2 Samuel Chapter Nineteen
2 Samuel 19
Joab causes David to cease mourning. (1-8) David returns to Jordan. (9-15) He pardons Shimei. (16-23) Mephibosheth excused. (24-30) David's parting with Barzillai. (31-39) Israel quarrels with Judah. (40-43)
Commentary on 2 Samuel 19:1-8
(Read 2 Samuel 19:1-8)
To continue to lament for so bad a son as Absalom, was very unwise, and very unworthy. Joab censures David, but not with proper respect and deference to his sovereign. A plain case may be fairly pleaded with those above us, and they may be reproved for what they do amiss, but it must not be with rudeness and insolence. Yet David took the reproof and the counsel, prudently and mildly. Timely giving way, usually prevents the ill effects of mistaken measures.
Commentary on 2 Samuel 19:9-15
(Read 2 Samuel 19:9-15)
God's providence, by the priests' persuasions and Amasa's interest, brought the people to resolve the recall of the king. David stirred not till he received this invitation. Our Lord Jesus will rule in those that invite him to the throne in their hearts, and not till he is invited. He first bows the heart, and makes it willing in the day of his power, then rules in the midst of his enemies, Psalm 110:2,3.
Commentary on 2 Samuel 19:16-23
(Read 2 Samuel 19:16-23)
Those who now slight and abuse the Son of David, would be glad to make their peace when he shall come in his glory; but it will be too late. Shimei lost no time. His abuse had been personal, and with the usual right feeling of good men, David could more easily forgive it.
Commentary on 2 Samuel 19:24-30
(Read 2 Samuel 19:24-30)
David recalls the forfeiture of Mephibosheth's estate; and he expressed joy for the king's return. A good man contentedly bears his own losses, while he sees Israel in peace, and the Son of David exalted.
Commentary on 2 Samuel 19:31-39
(Read 2 Samuel 19:31-39)
Barzillai thought he had done himself honour in doing the king any service. Thus, when the saints shall be called to inherit the kingdom, they will be amazed at the recompence being so very far beyond the service, Matthew 25:37. A good man would not go any where to be burdensome; or, will rather be so to his own house than to another's. It is good for all, but especially becomes old people, to think and speak much of dying. The grave is ready for me, let me go and get ready for it.
Commentary on 2 Samuel 19:40-43
(Read 2 Samuel 19:40-43)
The men of Israel though themselves despised, and the fiercer words of the men of Judah produced very bad effects. Much evil might be avoided, if men would watch against pride, and remember that a soft answer turneth away wrath. Though we have right and reason on our side, if we speak it with fierceness, God is displeased.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on 2 Samuel》
2 Samuel 19
 And the people gat them by stealth that day into the city, as people being ashamed steal away when they flee in battle.
By stealth — Not openly and triumphantly, as conquerors use to do; but secretly, as if they were afraid and ashamed, lest David should see them, and look upon them with an evil eye, as those that had an hand in killing of his beloved son.
 And Joab came into the house to the king, and said, Thou hast shamed this day the faces of all thy servants, which this day have saved thy life, and the lives of thy sons and of thy daughters, and the lives of thy wives, and the lives of thy concubines;
Hast shamed — By disappointing their just hopes of praises and rewards, and by requiting them with contempt and tacit rebukes.
 In that thou lovest thine enemies, and hatest thy friends. For thou hast declared this day, that thou regardest neither princes nor servants: for this day I perceive, that if Absalom had lived, and all we had died this day, then it had pleased thee well.
Pleased thee — This is not be understood as exactly true; but David's carriage gave too much colour to such a suggestion; and such sharpness of speech was in a manner necessary to awaken the king out of his lethargy, and to preserve him from the impendent mischiefs.
 And all the people were at strife throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, The king saved us out of the hand of our enemies, and he delivered us out of the hand of the Philistines; and now he is fled out of the land for Absalom.
At strife — Quarrelling one with another as the authors or abettors of this shameful rebellion, and discoursing privately and publickly of David's high merits, which God, being now reconciled to David, brings afresh to their memories.
 And Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why speak ye not a word of bringing the king back?
Now therefore — The people of Israel speak thus to the elders of Israel, as appears by comparing this verse with the next. Seeing their designs for Absalom disappointed, they now repented of that undertaking, and were willing to testify so much by their forwardness to bring back David, and re-establish him.
 And king David sent to Zadok and to Abiathar the priests, saying, Speak unto the elders of Judah, saying, Why are ye the last to bring the king back to his house? seeing the speech of all Israel is come to the king, even to his house.
Judah — Who being the abettors of Absalom's rebellion, despaired of pardon, and therefore were backward to promote the king's restoration.
His house — Even to Mahanaim, where now the king's house and family is.
 And say ye to Amasa, Art thou not of my bone, and of my flesh? God do so to me, and more also, if thou be not captain of the host before me continually in the room of Joab.
Of Joab — Who, besides his other crimes, had lately exasperated the king by his murder of Absalom, contrary to David's express command. And therefore the king having now the opportunity of another person who had a greater interest than Joab, gladly complies with it, that so he might both chastise Joab for his faults, and rescue himself from the bondage in which Joab had hitherto held him.
 And he bowed the heart of all the men of Judah, even as the heart of one man; so that they sent this word unto the king, Return thou, and all thy servants.
He bowed — David by this prudent and kind message and his free offer of pardon.
 And there were a thousand men of Benjamin with him, and Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, and his fifteen sons and his twenty servants with him; and they went over Jordan before the king.
With him — Whom he brought, partly to shew his interest in the people, and partly, as intercessors on his behalf, and as witnesses of David's clemency or severity, that in him they might see what the rest of them might expect.
Ziba — Who, being conscious of his former abuse of David, and of his master Mephibosheth, which he knew the king would understand, designed to sweeten David's spirit towards him, by forwardness in meeting him.
 For thy servant doth know that I have sinned: therefore, behold, I am come the first this day of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king.
House of Joseph — The house of Joseph is here put for all the tribes, except Judah, which are fitly distinguished from Judah, because the rights of the first-born were divided between Judah and Joseph, 1 Chronicles 5:2. And though Benjamin, after the division of the kingdoms was fitly joined with Judah, because then they adhered to that tribe; yet before that time it was joined with Joseph, because they marched under the standard of the house of Joseph, or of Ephraim, Numbers 10:22,23,24. Whence it is, that Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, are put together, Psalms 80:2.
 And David said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah, that ye should this day be adversaries unto me? shall there any man be put to death this day in Israel? for do not I know that I am this day king over Israel?
Adversaries — That is, that you put me upon things unfit for me to do, and contrary to my interest; for it was David's interest at this time to appease the people, and reconcile them to him, and not to give them any new distaste by acts of severity: for this would make others jealous, that he would watch an opportunity to be revenged on them.
King — Is not my kingdom, which was in a manner wholly lost, just now restored and assured to me? And when God hath been so merciful to me in forgiving my sin, shall I shew myself revengeful to Shemei? Shall I sully the publick joy and glory of this day, with an act of such severity? Or, shall I alienate the hearts of my people from me, now they are returning to me?
 And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king, and had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came again in peace.
The son — That is, the grandson, 2 Samuel 6:3,6.
His feet — By washing his feet, which was usual in those hot climates, and very refreshing; and therefore now neglected, as becoming a mourner.
Beard — But suffered it to grow very long, and disorderly, as was usual with persons in a forlorn, or mournful state.
Clothes — His linen cloathes. This and the former were signs, that he was a true and obstinate mourner, and evidences of the falsehood of Ziba's relation concerning him, chap. 16:3.
 And it came to pass, when he was come to Jerusalem to meet the king, that the king said unto him, Wherefore wentest not thou with me, Mephibosheth?
Jerusalem — Probably he had continued near Jerusalem, because he could not go to meet him, as others did.
 And he answered, My lord, O king, my servant deceived me: for thy servant said, I will saddle me an ass, that I may ride thereon, and go to the king; because thy servant is lame.
Deceived me — By carrying away the ass which I bid him saddle for me.
 And he hath slandered thy servant unto my lord the king; but my lord the king is as an angel of God: do therefore what is good in thine eyes.
Angel — To distinguish between true reports and calumnies; .
 For all of my father's house were but dead men before my lord the king: yet didst thou set thy servant among them that did eat at thine own table. What right therefore have I yet to cry any more unto the king?
Before — Before thy tribunal: we were all at thy mercy: not my estate only but my life also was in thy power, if thou hadst dealt with rigour, and as earthly kings use to do with their predecessor's and enemies children.
To cry — For the vindication of mine honour, and the restitution of my estate.
 And the king said unto him, Why speakest thou any more of thy matters? I have said, Thou and Ziba divide the land.
Divide — The land shall be divided between thee and him, as it was by my first order, chap. 9:10, he and his sons managing it, and supporting themselves out of it, as they did before, and giving the rest of the profits thereof to thee.
 I am this day fourscore years old: and can I discern between good and evil? can thy servant taste what I eat or what I drink? can I hear any more the voice of singing men and singing women? wherefore then should thy servant be yet a burden unto my lord the king?
I am, … — My senses are grown dull, and incapable of relishing the pleasures of a court. I am past taking pleasures in delicious tastes, or sweet musick, and other such delights. I am through age both useless and burdensome to others, and therefore most improper for a court life.
 Let thy servant, I pray thee, turn back again, that I may die in mine own city, and be buried by the grave of my father and of my mother. But behold thy servant Chimham; let him go over with my lord the king; and do to him what shall seem good unto thee.
That I may die in mine own city — That my bones may with little ado, be carried to the place of their rest. The grave is ready for me: let me go and get ready for it, go and die in my nest.
 Then the king went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him: and all the people of Judah conducted the king, and also half the people of Israel.
Half — Whereas the men of Judah came entirely and unanimously to the king, the Israelites of the other tribe came in but slowly, and by halves, as being no less guilty of the rebellion, than the tribe of Judah; but not encouraged to come in by such a gracious message as they were. And this is here mentioned as the occasion both of the contention here following, and of the sedition, chap. 20:1-22.
