“Close friendship with Jehovah belongs to those who fear him.”—PS. 25:14.
SONGS: 106, 118
1-3. (a) Why can we be sure that we can become God’s friends? (b) What individuals will we consider in this article?
THREE times the Bible identifies Abraham as God’s friend. (2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8; Jas. 2:23) In fact, that faithful man is the only person specifically referred to that way in the Bible. Should we assume, then, that Abraham was the only human ever to become Jehovah’s friend? No, for the Bible shows that friendship with God is something that each of us can attain.
2 God’s Word teems with accounts of faithful men and women who feared Jehovah, put faith in him, and became his close friends. (Read Psalm 25:14.) The apostle Paul wrote of “a great cloud of witnesses,” all of whom surely were God’s friends. (Heb. 12:1) Among them we find a delightful variety of people.
3 Let us take a close look at three of Jehovah’s close friends described in the inspired record. We will consider (1) Ruth, the loyal young widow from Moab; (2) Hezekiah, a righteous king of Judah; and (3) Mary, the humble mother of Jesus. What can we learn from the way that each of them cultivated a friendship with God?
SHE SHOWED LOYAL LOVE
4, 5. What difficult decision did Ruth have to make, and why was making it so hard? (See opening picture.)
4 Picture three widows, their garments blowing in the wind as they walk on a road stretching across the plains of Moab. They are Naomi and her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. We see Orpah walk away, for she has decided to go back to her home in Moab. Naomi is determined to press on to her homeland, Israel. With her is Ruth, who faces what may be the most important decision of her life. She can either go home to her people in Moab or stick with her mother-in-law, Naomi, and travel to Bethlehem.—Ruth 1:1-8, 14.
5 Ruth could easily have reasoned that she had a family there in Moab—a mother and other relatives who would take a young widow in and help provide for her. Moab was her homeland. Its culture was her culture, its language her language, its people her people. Naomi could promise her no such advantages in Bethlehem. In fact, she advised Ruth to stay in Moab. Naomi feared that she could provide neither a husband nor a home for her daughters-in-law. What would Ruth do? Note the contrast between her and Orpah, who “returned to her people and her gods.” (Ruth 1:9-15) Did Ruth want to return to the false gods of her people? No, she did not.
6. (a) What wise choice did Ruth make? (b) Why did Boaz speak of Ruth as seeking refuge under Jehovah’s wings?
6 It seems that Ruth had come to know about Jehovah God, perhaps from her late husband or from Naomi. Jehovah was not like the gods of Moab. Ruth knew that Jehovah deserved her love and worship. Knowledge, though, was not enough. Ruth had to make a decision. Would she choose Jehovah as her God? Ruth made a wise choice. “Your people will be my people,” she told Naomi, “and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16) Ruth’s love for Naomi is heartwarming to think about, but far more important was her love for Jehovah. The landowner Boaz later praised Ruth for seeking refuge under Jehovah’s wings. (Read Ruth 2:12.) That may remind us of a baby bird taking refuge under the wings of a powerful, protective parent. (Ps. 36:7; 91:1-4) Jehovah became such a parent to Ruth. He rewarded her for her faith, and she never had any reason to regret her decision.
7. What might help those who hesitate to dedicate their lives to Jehovah?
7 Many learn about Jehovah but hesitate to take refuge in him. They hold back from becoming his dedicated, baptized servants. If you hesitate to make a dedication to Jehovah, have you stopped to ask yourself why? Everyone alive serves some god or other. (Josh. 24:15) Why not take refuge in the only God worth serving? Making a dedication to Jehovah is an excellent way to demonstrate faith in him. He will help you live up to that decision and face whatever challenges may arise. That is what God did for Ruth.
“HE HELD FAST TO JEHOVAH”—DESPITE HIS BACKGROUND
8. Describe Hezekiah’s background.
8 Unlike Ruth, young Hezekiah was born into a nation that was dedicated to Jehovah. But not all Israelites lived up to that dedication. Hezekiah’s father, King Ahaz, is a case in point. That wicked man led the kingdom of Judah into idolatry, even desecrating Jehovah’s temple in Jerusalem. It is hard to imagine Hezekiah’s childhood, for some of his brothers met a horrible death, being burned alive as sacrifices to a false god!—2 Ki. 16:2-4, 10-17; 2 Chron. 28:1-3.
9, 10. (a) Why might Hezekiah easily have become bitter? (b) Why should we not become bitter against God? (c) Why should we not think that our background determines the type of person we will become?
9 Hezekiah might easily have grown up to be a bitter, angry man who turned against God. Others who have endured far less hardship have thought that they had valid reason to become “enraged against Jehovah” or embittered toward his organization. (Prov. 19:3) And some people are convinced that their unwholesome family background dooms them to lead a bad life, perhaps to repeat their parents’ mistakes. (Ezek. 18:2, 3) Are such notions correct?
10 Hezekiah’s life record gives us a resounding answer: Absolutely not! There is never a valid reason to become embittered against Jehovah, for he is not the source of the evils that befall people in this wicked world. (Job 34:10) True, parents can exert a strong influence on their children for good or for bad. (Prov. 22:6; Col. 3:21) But this does not mean that a person’s family background determines his course in life. On the contrary, Jehovah has given all of us a precious gift—the ability to choose what we will do and who we will be. (Deut. 30:19) How did Hezekiah use that gift?
