Growing up I memorized a lot of Scripture: in my Christian school, in Awana, in Sunday school—all of it from the King James Version. One of the phrases from the KJV that has stuck with me comes from Proverbs 18:24, “there is one that sticketh closer than a brother.”
We don’t say sticketh anymore, but the word stayed with me. In my mind, this old English takes the concept of sticking and raises it a level or two. Sticketh makes me think of gum on the underside of a desk in fourth grade, the stubborn price tag on a last-minute gift on Christmas Eve, or the kitchen table after my youngest daughter has finished off a plate of waffles.
Sticketh is the sound your sneakers make on the tile when you’ve stepped on spilled Coke. Sticketh is the dilemma you face when you’ve accidentally superglued your hands. Sticketh is your child after the cotton candy you reluctantly said yes to at the ballgame.
The root word in the original Hebrew, dabeq, implies a “holding fast,” a “sticking to,” or to be “glued” or “cemented.” It is used quite often in the Old Testament for things that cleave, such as Job’s bones that cleaved to his skin in Job 19:20 or Psalm 119 where the psalmist says that his soul “cleaves to the dust.” It is an intentional act of not letting go.
In other words, if something sticketh, it ain’t coming off. I don’t like this term when it comes to syrup or snot or soft drinks, but it warms my heart when it makes me think of a friend so willing to be in my life that they ain’t letting go. Do you know anyone like that?
I think of my wife who delivers meals under the door when I get Covid or who endures my crankiness when I’m on a book deadline (like right now).
I think of my text thread buddies, friends spread throughout the country. We call ourselves the GOAT group. We’ve all seen each other through hardship and loss these last few years.
The writer of Proverbs is daydreaming about such a friend. The scriptures are full of such relationships. There is Ruth, once a pagan from Moab, who says to her grieving and impoverished mother-in-law, fleeing back to her ancestral homeland, “Where you go, I will go. Your people will be my people.” In other words, “Naomi, you can’t get rid of me. I want what you want, and I’ll have what you have, and no amount of disruption will keep me from being by your side.” This is a friendship that sticketh. Ruth clung to Naomi because Naomi clung to God. Today we might say that Ruth was Naomi’s “ride or die.”
There is Jonathan, the would-be prince who resisted the jealous rage of his father Saul to stand by David. This friendship came at great personal cost to the heir apparent. He could have scratched and clawed for the throne. Jonathan could have enlisted in his father’s futile war on God’s next anointed king. Jonathan could have had David killed. Instead, he protected David with his own life. Jonathan saw God’s hand of blessing on David and committed himself to staying with his friend. The politics of the moment couldn’t—wouldn’t—break this friendship. Jonathan wasn’t embarrassed by David.
We could also find an example in the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. Simon Peter would say to Jesus, after many fell away due to his hard teachings, “Where will we go? You have the words of eternal life.” This declaration would be tested by Peter’s denial of Jesus in a moment of panic and terror, yet Jesus, as the ultimate friend who sticks closer than a brother, restored Peter to fellowship on the beach.
Like Peter, all of our “sticking” friendships will ultimately face the limits of our own frailties. We can’t know possibly how to love in this way without knowing the one who will never let us go:
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.—John 15:12–17 (NIV)
Love each other as I have loved you. Jesus loves us with a sacrificial, everlasting, superhuman love. And he is empowering us to love each other in this same way. In their book Why Does Friendship Matter?, Charles Firestone and Alex Pierce write, “Our vertical friendship with God organizes our horizontal friendships with others.”
I like that. When we love well—through thick and thin, ups and down, pain and peril—we show the world an otherworldly kind of love. Love that sticketh like a brother is a signpost of another world. Conversely, our inability to love other Christians is a turnoff to those seeking God and might be a flashing red light of the state of our own souls. Perhaps our inability to love could mean we’ve grown cold in our love for God.
This excerpt is adapted, with permission, from Dan Darling Agents of Grace">Agents of Grace: How to Bridge Divides and Love as Jesus Loves.
 Earl S. Kalland, “398 דָּבַק,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 177–178.
 “Why Does Friendship Matter? (Questions for Restless Minds),” 27–28, accessed February 12, 2022, https://lexhampress.com/product/210739/why-does-friendship-matter.