Barzillai: God’s Man of the Hour

Reflection: 2 Samuel 17:15-29, 19:31-40; John 21:15-17.

Barzillai is mentioned in only twelve verses of the Bible, but he appears to be one of those rare characters that were immediately available when God needed someone to fulfill an assignment. Otherwise, this very wealthy 80 year-old scion in the Trans-Jordan region of Gilead goes about his ordinary task, minding his own business, but obviously keeping a pulse on what was going on around him. Absalom had just usurped his father’s throne and to consolidate his power, he sends his special forces to hunt him down, eventually trailing David’s rag-tag entourage to Mahanaim, east of the River Jordan. During a respite here, Barzillai arrived, together with Makir and Shobi (except for Barzillai, Makir and Shobi have justifiable reasons to return favours to King David), with relief supplies for the King’s band after their long trek through the hill country of Ephraim. Being refreshed in body and hope, David plans a guerilla campaign against Absalom’s army to be launched from the forest north of Mahanaim. After regaining his throne, the King returns Barzillai’s kindness by encouraging him to return to Jerusalem with him, where he will be looked after for the rest of his life. This sensible and pragmatic old man declined.

This incident seems so ordinary, yet significant, changing the course of history. The immediate lesson from the narrative is the spontaneous, practical, and courageous generosity from strangers to the King’s anguish and grief. God was able to swiftly deploy these three men with their resources principally because of their charitable lifestyle within their own respective communities, as their discriminating contribution (2 Sam 17:28-29) is indicative of their familiarity and wisdom under these circumstances (Matthew 25:34-40).

The flipside of events reflect the ordinariness of life, prior to God’s appointment for Barzillai as His ‘man of the hour.’ We tend to major on the extraordinary, and have forgotten that church life, not unlike Barzillai’s agrarian community, is for the most part quite routine and unspectacular, requiring a faithful tenacity for the long haul, and at times, heart wrenching endeavors. It is the little gritty issues day-in-and-day-out that tests our love for our people, quite apart from its secondary benefit of character building. After all, Jesus’ critical focus for John (21:15-17) parallels His marching orders for the church in disciple making (Matt 28:18-20): “If you love me, tend and… shepherd my people.” Would it be a fair comment that loving God’s people is discipling them and is tantamount to loving God? It is as exciting as watching a tree grow (Luke 13:18-19). But someone has to be responsible for tending it; otherwise some perplexing fruits will certainly be produced. As we are faithful in the daily grind of church responsibilities, God notices and He will make His appointment with us in His time.

Finally, Barzillai was totally aware of his own mortality and role in life. He was not tempted by David’s offer as his responsibilities has him firmly anchored in Gilead – where his family and people are, and no better place to make the transition. I wonder sometimes whether I will recognize myself when I get to heaven. Honestly, I am not quite certain what I am going to be like without sin, as I have never been in that position before, and I cannot imagine what that would look like! But it will undeniably be astounding as we will finally be what we always were as imago Dei, shedding our fallen nature completely. What a hope and salvation!