November 21, 2021
As King David returned to his kingdom after Absalom’s defeat, tragedy overshadowed triumph. His grief over the death of his enemy-son impacted those around him: foolish arguments erupted between the tribes of Judah and Israel, and lives changed as people scrambled to align themselves with the victor. Shimei sought clemency, Mephibosheth declared his loyalty, and Barzillai faced his mortality while recognizing God’s providential purpose. Alistair Begg compares and contrasts David’s fragile, divided kingdom to God’s kingdom, which will be perfect and united when Jesus, the true King, returns.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Two Samuel 19:
“It was told Joab, ‘Behold, the king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.’ So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people, for the people heard that day, ‘The king is grieving for his son.’ And the people stole into the city that day as people steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle. The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, ‘O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!’ Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, ‘You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life and the lives of your sons and your daughters and the lives of your wives and your concubines, because you love those who hate you and hate those who love you. For you have made it clear today that commanders and servants are nothing to you, for today I know that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants, for I swear by the Lord, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night, and this will be worse for you than all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now.’ Then the king arose and took his seat in the gate. And the people were all told, ‘Behold, the king is sitting in the gate.’ And all the people came before the king.
“Now Israel had fled every man to his own home. And all the people were arguing throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, ‘The king delivered us from the hand of our enemies and saved us from the hand of the Philistines, and now he has fled out of the land from Absalom. But Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why do you say nothing about bringing the king back?’
“And King David sent this message to Zadok and Abiathar the priests: ‘Say to the elders of Judah, “Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his house, when the word of all Israel has come to the king? You are my brothers; you are my bone and my flesh. Why then should you be the last to bring back the king?” And say to Amasa, “Are you not my bone and my flesh? God do so to me and more also, if you are not commander of my army from now on in place of Joab.”’ And he swayed the heart of all the men of Judah as one man, so that they sent word to the king, ‘Return, both you and all your servants.’ So the king came back to the Jordan, and Judah came to Gilgal to meet the king and to bring the king over the Jordan.
“And Shimei … son of Gera, the Benjaminite, from Bahurim, hurried to come down with the men of Judah to meet King David. And with him were a thousand men from Benjamin. And Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, with his fifteen sons and his twenty servants, rushed down to the Jordan before the king, and they crossed the ford to bring over the king’s household and to do his pleasure. And Shimei … son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was about to cross the Jordan, and said to the king, ‘Let not my lord hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. Do not let the king take it to heart. For your servant knows that I have sinned. Therefore, behold, I have come this day, the first of all the house of Joseph to come down to meet my lord the king.’ Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered, ‘Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s anointed?’ But David said, ‘What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be as an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?’ And the king said to Shimei, ‘You shall not die.’ And the king gave him his oath.
“And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king. He had neither taken care of his feet nor trimmed his beard nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came back in safety. And when he came to Jerusalem to meet the king, the king said to him, ‘Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?’ He answered, ‘My lord, O king, my servant deceived me, for your servant said to him, “I will saddle a donkey for myself, that I may ride on it and go with the king.” For your servant is lame. He has slandered your servant to my lord the king. But my lord the king is like the angel of God; do therefore what seems good to you. For all my father’s house were but men doomed to death before my lord the king, but you set your servant among those who eat at your table. What further right have I, then, to cry to the king?’ And the king said to him, ‘Why speak any more of your affairs? I have decided: you and Ziba shall divide the land.’ And Mephibosheth said to the king, ‘Oh, let him take it all, since my lord the king has come safely home.’
“Now Barzillai the Gileadite had come down from Rogelim, and he went on with the king to the Jordan, to escort him over the Jordan. Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. He had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man. And the king said to Barzillai, ‘Come over with me, and I will provide for you with me in Jerusalem.’ But Barzillai said to the king, ‘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 repay me with such a reward? Please 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. The king went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him. All the people of Judah, and also half the people of Israel, brought the king on his way.
