How are you at honoring age? When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, He attached a promise to just one of them because of its importance: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12). Children who learn to honor their fathers and mothers are granted a long life and a good life (Eph. 6:2,3). Honoring starts in the home and extends to the church. If we can learn it at home, we permeate society with it. If it breaks down in the home, watch the life expectancy rate go down.
God promised Abram before he had any child, “You…will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age” (Gen. 15:15). He put “good” and “old” in the same sentence. God spoke this to Moses to be written in the Law for Israel: “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:32). One way to reverence God was to respect the elderly. God was shamed when old people were not given due honor. It is on God’s heart that the elderly be given their proper place, as was given to Job: “The young men saw me and stepped aside” (Job 29:8). Hey, God is the Ancient of Days, isn’t He?
In our western culture, older people are often embarrassed to admit their age. (Not true in Japan.) They want to pretend they are younger than they really are. What’s that about? The Biblical culture enjoyed the reverse. Job’s friends told him, “You shall come to your grave in ripe old age” (Job 5:26). The last verse of this book says, “And so he died, old and full of years” (42:17). The same was said of Isaac (Gen. 36:29). “Full of years” was an expression for “very old” with a positive ring to it.
Age was considered an advantage. It brought superior wisdom, which meant that they were asked for their counsel: “Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom” (Job 32:7). The Hebrew word “elder” comes from root meaning “old age.” Most cultures, especially in the past, have given authority to people of age by virtue of wisdom that comes with experience (the Greek word “presbus,” in the Roman culture, “senatus,” Arabic “sheikh” all mean “old man”).
Leaders were called elders–because they were. People of experience were needed, not novices. When Rehoboam picked the advice of the younger ones, he went astray. God gave assurance to the elderly that they would be given special provision to match their special needs: “Even to old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you” (Isaiah 46:4).
Old age was considered an attainment, a fulfillment, not a curse or a trial. We sometimes go out of our way to honor youth and tolerate age. Uffda! We need a vision for growing old. Old age can be a fruitful time of life, not a time of decline. Let us help the elderly maintain a strong vision of life. They shine with the youth in the Christmas story. Let them shine in your family and your church. Do I hear an “amen”?