Genesis 25 – Israel’s Shrewd Third Patriarch Profits from a Reckless Brother

My family in Christ, shalom.

Welcome and thanks for joining me on my journey through the Bible. Last time we saw how a trusted servant was sent to Abraham’s family in Upper Mesopotamia in order to find a wife for Isaac. By the grace of God Rebekah showed up almost immediately. Having shown kindness to that servant, his camels, and presumably to his fellow-travellers, they all went back to Rebekah’s family home and were welcomed in a likewise manner. The family being hospitable, they heard of the servant’s purpose in coming, and, interestingly, let Rebekah choose whether or not to go back with them (24:57). As a major part of the LORD’s plan, how could she say no?

As chapter 25 begins we see that, probably after the marriage of his son, Abraham married Keturah. [1] She bore him six sons, and we are subsequently told the next generation born to them. Maybe this is to make up for all the lost years of fruitfulness However, the LORD’s promise of a chosen and faithful people, who would inherit the land in which Abraham now dwelt would come about through the one offspring born to him by Sarah. Keturah’s six children, like Ishmael and his descendants (vv, 13-16), as well as the sons Abraham had with his concubines (v. 6a), would be sent out to ensure that all the nations of the would would be blessed through him. [2]

genesis-25-shur-location

The death of Abraham provides the last opportunity for the half-brothers Isaac and the 90-year-old Ishmael to be reunited. The two sons bury their father in the cave in Machpelah (located in Kiriath-arba near Hebron). This is the field which Abraham had purchased from Epron the Hittite following the death of Sarah (ch. 23). We can only guess at the atmosphere between the two as nothing, not even their final goodbye, is recorded.

Now that Abraham and Ishmael’s histories have been told, the second half of the chapter begins the account of Isaac (the son of Abraham who is favoured by the LORD and the one through whom God’s promise will be fulfilled) and his wife. We are told that he was 40-years-old when he married Rebekah and the reiteration of where she came from suggests that this locality will play a part in salvation history at a future date.

After the amount of time in which the reader / hearer encountered the lives of a childless Abraham and Sarah it may be somewhat unexpected that we see Isaac and Rebekah childless for just under 22 verses (24:67-25:21)! [3] As with Sarah, Rebekah’s own pregnancy comes about as an answer to prayer. And like with many pregnancies, this was painful:

“The children pressed hard on each other in her womb, and she said, ‘If this is how it is with me, what does it mean?’ So she went to seek the guidance of the LORD…”

(v. 22 NEB).

Morris III tells how some scholars have interpreted this verse to mean that Rebekah went to Salem (Jerusalem) to Melchizedek, priest of the LORD Most High who we first met in chapter 14. Whatever means of communications were used, the answer may be successfully guessed by anyone who has closely followed what had happened to the patriarchal dynasty previously:

“There are two nations in your womb. From birth they will be two rival peoples. One of these peoples will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger

(v. 23 CJB).

Just what a mother needs to know, two squabbling kids! Any doubt that this wouldn’t be so quickly faded the very moment the twins entered the world. The first child had a lot of hair and a reddish complexion. He was given the name Esau, which means ‘hairy’. But attached to Esau’s heel was a hand held in a tight grip. The hand was attached to an arm, which was itself attached to a body. This was Esau’s twin brother, who was named Jacob. Many suggestions have been put forward as to exactly what this name means, but here were shall use Morris III’s interpretation – “heel grabber”.

Abraham was alive for about the first 15 years of the boys’ lives, so Israel’s first Patriarch got to see first-hand the nurturing and psychological development of the one who would inherit God’s promise to him. He also saw the same in regard to Esau, and was no doubt sad that any blossoming relationship between Esau and Jacob would one day be severed. The older brother, Esau, was showing himself to be the more physically stronger of the two, with a life suited to hunting and the outdoors. Jacob, on the other hand, was timid and homely. Esau found favour with Isaac while Jacob was close to Rebekah’s heart. Yes things certainly were being put in place for a reversal of fortunes as had been the case with Ishmael and Isaac.

Morris III suggests that over time Jacob had taken note of Esau’s carelessness upon arriving home after a day of hunting. He wandered: after a tiring day would Esau freely hand over his birthright to me for some bread and stew?

The ‘birthright’ has not been explicitly referred to in the Bible before, and I think that its appearance here is somewhat of a game-changer for Hebrew history. The birthright (or primogeniture) was precticed in other lands but not by the people of the LORD Most High. [4] In essence, the privilege of the birthright was to have the rightful claim to the family’s material wealth, as well as the burden of leadership (cf. Deuteronomy 21:17). Indeed, that Israel is the LORD’s first-born son would have caused Pharaoh to have thought of more than just a reduced workforce (Exodus 4:22). It was at last time for ADONAI’s people to adopt these once alien ways of inheritance (Exodus 13:1-2; Numbers 3:44-45).

Up until now the birthright may not have seemed worthwhile to Esau. If he ever regreted making that rash decision he will find that it cannot be undone. As we shall see in Genesis 27 Jacob and his mother, who now have the future of the Hebrew race within their grasp, do what they can to make sure that the new system receives Isaac’s blessing. I shall leave a description of what results from Esau spurning his birthright until then. For it is one thing for children to make uncertified agreements between themselve; it is quite something else to have them ratified by their parents and the household over whom Jacob wishes to have authority recognise him as the true heir

I hope you have enjoyed this. See you next time.

Lehitra’ot and God bless you.

Endnotes

[1] As we are not told of Abraham going away to find Keturah, who is also listed in 1 Chronicles 1:32:

“she may have been part of the family entourage for some time before Sarah died”

(Morris III,  Henry M. (2014) The Book of Beginnings: a Practical Guide to Understand and Teach Genesis – volume 3: the Patriarchs, a Promised Nation, and the Dawning of the Second Age. Dallas: The Institute for Creation Research, ch. 6 [Kindle Edition])

[2] “The names of [Ketura’ sons’ descendants] are mentioned from time to time in biblical history but in each instance they are identified only as ‘neighbors’ or in many cases as military or cultural enemies of the ‘promised son’” (e.g. 1 Kings 10) (ibid)

[3] As Isaac was 60-years-old when Esau and Isaac were born, it may be even more incredible that 20 years are covered by this and just a few verses more (up until v. 24).

[4] Whether or not it formed part of Melchizedek’s culture in Salem may be something worth pondering.

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