Calvary Road Baptist Church

“AN OLD BELIEVER’S PRAYER POEM”

Psalm 71.17-18 

My text is the 71st Psalm, an anonymous psalm, though likely written by King David in his old age. Because today is Grandparents Day, and because you who are young hope to live long enough to be someday old, I thought this portion of God’s Word most fitting for the young and the old. I am indebted to the great Puritan Matthew Henry for his insights into this psalm, as well as Charles Spurgeon’s Treasury of David, both of whom I draw from.

Several remarks in this psalm make many readers think that it was penned at the time of Absalom’s rebellion; for that was the great trouble of David’s later days. It might also have been occasioned by Sheba’s insurrection, or some trouble that happened to him in that part of his life of which it was foretold by the prophet Nathan that the sword should not depart from his house. Whatever the immediate circumstance David then faced, he doesn’t provide much detail for his readers. It may be intentional, so his psalm would be more useful in a wider variety of people’s circumstances, especially those issues we face in our so-called “golden” years. This particular psalm, perhaps more than any other, is designed for senior saints.

The psalm begins with believing prayers. The psalmist prays that God would deliver him and save him (Psalm 71.2, 4), and not cast him off (Psalm 71.9) or be far from him (Psalm 71.12), and that his enemies might be put to shame (Psalm 71.13). He proclaims his confidence in God (Psalm 71.1, 3, 5, 7), the experiences he had enjoyed of help from God (Psalm 71.6), and the opposition of his enemies against him (Psalm 71.10-11). The psalmist either had a very good memory or he was conscientious to keep a diary of experiences, blessings, and deliverances from God. That is something each of us ought to consider doing. He concludes the psalm with believing praises, Psalm 71.14 and following: 

“But I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more.” 

This ought to be the determination of every believer. Never was his hope more established (Psalm 71.16, 18, 20-21). Never were his joys and thanksgivings more enlarged (Psalm 71.15,19, 22-24). He is in an ecstasy of joyful praise; and, in the singing of it, we too should have our faith in God encouraged and our hearts raised to bless His holy name.

Though this would be a great psalm to preach on or to bring a series of messages from, this morning’s message has only two verses as the text, Psalm 71.17-18. If you have located Psalm 71.17-18, I invite you to stand for the reading of God’s Word: 

17 O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works.

18 Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come. 

Young people, I would like to suggest a frame of mind for you to adopt for the next few minutes that will separate you from the pack, that will serve you well over the years, and that will provide a platform from which you can look back over your life from the vantage point of old age with gratitude and appreciation toward God. Sadly, most who are young listen to no one, end up making incredibly foolish mistakes and committing horrible sins, and become so ossified in old age that they are incapable of learning wisdom from God.

These two verses in this poetic prayer to God make obvious reference to three phases in the psalmist’s life, with obvious application to the three phases of any aged person’s life, and the three phases you who are young would do well to anticipate God giving you, if He does not cut your life short because you dishonor your parents, Ephesians 6.2-3: 

First, WE ARE SHOWN THE AGED BELIEVER’S PAST 

Verse 17 reads,

“O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works.” 

The three portions of this verse are easily divided into God being addressed in prayer by the psalmist, God’s past activity in the psalmist’s life, and the psalmist’s summary of his life’s activity from his youth to this present hour:

First, notice how the aged believer speaks to his God: 

“O God.” 

In a psalm that is found to use a number of different words in reference to the God of Israel, from the covenant name of God, Jehovah, the word found in Exodus 3.14 that contemporary Jewish people avoid pronouncing, to the name they substitute for Jehovah, which is Adonai, to the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, we find that here and for the next two verses the word Elohim is the Hebrew word of choice. Perhaps the psalmist is not here referring to any activity of God related to His covenant with the Jewish people, so he does not here use the word Jehovah. Perhaps the psalmist is here referring to God’s interactions with all those who are His, and not just the Jewish people descended from Abraham. That would make this psalm all the more applicable to each of us.

