I want to tell you about a character from the Bible you have likely never read much about. In fact, there is a good chance you’ve never heard of him.
His name is Barzillai—and he was instrumental in the life of the greatest king who ever reigned over Israel… King David.
Barzillai came to assist David as he was fleeing for his life from his son Absalom, who had overthrown him for a time. Barzillai was 80 years old and risked the short amount of life he had left—along with the inheritance he would leave to his family—all to help David in his time of need.
Absalom’s army was eventually defeated, and David was getting ready to ascend back to his throne in Jerusalem. That’s where we pick up his story in 2 Samuel 19:32–37…
Now Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. And he had provided the king with supplies while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very rich man. And the king said to Barzillai, “Come across with me, and I will provide for you while you are with me in Jerusalem.”
But Barzillai said to the king, “How long have I to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? I am today eighty years old…. Your servant will go a little way across the Jordan with the king…. Please let your servant turn back again, that I may die in my own city, near the grave of my father and mother. But here is your servant Chimham; let him cross over with my lord the king, and do for him what seems good to you.”
The Hebrew here literally says Barzillai was a “very great man”—and much more than wealth is implied.
He was great in insight. He was great in faith. He was great in generosity. He was great in humility. He was great in loyalty… and yes, he was also great in material resources.
But one thing that makes Barzillai a giant of faith was his incredible compassion, not just sympathy, toward David. There is a big difference between the two.
Sympathy is a good thing. Saying, “I feel sorry for you” or “My heart goes out to you” is often appropriate. But true compassion is always expressed through action.
Years ago, I was with my son, Spencer, when he was about five or six. We were driving in a parking lot of a grocery store and saw a woman pushing a grocery cart. It was obvious that she was homeless.
I found myself thinking, “Poor lady. Does she have a family? Did she have a marriage that went south? How did she end up this way?”
Then I heard Spencer say, “Dad, we need to do something.”
“Okay Spence, what do we do?” I asked him.
He said, “Well, let’s give her some money and a bottle of water.” We went over, gave her water and a little money, and encouraged her a bit.
As we got back in the car, I thought, “I have sympathy, but Spencer is compassionate.” That’s the difference between the two.
Sympathy alone can’t change things, but compassion drives you to do something—and that can transform lives and situations in powerful ways.
My prayer for us as God’s people is that we would move from being sympathetic to being truly compassionate, that we would move out and do something in Jesus’ name to help those that are suffering.
Our Lord showed us how much He values each and every man and woman by shedding His blood to redeem them—and that includes you and me.
We simply can’t calculate the value He’s placed on human souls. But in the power of His Spirit, we can begin to value all people the way He does.
So together, let’s step out with true compassion and continue to bring a living Jesus to more people all over our broken and hurting world. God bless you!