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Barzillai’s Legacy

Barzillai was one of the people who helped King David during the period when David’s son Absalom was trying to usurp the throne. (See 2 Samuel 17:27-29.)

Later, when David had regained the throne and was rewarding people who’d been loyal during the rebellion, Barzillai shows up. He’s there to help David get back across the Jordan…and, conveniently, to collect his reward. David asks Barzillai to come back with him to Jerusalem and become a retainer at court. (2 Samuel 19:32-33.) But Barzillai refuses.

Instead, he asks David to remember Chinham (perhaps a son or other relative):

But Barzillai said to the king, “How many years have I still to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? Today I am 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? … But here is your servant Chimham; let him go over with my lord the king; and do for him whatever seems good to you.”

This lesson illustrates two important principles. Well, three: the third is that you might deserve a reward, but to receive it, you have to show up. Don’t forget that. But the first two are even more important.

The first is that people in their 80s can still make a difference. This is a sort of truism in the church, and we’ve all heard sermons about how Abraham was 100 and Moses was 80, etc. But who ever heard of Barzillai?

Barzillai is just a guy. He’s as ordinary as anybody you’ll find in the Bible. And he doesn’t enjoy super-human long life. He’s gotten old and he feels the weight of it. But for all that, he still made a difference. The Bible doesn’t tell us enough for us to evaluate how significant his contribution was … but clearly it was enough to make David grateful.

The second principle is that older people can, and should, be thinking about the next generation. Barzillai knew he couldn’t benefit from whatever reward David offered, but Chimham could. A lot of people might have thought of themselves first, but not Barzillai. Rather than “waste” the king’s favor on himself, he thought of someone else who could use it more than him.

A recent Gallup survey “found that by almost any measure, people get happier as they get older, and researchers are not sure why.” Wouldn’t it be great if older people could spread some of that around? Is there a younger Chimham in your life? What could you do to redirect some favor from yourself to them?

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