Archive for November, 2012

What Is The Blessed Hope?

November 29, 2012 6 comments

Titus 2 came up in my recent Bible readings, and in a brief online discussion concerning what the Blessed Hope is.  Titus 2:13 is the key verse in reference to the “Blessed Hope”:   waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Often, though, online websites or audio series, particularly those that emphasize the pre-trib rapture, lose the focus: declaring that the blessed hope is the pre-trib rapture event itself, or things particularly associated with the rapture event.  Examples include this audio series (part A of the second series), and this article, which says: “Titus chapter 2 is an amazing chapter because it tells us that the rapture of the church is our ‘blessed hope’, in which we are to do the following while we wait on His return.” That article goes on to focus on what we are to do while waiting for His return, and that “the Blessed Hope is a means by which God uses it to prepare us and purify us as we wait. It is not simply a ‘get out of jail free card’, it is a refining tool of the Lord to make us ready on a daily basis. After all, death is a reality for over 250,000 people a day every day around the world, with lots of them being bible believing Christians.”

Yet such a view, with emphasis on the pre-trib rapture, misses the overall emphasis and what Titus 2:13, the Blessed Hope, is about: Christ Himself, and His appearing.  Teaching about the rapture and its timing is fine enough in its place, including discussion of the various scripture references to the rapture and indirect scriptural evidences for a pre-tribulational rapture.  Far too often, though, careless ideas creep into our doctrine, as with such statements about “the rapture of the church is our ‘blessed hope'” in which the focus is on us rather than on Christ Himself and His return.  Then too, the posts at rapture forums often focus on the great desire to escape from this life, to be raptured away – again a self-focused view.  Certainly our motives in this life will always be mixed at best, and even when we first come to Christ the primary reasons are indeed selfish.  Yet as Spurgeon often said, too often people have selfish motives for desiring Christ’s return in their lifetime: to escape their present circumstances, and/or to avoid the experience of physical death.  Let us instead keep our eyes on our Lord, truly desiring Him above all else, whatever our circumstances: Philippians 1:21, For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Another consideration is that the vast majority of believers meet the Lord at death.  Only a relatively few will actually be living at the time and caught up, to meet up with those who have been resurrected (1 Thess. 4:17).  From that perspective, the blessed hope for those who die before Christ’s return, is to meet Him at death.  The full, final perspective, of course, includes all  the events at the Second Coming, especially the bodily resurrection: those already physically dead as well as those of us still living, all awaiting our glorified bodies.

In closing, some great observations from Spurgeon, in this message:

What is that “blessed hope”? Why, first, that when He comes we shall rise from the dead, if we have fallen asleep, and that if we are alive and remain, we shall be changed at His appearing! Our hope is that we shall be approved of Him and shall hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Also from Spurgeon, sermon #2509:

what is the blessed hope of the children of God—they are looking for the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ from Heaven! As they look back by faith, they see their Lord upon the Cross and then they see Him in the tomb—and then they behold Him risen from the grave. The last glimpse they catch of Him is as a cloud receives Him out of their sight. He has gone into Glory, but Believers have not forgotten those angelic words to the disciples, “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go into Heaven.” So we expect Him to come. And when He comes, then is to be the time of our highest joy!  Even though we are now called the sons of God, “it does not yet appear what we shall be.” Our glory, our full bliss, is as yet concealed, “but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like He, for we shall see Him as He is.” So, Brothers and Sisters, our hope is that when Christ shall come, we shall be perfected—that then we shall be rid of every sin and shall become holy even as He is holy, pure even as He is pure!


