2 Samuel 19:34

2 Samuel 19:31-40. - (THE JORDAN.)
How long have I to live? (ver. 34). Barzillai dwelt at Rogelim (his own city, ver. 37), in Gilead, where, amidst the rich highland pastures, diligently superintending his flocks and herds, he spent his days in peace. He enjoyed "the blessing of the Old Testament" - prosperity; and was "a very great [wealthy] man." Like Machir ben-Ammiel (2 Samuel 9:4), he was loyal, hospitable, and generous (2 Samuel 17:28). One of his sons (1 Kings 2:7), named Chimham, accompanied him to do honour to the king at his restoration. He was an octogenarian, his memory reaching back to the appointment of the first King of Israel, and Saul's brilliant exploit on behalf of Jabesh-Gilead (1 Samuel 11:11). Of his genuine piety, his answer to the king's invitation, "Come over with me, and I will provide (ver. 32) for thee in Jerusalem," leaves no room for doubt. "May we not legitimately infer that his conduct was influenced, not merely by loyalty to his earthly sovereign, but by the recognition of the higher spiritual truths, and the hope for Israel and the world, symbolized by the reign of David?" (Edersheim). More especially, he furnishes a picture of a beautiful old age (1 Samuel 12:2). To every one, if he should live long enough, old age will come, with impaired powers of judgment, sensibility, and activity (Ecclesiastes 12:1); but whether it will be honourable, useful, and happy depends on the course previously pursued and the character possessed. "Clearness and quickness of intellect are gone; all taste for the pleasures and delights of sense is gone; ambition is dead; capacity of change is departed. What is left? The old man lives in the past and in the future. The early child love for the father and mother who hung over his cradle eighty years ago remains fresh. He cannot 'hear any more the voice of singing men and singing women;' but he can hear, stealing through almost a century, the old tones, thin and ghostlike, of the dear ones whom he first learnt to love. The furthest past is fresh and vivid, and in memory of it is half his life. Also he looks forward familiarly and calmly to the very near end, and thinks much of death. That thought keeps house with him now, and is nearer to him than the world of living men is. Thus one-half of his life is memory, and the other half is hope; and all his hopes are now reduced to one - the hope to die, and then to be laid down and go to sleep again beside his father and mother. And so he returns to his city, and passes out of our sight" (Maclaren). Notice -

I. HIS CLEAR RECOGNITION OF THE NEARNESS OF HIS APPROACHING END. "How many are the days of the years of my life?" etc. (vers. 34, 35; Genesis 47:9). Many an old man considers not that he is old, and must shortly leave the world; he rather strives to keep both his age and his departure out of sight. But such a man as Barzillai is accustomed to reflect on his actual condition, deems himself a "stranger and pilgrim on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13; 1 Chronicles 29:15); and feels certain that a few more steps will bring him to the end of his journey. He also understands what is possible and becoming during his brief continuance, and acts accordingly. "Can anything be more amiable than these simple and sensible words? What a cheerful and peaceful spirit do they breathe! and how does he put to shame very many old men of our day, who, the more the years perform their dismantling work upon them, are so much. the more zealously bent on concealing the decay of their strength behind the glittering surroundings of vain dignities, titles, and high alliances!" (Krummacher). "Usually the nearer men approach to the earth, they are more earthly minded; and, which is strange to amazement, at the sunset of life are providing for a long day" (W. Bates).

II. HIS CHEERFUL RESIGNATION UNDER THE INFIRMITIES OF ADVANCED AGE. He utters no complaint (such as is too common with others) at the failure of his mental and bodily powers, the loss of earthly pleasures formerly possessed, his incapacity for new enterprises and excitements, which, at an earlier age, might have been suitable and desirable. His language is singularly free from fretfulness, disappointment, and discontent. He perceives and acquiesces with a "glad contentment" in the will of God, who "hath made everything beautiful in its season" (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and, although deprived of some enjoyments, he is not destitute of others of a higher order. "It is this, the tasteless meats, the deafness to the singing men and singing women, the apathy to common pleasures, for which old age is pitied and deplored; but this is God's mercy, it is not his vengeance; he deadens the keenness of our bodily senses only to guide us to immortality; we are disgusted with the pleasures of youth, we deride the objects of manly ambition, we are wearied with one worldly trifle or another, that Our thoughts may centre at last in God" (Sydney Smith. 'On the Pleasures of Old Age'). "Old age may be not only venerable, but beautiful, and the object of reverence untinctured by compassion. The intellect, the emotions, the affections (the best of them) all alive, - it is the passions and appetites only that are dead; and who that is wise and has felt the plague of them, does not, with the aged Cephalus, in Plato's 'Republic,' account a serene freedom from their clamorous importunities a compensation for the loss of their tumultuous pleasures?" ('Sel. from the Correspondence of R.E.H. Greyson, Esq.').

