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Barzillai, from the Hebrew meaning made of iron, was a wealthy man of Gilead (see map below, also Bible Places) who made himself a loyal ally of King David during the time that David's rebellious son Absalom staged a destined-to-fail coup against his father. For Barzillai's assistance and friendship, in what was one of the most difficult times of David's life, David later instructed his son and successor Solomon to provide for Barzillai's family in Judah.


Gilead David's first recorded meeting with Barzillai was after David fled Jerusalem during Absalom's coup and crossed The Jordan River into Gilead. There, Barzillai was among those who provided David with food and supplies:

"And Israel and Absalom encamped in the land of Gilead. When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi the son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites, and Machir the son of Ammiel from Lodebar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim, brought beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, meal, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat; for they said, "The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness." (2 Samuel 17:26-29 RSV)

After Absalom's rebellion was defeated, David invited Barzillai to come and live in Jerusalem as David's honored guest, but Barzillai chose to remain in Gilead where he had lived his eighty years. Barzillai did however send his son Chimham along with David.

"Now Barzillai the Gileadite had come down from Rogelim; and he went on with the king to the Jordan, to escort him over the Jordan. Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old; and he had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim; for he was a very wealthy man. And the king said to Barzillai, "Come over with me, and I will provide for you with me in Jerusalem."

"But Barzillai said to the king, "How many years have I still to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? I am this day eighty years old; can I discern what is pleasant and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women? Why then should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? Your servant will go a little way over the Jordan with the king. Why should the king recompense me with such a reward? Pray let your servant return, that I may die in my own city, near the grave of my father and my mother. But here is your servant Chimham; let him go over with my lord the king; and do for him whatever seems good to you."

"And the king answered, "Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do for him whatever seems good to you; and all that you desire of me I will do for you."

"Then all the people went over the Jordan, and the king went over; and the king kissed Barzillai and blessed him, and he returned to his own home." (2 Samuel 19:31-39 RSV)

Fact Finder: In later years, when the people of Judah (i.e. Judah and Benjamin) returned from the Babylonian captivity (see Why Babylon?) in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, were descendants of Barzillai (who had married into Judah) among them?
Ezra 2:61, Nehemiah 7:63

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