28. Barzillai the Gileadite, Quite A Character


By Lee Harris

The name Barzillai may sound like a sci-fi monster, but it is the name of a lesser-known hero from the life of David, king of Israel. His name means ‘man of iron.’ Barzillai was an elderly friend who provided sustenance at a crucial time, when David was fleeing from Jerusalem during the rebellion of his son Absalom.

Questions For Discussion

Have you ever felt that you are not in a position to be useful to God, perhaps because you are too old, too young, too inexperienced, unqualified?

The story of Barzillai will encourage you to realise that you can be a blessing to others at any stage of life.

‘A messenger came and told David, ‘The hearts of the people of Israel are with Absalom.’ Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, ‘Come! We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom. We must leave immediately, or he will move quickly to overtake us and bring ruin on us and put the city to the sword.’ The king’s officials answered him, ‘Your servants are ready to do whatever our lord the king chooses.’ The king set out, with his entire household following him; but he left ten concubines to take care of the palace. So, the king set out, with all the people following him, and they halted at the edge of the city.’ 2 Samuel 15:13-17

David learned that his son Absalom was leading a rebellion to take over the kingdom.

What has led to this crisis in David’s life?

Do you think David was confident that he would be victorious and return to Jerusalem?

‘When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites, and Makir son of Ammiel from Lo Debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim brought bedding and bowls and articles of pottery. They also brought wheat and barley, flour and roasted grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds, sheep, and cheese from cows’ milk for David and his people to eat. For they said, ‘The people have become exhausted and hungry and thirsty in the wilderness.’ 2 Samuel 17:27-29

What did Barzillai the Gileadite provide for David and his entourage?

By helping David, Barzillai was choosing sides in the civil war between David and Absalom.

What would happen to Barzillai if Absalom was the victor?

What does this tell us about taking risks in following Jesus?

‘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.’ But Barzillai answered the king, ‘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? 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. But here is your servant Kimham. Let him cross over with my lord the king. Do for him whatever you wish.’ 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.’ 2 Samuel 19:31-39

David invited Barzillai to return with him to Jerusalem after Absalom was defeated.

Why did Barzillai decline? What did he request instead?

‘But show kindness to the sons of Barzillai of Gilead and let them be among those who eat at your table. They stood by me when I fled from your brother Absalom.’ 1 Kings 2:7

David gave instructions to Solomon as he prepared to receive the throne from his father.

What did he tell Solomon about Barzillai the Gileadite?

What was the significance of this?

‘And from among the priests: The descendants of Hobaiah, Hakkoz and Barzillai (a man who had married a daughter of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by that name). These searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean.’ Ezra 2:61-62

‘The following came up from the towns of Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Kerub, Addon and Immer, but they could not show that their families were descended from Israel: the descendants of Delaiah, Tobiah and Nekoda 642. And from among the priests: the descendants of Hobaiah, Hakkoz and Barzillai (a man who had married a daughter of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by that name). These searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean.’ Nehemiah 7:61-64

Barzillai’s legacy lived on for several centuries after his death. When the exiled Israelites returned from the Babylonian captivity, it was important to establish who belonged to the priestly line of Levi. Those men were authorized to serve in the temple.

Among the people were descendants of Barzillai the Gileadite, so the stature of their ancestor was not forgotten. Apparently, they thought this qualified them to be priests; however, they were excluded.

Do we sometimes trade on the accomplishments of others in seeking to improve our status?

Final Thoughts

1. What can we learn from Barzillai’s example of faithfulness, compassion, and service?

2. Can you think of other Bible characters that did not let their advanced age prevent them from serving God and His people?


"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."