Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Death of Isaac - Genesis 35:28-29

Now the days of Isaac were one hundred and eighty years. And Isaac breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people, an old man of ripe age; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

Scripture records that Isaac lived 180 years and then simply breathed his last. We can return to our chronological timeline that we last updated in Genesis 31:41. But to relate the timeline to Isaac’s life we have to go back and add the timeline we developed when we were studying Genesis 25:26.

• 3331 Isaac, at age 60, becomes father to Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:26)
• 3371 Esau at age 40 marries Judith and Basemath (Genesis 26:34)
• At least: 3391 Jacob and his family leave Laban’s home (Genesis 31:41)
• 3394 The death of Ishmael (based on his birth in 3257 and Genesis 25:17)
• 3451 The death of Isaac at age 180 (Genesis 35:28,29)

Can you imagine living to be 180 years old today? The world would have changed so drastically. I am not sure that my mind would be able to fathom it. Recently my wife and I returned from a trip to Kenya, one of the more advanced countries in Africa by some accounts, yet the difference between the lives of our new friends there and our lives here is incredible. Perhaps the difference is due to a century of cultural change or modernization. But can you image almost twice that and at today’s exponential rate of change? I for one am happy with our current life spans that we enjoy. When the time comes, I hope I go simply having “breathed my last”.

The text makes reference to Isaac being “an old man of ripe age”. You will remember that in the earlier years of mankind’s history and in the generations that closely followed that of Adam, men did live for several centuries, some most notably lived well into their tenth century. But after that God seemed to have reduced the normal lifespan to a much shorter period of time, estimated at about 120 years. Isaac then, under those terms, could well have been thought of to have lived to a “ripe age” and have been an “old man”. These days when one lives into his or her nineties, we consider that being a “ripe age” and one living for a century is considered very rare. It is interesting that we use the word ‘ripe’ to refer to an advanced age. I cannot help but think that funny. We usually talk of food or fruit being ‘ripe’ – that is the perfect time to enjoy them. They have the most to offer when they are perfectly ripe. I think we need to view our seniors in the same way. But at the same time, it is a sad fact that ripe fruit or food, not properly kept or enjoyed, very quickly decays into something that is no longer desirable. Yes, our seniors sometimes lose their minds or their physical abilities. But it is a known fact that they do so much more slowly if they are given the proper care, attention, and love they deserve. And the rest of us get to enjoy their flavor much longer.

The phrase “gathered to his people” used here for Isaac and meaning to have been buried with his family, relatives, or kin, was previously used in the case of his father Abraham (Genesis 25:8) and also his half-brother Ishmael (Genesis 25:17). The exact meaning is not clear. One can assume that indeed his remains were delegated to join the remains of those among his predecessors that had died before him. And one would assume that his soul would have joined the souls of others whom God would have blessed with eternal life before him. Death has a way of doing just that. It gathers us to our people – those we have loved or known before, depending on whether they and/or we were children of God or not. One way or another, we’ll be joining others.

Finally, I think it is important to note that the death of one often brings others together. We know that Jacob and Esau, Isaac’s sons, had had their differences. We know that even prior to Jacob arriving at Isaac’s place, the two brothers had met en route and worked these differences out. Yet, we have no record of their relations since that point in time. The quarrel they had may have been set aside, but there is no evidence that a strong brotherly friendship had begun and that their families were enjoying each other’s company. But here at their father’s death, we see Esau and Jacob working together as brothers to bury their beloved father. We continue to see that in our funerals today. People who have not seen each other for decades or spoken to each other for years, often set everything aside and unite, even momentarily, in order to deal with their loss. Can you imagine what could be accomplished in our families and circles of friends if somehow we had the ability to bring those people together prior to, and without, our death? Now, that is worth living for.

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