February 23, 2024
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No surprise, some of the greatest stories the world has ever known are found in the Bible book of Genesis. And one of the best of the best is the story of Jacob (Israel) and Joseph.  

My wife was reading in Genesis recently, and she reminded me of something I’d forgotten.

When, after a long series of amazing events in the larger story, we come to Genesis 47, we find that the old patriarch Jacob (show me a life filled with more world-class chapters!) has made the journey to Egypt. Joseph then brings his father into the presence of Pharaoh.

In that amazing scene, the old man blesses Pharaoh (not the other way round) at both the beginning and the end of their time together. As some commentators have noted, the ruler of Egypt is a man who has almost everything his heart could desire, but Jacob gives him a very real gift that he does not have—a most precious patriarchal blessing. (I find myself thinking also of the scene long decades before—when Jacob stood before his father Isaac to steal a blessing.)

Pharaoh seems to recognize the priceless gift, and he certainly senses the greatness, the “blessedness,” and wisdom of the venerable Jacob. This pharaoh, unlike a later pharaoh, knows that Egypt has been blessed—saved, even—through Jacob’s great son. Pharaoh is indeed powerful, but he is also wise enough to know when a giant of a man, wrinkles and wisdom hard won, stands before him

As these two meet, the pharaoh asks the patriarch, “How old are you?” And Jacob answers, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers” (47:9).

Twenty days ago, I turned half the age of Jacob as he stood before Pharaoh. I thank God for the gift of life, and I try, most of the time unless I’m in a (somewhat rare, I hope) self-centered snit and behaving idiotically, to value the gift of each day. I tell my kids that I am “late middle-aged,” but I’ve always been challenged by math. (And my grandkids snicker and disagree when I say that my hair is now almost completely blond.) But, truth be told, I have no desire whatsoever to run Jacob any age-related races.

When I read about the latest scientific discoveries purporting to find keys to give us much longer lives, I’m always skeptical. If any of this research becomes a working reality, I hope we read the fine print. If I had no hope for something far richer than even life’s best joys now, I might feel differently and hold on more tightly. If I thought the modern age’s superficial philosophy of staring “courageously” into the dark night of “nothingness” was actually courageous—and not a mostly intellectually lazy kind of cut-rate “faith” sold for free and worth every penny—I might be greedier for a few more years here. 

But I doubt it. Enough’s enough.

I think the great Roman statesman and orator Cicero was wise when in his How to Grow Old (written in 44 B.C. and here translated by Philip Freeman), he alluded to Pythagoras as saying that “we should not abandon our sentry post in this life until God, our commander, gives the order.” Yes.

But it also seems to me that, in “this present age,” a “pilgrimage” of anywhere close to 130 years is something I’d very much like to avoid, and I’m sure that I will. In the meantime, to truly and gratefully value each moment here means not holding onto them too tightly. I’m confident that, by his grace, the “ending” for each of my Father’s children is actually the best beginning of all. For that we have our Father’s promise and blessing.

Curtis K. Shelburne

Muleshoe Journal Correspondent


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