In today’s reading in my church Bible reading program there is a curious phrase: “Azariah the son of Nathan was over the officers; Zabud the son of Nathan was priest and king’s friend” (1 Ki 4:5, ESV). There is nothing unusual about the king having friends, but this statement appears in a list of officials in Solomon’s court: “King Solomon was king over all Israel, 2 and these were his high officials. . .” (vs. 1-2). All the other titles mentioned in 1 Kings 4:1-6 are clearly government officials, so that made me wonder if the “king’s friend” was also an official position.
Solomon was not the only one to have an official “friend.” In a list of officials in David’s government we find this statement: “Ahithophel was the king’s counselor, and Hushai the Archite was the king’s friend.” (1 Ch 27:33, ESV). Why would “the king’s friend” be listed among top government officials?
We really don’t have a lot to go on here, but it seems likely that “the king’s friend” served as a close personal adviser and confidant. While it might be anachronistic to say that Zadub was Solomon’s accountability partner, it is possible that he was a close personal friend who had the right to speak the truth to the king. Apparently this relationship was important enough to be listed among the other high government officials.
We all need someone like that in our lives, someone with whom you can share your deepest secrets, and on whom you can depend to be loyal to you and keep your best interests in mind, and who has the right to speak to you honestly or even bluntly when the situation requires it. Early Celtic Christians called it a “soul friend.” Brigit of Kildare, an Irish nun and abbess in the fifth century said “Anyone without a soul friend is like a body without a head.”
Of course some who talk about “soul friends” are into kooky mystic stuff. But the basic concept is sound. Solomon was given extraordinary wisdom, and he saw a need for such a friend. Those who are in leadership positions are especially in need of a friend like that. We are prone to take ourselves too seriously and to neglect nurture of our own souls. In our individualistic society we tend to try to forge on ahead by ourselves. God didn’t design us to be lone rangers.
Do you have a “soul friend”? If not, do you want one? Are you able to be a “soul friend” to someone else?