17 A friend is there to help,
in any situation,
and relatives are born
to share our troubles.
24Some friends don't help,
but a true friend is closer
than your own family.
Interspersed throughout the Proverbs are a number of comments that give us a glimpse into the personal life of the writer. In these two verses Solomon reflects on the isolation – even loneliness – that a professional decision maker endures. Friendship and power do not mingle easily. The ancient adage that “for justice to be just,” it must be blind: it must not be influenced by issues of friendship, brotherhood, companionship or other kinds of self-interest. Modern understandings of justice expect judges to recuse themselves from matters that could give the appearance of conflict of interest. In Solomon’s time there was no such luxury. The king functioned as the final court of appeal: he might have advisors and counsellors but in the end, it was the king who made rulings even when they involved friends and family members. (for an example see 1 Kings 2:13-ff)
Solomon makes two points here. First, loyalty to another person must never trump our loyalty to the principle of justice. There are times when decisions we make put a strain on a friendship. When our friends expect us to decide in one way and our informed sense of justice demands we act differently, we are faced with a moral dilemma. Solomon teaches us that true friendship will survive that challenge: if it doesn’t survive, then it was not what it was thought to be.
Second, the person passing judgment that involves a friend must show himself to be friendly, especially when making decisions that adversely affect the people he loves. Often the way a message is delivered is equally as important as the content of the decision.
O God: your Son Jesus declared himself to be the friend of his disciples: teach us to be true in our friendships as was He.