“Then all the men of Israel came to the king and said to the king, ‘Why have our brothers the men of Judah stolen you away and brought the king and his household over the Jordan, and all David’s men with him?’ All the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, ‘Because the king is our close relative. Why then are you angry over this matter? Have we eaten at all at the king’s expense? Or has he given us any gift?’ And the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, ‘We have ten shares in the king, and in David also we have more than you. Why then did you despise us? Were we not the first to speak of bringing back our king?’ But the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel.”
Perhaps as we pause in prayer, you’ll make my prayer yours as well:
O, send your spirit, Lord, now unto me,
That you may touch my eyes and make me see.
Show me the truth concealed within your Word,
And in your book revealed I see you, Lord.
Well, we continue in these studies in 2 Samuel. And chapter 19 is once again a challenge to us, both in relationship to its length and its content. We remind ourselves that when Paul writes in Romans 15 concerning all the things that have been written in the past, that they were written for our good, that through the endurance and the encouragement of Scripture we might have hope. And one of the ways in which, when you read the Old Testament, you find yourself being pointed forward to Jesus is because what you find there looks so much like Jesus. Other times, when you read a chapter, you’re pointed towards Jesus because of the contrast, because what is discovered there actually doesn’t look like what we find in Jesus.
And 2 Samuel 19 would be of the latter kind. Because chapter 19 of 2 Samuel is about the return of the king. The king, of course, is David the king. And what we’re going to discover is that in his return to Jerusalem, everything does not work out perfectly. Of course, we recognize that when Jesus the King returns, everything will be perfect. All things will be settled. Justice will be restored. Truth will be absolutely established, and wrongs will be righted, and nations and races that are divided through the pilgrimage of life will find themselves unified on that day. And so it is that as we read this this morning, that you might be helped just by having that in the back of your mind.
Chapter 19, of course, begins after chapter 18, without any chapter break in the original text. I point that out from time to time to help us—that we’re not beginning something new as much as we’re simply continuing what we looked at, at the end of chapter 18. The triumph of victory—for victory it has been—for the forces of David has been overshadowed by tragedy. If you like, the surgery that has taken place in excising the rebel forces has been successful, but it has left behind scar tissue which is going to prove to be problematic. Or, to think of David being reinstated and with his crown being put back on his head, as it were, metaphorically, it still glistens in the sun, but not with the same splendor that was there at the beginning of his kingdom. It is now tarnished, and life is going to go on, but it will not go on ever in the same way.
Now, it is in light of that that we are going to try and summarize, or at least make an attempt at, these forty-three verses by first of all acknowledging that the king is grieving; secondly, recognizing that the people are arguing; and then, thirdly, recognizing that three lives identified for us are changing.
So, first of all, then, in verses 1–8: “It was told Joab, ‘Behold, the king is weeping and mourning.’” Well, of course, this is understandable. Death brings great sadness.
We have seen David in the face of death since we began following his story. We saw what happened at the death of Saul and Jonathan his son, when David penned a quite remarkable elegy. When Abner was killed, David pens a brief elegy and disclaims any responsibility for what happened to him. When the child of Bathsheba dies, David is speaking of how “the child will not return to me, but I will go to him,” and he is confronted there by his own mortality. When Amnon is killed—remember, Absalom kills his brother Amnon because of what had happened—when that happens, David’s response is anger. And so there’s all kinds of responses to death. But here, you will notice, there are no words. There are no words. There’s no elegy here. All that we have is David reduced to a kind of stammering repetition, a grief-filled repetition of his son’s name: “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
Now, we need to recognize that Absalom is a rebel. Absalom is opposed to the king, opposed to the Lord’s anointed. Absalom is a usurper. And Absalom is now dead. What could be worse for David than this? Because, you see, to die opposed to the king, to the Lord’s anointed, is to go to a lost eternity. And David says, “O Absalom.” He doesn’t respond to him as his enemy, as his rebel, as the usurper. He responds to him as a father. For what could be worse than to be confronted by just this?
Let me just pause and reaffirm what the Bible says concerning these things. Jesus is the King. Unless we bow to Jesus as King, embracing him as Lord and Savior in time, we will face him as our Judge in eternity with absolutely nothing to say in our defense. The prevailing sentiment at this point in Western culture is that whatever death means, all bets are off. Death is the great equalizer. No matter the distinctions that have existed in time—social status and so on—everything will be eradicated, including whatever our response was to the message of the gospel. Do not believe that. It is a lie that will take you down to hell if you believe it. “O Absalom, my son, my son!”
