************ Sermon on Ecclesiastes 12:1; Proverbs 16:31 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 7, 2011
Ecclesiastes 12:1; Proverbs 16:31
In our study of Genesis I've been thinking about old age. I am sure you realize there was no old age before the fall into sin. When man first fell into sin, old age meant to live for 900 or more years like Methuselah. Which left me wondering: Back then would we still be considered young at 300 years? And, how old would we be before we looked and felt old? Let me also remind you that after the flood, old age was changed from 900 years to 120 years.
Our world also thinks about old age. According to the world, life is lived on a big bell curve. You go up, up, up – let's say to the age of 40. And then you go down, down, down, until you die. This view says, "Life is looking good and feeling good. Life is doing and accomplishing things. Life is being active and involved." Under this view, old age is a problem. Each year you can do less. Each year you look worse. Each year a little more life drains out of you. This view prizes youth and beauty and despises age and wrinkles.
There's a story about a little girl who climbed up on the lap of great-grandmother and looked at her white hair and wrinkles and then asked, "Did God make you?"
"Yes," she said.
Then she asked, "Did God make me, too?"
Grandma said, "Yes."
"Well," said the little girl, "Don't you think He's doing a better job now than he used to?"
I remember when I turned forty. I woke up and found a black rose on my door step; in case you didn't know, black roses symbolize death. On the garage door was an enormous poster showing a wheel-chair, a walker, teeth in a glass, bottles of medication, and a face with no hair on the top but lots of hair in the ears and nose. I received a jar of mid-life crisis pills. The most unusual gift was a cane with a rear-view mirror and a horn.
Now, the Bible doesn't despise age, not at all. Rather, it prizes old age. "Gray hair is a crown of splendor," says our text from Proverbs. The point is that old age is nothing to despise.
What the Bible says about old age can be divided into the outer nature and the inner nature.
I The Outer Nature
A When I think of the outer nature I can't help but be envious of Caleb. Caleb, if you remember, was one of the twelve spies sent out by Moses to look over the Promised Land. And, together with Joshua, he was the only one to give a positive report in spite of the giants, the descendants of Anak, that he saw at Hebron. Because of his faith he did not die in the wilderness like the rest of that generation.
When Israel entered the Promised Land and took possession of it, an 85-year-old Caleb asked Joshua to give him and his family the land around Hebron. As for the giant Anakites, Caleb said, "the LORD helping me, I will drive them out" (Josh 14:12). How can an old man like Caleb do that? He himself says,
(Josh 14:11) I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I'm just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Imagine that: when he was 85, he still felt like a 40-year-old man.
B Unfortunately, most – if not all – of us cannot be like Caleb. We might feel 85-years-old at 40 but we won't feel 40-years-old at 85. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes presents a truer picture of what old age brings to the outer nature than does Caleb.
(Eccl 12:1) Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, "I find no pleasure in them"The Preacher is talking of the outer nature. He reminds us that old age brings troubles. And, he reminds us that we can't grow old well if we haven't found the Creator in our youth.
(Eccl 12:2) before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rainHe speaks here of how eyes begin to fail.
(Eccl 12:3) and those looking through the windows grow dim
(Eccl 12:3) when the keepers of the house trembleThe keepers are the hands. What an inconvenience they cause when they begin to tremble, so that you spill food when you eat and drink. Few understand how embarrassed this can make you feel in the company of other people.
(Eccl 12:3) and the strong men stoopThese are the legs. They have lost their strength.
(Eccl 12:3) when the grinders cease because they are fewThis refers to the teeth. Modern times have found dentures but this was not available in the ancient world so that those without teeth could not eat most foods.
(Eccl 12:4) when the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades; when men rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faintThe ears no longer take in all sounds while at the same time sleep becomes difficult.
(Eccl 12:5) when men are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streetsHow difficult climbing the stairway gets to be. Sometimes people move to a one story-house or a main-floor apartment for that reason. When a small boy on a bicycle approaches you on the sidewalk, you stop, afraid and uncertain. And crossing the street downtown fills you with dread ...
(Eccl 12:5) when the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags himself along and desire no longer is stirredHair turns gray or white, like the blossom of the almond tree just before dropping off. The grasshopper refers to the joints, which are no longer flexible so that bending and kneeling are difficult. The lack of desire tell us there no longer is any appetite for food, drink, or other desires of the flesh.
The final and end result of all this can be only one thing: death.
(Eccl 12:5-7) ... Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets. (6) Remember him--before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, (7) and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.Death, of course, is a process. It can last for 20 or more years. It can include Alzheimer's, senility, or Parkinson's.
C The Preacher of Ecclesiastes wants the young to learn a lesson from what he writes about the outer nature. Old age is not for the faint of heart. Old age is not for wusses. It is not easy being old. And, not everyone becomes old. So, "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come ..." (Eccl 12:1). Remember your Creator before you die. Remember your Creator before you get Alzheimer's or become senile or have Parkinson's. Remember while you are young because you don't know when death or disease will strike. Remember. That is, worship and adore Him, live for Him, believe in Him, serve Him, pray to Him, and read His Word.
This is what our Bible reading says about the outer nature.
II The Inner Nature
A The Bible has its quota of old people, and they have the usual infirmities. Think of David in his last years, unable to get warm even in bed. Think of Isaac, unable to tell his boys apart either by sight or touch. Yet no great stress is placed on their age, and none at all on their infirmities. Simply put, the infirmities of old age don't count, they don't matter – regardless of what the world says. In the Bible there is very little instruction on how to treat the problem of old age because in the Bible old age is not a problem.
