Friday, July 8, 2016

Life, Death, & Growing Old (part three): Aging and Growing Old

* The following is part of a teaching series for a Sunday school class. 
Part One
Part Two

Life, Death & Growing Old

Aging and Growing Old

The seven “vanities” mentioned by Qoheleth correspond to the seven worlds which a man
beholds (i.e., the seven stages of life).  At a year old he is like a king seated in a canopied
litter, fondled and kissed by all.  At two and three he is like a pig, sticking his hands in the
gutters.  At ten he skips like a kid.  At twenty he is like a neighing horse, adoring his person
and longing for a wife.  Having married, he is like an ass (working hard for a livelihood).
When he has begotten children, he grows brazen like a dog to supply their food and wants. 
When he has become old he is (bent) like an ape.
Qoheleth Rabbah 1:2

1.     The Bible recognizes a progression in life and the stages of life.

2.     The Bible encourages honor for the elderly

You shall rise up before the gray headed and honor the aged,
and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.
Leviticus 19.32

a.     1 Timothy 5.1-2—“Do not sharply rebuke and older man, but rather appeal to him as a father… the older women as mothers…”

b.     Philemon 9—“since I am such a person as Paul, the aged,…”

c.      Proverbs 23.22—“Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old.”

d.     Deuteronomy 28.49—judgment by a nation “who will have no respect for the old, nor show favor to the young.”

e.     Isaiah 3.5—judgment in Israel means that “the youth will storm against the elder and the inferior against the honorable.” (cf. Isaiah 47.6; Lamentations 5.12)

3.     Expectation is the aged are wise—they know how to live life and can reason about life well.

a.     Deuteronomy 32.7—“Remember the days of old, consider the years of all generations.  Ask your father, and he will inform you, your elders, and they will tell you.”

b.     Job 12.12—“Wisdom is with the aged men, with long life is understanding.” (cf. Job 15.9-10; 32.7)

c.      Honor to attain old age:

                                               i.     Proverbs 16.31—“A gray head is a crown of glory; it is found in the way of righteousness.”

                                              ii.     Proverbs 20.29—“The glory of young men is their strength, and the honor of old men is their gray hair.”

d.     1 John 2.12-14

                                               i.     Little children, fathers, and young men

                                              ii.     Fathers—“ because you know him who has been from the beginning.”

4.     Not all the aged are wise!

a.     Ecclesiastes 4.13—“A poor yet wise lad is better than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction.”

b.     “The simple fact that one is old is not enough to guarantee that one will become wise.  There unquestionably are old fools.  But age provides the raw material that is necessary for wisdom—the wisdom that truly knows the difference between that which can be changed and that which cannot.”[1]

c.      The need to understand, meditate, and live by God’s Word is what gives true wisdom.

Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine.
I have more insight than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged, because I have observed your precepts.
Psalm 119.98-100

5.     Aging in Scripture

a.     Expectation of loss of faculties

                                               i.     Isaac “was old and his eyes were too dim to see” (Genesis 27.1)

                                              ii.     Eli 98 years old; eyes couldn’t see (1 Samuel 3.2; 4.15)

                                            iii.     David could not keep warm even with blankets (1 Kings 1.1)

                                            iv.     Barzillai the Gileadite: “very old, being eighty years old” (2 Samuel 19.32) virtually lost his senses of smell, taste, and hearing (2 Samuel 19.35)

                                              v.     Ahijah “could not see, for his eyes were dim because of his age” (1 Kings 14.4b) but still had prophetic “vision” and used by God!

                                            vi.     Elisha “became sick with the illness of which he was to die” (2 Kings 13.14) yet still used by God (2 Kings 13.14-19)

                                           vii.     Women too old to have children: Sarah (Genesis 17.17; 18.11-12); Naomi (Ruth 1.11-12; 4.15)

                                         viii.     But note that Moses was 120 years old when he died yet “his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated.” (Deuteronomy 34.7)

                                            ix.     Also Caleb at 85 years old: “I am still as strong today as I was in the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so my strength is now, for war and for going out and coming in.” (Joshua 14.11)
b.       General passages about decay and creational “groaning”

                                               i.     Romans 8.18-23—notice the language used:

1.     “suffering of this present time”

2.     “anxious longing of the creation”

3.     “subjected to futility”

4.     “slavery to corruption”

5.     “the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now”

6.     “we ourselves groan within ourselves”

7.     What are we waiting for?  Answer: “the redemption of our body” (resurrection)

                                              ii.     2 Corinthians 4.16-18

1.     “outer man is decaying”

2.     “inner man is being renewed day by day”

·      Spiritual renewal and growth is possible no matter what age you are!

