A B I B L I C A L
P E R S P E C T I V E O N
AGING
What the Bible Teaches about Growing Old and our
Responsibility Toward the Aged
F. Wayne Mac Leod
Light To My Path Book Distribution
Copyright © 2017 F. Wayne Mac Leod
All rights reserved.
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Cambridge University Press
Special thanks to Sue St. Amour for proof reading.
CONTENTS
Title Page
Copyright
Preface
1 - Am I Old?
2 -Effects of Old Age on the Body
3 -The Honour Due to the Aged
4 - Responsibility Toward the Aged
5 -The Sin of Disrespect
6 -The Blessing of God on the Aged
7 - Service in Old Age
8 - The Temptations of Old Age
About The Author
B
PREFACE
eing old is not something any of us wants to admit to. Old age
brings a unique set of problems as we watch out bodies and minds
no longer respond in the way they once did. It is easy to feel
helpless and frustrated as we find ourselves slowing down and pulling out
of activities we once enjoyed. It is also easy for some societies to push aside
the elderly and not respect them for their many years.
What does the Bible say about aging? What are the promises of God to
those who find themselves in this phase of life? What are our God-given
responsibilities toward the aged? Does old-age mean that we are no longer
useful in society and church? What are the challenges of old age? These are
some of the questions we will touch on in this study.
This is not a self-help book nor is it psychological in nature. This is a
simple Bible study on the theme of aging. The Bible speaks openly about
this subject. It is my goal to examine its perspective on aging and the aged.
I trust that this study will be a blessing to those who are old. I trust it will
also be a challenge to them to share the wisdom of God with the younger
generation. I trust also that it will be an exhortation to the younger
generation to learn to respect and draw from the vast resource of wisdom
and experience we have in the older people around us.
We need the elderly in our churches. We need to tap into the wisdom and
experience they offer. May the Lord be pleased to use this simple reflection
on aging to bring encouragement and blessing to those in the middle of it.
May he also use it to stimulate the body of Christ to a deeper respect and
focus on the needs of the elderly in our society today.
God bless,
F. Wayne Mac Leod
W
1 - AM I OLD?
hat is old age? In some cultures, this is a sensitive question.
This is particularly true if the culture does not value those who
have reached this stage. Old age can be a difficult time in life.
I have spoken with many who have struggled with not being able to do
what they used to do. Accepting the changes old age brings is not easy. We
can feel unproductive and useless. We can find ourselves depending on
other people to help us accomplish the necessities of life. Having people
help us bathe and get dressed is a reminder of our weakness and frailty and
can be very humbling. Watching our bodies weaken can be discouraging.
Old age, however, is an inescapable reality for many of us. Unless the Lord
takes us in the prime of life or He returns, it will be a certainty.
I have met many who have refused to acknowledge they are old. They see it
as a sign of defeat –as if old age was an enemy. We speak about “getting
old” but find it difficult to admit we are old. We speak of old age as we
speak about a disease. The symptoms of this disease are numerous. We see
a person of advanced years who can no longer hear or see well and whose
mind is forgetful and say, “he’s old.” If we have full use of our faculties we
do not see ourselves as old. Old age, however, is not a disease. It is a
normal part of life.
We speak about “keeping young,” but this does not change the number of
years we have been on this earth. Old age is not defined by how healthy or
unhealthy we are. Deuteronomy 34:7 says this about Moses:
7 Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was
undimmed and his vigour unabated. (Deuteronomy 34)
To the very end of his life, Moses was full of energy. He was healthy and
full of life but according to Deuteronomy 34:7 he was “old” when he died.
While our definition of old age may differ from culture to culture, my
concern in this study is to examine what the Bible says on this important
subject.
As we look at the book of Genesis, the concept of old age is constantly
changing. Genesis 5 gives us a list of ten important men from Adam to
Noah. The average lifespan of these men was 907 years. Methuselah was
187 years old when he began his family (Genesis 5:25). He would live
another 782 years to see that family grow and have children.
Genesis 6, however, recounts the story of increasing corruption and sin on
the earth. God determined that He would cut the lifespan of humankind
from 907 years to 120:
3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man
forever, for he is flesh; his days shall be 120 years.” (Genesis
6)
This decrease in lifespan did not happen immediately. Genesis 11 gives us a
list of 8 descendants of Noah up to the time of Abraham. What is striking
about this list is that the lifespan of these men continually decreased from
generation to generation. Shem, the son of Noah lived for 600 years
(Genesis 11:10). Terah, the father of Abraham, however, died at the age of
205 (Genesis 11:32). The average lifespan after the flood to the days of
Abraham was 394. Every son could expect to live at least 60 years less than
his father.
By the time we get to David, this lifespan had further decreased from the
120 years promised in Genesis 11 to 70 years.
The year of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:10)
The Psalmist expected to live seventy or eighty years before he died. While
some may live longer than this, this is generally the number of years we
have on this earth. From the 907 average before the flood to a mere seventy
or eighty today, the lifespan of human kind has dramatically decreased.
What was old before the flood is unheard of in our day.
In Numbers 8, when the life expectancy was about 120 years, God gave this
command to the Levites (the temple servants):
23 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “This applies to the
Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall come
to do duty in the service of the tent of meeting. 25 And from the
age of fifty years they shall withdraw from the duty of the
service and serve no more. 26 They minister to their brothers in
the tent of meeting by keeping guard, but they shall do no
service. Thus shall you do to the Levites in assigning their
duties.” (Numbers 8)
It was the command of the Lord that the Levites retire from full service at
the age of 50. This retirement did not remove them from all responsibilities
but they were no longer responsible for carrying the heavy articles of the
tabernacle as it moved from place to place in the wilderness. This hard
work was handed over to the younger people. Those over the age of 50
were then given the task of supervising their younger brothers in the work.
The Levites, above fifty years of age, might superintend and
assist their junior brethren in the ordinary offices, and give
them and the people counsel and instruction; but they were
exempted from carrying the tabernacle and from other
laborious services. (The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge,
Laridian: Cedar Rapids, Iowa, comments on Numbers 8:25)
What is important for us to see here is that the Lord God recognized that the
body of a 50-year-old was not as strong and resilient as that of a younger
body. He made provision for this and commanded that all the heavy work
be done by those who were younger. The Creator of the human body, knows
what that body can do. He is fully aware of its growing weakness. The
challenge for us, however, is to accept this reality ourselves.
