We are using these posts to begin our work on two books on friendship. This is good for me. I’m a card-carrying introvert (there’s not really a card; it’s more like a name tag). People wear me out. But I need to know others — and I need to work at relationships with both God’s people and those who are not yet in the Family.
Let’s survey the Old Testament a bit on the topic of friendship. What do we learn? (Our study is quite selective, as you will see).
The Law/The Pentateuch (Torah): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are in this section. Here in Genesis we get the story of creation, including the fascinating section on a lonely Adam (before sin entered God’s world and before the creation of Eve)! We also are told the stories of Abraham the friend of God and of Moses, the one with whom God spoke “face to face as to a friend” (Ex 33:11).
In Exodus we learn a terrible truth about friendship. The context is of the people of Israel worshiping a golden calf even as Moses is receiving the Ten Commandments from the Lord. The people were “running wild” and becoming “a laughingstock to their enemies” (Ex. 32:25). God acts in judgment and has Moses rally the Levites to whom he says, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” There are limits to human friendship.
Our next reference to friends comes in the book of Deuteronomy and also deals with the issue of idolatry. There we read the words “If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’ (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known) . . .” The text goes on to say that you must be the first one to execute that person by stoning! Friends that seek to lead you into idolatry, at least in the book of Deuteronomy, should be executed! Friendship is an important value, but not more important than worshiping the true God!
Israel is forbidden to enter into a treaty with the nations that did not help them when they escaped Egypt: “Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live.” (Dt. 23:6).
The History Books: The Historical Books are comprised of 12 books. Joshua, Judges, and Ruth tell the earliest history of the Jews; 1 and 2 Samuel with 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles cover about five hundred years reporting the fall of Judah to Babylon. The next three books, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther are about their life in captivity, release from it, and the restoration of Jerusalem. In I Samuel we have the beautiful story of the friendship of Jonathan and David, a story sadly — and wrongly — sexualized by today’s homosexual agenda. We read in I Samuel 20 – “After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most. Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’’ Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.” After the sad death of Jonathan, David says, “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.” (2 Sam. 1:26).
In this of the Old Testament we also learn of the practice of new monarchies. In the ancient world whenever a new king would ascend to the throne, the relatives of the former king would often be in grave danger. This practice was followed by some of Israel’s kings. For example, Zimri began his reign by killing off Baasha’s whole family. We read that “He did not spare a single male, whether relative or friend.” (I Ki. 16:11). The same is said of Jehu who “killed everyone in Jezreel who remained of the house of Ahab, as well as all his chief men, his close friends and his priests, leaving him no survivor.” (2 Ki. 10:11).
We also get the amazing statement about Abraham in 2 Chronicles 20:7 – “Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?”
In our next post, we will look at the Wisdom (or Poetry) literature and learn several principles about godly friendships.