Barzillai the Gileadite

 •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 9
“Barzillai was a very aged man, even fourscore years old; and he had provided the king of sustenance while he was at Mahanaim; for he was a very great man.” The king invites Barzillai to go with him to Jerusalem, “and I will feed thee with me.” But Barzillai feels he is too old for this, and he had not served his rejected Master for reward or acknowledgment; it was love that so liberally gave of his substance to the king in those darkest of days, and love does not give for reward. But he adds, (as I suppose we all will add in that coming day), “And why should the king recompense it me with such a reward?” And then, though he would return home himself, he offers his son Chimham to go with the king; “and do to him what shall seem good unto thee.” And the king answered, “Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do to him that which shall seem good unto thee.” (2 Sam. 19).
What did David do for the son of his old friend, who had cared for him in his rejection? We do not know for sure, but could it be that he shared with him his own family estate at Bethlehem? We know our King shares His kingly Home with those who share His rejection. Anyway, we read in Jer. 41:1717And they departed, and dwelt in the habitation of Chimham, which is by Bethlehem, to go to enter into Egypt, (Jeremiah 41:17) of those who dwelt “in the habitation of Chimham, which is by Bethlehem.” And there are those who think this should be the “inn of Chimham”, and that afterward, perhaps, it was this very inn that could find “no room” for the King of Kings, and so in its stable, at Bethlehem, great David’s greater Son came to our world, rejected, as David had been, in small measure, before Him. We cannot know for sure about this, but we do know that David did not forget the one who had shared his rejection, and in his dying charge to his son Solomon he especially commended to his care, not only Chimham, but “the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite.”
It is a blessed thing to have the privilege of sharing the rejection of Jesus and still more blessed that our children should share that rejection with us. They, and we, will share the glory in a coining day with the One we have learned to love in His rejection. There are those who say: Let the children choose for themselves. That was not the way with those noble men of old. With them, the children, of course, went with their fathers. May it be so, more and more, with your little ones.
But I cannot refrain from another little word about Chimham, even though it is not exactly in line with the subject before us. The name Chimham means “Great Desire”, “Longing”. It comes from a Hebrew root, meaning “to long for” anything; it occurs only once in the Bible, Psa. 63:22To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. (Psalm 63:2), “my flesh longeth for Thee.” Does not this name tell us of the intense desire of the inmost heart of Chimham’s noble father; as he “longed” for the blessings promised, but waited for so long, for his people Israel? Perhaps I should not say “the blessings”, but rather “the Blesser”; for it is not for “them”, but “for Thee my flesh longeth.” And so it came about that although Barzillai himself could not go to Jerusalem with David, his “Longing” did go over, and dwelt there with the king. May I quote an old poem I found recently that has strangely stirred my own heart, and I hope may carry a message of hope for you also:
“Chimham Shall Go Over”
The King hath passed the river
Jerusalem is free;
This wilderness is weary,
This flesh is slavery:
Awhile He dwelt among us,
With whom it was not so:
Henceforth our King and Savior
No more in flesh we know.
He entered Jordan asking
For us with Him to be;
The glory He is bearing
He prayed that we might see;
“Father I will” (we listened,
I thought I heard my name)
“That they whom Thou has given Me
Be with Me where I am.”
Man may not gaze on glory,
As once he looked on grace;
Not on the Lord rejoicing,
As on the Man’s marred face;
A little while in Gilead
Our dwelling-place must be,
But our “Longing” shall go over,
And dwell, O Lord, with Thee.
I dwelt by Jordan longing
That I might soon depart,
And one Lord’s Day a vision
Entranced my longing heart.
I saw upon Mount Zion,
Around the Royal Lamb,
Twelve times twelve thousand virgins
From men redeemed they came.
One voice of many waters
Went up from all that throng,
The voice of harpers harping,
One thunder-voice of song,
Before the throne and elders
And living creatures near;
None not redeemed could learn it,
None not redeemed could bear.
And every mouth was guileless,
Each garment undefiled;
God on each brow had written
The Name that seals His child,
And, while I looked, my Savior
Smiled on me graciously;
“Come over, I will feed thee
In Jerusalem with Me.”
The vision faded from me;
I woke to earth again;
Before me rolled the Jordan
Behind me stretched the plain,
But still there dwelt upon me
My Savior’s look and smile;
And words were whispering in mine ears,
His Words, “A little while.”
A little while— by Jordan
My sojourning must be;
But my longing hath gone over,
And I long to dwell with Thee.
“A little while” —how long have I to live,
That I should go to be a king with Thee?
Labor and sorrow all that flesh can give,
And fourscore years the bound of life for me!
Can I discern betwixt the good and ill?
Sad empty godhead man had thought to win!
And shall Thy treasured goodness flow, to fill
A soul in rags, a vessel meet for sin?
Can Thy servant taste
The fruit of life whereon Thy conquerors feed?
