Devotedness; Or, Barzillai and His Companions

2 Samuel 17:27‑29  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 9
SA 17:27-29{How truly said the wise king, " Forsake the foolish, and live; " not forsake folly, that goes with the man or woman; and again, " He that walketh with wise men shall be wise," &c. From this double testimony we learn the overwhelming influence of a person. It used to be said of Napoleon the Great, to be in his company was to be drawn by him, even if he did not say anything.
Now, with regard to the above, I wish to call your attention to the passages before us, an oft-repeated story, and a well-known and well-beaten track; but one of those paths of the Lord which always drop fatness; another tree of Psa. 1, that produces fruit in its season, and whose leaf fadeth not. And who, may I ask, interested in the vicissitudes of "the man after God's own heart," has not in spirit fallen into company with these three men-Shobi, Machir, and Barzillai, hitherto comparative strangers in Bible history-as they come forth from their hiding-places? They had perhaps no preconcerted plan to do homage to the king who for the time has lost both crown and throne, and is driven as a wanderer from his house by his son-the rebellious Absalom, while fully owning in it all the retributive justice of God-" for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
I think we learn this from various records of the Holy Ghost; viz., "David went up by the ascent of mount Olivet, and wept as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot." "Carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favor in the eyes of the Lord, He will bring me again, and show me both it, and His habitation." "So let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David." "I, as a deaf man, heard not; and I was as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth." How he bowed his heart and his back to the rod! Would that the same spirit were more known to us all who live in these days of rebuke! What humbleness and contrition of heart it would produce, and we should certainly "find favor in the eyes of the Lord "!
But who are these who rise to the surface at such a moment, and choose to come forth and take sides with him who suffers reproach so patiently? Shobi is of the Ammonites, the inveterate enemies to the people of God, whose forefathers were forbidden to the tenth generation to enter the congregation of the Lord, because they despised and neglected Israel as they came out of Egypt (Deut. 23:33An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever: (Deuteronomy 23:3)). But here is a descendant who seems to retrieve their character, and who seizes the opportunity of showing his love and loyalty to God's king, and to his own victor; for David had conquered "the city of waters "-a little faint gleaming of "when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son." Machir issues from a place of "no pasture," but he too found something to bring to the king in his calamity. Then the aged Barzillai from Gilead, a worthy countryman of the restorer of the ten tribes-Elijah the prophet; veritable descendant of him who was separated from his brethren-Joseph, the ruler of Egypt. These all come from various parts of the country, drawn from home comforts and relationships by the all-absorbing influence of one person, that one man, and that man in the worst of circumstances of weariness-hunger and thirst. But why not join the ranks of the usurper, whose forces were accumulating with the hour, and who to sight had it all his own way? Because faith, which pierces the present, and looks at the future, knew that that rejected one, in distress lying at Mahanaim, was God's king, however much appearances belied the fact; and hence they seize the opportunity to have fellowship with the chosen of God, and to minister what is most acceptable; for affection always understands its object's needs.
Now, to turn aside for a moment, may we not be allowed to draw this beautiful scene of affection into the present moment? And may we not transfer it, in a figure, to the gatherings of those devoted to the true David, specially when together on the first day of the week? Is it then a doctrine, a certain truth, or a particular command, such as "Thou shalt," that draws together the saints of God from all parts and various circumstances to one spot, of no outward pomp or pretension? Surely it is neither one nor the other of these, but it is the Person who has guaranteed His presence to that place (Matt. 18:2020For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)), acting on hearts as nothing else has power to do; for it is the Person that makes the affections flow, and so engrosses them that all else is lost sight of. What brought the four hundred miserables to the cave of Adullam (1 Sam. 22), and Amasai, the chief of the captains, with his Benjamites, the kindred of the reigning power-King Saul? And what could have drawn forth that beautiful expression of self-surrender, " Thine are we, David, and on thy side, thou son of Jesse: peace, peace be unto thee, and peace be to thine helpers; for thy God helpeth thee "? (1 Chron. 12:1818Then the spirit came upon Amasai, who was chief of the captains, and he said, Thine are we, David, and on thy side, thou son of Jesse: peace, peace be unto thee, and peace be to thine helpers; for thy God helpeth thee. Then David received them, and made them captains of the band. (1 Chronicles 12:18)) And again, who thought of the dingy walls of the hold, cold and cheerless to the natural eye, when the voice of the sweet psalmist of Israel rose in the praise and the worship of that beautiful fifty-seventh Psalm, that wonderful mixture of prayer and praise, beginning at the bottom with man's need, we might say, and rising to the top-the glory of God, and ending in worship: "My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing, yea, I will sing psalms. Awake, my glory; awake, lute and harp: I will wake the dawn." And is it not so with us, when gathered around Himself, and the true David leads the praises of the congregation, His new company? To be occupied with aught else would only show where the heart was, for it all depends, at such times, upon the place Christ has in the heart; if He is everything to me, then there is no such place outside heaven; be He little to me, then it is a tedious, wearisome service indeed, and the place becomes the absorbent power because the Person is not supreme; for it is the person that makes the place, and not the place the person. If Her Majesty the Queen sat in a poor man's house for a few minutes, that little cottage would become the point of attraction for all the village, only because of its royal occupant; how much more so when the Lord Himself takes His place, as an object of faith, amongst His own, according to His promise.
