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The Befriending God

One of our first glimpses of restored friendship in the Bible appears in a quite unlikely place: a genealogy.[1] The list of names in Genesis 5 repeats the phrase “and he died.” Every death, in every generation, confirms that sin remained and friendships ended. Yet one man broke the pattern: Enoch, who didn’t die but “walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (v. 24). Genesis 5 singles out Enoch from the rest of humanity and summarizes this man’s life with this one remarkable phrase: he “walked with God.” Later, Noah also “walked with God” (6:9). Throughout the Old Testament, we read of people walking before God or walking in his commands; but only Enoch and Noah walked with God. This metaphor uniquely refers to the intimacy of friendship.[2]

This also reminds us of Eden. Enoch and Noah, like Adam and Eve before them, walked with God. And what did they find as a result of friendship with God? Enoch found unending life instead of death, and Noah found deliverance instead of destruction. Here, even on the first pages of the Bible, we find God as the great friend of sinners.

And he has a plan. God will reconcile people to himself from every generation and every nation. But God’s plan to befriend many comes through his relationship with one. God called Abraham “my friend” (Isa. 41:8; also 2 Chron. 20:7). James later wrote that Abraham “was called a friend of God” (James 2:23).

In Genesis 18, God treated Abraham as a friend when he was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. He didn’t need to tell Abraham these plans. Yet he said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (Gen. 18:17). He added, “For I have known him”—a deeply relational idea (v. 19 ESV alternate reading). Thomas Goodwin observed here that God “could not do a great thing, but he must tell his friend of it. He speaks as one shackled and restrained by the laws of friendship.”[3] Abraham then interceded for Sodom, and he did so quite boldly, as only a friend would dare. This conversation was full of transparency and candor.

In Genesis 18, God treated Abraham as a friend, but then in Genesis 22, Abraham treats God as a friend. God tested him by asking him to sacrifice his son, and Abraham showed unwavering faith. He trusted that God could even raise his son from the dead. This is why James called Abraham God’s friend (James 2:21–23). His loyalty proved his friendship—this is James’s point. Abraham’s obedience to God demonstrated his faith in God, which proved his friendship with God.

God chose Abraham to be the one through whom he would restore Eden’s lost blessings (Gen. 12:1–3). Through Abraham, God will restore true friendship for us—vertical friendship (with God) and horizontal friendships (with one another). God’s mission is to create a community of friends who know him as the greatest Friend. God’s mission is to create a community of friends who know him as the greatest Friend. Click To Tweet

Centuries later we meet another friend of God. Abraham’s line multiplied, they became the people of Israel, and they suffered under Egyptian oppression. So God appointed Moses to deliver them. In the tent of meeting, outside Israel’s camp, Moses regularly met with God. There, “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11). God brought Moses close, not just to speak as a king to his servant but as one friend to another. They talked together as friends. This intimacy would later become one of the primary ways in which Israel remembered Moses: He was the one “whom the Lord knew face to face” (Deut. 34:10). He was one who knew God as a Friend.

Broken Friendships and a Better Promise

To this point, we’ve seen Scripture describe Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Moses as friends of God. They knew God personally and intimately. Yet Israel as a whole didn’t experience this. They didn’t recover the lost fellowship of Eden. The rest of the Old Testament story shows this in several ways

First, God’s people, as a whole, remained distant from him. God delivered Israel in order to dwell with them, but he kept them at a distance. God invited Moses to climb Mount Sinai, but the people trembled at its base (Ex. 19:16–20). God walked in the tabernacle as he did in Eden, but the people could not enter (Lev. 26:12). God invited Moses to speak as a friend, but Israel only watched (Ex. 33:7–11). God knew Moses face to face, but even later prophets did not experience this level of intimacy again (Deut. 34:10).

Second, God’s people did not prove to be his faithful friends. They rebelled from the beginning. They distrusted God, and this led to disordered loves and disobedient lives. God offered them friendship, but they rejected it.

Third, they were also unfaithful to each other. Some enjoyed true friendship: Ruth and Naomi, and David and Jonathan, for instance. But Israel’s relationships disintegrated and society declined. As Israel moved toward exile, Jeremiah told them they could no longer trust even a brother or a friend (Jer. 9:4–5). Malachi rebuked each man for breaking covenant with his wife, whom he called “your companion”—your dear friend (Mal. 2:14). Micah said, “Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend” (Mic. 7:5). Here’s what this shows us: as Israel rejected God’s offer of divine friendship, they lost the capacity to enjoy human friendship. So Israel went into exile just like Adam and Eve before; God sent them away from his presence (Jer. 52:3).

