Recently I was told something that I’d never heard of nor thought about before. I can’t really prove it, but I do respect the one I heard it from and believe he has no reason to tell anything but the truth. I know he is more familiar with bible culture than I ever will be. What he shared that so surprised me was that old men in Bible times never ran—it was considered shameful and they just didn’t do it. I had never thought about this nor had I ever noticed it while reading my Bible.
This isn’t a deep theological moment, but perhaps you will find it as interesting as I did. In the entire Bible we read of only three older men hiking up their long robes and running: Abraham, his grandson Esau, and the father of the prodigal son. Two are found in the Old Testament and one in the New and two are historical figures while one is found in a parable told by Jesus.
Let’s consider Abraham (Genesis 18). While sitting in front of his tent, Abraham looked up and saw three men standing before him (v. 2). Except for the obvious desire to provide Middle Eastern hospitality, we aren’t told why the urgency, only that he ran to greet them. We believe the three men were actually the pre-incarnate Jesus with two angels and as a result of this meeting Abraham became concerned for the safety of his nephew and his nephew’s family. He became an intermediary between a just and holy God and Lot and the people of Sodom where Lot was living. Upon hearing of God’s plans to destroy all the people, Abraham stood in the gap between God and those who had turned from Him. By calling upon God’s mercy, he was actually running to heal broken relationships between Almighty God and sinful men.
Esau also ran, but he ran to his estranged brother, Jacob. Genesis 33:4 tells us that he ran and embraced his brother. After many years apart, Jacob was fearful of what his brother might do because of events earlier in their lives. It appears, however, that Esau was running to establish reconciliation within his family.
Luke 15 is the familiar story of the prodigal son. We know that the son left home, squandered his inheritance and, in a real sense, shamed his family. But what did the father do? Jesus tells us that when he saw his son returning home, the father ran to him. We focus on the son’s actions, but it’s more the story of the loving father. He saw his son coming because he was watching for his son’s return. He ran to receive his lost son and accepted him back with compassion.
These stories are of three old men who ran. In each instance, their heart’s desire trumped their fear of what others would think or how their actions would be interpreted. Is God asking you to do some running? It may not be easy. In fact, it may be what you would consider “shameful” to your image or to your pride. Does God want you to do it anyway? Do you need to plead before a merciful God on behalf of someone who is facing God’s wrath? Is there reconciliation that is needed within your family or with friends, co-workers or acquaintances? Swallow your pride and gather up your robes. And finally, do you need to run toward a compassionate, loving God who is running toward you to gather you in His arms and welcome you home?