In Leviticus 19:32, the Lord commanded His people to respect those who
were gray haired and old by standing up in their presence:
32 You shall stand up before the gray head and honour the face
of the old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord
(Leviticus 19)
We will examine this verse in another context later in this study. For now,
however, notice that God speaks here and commands His people to stand up
before the presence of the gray head and honour the face of the old man.
Scripture speaks directly about old age. God calls those who have reached a
certain age “gray haired and old.” To call someone old, in some cultures, is
insulting. The Scripture does not see old age in this way. God commands
the younger to stand up when an old person enters the room and to honour
those who had reached an age where their hair has turned gray.
Commenting on this passage the commentator John Gill states:
Thou shall rise up before the hoary head ... Or "before old age"
which may be discerned by the hoary or grey hairs upon the
head; that is before the grey-headed man, or an old man, and
one was reckoned so when he was of seventy years of age; for
so it is said, one of sixty years is arrived to old age, and one of
seventy to grey hairs. Fagius relates, that according to the
tradition of the Hebrews a young man was obligated to rise up
when an ancient man was at the distance of four cubits from
him, and to sit down again as soon as he had passed by him,
that it might appear it was done in honour of him. (Gill, John,
John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible: Laridian: Cedar
Rapids, Iowa, 2013, Comments on Leviticus 19:32)
The important Jewish work, The Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avoth),
speaking about the various stages of life says:
22. Five years is the age for the study of Scripture. Ten, for
the study of Mishnah. Thirteen, for the obligation to observe the
mitzvot. Fifteen, for the study of Talmud. Eighteen, for
marriage. Twenty, to pursue [a livelihood]. Thirty, for strength,
Forty, for understanding. Fifty, for counsel. Sixty, for sagacity.
Seventy, for elderliness. Eighty, for power. Ninety, to stoop. A
hundred-year-old is as one who has died and passed away and
has been negated from the world. (The Ethics of the Fathers
(Pirkei Avot), Chapter 5, section 22,
http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/680274/jewish/E
thics-of-the-Fathers-Pirkei-Avot.htm)
Notice that the age of 50 was the age for giving counsel. This corresponds
with the law of God requiring the Levite to retire from hard physical work
and act as a supervisor for his younger brothers. According to Jewish
tradition, the age of sixty was a time of “sagacity” or discernment. Years of
experience made these individuals keen and discerning about life in general.
By the time a person arrived at the age of seventy he or she was considered
elderly.
What do we need to understand here? First, God has only given us a certain
amount of time on this earth. On an average, Psalm 90:10 tells us that we
can expect to live seventy or eighty years.
Second, God understands that in the final years of our life we will not have
the physical ability we once had. He made provision for this in His law and
expected that those who arrived at the age of fifty would begin to make the
adjustments necessary. This is how God created us. We need also to
recognize our limitations as we age.
Third, while God did not expect the Levites of 50 years and above to be as
physically strong as their younger brothers, he still had a role for them to
play. They were to supervise and share the wisdom and understanding
gained by their years.
Fourth, notice that God has no hesitation in calling people old. “Honour the
face of the old man” He told His people in Leviticus 19:32. From God’s
perspective, being old is not a shame but an honour. To fear old age or to
treat it like a disease is to dishonour the Creator.
Generally, we have a total of seventy or eighty years to live. As we reach
the age of 50 and 60 we begin to realize that we are in our final years.
While there may still be plenty more strength left, we do understand that
there is a limit to what we can achieve. Being old does not mean being
unproductive. For some, these are the most productive years of their life.
The years of experiences, have given wisdom and discernment. They have
chipped away unrealistic goals and plans and made us more focused. They
have shaped us in ways that make us more effective. Old age, is a badge of
honour not a disease. The declining body is not who we really are. It is
merely an aging shell that houses the wisdom of years.
For Consideration:
Is it possible for us to treat old age as a disease? How is it different from a
disease?
Do you fear old age? What do you fear about it?
What are the challenges of old age?
What are the benefits that come with old age? What is the connection
between old age and wisdom?
Have we been able to tap into the wisdom of old age in our churches and
society?
What did the Bible require a younger person to do in the presence of an old
man or woman? How do we show respect for the aged today?
For Prayer:
Ask the Lord to give you grace to accept old age.
Take a moment to pray for the aged in your community. Thank the Lord for
their role and influence.
Ask God to give your church a deeper respect and appreciation for the aged
in your midst.
Ask God to help you to understand how you can encourage and minister to
the elderly in your community.
T
2 -EFFECTS OF OLD AGE
ON THE BODY
he Bible does not hide the fact that old age will take its toll on the
human body. In fact, it speaks quite openly about this.
One of the first references to the effect of old age on the physical
body comes in Genesis 18. In this chapter, an angel came to visit Abraham
with a message from the Lord. He told Abraham that by the same time the
next year, Sarah, his wife, would give birth to a son (Genesis 18:10).
Genesis 18:18 makes it quite clear that Abraham and Sarah were old when
they received this message:
11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The
way of woman had ceased to be with Sarah. (Genesis 18)
One of the symptoms of old age was that Sarah could no longer have
children. Notice the response of Sarah to the words of the angel:
12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out,
and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” (Genesis 18)
Sarah understood the effects of old age on her body. She saw herself as
being worn out. She could not imagine being able to conceive a child, carry
him to term and have the pleasure and strength to raise him.
Genesis 27 speaks about the effects of old age on Isaac, the son born to
Abraham and Sarah in their later years:
1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could
not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My
son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” (Genesis 27)
Genesis 27:1 tells us that when Isaac grew old, his eyesight became very
poor. His eyes are described here as dim. The Hebrew word used here for
“dim” has the meaning of becoming dull, darkened or weak. Isaac’s eyes
failed him in his old age.
What was true of Isaac was also true for many other Biblical characters. 1
Samuel 4:15 tells us about the priest Eli:
15 Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set so
that he could not see. (1 Samuel 4:15)
Notice the connection between Eli’s old age and the fact that he could not
see. It appears that it was his age that stripped him of his sight.
Joseph’s father Israel, suffered from the same issue in his old age. When
Joseph brought his sons to his father to be blessed, Israel had to ask him
who they were (Genesis 48:8). Genesis 48:10 tells us the reason for this:
10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could
not see. (Genesis 48)
It is quite clear from this that the cause of this blindness was the age of
Israel –his eyes were “dim with age.”