 And, behold, all the men of Israel came to the king, and said unto the king, Why have our brethren the men of Judah stolen thee away, and have brought the king, and his household, and all David's men with him, over Jordan?
All — Such as were present.
Stolen — That is, conveyed thee over Jordan hastily, not expecting our concurrence.
David's men — All thy officers, guards, and soldiers. This is mentioned as an aggravation of their fault, that they did not only carry the king over Jordan, but all his men too, without asking their advice.
 And all the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, Because the king is near of kin to us: wherefore then be ye angry for this matter? have we eaten at all of the king's cost? or hath he given us any gift?
Of kin — Of the same tribe with us, and therefore both oweth the more respect to us, and might expect more respect from us.
Gifts — We have neither sought nor gained any advantage to ourselves hereby, but only discharged our duty to the king, and used all expedition in bringing him back, which you also should have done, and not have come in by halves, and so coldly as you have done.
 And the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, and said, We have ten parts in the king, and we have also more right in David than ye: why then did ye despise us, that our advice should not be first had in bringing back our king? And the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel.
Ten — They say but ten, though strictly there were eleven; either, because they accounted Joseph (which comprehends both Ephraim and Manasseh under it) for one tribe, or because Simeon, whose lot lay within the tribe of Judah, were joined with them in this action.
More right — As in the general we have more right in the king and kingdom; so particularly, we have more right in David than you, because you were the first beginners, and the most zealous promoters of this rebellion; howsoever, as he is king, we justly claim a greater interest in him, than you; inasmuch as we are the far greatest part of his subjects.
Fiercer — Instead of mollifying them with gentle words, they answered them with greater fierceness so that David durst not interpose in the matter.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on 2 Samuel》
19 Chapter 19
And the victory of that day was turned into mourning unto all the people.
Victory turned into mourning
The victory spoken of is a victory that was longed for, and yet when it came it was as intolerable as the sting of an adder. How is it that we are always wanting things, and often when we get them they are bitterness itself? David wanted to be rid of his enemies--he was in this case challenged to vindicate his own throne. This was no fight of his own forcing--he was obliged to meet the insubordination and the revolt of his own son. David, mighty king--you wanted to be rid of your enemies: they are dead: how now? “Yes,” said he, “I wanted to be rid of my enemies, but not in that way.” There it is again--it is always in some other way that we want our desire granted. You want to get clear of that son of yours? You don’t. And you have said how much you would give if he were only out of the way. But all the while you made a great fatherly reservation when you said so, and a great motherly emphasis unexpressed was in your heart when you talked about his being out of the way. You meant somewhere--more comfortable, more useful, more happy. You did not mean out of the way in any tragic sense. O strange man--wild, tumultuous life. We want, and we don’t want; we pray, and we don’t want the answer, at least, not so--but thus, a crooked answer to a straight request. We are all trying for victory. See if that be not true. Every man, even the poorest, is aiming at some kind of victory in life. Think if this be not so, father, mother, child, man of business, man of letters, boy challenging schoolmate to a marble encounter--through and through life, every section of it, we are trying in some way to get the promised end. But we are taught here that there are occasions upon which the victory is not worth winning. Is that not so in most cases? What do men want? One says: Riches. He heapeth up riches and knoweth not who shall gather them--is the victory worth the winning? Another says: Well, I want to conquer that human heart, and make it mine--man’s heart, woman’s heart--saith the young. Is it worth doing? It may be, it may not be. I want that apple on the bough above--not that one, but the one higher. Is it worth fetching a ladder for? Try: you get it, but the worm had it first, and you spurn it with keen disappointment from your hand. It is well, therefore, for men, before they go out to battle, to answer the question--if I win, is it worth doing?--because there are victories that are defeats, there are triumphs that are stings, there are achievements that have nothing in them but graves and horrors and mockeries. Shall we say, without any desire to be too gloomy, that there is nothing upon earth out of God, out of Christ, that is worth doing, worth having? Are there any victories that cannot be turned into mourning? Blessed be God, there are victories that are followed by no compunction, no humiliation--blessings that have no sorrow in them. What is your complaint before God? What is the disease that is poisoning your blood, and burning in your marrow, and consuming your soul--your own peculiar diseases? Jealousy? Conquer it by the Spirit of God, pray about it, shut thyself up long months and have it out with heaven. It will be a victory for ever, unimpaired, complete, full of joyous self-content. What is thy disease, thou who dost say that jealousy is no element in thy constitution--what is thy plague? Self-indulgence, self-gratification, self-delight--self, self, self, morning, noon, and night. I alone, I am the world, think of me, comfort me, let me have my way, satisfy my want--is the key of thy life so struck, Conquer thyself. “If any man would be my disciple,” saith Christ, “let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, not periodically, not with occasional heroism, but with steady, constant self-crucifixion, and let him follow Me.” You have gone out to the battle. Hast thou won that battle? There is no other battle to be won; fight yourself--beat your-self--set the standard of a new being upon the fortresses and citadels of your own obstinacy, and then you may beat your sword into a ploughshare, and make a pruning-hook of your spear, for in your case there is no more war to be done. How is all this to be accomplished? The answer is as complete as the question is earnest and emphatic. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” We sometimes celebrate a mourning that shall be turned into victory, even the mourning of Christ the crucified Man, who said, “My soul is troubled, even unto death. Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” These are the words of mourning. “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth--Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations.” These are the words of victory. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” Unless we have known the bitterness of this mourning we never can know the joy of true victory. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Mourning in a revival
In the spiritual kingdom of God there are experiences akin to those recorded in the text; times when, amid victories that send a thrill of joy through heaven and may well excite hallelujahs in the Church below, the “sacramental host” feel like putting on sackcloth and sitting down to “weep between the porch and the altar.” Such is the case often in times of revival, when God’s spirit is poured out, and sinners are convicted and converted. Although it be an occasion for rejoicing and thanksgiving on the part of God’s people, it is equally an occasion for humiliation and weeping. What are some of the reasons for mourning on the part of the Church in the midst of revival scenes?
1. That so few of God’s professed friends enter actively into the work. The Spirit’s presence in extraordinary power is a day of glorious opportunity, both for the Church and for sinners without. It is God’s “set time to favour Zion.” He then “waits to be gracious.” It is “harvest time.” Prayer has power to prevail. Souls are pressing into the kingdom.
2. That so many sinners are passed by and left in their sins, even in the day of special merciful visitation. We have witnessed and laboured in many revivals; seen a whole community shaken as by a “rushing mighty wind,” and hundreds convicted and made to cry out, What must we do to be saved? And yet many were unmoved--only looked on and wondered or scoffed. And the Spirit passed by, and they were farther than ever before from salvation!
3. That so many are convicted who are not converted; wounded, but not healed. In times of revival, it is common for many sinners to be deeply interested, and even brought under conviction of sin, who never get farther.
4. That, in all probability, a large proportion of those who are not reached and rescued in a revival will finally perish in their sins! We dare not limit the power of God. But there is a world of fact to bear out the remark. The grace of God is at flood-tide in revival seasons: what hope when the ebb comes? (Homiletic Review.)
Then the king arose and sat in the gate.
The restoration of David
David, in his extreme and protracted sorrow for the death of Absalom, forgot to do justice to the attachment, sacrifices, and victorious valour of his friends. At news of this great and inopportune grief--no song of victory! no clear-shining eyes, no erect triumphant bearing!--“the people gat them by stealth that day into the city as people, being ashamed, steal away when they flee in battle.” A perilous ingratitude this on the part of David. David’s forces had been victorious; in the death of Absalom the head of the rebellion had died, and yet David was in no haste to return to Jerusalem. Though the anointed of the Lord, he had been the elect of the people to the throne of Israel. And now, after this great national upheaval, if be is to reascend the throne it must be at the earnest call of the nation. So he remained still at Mahanaim. “Now, therefore, why speak ye not a word of bringing the king back?” The king! Now there was but one. Let him, then, with all clue honour be brought back to his own! So spake the people throughout the country. But the men of Judah, David’s own tribe, were ominously silent--committed too strongly, it may have been, to the cause of Absalom to return quickly to their old allegiance. David would quicken their lagging loyalty. The high priests, Zadok and Abiathar, were sent to the elders of Judah with the question which touched at the tribal love of pre-eminence “Why are ye the last to bring the king back to his house?” with the remainder that they were the king’s “brethren, his bones and his flesh;” and with the promise that Amasa, their captain, should supersede Joab in the command of the king’s forces. Thus the king “bowed the heart of all the men of Judah, even as the heart of one man.” “They sent this word unto the king, Return thou, and all thy servants.” That was enough for David, unwise David! Not waiting to be escorted by all the tribes, not even by all the tribes that had been staunchest in their attachment to him, and foremost in resolution for his restoration, David, accompanied by Judah alone, and only half of Israel, crossed the Jordan and came to the ancient, camp at Gilgal. Little likely that the Ten Tribes--with such rivalry as prevailed between the tribes--would consent to be thus largely ignored. Much confusion and trouble to spring from this unwisdom of the king; presently, another spurt of rebellion, and further off--but not wholly unconnected with the rankling memories of this--the division of the nation into two never-again-united kingdoms.
I. Sorrow, however poignant, should not hinder us from duty, or prevent the expression of gratitude. Has this unhappy civil war brought only grief to him? Is his son the only one that has perished? Alas! the many mothers in Israel, never to look again on the brave soldier-son! Sorrow, with impartial, unwelcome step, enters palace and cottage. But, however keen and consuming, life’s duties still remain to the living. We are not to be absorbed from recognition of these--gratitude among them, thankfulness for sympathy. It may speak in lowly tokens of remembrance, in courteous health-inquiries. Let it be recognised.
II. The evil resultant from partiality is written here. To the folly of favouritism not only are liable those in high places. It must be watched against by all who exercise any influence over others. The head of any community, however small, owes a debt of justice to each member of it. In the home, where the father and mother are the uncrowned king and queen, this folly needs especially to be avoided.
