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. – 2 Samuel 19:31-43 ESV
These closing verses of chapter 19 set up was is going to happen next. As David attempted to reestablish his claim to the throne of Israel, he was faced with the task of rewarding those who had stood by his side during Absalom’s short-lived coup, but also of winning back the allegiance of those who had sided with Absalom in his rebellion. There were some, like Barzillai, who had aided David in his escape from Jerusalem. This wealthy octogenarian, had provided food for David and his followers while they were in Mahanaim. Barzillai was from Gilead, a region east of the Jordan River that was divided between the tribes of Gad and Manasseh. We are not told which tribe Barzillai belonged to, but only that he had proved to be an ally to David during those difficult days after the loss of his throne. David’s desire to reward him was gratefully rejected by Barzillai because of his advanced age. Rather than accept David’s gracious offer to return to Jerusalem and live out his days in David’s palace, he preferred to return home and die in his own land. But he offered Chimham, most likely his son, to stand as his proxy. Chimham would return to Jerusalem with David and receive the benefit of the king’s gratitude.
But there was a storm brewing. David’s return to the throne was not going to be easy. And simply handing out rewards to those who had stood by his side was not going to make the transfer of power any easier. If you recall, one of the first things David did when he received his abrupt wake-up call from Joab and stopped his excessive mourning over Absalom, was to call for the tribe of Judah to come to his aid. He sent a message to the leaders of Judah.
“Why are you the last ones to welcome back the king into his palace? For I have heard that all Israel is ready. You are my relatives, my own tribe, my own flesh and blood! So why are you the last ones to welcome back the king?” – 2 Samuel 19:11-12 NLT
This wasn’t exactly the case. David was a bit optimistic in his assessment of the situation, because the text actually paints a slightly different picture.
Meanwhile, the Israelites who had supported Absalom fled to their homes. And throughout all the tribes of Israel there was much discussion and argument going on. The people were saying, “The king rescued us from our enemies and saved us from the Philistines, but Absalom chased him out of the country. Now Absalom, whom we anointed to rule over us, is dead. Why not ask David to come back and be our king again?” – 2 Samuel 19:9-10 NLT
Not everybody was lining up to welcome David home. The Israelites, representing ten of the other tribes besides Judah and the Benjaminites, were divided in their thoughts regarding David. Many were scared that David would seek retribution against them for siding with Absalom. Others argued that David had been successful against the enemies of Israel, but had fled at the sight of Absalom. The only real vote of confidence in David was that, since Absalom was dead, he was the most obvious choice as a replacement. And yet, David was under the somewhat deluded impression that all of Israel was ready to welcome him back and so he used this thought to goad the tribe of Judah into action. But in doing this, David actually made his problem worse.
We’re told that, “All the troops of Judah and half the troops of Israel escorted the king on his way” (2 Samuel 19:40 NLT). Not everyone was on board with David’s return. Many were in hiding, fearing what David was going to do when he returned to power. And the leaders of the ten tribes expressed to David their concern over what they saw was a case of cronyism.
But all the men of Israel complained to the king, “The men of Judah stole the king and didn’t give us the honor of helping take you, your household, and all your men across the Jordan.” – 2 Samuel 19:41 NLT
It was important to these men that they have the favor of the king, because they were the ones who had sided against him. So when they saw the men of Judah, David’s own tribe, getting the honor of escorting him across the Jordan, they became jealous and fearful. They knew their actions against David were going to make it difficult to win back his favor, and they were concerned that David’s close ties to his own tribe were going to make reconciliation that much more difficult. So an argument broke out. It is important to remember that these people had just fought a major battle against one another in which 20,000 men had died. There were still emotional and physical wounds to be healed. The civil war that had just taken place, while short-lived, had left deep-seated animosities between the tribes. Every step David took, both literally and figuratively, was going to be hyper-analyzed. His leadership skills were going to be tested like never before. His ability to navigate the stormy and dangerous waters of reunification was going to require a wisdom greater than he possessed. If David ever needed God, it was now. But there is a marked absence of any reference to God in any of this narrative. In so many other times during David’s life, we saw him seeking God. He would turn to God for counsel and refrain from making any decisions until he had heard from God. But here, in the heat of the moment, David seems to be acting out of impulse. Perhaps he was in a hurry to put this nasty episode behind him and get things back to normal. But it appears that every decision he made blew up in his face. He was learning the difficult lessons that come with leadership. Simply wearing the crown did not make him a king. Getting his kingdom back wasn’t going to win his people back. Handing out rewards was not going to heal the wounds that plagued his nation. David needed the wisdom of God. Without His help, David was like any other man, susceptible to outside influences, filled with inner conflicts, motivated by fear and self–preservation, capable of anger, and always subject to sin.
Far too often, we read the stories of the life of David and attempt to make him into an icon of virtue, a model for spirituality and godly leadership. But David was a man. Yes, he was a man after God’s own heart, but that does not mean he always did was God would have him do. The real lessons to be learned from the life of David have to do with the faithfulness of God, not the righteousness of David. His life is a stark reminder of just how much each of us needs God. He was God’s anointed king. He had been hand-picked by God for his role. But without constant reliance upon God, David was an accident waiting to happen. Apart from God, his life tended to end up a train wreck with bodies strewn across the landscape. The good news of the gospel is not just that we have been chosen by God to receive His mercy and grace as made available through His Son’s death on the cross. It is that we have access to His wisdom and power every day of our lives. We have forgiveness for the sins we will inevitably commit. We have His unfailing love even when we fail to love Him consistently or completely. David wasn’t a perfect king, but he was God’s king. And his life provides us with a powerful reminder that our best days will be those in which we recognize our weakness and our need for God’s power. Trying to be king without God would never work out well for David. Trying to be a Christian without God will never turn out well for us either. It is not the title that sets us apart. It is our relationship with and dependence upon God.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.