Barzillai—A Man Aware of His Limitations
‘WHY should I become a burden to you?’ The 80-year-old man who said this to Israel’s King David was Barzillai. The Bible says that he was “a very great man,” doubtless because of his wealth. (2 Samuel 19:32, 35) Barzillai lived in the land of Gilead, a mountainous region east of the Jordan River.—2 Samuel 17:27; 19:31.
Under what circumstances did Barzillai say what he did to David? And why did this elderly man speak in such a way?
Rebellion Against the King
David was in danger. His son Absalom had usurped the throne after “stealing the hearts of the men of Israel.” It was clear that Absalom would spare no one who was loyal to his father. So David and his servants left Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 15:6, 13, 14) When David arrived at Mahanaim, an area east of the Jordan, Barzillai helped him.
Barzillai and two other men generously placed many provisions at David’s disposal. These three loyal subjects showed that they understood his dire situation when they said of David and his men: “The people are hungry and tired and thirsty in the wilderness.” Barzillai, Shobi, and Machir did all they could to satisfy those needs by supplying David and his men with beds, wheat, barley, flour, roasted grain, broad beans, lentils, honey, butter, sheep, and other provisions.—2 Samuel 17:27-29.
Helping David was risky. It was unlikely that Absalom would leave unpunished anyone who supported the rightful king. In showing loyalty to David, therefore, Barzillai was being courageous.
The Situation Is Reversed
Soon thereafter, Absalom’s rebel forces encountered David’s men. A battle took place in the forest of Ephraim, probably in the vicinity of Mahanaim. Absalom’s army was defeated, “and the slaughter there turned out to be great on that day.” Although Absalom tried to escape, he soon met his death.—2 Samuel 18:7-15.
Once again, David was Israel’s unchallenged king. No longer did his followers have to live as fugitives. Moreover, their loyalty to David earned them his respect and gratitude.
When David was about to return to Jerusalem, “Barzillai the Gileadite himself came down from Rogelim that he might pass on to the Jordan with the king so as to escort him to the Jordan.” On that occasion, David extended to aged Barzillai this invitation: “You yourself cross over with me, and I shall certainly supply you with food with me in Jerusalem.”—2 Samuel 19:15, 31, 33.
Undoubtedly, David had greatly appreciated Barzillai’s help. It does not seem that the king merely wanted to return the favor by providing material necessities. Wealthy Barzillai did not need that kind of assistance. David may have wanted him at the royal court because of that aged man’s admirable qualities. Having a permanent place there would have been an honor, allowing Barzillai to enjoy the privileges of the king’s friendship.
Modesty and Realism
Responding to King David’s invitation, Barzillai said: “What are the days of the years of my life like, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? I am eighty years old today. Could I discern between good and bad, or could your servant taste what I ate and what I drank, or could I listen anymore to the voice of male and female singers?” (2 Samuel 19:34, 35) Thus, Barzillai respectfully turned down the invitation and declined a fine privilege. But why?
One reason for Barzillai’s decision may have been his advanced age and the limitations that went along with it. Barzillai may have felt that he would not live much longer. (Psalm 90:10) He had done what he could to support David, but he was also aware of the limitations that advanced age placed upon him. Barzillai did not allow the thought of prestige and prominence to prevent him from realistically evaluating his capabilities. Unlike ambitious Absalom, Barzillai wisely displayed modesty.—Proverbs 11:2.
Another reason for Barzillai’s decision may have been a desire that his limitations in no way hinder the activity of the divinely appointed king. Barzillai asked: “Why should your servant become a burden anymore to my lord the king?” (2 Samuel 19:35) Although he still supported David, Barzillai likely believed that a younger man could carry out assignments more effectively. Presumably referring to his own son, Barzillai said: “Here is your servant Chimham. Let him cross over with my lord the king; and you do to him what is good in your eyes.” Instead of being offended, David accepted this suggestion. Before crossing the Jordan, in fact, David “kissed Barzillai and blessed him.”—2 Samuel 19:37-39.
The account of Barzillai highlights the need for balance. On the one hand, we should not turn down a service privilege or avoid reaching out for it because we want a quiet life or feel incapable of shouldering responsibility. God can make up for our deficiency if we rely on him for strength and wisdom.—Philippians 4:13; James 4:17; 1 Peter 4:11.
On the other hand, we need to recognize our limitations. For example, perhaps a Christian is already very busy in spiritual activities. He realizes that by accepting further privileges, he would risk neglecting such Scriptural responsibilities as providing for his family. In such a situation, would it not be an indication of modesty and reasonableness on his part for him to decline additional privileges at present?—Philippians 4:5; 1 Timothy 5:8.
Barzillai provides a fine example, and we would do well to meditate on it. He was loyal, courageous, generous, and modest. Above all, Barzillai was determined to put God’s interests ahead of his own.—Matthew 6:33.
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Eighty-year-old Barzillai made a tiring journey in order to assist David
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Why did Barzillai turn down David’s offer?