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” And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old art thou? And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage. “

Genesis 47:8-9

How old are you? 

Embarrassing question, you say! 

Perhaps it is for some! Maybe you prefer not to answer it! 

But such a question can prove to be very salutary! Especially is this so when one considers it wisely. It suggests, among other things, the fleetness of life; and it calls for retrospection, the careful taking of inventory of one’s life. 

Such was the question wherewith Pharaoh, king of Egypt, confronted Jacob. This third of a triumvirate of saints had lately come to Egypt at the invitation of his son Joseph, whom God had exalted so highly that he sat next to Pharaoh. And at the behest of Joseph, Jacob is brought before the monarch who is greeted by the venerable old saint with the salutation such dignitaries deserve; and where the grey-haired old gentleman is immediately asked the question: How old art thou? 

That question evoked not only the answer as to the number of the years the saint had lived; but it caused all the years to pass in retrospect before his consciousness, so that he could properly assess them!

As this year draws to its close, another year of our lives is ended. Not only has the plan of God for the history of the world reached another milepost in its approach to its culmination, a fact in itself serious enough for earnest consideration. For though a thousand years with God are as one day, and vice versa, we know that the world’s history is reckoned by years. Each successive year brings that history to its consummation. And from that point of view the end of this year is indicative of the fact that God is realizing His counsel for the ages. But our lives also have made an approach to their end! The foolish, of course, will fail to take this into consideration. He thinks he shall live forever. And with eating and drinking, with merrymaking, the blowing of whistles and the ringing of bells, he will attempt to drown out the thought concerning the fastly approaching end. But the saint, the child of God, will very seriously consider the passing of his years! Not so much to complain of their rapid passing, but to consider his calling as it must be fitted into a space of life which compared with that of others may appear to be very short, but which when considered in the line of duty may recall the trials and the testings, the joys and the evils to be experienced as one treads out the path on which his pilgrimage takes him! 

How old art thou? 

The answer to that question should cause the saint to pass judgment on the span of life already lived, and to assess his calling as it yet must be realized! 

And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years . . . ! 

He observed that the years of his life is a pilgrimage! 

And that means that all those years he was a pilgrim! 

And the pilgrim is one who is an alien in a strange land! He is one who is on his way to his homeland, and is only temporarily passing through another. And the pilgrimage is the trek of the pilgrim as he wanders in this foreign land, not without purpose, but with the guide-map of the Word of God, which also serves him as a lamp for his feet and a light upon his pathway. On this way, as he travels with other pilgrims, he sings it out with the sweet Psalmist of old — 

“I am a stranger here, 

Dependent on Thy grace, 

A Pilgrim, as my fathers were, 

With no abiding place.” 

Such was the experience of Jacob! 

All his life was literally and emphatically a pilgrimage! It began in Canaan. Thence to Padanaram, and back to Canaan again. And there always he moved from place to place, first to Succoth, and then to Shechem, and then to Hebron. And now to Egypt! 

Like his fathers, Abraham and Isaac, who also were pilgrims, dwelling in tents, with no permanent abode, looking for the city which has foundations! Such had been the life of this child of God! 

The saint seeks not the earthly! His abode is not the domicile deeply dug, and a house for aye; but it is the tent which may be carried on his back as he moves from place to place. Earthly values are to him not intrinsic but transitory. Earthly things have no other significance than to be servants assisting him in the progress of his pilgrimage. His sole objective is the heavenly! Heaven is his home. His citizenship, with all that it implies, is in heaven. All that he is and does is motivated by the heavenly principle! 

The days of the years of my pilgrimage . . . ! 

This is not a sad complaint! 

Rather, it expresses a joyous prospect! 

Another year, another milepost in the pilgrim way is also not a sad aspect! Such it might be were we citizens from below. But not so for the pilgrim! Another year brings him a little closer to his home and eternal happiness! The days of my pilgrimage have been so many, and that means there are so many left according to the plan and purpose of God, when my pilgrimage will be finished, and my destination reached! 

Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been! 

They have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage! 

The saint observes the brevity of his life! 

Also this is not a complaint! 

So some would explain! Jacob, they say, was placed before the question: How old are you? And his answer includes a comparison with the patriarchs before him. And when he considered that they had outlived him, he remorsefully asserts that his days by comparison were few. 

However, we know from the subsequent history of Jacob that this cannot be the case. Though it is true that he did not live as long as his fathers Abraham and Isaac; and though it is also true that he had yet to live seventeen years after he appeared before Pharaoh, his fathers lived considerably longer than he. It is also true that in verse 29 of our chapter where we read: “And the time drew nigh that Israel must die . . . ” This implies that his years were full, that he had according to the plan of God lived out his years. And in Genesis 49:33we read: “And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.” This implies that he knew his time had come, and he was willing and ready to go. And though this was some seventeen years later, there is no reason to believe that Jacob would complain now and be satisfied then. 

Rather, here is a saint speaking, who is truly wise! He faces the fact of life’s span by comparisons. He takes notice of the life span of others, of his predecessors, and comes to the conclusion that life is very brief! He observes, too, that his life had been packed with activity, and that much earlier than his fathers he was worn out. And so, while he had still seventeen years to live, he was already living in anticipation of his death. 

This brevity of life! 

How often the Scriptures call our attention to it! “Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am. Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreath, and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity.” Psalm 39:4-5

“For all our days are passed away in thy wrath, we spend our years as a tale that is told. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” Psalm 90:9-10

“For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.” Psalm 103:14-16

This is the tone of all the Scriptures! 

And it seems that the packed life is the shortest! To one who never seems to have anything to do, life must seem long and dull. But to him who is never idle, life seems all too short. The day does not seem to hold in it enough hours; the year, enough days; and the life, enough years. 

So it must have appeared also to Jacob, the saint! 

And evil have the days of the years of my life been! 

Also this is not a complaint! 

It is a confession! 

The evil of which he speaks may be considered twofold. Not only is the saint here recounting his manifold sins; how he had deceived his brother Esau and his aged father Isaac; how he had outmaneuvered his miserly uncle Laban; how on several occasions in his own strength he even attempted to outmaneuver God. When the thing he sought most, namely, the patriarchal blessing, the birthright, when this did not come to him as quickly as he wished, when he could not wait for God to give it him. When he is confronted with Esau and his host at the Jabbok, how he would have strategically out-foxed his brother to spare the best of his possessions, and God had to teach him that it was not Esau but God with Whom he must wrestle. 

O, indeed, he remembered his wicked sins! 

But the other aspect of the evil which had been packed into his brief life was the tribulation he endured! A fugitive he had been for twenty years, while all that time his avaricious uncle persecuted him as he labored for his wives and substance. How he was troubled by the conduct of his sons when with his family he returned to Shechem! How his very heart seemed to be torn from him when he laid his beloved wife Rachel to rest at Bethlehem! How with gray hairs he appeared ready to descend into the grave when the news reached him that his favorite son had lost his life, being torn to pieces by some wild beast! 

All this he recounted now! 

How old are you?