says,  “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  (Proverbs 18:24)

Jewish mother and daughter embrace.

Ruth did not go to Israel seeking wealth and security, but by being an obedient and loyal friend to Naomi, she found favor and received wealth and security.

This kind of friendship is more than neighborly.  It is rooted in love.

Rabbi Shimon ben Tzemach Duran (14th-15th century) wrote,

“Anyone who establishes a friendship for access to power, money, or sexual relations;  when these ends are not attainable, the friendship ceases…  love that is not dependent on selfish ends is true love of the other person since there is no intended end.”  (Magen Avot – abridged and adapted translation)

We see this level of friendship between David and King Saul’s son Jonathan.

Jonathan protected David’s life, warning him of his father’s plot to kill him.

Two Jewish Israeli soldiers who are good friends, kind of like David and Jonathan.

And after Saul and Jonathan were killed by the Philistines, David could have killed off Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, to protect his new throne.  But David kept him alive and honored him.

It’s not so easy to trust or honor people even half as much as Ruth honored Naomi, or as David honored Jonathan by protecting his son.

Often, we feel let down by our friends, family, and even those who are fellow Believers.

When friends disappoint or reject us, we might foster resentment and bitterness.  In these times, we must ask God what to do, since those sins block our relationship with Him.

He will always speak to us, giving us the same answer:  Forgive them and love them.

How do we love?


Elderly men play backgammon in Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, Israel.

Even though the Early Church shared everything (Acts 2:44-46), broken trust, jealousy, and bitterness between friends were major issues of the time, as they still are today.

However, Paul gives us an alternative way to respond, in love:

He instructs Believers “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  (Ephesians 4:1-3)

It will be a lot easier to follow Paul’s advice if we choose wise friends, since keeping company with the foolish just brings us harm (Proverbs 13:20).

For instance, wise friends give wise advice and even rebukes, speaking the truth in love, so we can avoid sin, growing daily into the Godly disciples that Yeshua wants us to be (Proverbs 19:2; Ephesians 4:15).

Wise friends don’t speak evil of each other.  They also don’t covet the other’s belongings or spiritual gifts as that leads to jealousy (James 4:1-6).

We can learn a lot about how to be and choose a wise friend by watching Yeshua.  We can even become His friend.

Yeshua Visits Mary, Martha and Lazarus, by William Hole

Becoming Friends With Yeshua

Yeshua knew how to be like a reah (friend) — to be neighborly with strangers, even eating with sinners.

He was also good friends with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  So much so that they felt comfortable interrupting, complaining, and crying with each other.

But Yeshua, in His humanity, set the standard for us on how to be friends on a much deeper level, instructing us to “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

We can better understand Yeshua’s instruction by looking at the other Hebrew word for friend, which comes from the verb ahav – אָהַב – to love.

This level of friendship is proactive, seeking whom it may help, heal, and restore.  It is why Yeshua came to us.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  (Luke 19:10)

Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Awaiting the Passage of Jesus (Luke 19:1-10), by James Tissot

Throughout His days in Israel Yeshua demonstrated how to love, like God loves:

With His feet, He went from village to village and with His eyes He sought out the Lost.

With His hands, He served others, hugging children, washing feet, making breakfast.

With His mouth, He corrected false “religious self-righteousness” and taught the true ways of the kingdom and how God sees one’s heart.

With His mind, He faithfully kept the commands of God, which teach how to love others.

With His Spirit, He healed the sick and forgave their sins.

With His whole being, He suffered and died so we could live eternally with God.

As Yeshua said,  “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  (John 15:13)

When we obey Yeshua by loving our friends like Yeshua loved others, we show ourselves to be true disciples.  And that gives us privileged access to Him.  Listen to what Yeshua Himself says:

You are My friends if you do what I command you.  I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant] does not know what the master is doing;  but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from My Father.”             (John 15:14-15)

What a privilege to be a friend of Yeshua, to have access to the mind and heart of the Father Himself.  It is this kind of friendship that God also seeks with us throughout the Hebrew Scriptures:

He says, Fear Me, obey Me, and I will faithfully help, empower, guide, and protect you.  I will show you My heart and My plans for you.  I will call you My friend.

Woman prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall.

Friendship with God

“The friendship [council, fellowship, secrets] of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He makes His covenant known to them.”  (Psalm 25:14)

Reverent fear of God opens the door to a special relationship with Him.  It’s somewhat like when our best friend came up to us on the playground and whispered a secret in our ear.

Another way to say it is that “the Lord confides in those who fear Him.”  (Psalm 25:14)

And He calls these people His friends.

A great example of this is Abraham, who is also calledthe friend of God.”  (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8)

More than a friend, however, the Tanach (Old Testament) uses the more intimate word:  ohavai – אֹהֲבִֽי, from the root ahev – אָהַב, meaning to love.

What God really means is  “Abraham, My beloved.

God shows Abraham the stars, by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

God shows Abraham the Stars, by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Why did Abraham hold this position with God?

Abraham’s fear of the Lord inspired him to obey, believing in faith (emunah in Hebrew) that he could trust the Lord to know what is best in all matters of life.

That trust helped Abraham overcome his natural fears (James 2:23).


God needed someone He could trust, a loyal friend with whom He could make a covenant that would eventually bring about the Messiah who would restore mankind into a relationship with Him.

He found it in Abraham, who did not obey out of any personal ambition, but out of sheer faith and trust in the Lord.

Like Abraham, we can also be called God’s ohavai, His beloved.

As the Jewish New Testament writer says,  “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  (James 4:8)

The closer we draw near to Him, the clearer we can hear His voice and the various ways He speaks to us so that we can receive all He has for us.

How incredible to have the ear of the Lord Himself.  It’s an immense privilege.

Supper at Emmaus (1601), by Caravaggio depicts Yeshua breaking bread with disciples after explaining the Messianic prophecies about him.

But as James also advises, it is impossible to be both friends with the world and friends with God at the same time.

We have to be single-minded in our efforts, goals, and friendships — single-minded for expanding God’s kingdom on earth.

“Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”  (James 4:4)

Here, we see the seriousness of choosing God as a friend, and of counting the cost.

The cost is worth it!

It’s an exciting life when we have the privilege of hearing in our ears the secret whisper of God Himself!

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