Yet the story still moves toward restoration. God’s covenants with his people carry the Bible’s storyline forward. Each major covenant successively builds on the others, moving toward the restoration of the friendship we lost in Eden.

God made the first four major covenants in this story with Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses, and the theme of divine friendship appeared with each of them. In fact, apart from its connection to Enoch (who was unique in that he never died), friendship with God only explicitly appeared at these covenantal high points of the story. The people whom the Old Testament most clearly identified as God’s friends—Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses—were the mediators of Scripture’s first four major covenants.[4]

Scripture points its finger at these covenant mediators as friends of God. But it does not do this for everyone within these covenants. Those whom the Old Testament explicitly highlights as God’s friends are not all the people within the covenants, but especially the mediators of the covenants. Of course, other men and women who truly trusted God throughout the Old Testament knew something of his friendship—they knew his affection, his counsel, and so forth.[5] Yet Scripture primarily defines their relationship with God in terms of servanthood; God is the Lord, and Israel is his servant.

So several questions arise: Will God make a covenant in which he gives friendship to everyone within it? Could God make a covenant that restores the level of friendship that we lost in Eden? Might this covenant not only restore divine friendship but also bring us into flourishing relationships with each other? The prophets did not understand all that God intended when he promised a new covenant, but he was answering these questions.

No Longer Called Servants

After several centuries, the friend of sinners arrived. Jesus came to befriend sinners and bring them into a new covenant.

On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus presided over the meal that inaugurated this covenant. Jesus announced that a great transition was taking place. The hinge of redemptive history was turning, and the way God related to his people was changing. Jesus announced to his disciples: “No longer do I call you servants . . . I have called you friends” (John 15:15). This “no longer . . . but now” moment “signals a new era in salvation history.”[6]

In the old covenant, God honored his people by calling them his servants. We still have this privilege today. But we are now also more than servants; we are his friends. And Jesus gives his friendship to all who trust him. Unlike the old covenant, every member of the new covenant enjoys personal friendship with God. Jesus came to finally and forever recover friendship. As Jonathan Edwards wrote, “There is a covenant of mutual friendship and love that Christ offers to all that will accept of his friendship.”[7]

How does Jesus secure this relationship? Through his death and resurrection. When he called his disciples his friends, he also said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus wanted them to grasp the meaning of what he was about to do for them. He wanted them to understand the very purpose for which he came. He wanted them to discern the deep things of the gospel: that the cross is a cosmic act of friendship. He came to die, and to die for his friends.


[1] Content is taken from Made for Friendship: The Relationship That Halves Our Sorrows and Doubles Our Joys by Drew Hunter, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187,

[2] Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Here, “walks with” is in parallel with “the companion,” a common translation of a Hebrew word for friend. See also Proverbs 1:15; Job 34:8; Amos 3:3; Hosea 11:12; Micah 6:8; Malachi 2:6.

[3] Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, vol. 7 (Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 2001), 204.

[4] And God made the final covenant in the Old Testament, the Davidic covenant, with David, a man who related to him on particularly intimate terms.

[5] For example, Psalm 25:14 says that God’s “secrets” or “counsel” is for those who fear him (see also Prov. 3:32; Job 29:4). Those who trusted God within the old covenant experienced his counsel.

[6] Craig Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, vol. 2 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), 1014. In other words, as many commentators on the Gospel of John note, this is not merely referring to a transition in the lives of the disciples, but a transition in redemptive history.

[7] Jonathan Edwards, “197. Rev. 17:14,” in Sermons, Series II, 1731– 1732, ed. Jonathan Edwards Center, vol. 46 (WJE Online). I’ve updated the grammar.

Drew Hunter

Drew Hunter (MA, Wheaton College) is the teaching pastor at Zionsville Fellowship in Zionsville, Indiana. He previously served as a minister for young adults at Grace Church of DuPage and taught religious studies at College of DuPage. Drew and his wife, Christina, live in Zionsville, Indiana, and have four children. He is the author of Made for Friendship: The Relationship That Halves Our Sorrows and Doubles Our Joys.

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