III. The beauty of a contented spirit appears in mephibosheth. The crippled prince, not lame in soul as upon his feet--a true unselfish son of Jonathan through all--goes home with words of contentment, and glad, thankful loyalty upon his lips. Goes out of our sight and hearing; goes into the silence of a past which has no further word respecting him to speak to us. Went to the narrowed fortune and duties of his narrow life. Went, we doubt not, quiet and contented, and so on to the end. On with eye fixed on a princedom with no crippling hindrances to service, or to a lot in the eternal Canaan which should be his wholly and for ever. Then, son of Jonathan, “Go thou thy way till the end be; for thou shalt rest, and stand”--never to be removed--“in thy lot at the end of the days.” Much might be said of the contentment of that man, as exemplary to us, when we are wronged. Well for us if, with our larger light, we have at all times a spirit as patient and thankful as his! I will be a star of glory, a rose of beauty, in the darkness and desert barrenness of life.
IV. Pious forecasts, comely in all and especially in the aged, is sees in Barzillai. Little do we know of him. But how much we seem to know, so vividly does he live to us in this ancient chronicle. Let Chimham go to the great city, take a place at Court, bear his part in the high places of the national life, this was not for Barzillai. His eyes were not so bright as once, nor his ears so alert. He would abide among his own people. He would die in his nest. He would be buried by the grave of his father and his mother. There, in the hallowed, familiar spot, he would have his dust to rest till the great awakening.
V. In David, victorious over rebellion, and restored to his throne, we have suggestion of His Greater Son coming back to his own. Over rebellious hearts, over a rebellious world, Christ is triumphing onward to His universal reign. Not by weapons of war, but by love, he is vanquishing men unto Himself. The rebellious world is His world. The rebels are HIS creatures. He is but coming back to His own. He has the right of Creation to us. He re-enforces it by the winning right of redeeming love. Back to His own! In a sense you are all His. In the full, willing sense--surrendered to Him, be wholly His. Be the usurper dethroned. Be the rightful King acclaimed--obeyed. (G. T. Coster.)
The peaceful return
We talk about submission to the will of God; we speak of the Christian’s peace, that it should abide with him even in times of deep distress; but preaching and practice are two very different things. Our religion may satisfy us when all is going well, when not suffering under any great misfortune; but when “the floods come,” when “the rain descends, and the winds blow,” though the house may not fall, it often totters. A complete and easy victory had been won. But how could the king think of this now? His son, who had stained his soul with grievous sins, had been suddenly cut off, and summoned to his account. Who cannot feel for David at this moment? Never, probably, did he feel so much as now the weight of public business: he would wish he were a private individual; then he might have indulged his grief, and mourned for many days. It certainly is very difficult sometimes to go through our ordinary duties;. the wheels do sometimes go very heavily; still David would soon find the advantage of having much to occupy him; and there can be no doubt that, hard as it is to work when we are sad, yet sorrows are much harder to bear when we are at leisure. David would never forget his unhappy son! And now that Absalom was dead, there was nothing to prevent the king’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem: but there was much wisdom, as well as moderation and clemency, in his conduct at this time. The breach between the king and the people had been of their causing, and therefore it was right that they should acknowledge their fault: they had driven him from the capital, and therefore it was right that they should acknowledge their fault: they had driven him from the capital, and therefore they ought now to invite his return: coming back at their request, they would, in fact, choose him a second time for their king. The message sent to Amasa, and the promise that he should be commander-in-chief, would be the clearest proof of the sincerity of the general amnesty now proclaimed. David once more takes the reins of government; and we shall see in his conduct that singular mixture of weakness and decision, of kindness and want of judgment, which we have so often observed before. One of the first persons that he encounters on the banks of the Jordan is Shimei the son of Gera. According to the law, this man deserved to die. But it would not, do to begin by putting any man to death now; such an execution would shake men’s confidence as to the former promise of pardon. Accordingly, Shimei is pardoned, although his crime, as we see afterwards, was not forgotten. If Shimei’s confession was sincere, it should have been completely pardoned; if he was a hypocrite, he should have been punished. Perhaps some excuse for David’s conduct may be found in the fact that he could not know for certain what was in his heart. But Jesus knows whether we are sincere or not, and when He grants us pardon, it is complete and full; he never qualifies it, He never recalls it; but our sins are “cast into the depths of the sea.” The next person whose case is mentioned is Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan. Having given him the place of one of his children, David expected that he would have accompanied his household into exile. Annoyed at his absence, gratified by the contributions of Ziba, and too easily believing the story of the servant. But now Mephibosheth tells his own tale. The same motives of policy that induced David to pardon Shimei make him now pass over the offence of Ziba; besides, he cannot forget, perhaps, how opportunely the provisions had been brought to him. Certainly, so far, there is little to admire in David’s conduct; there may be great worldly wisdom, but there is not much grace; he acts as a politic, rather than a religious, man. What we want is that depth of Christian principle which shall influence all our conduct, so that in all the relations of life it shall be plain that we are spiritual men. And now we gladly turn to the most interesting picture in this part of David’s history, the last interview between him and Barzillai. Whatever David’s failings may have been, he can never be said to be wanting in gratitude. What had David learned by all the events that had recently taken place? I think lust this, that it is utter folly to seek for satisfaction here, or to set our affections upon earthly things. And this is the end God has in view in all the various trials of life. Every public position requires grace in him who holds it; and certainly one of Satan’s devices to keep men from a life of contemplation, from constant prayer, and from a close walk with God, is to give them many secular occupations. Barzillai says wisely, “If there is a time to undertake these things, there is a time also when it is well to lay them aside; and the aged should be content with obscurity.” (C. Bosanquet, M. A.)
David’s policy on his return to Jerusalem
1. David’s return to Jerusalem. In his account of what followed, as of what preceded the crisis of the rebellion (chaps. 15., 16.), the historian has east the bulk of his narrative into the form of personal interviews with the king.
2. David’s secret overtures to the tribe of Judah. Himself a member of the tribe whose ancient sanctuary had been the locus of the rebellion, David, with his statesman’s eye, saw in the new situation a favourable opportunity of binding the southern clans anew to his person. Accordingly, he opens negotiations with Zadok and Abiathar. In thus playing off the South against the North, David was doubtless aware of the risk he ran of increasing the jealousy, already of long standing, between them, but in the circumstances David can scarcely be blamed for seeing in his southern kinsfolk, in the men who, as he says, were his bone and his flesh (2 Samuel 19:12), the natural support of his dynasty. (The Century Bible.)
Now therefore why speak ye not a word of bringing the king back?
Bringing the king back
I. Many have lost the comfortable presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some have long dwelt in the cold shade of suspended fellowship, and must be anxiously pining after its restoration. Now to such as these, who see no longer the bright and morning star, we say, “Why speak ye not a word of bringing the king back?” If your soul has been nipped with the frosts of a long and dreary winter, if the Sun of Righteousness do but cross the line and manifest his meridian splendour, your summer will return at once. Let the king come, and all his court will follow--all the graces display themselves where the Lord of grace is revealed. Always beware of any instruction or direction which would withdraw you from the cross as the sole and simple ground of your comfort. While your bark is tossed about at sea, it is very likely that she wants a new copper bottom, or the deck requires holy-stoning, or the rigging is out of repair, or the sails want overhauling, or fifty other things may be necessary; but if the wind is blowing great guns, and the vessel is drifting towards those white-crested breakers, the first business of the mariner is to make for the haven at once, to avoid the hurricane. When he is all snug in port, he can attend to hull and rigging: and all the odds and ends besides. So with you, child of God, one thing you must do, and I beseech you do it. Do not be looking to this, or to that, or to the other out of a thousand things that may be amiss, but steer straight for the cross of Christ, which is the haven for distressed spirits. “Why speak ye not a word of bringing the king back?”
1. Perhaps, you reply, “We speak not a word of this because we are afraid that the king may have forgotten us.” Oh, cruel thought concerning so kind a friend! Hear ye his own words, “I am God; I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”
2. But you say, “How shall I return to him? I feel ashamed to come to him yet again.” Recollect that, bad as you are, you are not now worse than when you first came to him. “Why speak ye not a word of bringing the King back?”
3. I hope the answer to that question is not that you have forgotten Him. Forgotten the man of Gethsemane, crimsoned with his own blood for you? Forgotten Him whose hands were pierced for you, who bore the crown of thorns, and bowed his head, and gave up the ghost for you? Forgotten that faithful lover who ever since he ascended above the stars has never ceased to intercede for you, and such as you? Oh, shame indeed!
II. Many professors do very little to bring Christ back to his kingdom in the world.
III. A large class are rebellious subjects of this King. “The ox knoweth its owner, and the ass its master’s crib,” but you do not know, and you have lived all these years without considering. Is it not unjust? Does not conscience tell you that you do wrong to rebel against the God that made you? Christ is your lawful King, and you are a rebel against Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
David, a king and saviour in Israel
I. Why did he not immediately go back?
1. Restoration of the king’s presence must be sought by rebel subjects.
2. Because he would be king of their hearts, not of the land and city merely. So Christ’s sovereignty now must be voluntary. One day it will be obligatory, as was Solomon’s. (Philippians 2:10; Revelation 2:27.) Christ will only rule over willing hearts in His kingdom of grace. Many Christians have their own way. Christ does not coerce; but they are slaves to self instead of being Christ’s freedmen. Observe the nature of Christ’s kingdom in the heart. (Romans 14:17; 1 John 3:9, with Galatians 3:16; Galatians 4:19; Colossians 1:27 (Matthew 2:3 --born king); 1 Corinthians 15:45-50; 1 Corinthians 15:24.) Christ waits to be invited as David did. He will not reign at Mahanaim, only at Jerusalem; but He sends messages. David’s message to rebellious Judah is really a pardon, and as such moved the hearts of the people. (verse 14.)
