Our favorite seniors in Scripture

“Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance….” (Titus 2:2)

Abraham. Moses. Caleb.Joshua. Barzillai. Simeon.

These godly old people interest us and instruct us.  They inspire us and inform us. And intimidate us?  (Smiley-face goes here.)  Maybe, just a little.

They did so well under extreme conditions.

Now, we’re not just praising them because they lived a long time and got their names in the Holy Scriptures. There are other oldsters in the Word who don’t necessarily make that list of champions.

–There is Eli, the high priest, who told little Samuel to go back to bed and listen for God’s voice, but who did a lousy job raising his sons and turning them loose with God’s people without holding them accountable.

–We have Moses’ siblings Miriam and Aaron who resented all the attention the younger brother was getting and wanted honors of their own.

And, with many of the main characters in Scripture however, we are not given their age, so we might not want to cite them for our list. Jacob and Samuel come to mind.

However, here are six champions of the faith, all of them in their latter years and getting it right.

ABRAHAM, the original trail-blazer, teaches us: “It’s all about faith!” 

He had no Scriptures and not even the basic New Testament doctrine of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Yet, he left behind all that was familiar and “went out, not knowing where he was going.”  “He lived as an alien in a land of promise.” In so doing, he became a champion of our faith and is cited time and again in Scripture for his amazing record.

The Apostle Paul uses the Scriptural tribute to Abraham, that “he believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” to establish that salvation is through faith and not works. (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6, etc.)

Abraham got some things badly wrong, but once again, if you and I are said to “see through a glass darkly,” how much more this man who became a father of “a multitude” at the age of an even one hundred and became the patriarch of us all. As the saying goes, “We’re not worthy!” None of us would have done nearly so well as he did.

His adverse condition: He had no Bible, no congregation, no heritage of faith. Yet he persevered.

Moses, the leader, teaches us “Lead, follow, or go home!”

The 120 life-span of the man Moses separates neatly into three periods of forty years each: as a grandson of Pharaoh in Egypt, as a keeper of sheep at Horeb, and as the leader of God’s people through Sinai.

The leadership lessons exhibited and taught by Moses are legion.  In fact, they are so many that most pastors skip Moses when looking for role models for older adults.  We prefer Caleb for one single thing he did, or old Simeon for one moment in time in the Temple.  But Moses?  He deserves better than we give him.

We love the exchange between Moses and the Lord when God calls him (Exodus 3-4). He quickly recovers from the panic he felt on finding himself in God’s presence and threw up excuse after excuse as to why confronting Pharaoh was not a good idea, would not work, was not believable, and anyway, he was the wrong person for the job. As Jill Briscoe said in the book by that title, “Here am I; send Aaron.”

Moses’ age seems not to have been a factor in any part of the story as he led Israel through the wilderness wanderings and eventually up to the back door of Canaan.  If he struggled with the pains and infirmities of the elderly, we’re not told. In fact, quite the opposite. To the Lord’s people, Moses announced God’s promise, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight….I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I the Lord, am your healer” (Exodus 15:26). If the shoes on their feet or the clothes on their backs did not wear out, we suppose keeping Moses healthy was a piece of cake for the Heavenly Father.

And so, through wars and pestilences, times of faith and periods of great doubt, through victories and sufferings, Moses led the people.  For a fully forty years, he stayed by the job. When a group of popular leaders appointed themselves as his board of directors and confronted him with their own agenda, announcing that all the people were holy, not just him, and accusing him of exalting himself above the assembly, Moses fell on his face and gave the matter to God. I suspect more than a few pastors who have found themselves in similar situations (I have been there myself) take a degree of comfort in what happened next: the ground split open and swallowed up those complainers.  (Numbers 16)

His adverse condition: He had few role models, no Scripture, carnal assistants and a rebellious congegation. Yet, he persevered.

Joshua, the bench-warmer suddenly sent into the game when everything was on the line, teaches us, “Be ready. You never know.”

I take a special pleasure from seeing how often Moses, the Lord, and the Israelites kept telling Joshua to “be strong and courageous” (Deuteronomy 31:6,7,23; and Joshua 1:6,7,9,18). Anyone see a pattern here?  For practically all his adult life, Joshua had been Moses’ assistant. To suddenly be asked to assume the key leadership role was extremely hard.  It would require skills he had subliminated long ago and would now have to dig them out and dust them off and tune them up.

But he did it well, and we applaud him for it. Joshua’s “farewell address” in Joshua 23 is as fine as anything you will read.

His adverse condition: Joshua had to wait and wait and wait.  But he persevered.

Caleb, the tough old walrus with a mountain-sized faith, teaches us “We’re never too old to trust God!”

These two–Joshua and Caleb–were the voices of faith, against the ten spies who had been frightened out of their wits by the giants and standing armies of Canaan (Numbers 13-14).  After six weeks of checking out the land of promise before the people would enter, these spies had returned with their report: great crops, a land flowing with milk and honey as promised, strong people, walled cities, and giants.  “We became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight, too!” (Numbers 13:33)

Joshua and Caleb brought the minority report. “It is indeed a great land, just as they said. However, if the Lord is pleased with us, then He can bring us into this land.”

Later, Moses singled out these two men for great honor. First, they would be the only two adults to survive the wilderness wanderings and actually walk into Canaan. As for Joshua, he would be Moses’ assistant, and Caleb would be given his choice of the land in Canaan.  No doubt Caleb spent many a night reflecting on where they had gone and what they had seen and so selected the choice place for himself. Later, he announced, “Give me this mountain!” (see Joshua chapter 14).  We do love Caleb’s testimony on that day: “Behold, I am 85 years old today. 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…” (14:10-11).

