A Psalm for Old Age – Psalm 71

Many Christians can agree with Isaac (Gen 27.2): “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of may death.” I am old – now what? Albert Barnes puts it this way: “Who would wish to be an old man? Who can look upon a man tottering with years, and broken down with infirmities; a man whose sight and hearing are gone; a man who is alone amidst the graves of all the friends that he had in early life; a man who is burden to himself, and to the world; a man who has reached the ‘Last scene’ of all that ends this strange eventful history?…And who, in view of such infirmities, can fail to see the propriety of seeking favor of God in early years?”

If I had a dollar for every time a seasoned veteran of the faith told me “Don’t get old” I could retire a rich man right now. But the reality is & we all know that growing old is a part of this life. The older we get the more we must rely/depend upon God. How can an older person keep his/her way pure? Let’s take a look at a Psalm written by David when he was an old man – Psalm 71.

The Problems with Old Age – Looking Around

It is not fun to be old, esp. in America. We once honored & respected the older folks, but sadly this no longer seems to be the case. We value youth & vitality, our culture is geared toward that age group. Plus…

9Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.

Lack of Strength (9): See Ecc 12.1-7, Solomon paints the portrait of old age poetically – sight gives out, strength diminishes, your various sense dull, sleep is fleeting, your memory isn’t what it used to be.

10For my enemies speak against me; those who wait to kill me conspire together.

Continuation of Trouble (10): Just because you get older doesn’t mean the many & various troubles you’ve had in life go away. In fact, often it is the same problems just a different day you have to deal with it. Finances, family, health, problems; regret, frustrations, depression – these are all real problems which persist even into old age. So…

4Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel. – Rescue me!

11They say, “God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him.”

Being Alone (11): If you live long enough, you’ll live so long that you’ve outlived everybody else in your life who is/was dear to you. “Does Jesus care when I’ve said ‘good-by’ to the dearest on earth to me,/ And my sad heart breaks till it nearly breaks is it aught to Him? Does He see?”

The Perspective of Old Age – Looking Back

You still have God!

5For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.

Knowing God (5): Recall God’s faithfulness in your life, all your life. David grew up in Israel learning the faith of his father & forefathers. And as the Psalmist grew, so his trust in God grew. He felt persuaded that the God who had sustained him through his youthful exploits would likewise not forsake him now that he was old.

6Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.

Leaning on God (6): Before our bodies had strength to live, God carried us. He did it then & He continues to do it when strong legs grow weak. God knew us before we knew anything. Before he was able to understand the power that upheld him, he was sustained by it. And now that he is in old age & his feeble legs are giving out, that same power would be what he would lean upon.

7I have been as a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge.

Providence of God (7): “Portent” or a marvel of divine dealings, a prodigy of God’s goodness. It is awe-inspiring how God has worked in David’s life. It is also awe-inspiring how God has worked in your life. Reflect back on where you would have been if not for God providing for you along the way. Protection & blessing, grace & mercy, salvation & sanctification. “All by God’s grace.”

The Potential of Old Age – Looking Forward

You still have a lot to do!

17O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.

18So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.

Proclamation (17-18): God is always concerned about the next generation and the seasoned veterans of the faith likewise should emulate that. “Don’t take me out of this world until I have finished my course and told the next generation about you. Verse 19 is the content of the message: Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you? Even in old age God does great things…

20You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.

21You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.

Promotion (20-21): Two fold – greatness & comfort. Perhaps there is even a little hint prophetically of resurrection – “revive me again.” Hmm…But certainly God comforts the afflicted. The language used here is the language of a man who has fallen into deep water. God would “bring me up again,” my head above the waters of trouble.

Don’t be a Solomon or an Asa or a Lot who are stumbling across the finish line of life. Be a Caleb! “Give me this land!” (Joshua 14.10-12).

The Praise in Old Age – Looking Up

15My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge.

19Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?

24And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long, for they have been put to shame and disappointed who sought to do me hurt.

“You are Righteous” (15, 19, 24): v.15, “righteous acts” are those acts wherein God rewards piety & revenges injury. Everything God does is right & just. Even when He justifies the sinner and causes us to be in right relationship with Him in Christ.

22I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.

“You are Faithful” (22): v.15, “their number is past my knowledge.” He just keeps doing it over & over again. So, I’m going to sing praises about how you have been faithful!

23My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.

“You are My Redeemer” (23): v. 15, “deeds of salvation.” God saved us so that we might be to the praise of His glory. He redeemed from sin, death, & hell. We were like out of tune instruments which just made noise. Now, in Christ, flows harmony & melody fit to magnify the King.

I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.” (Psalm 37:25, ESV)

The godly are given to prayer. In old age there is a cry to pray more. Psalm 71 is a prayer for the grace necessary to stare down the dark corridor of death with your hand firmly in God’s hand.  The more intimate we are with the Lord the firmer our trust will be.