II. Pardon of shimei. Abishai was legally right (Exodus 22:28; 1 Samuel 26:9), but was reminding David of that incident in his past life, and thus helping him to remain true to his own generous instincts. (1 Samuel 24:5.) The grand answer. I am King, because I can be a Saviour. (1 Samuel 11:12-13.) Christ might have been King in right of His election (Psalms 2:6-8), and will be some day; but He willed to reign by right of His cross. (Psalms 72:1-2; Psalms 72:14.)
IV. Barzillai, type of the truly weaned soul, content to do without temporal blessings and sensible comforts; satisfied with the certainty of the king’s favour. Fruitful also, leaving those whom he has led to Christ to carry on his service. Chimham apparently received David’s own inheritance. (Jeremiah 41:17; John 17:24; Revelation 3:21; Revelation 22:16; Revelation 2:28. (R. E. Faulkner.)
There went over a ferry boat to carry over the king’s household.
The ferry-boat of the Jordan
This river Jordan, in all ages and among all Christian people, has been the symbol of the boundary line between earth and heaven. I want to show you to-day that there is a way over Jordan as well as through it. My text says: “And there went over a ferry boat to carry over the king’s household.”
I. My subject, in the first place, impresses me with the fact that when we cross over from this world to the next, the boat will have to come from the other side. The tribe of Judah, we are informed, sent this ferry boat across to bring David and his household. Blessed be God, there is a boat coming from the other side. Transportation at last for our souls from the other shore. Everything about this Gospel of Mercy from the other shore. Pardon from the other shore. Mercy from the other shore. Pity from the other shore. Ministry of angels from the other shore. Power to work miracles from the other shore. Jesus Christ from the other shore. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” I bless God that as the boat came from the other shore to take David and his men across, so, when we come to die, the boat of salvation will come from the same direction. God forbid that I should ever trust to anything that starts from this side.
II. When we cross over at the last, the king will be on board the boat. The king was on board the boat, and those women and children, and all the household of the king, knew that every care was taken to have that king pass in safety. When a soul goes to heaven, it does not go alone. The King is on board the boat. Was Paul alone in the last exigency? Hear the shout of the scarred missionary, as he cries out, “I am now ready to be offered up, and the time of my departure is at hand.” Was John Wesley alone in the last exigency? No. Hear him say: “Best of all, God is with us.” Here is the promise: “When thou passeth through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.” Christ at the sick pillow to take the soul out of the body; Christ to help the soul down the bank into the boat; Christs mid stream; Christ on the other side to help the soul up the beach. Be comforted about your departed friends. Be comforted about your own demise when the time shall come. Tell it to all the people under the sun that no Christian ever dies alone. The King is in the boat.
III. My text suggests that leaving this world for heaven is only crossing a ferry. Doctor Shaw estimates the average width of the Jordan to be about thirty yards. What, so narrow! Yes. “There went over a ferry-boat to carry over the king’s household.” Yes, going to heaven is only a short trip. Only a ferry. That accounts for something you have never been able to understand. You never could have supposed that very nervous and timid Christian people could be so perfectly unexcited and placid in the last hour. The fact is, they were clear down on the bank, and they saw there was nothing to be frightened about. Such a short distance--only a ferry! With one ear they heard the funeral psalm in their memory, and with the other they heard the song of heavenly salutation. The willows on this side the Jordan, and the Lebanon cedars on the other, almost interlocked their branches. Only a ferry!
IV. My subject also suggests the fact that when we cross over at the last, we shall find a solid landing. The ferry-boat, as spoken of in my text, means a place to start from, and a place to land. David and his people did not find the eastern shore of the Jordan any more solid than the western shore where he landed, and yet, to a great many, heaven is not a real place. I never heard of any heaven I want to go to except St. John’s heaven. I believe I shall hear Mr. Toplady sing vet, and Isaac Watts recite hymns, and Mozart play. “O,” you say, “where would you get the organ?” The Lord will provide the organ. I believe I shall yet see David with a harp, and I will ask him to sing one of the Songs of Zion. My heaven is not a fog-bank. My eyes are unto the hills--the everlasting hills. The King’s ferry-boat starting from a wharf on this side will go to a solid landing-place on the other side.
V. My subject teaches that when we cross over at the last, we will be met at the landing. When David and his family went over in the ferry-boat spoken of in the text, they landed amid a nation that had come out to greet them. As they stepped from the deck of the boat to the shore, there were thousands of people who gathered around them trying to express a satisfaction that was beyond description. And so you and I will be met at the landing. Our arrival will not be like stepping ashore at Antwerp or Constantinople among a crowd of strangers; it will be among friends--good friends, warm-hearted friends, and all their friends. The poet Southey said he thought he should know Bishop Heber in heaven by the portraits he had seen of him in London; and Dr. Randolph said he thought he should know William Cowper, the poet, in heaven from the pictures he had seen of him in England; but we shall know our departed kindred by the portraits hung in the throne-room of our hearts. On starlight nights you look up--and I suppose it is so with any one who has friends in heaven--and you cannot help but think of those who have gone; and I suppose they look down and cannot but think of us. But they have the advantage of us. We know not just where their world of joy is. They know where we are. O, what a consolation this ought to be to those whose friends have gone away--how it ought to take off the sharp edge of their melancholy. The partings of earth solaced by the reunions of heaven t (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The king’s ferry boats
There have been few scenes on the Jordan more interesting than that in which this ferry boat plays a part.
I. The King’s ferry boat carries us across the Jordan of our condemnation, and brings us to the land of forgiveness. Shimei made his peace with David that day. He had been, in the time of David’s great emergency, when he needed soldiers, a base and wicked traitor. So I bring to any poor sinner here the King’s ferry boat, on which you may safely ride across the Jordan of your sins to the blessed shore of forgiveness; it is surrender to God and unconditional acceptance of Christ Jesus as your Saviour.
II. God carries His people across the river of their needs. God’s Word assures us that the Lord is not unmindful of the necessities of our human lives. Christ says: “Your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” The man who trusts God is a great deal better taken care of than he who proposes to neglect God and look out for number one. We shall never reach the limit of God’s infinite grace and mercy by our most exaggerated dreams of good. Does not Paul assure us that God will supply all our need “according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus?” The one ferry boat that is sure to float you across the river of life’s need is a genuine, wholehearted Christianity.
III. The King’s ferry boat across the river of trouble and sorrow. How abundant are the promises of God that those who join His household shall be ferried safely across all the sorrows and troubles of life!
IV. We may see also in this figure our King’s ferry boat across the river of death. God does not leave his saints to die alone. Two days before Mr. Moody’s death there was placed in his room, unknown to him, a stenographer, who took every word that fell from the good man’s lips. And in the last moments he said: “Earth recedes. Heaven opens before me. You say this is death. There is nothing awful here; it is sweet, this place. Do not call me back. God is calling me, I must go. There is no valley here, it is all beautiful, beautiful.” So Moody found, as millions of God’s people have found before, that the King’s ferry boat is roomy and splendid, and safe in carrying the King’s household across the Jordan of death to the shores of that beautiful country “which eager hearts expect.” The ferry boat will not be lonely in crossing any of these streams, for Christ is Captain, and there are no rules that keep us from speaking to him while he is on duty. We may hold sweet communion with him all the way. On the ferry boats which ply between Liverpool and the Cheshire side of the Mersey is the notice: “Passengers are requested not to speak to the captain or steersman while crossing the river.” (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king.
One man will forgive a grievous wrong while another will not overlook a wry word. King John had most villainously treated his brother Richard in his absence. Was it likely that when he of the lion’s heart came home he would pass over his brother’s offence? If you look at John, villain that he was, it was most unlikely that he should be forgiven; but then, if you consider the brave, high-souled Richard, the very flower of chivalry, you expect a generous deed. Base as John was, he was likely to be forgiven, because Richard was so free of heart, and accordingly pardon was right royally given by the great, hearted monarch. Had John only been half as guilty, if his brother Richard had been like himself, he would have made him lay his neck on the block. If John had been Richard and Richard had been John, no matter how small the offence, there would have been no likelihood of pardon at all. So it is in all matters of transgression and pardon. You must take the offence somewhat into account, it is true, but not one-half so much as the character of the person who has been offended. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A wise king
Alphonsus, King of Naples and Sicily, justly celebrated in history for his leninecy and mercy, was once asked why he was so lenient to all, even the most wicked men. “Because,” said he, “good men are won by justice, the bad by mercy.” On another occasion some complained that he was too kind, even for a prince. “What, then?” cried the king; “would you have lions and tigers to reign over you? Do you not know that cruelty is the property of wild beasts, mercy that of man?”
For do not I know that I am this day king over Israel.
What wonderful applications this doctrine admits ell It touches life at every point; it is full of lessons to men in all stages of life and in all degrees of influence.
I. Know the great man by his goodness. Know real power, not by its tyranny’, but by its kindness. David was given to this kind of expression of his greatness. Once he cut off Saul’s skirt and spared the fool; he could have cut off Saul’s head. It is better not to use all your power. Always have a great reserve of strength. Never deal your deadliest blow until you are wholly driven to it. You will win more victories by forgiveness than by vengeance, by retaliation, by so-called self-defence.
II. Apply this to the matter of personal character and the defence of personal reputation. Some men are always defending themselves. They had better let it alone. Some little natures are always taking revenge. They will say, “Mark: he shall account for this; I have made a note before his name in my diary; he shall hear of this some other day.” Oh, shame! That is not the spirit of Christ, the spirit of kingship, the spirit of divinest royalty; that is littleness, yea the veriest meanness.
III. Apply this to pretended rulers. In proportion as a man is only a pretended ruler in anything, in business, in the Church, in Parliament, anywhere--in proportion as he is only a pretence he will be full of vengeance. Cut off their heads! is his policy: make short work of them: we must have a spirited policy; there must be no dillydallying here. Foolish talk; foolish heart! We are not to judge things by stones that are thrown, by dust that is poured upon the wind, by the shouting and crying of poor natures: we must remember that God’s eternity moves slowly but surely, and all his mills grind exceedingly small. “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves”: do not take yourselves into your own keeping, “but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written”--written in nature, written in every star, written in history, written in life--“Vengeance is mine.” Vengeance can only belong to one court. All other vengeance is minor, trivial, partial, unjust.
