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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Genesis 25

 

 

Verses 1-6

Abraham"s sons by Keturah25:1-6

Keturah (lit. enveloped in fragrant smoke) may have been a concubine like Hagar ( Genesis 25:6; 1 Chronicles 1:32). Jewish tradition identified Keturah as Hagar. [Note: Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Targum Neofiti I (margin), and Genesis Rabbah61:4.] It is not possible to prove that Abraham married Keturah and that she bore him six sons after Sarah"s death, though this was probably the case. He may have married her earlier in his life while Sarah was alive.

The information revealed in these verses may appear at this point in the narrative simply to introduce the Midianites who come into prominence later in Genesis. They were a group of tribes that inhabited the deserts surrounding Israel. Probably Moses also included this data because this passage confirms God"s faithfulness in giving Abraham many descendants, though Isaac and his branch of the family would be the recipients of God"s special blessings.

In this section and the following two ( Genesis 25:7-19) those characters who play minor parts in the drama take their curtain calls making way for the chief actors who follow.

God"s promise that "through Isaac your descendants shall be named" ( Genesis 21:12) led Abraham to act as he did, as Moses recorded here.

"The land of the East" ( Genesis 25:6) to which Abraham sent his sons other than Isaac was evidently Arabia. It lay to the east and south of Canaan.

"In this case the sending away of the sons is to make Isaac"s position more secure." [Note: Loren Fisher, "An Amarna Age Prodigal," Journal of Semitic Studies3:2 (April1958):119.]


Verses 1-11

18. Abraham"s death25:1-11

Before Abraham died, he made sure that God"s covenantal blessing would be Isaac"s by sending his other sons away. After he died, God confirmed his decision by blessing Isaac.

"In the short span of one chapter, the writer shows how Isaac"s entire life was a repetition of that which happened to Abraham. Thus the lesson is that God"s faithfulness in the past can be counted on in the present and the future. What he has done for the fathers, he will also do for the sons." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p186.]

"It is only said of Isaac among Abraham"s children that "God ["elohim] blessed" him ( Genesis 25:11; cf. Genesis 24:1; cf. Genesis 24:35); this language is used rarely in Scripture, appearing in creation narratives ( Genesis 1:22; Genesis 1:28; Genesis 2:3; Genesis 9:1)." [Note: Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26 , pp348-49.]


Verses 7-11

Abraham"s death and Isaac"s blessing25:7-11

Isaac would have been75 years old and Jacob15 when Abraham died ( Genesis 25:7; cf. Genesis 21:5; Genesis 25:26). [Note: See the chart "Patriarchal Chronological Data" earlier in these notes.] Abraham lived100 years in the Promised Land (cf. Genesis 12:4).

"It is one thing to live a long life. It is another thing to live a long life that is also a happy life. This obituary notice about Abraham draws attention to the fact that Abraham died not only at an elderly age but in a frame of mind filled with inner shalom and satisfaction. That is the thrust of the phrase full of days or "contented."" [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters18-50 , p167.]

The phrase "gathered to his people" ( Genesis 25:8) implies reunion in Sheol, the place of departed spirits, with ancestors who had died previously. It presupposes continued personal existence after physical death (cf. Genesis 15:15; Hebrews 11:13). Abraham was buried in the Cave of Machpelah near Mamre, the old site that later became a part of Hebron ( Genesis 25:9).

God"s dealings now focus on Isaac who then lived near Hagar"s well at Beer-lahai-roi ( Genesis 25:11; cf. Genesis 16:14; Genesis 24:62). Archaelolgists have yet to find this site. It was evidently somewhere south of Beersheba in the Negev.

God"s servants should do all in their power to ensure the continuation of God"s program to bless from one generation to the next.


Verses 12-18

B. What became of Ishmael25:12-18

"The last four toledot sections of the Book of Genesis follow a definite pattern: the lines in each generation that are not chosen lines are traced before the narrative returns to the chosen line." [Note: Ross, Creation and . . ., p429.]

This section records God"s faithfulness to His promises to make Ishmael a great nation and to give him many descendants ( Genesis 16:10; Genesis 21:18). This is another of the10 family histories that Genesis records (see the outline in the introduction to these notes). There is probably an intentional parallel with the10 nations mentioned in the Table of Nations (ch10) suggesting that God would bless all the families of the earth through other special families.