Water from the Rock: Genre Reading Selections

November 24, 2012 4 comments

From my recent readings in a genre style plan, the following passages came up together one day — a few interesting passages to think upon:

  •  John 7:37-39, when Jesus stood up, on the last day, the great day of the Feast, and proclaimed Himself the source of the river of living water
  • Next, Exodus 17:1-7, the story of that event so well remembered thousands of years later at the Feast in John 7: Moses striking the rock, and water coming out for the thirsty people in the desert
  • An unrelated event, one I wouldn’t have thought of except that it was also in the daily genre reading selection:  Judges 15:19, a time when Samson was given special grace, that a “hollow place” in the wilderness split open and provided him water, so that “his spirit returned, and he revived.”
  • Isaiah 48, a great chapter about the suffering servant, including a well-known Old Testament trinity verse (Isaiah 48:16), and in verse 21 another reference to the water from the rock:

They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts;
he made water flow for them from the rock;
he split the rock and the water gushed out.

In God’s word, water is often used as a picture of the Holy Spirit, that which refreshes our soul as physical water refreshes our thirst.  Many other Bible verses also speak of coming to the water, as for instance Isaiah 55:1 and again at the very end of the Bible, Revelation 22:17.  The rock is our God (the first mention in Deuteronomy 32:31), also Christ specifically (1 Corinthians 10:4).  Thus the scriptures also show the importance of the idea of water from the rock, through repetition and remembrance as in the above mentioned texts.

Steve Lawson’s “Pillars of Grace” Volume 2: Church History and the Doctrines of Grace

November 21, 2012 4 comments

A few weeks ago I mentioned a special offer for the electronic version of Steve Lawson’s  Pillars of Grace (A Long Line of Godly Men, Volume Two).  (The special offer is over; regular pricing now.)  The “Pillars of Grace” series highlights the doctrinal beliefs known as the “Doctrines of Grace,” sometimes nicknamed Calvinism.  The first volume looked at the doctrines themselves, and volume two traces the history and development of doctrinal thought, from Clement of Rome in the first century to the Reformation, showing that the “Doctrines of Grace” did not originate with John Calvin but are rooted in the church’s history.

The highlights of this book:  It is very easy reading, well organized with clear sentence and chapter structure.  Headings and subheadings are also well put to use, with the same familiar structure from one chapter to the next.  For a book of such size (over 500 pages) this is a pleasant surprise.  I haven’t read anything before from Steve Lawson, and have only listened to a few of his sermons, but now know that his writing style is very approachable for the common layperson.  After the foreword (by J. Ligon Duncan) and introductory chapter, each chapter highlights one of many of the great Christian thinkers.  Each chapter begins with a portrait and quote from that individual, along with a biographical sketch (including the time period, location, and major life events for that man) and that man’s important contributions to Christian theology.  The next section within each chapter describes that person’s theology, with sub-section “Doctrines in Focus” and the specific writings from that individual concerning the various doctrines, which vary from chapter to chapter as appropriate for that person’s writings:  divine sovereignty, radical depravity (original sin), sovereign election, definite atonement, irresistible call, preserving grace, divine reprobation.  A chapter summary, footnotes, and a study guide with several questions, conclude each chapter.

The chapters are arranged chronologically, and include overall development descriptions at key points, explaining the overall situation of the church within the overall society at that point in time, and introducing the new sub-groups, such as the “Apostolic Fathers” who had some connection with the original apostles, and the “Apologist Fathers” who first defended the faith in writings to pagan unbelievers.  Later chapters introduce the Latin fathers (Ambrose, Augustine), various early and later monastics (Isidore, Gottschalk, Bernard of Clairvaux), the scholastics (Anselm, Thomas Bradwardine), and the pre-reformers and the Reformers.

Through this great survey, we meet the saints brought up in Christian homes as well as those from pagan Greek backgrounds, and how they came to faith in Christ as adults, such as Josephus (in his mid-thirties) and Cyprian (converted at age 47, and martyred only 11 years later).  Most of the names I had at least heard before, though in varying degrees of familiarity; but I learned more about all of these great Christians, their lives and their writings.  A few were previously unknown to me: Cyprian of Carthage and Gregory of Nazianzus.