Next, notice the prayerful acknowledgment of God’s instruction in this aged believer’s life from his youth. This is an expression of gratitude, my friends: 

“O God, thou hast taught me from my youth.” 

What did God teach David from his youth? James Harrington Evans answers, 

If you ask me what were the ways by which David was taught, I might ask you what they were not... God taught him by his shepherd’s crook; and by the rod and sceptre of a king he taught him. He taught him by the shouts of the multitude -- “Saul hath slain his thousands and David his ten thousands;” and he taught him just as much, if not more, by the contempt he met in the court of the Philistines. He taught him by the arrows of Jonathan, levelled in friendship; and he taught him by the javelin of Saul levelled at his life. He taught him by the faithlessness of Abiathar, and the faithlessness of even his faithful Joab; and he taught him by the faithfulness of Abishai, and the faithfulness of Mephibosheth; and, let me add too, by the rebellion of Absalom, and the selfishness of Adonijah; they were all means, by which the Lord taught this his servant. And be assured, you that are under his teaching, there is nothing in your lives, but he can teach you by it: by comforts and crosses, by your wounds and your healings, by that which he gives and by what he takes away. He unteaches his child, that he may teach him; shows him his folly, that he may make him wise; strips him of his vain confidence, that he may give him strength; makes him know that he is nothing, that he may show him that he has all in the Lord -- in Jesus his Beloved one.[1] 

In other words, James Harrington Evans points out that God made use of all the experiences of David’s life to teach him. I would only add to what Evans suggests the Word of God. Granted, only the books of Moses (the Pentateuch), and perhaps the books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth were available to Samuel and the school of the prophets in David’s youth. By whatever means God chooses to use in the life of a young believer, be it His Providence or be it His Word in the hands of preachers and teachers, God wastes no time for His children, but brings them along in His school of life, those who by means of faith have the ears to hear, the eyes to see, and the heart to learn.

Notice, at the end of verse 17, the psalmist’s summary of his life from his youth to the present: 

“O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works.” 

May I suggest a vital link between learning from God from your youth to your advanced age? May I suggest an insight to those who know Christ from their childhood and who continue to learn throughout their long lives, all along the way being faithful to declare to others the works of God? It hinges, in my opinion, on the maintenance of one’s attitude over the course of your life, from your youth to your old age. Notice that the psalmist describes what he has spent his life talking about and teaching to others as God’s “woundrous works.” Thus, he refused to take God’s works on his behalf as routine, as ordinary, as commonplace, as unworthy of mention, as not rising to the level of being praiseworthy. This reveals to us that David, from his youth and throughout his adulthood into his old age, cultivated his appreciation of God and His doings. Psalm 139.14 is one of many possible examples illustrating this attitude we should cultivate toward God and His doings: 

“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” 

Would you kids like to learn how not to grow up to be a nasty old man or a bitter old lady? It is quite simple. To avoid spending your old age incessantly griping about your aches and pains and crabbing about everything else, and to instead spend your time rejoicing and glorying in God’s goodness and provision, you need to cultivate an appreciation for and the habit to testify about God’s “wondrous works.” This is precisely what David did. This is precisely what you can do and should do. 

Next, WE ARE SHOWN THE AGED BELIEVER’S PRESENT 

Verse 18 begins,

“Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not.” 

This is the second time David brings up this concern in the 71st Psalm. Notice what he wrote back in verse 9: 

“Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.” 

Why would David be so concerned about God casting him off in old age, forsaking him when his strength failed (verse 9), and not being forsaken when he is old and grayheaded (verse 18)?

Let me address old David’s concern by pointing out several undeniable realities that we tend to lose sight of 3,000 years later: First, it is undeniable that David had committed some truly terrible sins, the two most notable among them being his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, Uriah.[2] Let the wickedness of those two deeds never be understated. Wrong, wrong, wrong. David was so very wrong. Who better, then, to write Psalm 32.1? 

