BARZILLAI, A FRIEND OF DAVID
Charles Kingsley was an English clergyman and novelist. Born in 1819, he was educated in private schools, and then at King’s College in London. He became chaplain to Queen Victoria, and taught history at Cambridge University. His two most famous novels are “Westward Ho!,” an adventure story, and “Water Babies,” an exciting lesson in the wonders of nature. He died in 1875. When asked what was the secret of his blessed life, he answered, “I had a friend.”
Barzillai first appears at a crucial moment in King David’s life. He was a rich man, an influential citizen, and a friend to his heart-stricken king. His story is found in 2 Samuel 17:27 – 29, 19:31 – 40, and I Kings 2:7. His name means, “made of iron or strong.” Here is his story.
1. He was a man of courageous loyalty. King David had been driven from his throne by his own son, Absalom, and sorely needed support. Barzillai rallied to his side, remaining his friend in what is considered by many, the worst hour of David’s life. Two things to remember: David had brought this heartache on himself, due to his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. Second, friendship towards David meant certain execution, if Absalom prevailed. Yet, according to 2 Samuel 17:27 – 29, Barzillai brought necessary provisions to the hungry, thirsty followers of David. Someone has correctly observed, “In prosperity our friends know us. In adversity we know our friends.”
2. He was a man of unconditional brotherly love. A noted Christian psychologist stated, “In my professional practice, I find that the loneliest people – those with the greatest longings to be touched – are those without at least one close friend. It’s surprising how many people there are like that.” Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” The Pulpit Commentary states, “Misfortunes, says our maxim, is the touchstone of friendship.” Another commentator says, “At all times a friend loves, but in adversity he is born (i.e. becomes) a brother.” Matthew Henry wrote, “Swallow friends, that fly to you in summer, but are gone in winter, such friends there is no loss of.” Although David was unpopular, Barzillai knew the soul of David, and that he was a man after God’s own heart. To him, David was still godly, although a fugitive, and his great, loving heart bled for the king. Henry Durbanville made this observation about friendship: “ A friend is the first person to come in when the whole world goes out.”
3. He was a man of influence and benevolence. He is described as a great man, with a noble seat at Rogelim. Twice he assisted David. First, when he fled from Absalom and second, when he was returning home to his throne. 2 Samuel 19:31, “And Barzillai the Gileadite came down from Rogelim and went across the Jordan with the king, to escort him across the Jordan.” He did not squander his wealth on idle pleasures, nor hoard it for selfish ends. His position, prestige and purse were beneficially used for others. Helen Keller once said, “With the death of every friend I love…a part of me has been buried…but their contribution to my being of happiness, strength and understanding remains to sustain me in an altered world.”
4. He was a man of humility. He was invited by David to go to Jerusalem with him to live the rest of his days, yet refused to be rewarded, 2 Samuel 19:33 – 38. He felt his services were trivial and unworthy of any recompense from David. An Arab proverb states, “A friend is one to whom one may pour out all the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”
5. He was a man of lasting example. Some of King David’s last words to his son Solomon were, “But show kindness to the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table, for so they came to me when I fled from Absalom your brother.” Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.”
As the train left Victoria Station in London, a trembling man suddenly rolled off his seat and had a seizure. His friend reached down, pulled him up, and wrapped a coat over him. The shaking stopped. The friend said to the other passengers, “Please forgive us. We were in Vietnam together. He’s an Englishman and I’m an American. We were wounded and I lost my leg. My friend had half his chest blown away by a grenade, but he got up, grabbed me by my shirt, and began dragging me to safety. Every step he took, he screamed with pain. I told him to let me go, or we’d both die. He said, ‘Billy, if you die, I’m going to die with you!’ He got us out of the jungle. When I learned he had epilepsy, I came here to take care of him. After what he did for me, there isn’t anything I would not do for him.”
“No one could tell me where my soul might be;
I sought for God, but God eluded me;
I sought my brother out and found all three.”
As John Wesley said, “A man must have friends or make friends; for no one ever went to heaven alone.” May God give us the heart of Barzillai.
Dave Arnold, Pastor
Gulf Coast Worship Center, New Port Richey, Florida