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Barzillai-Israel’s Example, You Are Never Too Old Help Others

Updated on June 24, 2012

See 2 Samuel Chapters 17, 18 and 19 in the Bible, Old Testament for the entire story of David and Barzillai


Barzillai, in Hebrew means “made of iron”

Barzillai was another of the men whose life intersected with King David. They met at a time when the king was on the run and hiding out from his own son. Absalom had usurped the throne and David was traveling throughout the country from one place to another just to stay ahead of the army that had defected to Absalom. He had approached another man asking for provisions to feed his men at a previous time of need. This was Nabal who was a very wealthy man. He also was stingy and greedy. He refused the King even though David’s soldiers had protected Nabal’s own shepherds and flocks. Needless to say, the King was angry and insulted. Many unhappy repercussions arose from that encounter.

But David did not have to ask Barzillai for anything. This good man (along with two friends) actually approached the King and offered all he had. And not just for the King but for all of the people who were with him. And he supported the entire encampment until the war was over. When David had fled Jerusalem, he took his entire household (minus 10 concubines) as well as his soldiers at arms. So there were likely several thousand people with him.

Barzillai was not even a citizen of David’s kingdom. He was from Gilead, near the area where David took sanctuary in Mahanaim, after departing in haste from the Jerusalem where Absalom was convincing many to take sides with him against his father. All of the people had been wandering and running for weeks. They were tired, hungry and some were probably ill. There were women and children who were used to palace life. It must have been a Godsend when Barzillai and his friends came to David with “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”.

So Barzillai became allied with David though he had no political or financial reasons to do so. Things didn’t look good for David right then. He was getting old, probably in his sixties at the time and his strong, young son was presenting a powerful front. People seeking to curry favor from political pontiffs usually turn tail and refuse to acknowledge the party who is in disgrace. We see it all the time in our own current society with its ins and outs.

But Barzillai knew quality when he saw it. And all that David represented was what Barzillai desired to honor. He didn’t care about what others thought or about the dangers that might result in his actions. He just knew he could change things for these people who were in need.

This man didn’t store these provisions away for his own use or for his heirs. He spread the wealth out for all to enjoy. In that age of war, one might be tempted to hoard and hide food and supplies. After all if Absalom was victorious, he could seek revenge on anyone who aided his father. As King, he even could have Barzillai executed as a traitor to the throne. But fear had no place in the heart of our brave provider who was no spring chicken.

This generous benefactor is described as very wealthy and very old, eighty to be exact. He was a “great” man with much influence, land, money and homes. That had nothing to do with his generosity and never hindered his rushing to aid suffering people. The Scriptures record that HE went to David and had supplies with him, ready to give. He had thought about it and knew "The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness” (2Samuel 17:29). So he went prepared to help, not just commiserate.

Having lived a full and rich life, Barzillai remained compassionate and quick to lend a helping hand. And when David’s son, Absalom, was killed in battle (in an undignified manner) the kingdom was restored to the rightful ruler. The king didn’t forget all the kindness he had received. Barzillai came down from his nice, peaceful home to escort the king partway home. David invited the benefactor to come live in his own city as an honored guest. This man would never have to worry for a thing the rest of his life!

But he wanted to stay where he had been born, lived and grew to an old age. Gilead was his home. All of the glories associated with being recognized by the king meant nothing to Barzillai. He reminded David that he was old and "How many years have I still to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? I am this day eighty years old; can I discern what is pleasant and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women? Why then should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? Your servant will go a little way over the Jordan with the king. Why should the king recompense me with such a reward? Pray let your servant return, that I may die in my own city, near the grave of my father and my mother. But here is your servant Chimham; let him go over with my lord the king; and do for him whatever seems good to you. "And the king answered, "Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do for him whatever seems good to you; and all that you desire of me I will do for you.” "Then all the people went over the Jordan, and the king went over; and the king kissed Barzillai and blessed him, and he returned to his own home." (2 Samuel 19:31-39)

This puts an entirely new spin on things. An old man, hard of hearing, with burned out taste buds and soon to die had not just set back in a retirement villa. He didn’t sit in a recliner, watch the news and wish things were different. He didn’t wait for the church to organize a food drive. He knew that someone was in need, enduring hard times and planned accordingly.

He also never thought, “Well I am old. I might need this money for my old age. What if I get sick and go into a rest home? Or spend time in the hospital?” He depended on God to take care of him and his family because he was fulfilling God’s command to care for others. Did the Lord personally shake Barzillai and tell him that? I doubt it. The fact that we have intuition, compassion and insight lets us know our duty to others.

