II Sam 19:31-43
31 Barzillai the Gileadite also came down from Rogelim to cross the Jordan with the king and to send him on his way from there. 32 Now Barzillai was very old, eighty years of age. He had provided for the king during his stay in Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man. 33 The king said to Barzillai, “Cross over with me and stay with me in Jerusalem, and I will provide for you.” 34 But Barzillai answered the king, “How many more years will I live, that I should go up to Jerusalem with the king? 35 I am now eighty years old. Can I tell the difference between what is enjoyable and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats and drinks? Can I still hear the voices of male and female singers?Why should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? 36 Your servant will cross over the Jordan with the king for a short distance, but why should the king reward me in this way? 37 Let your servant return, that I may die in my own town near the tomb of my father and mother. But here is your servant Kimham. Let him cross over with my lord the king. Do for him whatever you wish.” 38 The king said, “Kimham shall cross over with me, and I will do for him whatever you wish. And anything you desire from me I will do for you.” 39 So all the people crossed the Jordan, and then the king crossed over. The king kissed Barzillai and bid him farewell, and Barzillai returned to his home. 40 When the king crossed over to Gilgal, Kimham crossed with him. All the troops of Judah and half the troops of Israel had taken the king over. 41 Soon all the men of Israel were coming to the king and saying to him, “Why did our brothers, the men of Judah, steal the king away and bring him and his household across the Jordan, together with all his men?” 42 All the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, “We did this because the king is closely related to us. Why are you angry about it? Have we eaten any of the king’s provisions? Have we taken anything for ourselves?” 43 Then the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, “We have ten shares in the king; so we have a greater claim on David than you have. Why then do you treat us with contempt? Weren’t we the first to speak of bringing back our king?” But the men of Judah pressed their claims even more forcefully than the men of Israel.
David had already crowned the triumphs of his restoration to Judah with generous forgiveness of hurtful offenses that had occurred as he was leaving Jerusalem. But that was not the only great gesture this day on David’s part, he also had it in his heart to reward and repay Barzillai for the kindness he had shown David and his troops during their days of temporary self-imposed exile and battle preparations. Barzillai was a wealthy Gileadite who had a reputable seat at Rogelim, not far from Mahanaim.
1. David’s Kind Proposal to Barzillai 31-33
Barzillai took a chance by supporting David, because Absalom might have punished him for his loyalty to his father and not to himself. But now that David’s troops won, he was safe on the winning side. He respected David as a good man and also as his righteous sovereign. During David’s time in Mahanaim Barzillai was one of three sources of supplies for David and his troops. Verses 31-33 say, “Barzillai the Gileadite also came down from Rogelim to cross the Jordan with the king and to send him on his way from there. Now Barzillai was very old, eighty years of age. He had provided for the king during his stay in Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man. The king said to Barzillai, ‘Cross over with me and stay with me in Jerusalem, and I will provide for you.’”
God had given Barzillai a large estate, and apparently he also had a big heart to use it well. What better purpose could there be in having a large estate? If we are not wealthy, we can still be generous, but to have wealth gives us not only more opportunity, but also increased responsibility. Barzillai had done his part, had risen to the occasion and served his king and his country. He could have relaxed now, but to show that he had put himself, heart and soul, into his service, he did not separate from David when David left Mahanaim, but accompanied him to the Jordan river. Long before Rom 13:7 was written Barzillai was already modeling this principle: “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
David, out of appreciation for Barzillai’s multiple generous kindnesses, invited Barzillai to accompany him and be his guest in the court in Jerusalem. Verse 33 says, “The king said to Barzillai, ‘Cross over with me and stay with me in Jerusalem, and I will provide for you.’” Had Barzillai accepted this invitation, David might have enjoyed the pleasure of his company and the benefit of his counsel. From what we have seen of Barzillai’s character, he was a wise man because he did not join the rebellion. David, to return his kindness, said “I will provide for you.” You will eat as well as I eat and live in the holy and royal city. David did not assume that Barzillai had owed him the favor he gave him, he appreciated it as a kind gift he did not expect or deserve. He just accepted it and wanted to reward it.
2. Barzillai’s Response 34-37
Barzillai intended to decline David’s offer, but notice with me that first he expressed his appreciation, because it was a kind offer. Verses 34-35 say, “How many more years will I live, that I should go up to Jerusalem with the king? I am now eighty years old. Can I tell the difference between what is enjoyable and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats and drinks? Can I still hear the voices of male and female singers? Why should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king?” Barzillai admired the king’s generosity in this offer and then proceeded to minimize his own part and emphasize David’s. Verses 36-37a say, “Your servant will cross over the Jordan with the king for a short distance, but why should the king reward me in this way? Let your servant return, that I may die in my own town near the tomb of my father and mother.”
