Each and every one of us has a divinely allotted number of heartbeats; and beyond that definite number we can never go. No one can receive one less or one more. In God’s eternal counsel it is all planned. And from the moment, before birth, when our heart beats for the first time; till that last beat, there is a constant countdown.
While Jacob was blessing his sons the countdown was rapidly reaching that last few dozen. And having blessed his sons and given instructions about his burial, with less than a dozen heart beats left, he gathered the one foot up into the bed, gathered the other foot up into the bed, straightened his body out, and his heart beat for the last time. Jacob died. His soul left the body to enter into heavenly joys with the redeemed who had gone on before him.
Jacob’s work was finished. That too was eternally determined, and there was no way in which he could do one bit more of work. Just so many works, just so many deeds, are given us. There are just so many thoughts and so many desires, so many words and so many works, so many actions and so many reactions, designed for each and every one of us. When they have all transpired and become facts of history, the tongue is silenced, the heart and mind form no wishes and. thoughts, the hand is still, and the foot will carry us no further over the surface of this earth. And for Jacob there was no further speech to his children. There is not even recorded any firm handshake, embrace, or tender kiss exchanged between Jacob and his sons. He did the work for which God called him. Up till that moment his heart had continued to beat, and his tongue could pronounce the blessing of God. But once all that God had planned for him is executed, his life and his work come to an end. He died serving God. He called his sons to his deathbed in order to do the work which he knew was his calling. And then he saw his children no more, but opened his eyes to see his God and Savior. There was no more earthly work for him to do; and so God gave him no more earthly life.
It was surely a peaceful death. We read of no struggle on his part either consciously or unconsciously. The body does fight for life, and often a shudder runs through the body when the soul leaves and the body experiences defeat by the hand of that last enemy which is death. We do not read of such a shudder in Jacob’s death. What is more important is that we read of no conscious struggle to prolong life. And this is quite amazing in light of all we know about Jacob’s earlier days. How often did he try to “help” God, Who never needs any help! How often did he think that God’s cause depended on his muscular power or on the craftiness of his mind! How often did he not resort to trickery and deception to get that which God had promised him! Not one trace of this do you find on his deathbed.
There was no attempt made or cry raised for a few more minutes of life to be able to tell the sons how to succeed in the world, how to make good investments that would bring back high interest and returns upon them. He had blessed them in God’s name. He had called them to walk by faith and to bury him in the land of promise. He had reminded them of God’s promise to them and their seed; and so without a struggle he closes his eyes as that last beat of his heart pushes his blood a short distance through his arteries and veins, and then the whole process of life ceases completely. It was a peaceful death.
Jacob died in hope. He had strong expectations of the fulfillment of all that which he had prophesied concerning his children and their children. There can be no question about it that for Jacob the highlight of it all was what he might say in God’s name about Judah and his seed. The Shiloh would come. In Judah’s line would come the Messiah, and that Messiah would bring blessings to the whole spiritual seed that would be born to his sons. Out of Judah but in Christ all of Jacob’s spiritual seed will be blessed. How Joseph would have liked to prophesy this of Joseph, his most beloved son! But no, he is submissive, wholly caught up by the Spirit as he is given to speak in God’s stead, and as His mouthpiece to say what God intended to do with his sons.
Knowing all this which he predicted about his sons, Jacob can close his eyes in the sleep of death. No need to call the paramedics or Rescue Squad. Jacob sees the salvation of his children, even of those who have sinned so greatly and had their sins brought to their attention by God through him. That prophecy of Shiloh in Judah’s seed will take care of these sins. And, though Jacob could not see that, we today can see how Levi, though scattered among his brethren, was scattered in a blessed way so that all his descendants become priests and assistants to the priests in God’s tabernacle, and later on in His temple, with high offices and honour among the people. And what is true of Levi’s spiritual seed is true of Reuben’s, Simeon’s, and in fact of all his twelve children’s children. The cross of Christ will take care of all these sins and blot them out forever. The exalted Christ will raise up and deliver all His people and bring them the ‘peace and relaxation of His glorious kingdom in the heavenly land of Canaan. Because of Shiloh there will be a blessing for all the elect children of Jacob, and for all our elect children. No sin can keep them from it. We are saved by grace, not by works. And sinful works cannot frustrate or prevent God’s grace.