These verses show that God fulfilled His promises regarding Ishmael ( Genesis 16:10-12; Genesis 17:20). Ishmael, like Nahor and Jacob, fathered12sons. Moses drew his personal history to a conclusion before he moved on to concentrate on his brother Isaac.

"The mention of "twelve tribal rulers" ... recalls the word of the Lord regarding the future of the line of Ishmael from Genesis 17:20, where it was promised that he too would be blessed and that "twelve rulers" ... would be born to him and become a great nation." [Note: Sailhamer, " Genesis ," p181.]

The Ishmaelites lived in Arabia. Arabia lay to the southeast of Canaan and extended from the Euphrates River to the Red Sea. [Note: Josephus, 1:12:4.] Probably the Ishmaelites were once a confederation of tribes like the Israelites.

"The names of the twelve princes descending from Ishmael are applied not only to tribal divisions but also to geographical localities (cf. Genesis 25:16)." [Note: Davis, p231.]

Ishmael died at137 years, having lived48 years after Abraham"s death. The writer probably included the fact that Ishmael lived "in defiance of all his relations" ( Genesis 25:18) to show the fulfillment of God"s prediction to Hagar (cf. Genesis 16:12). The bedouin-like Ishmaelites later had many conflicts with their more settled Israelite relations.

God is faithful to His promises to bless whom He has promised to bless.


Verse 19-20

Paddan-aram means "the flat (land) of Aram." Aram was the area near Haran. People from this region became known as Arameans, and later the Greeks called them Syrians. Bethuel was a semi-nomadic herdsman, and he probably lived in the open fields at least part of the year.


Verses 19-26

1. Isaac"s twin sons25:19-26

Genesis 25:19-34 introduce the whole Jacob and Esau saga.

In the first pericope ( Genesis 25:19-26) we have the record of God answering Isaac"s prayers by making Rebekah fertile (blessing). He gave her two sons, Esau and Jacob, and foretold that from them two nations would come with the elder serving the younger.

The emphasis of this section is on the divine oracle ( Genesis 25:23) as is clear from the chiastic structure of the narrative.

"A Isaac was forty years old when he took to wife Rebekah ( Genesis 25:20).

B Rebekah was barren; prayer for children was answered ( Genesis 25:21 a).

C His wife Rebekah conceived ( Genesis 25:21 b). The children struggled together within her ( Genesis 25:22 a).

D Rebekah asks for an oracle ( Genesis 25:22 b)

D" Yahweh grants her an oracle ( Genesis 25:23)

C" Her days to be delivered were fulfilled ( Genesis 25:24 a). And behold, there were twins in her womb ( Genesis 25:24 b).

B" Jacob and Esau are contrasted in birth and appearance ( Genesis 25:25-26 a).

A" Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah bore the twins ( Genesis 25:26 b)." [Note: Ross, Creation and . . ., p436. Cf. Michael Fishbane, "Composition and Structure in the Jacob Cycle ( Genesis 25:19 to Genesis 35:22)," Journal of Jewish Studies26:1-2 (Spring-Autumn1975):15-38.]

The question of an heir continues primary in this section. Who will be Isaac"s heir through whom God will fulfill His promises? Rebekah, like Sarah, was barren ( Genesis 25:21). After20 years of waiting and praying ( Genesis 25:21-22) God gave her children. Which of these two sons would be the blessed heir? God intervened to announce His foreordained choice ( Genesis 25:23). Jacob"s reactions to his election over Esau were quite different from Isaac"s reactions to God"s choice of him as Abraham"s heir, as this section begins to illustrate.

Scripture does not give the reason God chose Jacob over Esau. What we do know is that His choice did not rest on the superior merit of Jacob but on the sovereign prerogative of Yahweh ( Romans 9:10-13). In ancient Near Eastern culture the first-born normally became his father"s heir. So in designating Jacob as Isaac"s heir God sovereignly overruled natural custom by supernatural revelation. The response of the members of Isaac"s family to this revelation demonstrates their faith, or lack of it. However the main point of the narrative is to trace God"s faithfulness and power in bringing to pass what He had promised.

"The revelation of the Divine will concerning the two brothers ( Genesis 25:23) was evidently no secret. It is clear that both Esau and Jacob knew of it. This fact is in some respects the key to the true interpretation of this incident [i.e, Genesis 25:29-34]." [Note: Thomas, p230.]