The heart of a servant does not seek or necessarily want a reward. He is surprised when a reward is offered. He has only done his duty. This is demonstrated in what Jesus said in Mt. 25:37, “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?’” This principle is further demonstrated in the short story Jesus told as recorded in Luke. Verses 7-10 of Luke 10 say, “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” Will the master under normal circumstances thank that servant who is only doing what was his duty?
Jesus was teaching the attitude a servant should have and Barzillai has already demonstrated it. A servant does not focus solely on rewards. Barzillai thought he had received enough honor when the king accepted his help and his gifts. Likewise, when the saints are called to inherit the kingdom in appreciation for what they have done for Christ in this life, some of the humble among us will be amazed at the disproportion between the small service they feel they have given and the great reward they receive.
Barzillai declined accepting the invitation. He begged the king’s pardon for refusing so kind an offer since he should think himself very happy just to be near the king. But there are some practical considerations Barzillai mentioned. He is old. He is not suited for life at the king’s court. Verse 34 says, “How many more years will I live, that I should go up to Jerusalem with the king?” He felt he could not be of service there. Furthermore, he was also unable to enjoy the food and music of the court. Verse 35 says, “I am now eighty years old. Can I tell the difference between what is enjoyable and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats and drinks? Can I still hear the voices of male and female singers? Why should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king?” Whatever other meaning we could attach to what Barzillai said, we would all agree that he was humbly expressing practical reasons why he would not want or need all that attention or honor.
Psalm 90:10 says, “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” As it was in Moses’ and Barzillai’s time, people can be grateful to be alive—or not, if they are unwell. Scripture paints an accurate and unvarnished picture of old age. In answering Pharaoh’s question, Jacob was not complaining about old age; he was just telling the truth. Eccl 12:1 says, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them’—” Dainty foods are insipid when the normal appetite of older people fails. Ears and eyes change and the elderly cannot hear high or low tones as well—if they can hear at all—or see so clearly. What does Barzillai’ response to David’s invitation teach us? What does it teach about the elderly among us? What does it teach those of us who minister to the elderly?
A field of medical science called gerontology studies the aging process in humans. Geriatrics includes “(1) the branch of medicine dealing with the diseases, debilities, and care of aged persons, and (2) the study of the physical processes and problems of aging; gerontology.” The Bible is very practical. Servant of God, if you have elderly people in your congregation, family or circle of friends they are people too. The Lord will give you the patience and wisdom you need to take care of these sheep in your flock. Be patient with them when their bodies are weak and brittle and they no longer can appreciate the nice tastes and beautiful music that others who are younger than they can still enjoy. A good shepherd takes care of all his or her sheep—young and old.
Barzillai is dying, and must begin to think of his long journey; his removal from the world. Verse 37 says, “Let your servant return, that I may die in my own town near the tomb of my father and mother.” It is beneficial for us all, and especially older people and those who are with them to think and speak much of dying. Barzillai does not want to go to the court of the king. It is as though he said, “Let me go home to my own city, the place where my father is buried. Let me die by his grave and my bones carried to their place of rest. The ground is ready for me, let me get ready for it. I prefer to return to my nest.”
Barzillai does have, however, a counter proposal. “Would you take my son with you?” The last part of verse 37 says, “But here is your servant Kimham. Let him cross over with my lord the king. Do for him whatever you wish.” Whatever you do for Kimham I will consider it as a kindness done for me. I have had my opportunities, so now let’s give this good offer and opportunity to my son who is younger than I. I will go back, but I will not require my son to go back. It would gratify me to see him advance. In the loving words of this elderly father we see an illustration and demonstration of the unselfish and generous wishes of a father for his son, to encourage and give every possible benefit to his child. This is a wonderful lesson with an easy interpretation and important application—for fathers and their sons.
3. Barzillai and David Say Farewell 38-40
David bade farewell to Barzillai and sent him back to his country with a kiss and a blessing. Verses 28-39 say, “The king said, ‘Kimham shall cross over with me, and I will do for him whatever you wish. And anything you desire from me I will do for you.’ So all the people crossed the Jordan, and then the king crossed over. The king kissed Barzillai and bid him farewell, and Barzillai returned to his home.”
It was a gracious and kind act for David to tell his friend Barzillai that he would do anything for him, “I will do for him whatever you wish. And anything you desire from me I will do for you.” (28). How happy Barzillai must have been to hear the poet, the psalmist, the man after God’s own heart richly bless him with words of grace, peace and comfort. May men and women of God today cultivate the ability to give meaningful prayers of blessing to those with whom we serve. What would we image David would include in his blessing for Barzillai as they depart. David knew how to pray. He knew how to bless. Isn’t the chief good of power the capacity to do more good?
David took Kimham with him, and left it to Barzillai to choose what good David will do for him. Many years later in the history of Judah in Jeremiah’s day, as a group of men and women fled from Judah towards Egypt, they traveled by Bethlehem, David’s home town. Jer. 41:16c- 18a says, “the soldiers, women, children and court officials he had recovered from Gibeon. And they went on, stopping at Geruth Kimham near Bethlehem on their way to Egypt to escape the Babylonians.” It is very possible and likely that Barzillai did not request that Kimham, his son, be taken to Jerusalem, but rather to a small community near Jerusalem and Bethlehem which in succeeding years may have been named Geruth Kimham. So Kimham enjoyed a country home with its benefits near Jerusalem with its privileges. This would have been given to Kimham, not from the royal crown lands, but out of David’s family estate.