II. Apply this to the christian argument. How slow it is sometimes to human seeming; how indifferent almost to its own issue! It looks calmly upon all the little fray of words, and says, For do not I know that I can save men, bless men, help men, as no other power or force upon earth can do? Why should I follow all these people that are trying to pull my letters to pieces? Why should I take vengeance upon them? The Christian argument often takes no notice of the metaphysical strife, the angry contest, the loud dispute; it does not come down to avenge itself; it says, I am the most beneficent power in human thought, I can therefore afford to wait, and be quiet, and be calm, and not a single life will I take if I can possibly help it.
V. See how wondrously all this fits the character of Christ. In Christ there is nothing vindictive, nothing clamorous, nothing precipitant. When the people would take him by force and make him king he vanished out of their sight. This was the difficulty he had to contend with in his life--refusing so long to declare himself. This might do for a refrain to the music of Christ’s words--Do not I know that I am the Saviour of the world? Do not I know that I am this day King? Haste thee, smite thine enemies, crush all opposition, shine out of the heavens, out-dazzle the glory of summer noonday, and by that ineffable blaze declare thyself to be King! He says, No; that is not the way; that would be foolish, precipitant, impetuous, irrational: we must move with the currents of life: I have not come to institute a reformation, but to work out a regeneration. Why do the heathen rage? Because they are “the heathen.” Why do the people imagine a vain thing? Because they are “the people,” without regulation, discipline, lofty control, spiritual inspiration. Why is the Lord quiet upon His throne? Because He is upon it, and it is His. In one of two ways Jesus Christ is to be King over us all: He is to be King either with our consent, or against it. Choose ye this day. Or you must know that He is the King of kings and Lord of lords; and if you will not accept the sovereignty of His love you must accept the sovereignty of His fear. Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king.
Mephibosheth an enigma of motive
And Mephibosheth, also, the son of Saul, came down to meet the king. Our too otiose English is unjust to Mephibosheth; or else it has taken Mephibosheth’s infirmity in his feet much too seriously. Mephibosheth was not so crippled in his intellect, at any rate, as to stay in Jerusalem till the king came home. He was too eager for that to congratulate the king on his victory. We all know how the mind overmasters the body, and makes us forget all about its lameness on occasions. And Mephibosheth was at the Jordan all the way from Jerusalem almost as soon as Shimei himself. Four hundred years before, just at the same place, when the inhabitants of Gideon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they did work wilily, and went and made as if they had been ambassadors, and took old sacks upon their asses, and wine bottles old and rent and bound up, and old shoes and clouted upon their feet, and old garments upon them, and all the bread of their provisions was dry and mouldy. And Joshua said, Who are ye, and whence come ye? And they said, From a very far country thy servants are come, because of the name of the Lord thy God. And Joshua made a league with them, to let them live; and the princes of the congregation sware unto them. And all that about Joshua and the Gibeonites came back to David’s mind when he saw Mephibosheth lifted down off his ass. For Mephibosheth had not dressed his wooden feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes for grief, so he said, from the day that the king departed. Nor had he taken time to-day to make himself decent for such a journey, such was his joy that the king was coming back again to Jerusalem, Yes, but what came of thee that morning, Mephibosheth? asked David. I looked for thee. I was afraid that in the overthrow some evil had befallen thee. Thou art not able to bear arms for me; but thy father so strengthened my hands in God that to have seen the face of his son that morning, and to have heard thy voice would have done for me and for my cause what thy father did. My lord, said Mephibosheth--but “the tale was as lame as the tale-bearer.” Ziba had stolen his ass just as he was mounting him to come with the king--and so on. David did not stoop to ask whose ass this was that Mephibosheth had got saddled so soon this morning. Say no more, Mephibosheth, said David, as he saw Jonathan’s son crawling so abjectly before him. Dr. Kitto complains of David’s “tart answer” to Mephibosheth. But if David was too tart, then with what extraordinary and saintly sweetness Mephibosheth received the over-tartness of the king. “Let Ziba take all my estates to-day forasmuch as nay lord the king is come again in peace to his own house.” No, there was nothing cripple in Mephibosheth’s intellects. “Mephibosheth was a philosopher,” says Dr. Parker. “I find no defect of his wits in Mephibosheth,” says honest Joseph Hall. And the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, because of the Lord’s oath that was between them, between David and Jonathan, the son of Saul. (A. Whyte, D. D.)
Self-interest the parent of ingratitude
In poor Mephibosheth’s case, it would seem as if his early and lifelong infirmity, taken along with the hopeless loss of his brilliant prospects, had all eaten into his heart till he became the false, scheming creature that David found him out to be. Hephaeston loved Alexander, while Craterus loved the king. And Jonathan was like Hephaeston in this, that he loved David at all times, whereas his son Mephibosheth resembled Craterus in this, that he preferred David on the throne to David off the throne. Jonathan strengthened David’s hand in God in the wood of Ziph; but Mephibosheth, like another classical character, fled the empty cask. How Mephibosheth’s heart had overflowed with gratitude to David when the royal command came that he was to leave Machir’s house:in Lo-debar, and was henceforth to take up his quarters in the king’s house in Jerusalem! All Mephibosheth’s morosity and misanthropy melted off his heart that day. But such was Mephibosheth at the bottom of his heart that, as he continued to eat at David’s table, Satan entered into Mephibosheth and said to him in his heart that all this was by original and Divine right his own. All this wealth, and power, and honour, and glory. But for the bad fortune of his father’s royal house on Mount Gilboa, all this would to-day have been his own. “Ingratitude,” says Mozley, “is not only a species of injustice, it is the highest species of injustice.” And the ingratitude of Mephibosheth grew at David’s table to this high injustice, that he waited for both David and Absalom to be chased out of Jerusalem, that, he might take their place. There is no baser heart than an ungrateful heart. And it was Mephibosheth’s ungrateful heart that prepared him for the baseness that he was found out in both at the flight of David and at his victorious return.
“The virtues were invited once
To banquet with the Lord of All:
They came--the great ones rather grim,
And not so pleasant as the small.
They talked and chatted o’er the meal,
They even laughed with temp’rate glee;
And each one knew the other well,
And all were good as good could be.
Benevolence and Gratitude
Alone of all seemed strangers yet;
They stared when they were introduced
On earth they never once had met.”
Dean Milman says that the writings both of Tacitus and Dante are full of remorse. And it is, as I believe, in our own remorse that we shall find the true key to Mephibosheth’s heart. When a government goes out of power, when a church is under a cloud, when religion has lost her silver slippers, and when she walks in the shadow of the street, and when any friend has lost his silver slippers--then we discover Mephibosheth in ourselves, and hate both him and ourselves like hell. And commentators have taken sides over the case of Mephibosheth very much as they have found that contemptible creature skulking in themselves, and have had bitter remorse on account of him. “I am full of self-love, fear to confess Thee, or to hazard myself, or my estate, or my peace . . . My perplexity continues as to whether I shall move now or not, stay or return, hold by Lauderdale, or make use of the Bishop. I went to Sir George Mushet’s funeral, where I was looked at, as I thought, like a speckled bird . . . Die Dom.
I find great averseness in myself to suffering. I am afraid to lose life or estate. Shall I forbear to hear that honest minister, James Urquhart, for a time, seeing the stone is like to fall on me if I do so?” And then our modern Mephibosheth has the grace to add in his diary, like the book of judgment: “A grain of sound faith would easily answer all these questions:--I have before me Mr. Rutherford’s letter desiring me to deny myself.” And though you will not easily believe it; the author of that letter himself has enough of Jonathan’s crippled and disinherited son still in himself to give a tang, and more than a tang, of remorse to some of his best letters. “Oh, if I were free of myself! Myself is another devil, and as evil as the prince of devils. Myself! Myself! Every man blames the devil for his sins, but the house and heart devil of every man is himself. I think I shall die still but minting and aiming to be a Christian man!” This, then, is the prize for finding out that enigma of motive, Mephobosheth’s hidden heart. This is the first prize, to receive of God the inward eye to discover Mephibosheth in our ourselves. (A. Whyte, D. D.)
Mephibosheth . . . had neither dressed his feet nor trimmed his beard.--
Regard for personal appearance
There is a very suggestive story told of Napoleon when his army was in dire need, retreating from Moscow in 1813. The soldiers were ragged, dirty, starved, and unkempt, and it seemed to be impossible to present the smart and orderly appearance which usually characterises troops on the march. But in the very heart of their necessity one of the generals came before Napoleon one morning as nearly attired as if for parade. The Emperor’s commendation was instant: “My General,” he said, “you are a brave man!” Napoleon was a man of the keenest and clearest insight, and he could read a character through a trifle. He knew perfectly well that a man who put care and energy and precision into a courtesy would not be lacking upon the field. Is not the story suggestive of the finer characteristics of the Christian life? Real Christian heroism manifests itself in trifles. How do we finish our speech? Into what kind of dress do we put our courtesies? In what form and manner does our service express itself? Are we as scrupulous and painstaking when little demand is made upon us, as we are amid the crises and heavier battles of life? Christian heroism is not only an affair of great conflicts, it also manifests itself on those smaller occasions when so many people relax both effort and desire. (Hartley Aspen.)
And Barzillai the Gileadite came down from Rogelim, and went over Jordan with the king.
Barzillai the great man in society
1. One feature in the Bible is that it represents members of every class of society, as not only belonging to, but actually working in God’s Church. The great gathering of the people of God, which the Bible brings to notice, numbers kings, counsellors, captains, and honourable men, without distinction, as forming a part in God’s great Church on earth. The jewels of God, when made up to form His crown, are of every hue and colour; not only the diamond reflecting the varied lustre of the saintly character, which dwelling apart from the world, realises itself as a denizen of heaven; but there also is the purple amethyst of earthly royalty; the pale sapphire of female loveliness; and the emerald, which borrows from the earth its hues, reminding us of the works of the creation of God.