Now, leaders lead. And the flavor of his response to this great tragedy bleeds into the community and causes the people to adopt the same posture, so that in verse 3, “the people,” we’re told, “stole into the city … as people steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle.” But they had won the battle! So why would they respond in this way? Why, instead of chants of victory, is there a silence more fitting to defeat? Well, because David has covered his face. He’s none prepared to look out on things. He can’t see what’s really going on. He has been wailing so loudly that he can’t really hear what’s going on.
And as we see at the beginning of the chapter, Joab has been told. And Joab realizes that somebody needs to intervene, and of course, Joab, being the person that we’ve discovered him to be, finds it relatively easy to go and confront the king and rebuke him. And you have his statement as it comes there from verse 4b and into 5: “Joab came into the house [of] the king.”
Now, I’ll leave you to read it on your own, but essentially, what the text tells us is this, if we paraphrase it: Joab goes to David, and he says to him, “Listen, it’s one thing for you to cover your face, but you’ve covered something else, and that is that you have covered your people with shame—the people who risked their lives for you, the people who were out there in that battle, who have come back expecting a victory parade, and instead, what have they received? David, this is not right. If you show such affection to Absalom, your son, who actually was your enemy, then you create the impression that you’re turning your friends into your enemies and your enemies into your friends. And I’m gonna tell you,” he says, “you’re sending a message out to your commanders and to the leaders of the troops that they don’t even matter to you. You’re sending the idea that if Absalom were still alive, and we were all dead, then you would be perfectly happy.” And clearly, what he’s doing is he’s exaggerating here in order to waken, as it were, David out of this great sadness. “If you fail in this,” he says, “when you waken up in the morning, you won’t even have an army, and things will be worse than anything that you’ve ever known, right up until now, throughout your entire life.” Wow!
So, what happened? Well, “The king arose and took his seat in the gate. And the people were … told, ‘… the king is … in the gate.’” In other words, we’re back in business with David as the king, “and all the people came before the king.” That gate, of course, has appeared more than once—most recently, perhaps, in chapter 15, when Absalom takes his place in the gate, at the entry to the gate, so that he can meet the people, so that he can say to the people, “You know, David, who knows what he’ll do for you? But if you stick with me, things will be much better.” Remember that great political posture that he takes. He was in the gate. Well, he was in the gate with a big story, then he was hanging in a tree with no story, and then he was buried under a pile of stones. O Absalom!
Well, the people now are in a different position. They had all heard what David had said to the commanders: “Deal gently with Absalom.” That hadn’t happened. They had heard that David was grieving, and they began to mourn with him. They heard that he was back in the gate, and so they all came before the king.
I just watched part of a documentary, I think it was, on the death of Lady Diana. And I was struck by the fact that leadership brings both privileges and burdens. Because in the death of Lady Diana, Her Majesty the Queen was at Balmoral in Scotland, and the response of the nation was “Why doesn’t she come down here and grieve with the rest of us?” They had no way of knowing whether she was grieving or not, but that was the position. And I thought to myself, “You know, there is no place to hide from that kind of scrutiny.” The people will always know what the duty of the leader is. And David was unable to bear either the burden or the privilege in this situation.
I guess that’s one of the reasons that tonight, when we come together to pray, we will pray for those who are in authority over us. We will pray for the leaders of our nation. We will pray for those who are entrusted with privileges and responsibilities and burdens that most of us will never actually experience. But, of course, that won’t stop us from having our opinions and claiming that we know.
Now, halfway through verse 8, the scene switches. The sad picture fades, and up onto the screen comes the broader picture of what’s happening throughout the land: “And all the people,” verse 9, “were arguing.” They’ve scattered in confusion. So, from “The king is grieving” to “The people were arguing.”