Knowing all this, Jacob leaves this life with the assurance that God will keep His covenant promises, and that he will now enter into life, though he dies. The unbelieving world had a slogan some years ago that “Life begins at forty.” That would, as far as they are concerned, have to be changed now to “Life begins at sixty-two or sixty-five, when retirement age and the age of Social Security benefits begin.” Then men can begin to “enjoy life,” have time for the pleasures denied them in their working years, and, living off the interest of investments, can now do what was denied them in the past.
But the child of God says “Life begins at death.” In effect, that is what Paul wrote to the Philippians when he knew that the countdown of his own life had progressed to the point where not many days were left for him. He wrote, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” A bit later he writes, “For I am in a strait betwixt the two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:21-23). Yes, for the child of God, life begins at death. Because Shiloh will come—and indeed now has come and gone through death and the grave for us to be exalted at God’s right hand—death is gain. Jacob could gather his feet onto the bed without fearing loss. Though there were only a few numbers left of the countdown of his heartbeats, he knew that there was also a countdown of his soul’s swift soaring to heavenly bliss and joy. He could tell his sons that he would be gathered unto his people.
Take note a moment of that strong faith in God’s promises. Jacob speaks of being gathered unto his people. That statement speaks of his strong faith in God’s promises. He is sure that he will be gathered. God will do that gathering, and therefore he is sure of arriving. He boasts of no ability to bring himself into glory. Another power will gather him; and that power is none other than God’s in Whose name he had blessed his twelve sons. He is sure that though God will soon cease to give him heartbeats, He will cease to do so in order that He may give him everlasting blessedness. God takes away in order to bless. He never takes away in order to rob His people of a single blessing. And that is true also when He takes one of our loved ones away by leading them to that last heartbeat. On the basis of what He said through Paul, that to die is gain, we may always say that God blesses us with death.
But note also that Jacob speaks of an exclusive blessedness. He will not be gathered with all who have died before that day. He will be gathered unto his people. He may never have heard of the words elect and reprobate. But he knew that God had a people distinct from the rest of humanity. He knew that there was a seed of the woman and a seed of the serpent. And he knew that he belonged to that seed of the woman. That also explains why he tells his children about Abraham’s being buried in a particular land, and about Isaac being buried there together with both their wives, and that he buried Leah there. He knew that there is a covenant people of God and that when they die they are united into blessed covenant fellowship before God’s face.
They do not lie unconscious in their graves, waiting till the end of time. They are not in a realm of conscious glory as an host of disorganized souls in an independent life. No, they are a people, an organized whole, gathered by God’s wisdom at the right time, to be added to those who have gone before, in such a way that they serve with them in a common purpose and with a common life as one body. I am going, Jacob told his sons, to where God has assembled His people since the death of Abel. And, because I believe this, bury me with those of that people that I know and whose burying place I know. For they are in the promised land which is a picture of that land where all this people will live together when the last heartbeat of the last of these people has taken place, and the new heavens and new earth appear.
And so ends an amazing chapter in the history of God’s church. There is in Genesis yet a bit of history about burying Jacob and about Joseph’s brother’s fear that now he will seek revenge; and there is yet recorded the death and embalming of Joseph. But with the death of Jacob we come to the end of that period of history in God’s church wherein those three patriarchs, who are so often mentioned together, namely, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, lived. To all practical purpose we come to the end of Genesis, the book of beginnings which tells us not only of the beginning of this earth and of all creation but also of the beginning of God’s church.
Many wish to claim that the church had its birth at Pentecost. But an honest dealing with the Scripture forbids this. Adam and Eve belonged to the church. And all the believers since them were members of the one holy catholic church. If we believe, and we must, that Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and that the writers did not follow cunningly devised fables, then we must say with God that there was His church in the Old Testament dispensation. Stephen, in Acts 7:38, speaks of “the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sinai.” Some try to translate congregation here, but the word is church, the same word that appears seven times in the seven letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Then, too, Paul demolishes completely that idea that the Jews were the kingdom and the Gentiles the church when in Ephesians 2:12-19 he, speaking of the Gentiles in Ephesus who were “afar off, outside of Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers of the covenant,” declares that they in Christ are no more “strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” Note that the Gentiles belong to the kingdom as fellow-citizens with the Jews, and the Jews in the Old Testament are called the church in Acts 7:38. If we confess to believe—and we must confess that—an holy catholic (universal) church, we must believe one that is in all ages as well as in all nations, and one to which Adam, Seth, and Noah belonged. Where will we put them? They are not Abraham’s seed. And to be universal that church must include the nation of Israel. A church in all nations, tongues, and tribes must include Abraham’s seed andnot exclude it.