III. HIS COURTEOUS REFUSAL OF THE PROFFER OF EARTHLY FAVOURS. What can even a monarch give him now? The society, the pleasures, the honours, of a court; enlarged influence, increased responsibility, more abundant wealth. Is it worth while for their sake to be transplanted to a new soil from the place where he has been so long growing; and when he must so soon be removed from the world altogether? If he had been a sensual, ambitious, or avaricious man, the craving for such things would have remained, and led him (like others) to grasp at their possession, though no longer able to enjoy them or employ them aright. "What so distressing as to see the withered face of old age dull and dead to every consideration of eternity, and kindling with life only at the mention of earthly vanities?" (Blaikie). He declines them, not because they are sinful and worthless in themselves, but because they are unsuitable to him. His heart is set on ether pleasures; his immediate duties are determined and sufficient for his strength. He will not take new burdens on himself, nor be a burden to others. He will accompany the king "a little way," to show his loyal devotion, and then return (2 Kings 4:13). "With all the dignity of self-respect, with the courtesy of a true gentleman, undervaluing not the king's offers, but his own service to him, with the prudent love of a father for the son whom he recommends to his kindness, having outlived nothing really belonging to the true character of the life of man, he returned with the royal kiss and blessing, master of his own will, to his own place" (W. Romanis).

IV. HIS CHERISHED REMEMBRANCE OF PARENTS AND THE FAMILIAR SCENES OF HIS EARLY DAYS. "Let thy servant, I pray thee, turn back," etc. (ver. 37). His thoughts turn back to his native place, his childhood, his father and his mother, whom he must have loved and honoured (Exodus 20:12); and the memory of whom, tender, affectionate, and reverent, is a fountain of pure and undying joy in his breast. How much does the happiness of old age depend upon its memories! Whilst in one case old age is tormented by the recollection of "the pleasures of sin," in another it is gladdened by the recollection of the practice of piety; and such recollections mingle with and, in great measure, determine its anticipations.

"Son of Jesse, let me go:
Why should princely honours slay me?
Where the streams of Gilead flow,
Where the light first met mine eye,
Thither would I turn and die;
Where my parents' ashes lie,
King of Israel! bid them lay me."


V. HIS CONSTANT DESIRE FOR REST in his "long home" (Ecclesiastes 12:5), "the house of eternity." It is now a pervading and increasing feeling. He longs for repose in the sacred spot where his parents lie, as a pilgrim longs for home. The grave for him has no terrors. "He looks for a city which hath foundations," etc. (Hebrews 11:10, 16); and desires to be "gathered with his fathers," and to be forever at rest in God (1 Samuel 25:1; 2 Samuel 7:12; Psalm 49:15; Proverbs 14:32; Daniel 12:13). "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace" (Luke 2:29). "A man should still be bound for home as you see all creatures be. Let a bird be far from the nest, and it grow towards night, she will home even upon the wings of the wind. Every poor beast, and every creature, though the entertainment be but slender at home, yet if you let it slip loose, it will home as fast as it can. Everything tends to its place; there is its safety, there is its rest, there it is preserved, there it is quiet. Now, since it is so with every creature, why should it not be so with us? Why should not we be for our home? This is not our home; here is not our rest. That is our home where our chief friends be, where our Father God is, where our Husband Christ is, where our chief kindred and acquaintance be, all the prophets and apostles and martyrs of God departed are; that is our home, and thither should we go" (R. Harris). "I am now passing through the latest stage of my pilgrimage on earth. My sun is speedily going down; but ere it wholly disappear, its parting beams stream sweetly forth upon the face of all things, and cover all the horizon with a blaze of glory. My Father's house shines bright before my eyes. Its opening door invites me onward, and fills me with an earnest longing to be safe at home. My richest treasures and my dearest hopes are all packed up and gone before, while my whole soul is on the wing to follow after" (W. Gilpin).

