Israel is coming to the end of his life, and he calls his sons together to lay a bit of prophetic pronouncement on them. Much of what he says is either rooted in judgment from previous wrongdoing or prediction of things to come. We might note an obvious messianic prophecy in 49.10: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be”. I am perhaps most interested in the tiny prayer with which Israel interrupts himself in 49.18: “I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD”. All of his life, Israel has believed the word of the LORD. He has met with Him on at least three occasions, and has benefited mightily from His grace, provision, and protection. He has experienced love, prosperity, beauty, triumph, tragedy, and honor. Throughout all of his life, he has waited patiently for the LORD in all things. Even when he didn’t actually know that he was waiting, he was waiting. He had believed, for example, for years that Joseph had been killed; now, at the end of his life, he recognized that he had just been waiting for God to reveal His protection of Joseph. At the end, Israel sees that God’s mighty hand is continuous: the LORD has His hand on his sons the same way He did himself and his own ancestors. His final words to his sons is a model of the faith that we all are to have: I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD.
Perhaps most striking, however, is the entire scene. This is an old man, surrounded by his progeny, who have such respect for him that they listen intently to him and record his words. What a stark contrast with our own culture, who are youth-obsessed. We are consumed with a desire to get younger, look younger, and make our churches younger. As we age, we sense a desperation that we are losing our relevance in our culture, and so we respond by trying to act or look young. When we are finally too old to be of relevance, we are shipped off to a place where none have to look at us. The youth-obsession would have short-circuited the ancient Hebrew. Living long enough to be old was considered a blessing from the Almighty, and such a person was to be respected and even revered. Note how Israel’s sons gather around him, listening intently and paying such attention to what he had to say that someone actually recorded it. We are told in ecclesiology circles that we must make our churches younger; that we must ardently chase after young people. But I would submit to you that making your church younger has rarely made it better; don’t overlook those whom God has blessed with longevity. Those are the folks who have been following His word for years, and have worked through many of the same questions you have and are even more committed to waiting on the Lord’s salvation than they ever were.
I am not insulted when someone tells me that I’m looking older. I am a young man, but I am light-years older than I was just a few years ago. The fact that I’m still alive is a blessing from God, and I do hope to be a really old guy one day. I look forward to age. It is a good thing and a blessing, not a curse to be dreaded. Today, I am going to find the opportunity to love someone old. Whether that opportunity is simply a brief act of kindness or a chance for an extended visit, I want to demonstrate this biblical respect for the old that is modeled by Israel’s sons. I want to stand against our backwards view of what is important in our own culture, and display respect and reverence for those whom God has blessed with long life. After all, only when you’re old can you truly say “I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD.”