King Ahijah experienced this loss of sight in his old age as well. We read in
1 Kings 14:4:
4 … Now Ahijah could not see, for his eyes were dim because of
his age. (1 Kings 14)
This loss of eyesight is, however, not the only effect of age on the body. In
2 Samuel 19 we read the story of how King David returned to the city of
Jerusalem after having been forced to flee because of the revolt of his son
Absalom. During this time of flight, a rich man by the name of Barzillai
provided David and his men with food and provisions:
32 Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. He
provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for
he was a very wealthy man. (2 Samuel 19)
It is significant to note here the phrase, “Barzillai was a very aged man,
eighty years old.” Scripture viewed this man of eighty as being “very aged.”
While Barzillai was very aged, he still had a ministry to David and his men.
He supplied them with food and supplies during this difficult time in exile.
David recognized the support Barzillai had offered him and wanted to
reward him for his compassion in this time of need. He offered to have
Barzillai brought to Jerusalem where he would provide for him for the
remaining years of his life. The response of Barzillai to David is important
in the context of this study:
34 But Barzillai said to the king, “How many years have I still
to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? 35 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? (2 Samuel 19)
Barzillai’s response helps us to see the effect of old age on his body. Old
age had stripped him of the ability to enjoy some of the basic pleasures of
life. He was not able to enjoy the taste of his food and drink. He could not
enjoy the sound of singing for his ears were failing him. Barzillai refused to
go with David to Jerusalem because he felt that in his old age he would no
longer truly enjoy the pleasures David wanted to offer him. He was content
to remain where he was where everything was familiar and life was
simple.
In 1 Kings 1 we read about David in his old age:
1 Now King David was old and advanced in years. And
although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm.
2 Therefore his servants said to him, “Let a young woman be
sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king and be
in his service. Let her lie in your arms, that my lord the king
may be warm.” 3 So they sought for a beautiful young woman
throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the
Shunammite, and brought her to the king. 4 The young woman
was very beautiful, and she was of service to the king and
attended to him, but the king knew her not.
One of the effects of old age on David was that he could not keep warm.
Even when they covered him with clothes he could not be comfortable.
Notice, that the verse says, “they covered him with clothes.” It appears that
other people were dressing him in these clothes. Was he unable, at this time
to do this himself? We are not told. What is clear is that his servants were
helping him with this dressing. The only way they could keep David warm
was to find a young virgin to lay in his arms so that her body heat might
warm him. They searched throughout the kingdom of Israel for a beautiful
woman to serve the king in this way. What is important to note is that 1
Kings 1:4 tells us that though she slept in his arms, the king never had a
sexual relationship with her. In his old age, this sexual drive appears to have
been stripped from him.
Probably one of the most powerful descriptions of the effect of old age on
the body comes from the book of Ecclesiastes.
1 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before
the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will
say, “I have no pleasure in them”; 2 before the sun and the
light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds
return after the rain, 3 in the day when the keepers of the house
tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease
because they are few, and those who look through the windows
are dimmed, 4 and the doors on the street are shut—when the
sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a
bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low— 5 they are
afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the
almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and
desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the
mourners go about the streets— 6 before the silver cord is
snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is
shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, 7
and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns
to God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12)
Let’s take a moment to consider what the writer of this passage is saying.
The context of Ecclesiastes 12 is a challenge to the youth of the day to
remember their Creator. The writer tells these youths that there were evil
days coming. The term evil does not refer to something sinful so much as
days of difficulty and trial. He goes on to describe these evil days.
These will be days, the writer says when you will say, “I have no pleasure
in them” (verse 1). This is what Barzillai communicated to David, when he
said:
35 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? (2 Samuel 19)
The day was coming for the youths of Solomon’s day when the pleasures of
their youth would be taken from them and they would no longer desire
them. This was also the experience of Sarah in Genesis 18:
12 “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have
pleasure?” (Genesis 18)
Beyond the loss of these pleasures in life, the writer of the Ecclesiastes goes
on to describe a day when the sun and the light of the moon and stars would
be darkened and the clouds would cover the sky (verse 2). The picture here
reminds us of the description of the eyesight of Israel in his old age. His
eyes grew dim so that the light of the sun was darkened and his eyes were
covered in clouds so that he could not see.
The writer to the Ecclesiastes continues his description of these “evil” days
in verse 3 where he tells the youth of his day that the keepers of the house
trembled, the strong would be bent, the grinders ceased because they were
few and those who looked through the windows would be dimmed. Notice
what is happening here. If this is a description of the effects of old age on
the body, we see that what used to be bold now trembles. What used to be
strong is now bent over. The teeth (the grinders) that used to grind food
have cease to work because they are few. The eyes that look out the window
are now dimmed and do not see very well.
In verse 4, the writer describes the doors on the street as being shut as the
world of the aged becomes smaller, fearful of venturing out too far. The
sound of grinding is low because of the loss of hearing. Rising early in the
morning at the sound of the birds becomes normal for sleep no longer
comes easy. The daughters of song are brought low because they are unable
to sing or because they cannot be heard.
Fears begin to take over. Verse 5 describes the fear of heights. It also
describes “terrors along the way.” With the aging process, the weakening of
the body and the loss of mental sharpness, these fears are normal. What
used to be so easy now becomes fearful.
Notice also in verse 5 the reference to the almond tree blossoms. These
blossoms were white in colour and may refer to the whitening of the hair
with age. Verse 5 also describes a grasshopper dragging itself along. What
was so full of energy and strength now can barely drag itself from one place
to another.
Verse 6 paints a picture of a snapped silver cord, a broken golden bowl, a
pitcher shattered and a wheel broken at the well. The reference to gold and
silver refers to the value of these objects. These valuable objects, however,
now have been broken. The pitcher and the wheel were used for drawing
water out of the well. They have a very specific purpose and were very
useful for those who came to the well. That usefulness, however, is
shattered and the ability of these objects to function as they once did is no
longer.
Notice eventually what happens in verse 7. The dust returns to the earth.
These bodies were made from the dust of the earth and to the dust they will
return. The soul, however, returns to God where it will remain. This is the
great hope we have in our old age. While the body may weaken and
eventually return to the earth, the soul of those who know the Lord will
enter the presence of their Saviour and God.
The Bible makes it very clear that the body in which we dwell will age and
deteriorate with age. In a sense, it is God’s way of weaning us from this
world and the attractions of this world. It is God’s way of preparing us for
something even greater. As our body declines with age, we begin to look
forward to the day when we will enter the presence of the Lord and be freed
from this sinful earth and its limitations. The aging of the body is a sign of
better things to come for those who know the Lord.
