Tucked away in a list of King David’s priestly and governmental officials in 1 Chronicles we find a reference to “Hushai the Arkite [who] was the king's friend” (1 Chronicles 27:33b). This man appears in the story of David’s disloyal son Absolom. When Absolom rebelled against David, the king had Hushai infiltrate the opposition (2 Kings 15:32-37), and Hushai’s timely warning when Absolom plotted to kill David saved the king’s life at this time (2 Kings 17:1-15).
Notice two things here. First the title given to Hushei - “king’s friend” – is also used of Zabud son of Nathan – a priest and adviser to King Solomon (1 Kings 4:5). Although the NIV translates this man’s title “advisor,” it is the same expression “king’s friend” used of Hushai and is translated so by the KJV, ESV, and other translations. In fact, the term “king’s friend” occurs at several other places in the Old Testament, and although it is often translated in the plural as “the king’s friends” (e.g., 2 Samuel 3:8), the Hebrew is in the singular and it is clearly the same title.
So who or what was the “king’s friend”? The title was given to certain individuals in the royal courts of ancient Canaan – and later Judah and Israel – to designate an advisor of especial closeness to the king. As we see in the case of Hushai, this person was truly a confidant of the king – even regarding private family matters. But the role of the “King’s friend” extended in several directions, and the “Kings friend” might be involved in the preparations for the king’s marriage, for example, or in introducing people into an audience with the king.
It is common in Christian circles to think of prayer as an “audience with the King,” of course, and this analogy ties into that of the king’s friend. We remember that Abraham was called “the friend of God” (2 Chronicles 20: 7, Isaiah 41: 8), and in the New Testament we have Christ’s words spoken to his disciples on the last evening of his life: “You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends” (John 15:14). So even if we do not feel we could presume to put ourselves in the place of Abraham as a friend of God, the words of Jesus plainly show that if we are obedient to him, he has placed us in that role.
How does this tie in to the concept of the “king’s friend”? When we think of Jesus’ words that we are his “friends,” it’s easy to think of friendship in modern terms – our friends are people with whom we enjoy casual everyday friendship. Jesus may well have meant to include the spirit of such everyday friendship in what he said, but we should also remember the more formal aspects of friendship in the ancient world – especially that of the “king’s friend.”
Remember that one of the roles of “king’s friend” was doubtless introductory – taking people before the king and introducing them in order to discuss problems and issues of royal concern. If we regard prayer as an “audience with the King,” perhaps we can think of each audience we have as not only being for our own needs and those of family and friends, but also as an opportunity to introduce someone else who has a particular need, by name. Naturally, in God’s case, he already knows the person and is aware of the need, but that is what intercessory prayer is all about (1 Timothy 2:1). Ancient kings frequently took the advice and counsel of their court “friend” – and we can humbly bring the cases of others into audience with the same confidence that God will listen to His friends, also. Doing this in prayer can help us to focus on the needs of others as individuals. It’s one of the things friends are for. It’s one of the things a “King's friend” is for.