He won’t shake you either, or me. Our involvement does not stop because we reach a certain age. We live in a society that values youth and beauty. The elderly are considered unfit to do much more than sit around playing Bingo and patting puppies. And we are taught to expect a leisurely retirement where we can rest from a lifetime of productive employment.

The body certainly changes as we age. Most of us cannot run as far, or run at all. We are sometimes embarrassed by the sounds or “leakages” that escape involuntarily from us. We can face aging with denial, fear, and acceptance or with grace and pride. Barzillai admitted his age. He never tried to deny it or claimed he could keep up with the best of the young whippersnappers. He knew exactly how he wanted to live out his final years and chose wisely. He chose to help others including a king. That is courage and faith in action.

I firmly believe we are even more able to serve others as we age, especially OUR King, the Lord Jesus Christ. We carry wisdom in our grey hair; patience in our lined hands. Our eyes may need glasses but they see between the lines to hidden needs and broken hearts that require love to heal. The days of high heeled shoes have given way to sensible loafers that can carry us into hospital rooms to hold the hurting. We can prepare meals for people when they have lost a loved one or for a new mother who has given birth and needs to rest.

And we can take the good news of the Kingdom of God into all the earth and share it with the lost. How does that work? It is mostly by example that others see Christ in us. We are the role models of moral character and conduct, the one to show a positive attitude to youth who are exposed to the worst kind of despair. We are the salt of the earth and we should season and preserve all we touch.

And this is done out of love without expectation of reward or recompense. When the king offered Barzillai honor, prestigious and the chance to live in luxury the rest of his life, he declined but he suggested another person. And so it happened that another person went into Jerusalem to live a life of luxury and honor with the king while Barzillai stayed in the background.

However upon his deathbed, David remembered this old man who had helped him in his most trying time of life. He did not forget the kindness and compassion shown him by an elder whose eyesight, hearing and health were failing. He recalled this old man had no hesitation to spend his retirement fund and energy to assist people he didn’t even know. He told his successor Solomon, his son, to always provide for Barzillai and his family. Likewise, our own King will not forget us and shall reward us one day. Our good works and acknowledgement that Jesus is our Savior will be rewarded just as Barzillai was rewarded. He will say to us, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

We likewise, do not know whether the person we are helping is in the most difficult time of life or just having a momentary setback. And it doesn’t matter. From the person who is homeless and sleeping in the woods to the millionaire who has never known a gentle touch, we can provide ease and rest. Today’s elder can give so much and provide so many people with what they need.

Visit a hospital. Volunteer to hold premature newborns that require human contact. Go to the animal shelter to walk the dogs and clean the cat cages. These animals are God’s creatures. Your time there gives respite to the many people that work hard providing for these precious ones. Show loving kindness to the elders who cannot give to you. Many are suffering from Alzheimer’s, disability or limited mobility from various illnesses. Some cannot or will not help others due to a lack of knowledge. They can be loved into the Kingdom. Nursing homes, retirement communities and other elder living facilities offer great opportunity for service.

The options are truly limitless and the rewards priceless. Barzillai did not accept age as an excuse or reason to step back. He overcame his own physical restrictions to change lives and at the end of this story he even sent another man into the place of honor that had been offered to himself. And that choice may have had an incredible outcome centuries later.

Jewish lore says that man, Chimham, (sent with David by Barzillai) established an inn at Bethlehem and it was passed down through his children and grandchildren throughout the years. It was part of the gratitude prize given to Barzillai (by proxy) to Chimham. It is possible this was the very stable and inn where Jesus, Savior of the world was born. The generous gift to this man from an ancient of days” made way for the plan of God himself to be fulfilled centuries later.

We may never know if our contribution will last for generations and may be a part of the master plan for this world we live in. God may place a certain person in our own life for a reason and a purpose. We must never be afraid to act or to think we are too old and tired to reach out in faith and love, helping and providing a necessary service.

The older one is, the more time generally her or she has to give in service to others. Remember Barzillai and his personal sacrifice of comfort, finances and time. You too can be one who looks, sees a need and acts to fill it. You can be honored by the king. You ARE honored by Him because He chose you to act and live in love. We can honor Him by looking upon His people with love, compassion, and respect by serving them unselfishly. He will never be less than touched and has given His very life in gratitude to us all. In that world where God resides, we are never old, tired and challenged. We are perfect in every manner. Because He first loved us and we simply mirror His actions.

We Honor God, the Ancient of Days in Our Old Age

© Brenda Barnes-All Rights Reserved


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