For Consideration:
What are the effects of old age on the body?
What are the challenges for the elderly as they watch their bodies break
down emotionally and physically?
How can we prepare spiritually and emotionally for the effects of old age
on the body?
What can we do to help those whose emotional and physical strength is not
what it once was?
Is it possible to become bitter and frustrated because our bodies do not
allow us to do what we would like to do? How do we deal with this before
God?
For Prayer:
Are you suffering from the physical and emotional effects of aging? Ask
God to show you how He would have you respond to these symptoms.
Ask God to forgive you for any grumbling and complaining you may have
done because of your age. Thank the Lord that while this is often a difficult
stage of life, it is all in His purpose for us. Thank Him that He is still in
control.
Do you have relatives or friends who are suffering the effects of old age?
Ask the Lord to show you how you can be a blessing to them?
S
3 -THE HONOUR DUE TO
THE AGED
cripture has some important things to tell us about our
responsibility to honour the aged. In fact, those who have advanced
in years, according to Scripture, are worthy of special respect. The
Law of Moses required that people stand up in the presence of the elderly:
32 You shall stand up before the gray head and honour the face
of the old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
(Leviticus 19)
Commenting on this the commentator John Gill says:
Fagius relates, that according to the tradition of the Hebrews a
young man was obligated to rise up when an ancient man was
at the distance of four cubits from him, and to sit down again as
soon as he had passed by him, that it might appear it was done
in honour of him. (Gill, John, John Gills Exposition of the
Entire Bible: “Leviticus 19:32”, Cedar Rapids: Laridian Inc.
2013)
According to Gill, Hebrew tradition required that a young man rise to a
standing position when an older man came within 6 feet or 1.8 metres of
him and only sit down again when he passed by. This was done to show
respect for his age.
We have an example of this respect for the aged in 1 Kings 2. In this
passage, Bathsheba enters the presence of King Solomon.
19 So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him on
behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her and bowed
down to her. Then he sat on his throne and had a seat brought
for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right. (1 Kings 2)
Solomon is the king of Israel at this point. He occupies the highest position
in the land. People who came before him would bow in respect for him and
his position. Notice, however, what takes place when his aged mother enters
his presence. Solomon rose to meet her”. He stood up in her presence to
honour her as an old woman and his mother. Notice also that he bowed
down to her. The king of Israel, to whom all Israel would bow, now bows
down in the presence of this aged woman to honour her. Only then did
Solomon sit back down on his throne as king. Solomon, however, refused to
let his mother continue to stand in his presence. He ordered that a seat be
brought for her. This was not normal procedure for those who came into the
presence of the king. Solomon, however, respected her age and position and
so had a chair brought for her. Notice finally, where Solomon placed that
chair. Bathsheba sat on his right. By placing her on his right side, Solomon
again was giving her a place of honour. King Solomon, demonstrates every
courtesy and respect for his aged mother.
What is true of actions, is also true for words. When Timothy was a young
pastor, the apostle Paul had these words to say to him:
1 Do not rebuke an elder man but encourage him as you would
a father (1 Timothy 5)
While Paul commissioned Timothy as a pastor and Christian leader, he
challenged him to show great respect and discipline when it came to dealing
with older men. Timothy was to be careful in how he spoke to these elders
in his congregation. He was to say nothing that would show disrespect for
them and their age.
This respect for the elderly and how we speak about them or to them is
illustrated in the book of Job. Job’s friends had gathered around him and
were discussing the reason for his pain and suffering. There was a
disagreement among them over why God had stripped Job of everything he
had. Among those present that day was a younger man by the name of Elihu
who had been listening to the words of Job’s older friends. Elihu is
somewhat frustrated when the older men were not coming up with the
answer to Job’s suffering. In Job 32:6-7 he speaks:
6 And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said:
“I am young in years,
and you are aged;
therefore I was timid and afraid
to declare my opinion to you
7 I said, ‘Let days speak,
and many years teach wisdom … (Job 32)
The words of Elihu show us how he was thinking. He recognized the age of
those who spoke to Job. He was timid and afraid to declare his opinion
before such aged and wise men. He understood that their length of days had
brought them wisdom and insight. He did not want to interrupt them
because he felt that their wisdom was vastly superior to his. While Elihu
does eventually interrupt these men and speak his mind, we see the attitude
of his heart and the desire he had to listen to the wisdom of these aged men.
He was not quick to rebuke them but gave careful thought to what he was
going to say lest he showed any disrespect.
In 1 Peter 5, the apostle commanded younger people to be subject to the
elders.
5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. (1
Peter 5)
The elders spoken of here are not just those who had the position of elder in
the church but also those who were of a certain age. Peter expected that the
enthusiasm of youth would be held in subjection to the wisdom of age. This
required that the old and the young work together in harmony. Enthusiasm
without wisdom can lead to great disaster. Wisdom without the enthusiasm
and strength of youth can lead to nothing being accomplished. We need
each other if we are to advance the cause of Christ.
Paul challenged the older women to teach younger women in Titus 2:3-5
when he said:
3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not
slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is
good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands
and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home,
kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of
God may not be reviled. (Titus 2)
We will examine this passage again in another context but for now what is
important for us to note is that Paul is challenging the older women to use
their years of experience as wives and mothers to encourage the younger
women. This meant that younger women needed to listen to these older
women and their advice. They were to respect the God-given role of the
older women in counsel and teaching. They were to honour these women
because of their age, wisdom and experience.
How easy it would be for these younger women to say: “Times have
changed. These old grandmothers don’t really understand what we need to
do today.” Paul reminds these young wives, however, that years of
experience cannot be tossed away in an instant. These grandmothers had
much to teach them and they would do well to listen to their advice. This
required an open mind and a willingness to listen and submit to the advice
of these old women.
While there are other passages of Scripture that speak to this matter of
honouring the aged among us, what we have examined here is sufficient for
us to understand that Scripture requires that we respect those among us who
are advanced in years. This respect comes because of their many years of
service and the wisdom that has been attained by those years.
The Scriptural passages we have examined in this chapter required that
God’s people honour the elderly among them in three ways.
First, they were to honour them by standing in their presence. They were to
pay physical respect to the elderly. This physical respect can be shown in
different ways. The question we need to ask ourselves is this: Have we
become lazy and disrespectful in how we treat the elderly in our midst?
