Our Short And Evil Life

December 30, 2001 / No. 3078

Dear Radio Friends,

I want to call your attention today to a very impressive scene described for us in God’s Word. It is found in Genesis 47:8, 9: “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.”

We have here the aged patriarch Jacob. His eyes are growing dim, his back is bowed with the burdens of a long and eventful life. And he is leaning upon his son Joseph’s arm. They have entered into the court of Pharaoh, monarch of the kingdom of Egypt. The heir of the promises of God, Jacob, stands before the ruler of this world, Pharaoh. And Pharaoh asks Jacob, “How old art thou?” Jacob was standing consciously at the end of his life. Although he was to live for another seventeen years after that point, he was a hundred and thirty when he was asked the question. And he felt his life rapidly coming to an end.

Pharaoh’s question causes Jacob to pause in retrospect of his entire life. He answers more than Pharaoh asks. He gives not only his age, but he evaluates his whole life – few and evil have been the years of my pilgrimage.

This makes this passage fitting for us today as we pause at the end of a year to review our life. Forget about tomorrow. Free yourselves from its concerns. Leave, for a moment, the prospects of the future. And, with old Jacob, let your life flash before you up to this point. The past year, 365 days, the past decade, your life from its beginning until now – what do you see? How would you sum it up? All of us can take the stance of Jacob. For some of us, that is exactly where we are – we are at the end, we might not live to see another year. But all of you, whether you are middle-aged, in your twenties, or even a child, can place yourself at the end of your life. You can imagine the truth that you would not see another day. What about your life? How would you sum it?

There is something about the end of the year, an old year’s eve, that says, “Remember, O man/woman/child, you must die.” There is something that calls us to evaluate our life. And that is exactly what Jacob is doing. Remember, Jacob had now come down to Egypt to see Joseph whom he thought was dead. Joseph is the governor of the land of Egypt and he has brought his father before mighty Pharaoh. When Pharaoh asks him, “How old are you?” Jacob’s whole life is flashing before his eyes as it really was. And God puts that question to you, right now: What of your life? He puts it before all of us unavoidably. The world is going to respond today and tomorrow night, “More beer! Turn the music louder! Let’s party. Let’s put one on.” They want to avoid the question. What about you? How old are you? What about your life?

Jacob gives a true evaluation. He says his life has been short and evil. Now, at first, that may appear gloomy, and it may appear to us as a bitter complaint. We would say that Jacob’s evaluation is different from what many would say tonight and what we would hear from the lips of many a commentator. Looking superficially, they would answer to “How has it been?” “Well, it’s been a rough year, but it’s been a good year.” Perhaps you receive a form letter from one of your friends. And, although they comment on the trials that they have experienced in this past year, the letter seeks to leave the impression that life is a grand success. The husband has been promoted. The wife is busy developing her potentials. The children are succeeding in school. We want to leave the best impression. Oh, yes, there are bad things. The economy is shaky. But let us not talk about that right now. Not tonight.

Quite different is Jacob’s account. There is no softening of the hard points. There is no flinching from reality. There is no attempt to cover up. My days have been few, that is, short and evil, troublesome and filled with sin. Jacob is honest. Jacob is making a confession of faith. Jacob is speaking as he is enlightened by the Spirit of the holy God. Read Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 13. There the Bible tells us of Jacob and all the heroes of faith: they died in faith, not having received the promises but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them and embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Jacob speaks by faith.

There is an effort, of course, to try to explain Jacob’s words away as a morbid statement. Or it is stated, perhaps, that Jacob was answering with calculated flattery. There are some who would come to this Scripture and say that Jacob evidently knows that the Pharaohs of Egypt claimed immortality as gods and so Jacob plays down his life as meaningless to flatter Pharaoh. No, that would be unworthy of a child of God. Jacob is making a confession that he is a stranger and a pilgrim on the earth.

There are others who would say that this is the complaint of a sour man, a bitter man, whose life never got to where he wanted it to go. It is a grunt of dissatisfaction. Certainly there is much of that to be heard today.

