3 Unlikely Friendships in the Bible and What they Taught Me

Shiphrah Lakka   |   May 21, 2024 

Friendships have never come easily to me, especially when I was young. I was a shy kid, too scared to initiate a conversation. So, my strategy has always been to be quiet till someone noticed me and took the first step to befriend me. My strategy worked (which says more about my friends than me) and I had a great group of friends growing up, although I never made a “kindred spirit” friend like Anne of Green Gables had left me hoping for!

Despite my outwardly nonchalant attitude, friendships have always been crucial to me. I believe God created us to have relationships, and friendship is one of the most critical connections we can make. Over the years, God has strengthened some old friendships and also brought new friends into my life.

When I say “friends,” I don’t mean it flippantly. Today, the label “friend” is awarded to almost anyone. If there’s someone we like or someone greets us with a smile, we’re quick to label them a friend. That’s not what I mean when I say "friend." Rather, I mean someone who is there when everyone else isn’t, the “iron sharpens iron” kind of friend, one who calls me out when I’m wrong, picks me up when I’m down, and always points me to the Cross.

Some of these friendships have been easy, where we instantly just “get” each other, but others have been formed as a product of hard work. I call these my “unlikely” friendships–with people I may have not chosen for myself because we were so very different, but who were brought into my life for a purpose. And once we peeled back all the layers of differences and “unlike-ness” we forged a deep friendship that could only be the work of God.

My unlikely friendships have reminded me of some unlikely friendships in the Bible that I have learned from. Let’s look at them together.

Jonathan and David

Do you know that wonderful feeling of meeting someone and hitting it off right from the start? That seems to be what happened with David and Jonathan. David, a lowly shepherd boy, who had been anointed the future king of Israel is befriended by Jonathan, the present reigning King Saul’s son, who was presumably the next king of Israel! An unlikely match indeed! Jealousy or hatred would seem more likely, would it not?  But here we see Jonathan’s devotion to God surpassing his desire for power and position.

"As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father's house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt" (1 Samuel 18:1-4 emphasis mine).

As we read further through 1 Samuel, we see Jonathan is a unique friend to David. When David is on the run from Saul, Jonathan even defies his father.

 “ . . . But Jonathan, Saul's son, delighted much in David” (1 Samuel 19:1).

"Then Jonathan said to David, 'Whatever you say, I will do for you'” (1 Samuel 20:4).

Even amid extraordinarily complicated and challenging situations, Jonathan offered his unwavering support to David.

"David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. And Jonathan, Saul's son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God . . . 'You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this'" (1 Samuel 23:15, 16, emphasis mine).

The one person who should have been David’s enemy chooses to put aside his pride, his position, and his comfort to go and strengthen him in God. The phrase “strengthened his hand in God” is translated in the New Living Translation (NLT) like this . . . “encouraged him to stay strong in his faith in God.” David is in the throes of the most difficult time of his life and Jonathan, who is in a quandary of his own, seeks David out and reminds him of God’s plan and faithfulness, encouraging him to stay the course. This loyal and sacrificial love is the heart of all Christian friendship.

Like I said earlier, I was always looking for someone to initiate a friendship with me. But what I learned from Jonathan is that friendship is marked by the pursuit of others, not self. I realized I had to go from waiting for others to befriend me to taking the first step to initiate a friendship.

Jonathan taught me to shift my gaze from myself and look for ways to serve and encourage those God puts in my path. Jonathan did not love and serve David because he had to. He didn’t do it because he received something in return. He was a man who gave David much more than he received. He championed, loved, and was fiercely loyal to David, at even a great personal cost. Yes, it is indeed a blessing to have a friend like Jonathan but it will be an even greater blessing to be a Jonathan.

Ruth and Naomi

We can all agree that the relationship between Ruth and Naomi would have been called unlikely.  It is not often we see a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law being the best of friends! Rather, it is usually a relationship wrought with tension. But here we see something different.

Ruth and Naomi began their relationship when Naomi’s son married Ruth, a Moabite. However, through a series of unfortunate events, Naomi loses her husband and two sons (one of whom was Ruth’s husband) within a few years of each other. Devastated, Naomi decides to return to her hometown of Bethlehem and urges her two daughters-in-law to return to their parents so they can remarry and move on with their lives.

One daughter-in-law returns, but Ruth refuses. We read in Ruth 1:14b that “Ruth clung to Naomi.” I heard in a sermon once that the “clung” here means “hold fast” and is translated from the same root word as in Genesis 2:24 signifying the attitude a husband has towards his new bride as he leaves his parents and holds fast to her. And this serves as a preview of what she said next.

"But Ruth said, 'Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.' And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more" (Ruth 1:16-18).

Although Ruth and Naomi’s friendship was born out of shared heartache and tragedy, it turns into more than just what C.S Lewis describes* as a “What! You too?” kind of relationship.

"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one'" (C.S Lewis).

Ruth made an intentional choice to stay with her mother-in-law. She chose to give up her country and home, her family and gods – not to get something in return, but to hold fast to her mother-in-law and everything she stood for.

Other than being related by marriage and being widows these two women had seemingly little else in common. They were of different ages, religions, and races. And yet, they built a strong bond – a long-lasting friendship that went much deeper than just a mother–in–law/daughter–in–law relationship. And in that process, we see that Naomi’s God becomes Ruth’s God too.

What a beautiful embodiment of Christian friendship between two sisters in Christ! When we lay aside our differences, break free of selfishness, and focus our efforts on loving those “unlikely” individuals that God brings into our lives, we then portray the great sacrifice that Christ made for us.

And that brings us to my third, and the most unlikely, friendship we see in the Bible.

Jesus and Me

In John 15:5, before Jesus’ death, He gathers His disciples to Himself and says,

“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” (emphasis mine).

To be called His servant is a great privilege! But Jesus goes a few steps further and calls us His friends! What an immeasurable, undeserving honor!

There is no greater friendship than the one Jesus offers me. Not my husband. Not my friends. And He has given me some pretty great friends! But no other relationship can ever compare with the friendship between Jesus and me. He is more loyal than Jonathan and more sacrificial than Ruth. Those relationships ended on earth but His friendship with me is for eternity. I did not choose Him but He chose me. He did not choose me because of who I was but despite who I was, a sinner.

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

He died for me so I could be His friend forever. He loved me enough to leave heaven’s glory, become a human, and die an excruciating death, all so I could be saved from the consequences of my sin. He did this because He loves me.

Today my life is changed because of the most unlikeliest of friendships. He, the Creator and Sustainer of everything, and me, a sinner not worthy to stand in His presence. Jesus chose me as His friend and promised to remain my friend for endless ages to come.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you . . . ” (John 15:16).


Photo by Krista Mangulsone on Unsplash

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Shiphrah Lakka

Shiphrah loves all things chocolate, deep conversations, baking, and getting lost in a good book. She is passionate about encouraging families to learn God's word together. The lockdown has rekindled her love for writing and she documents all that the Lord is teaching her on her blog - boredandbusymama.com. She lives in Thane, India with her husband and two adorable daughters.

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