Solomon, offered his mother a chair as a sign of physical respect for her,
her age and position. Whether it is rising up in the presence of the elderly or
offering a helping hand, if we are to honour the aged, it will require a
physical effort of some kind on our part.
Second, the elderly are to be honoured by the words we speak to them or
about them. Paul told Timothy not to rebuke an old man. I have been in the
presence of people who have demeaned the elderly by their words. When
they take longer than expected to get dressed or to walk somewhere, I have
heard people speak impatient words to the elderly. When their memory
begins to fade and they repeat themselves, I have seen children become
angry with their parents. Honouring the aged requires that we watch what
we say or how we speak to them or about them.
Finally, the aged are to be honoured by the way we listen to their advice and
counsel. Paul instructed the older women to teach the younger women. Age
is a vast pool of wisdom that we need to tap into. The younger women of
Paul’s day were to spend time with the older women and listen to their
advice. The younger men were to submit themselves to the counsel of the
older men.
How often have we repeated the errors of the past simply because we have
refused to listen to the people who have lived through these errors. If we are
going to show honour to the aged, we need to respect their counsel. We
need to understand that they have much wisdom and teaching to offer. Their
God-given experiences has taught them much. They have been through
what we are struggling with now and have much insight into what it takes
to come out the other side unscathed. We would do well to honour their
wisdom.
For Consideration:
Does your society show respect for the elderly? Explain.
Consider how you speak personally to the elderly people close to you? Do
your words demonstrate impatience and disrespect for their age?
Have we tapped into the wisdom of the aged among us? Has your church
benefitted from the experience and wisdom of the older members? Are we
doomed to repeat the same errors of past generations because we are not
listening to the experiences of the elderly?
Does the fact that our culture has changed mean that the wisdom of the
elderly is irrelevant today? Explain.
For Prayer:
Ask the Lord to show you if there is any way that we have abandoned the
elderly among us and lack respect for them and their contribution.
Ask the Lord to show you how you can tap into the wisdom and experience
of the older people in your church.
Take a moment to thank the Lord for the years of service the elderly people
in your midst have had in your church and community. Ask God to continue
to bless them in their old age.
I
4 - RESPONSIBILITY
TOWARD THE AGED
n the last chapter, we saw the Biblical requirement to honour the aged.
This honouring of the elderly places us under a certain responsibility.
Scripture is clear that those who walk with the Lord must take this
responsibility seriously.
As we begin, listen to the prayer of the psalmist in Psalm 71:
9 Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
forsake me not when my strength is spent. (Psalm 71)
The prayer of the psalmist reflects a deep fear in his heart. It is the fear that
he would be forgotten and cast off in his old age. While this prayer is
directed to God, it is the fear of many who reach their final years on this
earth. In the hour of their greatest need, many of our elderly find themselves
alone and lonely. When they need support and help, there is no one to walk
with them.
While Psalm 71:9 is the prayer of an aging man, it is nonetheless a warning
to us. It is a reminder to us of the needs of the elderly in our midst and their
cry for support and encouragement. We are the hands and legs that God will
use to be the answer to the cry of the psalmist. We need to be ready and
willing for God to use us to be the answer to their prayer.
In the Old Testament book of Ruth, we have an example of a young girl
who demonstrated what it meant to care for her aging mother-in-law.
Naomi lived with her husband in the country of Moab. They had moved
there from Israel during a time of great famine in their homeland. They had
two sons. Naomi’s husband died when they were in Moab and she was left
to raise her sons by herself. Her sons grew up and married Moabite women.
Eventually, both of these sons also died and Naomi was left with only two
daughters-in-law. Unable to provide for them, she decided that her only
course of action was to return to Israel where she would live out the rest of
her days. She told her daughters-in-law to return to their families where
they would receive the support and care they needed.
One of these daughters-in-law, however, refused to leave Naomi. Ruth
chose to leave her nation and return with Naomi to Israel where she would
stay with her and care for her in her old age. Returning with Naomi to
Bethlehem, Ruth would go out into the barley fields and glean what was left
after the harvesters had finished. She would return with the barley and, in
this way, provided for her mother-in-law. Eventually, Ruth married and bore
a son to carry on the name of her husband’s family. The care of Ruth for her
mother-in-law in her old age did not go unnoticed by the inhabitants of
Bethlehem. Listen to the words of the women in the community in Ruth 4:
14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who
has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name
be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life
and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who
loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth
to him.” (Ruth 4)
The women in the community were profoundly touched by the example of
Ruth and her care for her aging mother-in-law. They spoke of her as a
daughter-in law who loved Naomi and was more to her than any son could
ever have been. Naomi was not cast off in her old age or forsaken when her
strength was failing. God gave her a daughter-in-law who cared for her and
provided for her in every way imaginable. Ruth is a wonderful example of
one who honoured her aging mother-in-law.
In Matthew 15, Jesus condemns the Pharisees for using the law to their own
benefit and abandoning their responsibility to honour their aging parents:
4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’
and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But
you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you
would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not
honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have
made void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah
prophesy of you, when he said:
8 “This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew
15)
Notice what is happening here. The Pharisee had aging parents. These
parents were dependant on him for the necessities of life. The Pharisee,
however, instead of providing for his parents, dedicates the money to God
and tells his parents that he had nothing to give them. In doing, so he
neglects his duty toward his aging parents.
What is important for us to note in this passage is the response of Jesus to
this practice. He told these Pharisees that they had made “void” the word of
God (verse 6) –in other words, they completely ignored the teaching of
Scripture and their sacred obligation toward their parents in need. He called
them hypocrites (verse 7). He reminded them of the words of Isaiah who
spoke to a people who honoured God with their lips but whose heart was
very far from God. He went as far as to say that they were teaching the
commandments of man and not the commandments of God.
This practice of devoting money to God when they had parents in need, was
not from God. God expected these religious leaders to use their resources to
care for the aged among them. The apostle James would express this
concept in these words:
27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is
this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep
oneself unstained from the world. (James 1)
The faith that God requires is a practical one. It is a faith that sees the needs
around us and does what it can to minister to those needs. To give
everything to the church and ignore the needs of the elderly in your own
family is contrary to the will of God.
In 1 Timothy 5, the apostle Paul speaks to Timothy about how to care for
the widows in the church. In this chapter, he gives Timothy some important
instructions in dealing with this group of aging women in the community.
