“And Barzillai the Gileadite came down from Rogelim, and went over Jordan with the king, to conduct him over Jordan. Now Barzillai was a very aged man, even fourscore years old: and he had provided the king of sustenance while he lay at Mahanaim; for he was a very great man. And the king said unto Barzillai, Come thou over with me, and I will feed thee with me in Jerusalem. And Barzillai said unto the king, How long have I to live, that I should go up with the king unto Jerusalem? I am this day fourscore years old: and can I discern between good and evil? can thy servant taste what I eat or what I drink? can I hear any more the voice of singing men and singing women? wherefore then should thy servant be yet a burden unto my lord the king? Thy servant will go a little way over Jordan with the king: and why should the king recompense it me with such a reward? Let thy servant, I pray thee, turn back again, that I may die in mine own city, and be buried by the grave of my father and of my mother. But behold thy servant Chimham; let him go over with my lord the king; and do to him what shall seem good unto thee. And the king answered, Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do to him that which shall seem good unto thee: and whatsoever thou shalt require of me, that will I do for thee. And all the people went over Jordan. And when the king was come over, the king kissed Barzillai, and blessed him; and he returned unto his own place” (2 Samuel 19:31-39).
Barzillai was eighty years old, yet he exhibited his commitment to David’s dynasty in a very real and active way. Like many old people, he could have stayed home with his feet up and let others run around for him, but he chose to support the king both with his wealth and his presence. No saint is too old to serve the King!
Barzillai supported David while he was in exile in Mahanaim, for his home town, Rogelim, was not far from there. This took great courage, especially for a man his age, for he might have lost everything if Absalom had found out that he was sending provisions to his father. We must also note that David was not popular amongst his own people at this time, so Barzillai was willing to take the risk and steadfastly stand with him. In 2 Samuel 17:28-29 we read that he, along with others, provided David with “Beds, and basins, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and flour, and parched corn, and beans, and lentiles, and parched pulse, and honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of kine, for David, and for the people that were with him, to eat: for they said, The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness.”
While it is true that he was able to afford to give of his wealth to David, he did not have to, but instead might have stored it up for himself and his family. He faithfully supported David with the rich blessings the Lord had given him, for he understood the need to provide for those who were called of God. He was indeed a man of substance but he was also selfless with it, which is a remarkable combination for a person of wealth. He would have made a good candidate for “The Secret Millionaire” programme.
David wanted to reward his faithful friend by inviting him to live the rest of his days in the palace. He had supported David, now David in turn wanted to support him, but the invitation was graciously and sensibly refused. Barzillai believed that he was too old to begin to enjoy the blessing available to him in Jerusalem, and so chose to spend his remaining days in familiar surroundings. He entertained no desire to trade in the comforts of his own home for an exciting life in the palace. Barzillai also thought that he would become a burden to David’s household since he might need constant assistance and attention if he became infirm. “My senses are grown dull, and incapable of relishing the pleasures of a court. I am past taking pleasures in delicious tastes, or sweet music, and other such delights. I am through age both useless and burdensome to others, and therefore most improper for a court life” (John Wesley). Barzillai’s answer is in itself a study in wisdom and grace.
Though he refused the King’s invitation, he knew that David was honourable enough to respect his desire to die and be buried on his family’s land. Like many old people then, he probably had already had a burial plot waiting for him. “This is an instance of the strong affection of people in the East towards the places of sepulchre appropriated to their families” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary).
Barzillai was willing to let his son become his substitute and receive the reward instead. This is another proof of his selflessness, for it was blessing enough to see others enjoying the blessing. It also meant that David could indeed bless Barzillai’s family even if he did not receive it himself. This proposal pleased David and agreed to take Chimham to Jerusalem with him. The son would receive everything that belonged to the father.
David would never forget the promise he made to Barzillai that day, for in 1 Kings 2:7 we read of his instructions to Solomon regarding Chimham, “Show kindness unto the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be of those that eat at thy table: for so they came to me when I fled because of Absalom thy brother.” We may never have learned what the blessing entailed, but we are told in Jeremiah 41:17 that Chimham received land near Bethlehem, and no doubt it would always be part of his family’s inheritance. Matthew Henry suggests that David did not bless Chimham out of Jerusalem’s riches, but instead made provision for him out of his own pocket. Every time the king saw Chimham he must have been reminded of Barzillai’s kindness to him in his hour of need.
If this story teaches us anything, it certainly reveals that loyalty and service in the manner of Barzillai, will not be forgotten by the Lord. “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:34-40).