Despite his age and infirmity, Jacob’s memory was nothing short of remarkable. He could name each one of his boys, and he could describe their individual natures and recall with pertinent detail the lives they had lived. Although he had not always disciplined them appropriately or wisely, he knew his sons well. No doubt the Lord assisted at this touching moment of his life by providing the prophetic insight passed on by this aging father. From the firstborn, Reuben, through the youngest, Benjamin, Jacob blessed not only his sons, but the twelve tribes that would descend from them.
After this, Jacob gave them specific instructions about where he was to be buried, in keeping with the promise Joseph had made to him earlier. And then, this beautiful statement: “When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 49:33).
Those who have eternal hope, though grieving over the instant loss death brings and the painful absence that follows, must remember and will be comforted by the realization that when the believer is taken from this life, he or she is gathered into the place of the saints. As it says, Jacob was “gathered to his people.” Absent from the body, face to face with the Lord. How simple yet how sacred the moment. With one quiet and final sigh, the old patriarch joined those eternal ranks.
John Donne, seventeenth-century English poet, was not only one of that country’s great poets but also one of her most celebrated preachers. He wrote eloquently about death:
All mankinde is of one Author, and is one volume; when one Man dies, one Chapter is not torne out of the booke, but translated into a better language; and every Chapter must be so translated. God emploies several translators: some peeces are translated by age, some by sicknesse, some by warre, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation; and his hand shall binde up all our scattered leaves againe, for that Librarie where every booke shall lie open to one another.
God translates the life of an individual after death, and only then can we measure the significance of that life.