One of the interesting things that comes out is that — contrary to the first impression from the foreword and introduction — the Doctrines of Grace as a set of five points of belief, did not all develop at the very beginning of church history but came gradually through several hundred years.  The earliest writers, the apostolic fathers immediately after the canon closed, primarily quoted and used the language of the scriptures themselves rather than develop great commentary.  Later saints showed understanding of some of the various doctrines regarding God’s sovereignty, especially divine sovereignty, radical depravity, and divine reprobation; some of the writers showed particular understanding of other ideas such as definite atonement and preserving grace.  Yet many of the early writers also contradicted themselves especially in the area of free will, something not yet fully systematized and understood: in some places affirming the necessity of the new birth, that apart from the work of God a person could not choose to believe; and yet in other places writing of man’s ability to choose and come to faith in Christ.  Lawson especially considers the context of their writing:  in the face of martyrdom for the faith, needing to explain their beliefs to unbelievers, while also responding to various heresies about the nature of Christ, the early church leaders had higher priorities than developing systematic theologies.  They also lived in a time of gnostics and the Greek passive fatalism, and thus emphasized man’s responsibility, man’s action, which unfortunately led to such not well thought out and even contradictory statements.  Full development of the understanding of the will and its bondage would come later.  The details of doctrinal development attest to the scriptures themselves, as John 16:13 described: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth,” a truth mentioned by S. Lewis Johnson in his “The Divine Purpose” series.

With an overview look at so many great leaders throughout church history, their lives and the particular issues of each time period, and the development of several important doctrines, this second volume of the Pillars of Grace is an excellent addition to studies in church history.

Presuppositions and Hermeneutics: Conversation with an Old Earth Creationist

November 16, 2012 19 comments

I referenced this topic a while back in this post, but it came up again in a recent online conversation.  While discussing one person’s question — general resources to answer a seminary professor who holds to old earth creation — the following conversation ensued with an an old-earth creationist who is inconsistent in his hermeneutics concerning creation and the future: literal hermeneutic concerning the future, but not the past.  The old earth advocate will here be referred to as OEC.  Another biblical creationist in the conversation will be referred to as BC.

OEC: The best young earth creationist out there is probably Jonathan Sarfati — look him up on Wikipedia. He also happens to (probably) be dispensational and Jewish (like Casey Luskin from the Discovery Institute). Casey however is (like myself) a scientist and an old-earther.  Personally I would encourage (the person asking the original question) toward Intelligent Design.

BC: If you ‘like’ him (Jonathan Sarfati) on Facebook you might be able to get him to give you some resources. He’s pretty involved. Also, OEC, I think ‘ID’ at this point might do more harm than good, since it is devoid of the God of the Bible.

Me: The same hermeneutic that drives our eschatology is that which brings the correct biblical understanding about creation. There are some non-premillennialists who affirm literal, recent creation. But (with the exception of the Gap Theory, early-to-mid 20th century) relatively few dispensational premillennialists hold to old-earth.

OEC: You are right… Intelligent Design does not posit any Designer with a capital “D”. Speaking as a scientist however, I think Intelligent Design has far more potential for dealing a severe blow to the Darwinist materialist camp than YEC will. ID is simply where things are moving toward in science. The important part for Christians is to be ready with an answer (1 Peter 3:15) to who the Designer is.

From my point of view, the saddest part of this old/young earth thing is that there are so few Christians and pastors involved in science. Thus the church really has so little to contribute to the current frantic pace of scientific development — and I really do mean frantic pace (I speak from personal experience as a postdoc physicist).

