First Sunday after Christmas – December 31, 2017
Barzillai the Gileadite also came down from Rogelim to cross the Jordan with the king and to send him on his way from there. 32 Now Barzillai was very old, eighty years of age. He had provided for the king during his stay in Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man. 33 The king said to Barzillai, “Cross over with me and stay with me in Jerusalem, and I will provide for you.” 34 But Barzillai answered the king, “How many more years will I live, that I should go up to Jerusalem with the king? 35 I am now eighty years old. Can I tell the difference between what is enjoyable and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats and drinks? Can I still hear the voices of male and female singers? Why should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? 36 Your servant will cross over the Jordan with the king for a short distance, but why should the king reward me in this way? 37 Let your servant return, that I may die in my own town near the tomb of my father and mother. But here is your servant Kimham. Let him cross over with my lord the king. Do for him whatever you wish.” (2 Samuel 19:31-37)
“Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.” Barzillai didn’t write those words. But I bet he knew what they meant. Barzillai was an old man who lived in Old Testament Israel, and he had seen just about everything.
He would have been only a child when the prophet Samuel ruled Israel with wisdom and justice. He would have grown up hearing about Samuel’s wicked sons and the people demanding to have an actual king like the rest of the nations. As a young man, Barzillai saw King Saul start his reign with so much promise. As the years went on, he watched Saul turn away from the Lord.
News didn’t travel fast in those days, but I bet Barzillai remembered where he was when he heard the news that a shepherd boy named David brought down the Philistine giant, Goliath. He and his children lived through the days when the kingdom was divided between the schizophrenic King Saul and the faithful King David. And Barzillai probably also remembered where he was when he heard that his first king, King Saul, died in battle.
Barzillai had seen some of the most difficult days in the history of his people. But then he saw some of the best. The faithful King David led God’s people in battle and in worship. God enabled the kingdom to expand. For the first time in centuries, the land of Israel had peace. Barzillai and his family were blessed by that peace.
Then, in the twilight years of Barzillai’s life, darkness once again descended on the Kingdom of Israel. King David’s son, Absalom, turned the people against King David. Civil war broke the nation in half. Families divided. Brother killed brother. Absalom marched on Jerusalem, and his old father, David slipped out of his city.
“Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.” King David knew those words well. As he ran for his life, David needed to depend on the hospitality of someone – anyone – who sided with him. There weren’t many David-supporters left in Israel. But then, he found the house of an old man who had seen everything. King David arrived at Barzillai’s house.
The Lord had blessed Barzillai throughout the peaceful years in Israel. “He had provided for the king during his stay in Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man.” Now was Barzillai’s opportunity to give back to the Lord by providing for his king. But for how long? Was Israel doomed to cower under a usurper king forever? Would sons continue to rebel against their fathers? Was there any hope in Israel?
It wasn’t the first time in Israel’s history that old men asked those questions. And it certainly wasn’t the last. Over the centuries Jewish men grew old in captivity, they grew weak under their Persian rulers, they faced extinction under their Greek conquerers and were almost wiped out by the cold, iron fist of the Romans.
By this time, one old man, named Simeon, longed to see Israel’s king. Like Barzillai of old, Simeon “was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel.” The Lord had given Simeon an extra special prophecy – something the Lord never promised to anyone else. “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”
That prophecy must have been difficult to trust. Every year Simeon grew older. Every day Simeon looked for the promised child, the one who would redeem Israel, and no one came. No doubt he was ready to see the Lord in heaven! Why would he have to ache more every day waiting on this sin-filled earth?
Why do we? Like Barzillai of old, like Simeon in the New Testament, we long to see our Lord face to face. Every Sunday we pray those fitting words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come” with an eye toward heaven. We cry out with John in the final words of the Bible: “Come, Lord Jesus.” And then we wonder if he ever will.
Back in the Old Testament, the news finally came to King David at Barzillai’s house: The battle was over. David’s usurping son, Absalom, was dead. As the king marched back into his city of Jerusalem, he turned back toward Barzillai. “Cross over with me and stay with me in Jerusalem, and I will provide for you.”
It must have been an enticing offer. But Barzillai had seen enough. From the good ‘ol days to the dark days, to better times and finally now – he could see the return of the king. His job was done. So he replies with his final words to his king: “Let your servant return, that I may die in my own town near the tomb of my father and mother.”
Simeon waited a lifetime for his king to enter his city of Jerusalem. Finally, on one of the last days of his life, Simeon saw a family enter the temple. They were carrying a baby boy. This wasn’t just any little child. This was Immanuel, God with us. This was the promised Messiah. This was God! Now Simeon, too, could rest in peace. “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people.” But this child wasn’t just a gift for those in Israel awaiting the Messiah. Jesus had arrived for everyone. “A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
And so now we await the coming of a king. “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” Old men and little children, Gentile believers of every nationality and continent, we look forward to the arrival of our King, Jesus. And when he comes, you too, like Barzillai of old, like Simeon beholding Jesus, may depart in eternal peace. Amen.