Verses 19-29

C. What became of Isaac25:19-35:29

A new toledot begins with Genesis 25:19. Its theme is "the acquisition of the blessing and its development and protection by the Lord." [Note: Ross, Creation and . . ., p433.]

Moses set up the whole Jacob narrative in a chiastic structure that emphasizes the fulfillment of the promise of the seed and the seed"s prosperity.

"A Oracle sought; Rebekah struggles in childbirth; bekorah birthright; birth; themes of strife, deception, fertility ( Genesis 25:19-34).

B Interlude: strife; deception; berakah blessing; covenant with foreigner (26).

C Deception; berakah stolen; fear of Esau; flight from land ( Genesis 27:1 to Genesis 28:9).

D Encounter (<paga") with the divine at sacred site near border; berakah ( Genesis 28:10-22).

E Internal cycle opens: arrival; Laban at border; deception; wages; Rachel barren; Leah fertile ( Genesis 29:1 to Genesis 30:21).

F Rachel fertile; Jacob increases the herds ( Genesis 30:22-43).

E" Internal cycle closes: departure; Laban at border; deception; wages (31).

D" Encounters (<paga") with divine beings at sacred sites near border; berakah (32).

C" Deception planned; fear of Esau; berakah gift returned; return to land (33).

B" Interlude: strife; deception; covenant with foreigner (34).

A" Oracle fulfilled; Rachel struggles in childbirth; berakah; death resolutions ( Genesis 35:1-22)." [Note: Ibid, p85. Cf. Fishbane, p42; Wenham, Genesis 16-50 , p169; Waltke, Genesis , p352.]

The Flood story also has a palistrophic structure, and both stories have a similar statement at the middle (turning point): God remembered Noah ( Genesis 8:1) and God remembered Rachel ( Genesis 30:22). This emphasizes that God controls events and saves His people.

". . . the author of Genesis has deliberately split the Jacob-Joseph story into two parts by putting the family history of Esau Genesis 36:1 to Genesis 37:1 in the middle. This allows him to alternate the genealogies of the non-elect lines of Ishmael ( Genesis 25:12-18) and Esau ( Genesis 36:1 to Genesis 37:1) with the fuller family histories of the chosen lines of Terah (Abraham) ( Genesis 11:27 to Genesis 25:11), Isaac (Jacob) ( Genesis 25:19 to Genesis 35:29), and Jacob (Joseph) ( Genesis 37:2 to Genesis 50:26) to produce a total of five patriarchal family histories. This matches the five family histories of pre-patriarchal times ..." [Note: Wenham, Genesis 16-50 , p168.]


Verse 21

Rebekah was barren for20 years after she married Isaac ( Genesis 25:20; Genesis 25:26). God closed her womb so the chosen family would recognize her children as the fruit of His grace rather than simply the fruit of nature. Isaac was apparently the only monogamous patriarch among the first three: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.


Verse 22-23

Rebekah"s pregnancy was so painful that she wondered if there was any point to going on living. She expressed the same thought when her sons had grown up ( Genesis 27:46). God"s choice of the younger over the elder "was contrary to ancient Near Eastern custom, but the elective purposes of God transcend custom." [Note: Davis, p232.] The divine oracle summarizes the careers of Jacob and Esau and is similar to Genesis 12:1-3 in that both statements are programmatic. All of Jacob"s subsequent scheming to obtain the birthright and the blessing was unnecessary since God promised that he would become the dominant nation.


Verses 24-26

"Reddish" (Heb. "admoni) is wordplay with "Edomites," Esau"s descendants. Esau means "hairy one" (Heb. sa"ar, similar to "Seir," later the Edomites" [probably] wooded homeland). Jacob means "El will protect." [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters18-50 , p178.] Hairiness seems to have been a mark of incivility in the ancient world, indicative of an animal-like nature. [Note: Bruce Vawter, On Genesis: A New Reading, p288. See also Waltke, Genesis , p356.] The Hebrew ya"aqob ("Jacob") is similar to "aqeb ("heel"). From Jacob"s grasping Esau"s heel at birth came the nickname "heel-holder" (i.e, one who outwits by trickery) "just as in wrestling an attempt may be made to throw the opponent by grasping the heel." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:268.]

The lesson to be learned is that those who owe their existence to God"s creation and election can acknowledge His hand at work in the affairs of their lives.


