Having confessed my age, I will also confess that I have witnessed (and that I am witnessing) definite signs of my mortality. A simple example would be this: I have never needed eye-glasses, but in the past several years, I have found that more light is certainly handy to see things (smaller things in particular), and from time-to-time (read that as “oftentimes”), I reach for a pair of reading glasses. That, frankly, is one of the lesser symptoms of my creeping mortality. (And some of my older friends – e.g. Harold Williams – assure me that I “ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”)
A dictionary will rather glibly define mortality as “the state or characteristic of being mortal; subject to death.” Most of us think very little of our “mortality” when we are in the prime of life. Quite honestly, we often feel rather invincible in our younger years. Dying is something that other people do. A Biblical View The Bible, of course, is not silent about the dilemma of our mortality – in fact, it tells us exactly when death was introduced into the human race: death came when Adam and Eve sinned against God. The “spiritual death” – separation from God – was realized immediately when our first parents sinned; but physical death – “to dust you shall return” – was more of a “process of decay” that was imposed by the Lord culminating in the eventual separation of the soul from the body.
The Bible presents not only the dilemma of our mortality, but also the antidote: for those who are redeemed there is the promise of the resurrection of the body unto everlasting life. That resurrection body will be fit for eternity, and it will not be subject to sin, decay and death. Here is what God has promised:
1 Corinthians 15:50-54 – “50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption…52 For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory!’”
Revelation 21:4 –“And [God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
The Bible does not flinch when it speaks either of the “aging process” or of the fact of death. For example, Isaac’s eyesight was so dim that he couldn’t distinguish his son Esau from his “less favorite” son, Jacob – who was very different! And when Jacob was old and near death, this account is given in Genesis 48 and 49. Jacob’s son, Joseph is called to his dying father’s bedside – notice how the account is permeated with mortality:
“Genesis 48:1 Now it came about after these things that Joseph was told, ‘Behold, your father is sick.’ So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim with him…7‘Now as for me (Jacob is speaking), when I came from Paddan, Rachel died, to my sorrow…and I buried her there on the way to Bethlehem).’…[Then]49:33 When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.”
Of course, there is nothing unique about Jacob’s frailty at the end of his life.
Both Joshua and David, when they came to their life’s end, acknowledged that they were “going the way of all the earth.” (Joshua 23:14 and 1 Kings 2:2). Here, in fact, is what is said of 70-year-old David: “Now King David was old, advanced in age; and they covered him with clothes, but he could not keep warm.” (1 Kings 1:1) It was not only that death was assumed by-and-for these men of God, but the frailties of old age are indicated in their lives and in the lives of many other “heroes of the faith.” One of my favorite “old people” in the Bible is a little-known 80 year-old man, Barzillai the Gileadite – a man who had proven himself to be a faithful friend to King David. When David was being pursued by his rebellious son, Absalom, Barzillai had “sustained the king” (and David’s men) when David was in flight for his life. As a reward to this elderly gentleman for his loyal friendship, David, upon his return to Jerusalem, bade Barzillai to “come over with me, and I will provide for you with me in Jerusalem.” Listen to this old man’s response to the King’s generous offer:
“How long have I yet to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? 35I am now eighty years old. Can I distinguish between good and bad? Or can your servant taste what I eat or what I drink? Or can I hear anymore the voice of singing men and women? Why then should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? 36 Your servant would merely cross over the Jordan with the king. Why should the king compensate me with this reward? 37 Please let your servant return, that I may die in my own city near the grave of my father and my mother.” (2 Kings 19:34-37)
In other words, this faithful, munificent old friend says to David, “I am too old and I don’t transplant well. Besides, I would be no good to you as a counselor, and I couldn’t even enjoy all of the benefits of the honor you want to bestow upon me. Let me just stay home and live out my last days.” Here was a man who was old – and he knew it. And he accepted his mortality and was content: what a blessed man Barzillai was!