11. What made Hezekiah one of Judah’s best kings?
11 Although Hezekiah was the son of one of Judah’s worst kings, he grew up to be one of the very best. (Read 2 Kings 18:5, 6.) Yes, his father was a terrible influence, but there were other influences to choose from. Isaiah served as a prophet in those days, as did Micah and Hosea. We can imagine King Hezekiah deeply absorbed in the inspired declarations of such faithful men, allowing Jehovah’s counsel and correction to sink into his heart. So Hezekiah set about righting the terrible wrongs that his father had committed. He did so by cleansing the temple, atoning for the people’s sins, and destroying pagan idols in a vigorous and far-reaching campaign. (2 Chron. 29:1-11, 18-24; 31:1) When he faced daunting challenges, such as the threat of attack on Jerusalem by the Assyrian king Sennacherib, Hezekiah showed profound courage and faith. He relied on God for salvation and strengthened his people by word and example. (2 Chron. 32:7, 8) Later, when Hezekiah needed correction for showing a haughty attitude, he humbled himself and repented. (2 Chron. 32:24-26) Clearly, Hezekiah did not let his past ruin his present or deprive him of a future. Rather, he showed that he was Jehovah’s friend and a fine example to imitate.
12. Like Hezekiah, how have many today proved to be Jehovah’s friends?
12 Since we live in a fierce, loveless world, it is no surprise that many children have to grow up without the benefit of loving, protective parents. (2 Tim. 3:1-5) Many Christians today come from painful family backgrounds, but they have built close friendships with Jehovah. Like Hezekiah, they show that a person’s past does not have to determine his future. God has dignified us with the gift of free will, and it is our privilege to use that gift to hold fast to Jehovah and to bring him honor and glory, as Hezekiah did.
SHE SAID: “LOOK! JEHOVAH’S SLAVE GIRL!”
13, 14. Why might Mary’s assignment have seemed too difficult, yet how did she respond to Gabriel’s words?
13 Centuries after Hezekiah’s day, a humble young Jewish woman from Nazareth developed a unique friendship with Jehovah. No other human has ever received a comparable assignment. She was to conceive, give birth to, and raise the only-begotten Son of God! Imagine what confidence Jehovah must have had in Mary, the daughter of Heli, in order to place such a remarkable trust in her. But how might the prospect of that assignment have struck Mary at first?
14 It is easy to think only of Mary’s wonderful privilege and fail to consider some of the practical concerns that might have seemed daunting. God’s angel Gabriel told her that she would become pregnant miraculously—without having relations with a man. Gabriel did not offer to go to Mary’s family and neighbors to explain the cause of her pregnancy. What would they think? Mary must have been concerned about her fiancé, Joseph. How could she convince him that, although she was pregnant, she had remained faithful to him? Moreover, what a responsibility it would be to raise, care for, and train the only-begotten Son of the Most High! We cannot know all the concerns that may have raced through Mary’s mind when Gabriel spoke to her. However, we do know that she answered: “Look! Jehovah’s slave girl! May it happen to me according to your declaration.”—Luke 1:26-38.
15. Why is Mary’s faith remarkable?
15 Is Mary’s faith not remarkable? A slave girl was at her master’s disposal. Mary thus entrusted her care and choices to her Master, Jehovah. She wanted to serve him in whatever way he saw fit. Where did her faith come from? Faith is not inborn. It is the product of a person’s effort and God’s blessing. (Gal. 5:22; Eph. 2:8) Is there evidence that Mary put forth effort to strengthen her faith? There is. Consider how she listened and how she spoke.
16. What shows that Mary was a good listener?
16 How Mary listened. The Bible advises us to “be quick to listen, slow to speak.” (Jas. 1:19) Was Mary a good listener? Evidently so. Twice Luke’s Gospel shows us that Mary paid careful attention to words that had deep spiritual meaning, and later she made time to meditate on what she had heard. At the time of Jesus’ birth, humble shepherds revealed an angelic message to Mary. Some 12 years later, though still a boy, Jesus said something of great spiritual significance. In both cases, Mary listened, remembered, and thought carefully about what she had heard.—Read Luke 2:16-19, 49, 51.
17. What can we learn about Mary from the way she spoke?
17 How Mary spoke. Not many of Mary’s words are recorded in the Bible. By far, her longest speech is found at Luke 1:46-55. Those words reveal that Mary knew the inspired Scriptures well. Her words seem to echo some that were spoken in prayer by Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel. (1 Sam. 2:1-10) By one estimate, Mary made some 20 references to the Scriptures in her speech. Clearly, she was a woman who spoke freely about spiritual things. Mary drew liberally from the treasure trove in her heart, a storehouse of precious truths that she had learned from her greatest Friend, Jehovah God.
18. In what ways can we imitate Mary’s faith?
18 Like Mary, we may at times find that we receive assignments from Jehovah that seem challenging. Like her, let us humbly put ourselves in Jehovah’s hands, trusting in him to act in our best interests. We can imitate Mary’s faith by listening carefully to what we are learning about Jehovah and his purposes, by meditating on spiritual truths, and by joyously telling others about what we have learned.—Ps. 77:11, 12; Luke 8:18; Rom. 10:15.
19. As we imitate the Bible’s outstanding examples of faith, of what may we be assured?
19 Who could doubt that Ruth, Hezekiah, and Mary were Jehovah’s friends, much as Abraham had been before them? They, along with all those who make up the “great cloud of witnesses” and many other faithful ones throughout history, have enjoyed the wonderful privilege of being friends of God. May we continue to imitate such examples of faith. (Heb. 6:11, 12) As we do so, we may be assured of a great reward—being Jehovah’s close friends forever!