For most of mankind’s history, people everywhere have had a clear view of what it means to grow old and die. Even the multitudes who have worshiped false gods have focused on death and the afterlife. Part of the foolishness of modern man is his eager desire to hide his destiny from himself. Consider some happenings that point out how willing people are to forget about aging and dying.
- The elderly are quickly abandoned to nursing homes by their children, grandchildren and other relatives. I’m not speaking about people that truly want the best personal care for their loved one. I’m referring to those that simply are too preoccupied with pleasure to care for their family.
- The increasing refusal to attend funerals and memorial services. Again, I’ve seen people make incredible efforts to be there for their family and friends. But many do not care to make the effort to be there to honor others. People like to pretend that death is not real. They deliberately avoid such events.
- The general lack of respect for those who are aged. Contrast Prov 16:31: Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness (NIV). People tend to disrespect those over age fifty, pushing them out of their jobs. Our culture does not value those with long life experience, blissfully unaware that soon they will be older. People do not like to listen to the wisdom and stories of the aged.
The Bible is God’s word to us about all we need for life and godliness. Therefore, it includes chapters like the one before us to confront us with the fact of aging and dying. In the midst of these solemn truths, it also speaks of hope. Fantasies and delusions provide no hope, but the truth does!
Joseph fulfilled his responsibility to show affection for his father (48:1-2). Four hundred years before the law was given, he honored his father (cf. Exodus 20:12). Joseph visited his father during his final affliction. Though heavily involved in the task of governing a country in crisis, he did not excuse himself from his filial duty. Two years ago, my mother died, and my brother and I and our wives stepped in to help my dad in his loss. Although I was in a difficult situation myself, it was time to be with dad.
Joseph took his two sons along with him. They, too, had a duty to visit their grandfather, who dearly loved them. There is also the hope that such visits will do the young good also. “It is good to acquaint young people that are coming into the world with the aged servants of God that are going out of it, whose dying testimony to the goodness of God, and the pleasantness of wisdom’s ways, may be a great encouragement to the rising generation” (Henry, Commentary on the Bible). In the name of sparing children from grief, many parents have also spared them from wisdom. It is useless to bemoan the sins of the next generation when we keep them from God’s teachers. Children need to visit their seriously ill relatives. They need to attend funerals and memorial services, so that they can see the reality of death, and hear the good news of the gospel of Christ in the face of death.
Jacob did what he could to make the visit profitable (48:3-7). Here is an example of his wisdom and humility. Instead of wasting the time with complaints about his afflictions, Jacob rallied his strength. The precious moments of life remaining to him could not be wasted! He reviewed God’s goodness to him to give hope to his son and grandsons. Here is also an example of self-control. In our fallen state, the soul has limited control over the body, but we are able to do a little when necessary. We should use our time of health wisely, when the soul is able to exercise greater control. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8). Jacob told them the promise that the Lord gave him and his family. Let our conversations speak of the confident expectation of the righteous. Don’t waste your words.
Grace and peace, David