You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear your God: I am the LORD.
The institutions of Sparta have everywhere been praised for the encouragement which they gave to the duty of showing respect for the aged, but the language of the Jewish lawgiver is much more emphatic: "Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man." Beautiful examples are recorded in the Bible, as patterns for our imitation, in this important particular of filial reverence and obedience. The behaviour of Isaac towards Abraham, and that of Jacob to both father and mother; Joseph's deference to his aged father, even when he himself was surrounded by the splendours of the Egyptian Court; Ruth with her mother-in-law; Solomon in the grandeur of royalty, paying respect to his mother; and, more than all, our blessed Saviour's tender care for His mother in the hour of His dying agonies — all afford suggestive lessons to us. It is, however, not merely concerning reverence to parents that the text would lead us to speak. The very appearance of age is calculated to soften our hearts and to call forth our respect. No snow falls lighter than that which sprinkles the head in advancing years; and yet none is really heavier, because it never melts. Vale and mountain-top are covered alike with the white flakes which winter scatters broadcast and with unstinted hand, but the cheerful sun will soon cause them to disappear. There is no returning spring whose genial warmth can penetrate the eternal frost of age. The decrepitude of age can claim neither enterprise nor courage. "He is afraid of that which is high, and fears are in the way," and with the load of infirmities which press him down, the additional weight of a "grasshopper" would be burdensome. "Desire has failed," and ambition can no longer tempt him to put forth ventures and submit to toil. Only one wish remains to be fulfilled — to depart from this weary life. With this vivid picture before him, who can help feeling a sympathy for the old? It must be confessed that the present generation are sadly unmindful of the lesson taught us in the Catechism, "To submit myself to all my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors, and masters; to order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters." "Betters," indeed! Verily, the young people of this age have no "betters"! Some years ago Governor Everett, of Massachusetts, was riding out of Boston in a sleigh, with another gentleman of high social position, when they approached a school-house, from which a score of noisy boys rushed forth to enjoy their afternoon's recess. The governor said to his friend, "Let us observe whether these lads show the marks of politeness to us which we were taught to practise fifty years ago." At the same time he expressed his fears that the habits of civility were not much thought of in later times. As the sleigh passed the school-house all doubt on the subject was instantly dispelled, for the rude lads did their best at pelting the dignitaries with snowballs as they drove rapidly along the way. Every right-minded person must acknowledge that such conduct was outrageous and inexcusable. We ought, however, to go behind this astonishing act of boorish rudeness, and remember what long-continued neglect of proper instruction and training, on the part of parents and teachers, had suffered such a shocking state of manners to grow up in a civilised land. There never was anything quite equal to the presumption of the young or the meekness and acquiescence of the old in this matter. A shrewd observer remarked, not long ago, to a friend, "If, as you are going down town, you should approach a dozen boys playing on the sidewalk, so that no room was left for you to pass, which would you do? would you say, 'Boys, you must not block up the walk in this way!' or would you get down into the muddy street and go round?" The prompt answer was, "Go round, of course!" This reply shows the shameful pass to which things have come. Men of mature years must abdicate all rights, and truckle under with cowardly submission, lest they provoke the ill-will of boys! Parents and teachers! it is your bounden duty to correct this evil, cost what it may. The "Church Catechism" must again be made what it was in past generations when the young showed respect to their "betters," a text-book in our families and schools. I trust that the young persons who bear me will not only be convinced by what has just been said of the imperative duty of honouring their parents, but that the kindred obligation of showing respect to old age will be much more thought of and observed. If your lives are spared, it will not be many years before you will be old yourselves, and you will need the sympathy and consideration which I am now recommending you to practise. The rules of ordinary politeness would require you to attend to this matter, but the duty rests on much higher ground. It is God Himself who gives the command, "Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man."
(J. N. Norton, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.