“You, O Israel, are my servant, you, O Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham my friend.”—ISA. 41:8.
1, 2. (a) How do we know that humans can become God’s friends? (b) What will we consider in this article?
FROM the cradle to the grave, our greatest need is love. Humans do need and crave love—and not just the romantic kind. We hunger for friendship and connection with others. But there is one kind of love that we need more than any other—Jehovah’s love. Many find it hard to imagine that humans could acquire a close, loving friendship with Almighty God, an invisible Spirit in heaven. Do we share such skepticism? Far from it!
2 The Bible shows that imperfect humans have become friends with God. Their examples are worth contemplating, for building such a friendship is the most worthwhile goal we could pursue in life. An outstanding example of a man who cultivated such a friendship was Abraham. (Read James 2:23.) How did Abraham draw so close to Jehovah? A key ingredient in that friendship was faith. In fact, the Bible calls Abraham “the father of all those having faith.” (Rom. 4:11) So let us see how Abraham’s faith led him to a close friendship with God. And each of us may well ask, ‘How can I imitate Abraham’s faith and strengthen my friendship with Jehovah?’
HOW DID ABRAHAM BECOME JEHOVAH’S FRIEND?
3, 4. (a) Describe what was likely Abraham’s greatest test of faith. (b) Why was Abraham willing to sacrifice Isaac?
3 Picture an elderly man trudging up a mountainside. He is making what must be the hardest journey of his life. It is not his age that makes this trek so daunting. Abraham may be about 125 years old, but he is still vigorous. Following him is a younger man, perhaps 25 years of age. It is his son Isaac, who is carrying firewood. Abraham has a knife and the means to start a fire. Jehovah has asked him to sacrifice his own son!—Gen. 22:1-8.
4 Abraham was facing what was likely the greatest test of his faith. There are those who say that God was cruel for asking such a thing of Abraham, and some imply that Abraham’s obedience was blind and unfeeling. They take that position because they have neither the faith nor the understanding of how faith works. (1 Cor. 2:14-16) Abraham did not obey God blindly. Instead, he obeyed because he could see. With eyes of genuine faith, he saw that his heavenly Father, Jehovah, never asks His faithful servants to do anything that will result in their lasting harm. Abraham knew that if he obeyed Jehovah, his God would bless him and his beloved son. On what was that faith based? On knowledge and experience.
5. How may Abraham have learned about Jehovah, and how did that knowledge make him feel?
5 Knowledge. Though he grew up in Ur, a Chaldean city rife with idolatry, Abraham came to know about Jehovah. How did that happen, considering that his own father, Terah, was an idolater? (Josh. 24:2) The Bible does not say specifically, but it reveals that Abraham was of the ninth generation descended from Shem, one of Noah’s sons and a man of great faith. Shem lived until Abraham was about 150 years old. We do not know for certain if Abraham learned about Jehovah from Shem. However, it seems safe to assume that Shem passed on to his family what he knew about Jehovah. Somehow that knowledge reached Abraham and touched his heart. He came to love the God he learned about, and that knowledge helped him to build faith.
6, 7. How did Abraham’s experiences strengthen his faith?
6 Experience. How did Abraham acquire experience that strengthened his faith in Jehovah? It has been said that thoughts lead to feelings and feelings lead to actions. What Abraham learned about God produced in him a profound awe and heartfelt respect for “Jehovah the Most High God, Maker of heaven and earth.” (Gen. 14:22) The Bible calls that feeling “godly fear,” and it is essential to building a close friendship with God. (Heb. 5:7; Ps. 25:14) Such godly fear moved Abraham to action.
7 God directed elderly Abraham and Sarah to leave Ur and move to a foreign land. They would live in tents for the rest of their days. By obeying, Abraham opened the way for Jehovah to bless and protect him. For example, Abraham feared that his beautiful wife, Sarah, would be taken away from him and that he would be killed. His fears were well-founded, but Abraham did not let such concerns sidetrack him from obeying Jehovah. More than once, Jehovah stepped in and protected Abraham and Sarah, even doing so miraculously. (Gen. 12:10-20; 20:2-7, 10-12, 17, 18) Those experiences strengthened Abraham’s faith.
8. How can we gain knowledge and experience that will strengthen our friendship with Jehovah?
8 Can we build a friendship with Jehovah? We can indeed! The needed knowledge and experience are readily available. Abraham had only a fraction of the abundant riches of wisdom now contained in the Bible. (Dan. 12:4; Rom. 11:33) God’s Word is full of treasures that can deepen our knowledge about the “Maker of heaven and earth” and help us to build respect and love for him. As such feelings move us to obey God, we gain experience because we see how obeying him works out. We find that his counsel protects us and that he blesses and strengthens us. We learn that wholehearted service to God brings fulfillment, peace, and joy. (Ps. 34:8; Prov. 10:22) As we grow in such knowledge and experience, our faith in Jehovah and our friendship with him grow as well.
HOW ABRAHAM MAINTAINED HIS FRIENDSHIP WITH GOD
9, 10. (a) What is needed for a friendship to become stronger? (b) What shows that Abraham cherished and strengthened his friendship with Jehovah?
9 A friendship can be a precious treasure. (Read Proverbs 17:17.) However, friendship is not like an inanimate thing that we might purchase and then store somewhere to gather dust. Friendship is more like a living thing that needs care and sustenance if it is to thrive and flourish. Abraham cherished and maintained his friendship with Jehovah. How did he do so?