And I love Solomon’s description of his own older age in Ecclesiastes 12:1-5. In fact, he calls the days of his old age, “evil days”! Commentator, John Gill, correctly observes that Solomon speaks of “evil days” not with respect to the “evil of fault or sin…but with respect to the evil of affliction and trouble which attend [old age], as various diseases…much weakness of body, decay of intellects, and many other things, which render life very troublesome and uncomfortable.” Matthew Henry introduces this passage with these words: “The decays and infirmities of old age are here elegantly described in figurative expressions which have some difficulty in them to us now, who are not acquainted with the common phrases and metaphors used in Solomon’s age and language; but the general scope is plain - to show how uncomfortable, generally, the days of old age are.” See if you can ascertain the difficulties which flood the writer’s mind (what’s left of it!) as he laments the winter of his life:
“Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no delight in them’; 2 before the sun and the light, the moon and the stars are darkened, and clouds return after the rain; 3 in the day that the watchmen of the house tremble, and mighty men stoop, the grinding ones stand idle because they are few, and those who look through windows grow dim; 4 and the doors on the street are shut as the sound of the grinding mill is low, and one will arise at the sound of the bird, and all the daughters of song will sing softly. 5 Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags himself along, and the caperberry is ineffective.”
Let’s look what Solomon says: The sun and the light, the moon and the stars are darkened – Matthew Henry writes of this, “intellectual powers and faculties…are weakened; their understanding and memory fail them, and their apprehension is not so quick nor their fancy so lively as it has been” (Anyone say “Amen!” to that?); Clouds return after the rain – one’s outlook on life is apt to be gloomy, and/or when we get over one trial, another is on its heels; The watchmen tremble – head, arms and hands shake; Mighty men stoop – backs bend low and legs are weak; The grinding ones stand idle because they are few – it’s hard to chew food because the teeth are gone; Those who look through windows grow dim – the eyes don’t see like they used to; The doors on the street are shut as the sound of the grinding mill is low – one is not as likely to go out for entertainments because nothing works like it used to; One will arise at the sound of the bird – the slightest thing disturbs sleep; The daughters of song will sing softly – the old have neither voice to sing nor ear to hear: these pleasures are past; Men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road – unreasonable fears beset us in old age. Adam Clarke says, “They dare not walk out, lest they meet some danger, which they have not strength to repel, nor agility to escape; The almond tree blossoms – Our hair grows white; The grasshopper drags himself along – perhaps a picture of the feebleness of advanced years; The caperberry is ineffective – the pleasures of sense are gone… What a picture of our mortality! Of course, old age is not all “gloom and doom” – recall that Solomon was in bad humor throughout the book of Ecclesiastes! Some “Take-Aways” I have met people who have, shall we say, unrealistic expectations as they come to their “golden years.” I recall many years ago when a dear older lady called and asked for prayer – she was about 75 years old at the time. I asked her what specifically we could pray for, and she responded, “Oh, I don’t know. I just don’t feel as well as I used to.” Here’s a newsflash: no one feels as good as they used to when they are 75! We live in a “house of clay” which, after the age of, say, 30 years old, is slowly – and sometimes not-so-slowly – breaking down. It has the curse of sin upon it: it is mortal! The refusal to understand and accept our mortality can be a very grievous thing, and sometimes we blame the doctors for not being able to make us feel 29 again. I am 66 years old, and I WILL feel 29 again…but not until I receive my resurrection body! My car just turned over 200,000 miles. It runs fairly well and looks okay, too. But it isn’t new by any stretch of the imagination; nor do I expect it to be. I have similar understanding and expectations with my body. That is not to say that we should not take reasonable care of our body: after all, I take reasonable care of my car! And I do, within reason, the same for my body.
In addition to not having our expectations set too high for old age, our mortality – that is, the aches and pains of “growing old” – should also have the effect of making us “homesick” for our eternal Home. (It sure works with me!)
But let’s be careful and not “throw in the towel” as old age overtakes us! As we intimated a few moments ago, remember that many “oldsters” were useful to the Lord in their old age. Barzillai was used by the Lord – and there were lots of others equally as useful and more so! Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Simeon and Anna to name a few. God isn’t done with you when you “suddenly” find your-self “old.” You are His to use until He calls you Home!
Matthew Henry gives us another application of the fact of mortality: “Great care therefore should be taken to pay respect and honor to old people, that they may have something to balance the grievances of old age, and nothing may be done to add to them.” (That’s why I treat Harold Williams so nicely!)
And lastly by way of application, as Matthew Henry says so bluntly, “Let us not therefore indulge the appetites of the body, nor pamper it (it will be worms’ meat shortly)…”
(On that note…) Love to You All, Nick and Ginny