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Old Age in the Bible: wisdom, waiting and honor

Old Age in the Bible: wisdom, waiting and honor
Old Age in the Bible is a blessing of the fullness of life, honoring wisdom, teaching our children, and waiting with Jesus for His coming

Old age in the Bible: wisdom, waiting, and honor.

Old age is first mentioned in the Bible as a good thing, a blessing to Abraham* the father of faith:

And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. Genesis 15:15

* means that person has a short biography in SPIRITUAL LIVES.

He is the first person we see living through old age, an active, eventful, and fulfilling life, becoming the father of many nations, and dying at 175. It is important to note that the Hebrew word for old age does not compute to years.

Abraham is called "old and stricken in years” Genesis (18:11) before Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed and his son Isaac born. Moses* uses the same term again when Abraham is seeking a wife for Isaac, forty years later (Genesis 24:1)

And God’s promise to Abraham is affirmed in these words: "He died in a good old age, an old man and full of years." Genesis 24:8 Richard Steele adds “full of grace and comfort, full of Heaven.”

So here we have a definition of what a “good old age” is, and it is one of fullness. One of Job’s* comforters says "You shall come to your grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn comes in, in its season." Job 5:26. For he died old and full of days, Job 42:17. He had lived as long as he could wish and had lived to good purpose. He was full of days, and his days were full of good fruits.

The Patriarchs all lived to be at least one hundred, in accordance with God’s limitation to man’s life span to 120 years (Genesis 6:3). This upper limit still is exceedingly rare. The normal range is stated in Psalm 90:10: The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

Moses* clarifies this in Leviticus 27:3-7, the age divisions being:

  • 1 month to five years old;

  • Five to twenty years old;

  • Twenty to sixty years old; and

  • Sixty years old to the end of life.

  • The last division being old age.

Sara*, Abraham's wife, is the first woman we see in old age, a miraculous old age, conceiving a son at 90 and then living another 37 years before she died.

Isaac,* her son, grieved for his mother and did not get married until he was forty. His late start made him a late father at 60 and we see in him one of the more common signs of old age: that when Isaac was old, his eyes were dim so he could not see. Genesis 27:1

His younger son Jacob* took advantage of his father’s blindness to cheat his brother Esau* out of his birthright.

Jacob then was deceived himself in his old age by his sons who sold his favorite son into slavery. His old age was filled with grief for 13 years before Joseph* reappeared so that he could die in peace.

What we see in the old age of all these men is a long time of waiting. Abraham’s last years were spent waiting for a wife for Isaac. Isaac lived 37 years after his eyes became dim and he blessed Jacob and Esau.

Jacob lived in retirement in Egypt for seventeen years before he died. Moses tells us he was sick and like Isaac his eyes “were dim for age, that he could not see.” Like Isaac too he had a unique blessing to each of his twelve sons and to his grandchildren as well. The scene is touching as the blind old man called his children to him, brought them near unto him; and he kissed them, and embraced them. Genesis 48:10

In this time of waiting, these men were preparing for death. Abraham had purchased a burial place and his sons had taken charge of the funeral and grieving. Isaac and Jacob were buried there too by their sons. It was all a family process, the wives of all three were also buried there.

This grieving was on a large scale for Jacob when all the nobility of Egypt traveled to the cave in Canaan where he was buried. We tend to skip over these details about the old age of Bible figures, especially since we have now the New Testament, but the Faith chapter mentions Joseph’s commandment to his children concerning his bones, namely that they were to be buried in the Promised Land.

This is, of course, an example of his faith that the children of Israel would indeed inherit the land of Canaan, but it is an example of the thinking and planning of the old age of Believers.

The next old men we meet in the Bible were active in their old age, Aaron*, Moses, Caleb,* and Joshua* all working to give the children of Israel the Promised Land of Canaan, all living to be one hundred or more. These men of action are never described as old and were unique in that their lives were lived publicly, apart from their families.

Still, in their last days they prepared for death, blessed their people, and were honored by them with grieving and honor. So much so that God buried Moses.

The next two old men we see are the last two Judges of Israel, Eli,* and Samuel*. Their stories are told in the book of 1 Samuel, which the latter wrote.

Now Eli was ninety-eight years old, and his eyes were set so that he could not see.,,,,,,,

As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years. 1 Samuel 4: 15 &18

In his old age, Eli failed to discipline his sons when they “lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle.” 1 Samuel 2:22 God judged him and his sons for this, and all three died in one day.

Samuel was his successor but faced the same situation with his sons, and “when he was old, he made his sons judges over Israel.” 1 Samuel 8:1 This is a danger for old men to beware of, putting their sons in positions of authority without the Lord’s blessing.

