Thank you for tuning into this verse by verse Bible study. I am your host Randy Duncan, and we are making our way through the book of Genesis. And in this episode we are covering chapter 25, which sees the death of Abraham, and so the focus will now turn to his son Isaac, and to his twin sons, Jacob and Esau.
As a reminder, in the last episode we completed chapter 24. And in that, we finished the story of how Isaac and Rebekah were brought together as husband and wife, which sets the scene for them to sort of be handed the torch, passed on from Abraham and Sarah
And so we begin Chapter 25 with verses 1-6, Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. 2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. 4 The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. 5 Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. 6 But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country.
So we start out with this, oh by the way statement that “Abraham took another wife”. Now, there is a bit of differing opinions on exactly what this means and when this happened. Some insist that this verb “took” is better translated as “had taken”, which would mean that this happened some time in the past. IOW, it’s not chronological.
Others believe this was after Sarah died. However, one problem with that interpretation is Abraham’s age at that time. Abraham had long ago judged his body too old to have children, which is why Isaac’s birth had to be supernatural. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born, and he was now even 40 years older! So it seems unlikely that he would have fathered six more sons at 140 years of age.
But after the other sons are listed, it tells us that Abraham gave them all gifts, and then sent them away. Isaac would be the sole heir of everything Abraham owned, and more importantly, to the covenant promises from God.
7 These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, 175 years. 8 Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. 9 Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, 10 the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. 11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi
So Abraham lives to be 175, which means Isaac is now 75 years old when Abraham dies. Abraham lived in the land for 100 years. Remember that God had promised Abraham that he would live to a ripe old age, and that he would go to his fathers in peace. Here, it is affirmed that Abraham does indeed die at a ripe old age, and content and happy, and is able to die in peace, seeing many grandchildren.
Notice that both Isaac AND Ishmael bury Abraham. Even though they have been separated for many years, they still share the same father. And Ishmael still has a future in the story. Remember, God promised Abraham that he would also bless Ishmael, it’s just that Ishmael would not be the son who would inherit the covenant promises of God.
Abraham is buried in the same cave as Sarah, the sasme one he purchased for her burial. We discussed this in an earlier episode, how that cave at Machpelah is to this day a venerated site to Jews. In fact, it is considered by many as the second holiest site in Judaism after the Temple Mount.
In fact, this site is also holy to Muslims, since Abraham is the father of Ishmael. Today there is a mosque built over the site, and Muslims refer to the site as the Sanctuary of Abraham.
12 These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham. 13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16 These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages and by their encampments, twelve princes according to their tribes. 17 (These are the years of the life of Ishmael: 137 years. He breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.) 18 They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled over against all his kinsmen.
So these verses begin by listing Ishmael’s sons, 12 of them. So Ishmael, as a son of Abraham, enjoys the physical blessings of family, just as God promised he would. In fact, his 12 sons are actually called 12 princes, or chieftains. Remember back in chapter 17, verse 12, what did God tell Abraham concerning Ishmael? “ As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father, get this, “ twelve princes”, and I will make him into a great nation.” So again, as always, God does exactly what He says he is going to do. God keeps His promises.
It tells us here that Ishmael lives to be 137 years of age. The mention of the life-span of a non-Israelite is quite remarkable, and suggests the importance of this descendent of Abraham
And the last part of verse 18 tells us that Ishmael settled over against all of his kinsmen”. Yet again, this is exactly what God told Hagar was going to happen back in chapter 16, verse 12. In that verse, God tells Hagar “He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him,and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.” So once again, what happened was exactly what God said would happen. Ishmael lived in hostility and in conflict with those around him.
We move now in this chapter to the beginning of the story of Isaac’s twin sons, Jacob and Esau.
19 These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21 And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me? So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her, Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”
So after a quick recap that Isaac is Abraham’s son, and that Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebekah, we learn that Rebekah was unable to give birth. This is the same situation we saw with Abraham and Sarah, with Sarah unable to have children. But like Abraham and Sarah, Isaac prays to God, and God responds. This is also a reminder that God is directly involved in the prmomised line. We will see later that Isaac prays for 20 years before Rebekah gives birth. 20 years! However, in the meantime, Isaac and Rebekah do not resort to using a concubine like Abraham and Sarah did. They maintain their faith in God’s word and in the power of prayer. By holding off on answering Isaac’s prayer for 20 years, perhaps God is teaching this new generation that they must also learn the lesson of faith, to understand that what is happening with God’s promised line is not natural, but supernatural.