Now, I’m gonna ask you to try and follow me in this, because I want to gather under that heading, “All the people were arguing,” verses 9–15 and then verses 40–43. If you miss this, you won’t miss the big picture, and this will be sufficient to find yourself walking out the door saying, “I really need to read that again.” Then I will have achieved two objectives in the process. All right?
What we have in these two sections, 9–15 and 40–43, are bookends of what is actually happening in the wider world, both amongst the northern tribes of Israel and also Judah as well. When we get to chapter 20, if we ever do, we will discover there the eruption of a civil war. And unless we understand these sections in 19, then we will find ourselves saying, “Well, I thought David won. I thought they were all home. I know he was sad for a while, but what’s going on here?” Well, the storyteller, the narrator, is preparing us for what is about to happen. And so, in light of that, the function of these passages is to make that clear to us.
So, verses 9 and following to verse 15. Let me try quickly to summarize it for us.
Absalom, as we know, had stolen the hearts of the people. They had followed him, but he’s now dead. And so, in verses 9 and 10, they’re in a quandary. They’re in a quandary, because they had rejected the true king, they had gone with the potential king, he was gone, and therefore, a number of them were saying, “It’s time to reverse our decision. We’ve got nothing here now. That was a futile exercise. Let’s get back to the one who is the true king.” And clearly, some people were challenging that as well.
Now, all of this had reached the ears of David. You see that down in verse 11, actually—towards the end of verse 11: “The word of all Israel ha[d] come to the king.” So David hears that the northern tribes—those are the ones who had sided with Absalom—are having this discussion about the future. He then dispatches Abiathar and Zadok, whom we’ve already met, to go to the people of Judah and to say to them, “Well, hey, what’s going on with you folks? Why should you,” verse 11, “be the last to bring the king back to his house?” So he sends word to Judah. You remember, he is from the tribe of Judah. And he says, “‘Why are you not at the front of this parade?’ Go and ask them. ‘After all,’” he says, “‘you are my brothers, and you are my bone and my flesh. Why then would you be the last to bring the king back?’”
Now, we’re not going to go back to this, but if you go back to the beginning of things, you will see there that Judah was the first to anoint David as king. That’s in chapter 2 of 2 Samuel. It took until we found it in chapter 5 for Israel to acknowledge him as king at Gilgal. And so David is saying, “You were at the front of this parade before. Why are you bringing up the rear? You are actually my brothers. You are mine, and you are my flesh.” Which is actually, and interestingly and importantly, what the armies of Israel or the people of Israel said when they adopted David as king in 2 Samuel chapter 5. You’ll find it if you look for it.
And so, what is he doing? Well, he is actually stitching together in his mind these arguing factions, both Israel and Judah, seeking to bring them together on the same page. And he adds to this—very politically, I suggest—in verse 13, where he says, “Say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh?’” Now, that ought to cause you to pause for a moment if you’ve been following this story. Because Amasa was the commander of the armies of Absalom. Joab was the commander of the armies of David. “Now,” says David, “go to Judah and say, ‘Listen, let’s have Amasa as the commander in place of Joab.’”
Now, what he was doing, I think, was at least this: he was making it clear that they weren’t gonna face any retribution for their rebellion. But I think there’s a more than even chance that he was actually punishing Joab for the part that he had played in the death of his son. Joab is not gonna be the commander anymore—not after that. And what happened? Well, we’re told that “he swayed the heart[s]” of the people, or he won them over, and they were united “as one man,” and they brought “the king over the Jordan.”
Okay, so far, so good. That’s bookend number one.
Now, if you go to verse 40, we come to the second part of this: the king went over, “went on to Gilgal.” Chimham, to whom we’ll come in a moment, “went on with him.” Now, notice: “All the people of Judah, and also half the people of Israel, brought the king on his way.” Okay?
What we’re viewing here is actually the fragile nature of this renewed kingdom. They’re back together, but it’s not perfect. Judah was united: “all the people”—but only “half the people of Israel.” The disagreements that we saw in verses 9 and 10 amongst Israel clearly have not been resolved. They haven’t produced unanimity. But there was one thing that they agreed on, and that was their conviction, you will see here, that the folks of Judah had stolen the king and brought him over. They had stolen him and brought him over.