2. Barzillai of Rogelim is one of a class of which many are mentioned in the Bible--great and rich men who served the Lord. Boaz, Caius, Joseph of Arimathea, and Barnabas are his companions. Boundless wealth and magnificence, mark at once his circumstance; unlimited hospitality is the leading feature of his conduct; loyalty, whose keen edge is only whetted by the adversity of the king whom he serves, marks his principles. He was one who had been used to feast under the song “of the singing men and singing women;” ease, courtesy, and independence marked his manner; and the marble which contained the dust of his fathers marked at the same time the last earthly aim of Barzillai. There are some to whom the aristocracy of the tomb has a nobler lustre than the aristocracy of life; there are some who count it a higher honour that their dust should slumber with the dust of their ancestors than that they in life should repose in the palace of kings. It is among the leading features of those who are truly great in this world. Now these are the features of a great man, and suggest many lessons to the great among ourselves:
3. One duty of the great, rich man which we learn from the case of Barzillai is that of wide, enlarged hospitality. Means are a talent given to improve. But men frequently mistake the tenure of their wealth. The most minute description of the last day in the Bible is based on the claims of hospitality. It is a duty, and in exercising it a man fulfils one great rule and law of Christianity, exercises a distinct talent which God has given him, and fulfils one of those modes of employing his talents which God has left him.
4. Barzillai suggests another lesson: He entertained a king--in adversity. A persecuted outcast, king went by, and he threw his gates open to receive him. Those who are great in wealth and power too often seek the credit of those whose worldly position will cast honour on themselves by having them under their roof. The Christian and religious man of wealth and power is he who rather receives those whom the world frowns upon under his roof; and loves to lend his wealth to buy a share in the return of those on whom God’s chastening hand is laid, than refuse the shelter which may bring discredit in the eyes of the world. Barzillai seems to have acted as he did without a conscious desire of worldly honour or human praise. It is not this office or that which makes a man great, it is the way in which a man occupies any office.
5. Barzillai desired burial with his father and mother. The punishment of kings of Israel was that they should not be buried by their fathers, and the first aim of Abraham was not the purchase of a dwelling-place but “the purchase of a burial place.” The burial of our Blessed Lord stands as a prominent feature in the acts of His saving Life and Death, though it was where “no man had yet lain.” His Sacred Body opened a new vault for the human race, and led the way to a new cave of Machpelah, beneath whose consecrated escutcheons all the Church desire burial. The burial “in sure and certain hope of a resurrection to eternal life.” The burial under the motto, “Resurgam,” and the escutcheon of the wing which bears the soul to heaven. So the associations of the grave became ennobled and sanctified. There the felled trees lie. There lies the record of the character with the finish which it had received at death; the penitent, the patient, the innocent, or the heavily-minded. Let those who stand in high places like him aim at an integrity and a stainless association with the past, and they Will do well. It is not the pomp of the funeral or the magnificence of the eulogy which sheds the lustre on the departed: but the epitaph of their tomb. (E. Monro.)
Barzillai, the Gideonite; or, the influence of age
Barzillai’s words to the king of Israel remind us of the influence that age produces upon men.
I. A mellowness of heart. There is a feeling soft and subdued running through the words of this patriarchal Gideonite. In the gradual passage from maturity to helplessness, the harshest characters sometimes have a period in which they are gentle and placid as young children. One who saw the Duke of Wellington in his last years, describes him as very gentle in his aspect and demeanour.
II. An indisposition to exertion. “How long have I to live, that I should go up with the king unto Jerusalem? I am this day fourscore years old.” It seems benevolently arranged that, as the limbs get feeble and incapable of action, the inclination to exertion decreases too.
III. A lack of interest in the world. To an old man the world is a plum that has lost its bloom, an orange that has been sucked till the peel is dry. The pageantries of court and the dazzle of fashionable life are to the old man but as the worthless gilt that spangles the dress of an actor. When old age comes over the millionaire, how shapes the world to him?
IV. An incapacity for earthly enjoyments. “Can thy servant taste what I eat or what I drink?” He could not relish either the banquets or the concerts of the court. The choicest delicacies of the table would fall upon his appetite, the most transporting strains of music would fall dead upon his ear: “The desire has failed, and the daughters of music are brought low.” Years not only steal away our strength, but our relish for earthly pleasures.
V. An interest in the dead. “Let thy servant, I pray thee, turn back again,” etc. Here is the filial instinct glowing in the breast of an old man. Conclusion.
1. Here is a rebuke to worldliness. What if you amass a princely fortune? Whilst it will not make you happy, either in the morning of your youth or the zenith of your noon, it will be utterly worthless to you if you live to old age.
2. Here, is, too, an argument for religion. Form an alliance with those eternal principles that will make your spirits young and strong amidst the infirmities of age. Prepare for the future! (Homilist.)
Barzillai the Gileadite
Some of the most interesting spots in our Scottish landscapes are hidden from the hasty traveller. He passes through a beautiful valley, sees the clear rushing river, the green fields fringed by the dark woods which climb the skirts of the hills, the mountain tops with their massive swell or rocky precipice indenting the sky, and he thinks he knows the whole. But there are exquisite spots of beauty hidden among the hills, shady pools in the streams, quiet retreats so fresh and far away from the world’s eye, that when he sees them he feels as if the foot of man had never been there before, It is so in the Bible. We read the great roll of the heroes of faith in the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews, and it seems as if we had traversed the history of the ancient Church of God. Buts when we pass through the first ranks and the grander scenes, we light upon spots of tranquil beauty and characters of transparent faith and truthfulness which fill us with the gladness of surprise. The story of Barzillai is one of these.
I. We have a man who knows that he is old, but who is not distressed by the thought of it. He has no reticence, no shame, and, so far as we can see, he has no regret. He numbers up his weaknesses, indeed, but it is much in the way a soldier counts the scars he has brought from his battlefields. This is the hoary head which is so beautiful when it is found in the way of righteousness. We should aim at this even from youth. But how are we to prepare for this? First, surely, by taking God with us early in the journey of life. God is willing to receive a man whenever he turns to Him; but the later he turns, the more shall be his regrets. Next, by providing beforehand the compensations which God is willing to give for everything that may be taken away by the changes of life. If the eye is to become dim, we may be preparing an inner vision more open and clear for Divine and eternal realities; if the ear is to be dulled to earthly music, and hard of access to the voice of friends, we can ask that friend to say to it, “Ephphatha, Be opened!” who will enter our solitude with his words--“To old age I am He, to hoar hairs I will carry you;” if the feet and hands become powerless for their accustomed work, we may exercise ourselves in the faith and hope which make the feet more than youthful and change the hands to wings, so that we shall mount up like eagles, and run and not be weary, and walk and not faint. Someone has said that it would be a melancholy world without children, and an inhuman world without the aged; and the world is never better than when these two can meet and give and receive gladness. We have a natural reluctance to the feeling that we are growing old; we put it away, and when something at last forces it upon us, it is like the rush of an armed man from an ambush, or the flake of the first snow to tell us that the long summer days are gone, and that winter is at hand. And yet, as you may have seen, it is the transition which is the most painful. When the first days of brown October show us the fresh green leaves of summer, now sere and yellow, dropping from the boughs under the wind that wails through the thin woods, we cannot help a feeling of sadness creeping over the heart. But when winter has come it has its own enjoyments; there is the long, quiet evening, the cheerful gleam of the hearth, the closer bosom of the family and of friendship, the pleasant memories of summer, and the hopes of its return--these give to winter its gladness, and even its glow. If we are in this transition, or nearing it, we should seek to realise it, and to rise above it by looking forward. Every time of life to a true man is only a transition to something better.
II. We have a man who is rich, but who is satisfied with his natural position. No doubt, the remark will readily be made by some, “It is easy for a rich man to be satisfied; let us have his wealth, and we shall blame ourselves if we ask for anything more.” But if you look round on the world, you will perceive that it is at the stage of prosperity that the dissatisfaction of many men begins. It is quite true that the Bible forbids no man to seek the improvement of his worldly circumstances, or to use that improvement in a wise and generous way. It has no malediction an wealth itself, and no canonising of poverty. When our Saviour bade the young man sell all he had, and give to the poor, it was a test of character, not a condition of discipleship. But there are two things against which a man who has risen to wealth should carefully watch--becoming the slave of sensual gratification: “What more can I eat and drink?” or “How can I shine in the social circle?” In the midst of empty ambitions, and vain contests for pre-eminence, our wisdom is to prefer the position which agrees with what is deepest in our nature, and which is most helpful to our spiritual life.
III. We have a man of long experience, who has kept up his love of simple pleasures. We can infer this from the tone in which he speaks. In these times of tumult and change, we think with envy of the quiet, primitive days, when men grew up in their place with leisure for spreading out their thoughts like branches, and sending down their affections like roots. We have no wish to depreciate that kind of life which occupies itself with the activities of the world, which presses into the highways of cities, and the throng of business, and which has its pleasure in breasting and battling with the great waves of public movement in social and intellectual and political progress. There are faculties in man’s nature which find their proper exercise in this; the world could not advance or even live without it, and the calm recesses, which seem shut out from the great sea of life, would stagnate if they were not stirred by its tides. But we should take care that the whirl of public life does not unfit us for enjoying private life.
