Why was Abraham called "the Friend of God"? (No. 35)
(Edition 2.1 19940611-20000620)
This paper examines, in short form, the remarkable relationship that Abraham had with God.
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Why was Abraham called "the Friend of God"?
It is interesting to note what James said about Abraham, the father of the faithful.:
James 2:2323 and the scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness"; and he was called the friend of God. (RSV)
Notice how James draws attention to the fact that Abraham was called the friend of God. The term "friend" is somewhat intimate and conveys a sense of closeness, trust, and sharing.
What is remarkable is that Abraham was termed the friend of God. The great, almighty, ever-present and all-powerful, all-knowing God was the one who made this statement. This was not Abraham’s assessment of his relationship with God, nor how he thought about God. It was a statement that God made about Abraham.
James was quoting from Isaiah 41.
Isaiah 41:88 But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; (RSV)
The children of Israel were God’s servants and were the offspring of Abraham, who was God’s friend. Just consider for a moment how remarkable these words are, and what a remarkable relationship they describe! Consider that a limited, physical, mortal being would be thought of by the all-powerful, immortal, all-knowing, supreme God as His dearly beloved friend. Also consider that an imperfect man, made from the dust of the ground, would be viewed by the perfect Creator God composed of eternal spirit as one with whom He could have a warm, lasting and special friendship.
Yet the words my friend are exactly how God did consider Abraham, and his relationship with God was a true and deep friendship.
This raises some intriguing questions:
How was such a relationship possible?
What constitutes that kind of friendship?
Lastly, can we enjoy that same kind of relationship with God, and if so how?
Part of the answer to this last question is "yes". God is not a respecter of persons. We too can experience that same kind of friendship with God which Abraham enjoyed. But to do this we need to first examine what it is that makes friendships what they are, in order to understand how we can, like Abraham, be called the friends of God.
We have all met many, many people over the course of our lives to the present and, no doubt, we’ll meet many more in the future. However, only a comparative few have ever been, or ever will become, our close friends. Why?
One of the most obvious reasons, and the first point is that of agreement.
Think about it for a minute. Our very best friends are those who agree with us on the greatest number of really important issues. Friends think alike. We can be on friendly terms with others – that is, having pleasant and warm conversation with them, enjoy seeing them from time to time – but our closest friends are those who think like us. Clashing minds, diverging opinions and preferences do not really make for close relationships. In the words of the old saying, birds of a feather flock together. So it was in the case of Abraham and his friendship with God. He was in total agreement with God.
Notice what God said about Abraham in Genesis 26. Here God is talking to Isaac, and reconfirming the promises He gave to Abraham, now passed on to Isaac.
Genesis 26:3-53 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfil the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. 4 I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give to your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves: 5 because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws." (RSV)
Why did God make these unconditional promises to Abraham, and now pass them to Abraham’s son Isaac? Because Abraham obeyed God and kept His commandments (v. 5). Abraham was in total agreement with God. He obeyed God precisely and in every detail even when he didn’t know the outcome.
The prophet Amos posed the rhetorical question:
Amos 3:33 Can two walk together, except they be agreed? (KJV)
The sense of the Hebrew text here is interesting. The word agreed is from the Hebrew ya`ad (SHD 3259) which means to fix, appoint, assemble, meet, set, betroth; to meet, to meet by appointment, etc. The sense is not simply two walking in a common direction because they agree to it, but rather two agreeing to and making an appointment to come together and from there set out on a journey to a destination together. It is like saying to someone, I’ll meet you down at the Post Office and we can go to the restaurant from there. The RSV captures this sense:
Amos 3:33 "Do two walk together, unless they have made an appointment? (RSV)
The context of the passage is given in the preceding verses.
Amos 3:1-21 Hear this word that the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up out of the land of Egypt: 2 "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. (RSV)
God brought Israel out of Egypt and to Mount Sinai where He made a covenant with them. In the covenant He promised to protect them and bless them. They in turn promised to obey Him and keep His laws. There was this coming together or agreement reached between Israel and God, about their plans to set out on the path to a new life in the Promised Land together. However, Israel let down their side of the agreement and veered off course. They repeatedly said, we’ll be a party to this, we agree to that, but their word was not sure and so Israel and God were not able to walk together for any length of time.
In this, Israel failed to follow the example of their forefather Abraham who:
went out of his homeland to a place God would show him;
found out how God walked and came into agreement with it;
walked in the paths of God’s law, and did not follow the ways of this world.
Abraham was in precise and continuing agreement with God – and that was one of the factors contributing to his friendship with God.
The parallel for us as Christians is that we make an agreement with God at baptism. We say, Yes! We’ll go where you want to go. We’ll do what you want to do. At baptism, we covenant with Him to love Him and obey Him. He in turn promises forgiveness, the gift of His spirit, and eternal life in His Kingdom. If we stick to our covenants with God and make sure we submit our wills and desires to His will – if we let Him set the pace and determine the route we will take, then we will be in agreement with Him which is one of the necessary factors for Him to call us His friends.
Loyalty and dependability
A second vital factor contributing to endearing friendships is that of loyalty and dependability. If you reflect on those people you count as your closest friends, it is those who have been loyal to you through thick and thin. It is those who you can count upon when the chips are down.
We’ve all heard and perhaps used the phrase fair-weather friend. We use it of those people who are pleased to be our friends when everything is fine and going smoothly. But, as soon as problems or troubles hit, they make themselves scarce. Fair-weather friends behave as they do because they look for what they can get out of a relationship – rather than what they can give and put into it.