Verse 27-28

Abraham died when the twins were15 ( Genesis 25:7), so they grew up knowing their grandfather and undoubtedly hearing his stories of God"s promises to their family. Esau became a nomadic hunter, but Jacob remained in his tents.

". . . they became the personification of the two different ways of life which would have been typical for Palestine at this period of history: that of hunter and nomad (Esau) and that of shepherd and semi-nomad (Jacob) ... Esau is described as a "skilled hunter," "a man of the outdoors;" Jacob, on the other hand, is portrayed as "a simple Prayer of Manasseh ," one "remaining in his tents," that Isaiah , a man of stable life in contrast to the rootless life of the nomad." [Note: Donald B. Sharp, "In Defense of Rebecca," Biblical Theology Bulletin10:4 (October1980):165.]

"The two characters are utter opposites, as the two nations will eventually be." [Note: Kidner, p152.]

The Hebrew word tam, translated "plain," probably means civilized and domesticated, a homebody. [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters18-50 , p181. Cf. Nichol, 1:369; and Carl D. Evans, "The Patriarch Jacob-An "Innocent Prayer of Manasseh ,"" Bible Review2:1 (Spring1985):32-37.] Translators have rendered it "perfect" and "blameless" elsewhere ( Job 1:1; Job 1:8; Job 8:20; Psalm 37:37; Proverbs 29:10). It may imply a quiet, self-contained, detached person, complete in himself. [Note: Wenham, Genesis 16-50 , p177.] The NET Bible translators translated it "even-tempered."

"Descriptions of Jacob"s early life in the Scriptures paint an interpersonal portrait of a highly narcissistic individual who grew up in a family of origin ripe for producing such pathology." [Note: Vance L. Shepperson, "Jacob"s Journey: From Narcissism Toward Wholeness," Journal of Psychology and Theology12:3 (1984):180.]

Adam failed in eating, Noah in drinking, and Isaac in tasting. Isaac became a gourmand, one who loves certain types of food.

"A marriage made in heaven (see Genesis 24:1-67) can end in dysfunction when a spouse gives priority to taste in the mouth over a voice in the heart (see Genesis 26:35)." [Note: Waltke, Genesis , p363.]


Verses 27-34

2. The sale of the birthright25:27-34


Verse 29-30

The Hebrew word translated "stew" literally means "lentils." Esau wanted to "gulp it down" (Heb. la"at).


Verses 31-34

The way Jacob stated his demand suggests that he had long premeditated his act and ruthlessly exploited his brother"s weakness. His insistence that Esau swear to him strengthens this impression. Jacob"s lack of compassion and hospitality contrasts with that of Abraham ( Genesis 18:1-8) and Lot ( Genesis 19:1-8). It was right that he valued the birthright, but it was wrong that he obtained it as he did. Because Esau despised his birthright Jacob obtained it and became what God had promised He would become, the stronger son who would lead ( Genesis 25:23). Explicit moral commentary is rare in the Bible, so the writer"s inclusion of it here marks something about Esau that he did not want the reader to miss.

"The cunning hunter fell into a better hunter"s trap, becoming prey to his own appetite." [Note: Ross, Creation and . . ., p449.]

The writer showed that the natures of the two sons were very different; they were not identical twins. Esau cared only for physical and material things whereas Jacob valued the spiritual. Esau gave priority to the immediate satisfaction of his sensual desires, but Jacob was willing to wait for something better that God had promised in the future (cf. Hebrews 12:16).

"The frivolity with which he [Esau] sold his birthright ... rendered him unfit to be the heir and possessor of the promised grace." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:269.]

"From one human perspective, Esau, who functions as a foil to Jacob, is much more likeable than Jacob. From the divine viewpoint, however, he is rejected because he rejects his right to inherit the divinely given vision of his fathers." [Note: Waltke, Genesis , p352.]

The birthright was the privilege of being chief of the tribe and head of the family ( Genesis 27:29). In Isaac"s family it entitled the bearer to the blessing of Yahweh"s promise ( Genesis 27:4; Genesis 27:27-29), which included the possession of Canaan and covenant fellowship with God ( Genesis 28:4). It included a double portion of the inheritance ( Deuteronomy 21:17) and the privilege of being the priest (spiritual leader) of the family. [Note: See Sarna, Understanding Genesis , p185; Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions, pp41-42 , 53; and I. Mendelsohn, "On the Preferential Status of the Eldest Song of Solomon ," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research156 (December1959):38-40.]