And now the scene changes; for neither the son of Jesse nor the true David are to be always in rejection. And chapter 19 witnesses the return of the king; for the decisive battle in the wood of Ephraim turned the scale, and the murderer and usurper has met his just doom. His violent dealing has come down on his own " pate;" and one of his own stamp is the suitable instrument, viz., the bloodthirsty Joab, but whose decision of character is well worthy of attention. "I may not tarry thus," said he, on hearing of Absalom's hanging in the oak. He well knew how much depended on that life; and with three arrows he puts him to an ignominious death, and he was cast into a still more ignominious grave. Ah! the righteous government of God, and His retributive justice, as also in His Fatherly care. "God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Such was the end of the man so beautiful to the eyes of the world. "From the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him." Alas! how commonly is there such a veneering to a wicked heart. See the king of Samaria during the siege of that place, the sackcloth covering the would-be murderer's heart. (2 Kings 6:3030And it came to pass, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he rent his clothes; and he passed by upon the wall, and the people looked, and, behold, he had sackcloth within upon his flesh. (2 Kings 6:30)) But we find no mention of the "man of fourscore years," Barzillai the Gileadite, in the battle. Perhaps too old for active service, we might say; but not too old to welcome the king on his return. Surely not; we may grow too old to preach the gospel, but never too old to welcome the King, or to be "like unto men that wait for their lord."
Now see chapter 19: 31-39, and listen to the voice of the king as the two meet again: "Come thou over with me, and I will feed thee with me in Jerusalem." Who can fail to hear the distant echo-" To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise." "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory," &c. " Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them." (Luke 12)
Again, chapter 19: 36: " Why should the king recompense it me with such a reward? " Who could fail to see the bearing of this? Surely the language of every one now, who has received the grace of God, and intensified by-and-by in the glory. To think that such as we shall be in God's glory! To be saved from judgment to come is beyond all our intelligence; but to be conformed to the image of His Son is even beyond that. Again we echo the aged Barzillai's words: "And why should the king recompense it me with such a reward?"
Turning to 1 Kings 2, we find ourselves beside the death-bed of the conqueror of Goliath of Gath; and we tread softly, for death has its own peculiar silence, and the approach of " the king of terrors " throws his unmistakable shadow before him; and we listen eagerly for the last words of " the anointed of God; " and we hear him dealing out stern justice to Joab, murderer of the two captains of the host of Israel, never forgetting the wicked acts perpetrated on these righteous men; and then the voice seems to change to the softness of grace, as he says, "But show kindness unto the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be of those that eat at thy table: for so they came to me when I fled because of Absalom thy brother." And again, righteousness is heard on the other side of this apparent parenthesis, pronouncing the fate of him who cursed God's king, and disobeyed the king's command. (Eccl. 8:22I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God. (Ecclesiastes 8:2)) Often great deeds of life pass before the memory of those who are leaving it; but here is one who thinks of the injustice done to others, and the kindness to himself by comparative strangers.
Having glanced at the type, let us look for a moment at the surpassing excellence of the antitype, as we visit in spirit the house of the leper in Bethany on that wonderful day when " they made Him a supper " (John 12; Mark 14), and He, David's Son and Lord, receives the worship and attention of grateful hearts in return for the mighty act of His of yesterday. (Chapter 11) Did He not, as He sat there the center of His little company outside the world and its spirit, control each heart, and, at the same time, was there to eat the " pleasant fruits " of His own garden?
Each of these three seizes the opportunity to do him homage. Dear reader, have you done likewise? Have you yet seized the opportunity afforded by the rejection of the King to declare yourself in this way, " On thy side, thou Son of Jesse; " or, like another set, do you find yourself with the ruler of the Jews, Nicodemus, and the honorable counselor, Joseph, in negative testimony; lacking in that faith which overcomes the apparent difficulties, and boldly declares itself whilst acknowledging the rightness of the path? Such a testimony always existed, from the days of the twelve spies sent by Moses, the two and a half tribes and Israel, the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal, but who had not publicly bowed the knee to Jehovah, and the positive testimony of Elijah the Tishbite.
In drawing this to a close, I would only remark how short the notice given of all these worthies; and none of them scarcely appear again in the Scripture. The long life of the " very great man," Barzillai, who, with no mention in God's record, had perhaps, like many another, lived in his quiet habitation, and such an opportunity for the display of his faith had not arisen before. Or it may be that the Holy Ghost, as in the case of Jacob and his son Joseph, seized the most worthy act, at the end Of life, to be placed everlastingly to his account. But is this not the uniform practice of God? How short the account of the visit of Onesiphorus to the apostle in the Roman dungeon, of the refreshment of which Paul made such striking notice, and which he puts in bright contrast to Phygellus and Hermogenes who had forsaken him f Again, how briefly the service of Epaphroditus is recorded, the man who traveled perhaps one thousand miles to serve Paul and the saints; and we might add to this list Mary of Bethany, and many others. The Lord give us to realize what the present moment affords us.
J. S. B.