4. Israel’s Apprehensive Reception of David 40-43
Verse 40 says “When the king crossed over to Gilgal, Kimham crossed with him. All the troops of Judah and half the troops of Israel had taken the king over.” David crossed over Jordan towards Jerusalem accompanied and assisted only by the men of Judah and half the men, probably half of the the leaders, of Israel. But soon others, who probably heard of this, joined the group as recorded in verse 41, “Soon all the men of Israel were coming to the king and saying to him, ‘Why did our brothers, the men of Judah, steal the king away and bring him and his household across the Jordan, together with all his men?’”
We can safely assume that, among their various intentions, they wanted to pay their respects, wait upon him, kiss his hand, and congratulate him. However, their excitement appears to have been somewhat dampened when they found they were too late to witness his first entrance and celebration. Their egos were injured, apparently. Why else would a day of joy and celebration suddenly be transformed to a day of jealousy and conflict? It was apparently not a matter of right and wrong, but of sequence. Why could we not have been among the first? This put them in a bad mood and consequently a quarrel broke out between them and the men of Judah. Most unfortunately, however, this small matter not only damped the spirit of that day but it led to or gave rise to a larger, longer division.
Here is their complaint toward the first responders: they brought the king over the Jordan and performed the ceremony of welcoming him, and did not give them notice so they might have joined in it. They thought this reflected negatively upon themselves, as though they were not as eager to welcome the king as the people of Judah were. This, even though the king knew they, not Judah, had first talked about bringing the king over. We don’t know whether Israel or Judah or both felt like the other side wanted the special favor of being closest to the king: “There are more of us. He is of our tribe.” It is okay to be a part of a tribe and it is fine to be a part of a church denomination. But we should not be tribal just as they should not have been.
Here is the response of Judah to the questions asked by Israel. See what discord, dissension and disunity comes from pride and jealousy. Notice the excuse the men of Judah made for themselves, “All the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, ‘We did this because the king is closely related to us. Why are you angry about it? Have we eaten any of the king’s provisions? Have we taken anything for ourselves’” (v 42)? As though to say, 'It was to our country he came so we are most fit to welcome him. We have not sought provisions or anything from him, we received no gift, we paid our own expenses. We had no advantage and still do not have any advantages. There was no benefit to us! You have come in time to celebrate with us!' Probably the most important question we can ask ourselves about this and, if we find ourselves today seeking to be close to an influential or important leader, is this question: 'Am I eager to serve or am I expecting recognition or something else out of this?'
Next, the men of Israel respond back to the men of Judah: “Then the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, ‘We have ten shares in the king; so we have a greater claim on David than you have. Why then do you treat us with contempt? Weren’t we the first to speak of bringing back our king’” (v 43)? As though to say, 'We are ten tribes, you are one tribe (two with Simeon included because of the geographic reality). We thought of it first. Now you have left us out. It is an unjustifiable slight upon us that our advice was not consulted.'
See how the human ego interferes with unity, cooperation, accomplishment and success. Just recently they were striving against him, to drive him out; now they are striving about which shall honor him most. Notice what is usually the cause of strife, simply thinking you are overlooked or the least slight can hurt your pride. If this happens often it is time for us to check on our ego instead of blaming others. The men of Judah probably should have consulted with their brothers in the ten tribes, but they did not. Probably that was a mistake. But when an impasse like this is reached and no one can convince the other, it is certainly foolish and a sign of immaturity to resort to passion rather than reason. This deadlock was never broken by good rationale or thinking. God is not happy when we resort to being fierce rather than being objective and restrained. “But the men of Judah pressed their claims even more forcefully than the men of Israel” (v 43c). This is no way to win. Everyone looses this way.
David apparently did not enter this discussion. We do not know why. We only know that in the next chapter we find a record of another civil war. David had no sooner returned home to Jerusalem than the apparent mishandling of this issue gave rise to a leadership vacuum or created an opportunity for another ambitious person to assert himself. The sword not only did not depart from David’s family; neither did it leave David’s kingdom. It is sad that the celebration of the return of the king should be so short-lived and that new trouble, or unresolved old trouble, broke out so quickly. It is as though one fire is extinguished and then another breaks out. One war is finished and another explodes.
Christian worker, if it seems that way in your ministry, do not let the devil tell you that you are an exception. For centuries God’s people have won a victory only to be thrown into another difficulty. David experienced this and so will you. This is why we need to stay on our knees, remain prayerful and never take our eyes off of Jesus. Yet, we should do all that is in our power to wisely befriend all factions so that this kind of division does not happen in our churches.