Live in Respect

Explore the Bible Series

January 15, 2006



Lesson Passage: Leviticus 19:32; II Samuel 19:31-39; I Timothy 5:1-2


Introduction: The confirmation hearings for Judge Samuel Alito began yesterday, and Senate panel members gave their opening statements.  Of course, the senators used this forum for their typical political posturing, but some of the statements proved pleasantly surprising.  People from both parties expressed concern for the Court’s protection of the rights of the poor, helpless, and disenfranchised.  Careful attention to political speeches produces a certain amount of cynicism about our government officials; nevertheless, the rhetoric may reflect at least some genuine concern for those who cannot protect themselves. One could rightly argue that the federal government exists, in part, to shelter poor, alienated citizens from the exploitation of the privileged and powerful.


Some years ago I completed a careful study for the Old Testament Prophets, and several important issues arrested my attention.  Among these writings, I found a near-universal concern for the poor and helpless.  This study convinced me that the measure of the righteousness and justice of a society rests in its treatment of disenfranchised people. This emphasis, of course, is found in other portions of the Bible, and among God’s directives for his people, we find a number of references to the proper esteem and treatment of the elderly.


The “Cult of Youth” permeates our society.  As Baby Boomers age, they (we) obsess over physical appearance and the preservation of youthfulness.  Significant changes, it seems, have occurred in the treatment of the aged.  Older people often get shuffled to the periphery of the society, and great emphasis is placed on the young.  Madison Avenue “created” the concept of “teenagers” in the aftermath of World War II, and advertisers aimed more and more of their appeal to young people.  Economic motives fueled a shift to this “new” demographic group.  In the process, our society devalued the elderly. 


I could marshal a great deal of anecdotal information to buttress my claims, but the societal evidence seems overwhelmingly convincing.  Civility and courtesy toward our elders seemingly has little place in our culture.  We see this trend in the general neglect and discourtesy to elderly people, and the pattern is reflected in the disregard for positions of respect and authority. Reflect, for instance, on the general decline in regard for parents, teachers, school officials, ministers, law enforcement officers, and government leaders.  In time, these patterns erode the very foundations of a society, and they do so because the trends generally reflect a low regard for the Lord.


Thankfully, these dismal circumstances may be reversed.  This reversal will take place only where the directives of the word of God are heeded.  This lesson focuses on a few passages that must capture the attention and shape the conduct of the Lord’s people. 


I.                    Leviticus 19:32

A.    The context of this passage

1.      The Book of Leviticus focused attention on three major themes: the Mosaic sacrificial system (Chapters 1-7), the laws governing the Aaronic priesthood (Chapters 8-10), and laws pertaining to ceremonial cleanness and covenant holiness (Chapters 11-27). Conservative Bible scholars date the book during the Exodus experience of ancient Israel, and the authorship is traditionally assigned to Moses.

2.      Leviticus Nineteen provides a general description of Israel’s societal responsibilities. The chapter deals with issues like gleaning laws, sexual purity, justice in the court system, dietary laws, the proper treatment of sojourners, and, of course, the respect given to the elderly.

B.     Three directives concerning the treatment of the elderly

1.      “You shall stand up before the gray head”: Standing denoted a posture of respect.  Older people will remember a time when young people stood in the presence of the elderly, women, and people in authority like judges and teachers.

2.      “…and honor the face of an old man”: This command may refer to proper speech directed toward senor citizens. Younger people should address their elders with respect.  Words reflect the content  and disposition of the heart.  Please forgive the imposition of a personal note at this point.  The familiarity with which young people speak to their elders, in this day, deeply distresses me.  Commonly, children and teenagers address adults by first names.  The cultural assumption centers on this familiarity, and this trend, in my judgment, has a corrosive effect on the society.

3.      “…and you shall fear God: I am the Lord.”:  The text indicates that an important connection exists between respect for the aged and regard for the Lordship of Jehovah.  



II.                 II Samuel 19:31-39

A.    The context of this passage: The event recorded in these verses occurred late in the reign of King David.  The Rebellion of Absalom had come to an end, and David found himself, during this time of grief, with some consolation from men like Shimai (this is an amazing turn of events),  Mephibosheth, and Barzillai.  This last man, Barzillai, met the king near the Jordan River shortly before the monarch crossed back into the land of Judah. This story demonstrates David’s warm regard for an elderly man.

B.     Barzillai’s kindness to David: During the King’s journey this wealthy, aged man provided David, and perhaps the royal entourage, with food (See v. 31-32). 

C.    David’s appreciative offer to the aged Barzillai: David offered to take Barzillai back to Jerusalem and provide the old man with comfort and honor (See v. 33).

D.    Barzillai’s gracious refusal to accept the king’s offer: This wonderful old man described well the ravages of age on the body (See vv. 34-35).  Because of advanced years, Barzillai chose to stay in Gilead where he could die and be buried with his fathers.


III.               I Timothy 5:1-2

A.    The context of this passage: Conservative Bible scholars date I Timothy during the early ‘60s, and Paul wrote this book to instruct his younger protégé about ministerial conduct during Timothy’s work in Ephesus. The older, more experienced apostle knew the importance of pastoral interpersonal relationships, and Paul, as he neared the end of this letter, directed his young friend in building strong bonds of fellowship.

B.     Four groups of people in the church

1.      Older men: Paul forbade Timothy from rebuking older men.  Treat them, instead, like a father.

2.      Younger men: Regard them as brothers.

3.      Older women: Treat them like mothers.

4.      Younger women: Treat them like sisters, in all purity.  The last phrase probably refers to the purity of all relationships, but the admonition had special application to Timothy’s relationships with women.