Psalm 71

A Prayer For Old Age

Why are people concerned about their reputations? Why is this concern more pronounced in old age?

In spite of America's youth culture, age has some advantages. Age allows one to look back in time, even over decades, to judge the meaning of life. What is the purpose of my life? Has my life justified my values? What do I regret? What don't I regret?

In ancient culture, age would have asked two other questions. How have I acted honorably? How have I acted shamefully? Honor attracts friends and allies. Shame creates enemies. Of course, life is not that simple. The honorable and the shameful are adversaries. No one, not even the honorable, go throughout life without enemies. The person who has striven to live an honorable life might feel alone in an indifferent environment; he or she might feel surrounded by the shameful.

1 In you, YHWH, I take refuge.
Never let me be disappointed.
2 Deliver me in your righteousness, and rescue me.
Turn your ear to me, and save me.
3 Be to me a rock of refuge to which I may always go.
Give the command to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
4 Rescue me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.
5 For you are my hope, Lord YHWH;
my confidence from my youth.
6 I have relied on you from the womb.
You are he who took me out of my mother's womb.
I will always praise you.
7 I am a marvel to many,
but you are my strong refuge.
8 My mouth shall be filled with your praise,
with your honor all the day.

World English Bible

Psalm 71 is the prayer of an elderly person who has lived an honorable life. As the strength of youth escaped him, the psalmist found his only refuge in a faith relationship with God (71:1-3). This was his strength, his only assurance. Younger people, especially those who sought the position the psalmist possibly had (priest or scribe?), might have employed shameful methods to "climb the ladder" to success. What was the elderly person's recourse? Prayer (71:4-7) despite what evil others might think (71:7a).

9 Don't reject me in my old age.
Don't forsake me when my strength fails.
10 For my enemies talk about me.
Those who watch for my soul conspire together,
11 saying, "God has forsaken him.
Pursue and take him, for no one will rescue him."
12 God, don't be far from me.
My God, hurry to help me.
13 Let my accusers be disappointed and consumed.
Let them be covered with disgrace and scorn who want to harm me.
14 But I will always hope,
and will add to all of your praise.
15 My mouth will tell about your righteousness,
and of your salvation all day,
though I don't know its full measure.
16 I will come with the mighty acts of the Lord YHWH.
I will make mention of your righteousness, even of yours alone.

The elderly man suffered from the modern disease of obsolescence. He was expendable, for he had few friends. Yet, he implored God to rescue him, to maintain his position in the community. He prayed for shame on his enemies and a chance to proclaim the great deeds of God. Such announcements and teaching gave the old psalmist his purpose. (71:9-16)

17 God, you have taught me from my youth.
Until now, I have declared your wondrous works.
18 Yes, even when I am old and gray-haired, God, don't forsake me,
until I have declared your strength to the next generation,
your might to everyone who is to come.
19 Your righteousness also, God, reaches to the heavens;
you have done great things.
God, who is like you?
20 You, who have shown us many and bitter troubles,
you will let me live.
You will bring us up again from the depths of the earth.
21 Increase my honor,
and comfort me again.
22 I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, my God.
I sing praises to you with the lyre, Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips shall shout for joy!
My soul, which you have redeemed, sings praises to you!
24 My tongue will also talk about your righteousness all day long,
for they are disappointed, and they are confounded,
who want to harm me.

The psalm ended with a prayer for revival. Life for the elderly psalmist had only one meaning: the chance to praise God and proclaim his mighty works. This hope gave the elderly man comfort. In the culture of ancient Israel, praise and proclamation of God was honorable. Even at the end of life, such activity gave the psalmist honor and shamed his adversaries. (71:17-24)

Psalm 71 give us a template for aging. Getting older doesn't guarantee we make and keep friends. It doesn't insure reputation. In fact, as we grow older, we might feel life and opportunity has passed us by. But, as long as we have breathe and life and lucidity, we have a chance to give our life purpose. Like the author of Psalm 71, we have a chance to show our love and respect for God. We have a chance to praise our Maker and extol his works, even to our critics.

How have you praised God this week? How have you told others about what God has done for you? How has this praise and proclamation given you hope?