Home > Bible Study, Genesis, Horner Bible Reading Plan, S. Lewis Johnson > The Genesis Patriarchs: Ages, Years and Arithmetic

The Genesis Patriarchs: Ages, Years and Arithmetic


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.

  1. November 5, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Lynda, I had no idea of the ages of these characters. A great piece of research.

    • November 5, 2012 at 4:56 pm

      Thanks, bography. I started thinking about some of these ages and years the last time I was reading through Genesis, recalling the various reference points of the timeline, and finally pulled it all together in written form.

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