Unsung heroes—Barzillai the Gileadite, Part 2

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Unsung heroes—Barzillai the Gileadite, Part 2

Introduction: the revolt was over, Absalom was dead, and David was ready to go back to Jerusalem. It seems David had come to regard Barzillai the Gileadite with much respect, maybe even admiration. David wanted him to go to Jerusalem but in a classic speech, Barzillai graciously said, “thanks but no thanks” to the king. As far as I can tell, these are the only recorded words of Barzillai, an unsung hero who provided David and likely many other people with what they needed, doing this graciously. His reward in Heaven will likely be great!

Text, 2 Samuel 19:31-40, KJV: 31 And Barzillai the Gileadite came down from Rogelim, and went over Jordan with the king, to conduct him over Jordan. 32 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. 33 And the king said unto Barzillai, Come thou over with me, and I will feed thee with me in Jerusalem. 34 And Barzillai said unto the king, How long have I to live, that I should go up with the king unto Jerusalem? 35 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? 36 Thy servant will go a little way over Jordan with the king: and why should the king recompense it me with such a reward? 37 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. 38 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 requiree of me, that will I do for thee. 39 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. 40 Then the king went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him: and all the people of Judah conducted the king, and also half the people of Israel.

Thoughts: in verse 31, Barzillai went with David to make sure David made it back over the Jordan River. The next few verses describe Barzillai as an old man (he was 80) but also a “great” man”. The word “great” here probably refers to his wealth or prosperity—look at all he and a few others had provided for David and his followers in chapter 17—more so than his character. Even so, Barzillai was a great man in every sense of the word.

And yet he was a humble man. David asked him to come to Jerusalem and, paraphrasing verse 33, David promised to feed him, perhaps at the king’s own table. But Barzillai respectfully declined, using some very poetic, even graphic, language.

The gist of it was that Barzillai said, in so many words, “I’m so old that I would be a burden to you/ All I ask is that you let me return to my home so that I can live the rest of my days in peace and be buried in my family cemetery”. Indeed, some of Barzillai’s speech seems to be referenced in Solomon’s description of old age in Ecclesiastes 12. Did David relate Barzillia’s story to Solomon or others of his children? If not, they needed to know about people who helped David in a time of very great need!

Still, Barzillai respected David’s wishes and gave David something in return. Barzillai had one servant (the text does not record if there were others) named Chimham. As strange as it may seem to us,.Barzillai transferred the right of possession of Chimam to David. There is no indication Chimham objected, nor did David. In fact, David seemed pleased that Barzillai would make such an offer. He then promised Barzillai he would do for Chimham whatever Barzillai would consider to be the right thing to do (verse 38).

The last thing we read of Barzillai was that he went over to the other side (the west side) of Jordan with the king. Given Barzillai’s age, this may have been a very difficult thing to do, depending on his physical stamina or other factors; regardless, he went as far as he could to walk with the king and do his part to get the king back safely. It must be remembered that even though the revolt was officially over, there could have been some renegades or guerillas here and there who would have loved to assassinate David! Fortunately, none of that happened and David returned back to Jerusalem in peace.

Barzillai, too, returned to his own place. We can surmise that he spent the last days of his life at home and went to be with the LORD when his earthly life was over. Barzillai is only mentioned in a few places, and not much detail is available about what he did, but his testimony in simply providing essentials during a time of crisis speaks volumes about his character.

Unsung hero? Perhaps, but may Barzillai and his deeds never be forgotten.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).

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