10 Abraham never came to feel that his past record of godly fear and obedience was enough. As he and his large household traveled into Canaan, he continued to let Jehovah guide him in making decisions, from the small to the great. A year before Isaac was born, when Abraham was 99 years old, Jehovah required that all males of Abraham’s household be circumcised. Did Abraham question that command or look for some way out of complying with it? No, he trusted in God and obeyed “on that very day.”—Gen. 17:10-14, 23.
11. Why was Abraham concerned about Sodom and Gomorrah, and how did Jehovah help him?
11 Because he made it a practice to obey Jehovah even in seemingly minor matters, Abraham kept his friendship with God healthy and flourishing. He felt free to open his heart to Jehovah, asking for help as he struggled with hard questions. For example, when he learned that God was going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham was concerned that righteous people might be swept away along with the wicked. Perhaps Abraham was worried about his nephew Lot and his family, who were then living in Sodom. Abraham asked his questions with great humility and trust in God, “the Judge of all the earth.” Jehovah patiently taught Abraham how merciful He is, reading every heart and looking for righteous ones to preserve, even in times of judgment.—Gen. 18:22-33.
12, 13. (a) How did Abraham’s knowledge and experience help him later? (b) What shows that Abraham had confidence in Jehovah?
12 No doubt, every bit of knowledge and experience helped Abraham maintain his close friendship with Jehovah. Later, when he faced a challenging test—Jehovah’s request that he sacrifice his son Isaac—Abraham was able to reflect on the kind of Person he knew his heavenly Friend to be. So let us return to that faithful man as he trudged up the slope in the land of Moriah. Did he believe that Jehovah would suddenly change and become harsh and merciless? To Abraham, that was inconceivable! How do we know?
13 Before parting from the servants who accompanied them, Abraham said: “You stay here with the donkey, but the boy and I will go over there and worship and return to you.” (Gen. 22:5) What did Abraham mean? Was he lying to his servants, telling them that Isaac would return when Abraham knew that Isaac was to be sacrificed? No. The Bible gives us some insight into what Abraham was thinking. (Read Hebrews 11:19.) Abraham “reasoned that God was able to raise [Isaac] up even from the dead.” Yes, Abraham believed in the resurrection. He knew that Jehovah had revived his reproductive powers and those of Sarah in their old age. (Heb. 11:11, 12, 18) Abraham realized that nothing was impossible for Jehovah. So he was confident that whatever happened on that challenging day, his beloved son would be restored to him so that all of Jehovah’s promises could be fulfilled. No wonder Abraham is called “the father of all those having faith”!
14. What challenges do you face in serving Jehovah, and how may Abraham’s example help you?
14 What about us? True, God does not make such requests of us today. But he does ask us to obey him even when his commands are hard for us to comply with or we cannot comprehend the reasons for them. Can you think of something that God asks of you that you find difficult to do? For some, it may be the preaching work. Perhaps they struggle with shyness, making it hard for them to approach strangers with the good news. For others, it may be the challenge of standing out as different, perhaps at school or in the workplace. (Ex. 23:2; 1 Thess. 2:2) Do you ever feel like Abraham, as if you are trudging up that slope in Moriah, facing a task that seems beyond you? If you do, take courage from Abraham and his faith! Meditating on examples of faithful men and women can move us to imitate them and draw close to Jehovah as our Friend.—Heb. 12:1, 2.
A FRIENDSHIP THAT BRINGS BLESSINGS
15. Why may we be sure that Abraham never regretted his loyal obedience to Jehovah?
15 Do you think that Abraham ever regretted his loyal obedience to Jehovah? Note how the Bible describes the end of his life: “Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, old and satisfied.” (Gen. 25:8) When Abraham was 175 years of age, his strength finally failed him, but he was able to look back with satisfaction on a life well lived. It was a life that remained centered on his friendship with Jehovah God. However, when we read that Abraham was “old and satisfied,” let us not conclude that he had had his fill of life, so to speak, and had no desire to live in the future.
16. What joys will Abraham experience in Paradise?
16 The Bible says of Abraham: “He was awaiting the city having real foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Heb. 11:10) Abraham believed that one day he would see that city, the Kingdom of God, ruling over this earth—and he will! Can you imagine how thrilled Abraham will be to live in the earthly Paradise and go on strengthening his friendship with Jehovah? How touched he will be to learn that his example of faith helped Jehovah’s servants throughout thousands of years after his death! In Paradise he will even learn that the way Isaac was restored to him was “illustrative” of something far greater. (Heb. 11:19) And he will learn that the pain he suffered as he prepared to sacrifice Isaac has helped millions of faithful people to imagine Jehovah’s own pain as he provided his Son, Jesus Christ, as the ransom. (John 3:16) Abraham’s example has helped us all to have even more appreciation for the ransom, the greatest act of love ever performed in all history!
17. What is your determination, and what will we consider in the following article?
17 May each of us be determined to imitate the faith of Abraham. As we continue to get to know Jehovah better, we establish a record of integrity with him and gain more experience with respect to the rewards of loyal service to him. (Read Hebrews 6:10-12.) May Jehovah be our Friend forever! In the following article, we will consider three more examples of faithful ones who became close friends of God.
^  (paragraph 3) This man and his wife were originally called Abram and Sarai, but in this article we will refer to them by the names Jehovah later gave them—Abraham and Sarah.