Instead of treating old age as a problem, the Bible consistently treats it as a blessing. To die "full of years" is the fondest wish of biblical characters, and one of the greatest gifts of God.
I think of the prophets and their portrait of the future life, of the restored Jerusalem. When they envision the great things God will do, they see death swallowed up in victory. But old age – weak old age, needing a cane – remains. This sounds contradictory. Yet, this is the picture.
(Zech 8:4-5) This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with cane in hand because of his age. (5) The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there."
(Is 65:20) Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years ...
Looking through the eyes of the world we have a hard time seeing the value of old age. Old age looks terrible to us. Why would anyone want to grow old? Even the Bible doesn't directly state the benefits of being old; rather, it assumes them.
So, what is the meaning of old age? What is its value? Our text simply tells us that old age has value and meaning, but it doesn't tell us what that value and meaning are:
(Prov 16:31) Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life. Now, I am not going to be like one of colleagues who used this text to preach against hair coloring. That is not the intent here. Rather, God tells us that old age has value and meaning. So, why grow old? What is its meaning? What is its value?
B There are some who say that Ecclesiastes 12 is easily the most pessimistic description of old age ever written. How much different are today's popular books about old age. "Keep smiling," they say. "Life begins at forty."
The Preacher is simply being honest. Yet, we should always read what he says in the light of 2 Corinthians 4. In that passage Paul agrees with the Preacher when he says, "outwardly we are wasting away." But that is not all that he says. He continues with, "yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (2 Cor 4:16).
Before I say anything else it needs to be pointed out that our text speaks about the believing old, those who are righteous because of the blood and Spirit of Christ. So my comments concern not the elderly in general but rather the believing elderly within the church.
The Christian believer knows that even as his body sputters and fails, the inner man becomes stronger and stronger. The older one gets, the nearer to Christ he or she draws. The greater the breakdown of the temporal, the stronger the tie with the Eternal. As one gets older, what is valued in heaven becomes more and more valuable on earth; and, as one gets older what matters not in heaven, matters less and less on earth. The longer you live, the more this is so. "Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life" (Prov 16:31).
A woman who was facing the trials of aging asked J. Robertson McQuilken, "Why does God let us get old and weak?" McQuilken thought a moment, then replied, "I think God has planned the strength and beauty of youth to be physical. But the strength and beauty of old age is spiritual. We gradually lose the strength and beauty that is temporary so we'll be sure to concentrate on the strength and beauty that is forever. And so we'll be eager to leave the temporary, deteriorating part of us and be truly homesick for our eternal home. If we stayed young and strong and beautiful, we might never want to leave."
Old age, then, usually means a closer walk with God. Old age usually means a better relationship with the Lord. The aged saints should be an example and inspiration to all of us as we strive to serve God.
During my ministry, I have found there are two kinds of old people. The first kind focuses only on the outer nature that is failing or has failed. They are left only with their memories and are bitter about what life has given them. The second kind focuses on God and love and growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Which kind are you? Which kind will you be? My prayer is that we all will be the kind who "Fear God and keep his commandments" (Eccl 12:13). My prayer is that we are the kind who concentrate on knowing God better.
I was talking with one of our elderly members. From a worldly point-of-view, each day is a struggle. Yet, he is thankful for each day as a gift of God. He loves being in worship. What a blessing to be around someone like this!
C "Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life" (Prov 16:31). The Bible has still more to say about the advantage of old age. When it comes to wisdom, elderly people have arrived. They are experts at this business called life – or they should be. The book of Job says,
(Job 12:12) Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?Many of the old have so much advice to give. They have advice for parents struggling with children or teenagers. They have advice for young people and adult singles who want to live their own life. They have advice about money management and stewardship and sacrifice and priorities. They have advice about devotions and family time and worship attendance. But no one asks them, so they bite their tongues and keep their lips glued shut.
Those who want to live wisely seek out the counsel of the elderly. Those who want to live rightly seek out the counsel of the elderly. Those who want to bring up their children and youth in God's ways seek out the counsel of the elderly. Those who want to experience freedom and independent living seek out the counsel of the elderly. They have so much to give and rarely are asked to give it.
The Bible's advice, congregation, is to ask God to help you grow in respect for the elderly.
D "Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life" (Prov 16:31). Lastly, in spite of failing eyesight, the elderly see better than most of us.
"Wouldn't you hate to wear glasses all the time?" asked a small boy of his playmate. "No-o-o," the other boy answered slowly, "not if I had the kind grandma wears. She sees how to fix a lot of things, and she sees lots of nice things to do on rainy days, and she sees when folks are tired and sorry, and what will make them feel better, and she always sees what you meant to do even if you haven't got things just right."
The elderly have learned to recognize life's blessings as blessings. The young, on the other hand, are too busy in their rush through life to recognize life's blessings and joys for what they are.
The world says life is lived on a bell curve: up, up, up, then down, down, down. The Bible teaches that life is meant to be up, up, up, all the way to heaven. The world says the old are going downhill. The Bible teaches the old are going uphill. That is why life is such hard work.
God makes no mistakes. He intends people to grow old, if only so that they can learn what life is, and what life is not. Old age teaches that life is not looking good and feeling good. Life is not doing and accomplishing things. Life is not being active and involved. Rather, life is glorifying God. Life is loving. Life is prayer and worship. Life is reflecting the goodness of God. Life is living for Jesus.
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