By J.R. Macduff DD
“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” 2 Samuel 19:31,32.
We have only a brief glimpse of Barzillai in his biography. He comes before us – the Melchizedek of his age – to meet David, as Melchizedek had met his great ancestor, with the spoils of victory (Genesis 14:18). He gives him his blessing, and then vanishes from the scene. But enough is recorded, to make us admire and love him; and though living in an age of lesser light and fewer privileges than ours, there is much in his character which we shall do well to imitate.
Let us mark his disinterested loyalty. Expediency! expediency! with how many is that the regulating, governing principle of their lives! Not what is right, but what is prudent. Such are they who sail with wind and tide: in politics, in religion, in commerce, in daily society and friendship. They will take the winning side. They are what the world call far-seeing men. They look before them. They make a careful calculation of consequences; and are not very scrupulous as to principle.
How did right and might, principle and expediency, stand to one another at this juncture of Hebrew history? Absalom had stolen the hearts of Israel. By consummate art, or rather by unprincipled prince-craft, he had undermined his father’s throne, sown disaffection among the people; and, in short, with everything to favour him, in youth, attractiveness, pomp, and display, (all powerful qualities with the oriental mind), he had seized the Hebrew sceptre.
According to human calculations, his aged father’s case might be deemed desperate. He had crossed Jordan, in all probability, to his grave; and the risk old Barzillai incurred, in fraternising with the outlawed king, was a serious one. What if Absalom and his army, in the flush of triumph, cross Jordan, and cut to pieces David’s panic-stricken force? Woe to the aged clansman of Gilead who has dared to show him kindness. His hoar head
will be hung a trophy on the gate of Mahanaim! And Barzillai must have weighed all these consequences. By becoming confederate with David, sending these camel-loads of butter and honey and cheese, and these bushels of corn, he made himself a marked man. His fertile fields at Rogelim will be swept by the army of the usurper. He and his will be the first to feel Absalom’s revenge.
But how does he act? He will do what is right, and leave the results in a Higher hand. Though with fearful odds against him, he will cling to injured goodness, and assert the majesty of truth over baseness and wrong. What cared he for those hollow acclaims that rose on the other side of Jordan, welcoming a villain to a throne to which he had climbed over the grey hairs of an honoured father. No; though he should stand alone, he will execrate the deed. Though it should cost him his lands, his flocks, his patrimonial inheritance, he will cast in his lot with dishonoured and deeply-injured virtue, rather than with a successful but unprincipled traitor.
Had Barzillai made it a question of expediency, he would either have preserved his neutrality, not mixing himself up with the quarrel at all,
but remaining in quiet possession of his flocks and inheritance in the south; or else he might have lent the weight of his influence to the popular side, for “the conspiracy” we read, “was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom (2 Samuel 15:12). Had he been a mercenary adventurer, by becoming confederate with the victorious army, and cutting off the supplies from the camp of David, he would have decided the fortunes of the day.
How differently does he act! He never hesitates. Whatever might be the result, he knows who has the right, and hastens to the expatriated king with acceptable supplies of the best he has; yes, and with what to a wounded spirit was better than all the balm of Gilead or the flocks of its mountains, he carries his own sympathy and manifested pity for fallen
And then, see the sequel of the history. When all was over, when a Greater than any earthly might had scattered the alien armies and laid low the usurper, and the venerable monarch was on his triumphal march back to his throne, the old Gileadite chief came down once more from his fastnesses with a body of retainers, to do homage to the King and give him his patriot welcome and blessing. Nor was David forgetful of the disinterested loyalty so lately manifested. In a spirit of equally noble generosity and gratitude, he urged Barzillai to join the triumphal cavalcade, to come and have a home in his palace in Jerusalem, and a place and seat at his royal table.
But he will take no reward or recompence, although what millions are spending a lifetime to achieve was within the grasp of this border Sheik. Up the steep hill of fame, few reach more than half-way; fewer still ever gain the summit. But here was one to whom was offered the hand of friendship by the greatest king of the age, and apartments in the palace of Zion. Thousands would have coveted the honour. His name would have been on every tongue as a favoured old man, the envy of all his brother chieftains.
“But no,” says he. “It was for no such base, paltry, selfish motive I acted a patriot’s part to a patriot king. I brought not of my produce in
hopes of getting in return some princely recompence. In giving in my adhesion to the cause of David, it was with no mean hope of bettering my position or aggrandising my family. Let me give and receive a blessing; that is all I want. Let me bend homeward these aged steps. My best reward, my only accepted reward, will be the feeling: “‘I have done my duty.'”
Adapted from Sunsets on the Hebrew Mountains. This profitable volume has been reprinted by Mr. Simon Cunningham of Wrexham. If readers wish to have a copy, they can reach our friend at,
32 Cae Glas