A minister friend of mine once said that parents don’t really get their report cards until they see their grandchildren thriving in the Lord. This means that our goal as parents should not only be to see our own children standing with us inflicting damage on the kingdom of darkness, but also see our grandchildren standing with us and peace upon Israel (cf. Ps. 128:6).
“Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us…” (Ps. 78:1-8)
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
This Psalm of Asaph is a ballad about the sordid history of Israel, God’s faithfulness, and the duty of grandparents to ensure that their grandchildren sing the praises of the Lord (Ps. 78:4). Like the father and mother in Proverbs, there is an appeal to listen to the grandparents (Ps. 78:1). And what they say is a parable, a dark saying or riddle of old (Ps. 78:2). Parables are stories that make one wise, and it’s no accident that the Hebrew word is associated with the rule of kings (cf. 1 Kgs. 3). Older folks naturally tell stories, and this is their duty – it is a great sin to “hide” the wonderful works of the Lord from your grandchildren because that results in less praise to the Lord (Ps. 78:4). This all goes back to God’s own self-revelation and testimony that He intended for parents and grandparents to pass down to children and grandchildren (Ps. 78:5-6). Done rightly, it teaches each generation to set their hope in God and not forget Him, like so many previous generations (Ps. 78:7-8).
THE HEARTS OF GRANDPARENTS
It is the temptation of the young to reject the wisdom of the old, and it is the temptation of the old to grow bitter and resentful. The longer your life the more hard things you carry, and the temptation is to either let them weigh you down or else try to escape. In one direction, you may give into anxiety or anger; in the other direction, you may try to bury your fears and frustrations in empty retirement pursuits (e.g. golf, entertainment, travel). In either direction, you fail to tell your children and grandchildren the wonderful works of God (Ps. 78:4). While longer life brings temptations, by the same token, the longer your life the more good things you carry, and that should translate into joy, gratitude, patience, and wisdom. The gospel teaches the older generation to do this regardless of how it seems to be received.
RETIREMENT & INHERITANCE
Since we were all made for fruitful work and industry, our general goal should be to work hard until we can’t. This hard work can and will take different forms over the decades, but the modern American expectation of retirement at 65 and spending your life savings on RVs and cruises is a great evil. “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just” (Prov. 13:22). This inheritance should ordinarily include financial and material provision: “Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children” (2 Cor. 12:14). But this inheritance should also include the wisdom you’ve learned, telling the wonderful works of God (Eccl. 7:11).
We live in a land that has rejected the inheritance of our grandfathers, and we have done this perhaps most insidiously in how we have sent them away to nursing homes and allowed the government to fund and oversee their care. The COVID insanity was perhaps one great wakeup call that this system is completely bankrupt. We have done a civil version of what the Jews had done in the first century, counting money paid into the system as some kind of subsititute for actually caring for our parents and grandparents in old age (Mk. 7:6-13). While there are sometimes health needs that require medical assistance, it should be far more normal for our grandparents to end their days surrounded by their people before being gathered to their people (cf. Gen. 25:8). Part of the reason for this is what they have to say (e.g. Gen. 49:2-33).
THE GLORY OF OLD MEN
“Children’s children are the crown of old men; and the glory of children are their fathers” (Prov. 17:6). “The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head” (Prov. 20:29). “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:32). All of this teaches us that there is great glory in pursuing life together over generations. Sometimes because of sin or tragedy, this must be started over, and so that should be embraced in faith (e.g. Abraham, Gen. 23:19). God puts the solitary in families (Ps. 68:6).
As with all glory, it is heavy, and that means there will be challenges. But the goal should be honor. Parents, honor your parents, so that your children will learn how. Grandparents, honor your children, the parents of your grandchildren, so that they will learn how. Every family has to learn their own dance, but some basic principles would be warmth and space. Give yourself warmly to one another, joyfully, gratefully, and then also recognize that space needs to be given for individual families to exist. Don’t meddle; assume the best. And keep short accounts.
Many of our cultural commentators have pointed out that our land is suffering from a great spell of amnesia. We have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten what God did for us in this land, for our families, for our ancestors. And while there has been great evil in the younger generations rejecting the wisdom of our parents and grandparents, there has also been great evil in the older generations, refusing to tell their children and grandchildren, having stubborn and rebellious hearts (Ps. 78:4, 8).
But the central theme of Psalm 78 is the faithfulness of the Lord, His mercies, His compassion. Even though we have so often failed to remember Him, He has remembered us (Ps. 78:37-39). And this is what drives our praise. He is our faithful Father, the God of our fathers, and His faithfulness always gives us something to talk about, even something to sing about. “But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children” (Psa. 103:17).