Well, was that the case? And so they said to them, “Why is this? Why have you done this?” And all the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, “Because the king is our close relative. Why would you be angry? We haven’t been getting any tax breaks from him. We haven’t been getting free food from him.” “Well,” they respond to that, “well, you may be close, but actually, we have ten shares in the king and in David. Also, we have more than you.” Well, of course, this made perfect sense, because there were ten tribes in the north, and Judah was there by itself. And the narrator tells us that as this argument continues, the argument from Judah carried more weight or was “fiercer” than the argument from Israel. And so, at the end of the chapter, it is clear that the return of the king has not united the people.
Pause. Back to the beginning, if you remember: I said one of the ways in which we see Jesus and we see God’s purposes is when there is, if you like, a charcoal sketch of something that looks like to be fulfilled in, and also when there is something that is so clearly not like. Well, this is “not like.” Because, you see, all that David would have wanted to accomplish he was unable to accomplish. In fact, every endeavor, all the way through to the United Nations of our world today, that seeks to bring about peace, tranquility, unanimity, oneness, a one-world order, a unanimity of everything—every endeavor to that end, no matter how good, no matter how admirable in places, is destined to defeat. Only when King Jesus returns will that which David desired be accomplished. Only when the King returns.
Now, unless you believe that—that God will bring to completion all that he has begun, that he will fulfill his purposes—then golly, you must be having a really hard time right now, trying to make sense of life in the Western world. It must be really tough to sit on your couch and watch the demise of Western civilization and say to yourself, “I don’t know how we’re gonna fix this.” There’s only one fix: in the gospel, in the King. And earthly kings cannot achieve that which is only achieved in and through Jesus as the true King.
Now, those are the bookends. We have to come back to the final point, which is “Three lives were changing.” To which you say, “And I hope they were changing quite quickly.” Well, we’re about to see.
Sixteen to twenty-three, Shimei: he appeals for clemency. I’ll tell you what the points are, in case we never get there: Shimei appeals for clemency, Mephibosheth displays his loyalty, and Barzillai confronts his mortality. You say, “Well, that’s a complete sermon.” You’re right! But here we go: summary.
Shimei. You haven’t forgotten Shimei, I hope. He made quite a striking impact on us back in chapter 16. He is the cursing, stone-throwing, dust-flinging character who was dramatically opposed to King David as he made his sorry exit from Jerusalem. Remember, there he was on one side of the road, shouting over, “Oh, you bad act, you destroyer of the kings of Israel, you opponent of Saul!” and so on—it’s such a picture!—as he made his way out. And he’s back. Shimei is back. He’s not alone; he’s got a thousand with him of the tribe of Benjamin. That’s Saul’s tribe. He’s got Ziba, whom we’ve also seen and to which we’ll come in a moment. And there they are, and they’re on a mission to get on the winning side. He’s now concerned that his hostility would be vanquished and that he would be met with forgiveness.
And so he appeals on that basis for clemency. In verse 19, he “said to the king, ‘Let … my lord [not] hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem.’” This is like… It’s really crazy! Why would he even mention it? How could David forget it? He’s got a vivid picture in his mind of this fellow throwing big lumps of earth at him. “Do not let the king take it to heart.” Easy for you to suggest! “For your servant knows that I have sinned. And the reason I’m here today… And I’m first of all the house of Joseph to come down and meet my lord the king. I haven’t wasted any time coming to see you, king! No, I’m first, you will notice.”
Well, what are we to make of this? I wonder how sincere this is. Do you take this at face value? I don’t know. It’s certainly strategic. It’s convenient. When the wind was blowing in another direction, he was throwing clods of dirt. Now the wind is blowing in the other direction, he’s not throwing dirt; he’s throwing himself. He’s throwing himself at the feet of the king. Because apparently, the wind now, in changing direction, has blown a conscience into the heart of Shimei.
Well, Abishai, Mr. Consistent—never saw anybody whose head he would not like to lop off—responds as he’s done in previous times. Remember, when Shimei was doing his bad stuff in the exit, he said, “Why don’t we take his head off?” And now, just as consistent as ever… I think I actually praise him for his consistency, if not for his vengeful spirit.
