II Samuel 19 Part 4

31. And Barzillai the Gileadite came down from Rogelim and went across the Jordan with the king, to escort him across the Jordan.

Now we read of a third and final significant man who meets David upon his return from exile. This is Barzillai from Gilead on the east side of Jordan, the man from Rogelim who had met David as one of the entourage of three wealthy men who thoughtfully and loyally came to offer him generous supplies and aid for himself and his people as they fled. This man stands in happy contrast to the insincere hypocrisy of Shimei and the half-hearted and self-centered support of Mephibosheth. Barzillai is a man of a different stripe. His love is unmixed with selfishness. His loyalty is whole-hearted and real. He had no ulterior motive to come to support David as he fled. He did not hope for future favors, nor seek to cover past sins. He simply came to support with love and loyalty the king God had set over him and over his people.

So this Barzillai meets David on the east side of Jordan, coming down from Rogelim, his home. He conducts the king over the Jordan and back into his own land and kingdom.

32. Now Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. And he had provided the king with supplies while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very rich man.

We learn that it was in his old age that Barzillai had now twice left his home to support the king. Barzillai is described as very aged, a man of eighty years old, which apparently was quite a feat in those days. David himself died at seventy. So we can see why this man supported David in other ways but did not fight with his men in the battle against Absalom. His days of being able to fight in the army were long past.

We could read back in II Samuel 17:27-29 that this Barzillai had provided the king and his People much-needed supplies when they arrived after their flight at Mahanaim, where they stayed throughout their exile. We learn here that he has continued this practice and has supported the king’s company all during their stay there. This was a very costly gift, considering that the exiles at Mahanaim included all David’s royal court and the core of his army, which would have consisted of thousands of people. Yet we are informed that this Barzillai was a very rich man. He must have been, to support so many, even with help from two others! But even for a very rich man such an expenditure must have cut deeply. This man had shown great love to David indeed!

33. And the king said to Barzillai, “Come across with me, and I will provide for you while you are with me in Jerusalem.”

David felt deeply the debt of gratitude he owed to the love and loyalty of Barzillai. Surely his heart must have been filled with great thankfulness towards this man who had so generously cared for the physical needs of David’s whole house and court while they were in such dire danger. David has not had to worry about food and supplies among all his other cares thanks to the help of this rich old man. He has lovingly cared for David and his People, and David offers to return the favor. Now that he again shall take the throne and have the resources of the kingdom at his command, he offers to pay back this generous man by bringing him back with him to Jerusalem and paying for his stay while there. Barzillai has fed David’s whole court like they were part of his family, so David offers to return the favor and care for Barzillai like he was one of his own family.

34. But Barzillai said to the king, “How long have I to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem?

In this too Barzillai shows himself far superior to Shimei or Ziba. Both of them wanted something from the king, though their actual support of him had been either little, in the case of Mephibosheth, or else none at all and actually harm instead, in the case of Shimei. But Barzillai, who had done so much for David and to whom David desired to be generous, does not even want the gift David offers him. He points out to the king that, due to his age, he knows he will not live much longer. What good will Jerusalem do him? For he will not live long to enjoy it.

35. I am today eighty years old. Can I discern between the good and bad? Can your servant taste what I eat or what I drink? Can I hear any longer the voice of singing men and singing women? Why then should your servant be a further burden to my lord the king?

Barzillai reminds David of his age: that he is eighty years old. He points out that his faculties are failing, so that he can no longer discern between good and bad. He explains what he means by this. First of all he refers to food. In Jerusalem, no doubt, David and his court fared sumptuously every day. Barzillai could enjoy there the best of food and drink that Israel has to offer. However, he is so old that he would not even be able to enjoy it. His taste has degraded to the point where he cannot taste the difference between good food and drink and bad food and drink. This advantage of Jerusalem will not benefit him at all.

The other benefit of Jerusalem that Barzillai mentions is the singing. Surely in a king’s court one could find the best in entertainment. David was a great musician, and many of his psalms are still recorded in the book of Psalms for us to read. Of course, we have lost the music that went with them, but that was not a problem in that day. The music in David’s court must have been without equal, and so Barzillai at one time could have enjoyed it. Yet he is so old now that he has lost much of his hearing. The voices of singing men and singing women can no longer move and inspire him, as they once could have.

In light, then, of that fact that the joys of Jerusalem will be lost on him, why should he then go to Jerusalem with David? He will just be an expense for his master the king, and he will not be able to enjoy the benefits of it anyway.

36. Your servant will go a little way across the Jordan with the king. And why should the king repay me with such a reward?

Barzillai calls himself David’s servant and reveals what it is he wishes actually to do. He only wants to cross Jordan and go a little way with the king, and then turn back and return to his home. He does not think he deserves such a reward for his service, anyway. He seems to think that what he did for David was a small thing. (Yet certainly David does not think it was small!)

37. Please let your servant turn back again, that I may die in my own city, near the grave of my father and mother. But here is your servant Chimham; let him cross over with my lord the king, and do for him what seems good to you.”

Barzillai asks the king to give him leave to return home and die in his home city and be buried in his family tomb with his father and mother. He implies that if he goes with David to Jerusalem he will likely die there and be buried there instead of in his home and near the grave of his parents. This he does not desire.

Yet Barzillai has an alternate plan. He offers Chimham in his place. Who Chimham is we are not told, but most likely he was his son. His name means “Their Longing.” Barzillai wishes Chimham to cross over with his master the king and to go to Jerusalem with him instead.

38. And the king answered, “Chimham shall cross over with me, and I will do for him what seems good to you. Now whatever you request of me, I will do for you.”

