3 Friendships in the Bible and What They Teach Us

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No one would argue that things like water, food, and shelter are requirements for humans to thrive, but could the same argument be made about friendship? There’s no question that God created us for relationships, and friendship is one of the most critical connections we make with others.

From our earliest moments, friends profoundly impact our attitudes and behavior. Friendship is an essential part of life.

Friends give us allies in a challenging world. They offer us support and encouragement when we’re down. They challenge us when we’re being difficult and stick up for us with others. And though we’ll have a lot of friends in our lifetime, we generally have a small handful of close friends who have a dramatic effect on us, helping to shape who we become.

Let’s look at a couple of friendships in the Bible and some friendship principles we can draw from those relationships.

1. David and Jonathan-Deep abiding friendship

The Book of Samuel tells us about the vital relationship between David and King Saul’s son, Jonathan. David had just defeated Goliath and was brought before the king. Scripture tells us that:

After David had finished talking with Saul, 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 home to his family. 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 Samuel 18:1-4).

Some friendships take a while to build, but others seem to leap into existence fully formed. There’s no greater feeling than when you meet someone and you just seem to hit it off right from the jump. That seems to be the case with David and Jonathan.

After what David had accomplished with Goliath, Jonathan recognizes David’s potential. When Jonathan offers his robe, armor, sword, bow, and belt to young David, he’s making a symbolic gesture of not only welcoming David into the family but also placing him ahead of Jonathan in succession to the throne.

Friendship principle: Good friends not only recognize the strengths and abilities in one another, but they’re not afraid to promote one another above themselves.

David has to go into hiding

As the relationship between David and Saul begins to unravel, Jonathan is put in the middle. There’s no question that Saul is jealous of David’s popularity. But he also seems to be angry that Jonathan is allowing David to usurp him. Saul makes it clear that he is going to put David to death.

Knowing that David has to go into hiding, the two friends meet for a farewell:

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 (1 Samuel 20:41-42).

Heartbroken, the friends embrace and weep. David, who has a real heart for Israel, is being hunted by Israel’s king. His very life is at stake, and the future feels scary and uncertain.

Friendship principle: Modern western cultures tend to be pretty stoic about friendship, particularly among men. We place a high premium on friendship, but we can still be guarded around our friends. Seeing this open sharing of emotion and affection between David and Johnathan can almost cause culture shock. But it’s crucial that we not only allow ourselves to be emotional around those closest to us, but we also need to normalize telling them how much they mean to us.

The death of Jonathan

After Saul and Jonathan’s death, David wrote a lament for the king and his son, which he commanded be taught to all the people of Judah. In this lament, David wrote:

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 Samuel 1:25-26).

Friendship principle: David’s friendship with Jonathan supported him in ways that no one else could. No relationship can meet all of our needs. And while there is something sacred and special about the relationship between a husband and wife, both parties need other close friendships in their lives.

2. Elijah and Elisha-Friendships that grow us

Like David and Jonathan, most of us have had close friendships with a peer. Another type of friendship that’s a little rarer is the one that exists between a mentor and a mentee. We see an excellent example of this in Elijah and Elisha’s relationship.

Elijah had been a prophet for a while, and the pressure was getting to him. He was hiding in the mountains from King Ahab who wanted him dead. But God calls the prophet back into the game and tells him to anoint Elisha to succeed him as prophet (1 Kings 19:16).

From that point onward, Elisha becomes Elijah’s shadow. He followed the elder prophet and learned everything he could from him. Even when Elijah’s time was coming to an end and it was time for Elisha to focus on life without his mentor, he still refused to leave the prophet’s side.

When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”

But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho.

The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on (2 Kings 2:1-6).

Friendship principle: One cannot overemphasize the value of developing close relationships with wise counselors who have a lifetime of personal experience to offer. We should constantly be on the lookout for people God would bring into our path who can help us develop and mature-even when the relationship isn’t built on common ages or interests.

3. Ruth and Naomi-Friendships born from tragedy

More often than not, friendships are born out of shared interests and complementary personalities. But sometimes, deep friendships are forged out of shared heartache or tragedy. This is the story of Ruth and Naomi’s friendship.

Naomi was Ruth’s mother-in-law, which is a relationship that can be fraught with tension. Some women have a very rewarding rapport with their mothers-in-law, but incredibly close friendships are a little harder to come by. This friendship begins with Naomi’s tragedy:

Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband (Ruth 1:3-5).

First, Naomi loses her husband, and then she loses both her sons. Not only is this heartbreaking from a relational standpoint, but it also puts Naomi in a very vulnerable and scary position. There would now be no one to support and care for her.

In the midst of her heartbreak, Naomi tries to do right by her two daughters-in-law:

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”

Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me-even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons-would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”

Poor Naomi doesn’t have anything to offer these two women, and it would be better if they returned to their respective families where there was a chance they could find another mate. But Ruth won’t hear of it:

At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.

“Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her (Ruth 1:14-18).

Friendship principle: We don’t know how Ruth’s husband died, but it knit her heart to Naomi. Not only did it help her understand Naomi’s pain, but it helped them both bond over their shared experience. Ruth’s decision to stay with and serve her mother-in-law should be a reminder of the good that can come out of our most difficult moments-and how trials can forge deep and meaningful connections.

Friendship matters

The older we get, the less time we have to invest in a significant number of relationships. And even though the friendship pool isn’t as wide as it once was, it can get a lot deeper. But remember, your friendships have more power than you may realize, so you must choose them wisely. Unhealthy friendships can end up creating more chaos than peace.

As modern life gets more hectic, we tend to let friendships fall by the wayside. But very few things shape and mature us like our friendships, and they’re worth investing in.

If you’re interested in what the Bible has to say about friendship, check out the post 15 Bible Verses about Friends and Friendship.