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Rejoicing in the Prospect of Glorification

Although presently in prison and afflicted by rivals in the faith (v.12-18a), Paul was rejoicing. Paul now turns from the present predicament and considers the future prospect of possible deliverance, either from his bonds or his body. In this passage, Paul rejoices knowing that Christ is magnified in ministry by life or by death.

Yes, and I will rejoice,

Yes, and I will rejoice: future tense verb—Paul turns attention away from the present and considers potential deliverance from either his bonds or his body.

19for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,

For I know that through your prayers: Note that Paul recognizes two sources of aid, one human, the other divine. The first is in this clause: the prayers of the saints. Here is Paul’s human aid—the supplications of the saints. Paul knows these brethren are true Christians, true children of God who have the Father’s ear in prayer. He prays for them; they pray for him.

And the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ: Herein we find the second (divine) source of aid: the support of the Spirit. “Help” is translated from a word meaning “assistance which undergirds and supports” not unlike what a ligament does with a joint (cf. Eph 4.16). The connection between prayer and the Spirit is evident: as supplication ascends, the Spirit descends. As Christians cry for comfort, God sends the Comforter.

This will turn out for my deliverance: “This” means either his imprisonment or the preaching from impure motives. Given his rejoicing in verse 18b of future deliverance, it seems best to understand his imprisonment as what is in view. So by means of the petitions of these saints and the provision of the Spirit Paul was confident that he would be freed (lit. rescued) from his bonds.

Note: Commentators point out that Paul is quoting from the LXX Job 13.16, indicating that Paul is identifying with Job. Job wanted his integrity vindicated (cf. 13.18); Paul wants his apostleship vindicated against his detractors (v.15-17).

20as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

As it is my eager expectation and hope: expectation with uplifted head and outstretched neck as though in suspense. It is Paul’s confident expectation (hope)…

That I will not be at all ashamed: Paul is not disgraced by suffering, affliction, imprisonment, or even the voices of rivals. Looking forward to when he takes the stand in his defense of the gospel (v.16), that too will not be a time of disgrace but rather…

But that with full courage now as always: “courage” or “boldness” (NKJV, NASB) carries the idea of freedom to speak especially in times of intimidating circumstances. For Paul circumstances made not difference: whether free or in bonds (cf. Acts 28.31), Paul spoke with liberty “as always” even “now” under Roman guard.

Christ will be honored in my body: It is not enough to have liberty to speak; what one speaks matters. Not a single word, expression, or utterance was to hurt the cause of Christ and fall short doing Him perfect justice. “Boldness of speech was to be his [Paul’s] part, the glory should be Christ’s” (Caffin 5). Christ would be praised whatever Paul did in the body.

Whether by life or by death: Whether the verdict rendered frees him from imprisonment or send him to a martyr’s death, Christ would be glorified. If his freedom led to a furtherance of his apostolic ministry, Christ was glorified. If his captivity led to his faithfulness unto death, Christ would be glorified. These alternatives may seem vastly different, but to Paul they brought the same end: the glorification of Christ in, by, and through him.

21For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain: In life or in death, in either event “to exalt and glorify Christ was his only incentive in life” (Lipscomb 168). While he lives, he is Christ’s property and Christ is his portion. To die (the act of dying) “is to cash in both principal and interest” thereby gaining a profit (Robertson). “Paul’s only reason for existence is that he may spend his life in that glad service; and death for that cause will be the crowning service.”

22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.

If I am to live in the flesh: Paul (or any apostle) was not omniscient; while there are instances where certain future events in his life are revealed by the Spirit (eg. Acts 20.22-23), he (and the other apostles), like we, had to exercise the same faith and patience concerning the future. “In the flesh” amplifies the transitory nature of life in the body.

That means fruitful labor for me: Should he continue to live, it would mean he could do more work as an apostle and through that ministry he would bear more fruit for Christ.

Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell: the dilemma is between the continuance of his apostolic ministry (a good work) or sealing his testimony of Christ in blood (a good witness). This indecision is based on v.21—to live is Christ, to die is gain.

23I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

I am hard pressed between the two: between dying now and being immediately with God, Christ or living longer to preach and spread the gospel, glorify God in the flesh. Life or death…

My desire…be with Christ: the word for “desire” (Gk epithumian) is nearly always used of evil desires (i.e lust), however, used in this context means a deep desire. The idea of this departure is that of a ship loosing anchor; thus, Paul’s heart’s desire is to raise anchor on this life and set sail into the vast ocean of eternity and “be with Christ” infinitely.

For that is far better: Why does Paul desire this? This option is “by much very far better.” It is as if he is unable to find the words necessary to describe the glory of this hope.

24But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

But to remain…on your account: while Paul has a deep desire to be with Christ. However, Paul understands the difference between wants and needs. What is more needful, what is required given the current situation, is for Paul to remain in his body, alive. Personally, death is the “far better” option; for the sake of his brethren, though, he must stay “in the flesh.”

25Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,

Convinced of this: That it is indispensible for him to remain in the flesh for his brethren. Paul reasons to this conclusion based on his assessment of the situation.