Paul begins by telling Timothy that is was the duty of every Christian
family to minister to the needs of the widows in their family:
3 Honor widows who are truly widows. 4 But if a widow has
children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness
to their own household and to make some return to their
parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. (1 Timothy 5)
Notice in verse 4 that Paul told Timothy that those households who had
widows in them were to “show godliness to their own household and make
some return to their parents”. That return was in the form of provision and
compassion in their need. To show compassion and provide for the needs of
these widows was an act of godliness that was “pleasing in the sight of
God.” It was the spiritual obligation of every Christian family to provide for
the needs of the aging widows among them. Paul would go on to tell
Timothy that those who refused to do so had denied the faith:
8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and
especially for the members of his household, he has denied the
faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5)
These are powerful words but they show us just how important this matter
is to the Lord God.
Paul would go on in 1 Timothy 5 to tell Timothy that the church also had an
obligation toward widows who were over the age of sixty.
9 Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of
age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a
reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has
shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared
for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. (1
Timothy 5)
It appears from 1 Timothy 5:9 that the early church had a list of widows
over sixty years of age needing support. These women were at an age where
it would not have been easy for them to provide for their own needs.
Obviously, also they were without family to care for them and so the church
took this on as a spiritual obligation. With only a certain amount of
resources available to them, the church required that these women be of
good reputation and known for their Christian life and service in the
community.
What is clear in this passage is that the church of Paul’s day had a plan in
place for the care of the aging in their body. First, they encouraged families
to care for their own. Where there were no families to care for the aging
Christian widows, the church itself would reach out to them and provide for
their needs.
What we see here in these verses is that there is a spiritual obligation placed
upon believers to care for those who are aging in their midst. The act of
caring for the aged is a godly activity that is pleasing in the sight of God. To
neglect this duty, according to Paul is to deny the faith. To deny our
responsibilities by burying ourselves in religious activities was considered
by Jesus to be hypocritical, a denial of the Word of God. The care of the
aged in our midst is an obligation placed on us by the Word of God. We
must not cast them off when they are old or forsake them when their
strength is failing.
For Consideration:
What was the fear of the Psalmist in Psalm 71:9?
How does Ruth demonstrate her care for her aging mother-in-law?
How is the care of our elderly relatives a spiritual obligation?
What did Jesus have to say to those who said that they had devoted their
time and resources to God and couldn’t care for their elderly parents and
relatives?
What plan did the early church have in place for the care of widows over 60
years of age?
What ministry does your church have for those who are elderly?
For Prayer:
Ask the Lord to minister to the fears of the aged among you.
Ask God to show you if there is something more He would have you to do
for aging relatives in your family. Ask Him to show you their needs.
Ask the Lord to show your church if there is a ministry it can have to the
elderly in your community.
Ask God to forgive you for times when you have not taken this
responsibility seriously.
S
5 -THE SIN OF
DISRESPECT
cripture is quite clear about how we are to respect and honour the
elderly in our midst. God’s people did not always follow this
teaching. There were times when they dishonoured the elderly and
took advantage of them.
In the last chapter, we examined how the Pharisees would dedicate their
money to the Lord and not use it for the care of their aging parents
(Matthew 15:4-9). Jesus told these religious leaders that by refusing to care
for their parents in the name of their religion they were making void the
Word of God. He called them hypocrites for their lack of respect to their
aging parents.
This is not the only example of disrespect shown to the aged in the Bible.
Another shocking example comes in Genesis 27.
1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could
not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My
son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Behold, I am
old; I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, take your
weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and
hunt game for me, 4 and prepare for me delicious food, such as
I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may
bless you before I die.” (Genesis 27)
Notice here that Isaac could no longer see because of his old age (verse 1).
Notice also that he knew that the day of his death was coming (verse 2). His
desire, before he died, was to bless his eldest son Esau. He asked him to go
out and hunt some game so that they could share a meal together and he
would give him his blessing before he died.
Rebekah, his wife, was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. As a
mother, however, she loved their younger son Jacob and wanted him to
receive the blessing instead of his older brother. Hearing what her husband
had to say, she contrived a plan. She told Jacob to bring her two young
goats. She prepared these goats and giving them to her son told him to bring
them to his father, pretending to be Esau, so that he would receive the
blessing instead of his elder brother.
Jacob was quite fearful of doing this and expressed his concern to his
mother:
11 But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother
Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. 12 Perhaps my
father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and
bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” 13 His mother
said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my
voice, and go, bring them to me.” (Genesis 27)
What is important to note is the cause of Jacob’s fear and hesitation. He was
afraid that his father would discover his lie and curse him instead of giving
him a blessing. His fear is about being caught and not about the disrespect
toward his father in his blindness and old age.
Encouraged by his mother in this plot, Jacob covered himself with goat
skins to give the appearance of being hairy like his brother. He followed
through on the deception by lying to his father and stealing the blessing
that, by right, should have gone to his brother. Isaac did not know what had
happened until the blessing was given and his son Esau returned home with
the game he had hunted.
In this example of Genesis 27 we have the story of a wife who willingly
deceived her husband and encouraged her son to lie and steal what
belonged to his brother. We see Jacob’s disrespect for his father Isaac. He
took advantage of his fathers blindness and inability to taste his food.
Jacob would have to live with the reality of what he had done to both his
brother and his father.
We have another case of disrespect for the elderly in 1 Kings 12. In this
passage, we read the story of King Rehoboam. Under his father, Solomon,
the people of Israel felt oppressed and burdened. When Rehoboam came to
power, the people asked him to ease the burden they had been feeling under
his father Solomon. Rehoboam, asked for time to consider their suggestion.
His first response was to go to the old men in Israel to seek their counsel.
These wise old men offered their advice:
6 Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had
stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying,
“How do you advise me to answer this people?” 7 And they
said to him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and
serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer
them, then they will be your servants forever.” (1 Kings 12)
The advice of the old and wise men of the nation was to treat the people
with kindness and compassion. They told the king that if he did so, the
people would willingly be his servants forever.
1 Kings 12:8 tells us what the response of Rehoboam was to the counsel of
these wise old men:
8 But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and
took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him
and stood before him. (1 Kings 12)
Rehoboam abandoned the counsel of the old men and chose to consult his
young friends instead. These friends advised Rehoboam to be strict and
hard on the people, putting them in their place. Rehoboam chose to follow
the advice of his friends and informed the people that life under his reign
would be even more burdensome than under his father.
The result of this declaration was that all the tribes, except for Judah,
abandoned Rehoboam. They chose their own king and set up a separate
nation to the north. The newly formed nation of Israel would wander from
the Lord and abandon His ways. In showing no respect for the wisdom of
these old men, Rehoboam divided his nation and set brother against brother
for years to come. Again, this is a decision he would have to live with for
the rest of his reign.