VI. HIS CONSIDERATE REGARD for the welfare of those who survive him. "Let thy servant Chimham go over," etc. (vers. 38, 40). He is not wholly absorbed in thoughts of past time or of his final rest; but is interested in the younger man now present with him, and sympathizes with his enjoyments and aspirations. He remembers his own youth. What he declines for himself, he seeks and obtains for his son (Jeremiah 41:17). "When the king could not persuade the father, he gladly accepts the charge of his son. He seems to feel as if the care of this young man would bring comfort to his heart, which was still bleeding for the loss of Absalom. It was not in lightness that he made the request, and when on his death bed he remembered it and charged Solomon to show kindness to the son for the sake of what his father had done for him when he fled from the face of Absalom. In Barzillai we have

(1) a man who knows that he is old, but is not distressed by the thought of it;

(2) who is rich, but is satisfied with his natural possessions;

(3) of long experience, who has kept up his love of simple pleasures;

(4) and is attached to the past, but does not distrust the future" (John Ker). "It is a very reasonable conjecture of Grotius, that David, having a patrimony in the field of Bethlehem, the place of his nativity, bestowed it on Barzillai's son; and from thence this place took the name of Chimham, which remained unto the days of Jeremiah" (Patrick). His descendants continue for ages to partake of the fruit of his piety and beneficence, to perpetuate his name and honour his memory (Ezra 2:61; Nehemiah 7:63; Psalm 102:28). - D.

How long have I to live, that I should go up with the King unto Jerusalem?
I. A SERIOUS CONSIDERATION OF APPROACHING DEATH IS PECULIARLY PROPER FOR AGED PERSONS. Barzillai, in his reply to David, seems to have the near approach of death chiefly in view. And surely such a view was exceedingly proper and becoming for a person of his age, though he seemed possessed of much strength and vigour. But some circumstances make it peculiarly proper that the aged should make these thoughts familiar and habitual to them.

1. The speedy period of their lives is more certain than that of others. There is a probability that they who are in the prime or morning of their days may continue many years; but there is no probability that the aged should.

2. The infirmities which are peculiar to, or most frequent in old age, make the consideration of death highly proper.

3. The remembrance of the many relations, friends, and acquaintance whom they have survived, should excite this disposition in them.


1. The prospect of death should make the aged dead to the honours and pleasures of this world.

2. The prospect of death should lead them to get free from the cares of the world, as far as they lawfully can.(1) Their capacity for business is generally weakened. This is Barzillai's reasoning in the verse after the text; "Can I discern between good and evil?"(2) If their capacities continue ever so good, they bare more important concerns to mind, and but a little time for them. The one thing needful, the great business relating to their souls and eternity is sufficient to engage all the time which they can spare from that needful rest which old age requires.(3) The more cares you have upon your hands the more will your dying thoughts be disturbed, and your last Work be interrupted.(4) By various worldly cares the soul will be less disposed and qualified for the heavenly world. The immoderate love of the world is utterly inconsistent with the love of the Father; and such a love of it as may be regular and allowable in the prime or middle of life, may be immoderate and unjustifiable in old age.

(J. Orton.)

I am this day fourscore years old.
I. LENGTH OF DAYS IS A SCRIPTURAL BLESSING. It was eminently such under the Hebrew theocracy, where earthly allotments were the perpetual types of spiritual favour. As death was a penalty, so the shortening of human life was counted as a marked expression of the Divine displeasure, as where the Psalmist exclaims: "He brought down my strength in my journey, and shortened my days. But I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of mine age. For when Thou art angry all our days are gone." But alway, and through all generations, has the hoary head been counted a crown of glory to the righteous. Old age is not to be associated, as a matter of course, with decrepitude or the decays of nature. It has its own appropriate beauty, as well as youth. Undeniably the aged are entitled to our liveliest sympathies and our most sedulous attentions. They have reached the border land. They stand hovering between two worlds, and must shortly vanish and be no more seen. They are going from us, and we in our turn may require the kindness and attention which we bestow. But there are trials incident to old age, and which no power of human sympathy can avert or permanently relieve.

1. Infirmity of body is one. The vigours of life are failing. The fibre of a constitution which withstood all the assaults of threescore years, and promised well for a longer continuance, suddenly gives way.

2. Another trial of the aged is the altered aspect of society, the absence of contemporaries and companions, and the deepening loneliness of life. To outlive their generation, even by a little, is to walk a solitary path.

3. I will mention but one other trial to which the aged are exposed — that, namely, which lies in the tendency to depression and the decay of natural spirits.