As might be expected, King David accepts Barzillai’s suggestion and agrees to take Chimham with him over Jordan and to Jerusalem in Barzillai’s place. He also offers to do for Barzallai whatever he asks. Yet it seems Barzillai has nothing more to ask. That David will do good for his son he is certain. He will leave the further blessings that David will bestow on him up to the king.

39. Then all the people went over the Jordan. And when the king had crossed over, the king kissed Barzillai and blessed him, and he returned to his own place.

At this point all the people cross over the Jordan River. After King David has crossed over, he kisses Barzallai, a symbol of his love, respect, and friendship for this old man. Then he blesses him. This word is a nebulous one in English, and it is hard to pin down just exactly what “blessing” someone means. The Hebrew word here is barak, and it seems to indicate speaking well of someone, and quite possibly doing well for the person according to what you spoke. Blessings are typically rendered from a superior to an inferior, and of course David was superior to Barzillai, being his king. Then David dismisses him as he asks, and this loyal and generous old man returns home.

Thus we see the conclusion of the three men who met David at the Jordan as he returned to retake his throne. The first, Shimei, was a hypocrite, an enemy of David who came only to assure his own survival. The second, Mephibosheth, was half-hearted, caring about what happened to David but not enough to sacrifice his life of ease and comfort. Yet the third, Barzillai, was loyal and loving, sacrificing greatly to help David in his time of need. The first two wanted something from David, but Barzillai did not even want the gifts David offered to bestow on him, urging David instead to give them to his representative instead. Let us learn from the example of these three men. May God find us in the end like Barzillai and know that we truly are faithful to Him!

40. Now the king went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him. And all the people of Judah escorted the king, and also half the people of Israel.

The king continues to Gilgal with Chimham. Gilgal means “Rolling,” and was the sight of the first Israelite camp west of the Jordan when they first entered the land. It was there the people were circumcised, as they had not been throughout their wilderness wanderings. That is why it was named “Rolling,” for there the Lord rolled away the shame of their wandering in the wilderness. Other significant things had happened there since as well. Samuel had been judge there, and Saul had been made king there. Now David arrives there with Chimham.

This is the last we read of Chimham, so we cannot say with certainty what David did for him beyond what he had promised Barzillai he would do. Yet we may have a clue in Jeremiah 41:17, which reads, And they departed and dwelt in the habitation of Chimham, which is near Bethlehem, as they went on their way to Egypt. This seems to indicate that David may have given Chimham a home near the city of his own birth, Bethlehem. This would be like David, and would have resulted in Chimham being ever near David’s family. Yet whatever else he might have done, we must do as Barzillai did and leave it to David’s heart and generosity that he did indeed do him good.

David is also accompanied to Gilgal by his own tribe, the people of Judah. These people of Judah conduct him wholeheartedly, but only half the People of Israel are with David. It seems some of the other tribes are slower to make up their minds to return their loyalty to the king God chose for them.

41. Just then all the men of Israel came to the king, and said to the king, “Why have our brethren, the men of Judah, stolen you away and brought the king, his household, and all David’s men with him across the Jordan?”

As David arrives at Gilgal the rest of the representative men of Israel finally arrive and meet him there. They have been slow to come and so are late to arrive, which was entirely their fault. Yet they do not admit this for a moment, instead complaining as if it was the fault of someone else. They whine to David that their brothers the men of Judah have stolen him away by being the ones to conduct him, his household, and all his men over Jordan when they were not yet there.

This was an unfair charge, as half of the people of Israel were already there and escorted him across the Jordan as well. It was no more the fault of the men of Judah than it was of these representative men. Yet it is against the men of Judah that these representatives complain, and this shows the strained relationship between the other tribes and Judah that would later devolve into the total rebellion of the ten tribes against Judah and the division of the kingdom that continued until the destruction of both nations at the hands of the empires of the east.

42. So all the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, “Because the king is a close relative of ours. Why then are you angry over this matter? Have we ever eaten at the king’s expense? Or has he given us any gift?”

It is not David who responds to these charges but the representative men of Judah. They answer and point out that David is their kin, one of their tribe and so a close relative. Why should it anger these men of Israel, then, if they conducted David over the Jordan? He has not provided them with food at his expense that these other men of Israel missed out on. He has not given them any gifts that were not given to them. What real complaint do these men of Israel have, then? They have missed nothing important by not being there.

43. And the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, and said, “We have ten shares in the king; therefore we also have more right to David than you. Why then do you despise us—were we not the first to advise bringing back our king?”
Yet the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel.

The men of Israel answer with anger to the men of Judah in spite of the sensible answer they gave. Their feelings are hurt, it seems, and so reason simply goes out the window. They claim that they own ten shares in the king whereas Judah has only one. It is interesting that they say ten rather than eleven. We know that the delegation from Benjamin already arrived, bringing with them the hypocritical Shimei. Is this what is meant? Are these men of Israel counting Benjamin with David? If so, this is most interesting, as this is exactly the division that later took place, with Benjamin and Judah forming the faithful nation and the other ten tribes the rebellious one.

Because of their status as being ten of the twelve tribes, these men of Israel think that they have been despised by David crossing the Jordan before they arrived. They point out that they were the first to advise bringing back their king, even before Judah did. Remember that David too seemed to note this odd fact in II Samuel 19:11, and therefore he sent to Judah his own men asking them why this was so. Now these representatives of Israel use this fact to argue that they ought to have been there when David crossed the Jordan back into the land.

It seems by this time that the anger of the men of Israel has provoked the men of Judah. This is how arguments often happen: when one side becomes angry, the other side soon follows suit. Thus the men of Judah answer again, but this time answer fiercely. This is not a good event at all to take place at David’s reinstallation. It seems that the Lord is going to bring shame and punishment on his government once again before allowing him to fully retake his throne. We will see how this all plays out as we study the next chapter.