And, of course, there is an indication of clemency: immediately, “You shall not die.” “You shall not die.” But, you know, if ever we get to 1 Kings chapter 2, we’ll discover that David actually did take care of Shimei. He did. It’s a reminder, again, by way of contrast. In other words, you could beg for clemency before King David and not get it. All who beg for clemency before King Jesus will receive it.
So you say to yourself, “Well, my life has been one of cursing Jesus. I’ve been on the other side of the street. I’ve had no interest in him at all. Are you actually telling me that if I come to him and acknowledge that I have sinned, that I was in the wrong, that I made the wrong decisions, that he will grant to me forgiveness?” Absolutely, one hundred percent, promised. Look at the cross of Christ and see there the expression of forgiveness.
That’s Shimei, in an appeal for clemency. Mephibosheth, in declaring his loyalty: “And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king.” And he was a pretty picture, as you will see.
Now, we gotta remember that we’ve been introduced to him by Ziba back in chapter 16. And on that occasion, Ziba had painted a picture of Mephibosheth as staying home and out of the support of David because, said Ziba, “He is keen to see Absalom succeed so that the kingdom of Saul will prevail.” That’s what Ziba told David. And if you remember, David made a kind of knee-jerk reaction to that, and he said, “Everything that I gave to Mephibosheth I’m now giving to you, Ziba.” And we read that, and we said, “Whoa, that’s quite a reaction!”
Now here we are with the other side of the story, because Mephibosheth now has returned to the king. And he comes looking like somebody who has, if you like, gone on a hunger strike in order to express his solidarity. His toenails are long and presumably dirty. We would not want to sit next to him. We wouldn’t want him in the middle seat on a journey anywhere on the plane. He hadn’t trimmed his beard. He hadn’t washed his clothes. He looked like this. And the reason that he looked like this—and we discover this when David invites him to come clean on this, so to speak—the reason is that he had expressed his solidarity in his absence. And he says when David asks him, “Well, what was going on?” he says, “Well, Ziba deceived you and deceived me. That wasn’t true. I was getting ready to come and join you, but he took off without me.”
Now, again, are you with Mephibosheth on this or not? Are you going with Ziba’s story or Mephibosheth’s story? I was good on Mephibosheth right up until where he says, “My lord, O king, my servant deceived me, for your servant said to him, ‘I will saddle a donkey for myself, that I may ride on it and go with the king.’ For your servant is lame.” That just gave me a little kind of funny feeling. Like David didn’t know he was lame? David took him into his house because he was lame! He did it out of kindness, even though he was the grandson of Saul. He knew exactly he was lame. So I’m just wondering whether he’s just pushing it a little too much here. He’s got every vested interest to be welcomed.
Now, it’s not a main thing or a plain thing. You can make your own decisions. And he’s prepared to say to him, “Why don’t you just do what seems good to you? I don’t have any right to ask for anything.” And notice what David does: he says—and I wonder whether just in the way he responds there’s an indication of something here: “And the king said to him, ‘Why speak any more of your affairs?’” “I’ve had enough of this conversation.” I don’t know whether he’s saying, “I don’t know whether to believe you or believe Ziba, quite frankly. But I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do: we’re doing a fifty-fifty split. I gave it to you, then I gave it to Ziba. Now I’m not giving it to any one of you; I’m just splitting it between the two of you. Now let’s get on, and let’s get out.”
Well, there you see it, and there you have it. I wonder, are his dirty toenails and his messed-up appearance sacraments of his faithfulness, or whether they are just an attempt to put himself in the good graces of the king? People will go to all kinds of endeavors to try and be accepted by the king.
Lastly, Barzillai the Gileadite, who confronts his mortality. We’ve met this man before. We met him in chapter 17, when he provided resources for David and his friends when they were marooned, as it were, in the wilderness. There’s a sermon in this section to which I will come one day, God willing, but for now, let me just give you what would essentially be the outline of it.
