Friends in low places

I was trying to think of a slick title for this post, something slightly rap-song-ish, so I looked "homie" up in the Urban Dictionary (which probably makes me officially not allowed to use the word "homie"). No dice. So I looked up "friend," and I stumbled onto this weird etymological entry: "The word 'friend' comes from Old English 'frēond', which is actually the present participle of 'frēogan', which means 'to love' and 'to honor'."* Naturally there were no citations, so I looked "friend" up again in the Online Etymology Dictionary, which links the word "friend" to the word "free" several times, claiming that they come from the same root.** I have concluded that a friend is someone who loves for free.***

I'm reading about David's life right now in my One Year Chronological Bible, and I'm loving being able to have so much access to the life, thoughts, and relationships of someone who lived 3000 years ago. Today's reading details David's flight from Absalom. In 2 Samuel 15-17, we see David leave Jerusalem, and the text introduces each of the people who flees with him, in a kind of who's who fashion. The people around David appear to typify the kinds of people we have in our lives, especially in times of trouble:

  • David's servants, ready to do whatever he commands--these are the people dedicated to help you, ready to put their hands to work wherever you need help. These are the friends (not actually your servants) who will help you pack up your apartment when you have to move. They are irreplaceable.
  • Ittai the Gittite--the friend who understands because of similar experience. Ittai is "a foreigner and an exile from [his] own place" (15:19), and he is a new friend--he "came only yesterday" (20). Some friendships rest on years of effort and investment; some are Godsent in such a way that immediate loyalty occurs. Ittai is a Philistine from Gath, and he understands what it means to be out of his place. He gets David's exile. He says, "As the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, surely in whatever place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or in life, even there also your servant will be" (21). This friend adds immediately, immeasurably to your life, just with his or her very presence, and because his or her commitment is made in relation to who God is, he or she can be trusted. David accepts for Ittai to go with him, immediately.
  • Zadok and Abiathar--friends who are intercessors. They see their whole purpose in bringing you before God in prayer. These friends are faithful from close by or from afar, and they fulfill an irreplaceable purpose.
  • Hushai--this friend influences others for you, acts on your behalf, is enduringly loyal no matter where he or she is. This friend acts strategically for your behalf.
Not friends:
  • Ziba--your frenemy, who takes advantage of your distress to profit from your weakness. This person also sells other people out and is generally characterized by disloyalty. This friend talks smack about people to you, and probably talks smack about you to others. You may not see his or her betrayal until you have come to the other side of your distress.
  • Shimei--who kicks you when you are down. Doesn't like you, whether it's because you deserve it or not. Uses words to sting when you are at your lowest. How to respond to this friend? David's perspective: "It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction [the tears of my eyes], and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day" (16:12). This person is intentional and unceasing in verbal attack. This person can't make your situation worse, but he or she can hit you with low blows, which will change your response to your situation if you listen and believe what he or she says. This person can invite you into bitterness, anger, revenge, and self-seeking, or can be a pathway to grace as you learn to let God advocate for you.
  • Ahithophel--this is the person you used to trust and listen to; now this person is your enemy and actively aspires to ruin you. Many people think that David wrote Psalm 55 in response to this time in his life. He wrote, "For it is not an enemy who reproaches me; then I could bear it. Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me; then I could hide from him. But it was you, a man my equal, my companion and my acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in the throng" (55:12-14). This person hurts you worst of all--and perhaps the most painful thing is that you can do nothing to heal the relationship. Everyone has an Ahithophel at some point in life. This is the person that you cannot influence, for whom you can only trust God. There may not be an easy answer. This person may be the brains behind your pain, who counsels others to hurt you because he or she understands you best of all.
  • Absalom--this is the person you have wronged. This person may be the brawn behind your pain, striking out because hurting people hurt people. Reconciliation may be impossible, but forgiveness always is. Can you respond in grace to this pain, without seeking revenge or becoming bitter?
The best Friend:
  • God Himself--God was with David in his exile. God listened to David's intercessors, listened to David's own prayers, and was present in the court of David's enemies. God gave David his perspective on his situation, which allowed him to accept Shimei's cursings with humility. God provided David with loyal friends to keep him company in his pain, and God even provided for David through his frenemy--Ziba gave David's household donkeys to ride, bread and fruit to eat, and wine to drink. God frustrated Ahithophel's counsel by using David's friend Hushai to give Absalom bad ideas. Only God could work effectively on both sides of David's situation, and in David's heart. Matthew Henry wrote of this: 
God has delivered my soul in peace, that is, he will deliver it; David is as sure of the deliverance as if it were already wrought. His enemies were at war with him, and the battle was against him, but God delivered him in peace, that is, brought him off with as much comfort as if he had never been in danger. If he did not deliver him in victory, yet he delivered him in peace, inward peace. He delivered his soul in peace; by patience and holy joy in God he kept possession of that. Those are safe and easy whose hearts and minds are kept by that peace of God which passes all understanding, Phil. 4:7. David, in his fright, thought all were against him; but now he sees there were many with him, more than he imagined; his interest proved better than he expected, and this he gives to God the glory of: for it is he that raises us up friends when we need them, and makes them faithful to us. There were many with him; for though his subjects deserted him, and went over to Absalom, yet God was with him and the good angels. With an eye of faith he now sees himself surrounded, as Elisha was, with chariots of fire and horses of fire, and therefore triumphs thus, There are many with me, more with me than against me, 2 Ki. 6:16, 17.****
Questions that come from all of this, are then:
  • Are you in a hard time? Who is around you?
  • Who are you focusing on--frenemies and enemies, or friends, and the Best Friend of all?
  • Are you willing to let those who hurt you become a path for grace, to soften your heart and teach you to walk in forgiveness and humility?
  • Can you trust God to work on both sides of your situation--even in the hearts of your enemies?
  • What kind of friend are you to others?
When I was young and we had just returned from Zimbabwe--really, actually, for years after we had returned--I used to cry to my mom and tell her, "I don't have any friends!" She would always quote Proverbs 18:24, "A man who has friends must himself be friendly." It hurt at the time, but it was true, and it was the kindest thing she could have done for me. I am still not half the friend I hope to be, but I am learning. And as I get older and move from place to place, I am seeing more and more the value of the Ittais, Zadoks, Abiathars, and Hushais in my life, and of God Himself as Friend.

May each of us become a friend and be blessed with friends.

  • I've seen God give me some neat opportunities to share the gospel lately.
  • God seems to be opening the door for me to go back to Mexico.
  • God has blessed this time of my life with some very neat friendships, and I really can't even say how incredible it's been to learn to walk with other people in loyalty, honesty, and prayer.
Prayer requests
  • My granddad is in the hospital today having surgery.
  • I'm anticipating moving to Mexico for 5 months, starting in June. There's lots to organize and accomplish in the next six weeks, and lots of decisions to make about the future during the rest of this year.
  • Pray that I would continue to deepen in learning how to be a friend.
Thank you for praying!



*** Obvious. :)


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