The Book of Genesis is a book of beginnings. It is actually a book all about the beginning of God’s Creation. The story of man’s origins here on Earth unfolds through the accounts of individuals. As one person takes center stage, those preceding them fade into the background and are eventually taken by death. From Adam to Abel, to Seth, to Noah, to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, and finally to Joseph; as one person comes to prominence, another fades into the background. Eventually, that person fades away and dies and someone else comes along with whom God will deal and work through.
As much as Genesis is a book of beginnings and new life, it is also about endings and death. The words of the Lord to Adam saying, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 3:17b) come to a complete and horrific realization with the passing of each personage from the narrative; just as they come to an horrific realization every time we ourselves lose one who is dear to us. Death spares no one, as we all know, regardless of that person’s position, importance, wealth, fame, and even their standing with God Almighty. Death is the final enemy that remains to be crushed under the feet of our precious Savior (1 Cor. 15:26), and until it is none of us shall escape its reach — save that our Lord returns beforehand.
Issac, whose life was offered up by Abraham so many years before, has finally reached the end of his days and is laid to rest beside his father in the Cave of Machpelah. Genesis 35 opens up with the revival of Jacob and his family and the fullness of their coming to God, but it proceeds and concludes with the deaths of Deborah, Rachel, and Isaac. What a solemn reminder to us all that even our justification and right standing with God will in no way shelter us from the potential loss of our loved ones. Temporal tragedies will yet visit us even after our souls have found new life in God. Rachel looks down upon her newborn son and calls his name Ben-oni, son of my sorrow. The baby takes his first breath even as his mother takes her last. Jacob grieves his beloved Rachel, but the boy will not forever bear the testimony of his mother’s death; for his father shall call his name Benjamin, son of my right hand. After the loss of Rachel and the later loss of his favorite son, Joseph, Jacob will lean his right hand upon this boy and his love for the child will seem to be all that sustains him (Gen. 42:38).
One of the most intriguing aspects of this entire chapter is the fact that it is at this time that Isaac passes away, and that he has survived to this point. We were told back in Chapter 27 that Isaac was old at that time and that his vision was failing him (Gen. 27:1). “Behold now, I am old“, he stated, “I know not the day of my death” (Gen. 27:2). However, no less than 43 years have transpired between that statement and his death! Since we are told very little about Isaac between his sendoff of Jacob in Chapter 28 and his death in Chapter 35, we are left to wonder if he accomplished anything at all during that period of nearly half a century.
So many of us reach a point in our own lives when we conclude that our hour has passed, our time of usefulness has ended, and the days where the Lord can work through us are no more. We retire from service to God and settle down to live out the balance of our days in quiet repose. But is God ever truly done with us while life remains in us? Is our work here on Earth ever really done before we go on to be with the Lord? Not that any of us should attempt to keep up the grueling and demanding schedules of our younger days as we reach our twilight years — the time comes to pass the torch for our most challenging tasks to a younger person whom God is leading to take over — but I seriously doubt that the Lord really intends any of us to simply “close up shop” entirely and retreat to a peaceful corner to await our death.
My own grandfather was a preacher for some 40 years before he suffered a debilitating stroke in his seventies. After he began to regain his faculties and could communicate again, one of the first things he had brought to him in the nursing home was his Bible. Lying in a weakened state and struggling to “relearn” how to do even the most basic of tasks, who could have blamed this man for wanting to live in undisturbed peace and quiet for the few remaining years he had left? Nevertheless, he continued to do what he had spent the prime of his life doing: serving God and preaching His Word. Though his legs would not support him to stand in a pulpit, though the stroke had left his speech slurred and his hands shaky, he continued to do what God had called him to do. He preached. The church pews filled with worshipers dressed in their Sunday best had been replaced by feeble octogenarians adorned in pajamas and bath robes, but it did not matter who the audience was. He preached to them just as he had to the parishioners. By the time my grandfather went to be with the Lord at the age of 80, no fewer than 15 persons at the twilight of their own lives had come to know Christ by the testimony of this man who refused to retire.
At times it can be amazing, at other times it can be amusing, but we have all heard the complaints of those bemoaning their own advancing years. It seems that what we each consider old is relative and ever-changing as we get older ourselves. The teenager looks at anyone over 30 as ancient while the 60 year old says that they would give anything to be 40 again. The milestones of life that we once looked forward at with trepidation will one day be looked back upon with fondness, nostalgia, and perhaps a tinge of regret. What might I accomplish today if the strength and vigor I possessed then remained with me! If only I had not wasted that time with the notion that I was too old and too weak to do anything worthwhile then.
The truth is, it is never too late to serve God and work for Him. Even if you have never done so before, there is no better time to begin than now. After all, Moses was 80 years old when God first called him (Exodus 3:2). If we have a willing heart and a humble spirit, if we pray for God to show us how we may serve Him, He will show us what He wants us to do, regardless of our age. May we all make the best use of the years that God has given us so that we may bring glory to Him.