1. As a rule, and as a blessedness often attained, the last days of the Christian are his best days, and the end better than the beginning.

2. And, again, the aged saint finds comfort in looking back, and holding in review the way over which he has passed. The retrospection of seventy or eighty years presents God continually in forms and ministries of providential care which are only estimated fully, at the end.

3. Finally, the past revelation of God's mercy and goodness is the best pledge of eternal glory.

(W. F. Morgan, D. D.)

Of the Christian it has been said: "The decay, and wasting, and infirmities of old age will be, as Dr. Guthrie called these symptoms of his own approaching death, only 'the land-birds, lighting on the shrouds, telling the weary mariner that he is nearing the desired haven.'" It is a favourite speculation of mine that, if spared to sixty, we then enter on the seventh decade of human life, and that this, if possible, should be turned into the Sabbath of our earthly pilgrimage, and spent Sabbatically, as if on the shores of an eternal world, or in the outer courts, as it were, of the temple that is above, the tabernacle that is in heaven.

(Dr. Chalmers.)

A grateful admirer of Charles Dickens desired to give the great novelist in his old age a token of affection. He gave him a beautiful piece of plate to stand on his dining-table. As first designed, it was to have represented the four seasons. The giver said, however, "I could not bear to offer him a reminder of the bleak and cold season," so there were but, the three figures — the types of Hope and Beauty and Bounty. The great man was touched by the beautiful gift, and by the kindliness of the thought that had designed it; but he said more than once or twice, "I never look at it but I think most of winter." We may try, by little artificial devices, to rid ourselves of all reminders of life's winter, but they will be futile. The Christian philosophy of life recognises that we must have our winters, and it gives us strength to face and endure them, a day at a time, assured that the gloomiest winter is but the herald of the spring time that will never fail.

Abiathar, Abishai, Absalom, Amasa, Barzillai, Benjamin, Benjamites, Chimham, David, Gera, Israelites, Joab, Joseph, Mephibosheth, Saul, Shimei, Zadok, Zeruiah, Ziba
Bahurim, Gilgal, Jerusalem, Jordan River, Mahanaim, Rogelim
Barzillai, Barzil'lai, Jerusalem, Yet
1. Joab causes the king to cease his mourning
9. The Israelites are earnest to bring the king back
11. David sends to the priest to incite them of Judah
18. Shimei is pardoned
24. Mephibosheth excused
32. Barzillai dismissed, and Chimham his son taken into the king's family
41. The Israelites expostulate with Judah for bringing home the king without them

Dictionary of Bible Themes
2 Samuel 19:31-37

     5296   disabilities

2 Samuel 19:32-36

     5501   reward, human

2 Samuel 19:34-35

     5187   taste
     5204   age
     5568   suffering, causes
     5726   old age, attainment
     5901   loneliness

2 Samuel 19:34-37

     8358   weakness, physical

National Sorrows and National Lessons
On the illness or the Prince of Wales. Chapel Royal, St James's, December 17th, 1871. 2 Sam. xix. 14. "He bowed the heart of all the men of Judah, even as the heart of one man." No circumstances can be more different, thank God, than those under which the heart of the men of Judah was bowed when their king commander appealed to them, and those which have, in the last few days, bowed the heart of this nation as the heart of one man. But the feeling called out in each case was the same--Loyalty,
Charles Kingsley—All Saints' Day and Other Sermons

BY REV. GEORGE MILLIGAN, M.A., D.D. "There is nothing," says Socrates to Cephalus in the Republic, "I like better than conversing with aged men. For I regard them as travellers who have gone a journey which I too may have to go, and of whom it is right to learn the character of the way, whether it is rugged or difficult, or smooth and easy" (p. 328 E.). It is to such an aged traveller that we are introduced in the person of Barzillai the Gileadite. And though he is one of the lesser-known characters
George Milligan—Men of the Bible; Some Lesser-Known

Alike from the literary and the historical point of view, the book[1] of Samuel stands midway between the book of Judges and the book of Kings. As we have already seen, the Deuteronomic book of Judges in all probability ran into Samuel and ended in ch. xii.; while the story of David, begun in Samuel, embraces the first two chapters of the first book of Kings. The book of Samuel is not very happily named, as much of it is devoted to Saul and the greater part to David; yet it is not altogether inappropriate,
John Edgar McFadyen—Introduction to the Old Testament

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