“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” 

Second, it should again be noted what portion of God’s Word had been provided for those living in David’s day. The Pentateuch of Genesis through Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and whatever portions of the Psalms David had by then written and accumulated from others.[3] That is all God had by then given to His people, as He unfolded His progressive revelation of divine truth in Scripture. I am so thankful we now have the completed revelation of God’s Word, the Bible. Third, the point to be made is that the doctrines that would comfort David had not yet been revealed to God’s people. I should remind you that although Genesis 15.6 reveals to us that Abram “believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness,” I defy you to point out any portion of God’s Word that proves Abraham knew his faith was counted for righteousness. In other words, he was likely justified in the sight of God without knowing he was justified in the sight of God. For some comforts, the Old Testament saints had to wait. Fourth, consider, to illustrate, that David did not possess what believers for the last 2,000 years have embraced, from Hebrews 8.12 and 10.17, where we are comforted by the declarations, 

“their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” 

In the psalmist’s day matters of sin and atonement had to be revisited on an annual basis. We, however, are given clean and clear consciences because of the once for all time saving and cleansing work of Christ on the cross, First Peter 3.15-16, 21-22: 

15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

16 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. 

21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

22 Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. 

Let us also not forget First John 1.7: 

“the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” 

Thus, for a variety of understandable reasons, David might not have had the comfort and assurance of a clear conscience, despite God’s forgiveness of his sins. This would provoke him to some uncertainty about God’s faithfulness to him in his old age, an uncertainty that Christians of our era, for the last 2,000 years, in fact, ought to be delivered from. Therefore, he prays. What we have in the New Testament are a whole host of promises, just two of which I want to read to you. Philippians 1.6: 

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” 

Next, there is Second Peter 1.4: 

“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” 

Third, THERE IS THE AGED BELIEVER’S PLAN 

Verse 18 ends,

“until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.” 

Notice the two facets of the aged believer’s plan for the future expressed in his prayer to God, however short-lived his future may be:

First, he reveals in his prayer his plan to show God’s strength to this generation. Two things to take note of here: First, there is this word translated “strength,” from a Hebrew word that means arm or shoulder, and figuratively refers to strength. Notice the irony. Here is a fellow who is physically weaker than he has ever been in his memory, at least since his childhood. So, what is his plan? To be a living testimony of God’s strength from his platform of physical infirmity. His representation of the strength of his God will not be a reflection of his infirmity. As Solomon wrote in his old age, 

“In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,”[4] 

he will show that his God remains strong. But that is not all. Notice precisely what the psalmist has written: 

“until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation.” 

The word “this” is in italics, meaning it is not in the Hebrew verse. This is because of the subtle emphasis on the Hebrew word translated “generation.” It refers to the next generation or the future generation. Brown-Driver-Briggs write about this word, “esp. of a future generation.”[5] Do you see that? The plan of this old believer is to reach the young, to tell them of God’s strength even when the old one is weak and infirm himself. That should also be our plan in old age.

Next, he reveals in his prayer his plan to show God’s power to everyone: 

and thy power to every one that is to come.” 

Again, two things to take note of here, as well: First, we take a look at this word translated “power.” It translates the much-used Hebrew word for “might,” and is frequently found as mastery, might, and strength. Again, the irony of some old believer growing weaker and frailer with each passing day and week, yet that person is still committed to proclaiming to others the power of God. I love it. As well, the psalmist wants to show God’s power to those of future generations. Spurgeon writes of this phrase, 

“He would leave a record for unborn ages to read. He thought the Lord’s power to be so worthy of praise, that he would make the ages ring with it till time should be no more.”[6] 

This is legacy, my friend. It is providing for Gospel business to be taken care of even after you are gone. 

When I became your pastor half a lifetime ago, I was among the younger of this Church’s members. I am now among the oldest of this Church’s members and do not know how much longer God will give me the opportunity to sing His praises and testify of His greatness. I do know, however, that this message from God’s Word has been far more encouraging to me in my advanced years than it could be to you who are yet young.