The scripture tells us that “the children struggled together within her”. Rebekah experiences an unusually difficult pregnancy. The report of a difficult pregnancy is unique in scripture, but also, the Hebrew here uses an unusual verb (wa-itrotsetsu), which literally means “they crushed, thrust, one another”, and it foreshadows their hostility towards one another
So this was an unusually difficult pregnancy, so much so that Rebekah is worried. She realized that this was not normal, and so she goes to God, and asks, “Why is this happening to me? Why did I yearn and pray to become preganant if this is what was going to happen to me? Why do I go on living?…In the Hebrew, that is this sense of what she is asking God.
It may not be about a preganancy, but how many times do we have the same question about events and situations in our lives? God, why is this happening to me? Sometimes we may get an answer, sometimes not. And when we don’t get an answer, we need to learn to live with unanswered questions, and to accept that God’s wisdom and God’s soverienty stands behind all things.
It’s ok to have questions, to be emotional, even angry. It’s ok to ask God why. There are plenty of examples of people in the bible who did just that. But to demand answers from God, well, that’s a different story. See Job chapters 38 and 39 to see how well that worked out for Job.
But God responds to Rebekah. God informs her that she is carrying twins, that each of them will be a progenitor of a people, that the movements and struggles within her womb result from sibling rivalry, and that one would be stronger than the other, but that the older would serve the younger.
There is an important point here. The older shall serve the younger. The physical firstborn is NOT going to be the inheritor of the covenant promises. The younger will inherit those promises. This reminds us of the situation with Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was the firstborn physically, but it would be the younger, Isaac, who would inherit the covenant promises. Same thing here. The physical firstborn of Isaac, Esau would not inherit the promises, but the spiritual firstborn, Jacob, would. Esua is parallel to Ishmael, and Jacob is parallel to Isaac. And there are other examples of this throughout the Bible, such as Cain and Abel, David rather than any of his older brothers, Joseph rather than any of his older brothers.
This is an example of the reality of the physical and the spiritual. Yes, you may physically be the first, but spiritually, you are not fit. There is a physical reality, and there is a spiritual reality. Unfortunately, in our world today, most people are caught up in and completely absorbed by only the physical reality. So much so that they give almost no thought to the reality of the spiritual.
Think about it…how much of each day do you spend on the physical versus the spiritual? And I am not speaking of the physical in terms of exercise or going to the gym or anything, I am talking about simply going through your typical day, which is made up of going to work, running errands, spending your energy on planning your weekends, watching tv, social media, arguing about politics, and the list goes. Now I am not suggesting that the physical is not important, of course it is, that’s how we are made and were designed to interact in the world and with others. But if you are neglecting the spiritual side of life, you are missing out on the fullness of what it means to be a human being, to fully appreciate and enjoy the way God has created us in his image. Well here, God demonstrates to us one again that there is indeed a physical reality, but there is also a spiritual reality. And the spiritual reality is of more consequence.
24 When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
So the twins Jacob and Esau are born. The firstborn was Esau. It tells us that he was red, and this is not likely referring to his hair color, but referring more to a ruddy sort of complexion. This sort of red might be similar to when a normally pale person has been outside in the cold, and their cheeks get flushed. It also tells us that Esua was hairy. This detail will come into lay later on in the narrative.
Jacob was the second born, and it tells us he came out holding onto Esau’s heel. Sort of symbolic of Jacob trying to prevent Esau from being the firstborn. The name Jacob is an abbreviation of a longer word meaning “may God protect”, and so it sort of recognizes Jacob’s divine election.
But we will see that Jacob in some ways will tarnish this good name, and so it is appropriate that his name is also a pun for another word in Hebrew (ah-cave) that means “to seize someone by the heel”, to go behind someone”, to betray”. It is the same word used by God in Genesis 3:15 where God tells Satan, in referencing the Messiah, that this future descendent would crush him, but that Satan would do what?… bruise his heel. It is the same word that puns here, and so the reference to betrayal is fitting.
It also tells us a little about each of the boys after they grew up. Esau is a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. The biblical ideal of a leader is symbolized by a shepherd, which is what Jacob was. Mighty hunters, such as Esua and Nimrod, are depicted negatively in scripture. In fact, in a couple of chapters, we will see Esua described as someone who “lived by the sword”. And remember, Jesus tells us in Matt 26 that “ all who take the sword will perish by the sword”.
