One of the most doleful passages in the Bible comes in the latter part of the life of David in 2 Samuel 21. David as he was accustomed to do from his youth went down to battle, again in opposition to the Philistines. In the ensuing fight David is overcome in battle by one of the Philistine champions and his life is saved by his mighty men from certain death. It is at this point that his men take an oath saying:
"Thou shalt go no more out with us to battle..." (2Sam 21:17)
This to me is simply one of the most sombre texts in all of scripture. Here is David, whose entire life has been lived as a warrior. David who faithfully guarded his father's flock from predators. David, who famously slays the Philistine champion Goliath. David, whose mighty men lived fleeing from Saul, and led armies against Israel's enemies. David's life is one of a warrior. Yet, we hear in this passage that David must now put away his sword, he is too old.
Time is the never ceasing and inevitable thief of youth and all this side of the second coming of our Lord shall taste the same bitter fruit that David does in this passage.
"Time the subtle thief of youth" - John Milton
This is a melancholy reflection, yet we all are faced with it, either through recognizing our own passing away or by being stung into this line of thought through someone near to us absorbing such pangs. I have thought about this text a bit this year in the context of sports, as I have since I was young, being a native Wisconsinite, enjoyed watching Brett Favre throw rocket passes for touchdowns. I loved how Favre's play constantly impressed John Madden with his toughness and passion for playing the game as well as how hard he threw the ball. Favre was a brilliant player, I would say the best to ever play quarterback.
This year will certainly be his last, and he knows it. Every other year ended with question marks as to whether or not Favre would play one more year. This year there are no question marks surrounding the year to come, Favre is too old to play.
Like David's warrior lifestyle, playing football is all Favre has known from his youth, and he simply can not play like he used to.
In sports we see a microcosm of our own mortality, and our coming death. The peak ability of athletes is short lived, for someone to have a 20 year career is very rare. So, we see players come and go, they shine for a time and after that their light starts to dim. One of the most frequently used images Biblically for man's mortality and this fading away we all must endure is that of a flower or grass in springtime.
"For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away." (1 Peter 1:24)
This is a tragic picture. For the materialist this is all there is, you live you die, get used to it. Yet, for the Christian this arrangement of death is not how things are supposed to be, all men know this being made in God's image and that is why we mourn death and try to ignore it's impending march as best we can. The Christian is not without hope, all of creation indeed is subject to this futility yet He who subjected it did so in hope. That hope is the regeneration of all things. All things will be made new.
That is why the melancholy verse from 1 Peter I quoted earlier has a glorious promise all around it, let's see that again with the promise all around it:
"Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." (1 Peter 1:23-25)
Mortality and futility are swallowed up by promise and immortality here. Our earthly bodies will fail but those who are born of God have been born not of that corruptible seed that we see withering, but, an incorruptible that will live forever.
Christian, though your flesh fails, you shall yet live.