Shall lips unclean the hidden manna waste,
The living waters where the Lamb doth lead?
Can I hear the voice
Of those who sing “Salvation” all the day,
Whose eyes behold the King, whose hearts rejoice
With joy untold, that no man takes away?
No— not yet —not there,
To be a burden to my Lord the King.
No— let this earthly house dissolve to share
Their life, whom God with Thee again shall bring.
A little way will I Thy servant go,
A little way o’er Jordan with my Lord.
And why, —’twill take eternity to know —
Why should He recompense me such reward?
The heavy spirit and the failing flesh
With thee awhile shall yet be crucified,
Whose eye was never dim, Whose nature’s force
Did not abate, till He o’ercame, that died?
So would I, Lord, in Jordan
Be first baptized with Thee;
Yet take my longing over
To Jerusalem the free.
And if some time the spirit
But dimly burn within,
And the weak flesh be weaker
With wound or sore of sin;
I’ll think on Him Who conquered
And kept the crown for me;
And my longing shall go over
And wear it now with Thee.
When heavy for a season,
With temptings manifold,
When faith mistrusts Thy goodness,
When love is waxing cold;
I’ll long to know the surety
Of that I do not see;
And my longing shall go over
And know it now with Thee.
When bread of tears is given,
Or plenteous tears to drink,
I’ll long for hidden manna,
Of Christ my life I’ll think,
Whose streams make glad the city
Where weeping shall not be;
And my longing shall go over
To Paradise with Thee.
If for a time I suffer,
Pierced with the thorns that grow,
Lest we forget the wilderness
And all our nature’s woe;
Yet from that voice of harpers
Sorrow and sighing flee;
And my longing shall go over,
And hear them sing to Thee.
In Gilead and by Jordan
My tent while must be,
Hard by the “Hill” whose “witness”1,
Is “Jesus died for me”;
Hard by the brink of Jordan,
Whose ever-deepening tide2
Still, as my feet it cleanseth3
Is whispering, “Jesus died”
And o’er the flood I’ll look, and long
For Jerusalem the free;
While the spirit in the failing flesh
Is going heavily;
And my sign the dimly burning flax4
The bruise reed shall be:
But my longing only shall not fail;
I’ll always long for Thee.
And some day, while I’m longing,
I think my Lord will come!
And in the twinkling of an eye
I shall be free, at home;
And my soul, that thirsteth after God,
Shall be athirst no more;
And my hunger shall be satisfied,
And all my longings o’er.
(C. H. Waller, 1865)
I had stopped here in the story of Barzillai, even though my notebook referred me to three verses in Ezra 2:61-6361And of the children of the priests: the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai; which took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called after their name: 62These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood. 63And the Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and with Thummim. (Ezra 2:61‑63). But I could not bear to see the noble name of Barzillai tarnished with any mark of failure, and so I decided to disregard my note. But the Spirit of God is too faithful an Historian to cover up every failure, though many a one He does cover, and for the rest He seems to delight to hide these failures away where few will find them. So, now with my book finished, I cannot send it to you, with that note in my old notebook, still not crossed off, and much against my will, we must look together at the cause of the blot on that fair name Barzillai.
The matter did not even come to light for nearly five hundred years, not until after the return from Captivity in Babylon. Then the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai.... sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found; therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood. And the Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim.
And what was the cause of this shame and degradation? Why could these persons not trace their genealogy? Long years before, one of their forefathers married a daughter of Barzillai the Gileadite. No doubt it was considered a very good match for the young priest, and doubtless it brought with it wealth, riches and honor; for we have seen that Barzillai was a very great man, a very noble character (his very name meant “Iron of the Lord” to indicate he was “most firm and true”), and he was so immensely wealthy, that as we have seen, he could from his own private means take care of the king during his rejection.
It was no light thing to become the son-in-law of such a man; and the young priest, contrary to God’s order, gave up his own name and took the name of his wife: and so in Ezra he stands with the name “Barzillai”. But his own priestly name is lost; lost it would appear in the desire for worldly advancement, riches, wealth and honor. Doubtless he gained all these; and he probably thought the price he paid was very small; but how little did he think that his act, some five hundred years later would cost his children their blessed, privileged place of priests! But we cannot obtain advancement in the things of the world without loss in the things of Heaven. And in the end we will find that Heaven’s riches and honor are more enduring than those of earth, no matter how tempting the offer may be now. (See Ezra 2:6161And of the children of the priests: the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai; which took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called after their name: (Ezra 2:61)).
It is not for us to say who was to blame, but it is a sad, sad thing to see the name of Barzillai the Gileadite linked up in the Book of Ezra, with this story of sorrow and shame.
I need not point out the lessons for us; they are too plain to require comment; but I may point to the end of the passage as a blessed message of hope. For us a priest has stood up with Urim and Thummim, and He knows the heart: He knows if the genealogy is really true, if there has been the new birth, even though years of contact with the world, may have hidden it to the eyes of others.