His adverse condition: Caleb had few men and women of true faith around him, felt lonely many times, and had to suffer because the congregation was unwilling to demonstrate faith. Yet, he persevered.

Who doesn’t love Caleb?  Great man, inspiring man.

Barzillai, who showed hospitality to David and turned down an invitation to the palace, teaches us, “Give your child to the King!”

This little-known man makes a couple of brief appearances in the story of King David, in 2 Samuel chapters 17 and 19, and is a champion in both places.

As David and his entourage flee from the rebellious Absalom, they are met by several old friends on the eastern side of the Jordan who give them sanctuary until it’s safe to return home.  Weeks later, David invites Barzillai to “Come go home with me,” sounding a lot like every invitation I ever heard on the Alabama farm as a youth.  “I’ll repay your hospitality,” David said.

Barzillai wanted to live out his days at home, he said. “I’m now 80 years old. I can’t tell the difference between good and bad any more. I can’t taste what I’m eating or drinking.  Plus, I’m deaf and cannot enjoy music. So, I’m afraid you don’t have anything in the big city that I can use. I would just be a burden to you.” (My paraphrase of II Samuel 19:35)

Then, Barzillai was quiet a moment, and said, “However….”

“Here is your servant Chimham.  Let him go with you.  Do for him whatever you would have done for me.”

And that’s how it happened that the young man Chimham came to Jerusalem with the king and received the royal treatment.

Who was Chimham? No one knows. Perhaps Barzillai’s son or grandson, or a favorite servant, or perhaps the son of a servant in whom he saw great promise.

Two things about this incident stand out for me, however.

The first is the example the old gentleman sets for us: Even when we are old and getting decrepit, we can look around and find a young man or woman of promise and bless them. Perhaps they need money for clothing or education or transportation. Perhaps they need you to use your contacts and put them in touch with someone you know and who trusts your judgement–the admissions director at a college, the hiring manager at a plant, the pastor of your church–who could make a huge difference in their lives. Endow a child’s future.

Second is a line from Jeremiah 41:17.  “And they went and stayed in Geruth Chimham, which is beside Bethlehem, in order to proceed to Egypt.”  “Geruth,” the footnote says, means “lodging place.”  Remembering that Jeremiah lived in the sixth century B.C., some four hundred years after David, this may be a clue to what the king did for young Chimham.  I’m strictly going by guesswork here, but it works for me.

Bethlehem was David’s ancestral home (I Samuel 16).  He would have owned land thereabouts. So, perhaps as Chimham returned to Jerusalem with David’s family, the king gave him a parcel of land from his own holdings and set him up.  Chimham’s descendants were still living there hundreds of years later, generation after generation still blessed because old man Barzillai had had the foresight to introduce the king to this young fellow Chimham.

We can do that. We can tell a youngster about Jesus and thus change his life for eternity and transform forever the lives of all his descendants. We can obey the proddings of the Holy Spirit in finding ways to assist those who come after us for His glory.

Barzillai’s adverse conditions? His infirmities of age. Yet, he was faithful.

And finally, Simeon, the old fellow who blessed the infant Jesus, as his final act of faithfulness.

The story in Luke 2 is unique in Scripture.  By the way, we’re not actually told that Simeon is elderly. It’s just this line from Luke: “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26).  Why that makes us think he’s old is anyone’s guess.  (Smiley-face goes here.)

We get the impression that old Simeon must have hung out at church. Oops, the Temple.  Just waiting.  Waiting for the Lord’s promised One.

Suddenly, the Spirit nudged him. “That’s Him, Simeon.  The Baby in the arms of the young couple coming in the door just now.”

Question: How did Simeon know that was the Lord nudging him?  The only answer that makes sense is he was on speaking terms with the Heavenly Father and thus knew the Lord’s voice when he heard it.  We recall Jesus saying, “The sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4).

We wonder what Mary and Joseph thought as the old gentleman approached them and reached out to take the Baby from their arms.

“He took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, ‘Now, Lord, you can let me go on home to glory! I’ve seen your salvation, the light to the Gentiles, the glory of thy people Israel!” (again, my paraphrase)

That’s what he had been living for, and now his life was fulfilled.

What are you living for?  What is there which once it happens you can say, “All right. That’s as good as it gets. I can go now.”

Simeon’s adverse conditions? Age, loneliness perhaps. And we would not be surprised if the temple priests considered him a nuisance. Yet, he persevered.

Well, this is as good a stopping place as any.

I do find myself hoping that my own life and influence will be such for my children and grandchildren (and all who come after them) that they shall see me an example of faith and faithfulness.  The earthly possessions and the little money I leave them after going to glory pale in comparison to my hope to leave them a legacy of love for Jesus Christ and loyalty to His cause. The furnishings will wear out and the money will be used up, but the record of faithfulness will stand forever, and that’s what matters most. 



2 thoughts on “Our favorite seniors in Scripture

  1. Hey, 45 years after the three giants scared Israel out of entering the land, Caleb asks for that particular region for his inheritance…and proceeds to go kick them out. Then he’s generous to his daughter and son-in-law, making a good match for her with a courageous young guy who can take care of her, and giving her more than she asks for (‘upper and lower springs’) to help farm their desert holdings. (I just preached a sermon on Caleb called “unfinished business” to our association’s senior adult camp meeting.)

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