But to call Jacob sour would be unfair to him. It is not a sour, pessimistic observation of his life, although it is frank and honest. When an old saint, a father or mother, a grandparent, a child of God at the end of his life, testifies to you that he can begin to understand more than ever before the vanity of this present life, do not say to him, “O Dad/Mom, cheer up. Don’t be so pessimistic! I’ve got to run now to a party tonight with my friends.” You had better listen! Jacob is speaking the truth. Wisdom among the people of God is often with the aged, not with the young. That is why it is so important for you as a young couple or a young person to associate with the old people of your church. It is very important for you to make your way, on a regular basis, down to the rest home. Not just because the saints there are lonely, but because they have something to say to you. They have something to teach you. Do not listen to the dressed-up, gaudy movie star trying to hold onto her beauty as she is interviewed by Barbara Walters, trying to put her life into perspective in glowing terms. Do not listen. Go to the aged, go to the rest homes, and then listen and watch. It is only years, a few short years, that separate you from them.

Jacob says, few and evil have the days of the life of my pilgrimage been. It has been short.

Again, at first glance, we might ask, “Jacob was a hundred and thirty years old. And he was to live to the ripe old age of a hundred forty-seven. His life is short? What does he mean?”

First of all, he says that his days are short in comparison to those of his fathers. “I have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers.” His father Abraham lived to be a hundred and seventy-five years; his father Isaac, a hundred eighty years. And he says, “I’m not going to reach that.”

But more importantly, Jacob says, “My life is short in comparison with what man was created to be.” Man was not created in the hand of God to die. Adam walked with God. Death is not normal. Death is the sentence for sin. Life is cut off by death. It does not matter if the days of your years are seventeen or sixty or the nine hundred and sixty-nine of Methuselah, they are cut down as the blade of grain is cut down before the knife.

Jacob feels the brevity of life as lived under death. In all honesty he has to say that his life flew away. It must have seemed that it was only a little while ago that he and his brother Esau were little boys in the tents of Isaac and Rebekah. It must have seemed just a moment ago, just yesterday, that he married Leah and Rachel and when his first baby, Reuben, was born and he would bounce Reuben on his knees. It was just a little while ago that his tent rang with the noise of a large family. Now he stands at the brink of the grave. Where did it go? That is the experience of all of us. Where did the year go? Life sped away because God does not tarry. Time does not stand still because God is God and leads all things quickly to His purpose.

Jacob says it was not only short, but it was evil. He is talking about the character of his life, something Pharaoh did not ask about. Evil means that his days were attended by trouble, grief, disappointment, suffering, battles, struggles, and his own sin. It is not the case with Jacob that evil came now and then. But, he says, it characterized my life. Many tears have streamed down his wrinkled face, many sorrows pierced his soul. It was nothing less than the fact that his life had been spent under the shadow of his own sins, that so troubled him. The power of death and sorrow was not just present at his old age, but it began at his very birth. He spent his life struggling and suffering. That was the truth of it. Is it any different for you?

It was nothing less than the fact that his life
had been spent under the shadow of his own sins,
that so troubled him.
As a young man, Jacob had to flee the murderous wrath of his brother Esau, who wanted to kill him. He was never to see his beloved mother again. For twenty years he was opposed by a sly uncle Laban. When he returned to the land of Canaan, his dear Rachel dies and he buries his wife. He suffered division and strife and jealousy in his family, most of which could be laid at his own doorstep. His wives fought with each other. His children were jealous and hated each other. For a long time a number of his children lived in sin. His daughter Dinah went out and fornicated with a heathen. Simeon and Levi, in retaliation, killed the inhabitants of an entire city. Judah committed adultery with his daughter-in-law. His sons sold Joseph into slavery and lied to him that Joseph had been killed. Now, at the end of his life, as an old man, he has to go through a famine and hunger and emigration to a strange land. And what gnawed at his soul was that so much of the blame could be laid at his own feet. He married Rachel even after God gave him Leah. He favored Rachel’s children above others. He tolerated idolatry in his home. He was careless in the management of his family. Where was he when his daughter went out? Where was he that he would tolerate Reuben’s going up to his own father’s bed? His problems were never far from his sins.

That is our experience. We have cried, and sorrow has pierced our hearts in this past year. Sickness and trouble and sins and loneliness and depression. And always, not faraway, our besetting sins and weaknesses. A believer, especially a believer, as he stands before the reality of his life, cannot escape it. Yes, Pharaoh, if only you knew. My life was short and attended with much evil.

