As I was packing up my books to move to our new place, I found a book that was given to me when I came to be the pastor at Central Baptist Church. The title of the book was The Brave Die Young, and it told the story of the young people who died during the Hungarian revolution against the Russians in 1956. They were encouraged by the West to revolt and they did, but no help came from the West and thousands of young revolutionaries died as Russian tanks rolled down the streets of Budapest.
Forty years after that revolution, I went to the city of Cluj Napoca (Kolozsvar in Hungarian) to do research for my Ph.D. My host told me to pay attention as I went to library, because I was walking on the Boulevard of Revolution. There were memorials up and down the boulevard to the students who died in their revolution against the Ceausescu regime in 1989.
Statistically in World War II, the majority of people who died on battlefields were very young, between 16 and 26. This statistic was not unique to the World Wars; during the Middle Ages, there were three waves of death – in infancy or as a toddler, in youth as a result of wars, and then of old age.
When my relative reached the age of 70, I sent them a birthday note. As I wrote, I thought about the psalm of Moses, where he declared, “The length of our days is seventy years – or eighty, if we have the strength.” (Psalm 90:10) The interesting thing about this declaration is that Moses lived to the ripe old age of 120. In Deuteronomy 34:7 we read, “Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.” If this was so, why did he die? In another passage, Moses says to the Israelites, “I am now one hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord said to me, You shall not cross Jordan. The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you.” (Deut. 31:2-3)
Moses led the people of God through the wilderness for 40 years. He had a unique relationship with God, which is recorded on the pages of the Holy Scripture. Out of all the people who were used by God in the Bible, Moses the lawgiver is one of the most spectacular. The conclusion of Deuteronomy 34 states: “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”
Despite his importance as a prophet, he made many decisions during his travels in the wilderness that prompted strong reactions from the people and from God: his marriage to the Ethiopian woman, the destruction of the original tablets after the Israelites’ idol worship, and the moment when he received water from a rock only after striking it in anger. As the Israelites finally approached Canaan, the Lord God told him that he would not lead the nation into the Promised Land. His assistant Joshua would have that honor. Like his ancestor Jacob, Moses bargained with God many times. But that time, he did not bargain. God told him to climb Mt. Pisgah, and Moses was able to see the land from the peak.
While Moses died in his strength (and so did his protégé Caleb), the same is not true about David. That mighty warrior reached a stage in his life where he was constantly cold. What follows is one of the most bizarre stories in the Old Testament. The court counselors found a maiden to sleep with him, without having any sexual relationship. The scriptures describe Abishag as being very beautiful, but she served the king just as a sort of warming blanket. Her beauty was so astonishing that, when Adonijah asked Solomon for her hand in marriage, Solomon believed it would be a sign that he favors Adonijah as the future king if he allowed the union. Solomon killed Adonijah instead, and we do not know what happened to Abishag. King David, as recorded in the scripture, lived for 70 years. Solomon died even younger at the age of 60.
In the 90th psalm, Moses gave a word of advice. “Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Whether we die young or old, the question is whether we lived wisely. Moses concludes his psalm with these words: “May the favor of the Lord rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.” When we look to the lives of Moses, David, and Solomon, we see men who lived 120, 70, and 60 years. The Lord did establish the work of their hands, and we know this because the Holy Scriptures talk about Moses the lawgiver, David the musician and man after God’s heart, and Solomon, the wisest man who built one of the great wonders of the world—the first temple in Jerusalem.