In Lamentations 5, the prophet Jeremiah describes the great devastation that
had come to the land because of the sins of God’s people:
11 Women are raped in Zion,
young women in the towns of Judah.
12 Princes are hung up by their hands;
no respect is shown to the elders.
13 Young men are compelled to grind at the mill,
and boys stagger under loads of wood.
14 The old men have left the city gate,
the young men their music.
15 The joy of our hearts has ceased;
our dancing has been turned to mourning. (Lamentations 5)
As Jeremiah examines the condition of the nation under the judgement of
God, he grieves over many things. Their women had been raped, their
leaders were hung, their young men were reduced to slavery, their elders
were shown no respect and the old men had left the city gate where they
would offer wise counsel to the people of the city.
What is particularly striking in this list of grievances is the inclusion of the
elders and old men. Showing no respect to the elders is in the same list as
women being raped. The disappearance of the wise counsel of the old men
is noted alongside of the reducing of Israel to slavery. For the prophet
Jeremiah, the disrespect shown to the elderly in the capture of Israel was a
horrendous sin on a par with the raping and enslaving of Israel’s young men
and women.
The prophet Isaiah speaks about the judgement of Judah and the city of
Jerusalem because of their sins in Isaiah 5. In that day, the Lord would
withdraw His blessing from them and they would be left on their own. The
result would be great devastation and confusion in the land. Isaiah describes
this devastation as follows:
1 For behold, the Lord God of hosts
is taking away from Jerusalem and from Judah
support and supply,
all support of bread,
and all support of water;
2 the mighty man and the soldier,
the judge and the prophet,
the diviner and the elder,
3 the captain of fifty
and the man of rank,
the counselor and the skillful magician
and the expert in charms.
4 And I will make boys their princes,
and infants shall rule over them.
5 And the people will oppress one another,
every one his fellow
and every one his neighbor;
the youth will be insolent to the elder,
and the despised to the honorable. (Isaiah 5)
The result of God withdrawing His blessing would be devastating to the
nation. The supply of food and water would be cut off leaving the
inhabitants of Jerusalem to starve (verse 1). The military would be without
strength, leaving the people defenceless against their enemy (verse 2a). The
leadership of the nation also would be removed, leaving the people in total
confusion (verses 2-4). The result would be total lawlessness as people
oppressed each other (verse 5a). Notice also in verse 5 that the “youth will
be insolent to the elder.”
Again, it is important that we note that this reference to the disrespect to the
elderly is included in a list of terrible events that would take place in the
nation. Insolence to the aged is included with the starvation of the people of
Jerusalem and the defencelessness of the nation against her enemies. This
cannot go unnoticed. This shows us just how serious a sin this matter of
disrespect for the elderly was in the eyes of the Lord.
The question we need to ask ourselves is this: Do we have the same heart as
the prophets of old when it comes to the elderly in our society? Do we
understand the heart of God toward those who are in their final years? To
honour them is to honour their Creator. To dishonour them is to be guilty of
very serious sin.
For Consideration:
How does Jacob show disrespect to his father in his old age? Have you ever
taken advantage of an elderly person? Explain.
Does your society or church respect the wisdom of the elderly or are the
elderly seen as being out of touch and old fashioned? How important is it
that we not fall into the sin of Rehoboam?
Are the elderly in your church and society given the honour they deserve or
have they been forgotten? How can your church bless the elderly?
How serious is the disrespect of the elderly according to Scripture?
For Prayer:
Ask the Lord to help you to be a blessing to the elderly in your community?
Take a moment to consider the contribution of the elderly in your church
and society over the course of their lives. Thank the Lord for them and their
contribution.
Ask the Lord to forgive you for the times when you have become critical
and impatient with the elderly in your church, society and family. Ask God
to give you grace to be more respectful of them at this time in their lives.
I
6 -THE BLESSING OF GOD
ON THE AGED
n the last few chapters we have seen how Scripture reminds us of the
honour due to the aged and elderly among us. Disrespect for the
elderly is listed among the most terrible evils of any society. As we
continue to examine this important teaching, I would like to take a moment
to consider the promises of God to, and His dealings with the aged.
In the last chapter, we touched on the concern of the Psalmist in Psalm 71
when he prayed:
9 Do not cast me off in the time of old age, forsake me not when
my strength is spent. (Psalm 71)
The psalmist experienced a measure of anxiety as he considered getting old.
As his body aged and his strength abated, his concern was that the Lord not
forsake him at this vulnerable time in his life. God understands these
concerns. Scripture reminds us that God will not abandon us in our old age.
In Deuteronomy 34:7 we read about Moses:
7 Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was
undimmed and his vigour unabated. (Deuteronomy 34)
From the age of eighty, Moses led his people through the wilderness. For
forty years, the strength of the Lord was with him, enabling him to
accomplish all that he had been called to do.
What was true for Moses was also true for Caleb. After the land of Canaan
had been conquered and portions were being allotted to the various tribes
and families, Caleb approached Joshua to speak to him about his portion.
Listen to his words in Joshua 14:
9 And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on
which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and
your children forever, because you have wholly followed the
Lord my God.’ 10 And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive,
just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the
Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the
wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years
old. 11 I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses
sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war
and for going and coming. 12 So now give me this hill country
of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day
how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be
that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as
the Lord said.” (Joshua 14)
Caleb understood that God had a purpose for him. He was giving him a land
as an inheritance for him and his children. That land was filled with
fortified cities and enemies who would keep it from them. Caleb
approached Joshua, as the leader of the nation to ask permission to obtain
the land the Lord God had promised him. Though Caleb was 85 years of
age, he told Joshua that he was still as strong as in the days of his youth. He
knew that he had not yet seen the fulfilment of God’s promise. There was a
land to be conquered for his family. While this may likely have been his
final great conquest, Caleb, as an old man, was going to use the strength the
Lord provided to see the fulfilment of God’s purpose for his family.
