What’s the role of older people in today’s world? Often, we’ve shunted them into a corner as useless reminders of another age. Not Good.
A more fundamental question might be, should older people have a role in society? As baby-boomers (born 1946-1964) transform into retirees alongside Generation Z (born after 2000) the rift between generations has never been greater. As the world population transitions into a more bi-polar, more young people, more old people configuration, this social issue takes on major proportions.
In a more affluent society of The Glorious Thirty (1945-1975) there was stable employment and burgeoning economy, growing personal wealth, education and culture. Everything wasn’t right, there was the cold war and Vietnam, but it was a time of emancipation and development. Older people from that generation retiring in the early 21st century years were in better shape, physically and financially. They were the motors of travel, leisure, discovery and globalization.
As the working market got shakier in the 80s, that generation, now in their sixties became more prone to degrading conditions. The information in that article is for the USA but similar issues face other countries with bleaker outlooks for the future. Today, as birth rates drop and we see a swing to an ageing population, older people find their place in society diminishing. Out with the older people, in with the younger. Out with the experienced top wages, in with the younger job-jumping, smartphone savvy generation.
What’s the value of older people? In old-school countries, mainly non-anglophone, older people still have a preponderant role in the family. The extended family is a more tight-knit unit, they live, eat and counsel together. We in the West are more dispersed, dependent on old people homes, units, fenced communities, hospice care and geriatrics.
What does the Bible say about the role of older people? In particular, the Old Testament? Why? Because the adapted regulations promulgated were for all societies. Have humans developed in the last three thousand years? Yes, we’ve got more knowledge, gadgets and technology. Yes, we can communicate and travel faster and further than ever. But has human nature changed? Are humans fundamentally the same today as in Bible times? Yes. The Explanation has written extensively why the words of Exodus, Deuteronomy and Proverbs are relevant today. Please refresh your minds if need be.
Remember, application of Old Testament principles is not a word-for-word interpretation. There’s adaptability depending on society, not situation ethics, always based on the underlying Biblical foundation. Families, husband, wife, father, mother, children, older people involving relationships and rulership. All these fundamentals apply to all peoples worldwide, regardless of culture and epoch. Hence a set of regulations to help humans know how to live abundantly.
We base practical Bible wisdom on a solid base; a functional, balanced society. The basis of which is the family we discussed, at length, in Audit of Humankind. Given the instability in this field, today we can only adapt Bible wisdom to the best of our ability. As you will recognize, many of the following precepts can only work IF parents have assumed their responsibility within a stable couple of father and mother toward their children. Even the way we talk about the older people in our society shows respect or contempt of this gray-haired age group.
Here is practical Bible wisdom that is unchanged, whatever the era, nation, culture or language. The Bible is the story of humankind, all humans everywhere. No other book encompasses and disseminates such factual, constructive advice.
Physical strength diminishes, but the person is still there
The ageing process is inexorable, today’s young will be tomorrow’s old. It’s the cycle of physical life. Young and old need instruction about this life and life to come. Recognition of the state of older people is an important part of child rearing.
Abraham lived a long satisfying life and Job recognizes the wisdom, counsel and understanding that come with age.
Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength fails.
7 And these are the days of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived, an hundred threescore and fifteen years.
8 Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.
12 With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding.
13 With him is wisdom and strength, he has counsel and understanding.
God takes us through the stages of life
The first verse in Isaiah refers to the nation of Israel, but the principle applies to how God works with the elderly and carries them.
3 Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb:
4 And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.
Footprints in the Sand, a poem reminds us of God’s presence.
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”
We do not leave older people out of the picture in activities or for travel. Here’s an example of the entire extended family travelling together. When the Israelites left Egypt, they could only go as fast as the slowest person in their massive group of hundreds of thousands. The young people must’ve been of great aid to the older people during this journey. The words of Moses are clear.
And Moses said, We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go; for we must hold a feast to the LORD.
Respect for older people
Here are 9 ways to honor older people. They go from being polite to asking advice and listening to them. They have plenty of stories about their lives, history, heritage to share. I would’ve loved to know more about my ancestors, but my parents didn’t open up about it… and I didn’t ask.
Here’s a verse that stands the test of time and modes of transport. Are the young standing up on public transport? Helping older people across the street when there’s a need?
You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
The younger are blessed with vigor, strength and endurance. Let them put it to appropriate use.
The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head.
Here’s an example of a younger man who patiently waited. In Biblical terms, it’s a conversation that lasts some thirty chapters, over a few hours, or maybe even days. When the younger person, Elihu speaks up, he points out how he waited, despite his burning up inside, bursting with words he has to say. What an example of patience, respect and courage to wait and then face up to these older people. Older people aren’t always right, but they should at least be given an ear.
2 Then was kindled the wrath of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram: against Job was his wrath kindled, because he justified himself rather than God.
3 Also against his three friends was his wrath kindled, because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job.
4 Now Elihu had waited till Job had spoken, because they were elder than he.
The whole idea of practical Bible wisdom is to show the Old Testament rules apply to all peoples at all times if we want a properly running society. The Old Testament addresses people with hardened hearts (Matthew 19:8). These people were non-converts. They may know of God, may even be religious, but still filled with worldliness. The New Testament is for people with hearts opened by the Holy Spirit. No more details now, but there is a continuity between the Old and the New. Respect for older people continues and if even intensified. Look at the Apostle Peter’s recommendation.
5 Likewise, you younger, submit yourselves to the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble.
We learn from each other, regardless of age, both and young and old recognize this. Notwithstanding, the young should know their place regarding older people.