Hopeless? No. He says, “The days of the years of my pilgrimage.” Jacob is saying that there is a spiritual dimension to the life of a believer that the world can know nothing about. “I’m a stranger. I’m dependent upon the grace of God.” There is a spiritual dimension which, in a certain sense, makes his life harder. That is, as a result of his spiritual life, there were many trials that God sent. But it is a spiritual dimension which said that his life was victorious. A pilgrim is someone who lives in a land which is not his own. He has a land to which he belongs. And he is now journeying through the present land until at last he comes to his home. Jacob says, “I’m a pilgrim. My home is with God. I live with Him right now, by faith. And I look forward to that day when I shall stand before Him in all of His shining wonder.”

Now, there are two ways to evaluate human life, only two – the earthly (that will make this life the end-all, that the important thing to be sought is this present life so that as a young couple you would say, “What we need are things and friends and a home and pleasures and money.”) The Bible says that this is the evaluation of life which is of a fool. It is attempting to find satisfaction where it cannot be found and where you will never find it in the things of this present world.

But then there is the pilgrim’s evaluation. That is the evaluation given by the love of God. At its heart that evaluation says, “For to me to live is Christ. I count everything loss save for the excellency of Jesus Christ my Lord.” The pilgrim knows that this life is a shadow. And he knows that through death he shall be brought by the redeeming love of Jesus to stand before the living God.

Jacob is confessing that he is a pilgrim with God, a pilgrim on the earth. Are you? Is that the way you look upon your life?

The pilgrim knows that this life is a shadow.
The foolish world tries to face death as normal. On Old Year’s night they think that if they drink themselves into a stupor they will become insensitive to the reality of death. They will drown emptiness and the reality of this present life with Jack Daniels and fireworks and a good book or pleasure or whatever it may take – anything! But we cannot do that as children of God because this life is nothing but a continual death, says the Bible. And we know that as pilgrims in Jesus Christ, we have the victory. We know that through death we will cast off our pilgrim’s mantel and we will be clothed with a victor’s wreath and we shall attain the final victory. Now we are weighted down at times and filled with sorrow over our sins and the sins of our loved ones. We are filled with great grief over our remaining imperfections and we struggle against them.

Jacob was born struggling. Jacob could never get away with his sins. Jacob was always caught. You want to know why? He was a pilgrim. God loved him and God did not let him get away with it. Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. But Jacob had comfort.

If you really understand what is going on in the interview between Pharaoh and Jacob, you would not want to be seated in Pharaoh’s throne. You would want to be leaning upon Jacob’s staff. Jacob’s undaunted comfort was, first of all, that he was not his own. In chapter 48 of Genesis he speaks to his sons and says, “God fed me all my life long, and the angel redeemed me from all evil.” The angel was our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ had redeemed Jacob from all of his evil. As an old man, in faith, he saw it more clearly than ever before. “All my life was Christ, who was ever with me, directing and guiding and being gracious and merciful to me. He has redeemed me. There is no wrath of God upon me for my sins. I am innocent in the blood of Jesus Christ.” Do you know these things?

Still more, his joy is expressed in his words to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my pilgrimage. Pharaoh, you are asking about my life? I don’t have one here. I have a pilgrimage. I have a home, but it’s not here. Yes, many troubles have come to me in this present life for certain. And apparently I look very old and done in to you, Pharaoh. Yes, and my body aches. But I have a home. I’m traveling there. That life of my home grows stronger in my breast. As my outward man fades and perishes, the life of my eternal homeland beats harder in my heart. Pharaoh, Canaan is not my home; Egypt is not my home; Joseph and my sons are not really my home; my children and grandchildren around me are not really my home. My home is heaven, with God, and all the saints! And I am traveling there, just like my grandfather Abraham and my father Isaac. The builder of my home is God. And as death cuts me down in this life I anticipate endless days, resurrected by the power of Jesus Christ, days stretched out in eternal glory. No death there, no sin, no problems. Endless glory, good and happy, no tears or struggle. My home is glory and I’m going there.”

Is that your confession tonight? Hear the Word of God. God speaks, “Remember man, woman, child, teenager, you will die. You will stand before the grave. You will be placed in a grave.” By grace, let us confess with Jacob, “I am a stranger here, dependent on Thy grace; a pilgrim as my fathers were with no abiding place.” But “when I in righteousness at last Thy glorious face shall see, when all the weary night is past, and I awake with Thee to view the glories that abide, then, then I shall be satisfied.” And God will say, “I am not ashamed to call you my son and my daughter.”

Let us pray.

Father, we thank Thee for Thy grace and for Thy Word. Give us to evaluate our life in the light of Thy Word and to lay hold on the eternal promises in Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name, Amen.