“So Hushai, David’s friend, came into the city, just as Absalom was entering Jerusalem.” (2 Samuel 15:37).
2 Samuel 15 describes the enormous grief for David when the news of the Absalom rebellion reaches the ear of the king. David flees for his life, climbs the Mount of Olives, weeping and then he prays. Whereupon the ‘answer to his prayer’ appears in the form of ‘Hushai the Archite…with his coat torn and dirt on his head’. As he leaves, Hushai is described as ‘David’s friend’ (re ‘eh). This friendship will come under scrutiny in 2 Samuel 16:17 when Absalom interrogates Hushai (the word is used twice in that verse): “And Absalom said to Hushai, Is this your loyalty to your friend? Why did you not go with your friend?”
The entire passage raises the question of what is it to be a friend. A true friend? A real friend? A genuine friend? A loyal friend?
George Washington once said:
“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.”
David is certainly experiencing the shock of adversity and Hushai is, metaphorically speaking, in the bunker with his friend as he follows the instruction of David to return to the city.
In June 1940, Winston Churchill, the new Prime Minister, was experiencing the shock of adversity as France fell and Britain faced the prospect of German invasion. In this grimmest of years, Winston received a letter from his wife, Clementine. While she wrote many letters, this is the only known letter which passed between them during the whole of 1940. Someone once described it as a ‘terrifying letter’. Here is part of it (the full letter can be found here):
I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something that I feel you ought to know.
One of the men in your entourage (a devoted friend) has been to me and told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough, sarcastic, and overbearing manner. …
… I was astonished and upset because in all these years I have been accustomed to all those who have worked with and under you, loving you. I said this and I was told “No doubt it’s the strain.”
My Darling Winston I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; and you are not so kind as you used to be.
Challenging words. She did not stop there as she went on to give him advice:
It is for you to give the Orders & if they are bungled – except for the King, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Speaker you can sack anyone & everyone – Therefore with this terrific power you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible Olympic calm…. I cannot bear that those who serve the Country & yourself should not love you as well as admire and respect you – Besides you won’t get the best results by irascibility & rudeness. They will breed either dislike or a slave mentality – (Rebellion in War time being out of the question!)
Please forgive your loving devoted & watchful
Clementine (Clemmie) was uncertain whether to send it to her husband as is clear from the postscript which reads: ‘I wrote this at Chequers last Sunday, tore it up, but here it is now’.
Winston had a friend indeed. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:6).
Here is another side of real friendship. A friend is able to be brutally honest. ‘Iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another.’ Ray Ortlund sums it up well: ‘Real friendship is like sharpening the blade of a sword…by ourselves we become dull and blunted and lose our edge. Every one of us needs a friend who will not flatter us but will refine us.’ (Proverbs, 167.)
At the heart of any such friendship is trust. A deep confidence. Winston knew that his wife had his best interest at heart. And so, centuries before, did David as he entrusted his future kingship into the hands of his friend, Hushai the Arkite.
Of course, for the follower of Jesus, this must draw us to reflect upon his words about friendship in John 15:1-17. And to sing that wonderful hymn: ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’.
(Though more would need to be said on this for, as Don Carson notes: “It is critical to the understanding of this passage to note that the disciples are said to be Jesus’ friends, but Jesus is not said to be their friend.” Carson, Jesus and his Friends, p 103.)