Can a person ever really have too many friends? That was the thought that came to mind as I read today’s proverb. But when interpreting the proverbs there is usually a comparison that is at the core of its meaning. That is definitely the case with this proverb.
The comparison with this proverb is with what kind of friend a person has. There is a man who is a friend to everyone. He seems to have no end of friends and yet is warned that his friends will stand by as he “comes to ruin.” The word used there is “raa” in the Hebrew which means to be broken in pieces. There are several uses of the word that might help us see why having a large number of lackluster friends can be very harmful to us. The word was used to speak of a treacherous branch. We may think we have friends who will stand with us, but when problems come we find that they are not reliable in times of trouble. They break off like a branch that looks fine, but in fact is compromised by cracks. The word was also used of an eye that was morally evil because of covetousness. We all know those who say that they are friends, but inwardly are covetous of what we have. They pledge loyalty but wind up ready to knock us down a notch to make themselves feel better so that they have what we have for themselves. The word also means to be broken into too many pieces. Here is the truth that when we have too many friends, we are trying to break ourselves into too many pieces for too many people. In the end, we wind up with no true friends who know us - and whom we truly know.
The problem with all these “fair-weather” friends is that when trouble arises - they are gone. We are left to fall into ruin by ourselves. A friend to multitudes and yet with no one who will stick by us when things are the most dire in our lives. That is why the wise man speaks of a different kind of friend. He even uses a different word for “friend” as he mentions him.
The first word for friend means a companion. It is a general word for friend and can mean anything from a mere acquaintance to someone who is much closer. The second time the wise man uses the word “friend,” he choses to use the Hebrew word “aheb” which means one who loves. The word is used in Scripture for those who have the closest and most dear relationships. This true friend is described not by the fact that he says he knows who you are - but is defined by how deeply he loves you. The depth of this friend’s love is described in a way that is beautiful. He sticks closer than a brother. His love is given freely and is not affected when you are in hard times. He is the one who will stand by you when things get very difficult. He will not abandon you when you lose all the things that may have drawn the two of you together initially. When everything goes dark - everything seems to go bad - everything seems to be against you - he will still be there standing with you. At times he will even carry you when you cannot continue. He will lend you his ear to hear of your problems - lend you his shoulder when you need to grieve - lend you his hand when you need to be picked up - and lend you his heart when yours is broken in pieces. He is the true friend.
There is One who is “the” True Friend to us. He has loved us with an everlasting love and has stood with us beyond what any friend could ever do. He stood with us and undertook for us when we faced the wrath of God. He took the punishment we deserved at the cross and has promised that the good work He began at our initial salvation, he would finish in us. He stood with us when our sins and our rebellion made us the worst of companions and refused to leave us. In fact He has said multiple times that He would never leave or forsake us. We used to sing an old hymn that intoned, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” Nothing could be truer of Him. He sticks with us in life, both in good times and bad. But the most precious of all to us is that He will stick with us in the judgment and then for all eternity. Ah what a friend, what a glorious, wonderful, amazing friend!