I know…with you all: Paul’s knowing is based upon his assessment of the situation and drawing conclusions. “His knowledge was not necessarily derived from special revelation or from mere presentiment, but represents firm personal conviction that he would survive his present imprisonment” (Caffin 19).  Since what is needful is for him to remain in the flesh, he will not depart (“remain”) and survive (“continue with”) you all. Paul doubles synonyms here to emphasize this point. Some see a somewhat poetic statement here, especially the latter part which literally says Paul will “remain by the side” of these brethren.

For your progress and joy in the faith: Paul’s survival through all his trials is for the purpose stated here. Paul remaining in the flesh was for the joyful progress of the faith of these brethren. Joy springs when Christians advance and grow in the faith. “The farther a man proceeds in the way of truth, the stronger his faith will be; and the stronger his faith, the greater his joy or happiness” (Clarke).

26so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

So that in me…in Christ Jesus: Herein lies the ultimate design of Paul’s continuance in the flesh: that at some future point he would return and these Christians would overflow with praise and glory to Christ Jesus. After all the prayers and petitions to God, to have their brother released and returned would be a joyous occasion. Certainly this would a time when the church could advance even further (joyfully) in the faith as Paul imparted apostolic teaching, applied old truth to new circumstances, impart spiritual gifts, and deepen the dependence of these Christians on the Lord.

Because of my coming to you again: lit. because of my presence (Gk parousias), a word used often in the New Testament to speak of the second coming of Christ. It is Paul’s personal presence back with the Philippians which is in view.

The Grace of God in the Face of Death

25 miles. That is how far Nain is from Capernaum. And yet Jesus gladly walks that distance to bring comfort and grace to a widow. One commentator writes, “what consolation to thousands of the bereaved has this single verse [v.13] carried from age to age!” Indeed, I peronally have taken this very text to bring comfort to those hurting individuals during times of grief and pain at the loss of a loved one. It is beautiful is its simplicity and impacting in its emotion. The NIV says “When the Lord say her, his heart went out to her” (v.13). Another translation would say, “he had compassion on her” (RSV). The New Living Translation says, “his heart overflowed with compassion.” I don’t know about you, but when I read about the emotion of my Lord, it gives me comfort knowing that he cares for me in this way. When I hurt, he sympathizes. The Hebrew fittingly commented on this ver thing when he wrote, “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” Jesus knows and understands the pain we feel when we hurt because he himself has felt the very same feelings. We do not have a Lord who is unapproachable and distant, but we have a Lord who comes up alongside us and weeps with us.

The Scene of Grief

Try to picture the scene which Jesus comes upon: The funeral procession was important. It would begin at the home of the deceased, proceed through the village, and end at the cemetary, which was always outside the city. If the family could afford it, they hired professional mourners who played dirges, shouted great laments, and wept loudly. They believed that a big commotion honored the dead, and was an apporiate expression of grief. Along the way, the procession would pick up steam. The weeping and wailing would get louder, as other villagers joined in the procession as it passed by (Ronald Harbaugh, The Grace of God in the Face of Death). This great band of emotion and shouting and weeping is what Jesus runs into as he enters Nain. His words to the mother are simply, “Do not weep.” But it is not enough for Jesus to say those few words; there must be something behind which gives the woman something to rejoice about.

The Author of Life

Jesus walks up to the casket and, like the stormy sea, he calms the crowd by touching it. When everything is calm and quiet, he speaks life to the young man: “Get up…arise.” The incarnate Resurrection and the Life with a word raises this dead back to life. The text very simply says, “and Jesus gave him back to his mother.” He gave him back to her. What current of emotion raced through the crowd as the dead man came back to life and spoke. We don’t know what he said, but surely he joined with the crowd (or maybe started them off) in praising God.

When Jesus shows up in your life, things happen. For a widow, she got her son back. If you and your loved ones are in Christ, you have the promise of getting them back. One day, this corruptable body which fails us and even now is dying will be exchanged with an incorruptable body. The people this life has taken from us and have gone to be with the Lord are restored to us. Only a Christian has this assurance and this comfort. Those outside of Christ only have the fearful expectation of judgment (Heb 10.27). Only Jesus offers you the help you need to save you from the raging fire which is the wrath of God. The good news of this help from God spread throughout Judea and the countryside. Christians, spread this good news to every lost person you know and love before it is everlasting too late. Tell them God has come in the form of His Son to help them. Share with them the good news of a resurrected and a resurrecting Savior. Explain that hellfire awaits those who refuse the help. Focus their attention to eternal matters concerning their life and the life of those around them whom they love also.

Faced with death, God, through Jesus, shows us his grace. He restored a dead son back to a widow. Indeed, the message of grace in the face of death still rings. We face death. It is inevitable and sure that one day we will die. But the grace of salvation and the grace of uniting for eternity with those we love, especially our Lord, still stands. Accept it and live it.