This Week's Focus Passage

Psalm 71:18 - ‘Yea, even when I am old and gray-headed, forsake me not.’

Psalm 71:18 - ‘Yea, even when I am old and gray-headed, forsake me not.’


My mouth shall tell of thy righteousness, and of thy salvation all the day; for I know not the numbers thereof. I will come with the mighty acts of the Lord Jehovah: I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only. O God, thou hast taught me from my youth; and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Yea, even when I am old and gray-headed forsake me not, until I have declared thy strength unto the next generation, thy might to every one that is to come.—Psalm 71:15-18

Would it not be easy, almost natural, in reading this portion of Psalm 71, to have a picture of the ‘old gentleman’ from the life of King David come before our mind’s eye? In fact, this psalm is one of a number that do not begin with an inspired superscription. These superscriptions could well be referred to as advisories, even historical prefaces in some instances. Many of these superscriptions simply advise of us the identity of its human author. With this as a consideration, we might go on to imagine such a superscription as, A psalm of Barzillai the Gileadite. These images are couched in something akin to facetiousness, of course. We amuse ourselves. And we surely would never attempt to amend what God has inspired.

Nonetheless, let us pursue this amusement with the portrayal of our wonderfully faithful ‘old gentleman.’ Remember how that Barzillai was one of just a few that came to David when the king was being pursued by Absalom and the army that he had gathered in order to kill his father and take his crown from off his head, making himself king in the stead of his father. In the course of his desperate flight, David had experienced the fickleness of some of his friends as they turned upon him in favor of Absalom. He learned of the treachery of his former chief counsellor, one Ahithophel; the pretender and liar, Ziba, who sought to lay some claim upon the king by bringing him many supplies; and then one who, in fairness, was far from being a pretender, the Benjamite, Shimei, who cursed David even while the king wept at the perfidy of his ‘darling son.’ But our ever gracious God, and David’s God as well, was quick to provide encouragement to ‘the man after His own heart’ even in the midst of His chastening him who had ‘gone astray like a lost sheep.’—Psalm 119:176. In order to fortify his faith, God sent unto David encouragers—three for three—Shobi for Ahithophel; Machir for Ziba; and Barzillai for Shimei. Our God ever maintains perfect balances. And while Shimei the Benjamite had cursed David and thrown rocks and dust at him, Barzillai the Gileadite blesses the king with beds, basins, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and meal, and parched grain, and beans, and lentils, and parched pulse, and honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of the herd. It appears that he thought thoroughly of every single thing that his king would have need of; can we think of one thing that he may have left out?

After the terrible battle was culminated with a horrific loss of blood to the forces of the belligerent with himself being most ingloriously slain and buried, the king gathered himself together—rather ingloriously slobbering over the death of his would be patricide son—and being led back to his city and his throne. He was being greeted and congratulated by many who happily awaited to escort their king across the Jordan and back to Jerusalem. It is only then that we once again have the pleasure of the company of Barzillai, as recorded in 2 Samuel 19:31-37:

And Barzillai the Gileadite came down from Rogelim; and he went over the Jordan with the king, to conduct him over the Jordan. Now Barzillai was a very aged man, even fourscore years old: and he had provided the king with sustenance while he lay at Mahanaim; for he was a very great man. And the king said to Barzillai, Come thou over with me, and I will sustain thee with me in Jerusalem. And Barzillai said unto the king, How many are the days of the years of my life, that I should go up with the king unto Jerusalem? Should thy servant be yet a burden unto my lord the king? Why should the king recompense it me with such a reward? Let thy servant, I pray thee, turn back again, that I may die in mine own city, by the grave of my father and my mother.

It is not straining with words whatever to infer from the language of the old gentleman a fine depth of humility and grace that has surely developed under the hand of God over the period of his span of eighty years. In his last conversation with David, he is amicably demonstrating by his language and his behavior that his Lord has granted that which was requested by the writer of Psalm 71, when he asked that even when he was old that his God would not leave him until he had opportunity to be that salt and light promised; until I had declared thy strength

unto the next generation; Thy might to every one that is to come. Is this not the desire of every true child of God; that when we are old, we will yet be used by God the Holy Spirit to be a testimony to many of our ‘kinsmen according to the flesh,’ to our neighbors perhaps? Getting around when we are not able to get around so well? That this song based on Isaiah 46 might be made true of each of God’s people.

E’en down to old age all my people shall prove

My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;

And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,

Like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church

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