David* had this problem with his sons in his old age. He writes about it in Psalm 71, labeled in the King James Version as “The Prayer of an Aged Man.” After the rebellion of Absalom, the old king writes:

Now also when I am old and gray-headed, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come. Psalm 71:18

Spurgeon writes:

There is something touching in the sight of hair whitened with the snows of many a winter: the old and faithful soldier receives consideration from his king, the venerable servant is beloved by his master. When our infirmities multiply, we may, with confidence, expect enlarged privileges in the world of grace, to make up for our narrowing range in the field of nature. Nothing shall make God forsake those who have not forsaken him. Our fear is lest he should do so; but his promise kisses that fear into silence.

Our takeaway from this is our testimony to “this generation,” and assurance that His power is everlasting.

That power is displayed in the life and book of Isaiah*, who prophesied for over 60 years! His messages are for all of us but especially encouraging to the old:

He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it. Isaiah 25:8

Isaiah highlights the importance and key role of waiting, a major element of our lives in old age:

Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation. – Isaiah 25:9

Waiting was the most important characteristic of Daniel*, the last old man we see in the Old Testament. He was of the royal family and was taken to Babylon when he was about sixteen. He lived faithfully for the LORD, interpreting dreams, and leading the wisemen for over 70 years.

He prayed in front of his open window three times a day, and this got him thrown into the lions’ den at age 85! He lived longer still into the reign of Cyrus the Persian. (Daniel 6:28)

In his old age, he fulfilled the prophesy of Joel “your old men shall dream dreams; your young men shall see visions:” Joel 2:28 and Daniel was blessed with both! God revealed to Daniel when His Son would come, the changing kingdoms and powers until then, and finally, the resurrection and judgment at the end of the world. (Daniel 12:1-3)

As he receives these revelations he is praying for his people and confessing his sins, -- Daniel 9, Combined with waiting these give us an ideal pattern to live out our final days.

Old age is shown in the New Testament as a time of blessing, wisdom, and waiting. Two of the first people Jesus* met were agéd, Anna, a prophetess eighty-six, and Simeon whose age is not given but to whom the Holy Ghost revealed he would not die until he saw “the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2:26)

Their lives were guided by the Holy Spirit and spent in the Temple, looking for Jesus. What better way to wait upon the Lord?

Later, Paul* introduces us to Lois, a grandmother who taught her daughter and grandson Timothy the faith. This was a challenge because her daughter’s husband was not a believer. This is an example Paul used to build his teaching that there are important roles for old people in the church:

That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.
The aged women likewise, that they be in behavior as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;
That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,
To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. - Titus 2:2-5

It is important to note too that the word “presbyter” means senior or elder.

The last old man we meet in the Bible is the Apostle John,* who wrote his gospel and epistles when he was near eighty and the book of Revelation ten years later. There is a parallel between John and Daniel, both old men who received marvelous revelations from God in keeping with His promise to old men through Joel.

Old age is indeed a blessing for us, and a benefit to humanity. Our old age ends when we die, but not the value it has given. In the book of Revelation, the word “elders,” i.e., “presbyters” is used twelve times. What are we to make of these twenty-four elders who surround the throne of God, casting their crowns before him?

John Gill cites them for “their senile gravity, prudence, and knowledge,” and “having a greater degree of spiritual knowledge of the manifold wisdom of God.” They sit on their seats to worship, hear the word of God, and judge the cases that come before them. What a glorious prospect!

Old age is a time of blessing for those who love the Lord, a time of beauty: the beauty of old men is the gray head. Proverbs 20:29 The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness. Proverbs 16:31

Old age is a time for honor: Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:32

Most of all, old age is a time of waiting. Paul prays: And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 3:5

How to use this time of waiting? In A Discourse Concerning Old Age, Richard Steele presents these ten “works of old age.”

  • Section I. The first work of old age is REPENTANCE of your sins.

  • Section 2. Another work of old age is obtaining ASSURANCE of salvation.

  • Section 3. The third work of old age is PRAYERS and PRAISES.

  • Section 4. The fourth work of old age is INSTRUCTION OF THE YOUNGER.

  • Section 5. The fifth work of old age is WATCHFULNESS AGAINST YOUR SPECIAL TEMPTATIONS.

  • Section 6. The sixth work of old age is to PROVIDE FOR POSTERITY.

  • Section 7. The seventh work of old age is MORTIFICATION. And the object of is double:

  • Section 8. The eighth work of old age is laying up treasure in Heaven.

  • Section 9. The ninth work of old age is meditation on death and eternity.

  • Section 10. The tenth and last work of old age is PERSEVERANCE to the end, and that:

1. In active obedience to the will of God.

2. In suffering the will of God.

Let us then be true and faithful,

Trusting, serving every day;

Just one glimpse of Him in glory

Will the toils of life repay.

When we all get to Heaven,

What a day of rejoicing that will be!

When we all see Jesus,

We’ll sing and shout the victory!

Onward to the prize before us!

Soon His beauty we’ll behold;

Soon the pearly gates will open;

We shall tread the streets of gold.

Eliza E. Hewitt, 1898

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