IV. We have a man who is attached to the past, but who does not distrust the Future. There was evidently a great change coming over the land of Israel at this time. The old patriarchal ways were losing their hold. The capital was growing, and men and gold and silver flowing into it. New views were prevailing which looked on the past as antiquated, and pressed forward, often recklessly, into unknown futures. The young men of revolution who gathered round Absalom were a sign of it, and after the splendour of Solomon’s reign it came out more distinctly under his successor. In the parting of Barzillai and David we seem to have the two tendencies, the recoil of the old, the advance of the new. We are in the midst of one of these transitions now, when many are fearing, and some predicting, only evil. The quiet old life of our country is retiring evermore into the background, and the towns with their rush of life, their battles of thought and action, their impulses for good and evil are in the front. We cannot help regretting it, and wishing to retain as much as we can of what was good. When we think of the old life of Scotland among its hills and cottage homes, of its men and women so intelligent and God-fearing, so independent in spirit, yet so kindly and courteous, it is hard to believe that its departure can be a blessing. The land can scarcely anywhere rear a nobler people than those who, on a Sabbath morning, gathered like streams from the valleys to the house of God, to sing the psalms which had been the strength of their fathers when they were outcasts among the mountains. There is another view of the time which may make us still more anxious. Insurrections of self-will and lawlessness are breaking out which threaten all things human and Divine. Men are setting their mouths against the heavens, and laying bitter and persistent siege to the citadels in which faith has felt itself secure for ages. These things sadden and startle us when we think of the future. The world looks like a ship descending the rapids, and some surge of the stream may dash and shatter it on the black reefs of atheism and anarchy which shoot their heads above the foam. (J. Ker, D. D.)
I. His sense of the nearness of death. “How long have I to live? . . . I am this day fourscore years old.” To him the thought of death seemed to be neither unfamiliar nor unpleasant. Christian men and women who are advanced ill years should seek to copy Barzillai’s example, accustoming themselves to the thought and approach of death.
II. His contentment under the infirmities of age. “Can I discern between good and evil? Can thy servant taste what I eat or what I drink?” He had no wish for court-life, for he was no longer fit to enjoy it. His powers were waning; he was no longer able to find enjoyment in that which ministered pleasure to others. Resignation marks his words. Some aged people are fretful over their infirmities. Peevishness is a common characteristic of advanced life. Others endeavour to conceal the ravages of time, and eagerly mingle in the pleasures of youth. With one foot in the grave, they wish to appear and be considered as young as possible. Both courses are alike unbecoming in those who are in “the sere and yellow leaf.”
III. His unworldliness. “Why should the king recompense it me with such a reward?” David’s proposal would have been greedily grasped at by many. Notwithstanding its attractiveness Barzillai courteously declined it. How beautiful to see at a time of life, when men, as a rule, cling more closely to worldly things, such an un-regretful renunciation of worldly honour and prosperity!
IV. His unselfishness. “Behold thy servant Chimham; let him go over with my lord the king; and do to him what shall seem good to thee.” Barzillai was not unwilling that another should enjoy the benefits of which he felt he was unable to avail himself. Too often aged people, no longer able to “enjoy life,” frown upon those younger than themselves, who do enjoy it. Forgetful that they themselves were once young, they seek to crush the harmless desires and damp the seasonable enjoyments of youth.
V. His filial affection. “Let thy servant, I pray thee, turn back again, that I may die in mine own city, and be buried by the grave of my father and of my mother.” Even at his great age, the memory of his parents was fresh and tender. It is pleasant to remember that the good that Barzillai was thus privileged to do to his earthly sovereign was not “interred with his bones,” but “lived after him.” David graciously granted the old man’s request, and Chimham not only was taken as his father’s substitute to eat at the royal table, but in addition obtained a portion of David’s patrimonial possession near Bethlehem (Jeremiah 41:17). “The memory of the just is blessed.” (Thomas S. Dickson, M. A.)
David and Barzillai
It is very refreshing to fall in with a man like Barzillai in a record which is so full of wickedness, and without many features of a redeeming character. He is a sample of humanity at its best--one of those men who diffuse radiance and happiness wherever their influence extends. Of Barzillai’s previous history we know nothing. We do not even know where Rogelim, his place of abode, was, except that it was among the mountains of Gilead. The facts stated regarding him are few, but suggestive.
1. He was “a very great man.” The expression seems to imply that he was both rich and influential. Dwelling among the hills of Gilead, his only occupation, and main way of becoming rich, must have been as a farmer. Barzillai’s ancestors had probably received a valuable and extensive allotment, and had been strong enough and courageous enough to keep it for themselves. Consequently, when their flocks and herds multiplied, they were not restrained within narrow dimensions, but could spread over the mountains round about.
2. His generosity was equal to his wealth. The catalogue of the articles which he and another friend of David’s brought him in his extremity (2 Samuel 17:28-29) is instructive from its minuteness and its length. Like all men liberal in heart, he devised liberal’ things.
3. His loyalty was not less thorough than his generosity. When he heard of the king’s troubles, he seems never to have hesitated one instant us to throwing in his lot with him. It mattered not that the king was in great trouble, and apparently in a desperate case. Barzillai was no sunshine courtier, willing to enjoy the good things of the court in days of prosperity, but ready in darker days to run off and leave his friends in the midst of danger. He was one of those true men that are ready to risk their all in the cause of loyalty when persuaded that it is the cause of truth and right. Risk? Can you frighten a man like this by telling him of the rink be runs by supporting David in the hour of adversity? Why, he is ready not only to risk all, but to lose all, if necessary, in a cause which appears so obvious to be Divine, all the more because he sees so well what a blessing David has been to the country. Why, he has actually made the kingdom. He has given unity and stability to all the internal arrangements of the kingdom. And is not a country happy that has such citizens, men who place their personal interest far below the public weal, and are ready to make any sacrifice, of person or of property, when the highest interests of their country are concerned?
4. Barzillai was evidently a man of attractive personal qualities. The king was so attracted by him that he wished him to come with him to Jerusalem, and promised to sustain him at court.
5. Barzillai was not dazzled even by the highest offers of the king, because he felt that the proposal was unsuitable for his years. He was already eighty, and every day was adding to his burden, and bringing him sensibly nearer the grave. David had made the offer as a compliment to Barzillai, although it might also be a favour to himself, and as a compliment the aged Gileadite was entitled to view it. In Barzillai’s choice, we see the predominance of a sanctified common sense, alive to the proprieties of things, and able to see how the enjoyment most suitable to an advanced period of life might best be had. It was not by aping youth or grasping pleasures for which the relish had gone. There are few more jarring notes in English history than the last days of Queen Elizabeth. As life was passing away, a historian of England says, “she clung to it with a fierce tenacity. She hunted, she danced, she jested with her young favourites, she coquetted, and frolicked, and scolded at sixty-seven as she had done at thirty.” “The Queen,” wrote a courtier, “a few months before her death was never so gallant these many years, nor so set upon jollity.” She persisted, in spite of opposition, in her gorgeous progresses from country house to country house. She clung to business as of old, and rated in her usual fashion one “who minded not, to giving up some matter of account.” And then a strange melancholy settled on her. Her mind gave way, and food and rest became alike distasteful. Clever woman, yet very foolish in not discerning how vain it was to attempt to carry the brisk habits of youth into old age, and most profoundly foolish in not having taken pains to provide for old age the enjoyments appropriate to itself l How differently it has fared with those who have been wise in time and made the best provision for old age! “I have waited for Thy salvation, O my God,” says the dying Jacob, relieved and happy to think that the object for which he had waited had come at last. “I am now ready to be offered,” says St. Paul, “and the time of my departure is at hand.”
6. Holding such views of old age, it was quite natural and suitable for Barzillai to ask for his son Chimham what he respectfully declined for himself. For his declinature was not a rude rejection of an honour deemed essentially false and vain. The narrative is so short that not a word is added as to how it fared with Chimham when he came to Jerusalem. Only one thing is known of him; it is said that, after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzer, when Jonathan conducted to Egypt a remnant of Jews that he had saved from the murderous hand of Ishmael, “they departed and dwelt in the habitation of Chimham, which is by Bethlehem, to go into Egypt.” We infer that David bestowed on Chimham some part of his paternal inheritance at Bethlehem. The meeting with Barzillai and the finding of a new son in Chimham must have been looked on by David with highly pleasant feelings. In every sense of the term, ha had lost a son in Absalom; he seems now to find one in Chimham. We dare not say that the one was compensation for the other. Such a blank as the death of Absalom left in the heart of David could never be filled up from any earthly source whatever. Blanks of that nature can be filled only when God gives a larger measure of His own presence and His own love. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
Barzillai an example of loyalty in perilous times
Barzillai was indeed a noble old man. He loved his country, he loved his king, and in perilous times and days of turbulence and anarchy stood forward the friend of the distressed, the consoler of fallen greatness, and the constant and determined supporter of the rightful government and ancient institutions of his land. I wish you to mark two features of the character thus brought before you--the loyalty and the piety of Barzillai. In the midst of the rampant successes of rebellion he would not forsake the cause of his rightful sovereign, and the interests of his country. And his loyalty was disinterested. He looked for no return, he would accept no reward. You have seen that the reinstated sovereign proffered to him all the splendours of a residence with a royal family in the imperial city. And this in general estimation was no worthless boon. It embraced all that most men court, all that the world with such anxiety is toiling for. He would be admitted to the highest circles in the realm; men would bow down to him, and do him reverence; every luxury would be at his command; he was to sit at the king’s table; chariots and horsemen, stately attendants, rich and costly clothing, worldly power, honour, magnificence--all that is dazzling in earthly grandeur, all that is enchanting to a worldly mind was within his grasp. But mark his piety. He declined it all! He would not now distract his mind with the dissipating round of earthly vanity. He would rather end his days in peaceful retirement; and, in the simplicity of country life, mature his soul for heaven.
I. I remind you that loyalty is part of religion, and must spring from a principle of obedience to God, who is the sovereign ruler of all worlds.
II. Again, such a loyal spirit as that which animated barzillai, will lead to a cheerful devotion of our substance, so far as it may be needed, for the usual purposes of government, or the occasional exigencies of the State. The good old man hastened of his own accord to bring his ample supply to David and his people in their extraordinary reverses. And let us cheerfully contribute to the maintenance of good government, by rendering those imposts which the wisdom of the legislature has arranged.
III. And let our true loyal feeling find its expression in fervent prayer to him who sits enthroned above--“the King of kings and Lord of lords.” “I exhort,” saith the apostle, “that prayers be made for kings and all that are in authority: that we may lead a quiet and peacable life in all godliness and honesty.”