However, true friends are loyal and faithful to one another when the going is easy and when it gets tough:
True friends support each other.
True friends sacrifice for each other.
True friends are dependable – they’re always there when needed.
On the evening of his death, Jesus Christ described the need for loyalty, dependability and sacrifice as a component of our friendship with him. Speaking to his disciples Jesus said:
John 15:1313 Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (RSV)
He was true to that statement. Christ showed us the ultimate gesture of friendship in laying down his life for us as a sacrifice for our sins. He practised what he preached. He went all the way for us.
Christ’s sacrifice for us, as his gesture of true friendship toward us, should evoke loyalty and dependability from us.
John 15:1414 You are my friends if you do what I command you. (RSV)
Christ was explaining that, just as he was prepared to go all the way for us, we need to go all the way for him in demonstrating our loyalty and reliability to him.
Of course, loyalty and dependability are really only made fully manifest when we are tested and tempted to go against these principles. For example, if you are told by your employer or boss that not working on the Sabbath will bring severe action against you, possibly even the loss of your job – and you’ve got a family to support and/or bills to pay – then the commandment to remember the Sabbath to keep it holy can become a severe test of loyalty to God and Christ.
But, if we are true friends of God and His Son, we will be loyal to His commands, regardless of the consequences. God will see by our actions that He can depend upon us to come through with the goods. He will not let such loyalty go unrewarded. We will be recompensed in the process of time, either in this life or the age to come.
Abraham was a true friend of God in this way – and the test God gave him of slaying Isaac demonstrated both his loyalty to God’s commands and his dependability. When Abraham received the instructions to kill Isaac, no doubt turmoil would have erupted in his mind. Human sacrifice was common in the false religions of the day. So, maybe, on one level the demand to kill Isaac did not seem utterly unreasonable to Abraham. There is no record of Abraham questioning God about it. On the other hand, Isaac was dearly loved by Abraham. He was the child of promise. It was through this son that God was going to fulfil the promises he had earlier made to Abraham (Gen. 17). Plus, Abraham might also have reasoned that to kill another human being was murder and, therefore, sin.
Regardless, Abraham did as God commanded and made preparations to slay Isaac. He demonstrated his loyalty to his Creator. He demonstrated that he could be depended upon to carry out God’s will no matter how difficult the assignment. Hence, God considered Abraham His friend.
The ability to be able to confide
One last aspect of what constitutes true friendship that we will consider is the ability of true friends to confide in one another.
This point builds upon the previous two points. Our closest friends are those in whom we can freely confide. They are those to whom we can communicate our deepest feelings and convictions, knowing we have a supportive listener and that we won’t be betrayed.
With real friends we can discuss what is on our mind, we can share our joys, our observations, our plans, and even our sorrows and regrets. When there is deep and intense friendship, nothing needs to be held back.
Christ described this dimension of friendship.
John 15:1515 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (RSV)
Friends confide in one another, and Christ considers us to be such good friends of his that he is able to confide in us and share all the plans, hopes and dreams he and the Father have for us and mankind. He says that all that he has heard of the Father, he has made known to us. Now, depending on the degree of our friendship with others, we tend to hold back certain information. There are very few people we share everything with. Only our closest friends get that kind of treatment. But Christ is demonstrating here that he considers us his closest and most sympathetic friends.
Just as God through Christ extends friendship to us through His willingness to confide in us, so we must return that friendship to Him by confiding in Him. We are to spend time talking to Him, pouring out our hearts to Him, and telling Him of our every need and desire.
Abraham was a man like that, so much so that God truly regarded him as a close confidant. In Genesis 18 we read of this marvellous closeness Abraham enjoyed with God through Christ who acted as God’s messenger. Christ and two angels had just met with Abraham to tell him how Sarah would bear Isaac, as a fulfilment of God’s promise to him. The angels then continued on their journey to Sodom to save Lot and his family from being destroyed in the overthrow of that city.
Genesis 18:17-1917 The LORD said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him? 19 No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him." (RSV)
The King James Bible at verse 19 reads:
Genesis 18:1919 For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, ... (KJV)
Christ, as the Malak of God, knew what Abraham was like as a person and felt assured in confiding in him. By the same token, Abraham was open with God and talked freely with Him, as he did with Christ in the exchange that covers the next few verses.
Genesis 18:20-3320 Then the LORD said, "Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomor'rah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me; and if not, I will know." 22 So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom; but Abraham still stood before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham drew near, and said, "Wilt thou indeed destroy the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt thou then destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" 26 And the LORD said, "If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake." 27 Abraham answered, "Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Wilt thou destroy the whole city for lack of five?" And he said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there." 29 Again he spoke to him, and said, "Suppose forty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of forty I will not do it." 30 Then he said, "Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there." He answered, "I will not do it, if I find thirty there." 31 He said, "Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it." 32 Then he said, "Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there." He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it." 33 And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place. (RSV)
The relationship Abraham enjoyed with God was a remarkable one by human standards – but tremendously encouraging for us. God is not a partial God. He is not a respecter of persons. God doesn’t involve Himself in cliques or narrow, exclusive groups of people that only a few can enter. Rather, He extends the hand of friendship to all of those in His family. If we follow the example of our spiritual forefather Abraham by being in agreement with God, displaying loyalty and dependability towards God, and freely confiding in Him in all matters, then we too will be called the friends of God.