"It is quite apparent from the Nuzi tablets that instances of the transference of birthright, such as occurred in the Patriarchal narratives, were not uncommon in Hurrian society. One example concerns a certain Zirteshup, whose father disowned him but later restored his status.... Another instance of the transference of birthright from the Nuzi tablets is the exchange by one Kurpazah of his birthright in consideration for three sheep given to him by Tupkitilla, his brother. In the light of this example, Esau"s willingness to exchange his birthright for Jacob"s mess of pottage ( Genesis 25:29-34) is perhaps more understandable." [Note: West, p71.]

Even though Esau was a cunning hunter he placed little value on his privilege as the first-born son. He was willing to trade it to his crafty brother for a meal of "red stuff," a fitting description of his own nature. [Note: See Richard D. Patterson, "The Old Testament Use of an Archetype: The Trickster," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society42:3 (September1999):385-94 , for a helpful discussion of instances of trickery in the Old Testament.]

The structure of the narrative again identifies the writer"s emphasis, this time Esau"s disdain for his birthright ( Genesis 25:32).

"A Jacob was boiling pottage ( Genesis 25:29 a).

B Esau came in from the field; he was tired ( Genesis 25:29 b).

C wayyo"mer "esaw: Let me eat some of that red pottage . . ., I am so tired! ( Genesis 25:30)

D wayyo"mer ya"aqob: First sell me your bkrh ( Genesis 25:31).

E wayyo"mer "esaw: I depart; I die! Of what use is a bkrh to me? ( Genesis 25:32).

D" wayyo"mer ya"aqob: Swear to me first. So he swore to him and sold his bkrh to Jacob ( Genesis 25:33).

C" Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; he ate and he drank ( Genesis 25:34 aa).

B" He rose and went his way ( Genesis 25:34 ab).

A" Thus Esau despised his birthright ( Genesis 25:34 b)." [Note: Ross, Creation and . . ., p446.]

There are two important instances of first-born sons relinquishing the rights of primogeniture in Genesis: Esau and Reuben. Esau considered his birthright of so little value that he sold all his rights as first-born to Jacob to realize an immediate physical gratification. Reuben forfeited his birthright through sexual promiscuity ( Genesis 35:22; Genesis 49:3-4). In Esau"s case, his entire birthright went to Jacob. In Reuben"s, his went to three of his brothers. Judah obtained the regal right, Levi eventually received the priestly right, and the blessing of the double portion went to Joseph who realized it through his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. [Note: See Arlen L. Chitwood, Judgment Seat of Christ, pp138-40.]

In reading this pericope many have concluded that God chose Jacob over Esau because He foresaw that Jacob would value the promises and the birthright, whereas Esau would not. This is not correct. Jacob valued the spiritual because God gave him the grace to do so. In the previous generation Isaac was the recipient of God"s grace while Lot and Ishmael were not. Abraham was, too, whereas his brothers were not.

In this incident Jacob manifested spiritual perception. Some writers have suggested that he was impatient and took fleshly initiative like his grandfather (cf. Genesis 12:10-20; Genesis 16; Genesis 20). Note, however, that Moses blamed Esau, not Jacob, in this event ( Genesis 25:34).

"How often do we put the question to ourselves, "What is my mess of pottage?" It is important to verbalize the question. We are in constant danger of being tempted to give up something very precious in order to indulge a sudden strong desire. The desire may involve greedy eating and drinking, lusting after money or material things, letting loose our anger in abandonment of reason, succumbing to depression without check, cursing God in despair or disappointment without even thinking of the trap Satan set for Job and is setting for us, giving in to a sweeping sexual desire without waiting for the right framework. The mess of pottage that is dangerous to you and to me is any temptation to gratify the "feelings" of the immediate moment in a way that shows we "despise" the promises of the living God for our future." [Note: Edith Schaeffer, "What Is My Mess of Pottage?" Christianity Today (March14 , 1975), p50.]

This section is a warning that profane (secular) people who live to satisfy their fleshly appetites will lose more valuable things of lasting spiritual worth. Christians who live for the present will not lose their salvation, but they will lose some of their eternal reward (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 25:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/genesis-25.html. 2012.

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Saturday, September 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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