During the almost three-and-one-half decades of ministry here, and even while I was preparing this message, I have been overwhelmed by the task to which I have been called. The pain, the heartaches, the tragedies, the disappointments, the frustrations, the agonies of the soul, the confusion of circumstances, the sense of loss from betrayals, the injustice of false accusations, the blame shifting of the reprobate, and the sense of utter helplessness after praying and preaching and prodding to see the claims of Christ utterly ignored. All of that hurts. But that is only part of it. The glories of the Christian life, of knowing God and being known by God, of trusting Christ and being joined to Him for all eternity, the delight and joy of being indwelt by the Spirit of God and of being taught by Him, led by Him, comforted by Him, so that God’s Word can be read, studied, meditated upon, consulted, relied upon, used as an anchor and a guide, and as my plan for living my life, are unsurpassed. Praise be to God.

The Christian’s life is so very simple. Matters are so very clear, for the most part. Right is right. Wrong is wrong. The young are provided with direction through the storms. And the storms will come. They are designed to blow you off course, to distract your gaze, to weaken your resolve, to coerce you into discouragement and defeat. But God is true! What the psalmist said about the experiences of the aged when they were young is true. I am at a place in my life, young people, where I can tell you that my experiences prove the Bible to be true. God did teach me when I was young, even when I was unaware of His instruction. And I have had the privilege of declaring His wondrous works.

Now I am at a place in life where the psalmist was when he wrote our text. O, how grateful I am that I live now and not then, that I have the completed revelation of God’s Word, the Bible, so I do not have to worry about God forsaking me because my strength is flagging or because of some sin that I have been guilty of committing. I am so thankful that my sins and iniquities God will remember no more. How thrilling it is to read in First John 1.7 that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses away all my sins.

Finally, I know what God’s desire for what future is left for me this side of eternity happens to be, and it is not to drive off in a camper to spend the kid’s inheritance. It is not to end life selfishly and idly driving around, or sipping on iced tea in a recliner in front the television set every night. It is to keep doing what I have been doing for the last forty plus years. Specifically, to be sure, we are responsible for raising and seeing established our children. However, once that is done, we are to husband our resources so we can, with the time and energy and funds we have left, busy ourselves showing God’s strength to this generation and showing His power to the generations that come after this one.

Will there come a time when I am unable to go out and about? Yes, that time will come. Will there come a time when my abilities diminish to the point that limits my opportunities to meet and influence the lost? Yes, that too will occur in time. However, when that time comes, I can still pray. When that time comes, I can still encourage others. When that time comes, I can still give. Why is this important? It is important because those of us who know Christ have a higher calling than those who merely live unto themselves. What a pathetic waste it is to live only to live, to exist only to exist, to breathe only to breathe, to eat only to eat.

For those who bear the image of God, there is a calling that is so much higher, nobler, fulfilling, and with consequences that are eternal. And that is the life of faith in Christ and service to God, beginning when you are young, continuing throughout your life, and ending only when you pass from this life to the next.

If you are a grandparent but not a Christian, I feel so very sorry for you. You have no legitimate purpose for life. Please consider the claims of Christ before it is too late. If you are young but not a Christian, seize upon the opportunity afforded you to consider the claims of Christ. I promise you will never regret being one of the Savior’s followers.

David could only pray as he prayed because he was a believer. Are you a believer? Would you consider becoming a believer in Jesus Christ? If so, after our service concludes, perhaps we should discuss the matter of you coming to Christ.

__________

[1] Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury Of David, Volume II, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers), pages 220-221.

[2] 2 Samuel 11.1-12.18;

[3] Psalms 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 73, 74, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83

[4] Ecclesiastes 12.3

[5] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver & Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew And English Lexicon, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), page 190.

[6] Spurgeon, page 212.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org