When Jenny arrived home from work, she was exhausted and on the verge of tears. Her boss, who was normally unreasonable and impatient, had been nothing short of a madman all day long. He had yelled, cursed, and blamed her for everything that had gone wrong in his life for the last six months. Of course he would apologize tomorrow, as usual, but today had taken its toll.
Just as she walked through the door the phone rang. If it's him, I'm hanging up! she promised herself. But instead of her boss's angry roar, she was relieved to hear the calm voice of her friend and neighbor Sara. "Why don't you come over for dinner? I made enough lasagna for an army!"
Jenny left her suit and high heels in a heap on the floor and pulled on her jeans and a sweatshirt. She quickly walked across the greenbelt to Sara's condo, which was filled with plants, books, candles, and friendly clutter. "I already fed the kids," Sara laughed. "They're at the pool, so we can talk in peace. How was your day?"
Jenny shook her head. "It doesn't get much worse than today. Have you got any Tylenol?"
Sara frowned as she shook two pills out of an ample bottle and handed them over. "So when are you going to quit? That boss of yours is such a jerk—you could probably sue him for some kind of abuse."
"I've sent my resume to three different headhunters—they're supposed to be scheduling interviews starting next week. Meanwhile, I just need to keep my mouth shut. Thank goodness tomorrow's Friday!"
Before long, the conversation had shifted from Jenny's problems to Sara's mother's health, and then on to other concerns the two women shared. Before Jenny left, Sara prayed with her, asking the Lord to protect her and to give her a better job. By the time Jenny got home, her troubled feelings had diminished.
Just before ten o'clock the phone rang—it was a friend of Sara's, telling her about a job opportunity that might be coming up at her office. "Don't worry," the woman encouraged Jenny. "The Lord will lead you to something, even if this idea doesn't work out. I'm just sorry you're having such a hard time."
In spite of everything, Jenny slept serenely that night. The heavy pressure of stress had been lifted from her chest, and her last waking thought was a prayer of thanksgiving. "Lord, I'm so grateful for friends like Sara. Please bless her for being there when I need her . . ."
In the preceding chapters we've considered some painful emotions that can profoundly hinder our spiritual growth: Fear, anger, grief, loneliness, and many more. So why conclude the book with a lesson on friendship? It's true that friendship isn't really an emotion. But it has a lot to do with our emotions because it is vital to our emotional and spiritual maturity.
Friendships affirm our worth, and they whittle away at our self-centeredness. In healthy friendship there is giving and receiving. There is affection, commitment, concern, interest, loyalty, and love. To maintain healthy friendships we have to pay a price.
A woman who doesn't have at least one close friend suffers a loneliness that increasingly corrodes her sense of worth and drives her into isolation. Friendlessness can make us suspicious of others' motives. It prevents us from revealing ourselves, so that we perpetuate the very thing that causes us so much pain. A lack of at least one close friend can seriously impede our spiritual growth, because God has designed us to be members of a body. And every part needs the other parts to grow healthy and strong.
Women particularly need and long for friendships with other women. Dee Brestin, in her book The Joy of Women's Friendships, makes an interesting point when she says, "The role of the mother has an enormous impact on the ability of a child to love. . . . Many sociologists speculate that one of the main cultural reasons that the friendships of women tend to be warmer, stronger, and more plentiful than the friendships of men is due to the mother/daughter relationship. In America, and in many countries, the primary caretaker in early childhood is the mother. Therefore, little girls have experienced a deep same-sex friendship in their formative years—whereas many little boys have not. For women, being close to another woman feels very natural. For men being close to another man may feel quite unnatural. This may explain, in part, why most women yearn for a same-sex friendship in their adult years, whereas most men are content to have their only close friend be a woman."25
Someone has said that, "Friendship creates the world in which we can comfortably be ourselves, in which we are valued above all for that." Don't we all long for friends who love us for ourselves, just the way we are?
Ironically, the ideal friendship about which Scripture gives us many details is not between two women, but between two men, Jonathan and David. Let's trace their friendship and discover some truths that will help us to be better friends to one another. We can learn some specific principles about our own friendships as we examine theirs.