Me: Regarding Christians who hold to old earth — unless the school is completely liberal and apostate and doesn’t even hold the basic tenets such as Christ’s incarnation and resurrection — Intelligent Design isn’t really a problem for them. They understand that God is the creator, but they show blatant disregard for God’s word, because they only believe Genesis 1:1 and disregard the rest of the creation account. The ID movement does not bring people to Christianity, and is the inconsistent position that is rejected by the unbelieving atheists; yet those who focus on ID do no service to the truthfulness of God’s word. Consider that if all God wanted to tell us was that He created the world, then why not just have that part in the Bible? Genesis 1:1. Instead we have two full chapters, plus a specific reference in Exodus, telling much more of the details. God clearly wants us to recognize not only that He is the creator, but also to recognize the specific manner in which He created.

BC: And then Paul’s warning in Romans 1 that you don’t even need the Bible to know that He’s created. But in rejecting that they come under God’s judgment and wrath.

Me:  The “science” aspect of young earth is already out there — especially highlights that. The real underlying issue, though, is presuppositions. As I have learned from direct experience with someone who holds to old earth: no amount of scientific evidence will change someone’s mind, even that of a professed Christian, if that person is hardened and God in His sovereignty has hardened that person to not accept or receive the truth.

OEC: I think that many of us old earth guys take Genesis very seriously, but we also recognize that there are two books: Scripture and Nature. And these two books should be in harmony. So while we (or me at least) would hold to Scripture being infallible, we also realize that our interpretations of Scripture may not be.

BC: Nature is not a book. That is, if by that you mean the “67th Book of the Bible”. It is not inspired nor is it authoritative like Scripture is.

OEC: Yes, presuppositions are indeed the real underlying issue. And that goes for YECs and OECs and the rest…

BC: How do you interpret Gen 1:1-2:3?

Me: Our presupposition is that we believe God says what He means!!!  The burden of proof is on the one who rejects God’s word, and claims that it doesn’t really mean what it says.

OEC: Right now, I hold the age of the earth and Gen 1-2 tentatively. D.A. Carson says the mixed genres in Genesis make a water-tight interpretation difficult. Fruchtenbaum says old. Science almost universally disputes a young earth, yet 90ish percent of the universe is missing. Sarfati (heavily presuppositional) say young, Luskin says old. Sproul has changed his mind (now YEC I believe)… so I am happy to let the dust settle while working as a scientist. But I would add… … that the important issue in all this is not the age of the earth — I think it is largely a distraction. The issue is materialism (or naturalism) and that is why Intelligent Design is so key to the future. I can talk Intelligent Design to my professors, but YEC — like it or not — is not even on the table.

Me: Science does not prove anything concerning the age of the earth. It really goes back to presuppositions and how we evaluate the evidence observed. Creation is ORIGIN science, not operational science. That is an important distinction that old earth creationists do not seem to understand. We can not replicate the “science” of creation. Operational science is what we observe in the world around us. To call the creation of the earth, science, is a misnomer. More accurately, origin science is like archeology, looking at what already happened and, from our presuppositions, determining the likely (origin) cause of what we observe.

An Inconvenient Truth  — a good article summing up the different positions.

Concerning ID specifically, from this article:

The Intelligent Design movement is something of a mixed bag. Many of its adherents are active Christians who maintain a strong personal testimony of their faith in Christ. Although the movement has become somewhat amorphous and some of its leaders are now identifying the “Designer” of creation, the core philosophy is still centered on using science and the evidence for design as the means for persuasion—without stressing the obvious need for recognizing the omnipotent and omniscient Designer.

Two serious problems continue to weaken the effectiveness of the Intelligent Design movement. By consciously excluding the identity of the Creator from its message, the least that can happen is that the Creator Himself will not identify with its message.15 Further, by deconstructing the clear teachings of Scripture of a recent creation and a worldwide flood, ID proponents are placing the teachings of secular science over the written Word of God, “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”16

“that the important issue in all this is not the age of the earth — I think it is largely a distraction.”   Please read the above comments, all of this thread.  If the age of the earth were not important, WHY is it in God’s word in the first place?

The argument you are using about the age of the earth not being important, is the VERY SAME argument that amillennialists and postmillennialists use concerning eschatology: the details aren’t important, we only need to understand that God is in control and that Jesus is coming back.

