This article looks at the small details which God has revealed to us in Scripture about the family of Jacob, showing how God has been gracious in working out His promise to Abraham.

Source: Clarion, 2011. 2 pages.

Attention for Ages

Joseph, a young man of seventeen...

Genesis 37:2

Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh, king of Egypt

Genesis 41:46

And Jacob said to Pharaoh, 'The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty'

Genesis 47:9

How do you picture Jacob dreaming in Bethel? How do you imagine the bridal couple, Jacob and Rachel? How astonishing was it that Joseph seated his brothers in order of their age? I always imagined it to be a certain way. Then I paid closer attention to the ages mentioned in the accounts of Genesis. And realized the picture I had was incorrect.

As the picture was corrected other things changed, too. There were elements to the account of Jacob, already amazing, that became even more amazing. The sins were worse than I'd thought. God's grace shone all the more brightly. Let's pay some attention to ages, to appreciate all the more God's work during the life of Jacob.

Joseph was thirty when he entered the service of Pharaoh. This was followed by seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. During the second year of the famine Joseph makes himself known to his family (Gen 45:6). He would then have been about thirty-nine years old.

When Jacob comes to Egypt, he is 130 years old. This means (here is surprise number one) Jacob would have been around ninety-one years old when Joseph was born. Now Joseph was born seven years after Jacob married Rachel, so Jacob was eighty-four when he married. Prior to marrying, Jacob had lived seven years in Haran. When he arrived in Haran, Jacob would have been around seventy-seven. The Jacob dreaming in Bethel was not the young man he's often pictured to be!

This is more than just an interesting fact. There's a lot of attention for the seventy-five year-old Abraham leaving Haran with a sixty-five year-old Sarah. Now think of Jacob at Bethel. And note, Abraham had a wife, Jacob did not. The promise of God to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) is hard to believe; the promise made to Jacob would have been even harder to believe.

There's also something special about Jacob's first eleven sons. Jacob (age eighty-four) marries Leah and Rachel in the space of two weeks. After seven years, Jacob is the father of eleven sons (Gen 30:25; it is possible that Dinah was born later). The youngest of the sons is Joseph, Rachel's only child. Four other sons were born to Bilhah and Zilpah; six sons were born to Leah. Leah had at least six children in the space of seven years. Leah was also barren for a period (Gen 29:35; 30:9). Do the math and you discover Leah must have been pregnant almost all the time, with one time gap. No wonder Rachel was so frustrated (Gen 30:1)!

We turn to Genesis 38, the account of Judah and Tamar. Verse 1 connects it loosely to the time when Joseph was sold into Egypt. Joseph was seventeen; Judah, at most four years older, twenty-one. Joseph was thirty-nine when he made himself known to Judah. Judah would have been forty-three. In the twenty-two years in between, Judah has three sons by his first wife. One wonders, how old were Er and Onan when they were married to Tamar? And when did Tamar give birth to Perez and Zerah? It can't have been all that long before Judah foreshadows the Messiah of God by being willing to substitute himself for Benjamin. It says something about how radical the conversion of Judah was.

We go to another scene, that of the brothers visiting Joseph when Joseph was governor in Egypt. Joseph himself was thirty-nine. The ten older brothers would all have been in their early to mid-forties. During a banquet, Joseph had them seated in the order of their age (Gen 43:33). To the brothers, this was astonishing. The probability of seating ten half-brothers in their early to mid-forties in the order of age without knowing who is the oldest or the youngest is one in over 3.5 million. No wonder the brothers stood in awe of Joseph. And then they are accused of stealing the cup used for divination...

God has left us details that may seem innocent. But factor them into the exegesis, and appreciation for what God has accomplished grows. Careful study of the Scriptures will have even the smallest jewels shine brightly.

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