Jonathan's father, Saul, was king of Israel, and Jonathan was heir to the throne. The people of a neighboring nation, the Philistines, were sending raiding parties into Israel, and Saul had an army in the field to defend his country. Jonathan was one of his generals. Saul's strategy was to take a defensive posture, but Jonathan's was to attack. Jonathan was a man of action. At one point, Jonathan and his armor-bearer won a battle for the entire nation (see 1 Sam. 14:6-15, 20, 22-23).
Eventually, the Philistines tried a different approach. They sent out a champion, a giant of a man, who challenged the armies of Israel to send out one of their men to fight him. The army of the winner would be the victor. Every morning and evening for forty days, Goliath had been shouting his challenge to the terrified army of Israel. "On hearing the Philistine's words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified" (1 Sam. 17:11).
Saul, who should have inspired his men's courage, was shaking like a leaf along with his men. Then a young shepherd boy showed up. David had been sent by his father to the camp to see how his brothers were faring. When he heard Goliath's challenge, he was outraged. Everyone knows the story of Goliath's demise, brought about by young David's slingshot. (If you'd like to read it again, it's in 1 Samuel 17.) The story of David's victory over Goliath helps us understand an important aspect of David's friendship with Jonathan: They had a lot in common.
After David's heroic encounter with Goliath, it's easy to see why David and Jonathan became such inseparable friends.
That's why Jonathan opened his heart in a commitment to David that lasted all his life. And that brings us to another important aspect of friendship . .
"Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return to his father's house. And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt" (1 Sam. 18:1-4).
Jonathan believed something Saul refused to accept. Samuel the prophet had already told Saul that God had rejected him as king. Because of his disobedience, God had chosen a man after His own heart to be king after Saul. The throne would not be handed down to Saul's son.
When Saul's son Jonathan gave David his robe, tunic, sword, bow, and belt, he was acknowledging the shepherd boy David as his peer. But more than that, I believe Jonathan knew this was the man God had chosen to be Israel's king, even though Samuel had anointed David in a private ceremony, and it was unlikely anyone outside David's family knew about it.
Jonathan was, in effect, stepping aside. There was no jealousy in his heart, no attempt at keeping his distance, no desire to protect his privileged position.
Did you ever meet someone and hit it off immediately? If so, you probably made the effort to see each other again and developed a friendship. Do you have a friend now who sees eye to eye with you on most important things? Are you alike in your responses? Although opposites attract and add diversity to our lives, there's a freedom to relax, explore, and grow in a friendship where there is oneness in spirit.
Thrice we read that Jonathan loved David as himself. Actually, Jonathan loved David more than himself. He willingly gave up any hopes that he would succeed his father, and he entered into a covenant friendship with David. From then on he was concerned with David's interests over his own. And in this relationship, Jonathan had more to give than David did.
Do you have a friend for whom you will sacrifice your time, plans, and resources when she needs you? Have you stopped in the middle of a busy day to rush to her side in an emergency? Do you pray for her and with her? Do you call to keep in touch daily when she's going through a difficult experience? Do you invite her for meals? Do you plan an outing that will interest and divert her? Do you care for her children so that she and her husband can get away for a night?
When we love someone else as much as we love ourselves, it means we will sacrifice ourselves for them. We'll be there when they need us.
Saul was delighted with David's military prowess and put him in charge of the military campaigns against the Philistines. The people loved him too. But Saul's pleasure turned into fear and jealousy as David's popularity increased. Saul gradually realized that this young man could most definitely replace him. So he tried to kill David a couple of times and plotted his death in many other ways. Nothing worked. David came out of every situation alive and well.
As Saul became more and more mentally unstable, he did something that put Jonathan in a very tough spot. Jonathan was forced to choose between loyalty to his father, who was doing wrong, and his friend David.
"Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan was very fond of David and warned him, 'My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I'll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out" (1 Sam. 19:1-3).
At this point, Jonathan tried to convince his father Saul that he shouldn't kill David, who had done him no wrong. He reminded him that David had been used by God against Goliath. Somehow, at least for the time being, he changed his father's mind. "Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: 'As surely as the LORD lives, David will not be put to death" (1 Sam. 19:6).
What do you do when someone says something unkind or untrue about a friend of yours? Do you believe it? Do you speak up? Do you try to reconcile them? Or do you say nothing. Remember: Evil prospers when good people remain silent. A true friend protects her (or his) friends. As wise King Solomon said, "A friend loves at all times" (Prov. 17:17).
