We have been looking at Solomon’s Proverbs long enough now to run into the repetition of various themes. It’s not so much that verses are repeated, but some of the ideas are. And in some of these cases, to look at a second or third verse much like the first would become less beneficial than skipping them and moving on to another verse and theme.
After examining nearly all the early verses in chapter 17, we are going to skip some for the reason I’ve just suggested. We have considered the blessing that godly children are to their parents and grandparents. “Children’s children are the crown of old men; and the glory of children are their fathers.” And we have had a couple of messages on the sins of our speech. “Excellent speech becometh not a fool: much less do lying lips a prince.” The “gift” of verse 8 is referring to bribes. And that relates to verses 15 and 16. Verses 9 and 10 also take us back to an earlier devotion. “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends. A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool.” We have already considered the deeds of evil men and what things might fall on the fool. “Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man, rather than a fool in his folly.”
We have also had a message on the subject of “friendship” during our resent study of Ecclesiastes. But since verse 17 is one of the highlights of this chapter and this book, I’ve decided to stop here. What is stated is so obvious that perhaps I don’t need to say very much about it. But as I meditated on it, other related proverbs came to my mind. Perhaps there is a lesson in comparing all 18 verses which use this English word and its cousins. Our concordance points out that there are 4 basic Hebrew words translated “friend” in Proverbs. And each of them carry a very different tone – if not an entirely different meaning.
As Christ taught us in His account of the Good Samaritan, we should strive to be friendly – and to be friends toward people in need. And we have all learned that we need friends, as our text reminds us. But not every time the word “friend” is used here in Proverbs, is the connotation a good one. There are at least four different kinds of friends and degrees of friendship.
Proverb’s first use of “friend” refers to a NEIGHBOR.
Proverbs 6:1 and 3 – “My son, if thou be surety for thy friend … deliver thyself, when thou art come into the hand of thy friend; go, humble thyself, and make sure thy friend.” The context speaks of risking oneself legally and financially for a friend. The word is “reya,” and it is translated more than a hundred times simply as “neighbor.” I consider both my male neighbors – Andy and Matt – “friends,” but my Bible tells me not to co-sign any loan agreements with them. They are more neighbors than brothers or people I love. We should be willing to risk our money and even our lives for family and people we truly love, but not necessarily for our neighbors. Verse 18 in this chapter is the same word and the same theme. “A man void of understanding striketh hands, and becometh surety in the presence of his friend” – “reya.” Just because our friend lives at the periphery of our property – a neighbor – that doesn’t mean we should not be friendly towards him. But friendliness doesn’t eliminate the need for caution.
Other verses which use this word include – Proverbs 19:4 – “Wealth maketh many friends” – “reya” This is the kind of friends the prodigal had. Proverbs 19:6 – “Many will intreat the favour of the prince: and every man is a friend to him that giveth gifts.” Proverbs 19:7 – “All the brethren of the poor do hate him: how much more do his friends go far from him?” Proverbs 27:14 describes a negative kind of friend – “He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him.” These proverbs point towards friends who may be more hurtful than helpful. May WE not be simply neighbors, when real friends are needed.
On the other hand, this neighbor friend – this “reya” is not necessarily a bad relationship in itself. Proverbs 22:11 – “He that loveth pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend.” There is nothing wrong with being the friend of a king. Jonathan and David were friends of this sort. Proverbs 27:9 – “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel.” Proverbs 27:10 – “Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not; neither go into thy brother’s house in the day of thy calamity: for better is a neighbour that is near than a brother far off.” Your father’s friend may be a good neighbor, but you may not be a close to him as your dad was. But, that is no reason to case him aside either.
27:17 is one of Proverb’s highlights and a positive statement about neighbors – “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” “Reya” is found in the great 24th verse of chapter 18 – “A man that hath friends (ie. good neighbors) must shew himself friendly.” The second “friend” in that verse is a different word which we will address in a few minutes. “”A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly; there is (another kind of) friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” It was a surprise to me that the “friend” in our initial text is this same word – “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
So this particular Hebrew word – the most common in Proverbs goes from sort of bad to quite good. We have to consider the context to determine the nature of the word. And when that word is used of US, our Saviour wants it to be positive. “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
The Hebrew word “merea‘” (may-ray’- ah) is used only once in this book.
In some ways it is a step up from neighbor, but only a small step. Proverbs 19:7 – “All the brethren of the poor do hate him: how much more do his friends go far from him? He pursueth them with words, yet they are wanting to him.” This is not the kind of friend God wants us to be. It speaks of someone who is only a companion. This is not the kind of friend the Samaritan was to the wounded man on the road to Jericho.
A third word used in Proverbs is “‘alluwph” (al-loof’). It is usually translated “governor, “”duke” or “guide” – over 60 times throughout the Old Testament. Is this your friendly neighborhood politician? Only twice is this word translated “friend,” and they are both here in Proverbs. Proverbs 16:28 – “A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends.” Proverbs 17:9 – “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.” I don’t know about you, but I can see the machinations of politics in these two verses.
The fourth word which is translated “friend” in this book is “‘aheb” (aw-habe’)
It is translated “friend” or “friends” 12 times throughout the Old Testament. But it is rendered “love,” “lover” and “beloved” nearly 200 times – 20 times as often. This is the kind of friend to which we should strive to be. This is the friend we need above all others.
And yet in looking at some of those verses, even here in Proverbs, we see that caution is still important. It may take the grace and the wisdom of God to discern between kinds of friends. For example there is Proverbs 14:20 – “The poor is hated even of his own neighbour: but the rich hath many friends.” These people who see what you can do for them, may profess to love you. But really, they only love your wealth or something you might do to help them. In contrast to those people there is Proverbs 27:6 – “The
kisses of an enemy are deceitful, but faithful are the wounds of a friend” – someone who loves you.
There is only one other Proverb which uses this word “‘aheb” (aw-habe’)– Proverbs 18:24. “A man that hath friends (in the sense of good neighbors) must shew himself friendly: and there is a (true and loving) friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” You could use that verse as the keystone of your study of friendship. We are commissioned by God to be friends – friendly – neighborly towards all men that we might win them to Christ. But we know what failures we often are when it comes to that commission.
Thankfully, “There is a friend, someone who loves us, that sticketh even closer than a brother.” And of course, I am referring to our Saviour. He has said of Himself — “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” And then He said to His disciples in John 15 – “Ye are my friends…” “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” Praise God that this Friend loveth at all times.