Friendship in the Life of Abraham
. . . And Abraham was called the Friend of God.
Long before Dale Carnegie was showing us the way, our Father Abraham was making friends and influencing people. True, the Genesis narrative doesn’t explicitly mention friendship, but its presence is there and is confirmed explicitly elsewhere in Scripture.
After God called Abraham (only called Abram at that time) to leave his father’s house, we read a strange comment about who went with him on his journey to the Promised Land. I render it here in all its emphasized peculiarity:
And Abram took Sarai his wife,
And Lot his brother’s son,
And all the possessions that they had gathered,
And all the souls that they had made in Haran,
And they set out to go to the land of Canaan.
After moving from Ur in southern Mesopotamia to Haran in northern Mesopotamia and settling for a number of years, Abram with Sarai and Lot is said to have “made” a number of souls during his time in Haran who went out with him as the entourage of a great chieftain. Most translations render this phrase “the people that they had gotten” or “acquired” instead of the more literal rendering. The expression could be indicating something like bondservants they purchased or children they had sired. Contextually, Abram and Sarai didn’t seem to be “making” souls in the sense of procreation, though their household bondservants certainly were (cf. Gen. 14:14). Alternatively, there’s the intriguing possibility they were befriending people who were joining them in pursuit of the promise given to Abraham by God. Perhaps Eliezer the steward was such a man (cf. Gen. 15:2). It’s an ambiguous passage, and I leave it open for your consideration.
One can also ponder and speculate about the special position that Eliezer the steward held in Abraham’s life and heart. Being from Damascus, it’s highly unlikely for him to have been blood-kin to Abraham, and there’s no suggestion that he had married into Abraham’s family. It’s certainly possible he was a high-ranking servant in Abraham’s household. Whatever the case, Abraham had appointed Eliezer as his steward, his ben mesheq or “son of possession”— the heir to his household, of all the possessions he had amassed and all the souls he had made and was watching over. I can’t fathom Eliezer the steward (whose name means “the help of God”), whether he was a bondservant or not, being anything less than a trusted and close friend of Abraham.
As a sojourner in Canaan, Abraham allied with the Amorite brothers Mamre, Eschol, and Aner. And Abraham with his entourage encamped near the oak grove on Mamre’s land (Gen. 14:12). Making friends and influencing people indeed. What a friendly man Abraham must have been to have moved into the area as a stranger with a large crowd following him and to be allowed to make a home in the backyard of the locals. It’s a far cry from the havoc his presence wreaked while in Egypt (cf. Gen. 12:10-20).
But perhaps the most important friend in Abraham’s life was God himself. When God declared what Abraham meant to him, he said Abraham is his friend (Isaiah 41:8). King Jehoshaphat of Judah invoked the Lord’s close friendship with Abraham in his prayer for help against those who threatened him with war (2 Chron. 20:7). This is the sense in which God revealed himself to Abraham as El Shaddai or God Almighty (Gen. 17:1), as it’s usually rendered, after twenty-five years of defending Abraham from those who threatened him.
In the war of the four kings and the five kings in the Valley of Siddim, Chedorlaomer, Amraphel, Arioch, and Tidal captured Lot and his household. These four kings took Lot and his household away along with other captives from the city-states of the five defeated kings (Gen. 14:1-12). Then, Abraham and his trained commandos set out with Mamre, Eschol, and Aner the Amorites and their warriors, defeated the four kings of the East, and recovered all the goods and people they had taken (Gen. 14:13-16). In the wake of these events, Abraham is perceivably the greatest king or warlord in the area, greater than the four kings of the East and the five kings of the Jordan Valley. This is a very dangerous position for Abraham to occupy. God appears to Abraham and assures him that he is Abraham’s Shield (Gen. 15:1).
Abraham (along with Isaac and Jacob on account of Abraham) knew God as El Shaddai (Exodus 6:3). The rendering “God Almighty” is rather sterile for what the connotation seems to be. The root word for shaddai is the verb shadad, which means to despoil and destroy, to lay waste, to deal violently, and to devastate. A more colorful rendering for El Shaddai would be God the Most Violent or God the Most Devastating. Such a name certainly comports well with the context in which Abraham came to know God as his Shield and as the one who’d bitterly execrate everyone who disparaged or mistreated Abraham his friend (Gen. 12:3).
Perhaps I could venture to put this a bit crudely in the contemporary context of a bar brawl. El Shaddai was God the Biggest Bad-Ass, and he was covering Abraham’s back. He took offenses against Abraham, even ones committed in ignorance, very personally and was loyal and protective of the man he called his friend.
Abraham also made friends in the Faith with another man who seemed to be a friend of God, Melchizedek the priest-king of Salem (Gen. 14:18-20). Soon after the war in the Valley of Siddim, Melchizedek emerges as another king in the region who apparently didn’t rebel and become get embroiled in the conflict. He’s the king of righteousness and the king of peace (cf. Heb. 7:2). After Abraham’s victory, he comes out to meet the Friend of God and brings bread and wine. It’s hardly a coincidence that he brings the elements of Christian Communion at the Lord’s Table and is a priest of the true God. He is the priest to El Elyon (meaning “God Most High”), the possessor of heaven and earth. Abraham recognizes they both know and follow the same God. He receives him in fellowship; they share bread and wine in communion together. Abraham tithes to this priest’s ministry and receives a blessing from him. God brought these two friends together. They have the same heart, the same hope, the same love, the same Lord.
After God declared himself as El Shaddai to Abraham and finalized his covenant with him by giving the sign of circumcision (Gen. 17:1-27), God visited in the form of three men traveling on the road. Like a good neighbor, Abraham was there. He reached out in hospitality to the strangers (Gen. 18:1-8). Quickly, he recognized who he was hosting. When the Lord rose to continue his journey, he lingered as he considered if he should tell Abraham what he was about to do, and he revealed his intentions to his old friend (Gen. 18:16-21) as friends do with each other (cf. John 15:15). He even allowed Abraham to adjudicate with him about the fate of the cities of the plain like trusted friends who sit in counsel together (Gen. 18:22-33). Such intimacy between the creature Abraham and his Creator El Shaddai is astounding.
This sojourner named Abraham only found a sense of rest and a place to call home in the promise of his friend El Shaddai, a promise and vision of a heavenly country and heavenly city in the world to come (cf. Heb. 11:8-16) populated entirely by his children made so by their faith in his Seed according his friend’s promise, children who are as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands on the seashore (cf. Gal. 3:29).