Sadly, in David's story, it wasn't long before Saul made two more attempts to kill David. This time the younger man fled for his life. He first went to Samuel, the prophet, to tell him all that had happened. But then he turned to Jonathan.
"Then David fled from Naioth at Ramah and went to Jonathan and asked, 'What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to take my life?" (1 Sam. 20:1).
By this time, David was more realistic about Saul than Jonathan was. Jonathan thought he had his father's confidence. He thought he could continue to protect David. But Saul's spear had been thrown at David twice, so David knew how murderous Saul really was. David was afraid, and he was able to say so to Jonathan. He didn't pretend, posture, or put on a brave front. He freely expressed his feelings and fears to his friend.
Do you have a friend like that? Are you that kind of a friend yourself? Can your friends be honest with you about their feelings? Do you empathize? Do you weep with them? Or are you quick to pat them on the back, say something spiritual, preach a little sermon, and go on about your business? True friendship provides a safe place to honestly express yourself and still be loved.
Jonathan looked at his distraught friend and made his decision. He told David, "Whatever you want me to do, I'll do for you" (1 Sam. 20:4).
David suggested a plan that would reveal Saul's true intentions toward him: "Tomorrow is the New Moon festival, and I am supposed to dine with the king; but let me go and hide in the field until the evening of the day after tomorrow. If your father misses me at all, tell him, 'David earnestly asked my permission to hurry to Bethlehem, his hometown, because an annual sacrifice is being made there for his whole clan.' If he says, 'Very well,' then your servant is safe. But if he loses his temper, you can be sure that he is determined to harm me" (1 Sam. 20:5b-7).
In response to David's words, Jonathan made a covenant with David that would extend to his descendants.
"By the LORD, the God of Israel, I will surely sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow! If he is favorably disposed toward you, will I not send you word and let you know? But if my father is inclined to harm you, may the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away safely. May the LORD be with you as he has been with my father. But show me unfailing kindness like that of the LORD as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family—not even when the LORD has cut off every one of David's enemies from the face of the earth" (1 Sam. 20:12-15).
In those days, when a new dynasty took the throne, often the members of the preceding royal family were killed so that there wouldn't be any rivals stirring up rebellion. Jonathan knew David would be king and that he would not be. He asked for his own life and that of his family.
Jonathan had all the qualities necessary to be a good king. He was not disqualified because of his own failure but because of his father's. He could have been bitter and resentful because his future power and glory were lost to him. But Jonathan embraced God's will for himself and for David, his friend.
How do you feel when a friend succeeds in something you felt you were qualified for? Did you have a friend who was chosen as cheerleader in high school and you didn't make the squad? Were you as close after that? What happens to a relationship when an old friend moves to an expensive new house and you are still struggling to survive in your starter home? Or has a baby when you've been trying for years to get pregnant?
Jealousy and envy are like termites that eat away at the structure of a friendship, leaving nothing but sawdust. God has given each of us unique abilities. When we accept God's will for ourselves and our friends, we will not be in competition with them but will genuinely rejoice in their success. We will show them, as Jonathan said, "unfailing kindness."
In Hebrew, the original language of the Old Testament, Jonathan used a wonderful word for unfailing kindness. Hesed describes the Lord's unconditional, unfailing, loyal love and faithfulness to His people. Jonathan said, "unfailing kindness like that of the Lord."
Jonathan was not reluctant to demand of David a guarantee that extended to his descendants. He loved David and trusted his integrity to keep this covenant he asked of him. Do your friends know you are loyal to them? Can they trust you to be faithful to them? Can they trust you to extend your love to their children? Do you have a friend you feel that way about?
I have a friend who makes an effort to see my children and maintain a relationship with them. I can't tell you how much I appreciate her love for them. One friend like that will bless us for a lifetime!
In this case, Jonathan tested his father, and Saul failed the test. So Jonathan met David at the place they planned.
"David got up from the south side of the stone, and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. 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" (1 Sam. 20:41-42).
They wept in genuine grief because they would no longer be able to be together openly. Their fellowship was over; their friendship could only be enjoyed secretly and at a distance. David became a fugitive from the king's murderous jealousy. He was on the run for ten years. From then on, Saul's major military campaign was against David. "Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands" (Sam. 23:14b).