Notice, first of all, that he was elderly. Verse 32: he “was a very aged man,” and he was “eighty years old.” All right? He has shown up not to seek anything for himself but to escort the king over the Jordan. He receives an invitation from the king to come and receive from the king. And so he responds by saying, “How many years have I still to live—have I still left to live?”
Now, it’s not because he’s being morbid. He’s just being realistic. The psalmist tells us that “the years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty.” I haven’t spoken with any people in the insurance industry for a while—the geniuses that do the actuarial work—but I have a sneaking suspicion that despite the ability for people to live a little longer, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the way in which they do their calculations comes really, really close to what the Bible has to say: that by and large, when you take the mean, when you average it all out, you’re gonna find yourself right where the Bible says. Seventy years is good, and after that, you’re on extra time. Seventy, and then extra time. Some of us are approaching seventy. Some of us have passed seventy. A number of us are on extra time. Incidentally, all the days of our lives were written in his book before one of them came to be. You’ll never die a day early; you’ll never die a day late. In the mystery of God’s providence, he’s got that under his control. Go to sleep and rest; waken up either here, or waken up in heaven.
But Barzillai recognizes this. And he says, “I’m on the outer limit of things.” And he says, “Life has shifted for me. Can I discern the things that are really pleasant? Can I taste? Can I listen to the songs of men, women? Furthermore, why should I be a burden to you? I can’t walk as good as I used to be able to walk. My earthly powers are fading. There’s a shift in my expectations. But I’ll tell you what, I’d like to go part of the way with you,” verse 36. “Your servant will go a little way over the Jordan with the king. Why would I get repaid with such a reward? No,” he says, “I want you to let me go back. I want to die in my own city, near the grave of my father and my mother.”
I get that, don’t you? I’m not a fan of the people who say it doesn’t matter where you get buried. I guess if it doesn’t matter to you, it won’t matter to anybody. The thing that scared me most when I came here in 1983 was that I would die here and they would bury me here. I used to tell Sue, “Whatever happens to me, if you get any money at all, get me home. Get me home.” I don’t feel that way anymore. This is home. But it matters. Not in a utilitarian world. Not in a world that takes the person from the hospital room and reduces them to ashes and puts them in a box. Not in that world. But in the world of the Scriptures, we understand Barzillai’s reaction: “Let me return to my own place. I’m going to go a little way with you, but I’m going to go home. And why don’t you give to Chimham”—relative, friend, son, I think; it talks about the sons of Chimham later on, I think in Chronicles—“why don’t you give to Chimham what you would have given to me?”
And then you have that lovely picture: “And Barzillai went home, and Chimham went on with the king.” Well, isn’t that what we long for, for our children? Because we will go home. But we long that our children will go on with the King, that they would come to know the King, that they would come to submit to the rule of the King, so that then we could go home and they could go on. Four hundred years later, actually, you read of this in Jeremiah. We read of the habitation of Chimham, which was “near Bethlehem.”
So, to end: in the swirling mists of battles fought, kingdoms established, the work of God continues day by day in the lives of his people. Our names may not be known beyond our borders, but they are known entirely to God. So let us give ourselves unreservedly to spend the balance of our time, our talents, and our energies in the service of the King.
Father, out of an abundance of words may we hear your Word. Speak to us as individuals a word of comfort, a word of challenge, a word of rebuke, whatever it might be. Grant that we might receive it as from your hand, and grant that anything that is untoward or unhelpful or—could it be?—untrue, may be banished from our recollection. For Christ’s sake. Amen.
 Mary Artemesia Lathbury, “Break Thou the Bread of Life” (1877). Lyrics lightly altered.
 See Romans 15:4.
 2 Samuel 12:23 (paraphrased).
 See 2 Samuel 15:2–4.
 2 Samuel 18:5 (paraphrased).
 See 2 Samuel 2:1–4.
 See 2 Samuel 5:1–3.
 See 2 Samuel 5:1.
 2 Samuel 16:7–8 (paraphrased).
 2 Samuel 16:9 (paraphrased).
 2 Samuel 16:3 (paraphrased).
 2 Samuel 16:4 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 90:10 (ESV).
 See Psalm 139:16.
 Jeremiah 41:17 (ESV).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.