And then we come to that short but very interseting verse, verse 28, which tells us “Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob”. Ruh roh, raggy!
First of all, when it says “loved” here, the word translated here as “love” actually means “to choose, or to have a preference for”. No doubt, Isaac and Rebekah loved both of their boys, but they have their favorites.
It tells us why Isaac preferred Esau, because he loved eating the game that Esau brought home. But no reason is given why Rebekah preferred Jacob. So we naturally assume it is because God has already told her that Esau would serve Jacob. Jacob was God’s chosen.
It is interesting…Adam failed in eating, Noah failed in drinking, and now Isaac fails in tasting. Isaac prefers the natural senses, Rebekah prefers the divine choice and lasting qualities. So because of all of this, and for different reasons, parental favortism comes into play, and it ends up making matters worse.
Last five verses of this chapter, starting in verse 29 read, 29 Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom). 31 Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
And so here we see that the struggle that began in the womb continues into adulthood. Esau comes in from the field, exhausted, and asks Jacob for some of the red stew he was cooking. The Hebrew actually reads “some of this red stuff”. BTW, the stew Jacob was cooking was red, which is why then Esau is called Edom, because Edom is derived from the Hebrew verb, adom (a-dome), meaning “to be red”. And Edom is where Esau’s descendents settled. Which is also ironic because remember, when he was born, Esua is described as being red all over.
Now, to be fair to Esau, it wasn’t that he was just tired from a long day hunting in the fields. The real meaning is that he was actually famished, about to faint, and in dire need of food and drink. That is the proper Hebrew understanding of what he he is saying
Nevertheless, Jacob sees an opportunity and exploits his brother’s misery and weakness. So he tells him, “sure, I’ll give you some stew, just sell me your birthright first”. Again, Jacob is taking advantage of the opportunity. This is quite a contrast to the way his grandfather, Abraham, treated guests, servants, and strangers.
So when Jacob says “birthright”, what exactly is he talking about? The word refers to the rights of the firstborn. The firstborn holds a position of honor within the family. You were also responsible to be the family protector, the leader of the family. The father’s inheritance was divided among the number of sons, and the firstborn received two portions. So for example, if there were eight sons, the firstborn would receive two portions, and the remaining seven sons would split the remaining six portions.
Now some think that if there were only two sons, then the firstborn would inherit everything. Others teach that no, the inheritance would have been divided into three parts, and the firstborn would have received two-thirds, which is twice as much as the younger son.
But more importantly in this instance, the one who possesses the birthright also inherits Abrahams covenant promises.
Well how does Esau respond? He says, “ I am about to die. What good is a birthright to me?” Esaus lacks faith, and he lives in the moment. He is shortsighted, and so right now, his birthright means nothing to him.
But Jacob makes him swear, which makes the deal irreversible.Because in the ancient world, an oath was a serious and sacred act. But at the center of all of this is the two different worldviews of Jacob and Esau. Esau lives for the here and now, the immediate, instant satisfaction. Sort of like most of the world does today. Jacob took a longer view approach, deferred prosperity.
So Jacob gives him the stew, Esau ate and drank and got up and left. The style of the verbs in the Hebrew represent Esau’s behavior as being crude as he just devours the meal, then gets up and walks out. And there is no mention of him even giving his birthright a second thought.
The chapter ends simply by stating that Esua despised his birthright. By despised, what is meant here is that Esau treated his birthright with irreverence, he rejected it, he devalued it.
One of the main features of this scene is to depict the differences in Jacob and Esau. Esau was a crass man, characterized by the desire for the immediate sensual graitification. He speaks coarsely, roughly, he’s rude, and has contempt for his family’s inheritance. No wonder God chose Jacob even though he was younger! God is not going to provide his covenant promises to someone who acts like a barbarian. The bottom line is that Esau wasn’t really interested in spiritual things.
As I mentioned earlier, that is something that every person has to figure out on their own. Are you primarily interested in physical things, or spiritual things? I pray that you give some thought to your spiritual life, because until you do, I just don’t believe you will ever be as happy, as complete, and joyful and satisfied as you could be.
Jesus even taught us in Mark 12:30 that you ”shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”. And if we are not devoting some of our day to spiritual things, I just don’t think it is possible to do that.
You know, Jacob started wrestling with Esua in the womb, and it continued into adulthood. And all the while he was wrestling with another person so that he could inherit blessings. But what Jacob will learn, just like all of us will, is that sinners don’t wrestle against other men, they wrestle against God.