Before I left Long Island and moved to 'Texas, there were two women I was especially close to. We laughed at the same things. We could say anything we felt to each other and be understood. After I moved away from them, I remember feeling so lonely for them.
There's something special about friends who knew you when you were young. You had similar struggles in the early years of marriage. Your children grew up together. There are memories that can't be duplicated in later years. Someone has said, "New friends are like silver, but old friends are like gold." Keep in touch with old friends even when there's distance between you. The memories are too good to forget.
Scripture tells us of only one more meeting between these two dear friends. "While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. And Saul's son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. 'Don't be afraid,' he said. 'My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this' The two of them made a covenant before the LORD. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh" (1 Sam. 23:15-18).
Jonathan helped David find his strength in God. He encouraged his faith. Jonathan couldn't be with David, but God was with him every moment. Jonathan believed David would be king, and he was willing to take second place. What a big-hearted man he was! They renewed the covenant they had made before, and they parted for the last time.
Do your friendships have a spiritual dimension? We help each other most when we encourage each other to depend on God. When we remind each other of God's promises, it strengthens faith that may have wavered.
Do you pray for a friend who is in such pain she can't even pray for herself? For a believer, friendships cannot omit the life of the Spirit. They go far below the surface. This may mean sharing your faith in Christ with a friend who does not know Him. But it definitely means that in friendships between believers, Jesus Christ is included. It's a threesome.
Jonathan's hope that he would live to see David become king would not come true. In a final battle with the Philistines Saul and three of his sons were killed. One of these sons was Jonathan. When the news came to David, his grief was overwhelming. He wrote a lament recorded in 2 Samuel 1. He ended it with these words that spoke of his love for Jonathan:
How the mighty have fallen in battle!
Jonathan lies slain on your heights.
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. 1:25-26)
"More wonderful than the love of women." These two men were second selves to each other—soul mates. It infuriates me to hear homosexuals insist that this means David and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship. This argument implies that two people can't have a same-sex friendship without the physical act of sex, which is patently ridiculous. As a matter of fact, the words used to describe the love Jonathan and David had for each other are never used in the Bible to describe a homosexual relationship. The word used for that is one that means to "know carnally" (Gen. 19:5).
What about the covenant David and Jonathan made and renewed about Jonathan's family? Years later, David remembered and kept his promise.
"David asked, 'Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan's sake?" (2 Sam. 9:1).
Jonathan had a son, Mephibosheth, who was five years old when his father died. A nurse, fleeing with him to save his life, had dropped him, and he was crippled for life. Now Mephibosheth had a son of his own. David sent for Mephibosheth.
"When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. "David said, 'Mephibosheth!'
"'Your servant,' he replied.
"'Don't be afraid, David said to him, 'for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table" (2 Sam. 9:6-7).
David restored Mephibosheth's inheritance and adopted him into his own family for Jonathan's sake. Death did not end David's love for Jonathan. He faithfully kept the covenant he had made with him.
Can your friends trust you to be true to your word? Do you say you will call or visit, then fail to follow through? Are you full of excuses? Friendships must be nurtured and kept alive. They are too precious to neglect.
If you are longing for friendship, ask God to give you another woman who will be your friend. And commit yourself to being the kind of person she will want for a friend. Your emotional and spiritual growth won't really reach maturity if you are not able to be a friend.
There's one more thing we should notice before we leave David and Jonathan. The loving-kindness David showered on Mephibosheth for Jonathan's sake is a picture of God's loving-kindness to us for Jesus' sake. Mephibosheth did nothing to deserve it. He was poor, helpless, and hopeless, afraid for his life. Likewise, we can do nothing to deserve God's loving-kindness to us.
Each of us was born a sinner, helpless and hopeless to change ourselves. Jesus' death and resurrection so satisfied the holiness and justice of God, that He can make us His children and give us an inheritance for Jesus' sake.
I hope you aren't trying to earn God's love. We cannot earn what He offers as a free gift. We must simply reach out and take the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior. That's what it means to believe on Him. And that's how we are able to enjoy friendship with God, and therefore to share genuine, spiritual friendship with one another.
25 Dee Brestin, The Joy of Women's Friendships (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor/SF Publications, 1993), 10.