Proverbs 18:24 teaches, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, / but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Given the fact that we normally think of blood being thicker than water, this proverb is rather jarring: there are ways that a friend can be more faithful than a brother.
The ESV translates the first line of the proverb this way: “A man of many companions may come to ruin.” In any translation the emphasis is on the plurality of friends. A person with many friends may still run into problems. A large number of friends does not equal help in the time of need. Many popular celebrities have faced this dilemma—they can have thousands of fans, yet fame is fickle, and the fans quickly disappear during difficult times. Our era of social media promotes many superficial connections who are called “friends,” but there are few true friends. Even the most connected can be lonely.
In contrast, the second line of this antithetical proverb tells us, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” The concept of friendship is a strong one in Proverbs, and the word friend is used nine other times in the book. Wisdom is called a friend (7:4), a friend loves at all times (17:17), a poor man is deserted by his friend (19:4), everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts (19:6), a person with gracious speech has the king as his friend (22:11), faithful are the wounds of a friend (27:6), the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel (27:9), and do not forsake your friend and father’s friend (27:10).
From these verses, we see there are two kinds of “friends.” There is the friend who exists because you have something to offer (such as a material gift or popularity-by-association), and there is a friend who exists due to genuine love and friendship. Proverbs 18:4 offers a contrast between these two types of friends. You can amass as many friends of the first type as you want but still come to ruin; however, even one friend of the second type is a great advantage.
The genuine or authentic friend is someone who sticks closer than a brother. In other words, he or she can be counted on. This friend is steadfast; he or she will be there for you even more so than a family member. Brotherhood is one of the strongest relationships we know. A friend who sticks closer than a brother is a trustworthy friend, indeed.
A wonderful biblical example of this type of closer-than-a-brother friendship is what existed between David and Jonathan. They became fast friends following the battle in which David killed Goliath. Despite the many hardships both men faced, they remained faithful to one another as friends and protected one another from harm. Jonathan even risked his life interceding for David before King Saul, who sought to kill David. After Jonathan’s death, David wrote a lament for his friend: “Jonathan lies slain on your heights. / I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; / you were very dear to me” (2 Samuel 1:25–26). Their friendship was stronger than David’s relationship with any of his own brothers.
Jesus was known as a “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34), and He has promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Jesus is truly the Friend who sticks closer than a brother, and blessed are those who have Him as their Friend (see John 15:14).