And Jacob said to Pharaoh, '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.' Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence." (Genesis 47:7-10 NIV)
Finally, Jacob is presented to Pharaoh. Pharaoh seems interested in this old man who has arrived after such a long journey. Jacob is also the father of his most trusted servant.
I wonder why Pharaoh asked Jacob his age? Was it just polite small talk, or did Jacob's appearance cause Pharaoh to wonder? I suppose Jacob could have looked older than he was -- he had had quite a life. On the other hand, I think back to when Jacob rolled away the stone which covered the mouth of the well -- by himself -- and wonder if perhaps he still appeared quite vigorous for a man his age? This is all speculative, of course, but something must have caused Pharaoh to remark upon his age.
Jacob's reply to Pharaoh seems kind of depressing. He seems to be saying that he has had a difficult life and that his years do not equal his ancestors' in quantity or accomplishment.
In one respect, this is true. Jacob has had a difficult life:
- His parents named him 'he grasps the heel', that is, 'he deceives', just because he was born with his hand on his twin brother Esau's foot.
- Jacob's father favored Esau, for Esau was a hunter and Jacob loved wild game. Rebekah, his mother, favored Jacob. Favoritism is never good, and doubtless brought many conflicts.
- Jacob bought the firstborn inheritance rights from his brother, and deceived his father into also giving him the firstborn's blessing. The first transaction was legit, for Esau agreed to it, but it was also somewhat shady, because Jacob took advantage of the opportunity of Esau's hunger. The deception Jacob employed to gain his father's blessing was wrong, and led to his brother looking for an opportunity to kill him.
- Jacob had to leave home to escape his twin's wrath, and go live with his uncle Laban.
- Laban proved to be a match for Jacob's deceptiveness. He cheated Jacob by secretly giving him the wrong woman on his wedding night, after Jacob had worked seven years for his beloved Rachel. Later, Laban would give him his other daughter, but in exchange, Jacob had to work additional years for Laban.
- Jacob's work as a shepherd was difficult. He had many sleepless nights, and the changing temperature assured that he would be either freezing or consumed by heat most of the time.
- Laban also cheated him regarding his wages, changing them constantly in order to try to benefit his own self. If God had not intervened, Jacob would have had nothing to show for his many years of labor.
- Jacob's beloved wife Rachel was barren at first, while his other wife Leah had many children, causing marital strife. Jacob agreed to take his wife's maidservant Bilhah as another wife, in order to produce children which would be considered Rachel's.
- Leah also persuaded Jacob to do the same with her servant, Zilpah. Anyone want to be in his shoes? While it might seem to be a man's dream come true to have so many women, this arrangement brought untold conflict as the women constantly jockeyed for position. Jacob had to provide for all of these wives and their many children. He also had to divide his time somewhat fairly between all of his wives.
- Jacob's God-given success in his work caused Laban's sons to resent him, and his father-in-law to become cold toward him.
- Jacob chose to run away from Laban secretly, which resulted in Laban and their other relatives chasing him down. If God had not intervened, they probably would have taken his wives and children, as well as his flocks and herds, from him. As it was, an uneasy truce was obtained. I do not believe they went to see the in-laws much, if ever, again!
- As he arrived back home, Jacob had to deal with his brother Esau's reception. He sent gifts to pave the way, which were met with the news that Esau and 400 men were galloping in his direction.
- He wrested with God on the night before his meeting with Esau, and thought he was winning, only to realize that God had been letting him 'win'. At least now he realized Who was really in charge. But now his hip hurt.
- Esau was glad to see him, which was a miracle in itself. Yet, Jacob fearfully would not accompany his brother back to his place, choosing instead to deceive him again and go to Shechem.
- While at Shechem, his daughter was raped by the son of the ruler of that city. His sons deceived the men of that place into becoming circumcised, then murdered them while they were incapacitated in order to avenge their sister. Now Jacob's household was in danger of being overwhelmed and destroyed by the surrounding peoples, who would soon hear of the attack.
- When they finally get near home, his beloved wife Rachel delivers her second son. Then she dies.
- Not long after, Jacob's firstborn son Reuben sleeps with Jacob's concubine Bilhah. This is not only morally wrong, but also is a blatant attempt to seize leadership of the family from Jacob.
- Jacob favors his son Joseph, and his other sons wish to kill the boy after he has dreams that indicate his future rule over them. Instead, they sell Joseph into slavery and let Jacob believe that Joseph has apparently been mauled to death by a wild animal. Nice guys.
- Jacob's son Judah goes off and marries a Canaanite.
- A famine comes, and Jacob's sons eventually have to travel as far as Egypt to obtain food. However, his sons reveal that they have another brother at home, and now Pharaoh's official wants to see him in order to prove that the men are not spies. However, Benjamin is the only son of Rachel that Jacob has left. Meanwhile, his son Simeon has been imprisoned as a hostage.
- Jacob is forced to allow Benjamin to go with his brothers to Egypt, for they are out of food and this is the only way that they can trade with the Egyptians, or get Simeon back.
- Good News: Joseph is alive in Egypt. He has a pretty good job, too. Bad News: His sons are heartless liars for having caused him grief over Joseph's 'death' for years.
- The famine will continue for years. Now the whole family has to move to Egypt in order to survive. At least they sent carts so that he doesn't have to limp to Egypt.
- Jacob sees Joseph for the first time in years. However, he looks like an Egyptian. Where is his beard?
- Jacob is standing before the Pharaoh of Egypt. The guy wants to know how old he is. Does he look that bad?! Perhaps the Pharaoh is impressed with his long journey. Or maybe he is just nosy. At any rate, Jacob is anxious to get back to Goshen and settle his family and his flocks.
- Speaking of flocks, Jacob learns that Egyptians detest shepherds. Oh well, at least they should not have much trouble with his sons intermarrying with those who do not worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and, well, himself. So they will have some of the best land of Egypt for themselves. Perhaps life is not so bad after all...