3.     We look forward to the “things which are not seen”—resurrection (see 2 Corinthians 5.1-10)

c.    Ecclesiastes 11.7-12.8—Youth, old age, and death

                                               i.     11.7-10: Youth—the light of the sun[2]

1.     Enjoyment of life (v. 9)

2.     Accountability before God (v. 9)

                                              ii.     12.1-5: Old Age—lights dimmed

1.     Called “the most obscure passage in Ecclesiastes.”[3]

2.     “Most interpret these lines as Qoheleth’s view on old age.”[4]

3.     “Although 12:3-5a has always puzzled readers, most agree that these verses describe the physical deterioration of the body in old age.”[5]

                                            iii.     12.6-8: Death—lights extinguished

·       The following chart is from: Rachel Z. Dulin, “’How Sweet is the Light’: Qoheleth’s Age-Centered Teachings,” Interpretation (July, 2001), 268.

Before the sun and light and moon and stars grow dark, and the clouds come back again after the rain.

The light of life dimmed, never to shine brightly again.
When the guards of the house become shaky,
And the men of valor are bent,
The maids that grind, grown few, are idle,
And the ladies that peer through the windows grow dim;

Shaky knees, legs (or ribs).
Tottering arms and legs (or thighs).
Few or lost teeth.
Impaired eyesight.
The doors to the streets are shut—
The noise of the handmill growing fainter,
The song of the bird growing feebler,
All the strains of music dying down;

Week feet.
Dysfunctional appetite and digestion.
Sleepless nights.
The almond tree may blossom;
The grasshopper be burdened;

The caper bush may bud again.

White hair.
Stiff joints, bent spine, burdensome weight.
No sexual desire and no stimulant can bring it back again.

d.      Ministry in old age

                                               i.     Ahijah: “could not see, for his eyes were dim because of his age” (1 Kings 14.4b) but still had prophetic “vision” and used by God!

                                              ii.     Elisha: “became sick with the illness of which he was to die” (2 Kings 13.14) yet still used by God (2 Kings 13.14-19)

                                            iii.     Simeon “righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and Holy Spirit was upon him” (Luke 2.25)

                                            iv.     Anna a prophetess “She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four.  She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers.” (Luke 2.36-37)

                                              v.     Older men and older women to teach those younger: Titus 2.2-3

                                            vi.     Psalm 71.17-18—“O God, you have taught me from my youth, and I still declare your wondrous deeds.  And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare your strength to this generation, your power to all who are to come.”

6.     God’s faithfulness to his people in old age

a.     Psalm 71.6-9, 17-18

                                               i.     “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength fails.” (v. 9)

                                              ii.     “And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me…” (v. 18)

b.     Isaiah 46.3-4

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel,
you who have been borne by me from birth and have been carried
from the womb; even to your old age I will be the same, and even to
your graying years I will bear you!  I have done it, and I will carry you;
and I will bear you and I will deliver you.

·       Note: Isaiah 46.3-4 is written to the nation of Israel but I believe its message can be personalized for the New Covenant believer.  Briefly: (1) Old Covenant language, commands, and promises are picked up in the NT and used of the church (i.e., 1 Peter 1.12, 16; 2.6, 9-10; 3.14; cf. 1 Corinthians 10.6-11); (2) Paul personalizes the work of Christ as being “for me” (Galatians 2.20); (3) Generic promises for believers are in alignment with this promise (Romans 8.35-39; Hebrews 13.5—which is actually a quotation from Deuteronomy 31.6, 8!).

     [1] David W. Johnson, “Full of Days: Aging Well Spiritually” Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary (Spring, 2016), 7.
     [2] I use this three part outline from Rachel Z. Dulin, “’How Sweet is the Light’: Qoheleth’s Age-Centered Teachings,” Interpretation (July, 2001), 264.
     [3] D. C. Fredericks as quoted in Dulin, “’How Sweet is the Light’: Qoheleth’s Age-Centered Teachings,” 266.
     [4] Dulin, “’How Sweet is the Light’: Qoheleth’s Age-Centered Teachings,” 266.
     [5] Dulin, “’How Sweet is the Light’: Qoheleth’s Age-Centered Teachings,” 267.  Dulin adds: “Inasmuch as Ecclesiastes came out of an ancient Near Eastern literary milieu that employed both realistic and allegorical styles to describe the deterioration of aging, it appears that an allegorical and metaphorical interpretation of Qoheleth’s writing is appropriate.”