When a Patriarch Dies in Genesis

I have thoroughly enjoyed preaching through the first book of the Bible–Genesis. I’ve translated every single word and mined the riches of the Hebrew text as much as God has enabled me. Along the way, I have read a few exceptional commentaries that have provided wonderfully helpful insights. One of those commentaries (Waltke) cited another commentary from a Jewish scholar (Sarna) wherein he explained the age of the 3 patriarchs at their death was not left to chance or random numbers but indicates the clear sovereign purpose and providence of God working in the seed of the woman carried on through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Here are the stats:

  • Abraham was 175 at his death (25:7)
  • Isaac was 180 at his death (35:28)
  • And Jacob, having fewer years dies at 147 (47:28)

Doing some math, you get some interesting patterns here.

  • Abraham’s 175 = 52 x 7
  • Isaac’s 180 = 62 x 5
  • Jacob’s 147 = 72 x 3

Sarna explained the mathematical sequence, “In this series, the squared number increases by one each time while the coefficient decreases by two [each time]. Furthermore, in each case the sum of the factors is 17.” That is, Abraham’s equation is 5 x 5 x 7. And when you change those factors into addition, it equals 17. Isaac’s equation is 6 x 6 x 5. Change that into addition, and it equals 17. Jacob’s equation is 7 x 7 x 3. Change that into addition and it equals 17.

Seventeen, if you recall from Gen 46 (go here to listen to my sermon on this great chapter of Genesis), was an important number as it is a play off of 70 (10 x 7), the number of the elect seed going into Egypt so as to bless the nations (Gen 46:27). Previously, the nations were represented in the “table of nations” back in Genesis 10 as 70 nations listed. In other words, the 70 of Israel represents the blessing of the nations, also depicted by the number 70. Seventy, being factors of 7 and 10, indicate the complete whole or total of all the nations (though not all nations were mentioned in Gen 10). To also emphasize 70, the factors of 7 x 10 were also put into addition as 7 + 10 (17). Thus Joseph lived in Canaan 17 years (37:2), and Jacob lived in Egypt 17 years (47:28). Leah’s offspring (33; which is 17+16) was 1 more than double her handmaid Zilpah’s (16). And Leah’s 33 offspring + her handmaid Zilpah’s 16 = 49; which is 7 x 7. Rachel’s offspring numbered 14 (7 + 7), while Rachel’s handmaid Bilhah’s offspring is half that, only 7. Finally, Jacob’s 7th son, Gad, in Hebrew letters is ג g (3) and ד d (4) add up to 7. Wouldn’t you know it, Gad has 7 sons (46:16). I do not believe these are all coincidences nor is this the wackiness of numerology.

Coming back to the patriarch’s and their death, Sarna noted, “Through their factorial patterns, the patriarchal chronologies constitute a rhetorical device expressing the profound biblical conviction that Israel’s formative age was not a concatenation of haphazard incidents but a series of events ordered according to God’s grand design.”

The theme of barrenness throughout Genesis makes it evident that God is the One controlling and providing a seed of blessing. This is a vital part of Genesis’s theology. Yet even God’s hand of providence did not leave the death of the chosen seed of blessing to chance, but He orchestrated matters in such a way to indicate His sovereign administration of the affairs by which He will use them to bless the nations. In short, not only were their births miraculous (remember Sarah striving to have children?), but we see their deaths point to the same work of God’s redemptive program to bring about the true Seed of Abraham (Gal 3:16) who would be a blessing to every tribe, tongue, and nation (Gal 3:13-14)! Both in life and death, the chosen seed of blessing is nowhere in doubt.