The Book of Psalms

Wednesday: A Psalm for Old Age


Theme: A Good Gift
In this week’s lessons we are reminded that God has demonstrated his faithfulness in the past, and can be counted on in the future.
Scripture: Psalm 71:1-24
This leads us to the second important element of this psalm. For the reflections David gives us concerning old age are not so we will wring our hands and complain about how bad it is to grow old, but the contrary. David wants us to see that even old age is given to us by God, and therefore is one of his good gifts that should be used for his glory and the blessing and well-being of others. He gets into these points first by pausing to look back over his long life and reflect on what he has learned about God and experienced about him during those former long years. We have spoken about the problems of old age, which are great. But one great advantage is in having a long memory of God’s presence, faithfulness and blessing. There are two things to notice about what David says concerning the past.

David had known God from his youth and even before that.He says, “You have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb” (vv. 5, 6). What this seems to mean is that he remembers how he had come to know God and had trusted God from childhood. We would say that such a person became a “Christian” early in life. But he is also saying that he is aware that God was with him even before childhood, from the moment of his birth, though he cannot remember the years before his early childhood personally. We know that this was true of David. He was a man of God even before he was a man. He was godly even when he was watching the sheep as the youngest and least of Jesse’s eight sons (see 1 Sam. 16:1-13).

Have you known the Lord from childhood? Not everyone has, but if you have, you are blessed because you can look back over a lifetime of God’s faithful care and provision. Spurgeon wrote, “They are highly favored who can like David, Samuel, Josiah, Timothy, and others say, ‘Thou art my trust from my youth.’”1
I like the testimony of Polycarp, the aged Bishop of Smyrna, who was martyred on February 22, 156 A.D. As he was being driven to the arena where he would be given the choice of worshiping Caesar or, refusing, being offered to the lions, the city officials tried to persuade him to make the gesture of homage to Caesar. They had respect for him because of his age and reputation, and argued, “What harm is there in saying, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ and burning incense… and saving yourself?” But Polycarp answered, “For eighty-six years I have been Christ’s slave, and he has done me no wrong; how can I blaspheme my king who saved me?”2 Despite his age and undoubted physical weakness, Polycarp was not weak. He was strong in faith. In fact, he was never stronger, because he remembered the strength and faithfulness of God to him throughout the many long years of his service as Christ’s slave. So it will be with you if, in your old age, you recall God’s love and faithfulness to you over your lifetime.

David has become “a portent” to many. The word “portent” (v. 7) is hard to define, because it can be taken either in a good or bad sense. In a good sense it would refer to the writer as a marvel of God’s protecting care. People would say, “Look how God has protected and blessed David.” In a bad sense it would refer to the greatness of his sufferings and the magnitude of his calamities. In that case, people would say, “Has anybody ever suffered as much as David?” Since the word occurs here in the context of remembering God’s faithfulness to him in the past, the bad sense should probably be thrown out. But it is possible both might be combined in the sense suggested by J.J. Stewart Perowne, when he says it is best “to understand it as applying to his whole wonderful life of trials and blessings, of perils and deliverances, such as did not ordinarily fall to the lot of man.”3 David was certainly a portent in this sense, which is why the record of his life is given to us so completely in the Bible.

1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2a, Psalms 58-87, p. 208.
2″The Martyrdom of Holy Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna” in The Apostolic Fathers: An American Translation, trans. Edgar J. Goodspeed (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1950), pp. 250, 251.
3J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 volumes in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), p. 559. Original edition 1878, 1879.
Study Questions:

What two points does David make concerning the past?
What’s the advantage of knowing God at an early age?
Where did Polycarp’s courage come from? How can you ensure that too?
Why is the record of David’s life given to us so completely in the Bible?
Read 1 Samuel 16:1-13. How did David show he was a man of God, even when he was still a child?

Reflection: How has God been with you and met your needs in the past? How is it proof that he will continue to care for you? Looking back on your life, list ways God has met your needs.

Study Questions
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