OEC: Intelligent Design is probably the most misrepresented area that I have ever studied. Yes it is made up of a mixed bag of people, and no, it does not identify the designer. However I think that these are hardly weaknesses given the context that we are living in. I put it back on IDs critics — how are you proposing to change the world? Intelligent Design is a world changer… and science is heading very rapidly toward that reality. Of course, like big bang cosmology, many materialists will deny design in nature until the cows come home, and then finally they will accept it because it will be too obvious to deny. e.g. the weight of evidence and the shift to the new “design” paradigm will make it obvious, and the people will wonder how they could have believed in Darwinism for so long. Yes, Paley is back. Exciting times to be in science…

Me: How is ID as a philosophy any different from the amills and postmills who emphasize that the details are not important, all we need to do is point people to Jesus, that God is the one in control and Jesus is coming back?

OEC:  “If the age of the earth were not important, WHY is it in God’s word in the first place?” I think you are begging the question — this is exactly what the discussion is about. Who said presuppositions???

Me: The recent creation in six literal days is in God’s word. The presupposition is that we believe God and what He said, which includes Genesis 1 and 2 plus many genealogies and other biblical evidence regarding a recent creation.

BC: And the presence of wayyiqtols in Genesis 1:1-2:3 make the text undeniably historical narrative, not poetry. Therefore it must be read as such.

OEC: Intelligent Design is a scientific program. It studies the book of nature and makes inferences from the data. Some Intelligent Design people like Paul Nelson are YECs. Most are not. I simply don’t see the connection to our (text-mutilating) amill friends…

BC: But the creation itself is fallen. Much of the data is flawed. And you still can’t posit how it came into being from it.

OEC: Another difference is that Genesis is in the past while the rapture and 2nd coming and so on are future. Thus we cannot compare the record of nature (using science) to Rev 20 or whatever… One day, we will be able to… but we cannot now.

Me:  OEC, the connection is there and it is huge! Old earthers twist the plain meaning of scripture, to get other ideas, just as non-premillennialists do.

That is not the issue (the idea that Genesis in the past thus proven, and thus different from the rapture and Second Coming in the future).  None of us were there at the beginning — so our knowledge of both the past AND the future is the same, unknown directly by us, and only known by God. The solution is that we trust the same God for both the past AND the future.

What do you think about the Genesis flood of Noah’s day? Was it a worldwide deluge or not?

BC: Exactly. And the problem with your last statement, OEC, is that, although Genesis is in the past, Genesis 1-5 was a different ecology. And it also cannot be postulated from the existing ecology. Unless you also don’t believe in a Global Flood.

OEC:  I think your presupposition is how you interpret Genesis1-2. If there was no earth then your case might be strong. But there is an earth, and as I said, the two books need to be reconciled. Perhaps YEC will turn out to be right. Perhaps your interpretation will turn out to be wrong. I am happy to hold these in tension. Darwinism and materialism however are another story…

Me: OEC, answer our questions:  do you believe in the global worldwide flood, from Genesis 6-9? Yes or No. What do you think happened during that event?

BC:  OEC said: “If there was no earth then your case might be strong.” What does that even mean? Are you saying that because there’s an earth, its very existence necessitates an OEC interpretation?

At this point the Old Earth Objector left, saying he needed to get to bed (different time zones): “Happy to talk more later.”

Final observations:  when pressed, he avoided the question regarding the Genesis flood (not even a yes or no answer) and simply left the conversation.  That was the style throughout, to not answer the questions and go off on some other idea. His remark about the “two books” reveals the dangerous slippery slope:  appealing to non-biblical authority, putting outside extrabiblical “evidence” – in this case, the supposed evidence that the Earth is billions of years old – as equal to God’s inspired word, and so we can’t believe everything God says, if it contradicts this supposed “self-evident” truth concerning the age of creation.