Taking care of one’s parents
The human life cycle is unique. Not from the point of view of birth and death, all animals have those benchmarks. Human babies take about 20 years to reach maturity, during which time their parents are ever present to diaper, educate, help and guide them to independence. When their parents reach a good old age, they in turn, become physically dependant for various things, be it shopping or dressing. Under the right conditions, it’s the children’s role to help their parents. Even grandchildren step in and learn to serve. Not sure if we can or should call this payback time, after all, it’s the normal continuity of life. We do have a responsibility toward the older generation.
Hearken to your father that begat you, and despise not your mother when she is old.
1 Timothy 5:16
If any man or woman that believes have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.
Here are two Old Testament examples on this interaction between the generations revealing care for older people.
17 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, Say to your brethren, This do you; lade your beasts, and go, get you to the land of Canaan;
18 And take your father and your households, and come to me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat of the land.
Joseph reunited with his father, and during the time of famine was able to care for him. Many years later, Moses took their bones back to Canaan, another sign of respect. Ruth is a touching story of a daughter-in-law’s devotion to her mother-in-law. The younger woman would not abandon the older under any circumstances.
16 And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you: for whither you go, I will go; and where you lodge, I will lodge: your people shall be my people, and your God my God:
17 Where you die, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part you and me.
4:13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in to her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bare a son.
14 And the women said to Naomi, Blessed be the LORD, which has not left you this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel.
15 And he shall be to you a restorer of your life, and a nourisher of your old age: for your daughter in law, which loves you, which is better to you than seven sons, has born him.
Care at home
Where the elderly live in the 21st century is a major question. Everyone is more comfortable and at home in familiar surroundings. The needs of today’s employed caregivers and elders who want to “age in place” need to be considered. (from Ageing in the 21st century)
For information, read this report under the auspices of the United Nations. Ageing in the Twenty-First Century: A Celebration and A Challenge analyses the current situation of older persons and reviews progress in policies and actions taken by governments and other stakeholders since the Second
World Assembly on Ageing.
Unfortunately, when big organization like the UN step in, it means we’ve stepped away from the family fundamentals of practical Bible wisdom. In my twenties, I lived and did an apprenticeship in Antwerp, Belgium. For two years I had a room with a 70-year-old widow who needed company and someone to help out occasionally. It was a symbiotic relationship that gave her some peace of mind and me, a roof over my head at a reasonable cost. In France, where there’s a shortage of housing, university students from afar often find lodging with an older person in just such a beneficial relationship.
Older generation has much to offer the upcoming people.
My father never retired. Work was an ingrained part of his daily existence. As he grew older, he reduced his workload but, believe it or not, he went into work the day he died in his 80s. Older people have a treasure of experience in many fields in their minds and hands. Young people should understand this and grasp the opportunity to search out and store up this precious resource, often dying and unattainable in books. What’s more, experienced people are often more than willing to transmit their know-how, they’re looking for an attentive ear.
12 The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing;
In our 21st century, the term apprenticeship is under-used. The transmission of know-how from the older people to the younger people. This is especially true regarding manual arts. This Bible example takes place in the desert with the building of the Tabernacle.
30 And Moses said to the children of Israel, See, the LORD has called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah;
31 And he has filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship;
32 And to devise curious works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass,
33 And in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work.
34 And he has put in his heart that he may teach, both he, and Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan.
35 Them has he filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work, of the engraver, and of the cunning workman, and of the embroiderer, in blue, and in purple, in scarlet, and in fine linen, and of the weaver, even of them that do any work, and of those that devise cunning work.
As they built this place of worship, which was a work-of-art, they taught others the various trades needed. This invokes the fourth rule to master Biblical Hebrew, the figurative meaning of words. Here, teach derives from the flowing of water. An apprenticeship is the flowing of know-how from the older people to the younger generation for its perpetuation.
יָרָה yârâh yaw-raw’; or (2 Chronicles 26:15) יָרָא; a primitive root; properly, to flow as water (i.e. to rain); transitively, to lay or throw (especially an arrow, i.e. to shoot); figuratively, to point out (as if by aiming the finger), to teach:
KJV – ([phrase]) archer, cast, direct, inform, instruct, lay, shew, shoot, teach(-er,-ing), through.
Leading people doesn’t come automatically. It is an attribute one learns, often by attending to a prominent person. It, too, is an apprenticeship.
Here are a couple of examples. Moses apprenticed Joshua and Elijah apprenticed Elisha. In the New Testament we have Paul, who apprenticed Timothy.
Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell you.
One of the poorer examples of not taking advice from the older people got King Rehoboam into a very awkward situation.
6 And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do you advise that I may answer this people?
7 And they spake to him, saying, If you will be a servant to this people this day, and will serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants for ever.
8 But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him:
Older people possess wisdom. The younger men gave him terrible advice. Rehoboam faced an insurrection, causing the division of the 12 tribes of Israel into two separate states. He lost big.
One of the least known responsibilities of older people is their role as judges. Today we rely on an officialized system of justice with lawyers and judges. In Old Testament times, the nation called on older people to occupy this role. These people were known for their integrity and wisdom. Often, the latter comes with years and the experience of life. Some circumstances in the examples below are difficult to understand, explanations will be forthcoming. For now, please focus on the role of older people as judges, referred to here as elders.
Then your elders and your judges shall come forth, and they shall measure to the cities which are round about him that is slain:
Judges and officers shall you make you in all your gates, which the LORD thy God gives you, throughout your tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment.
Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out to the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
There’s no doubt. We are to respect older people. They are not only the memory of the nation, but its wealth. They have the experience which the younger generation sorely needs to learn from. They have leadership roles to fill where they render great service to their communities and nation. Practical Bible wisdom reveals the role of older people in all societies during all eras.
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