IV. In conclusion, cultivate, above all, that pious spirit which Barzillai manifested in his thoughtfulness of death; his disregard of worldly greatness; and his anxiety to have repose in his latter days to prepare for heaven. (A. Bumstead, B. A.)
The lives of courtiers
We suppose Barzillai was a good man, and that his example sufficiently proves it.
I. Our question is this, how far does the world, a court, or business become a young man?
1. A wise man will never choose a court, or high offices, as most and best fitted to procure true peace.
2. A wise man will always consider a court, and eminent posts, as dangerous to his salvation. It is in a court, it is in eminent posts, that, generally speaking, the most dangerous snares are set for conscience.
3. A wise man will never enter a court or accept of an eminent post, without fixed resolutions to surmount the temptations, with which they are accompanied, and without using proper measures to succeed in his design.
4. The evils, which embitter the lives of courtiers, and of all who are elevated to eminent posts, and (what may seem a paradox), the hazard of being damned among human grandeurs, ought not to discourage those from occupying the highest offices, who are capable of doing great good to society and the church, It is a tempting of God to expose one’s self to danger when no good will come of it it is rash, it is tempting God to expose ourselves to difficulties, which cannot possibly be surmounted. His refusal proceeds from three causes.
1. The insensibility of old age is the first cause of the refusal of Barzillai. This insensibility may proceed either from a principle of wisdom.
2. The disgraces of old age are a second reason of the refusal of Barzillai. Why should thy servant be a burden to my lord the king? Certainly, an old man ought to be treated with the greatest respect and caution. Whatever idea Barzillai formed of the equity and benevolence of David, he did justice to himself. He well knew, that a man of eighty would be a burden to this good king. A man at this time of life too strikingly exhibits human infirmities to give pleasure in circles of company, where such mortifying ideas are either quite forgotten, or slightly remembered.
3. In fine, Barzillai revolved in his mind the nearness of old age to death. This was the principal cause of his refusal. Was ever principle better founded? How little is necessary to overset and break the frame of a man of this age? What is necessary? A vapour! a puff of wind!
III. But if the principle of this good old man be well founded, the consequence derived from it is better founded, that is, that worldly affairs do not suit a man drawing near the end of his life; that when death is so near, a man should be wholly employed in preparing for it. Everything engages Barzillai to avoid disconcerting himself in his last moments, and to devote the few that remain to seriousness.
1. The long time he had lived. If the account, which God requires every man to give at death, be terrible to all men, it should seem particularly so to old men. An old man is responsible for all the periods of his life, all the circumstances he has been in, and all the connections he hath formed.
2. The continued cares, which exercised the mind of Barzillai, were second spring of his action. How necessary is it to make up, by retirement and recollection in the last stages of life, what has been wanting in the days of former hurry, and which are now no more! I recollect a saying of a captain of whom historians have taken more cars to record the wisdom than the name. It is said that the saying struck the Emperor Charles V. and confirmed him in his design of abdicating his crown, and retiring to a convent. The captain required the Emperor to discharge him from service. Charles asked the reason. The prudent soldier replied, Because there ought to be a pause between the hurry of life and the day of death.
3. In fine, if Barzillai seemed to anticipate his dying clay by continually meditating on the subject, it was because the meditation, full of horror to most men, was full of charms to this good old man. (J. Saurin.)
How long have I to live, that I should go up with the King unto Jerusalem?
Barzillai’s refusal of David’s invitation to Jerusalem considered
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.
II. The prospect of a speedy removal out or this world, should wean our affections from it.
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.
I am this day fourscore years old.
Venerable age: its trials and consolations
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.
II. The consolations which attend and comfort the aged believer.
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.)
The Sabbath of life
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.
Let thy servant, I pray thee, turn back again, that I may die in mine own city.
Dying at home
In our last great trial, in our conflict with the king of terrors, what a consolation to feel that our friends are about us, that we are at home.
1. How much earthly friends may help us in the hour of death.
2. The limitation of this help.
3. The Christian’s consolation that wherever death may overtake him he will die in the midst of friends. His Elder Brother will be there, and God, his father, and he will be encompassed with a host of heavenly witnesses, friends in Jesus Christ. Through death we will go from our earthly home to our heavenly home. (Homiletic Review.)
Going home to die
When Sir Walter Scott returned from Italy, in sickness and mental affliction, and was approaching his home in Selkirkshire, the old familiar landmarks seemed to recall him to his wonted animation. “That is Gala Water! Yonder are the Eildon Hills!” was his joyous exclamation. When at last Abbotsford appeared in sight, he became so excited that he desired to be raised up in the carriage that he might look on his beautiful home. Yet he was only going home to die.
Love of home
Sir Walter Scott used to say that he loved the honest grey hills of Scotland as his very life, and that if he did not see the heather once a year be thought he should die.
And the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel.
Here is the beginning of a long controversy which ended in the dismemberment of God’s people, and in the permanent alienation of those who by tradition, by hopes, and by privileges, were common children of a common Lord. Here is the little cloud no bigger than a man’s hand, of fierce invective, and party jealousy; soon the whole heaven will be black with the cloud and storm of disaster, and divided, Israel and Judah fall an easy prey to their enemy, who leads them away captive into exile and degradation, and failure of purpose, for which they had paved the way by the quarrels between brethren.
I. The history of religious dissension is a long and a sad one. There is a monotonous iteration about it which makes one almost despair of human nature, did we not know that freedom of the will, liberty of opinion, and individuality ill all its waywardness, are signs, however perverted they may be, of man’s pre-eminence in creation as made in the image and likeness of God, Who wills and no man lets Him, Who moves unfettered by necessity, and untrammelled by restraint. It is easy enough to arrange, in order, and in beauty artificial flowers, with all their semblance of life and brilliancy of colour. The real flowers bend their heads, and snap and fall and hang down; but they have this virtue, that they are alive, they are fragrant, they are tinged with that living colour which no art can give. Puppets offer no resistance; they stand where they are placed; they are absolutely at the disposal of the hand which orders them. But puppets cannot think, cannot resist, cannot organise movement, or march to victory. No, in spite of its waywardness, its readiness to yield to temptation, its pettiness of jealousy, its infirmity of purpose, we would not part with our freedom of the will. There is no struggle which appears to men so much as a struggle for liberty. We all of us passionately cry out, Persuade me if you can, but you shall never drive me. We will yield to arguments, but not to force. You cannot drive a man with a stick, nor convince him by violence. Men must have arguments, and not blows, because man is free. It is a sad spectacle to be forced to regard in Holy Scripture that which at first sight seems to be the utter failure of the purpose of God, through the pettiness and infirmity of human nature. Guard, I beseech you, against the controversial spirit. It has been well said by the late Bishop Morley that the temper which prefers to denounce sin rather than faithfully and Weekly endeavours to increase holiness in oneself and others; which rather likes railing at want of discipline, than sets itself in gentleness and prayer to bring about the restoration of it, is nearly connected with the feebleness of moral fibre. Certainly a great deal of personal self-indulgence is apt to hide itself (even from its own eyes) under the cloak of a burning and railing zeal for discipline, and personal weakness to find a kind of factitious strength in the complaints of the unholiness of others. Guard against the controversial spirit. It more than anything else serves to damage the sensitiveness of the soul. Look at that poor woman of Samaria, in the Gospel, bow nearly she lost the supreme opportunity of her life. Jesus meets her in her sensual, unspiritual condition; He brushes past her unmannerly roughness, her churlish discourtesy, and He speaks to her with that home-thrust of love on which her salvation depended--“Go, call thy husband, anal come hither.” You notice how she avoided it. Like the cuttle-fish which tries to escape from its antagonist by the inky stream which it leaves behind it, she tries to get away in the obscuring flood of controversy. “Sir,” she said, “I perceive that thou art a prophet.” Controversy is a dangerous exercise, and, like one of the big guns which our modern military science has produced, may sometimes crumble to pieces the fort from which it is fired if unprepared for the weight of its discharge, and damage those who use it.
II. But while we deplore--as deplore we must--the divisions of Israel and Judah, the divisions which rend the seamless robe of Christ, we must not forget, at the same time, that as God can use the fierceness and the passions of men, so He can overrule for good “our unhappy divisions.” Nay, we may go further and say that, bad as they are, divisions are not all bad; and sad as it is, disunion is no ground for despair. “Peace with honour,” if you like, but a disastrous war is better than an unworthy peace. The presence of controversy, and even the sad spectacle of division, does bear witness to the intense importance of Truth. Is it worth while, the sceptic asks with a sneer, to convulse the Church for a dipththong? “Yes,” we answer, emphatically, “Yes,” if it means that it is to be an open question whether the Church believes our Blessed Lord to be of the same substance of the Father, or only of like substance. Can anything be more trivial, says the superficial observer, than the addition of one short clause to the Creed, as a cause of separation between Eastern and Western Christendom? Not at all, if it bears witness to the fact that no addition must be made to the Creed of Christendom without the sanction and consent of the whole Church. The great importance of truth must come before everything else. There are words of our Blessed Lord which are a strange comment on the angelic song which blazed across the Heaven on the first Christmas Eve: “Glory to God in the highest,” sang the angels, “and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.” And shepherds heard it on the peaceful upland in all the pastoral simplicity of idyllic calm. But, as our Blessed Lord sat on the Mount of Olives, where the sun was setting blood-red behind doomed Jerusalem, where the air was full of judgment and of gloom, within three days of Good Friday, He said: “Ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolk, and friends, and some of you will they cause to be put to death, and ye shall be hated of all men for My Name’s sake, but he that shall endure unto the end shall be saved.” It is possible that we shall often find principles inconvenient things.
II. Controversy is a blinding, maddening thing. Yet even dissension has its uses. It is better than apathy, and it witnesses to the eternal force of truth. But, nevertheless, he who would use the weapons of controversy aright, whether in attack or defence, must look to it that he wears the right equipment, or he will find himself injured by the very force of the weapons which he was trying to wield. (W. E. E. Newbolt, M. A.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》