The inconsistency in hermeneutics and reasoning also comes out.  In previous conversations on different topics, this same individual had scorned D.A. Carson and R.C. Sproul for their beliefs regarding eschatology, often remembering R.C. Sproul’s incident of saying that dispensationalism is “goofy” – and yet these men were considered worthy of consideration, the appeal to authority, in support of old earth non-biblical creation.

Bible Verses Misused: Missionary and Other Topics

November 13, 2012 4 comments

Many of us can think of particular misapplications of scripture verses, such as topical sermons where the preacher starts with the topic and then picks out certain Bible verses to “fit” that topic—especially a problem when the text chosen has nothing to do with that particular topic.  Often, indeed, the idea being taught is found in the Bible, but we realize that other verses, more to the point, would have been more suitable.

A particularly bizarre time, from a layperson filling in for the regular pastor, involved a sermon about the salvation of children and how children come to know the Lord – from Jeremiah 48:11:

 ​​​​​​​​“Moab has been at ease from his youth and hassettled on his dregs; he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile; so his taste remains in him, and his scent is not changed.”

The book of Revelation, including narrative sections describing events such as Revelation 11 or Revelation 13, being taught only as basic soteriology, is another obvious example.  The way some preach through Revelation, one wonders why God chose to give us that book of the Bible and why it was included in the canon of scripture.  After all, the way it comes out in some sermon series, the only truth found in Revelation is that which is already taught, very clearly and in abundance, elsewhere in the New Testament.

Another common area for scripture misuse, that I’ve especially seen in the last few weeks:  Old Testament texts treated as having to do with the spread of the gospel and missionary work throughout the world in this age.  A visiting missionary with a pragmatic topical message about getting people involved in evangelism and sharing the gospel with all the foreigners now among us in the U.S., who took part of Exodus 9:16 as the sermon verse:  “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”  Only the last part of the verse was referenced, of course, because Exodus 9:16 is actually a great statement about God’s sovereignty, God’s sovereign purposes especially in election of saved individuals: the same meaning of which is taken up by Paul when he quoted it in full in Romans 9:17.  The missionary took a declarative statement, similar to other great statements such as Habakkuk 2:14, about God’s name and God’s glory being proclaimed throughout the earth, as the purpose statement for mission work.

Agreed, mission work is important and not to be neglected:  but so is the truth and context of God’s word.  Many other passages are suitable, ones that actually relate to mission work: the “Great Commission” of Matthew 28, for instance, as well as Romans 10 and especially parts of the book of Acts, the main book describing actual missionary work, its adventures and its fruit.

Furthermore, such misuses of Bible verses lead to error, perhaps subtle, but nonetheless error – what would be avoided by careful teaching and preaching of the actual verses that do speak to missionary work.  The subtle, implied idea behind Exodus 9:16 as a missionary statement, is man’s involvement and even the necessity of man doing the work, in bringing about what God has already declared: that His name will be declared in all the earth.  Yes, agreed, God uses means to accomplish His work, and that work does include the work of missionaries to foreign lands, bringing the gospel to areas so that people can hear God’s word – so well brought out in Romans 10.  But to take Exodus 9:16b as a statement for missionary work comes across as a way of attempting to rob God of His glory, since that verse especially has to do with God’s power and sovereignty, a passage and section of God’s word focused on the attributes of God, not on men doing evangelism and missionary work.  My glory will I not give to another  (Isaiah 42:8) comes to mind.

The U.S. 2012 Election: Sin Makes Us Stupid, the Reality of Romans 1

November 7, 2012 4 comments

Among the many comments and responses to what has just happened, the re-election of President Obama, this one is especially good, so linking to it here:

Tom Chantry, How I Absorbed Three Punches and Stood Up Anyway

The Genesis Patriarchs: Ages, Years and Arithmetic

November 5, 2012 2 comments

For my Bible reading I’ve been following a genre style approach with 12-14 chapters per day, from Professor Horner’s Ten List idea, for about 3 ½ years now.  Over time, I find that through repeated readings I notice more and more things in the same text: a lot of the wonder of God’s word, that it is always fresh and new and never runs out of depth of material.

