A Pensive Retrospect
Genesis 47:9
And Jacob said to Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years…

I. LIFE HAS BEEN TO HIM A PILGRIMAGE. He thinks of all his wanderings from that far-off day when at Bethel he received the promise of God's presence "in all places whither thou goest," till this last happy and yet disturbing change. But he is thinking not only, perhaps not chiefly, of the circumstances, but of the spirit, of his life. This is, no doubt, the confession "that they were strangers and pilgrims" referred to in the Epistle to the Hebrews. He was a pilgrim, not because he had often changed his place of abode, but because he sought the city which had foundations, and therefore, could not be at home here. The goal of his life lay in the far future; and whether he looked for the promises to be fulfilled on earth, or had the unformulated consciousness of immortality, and saluted the dimly descried coast from afar while tossing on life's restless ocean, he was effectually detached from the present, and felt himself an alien in the existing order. We have to live by the same hope, and to let it work the same estrangement, if we would live noble lives. Not because all life is change, nor because it all marches steadily on to the grave, but because our true home — the community to which we really belong, the metropolis, the mother city of our souls — is above, are we to feel ourselves strangers upon earth. They who only take into account the transiency of life are made sad, or sometimes desperate, by the unwelcome thought. But they whose pilgrimage is a journey home may look that transiency full in the face, and be as glad because of it as colonists on their voyage to the old country which they call "home," though they were born on the other side of the world and have never seen its green fields.

II. To JACOB'S EYES HIS DAYS SEEM FEW. Abraham's one hundred and seventy-five years, Isaac's one hundred and eighty, were in his mind. But more than these was in his mind. The law of the moral perspective is other than that of the physicial. The days in front, seen through the glass of anticipation, are drawn out; the days behind, viewed through the telescope of memory, are crowded together. What a moment looked all the long years of his struggling life — shorter now than even had once seemed the seven years of service for his Rachel, that love had made to fly past on such swift wings! That happy wedded life, how short it looked! A bright light for a moment, and

"Ere a man could say ' Behold!'

The jaws of darkness did devour it up."It is well to lay the coolness of this thought on our fevered hearts, and, whether they be torn by sorrows or gladdened with bliss, to remember "this also will pass" and the longest stretch of dreary days be seen in retrospect, in their due relation to eternity, as but a moment. That will not paralyze effort nor abate sweetness, but it will teach preparation, and deliver from the illusions of this solid-seeming shadow which we call life.

III. THE PENSIVE RETROSPECT DARKENS, AS THE OLD MAN'S MEMORY DWELLS UPON THE PAST. His days have not only been few — that could be borne — but they have been "evil," by which I understand not unfortunate so much as faulty. We have seen in former lessons the slow process by which the crafty Jacob had his sins purged out of him, and became "God's wrestler." Here we learn that old wrong-doing, even when forgiven — or, rather, when and because for-given — leaves regretful memories life-long. The early treachery had been long ago repented of and pardoned by God and man. The nature which hatched it had been renewed. But here it starts up again, a ghost from the grave, and the memory of it is full of bitterness. No lapse of time deprives a sin of its power to sting. As in the old story of the man who was killed by a rattlesnake's poison fang imbedded in a boot which had lain forgotten for years, we may be wounded by suddenly coming against it long after it is forgiven by God and almost forgotten by ourselves. Many a good man, although he knows that Christ's blood has washed away his guilt, is made to possess the iniquities of his youth. "Thou shalt be ashamed and confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done."

IV. BUT THIS SHADED RETROSPECT IS ONE-SIDED. It is true, and in some moods seems all the truth; but Jacob saw more distinctly, and his name was rightly Israel, when, laying his trembling hands on the heads of Joseph's sons, he laid there the blessing of "the God which fed me all my life long, .... the Angel which redeemed me from all evil." That was his last thought about his life as it began to be seen in the breaking light of eternal day. Pensive and penitent memory may call the years few and evil, but grateful faith even here, and still more the cleared vision of heaven, will discern more truly that they have been a long miracle of loving care, and that all their seeming evil has "been transmuted into good.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: Jacob said to Pharaoh, "The days of the years of my pilgrimage are one hundred thirty years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage."

A Backward Look
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