Thou shall rise up before the hoary head
Or "before old age" F17, which may be discerned by the hoary or grey hairs upon the head; that is, before a grey-headed man, or an old man, and one was reckoned so when he was of seventy years of age; for so it is said F18, one of sixty years is arrived to old age, and one of seventy to grey hairs. Fagius relates, that according to the tradition of the Hebrews, a young man was obliged to rise up when an ancient man was at the distance of four cubits from him, and to sit down again as soon as he had passed by him, that it might appear it was done in honour of him. And this was not only observed among the Jews, but anciently among Heathens, who reckoned it abominable wickedness, and a capital crime, if a young man did not rise up to an old man, and a boy to a bearded person F19. Herodotus F20 reports, that the Egyptians agreed in this with the Lacedaemonians, and with them only of the Grecians, that the younger, when they met the elder, gave them the way and turned aside, and when coming towards them rose up out of their seat; and this law was enjoined them by Lycurgus, and which Aelianus F21 commends as of all the most humane. And this respect to ancient persons is due to them from younger persons, because of their having been in the world before them, and of their long continuance in it, and because of the favour and honour God has bestowed upon them in granting them long life, as also because of the experience, knowledge, and wisdom, they may be supposed to have attained unto: the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan restrain this to such as are expert in the law; so Jarchi says, there is no old man but he that has acquired wisdom; but it seems not to be the intention of this law to limit the respect to such only; though it must be allowed that ancient persons, who are wise and good, are worthy of special regard, see ( Proverbs 16:31 ) ; and honour the face of the old man;
who for the wrinkles of it, and his withered countenance, might be liable to be despised. The Targum of Jonathan interprets it, the face of a wise man, which agrees with what is observed before; and so Jarchi, Ben Gersom, and other Jewish writers explain it; and the former asks, what is this honour? he may not sit in his place, nor contradict his words. All this may be applied to elders by office, as well as in age, to magistrates, masters, and teachers; and particularly, as Ben Gersom observes, this may admonish us to give honour to God, who is the Ancient of days, who always was, and ever will be: and fear thy God, I [am] the Lord;
who has commanded such reverence of ancient persons, and will punish for any marks of irreverence shown them; and who is himself to be feared and reverenced above all, being, from everlasting to everlasting, God, and whose name is holy and reverend.
F17 (hbyv ynpm) "ante canitiem", Pagninus; so Tigurine version, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator.
F18 Pirke Abot, c. 5. sect. 21.
F19 "Improbitas illo fuit" Juvenal. Satyr. 13. v. 53, 54, 55, 56.
F20 Euterpe, sive, l. 2. c. 80.
F21 Hist. Animal. l. 6. c. 61.