I’m now reading through Genesis, a book included in a 109 day cycle through the Pentateuch.  S. Lewis Johnson’s Genesis series is one that I remember more than some series. I learned of the doctrine of first mention from this series; that Sarah is the only woman in the Bible for whom we are given her age at death (127 years); and the biblical-historical rationale and importance concerning the burial of the body as opposed to cremation.  Also, the frequent mentions of Isaac and his love of Esau’s game, such that SLJ observed that Isaac probably had a large pot (belly) from his great love of food, as well as the overall life lessons of Jacob and how God dealt with him, sending him a Laban just as shrewd as himself; and why it was necessary for Jacob and his family to be sent to Egypt, and in the way it was done: to keep the family line secure and separate from the other peoples.

Now to another observation from regular reading through Genesis:  the many numbers and year and age figures provided, and the fact of the very long lives of people during the patriarchal period, with lifespans twice that of now (and even of the lifespans less than a thousand years later).  This especially comes out in the Jacob saga and the people associated with him.  We first meet Laban in Genesis 24, an adult brother of Rebekah.  Esau and Jacob were born twenty years later (Genesis 25:20, 26), were past age 40 (Genesis 26:34) and actually in their 70s (continue reading) — when Jacob stole the blessing from Esau.  Then Jacob — over ninety years after Genesis 24 — meets his uncle Laban, who continues in the story for the next twenty years.  Over a hundred years after Laban’s sister Rebekah left to marry Isaac, Laban is still physically active and able to pursue after Jacob in Genesis 31.

We also learn from Genesis that Joseph was born at the end of the 14 years work for both brides Leah and Rachel (Genesis 30:25).  Benjamin was born at least seven years later. Genesis 31 verses 38 and 41 note that Jacob had been with Laban 20 years at that point: six years after Joseph was born; and other verses indicate that Jacob’s children were still young when Jacob fled from Laban.  Then allow some period of time for the events of Genesis 34, perhaps a year, and then Rachel gave birth to Benjamin while they were journeying from Shechem to Ephrath (Genesis 35:16-18).  This agrees with the fact that Benjamin was not involved in the plot of the older brothers selling Joseph into slavery, when Joseph was 17 but Benjamin was still a young boy perhaps ten years old.

Jacob was 120 years old when his father Isaac died (Genesis 35:27-29): Isaac 180 years old, minus 60 years when Jacob and Esau were born.  If the later time and age sequences are correct, though, Isaac’s death occurred during Joseph’s time in Egypt, after the events of Genesis 37.

Working backward from Genesis 47:9 when Jacob was 130 years old, apparently Jacob was 91 when Joseph was born.  Jacob and sons entered Egypt after two years of famine, with five more years of famine, and so Joseph was then 39 years old: age 30 when he entered Pharoah’s service (Genesis 41:46); then seven years of plenty, plus two years of famine = 39.  Thus Jacob was in his 70s when he entered into service with Laban. So the incident of Jacob stealing Esau’s blessing came when they were in their 70s, after Esau had been married for many years to the Hittite women.  After all, by the time of Genesis 27 Isaac is old and his eyes set so that he cannot see; and he wanted to give the blessing to his son, since “I do not know the day of my death.” When Jacob and Esau were 75, Isaac was 60 years older, 135 (not knowing he would live till age 180).  Perhaps Esau already had children by those wives he married at age 40, a part not relevant to the story, which concerned the two men and the blessing.

Of course the book of Genesis has much more to tell, of which all these numbers and years are merely the background.  Yet we can also learn from these details, as well as the genealogies spread throughout Genesis, that our God is involved in the lives of His people, and that He is even interested in the details of people’s lives and their families and family lines.