Speaking to Naomi, in the book of Ruth the women of her day said:
14 … Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without
a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He
shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old
age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you is more to you
than seven sons, has given birth to him. (Ruth 4)
In her old age, Naomi was left without a husband or sons to carry on the
name of her family. The line of her family would have died with her. God,
however, had a purpose for Naomi. He had a plan to bring the promised
Messiah through her line. When all looked very bleak and hopeless, the
Lord moved in her life in a wonderful way. He gave her a daughter-in-law
to carry on her family line. The women of Naomi’s day saw what had
happened and spoke the words quoted above. Notice particularly how they
spoke about God being a restorer of life and a nourisher of her old age
through the child that was born to her family. In her old age, God restored
her hope and gave her renewed life and courage. He did not leave her, but
reached out to her in a very special way. In those days, Naomi would hold
on her knee a child who would carry on her name and the name of her
family. When all seemed hopeless, strength and hope was renewed in her
old age.
The strength of God is available to accomplish the purpose of God. The
strength to accomplish the purpose of God is not available to youth only.
Moses, Caleb and Naomi were strengthened in their old age to accomplish
the will of God.
Not only do we see the Lord God giving strength in old age but He also
pours out His blessing on the elderly. Consider what the writer of Genesis
says about Abraham in Genesis 24:
1 Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years, and the Lord
had blessed Abraham in all things. (Genesis 24)
Notice that even through Abraham was well advanced in years, the Lord
had blessed him. In his old age, he bathed in the richness of God’s blessing
on his life. He looked over his life and saw the tremendous richness of God.
As he looked around him, in his final years of life, he saw the children God
had provided according to His promise. He saw the abundance the Lord
God had given him. I am sure that his heart was overwhelmed as he
contemplated these things. He would go to his grave experiencing the
fulness of God’s blessing on his life.
In his time of trial, Job’s friends came to comfort him. While they had their
various opinions as to why Job was suffering, the words of Eliphaz are
nonetheless important for us to consider in this context:
24 You shall know that your tent is at peace,
and you shall inspect your fold and miss nothing.
25 You shall know also that your offspring shall be many,
and your descendants as the grass of the earth.
26 You shall come to your grave in ripe old age,
like a sheaf gathered up in its season. (Job 5)
The expectation of Eliphaz was that the blessing of God would be on the
aged. He expected that the Lord God would bless the elderly who loved
Him with offspring and they would be gathered up like a sheaf in its season.
Like the grains that were harvested in the field, their lives would be a
blessing to many. They would be harvested at the time when they were ripe
with fruit. They would die knowing the rich blessing of the Lord in their
lives. While that blessing may differ from person to person, surely those
who know the Lord can lay down their lives in their old age conscious of
the fullness of God’s provision despite the obstacles that have often been
strewn on their path.
The prophet Isaiah shares a great promise of God to the aged.
3 “Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
carried from the womb;
4 even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save. (Isaiah 46)
Through Isaiah the prophet, the Lord reminded His people that He was the
one who had given birth to them as a nation. He had brought them out of
the womb. He would not abandon them in their old age. He would carry
them when their hairs were grey. He who made them, would bring them to
safety. God does not just provide for those who are at the height of
productivity but also for those whose productive years have waned. His
compassion for us does not diminish when we are weakened by our age. He
who created us in our mothers womb and delivered us safely into this
world, will carry us safely into His presence when our life on this earth has
ended.
What is important for us to see here is that God’s eye is on the aged. He
strengthens, blesses, provides for them in their final years of this life. He
carries them when they are unable to find the strength themselves. His
compassion for them does not diminish when they are frail. God watches
over those who love Him. In their final years, they will know His presence
just as they did in their younger years
By seeing how God treats the elderly, we gain a better perspective of what
He expects of us. He does not ask us to do anything that He, Himself is not
already doing.
For Consideration:
Is God’s devotion only to those who are productive? Does his love for us
diminish when we can no longer be as productive as we once were?
Old age is a time when we especially need the strength of the Lord. We
have seen in this chapter, how God strengthened Moses, Caleb and Ruth.
How has the Lord strengthened you?
What are the blessings God has given you over the course of life? Take a
moment to consider some of the richness of God’s blessings on your life.
Do you know someone whose body has been breaking down but who has
demonstrated thankfulness to God for His blessings?
For Prayer:
Thank the Lord that even when we are not able to be a useful as we would
like to be, His love for us does not diminish. Thank Him that He loves us
more than all the things we do for Him.
Take a moment to pray for God to strengthen and encourage the elderly in
your church or society. Ask Him to give them strength to face the trials of
getting older. Ask Him to help them to know His presence in a special way
as their body grows weaker.
Thank the Lord for the richness of His blessings in your life. Ask the Lord
to open your eyes to the things He is doing. Ask Him to keep you from
becoming blind to these blessings amid your struggles.
G
7 - SERVICE IN OLD AGE
enerally speaking, the body weakens with old age. We are not
able to do the things we once did. This does not mean, however,
that the elderly are unable to serve the Lord. There are many
examples of men and women who were mightily used of God in their final
years of life.
As we consider this topic of service in old age, I would like to begin with a
passage we have already examined in another context. We read in Numbers
8:
25 And from the age of fifty years they shall withdraw from the
duty of the service and serve no more. 26 They minister to their
brothers in the tent of meeting by keeping guard, but they shall
do no service. Thus shall you do to the Levites in assigning
their duties.” (Numbers 8)
In Numbers 8, we have the law of God for the Levites who had reached the
age of 50 years. The Law of God required that they withdraw from the
“duty of the service and serve no more” (verse 25). The passage goes on,
however, to say that they were to “minister to their brothers in the tent of
meeting by keeping guard, but they shall do no service” (verse 26). The key
to understanding this passage comes in our understanding of the word
“service”. It appears that service referred to the heavy work of transporting
the tent from place to place in the wilderness. Whenever the people moved
the tabernacle, all its heavy curtains and poles were disassembled and
carried to the next location. This was a responsibility that required strength
and hard labour. God was giving the men of fifty and above a relief from
this heavy responsibility. This was to be handled by the younger men.
While the heavy responsibility of disassembling the tabernacle, and
carrying it from place to place was taken from the Levites of fifty years and
older, they were still involved in the ministry. Numbers 8:26 tells us that
they were to minister to their brothers and keep guard at the tabernacle.
They were to oversee the work that went on in the tabernacle. Though not
as physically demanding, this was a position of even greater responsibility
for these older men.
We read of Sarah and Abraham who bore a son in their old age. Abraham
was 100 years old and his wife was 90 years of age when she gave birth to
their son Isaac (see Genesis 17:17). God gave them strength in their old age
to bear a child and to raise him to carry on their name.
In the last chapter, we spoke of Caleb, who, at the age of 85, was
empowered by the Spirit of God to wage war against his enemies and
conquer a territory that he would pass on to his descendants (see