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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 25

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

Verses 1-11

- The Death of Abraham

1. קטוּרה qeṭûrâh, “Qeturah, incense.”

2. זמרן zı̂mrān, “Zimran, celebrated in song.” יקשׁן yāqshān, “Joqshan, fowler.” מדן medān, “Medan, judge.” מדין mı̂dyān, “Midian, one who measures.” לאבק yı̂shbāq, “Jishbaq, he leaves.” שׁוּח shûach, “Shuach, pit.”

3. לטוּשׁם leṭûshı̂ym, “Letushim, hammered, sharpened.” לאמים le'umı̂ym, “Leummim, peoples.”

4. עיפה êypâh, “‘Ephah, darkness.” עפר êper, “‘Epher, dust.” אבידע 'ǎbı̂ydā‛, “Abida‘, father of knowledge.” אלדעה 'eldā‛âh, “Elda‘ah, knowing?”

Another family is born to Abraham by Keturah, and portioned off, after which he dies and is buried.

Genesis 25:1-6

Added and took a wife. - According to the laws of Hebrew composition, this event may have taken place before that recorded in the close of the previous chapter. Of this law we have several examples in this very chapter. And there is nothing contrary to the customs of that period in adding wife to wife. We cannot say that Abraham was hindered from taking Keturah in the lifetime of Sarah by any moral feeling which would not also have hindered him from taking Hagar. It has been also noticed that Keturah is called a concubine, which is thought to imply that the proper wife was still living; and that Abraham was a very old man at the death of Sarah. But, on the other hand, it is to be remembered that these sons were in any case born after the birth of Isaac, and therefore after Abraham was renewed in vital powers. If this renewal of vigor remained after the birth of Isaac, it may have continued some time after the death of Sarah, whom he survived thirty-eight years. His abstinence from any concubine until Sarah gave him Hagar is against his taking any other during Sarah’s lifetime. His loneliness on the death of Sarah may have prompted him to seek a companion of his old age. And if this step was delayed until Isaac was married, and therefore separated from him, an additional motive would impel him in the same direction. He was not bound to raise this wife to the full rights of a proper wife, even though Sarah were dead. And six sons might be born to him twenty-five years before his death. And if Hagar and Ishmael were dismissed when he was about fifteen years old, so might Keturah when her youngest was twenty or twenty-five. We are not warranted, then, still less compelled, to place Abraham’s second marriage before the death of Sarah, or even the marriage of Isaac. It seems to appear in the narrative in the order of time.

Genesis 25:2

The endeavors to ascertain the tribes that descended from these six sons of Keturah have not been very successful. Zimran has been compared with Ζαβράμ Zabram (Ptol. vi. 7, 5), situated west of Mecca on the Red Sea. Jokshan with the Κασσανῖται Kassanitai (Ptol. vi. 7, 6), and with the tribe Jakish among the Himyarites in South Arabia. Medan with Μοδιάνα Modiana on the east coast of the Aelanitic Gulf. Midian is found in two localities west of the Aelanitic Gulf and east of the Salt Sea. Among the former, Moses afterward found refuge. The latter are probably east of Abraham’s residence. Ishbak is compared with Shobek, a place in Idumaea. Shuah probably belongs to the same region. He may be the ancestor of Bildad the Shuhite Job 2:11. Of these, Midian alone appears to be ascertained. The others may have been absorbed in that congeries of tribes, the Arabs.

Genesis 25:3-4

Sheba, Dedan, and Asshurim are recurring names Genesis 10:7, Genesis 10:22, Genesis 10:28, describing other tribes of Arabs equally unknown. The three sons of Dedan may be traced in the tribe Asir of the south of Hejaz, the Beni Leits of Hejaz, and the Beni Lam of the borders of Mesopotamia. Of the sons of Midian, Epha is mentioned in Isaiah 60:6 along with Midian. Epher is compared with Beni Ghifar in Hejaz, Henok with Hanakye north of Medinah, Abida with the Abide, and Eldaah with the Wadaa. These conjectures of Burckhardt are chiefly useful in showing that similar names are still existing in the country. There are here six sons of Abraham, seven grandsons, and three great-grandsons, making sixteen descendants by Keturah. If there were any daughters, they are not noticed. It is not customary to mention females, unless they are connected with leading historical characters. These descendants of Abraham and Keturah are the third contribution of Palgites to the Joktanites, who constituted the original element of the Arabs, the descendants of Lot and Ishmael having preceded them. All these branches of the Arab nation are descended from Heber.

Genesis 25:5-6

Abraham makes Isaac his heir Genesis 24:36. He gives portions to the sons of the concubines during his lifetime, and sends them away to the East. Ishmael had been portioned off long before Genesis 21:14. The East is a general name for Arabia, which stretched away to the southeast and east of the point where Abraham resided in the south of Palestine. The northern part of Arabia, which lay due east of Palestine, was formerly more fertile and populous than now. The sons of Keturah were probably dismissed before they had any children. Their notable descendants, according to custom, are added here before they are dismissed from the main line of the narrative.

Genesis 25:7-11

The death of Abraham. His years were a hundred and seventy-five. He survived Sarah thirty-eight years, and Isaac’s marriage thirty-five. His grandfather lived a hundred and forty-eight years, his father two hundred and five, his son Isaac a hundred and eighty, and his grandson Jacob a hundred and forty-seven; so that his years were the full average of that period. “Expired” - breathed his last. “In a happy old age,” in external and internal blessedness Genesis 15:15. “Old and full” - having attained to the standard length of life in his days, and being satisfied with this life, so that he was ready and willing to depart. “Gathered to his peoples” Genesis 15:15. To be gathered is not to cease to exist, but to continue existing in another sphere. His peoples, the departed families, from whom he is descended, are still in being in another not less real world. This, and the like expression in the passage quoted, give the first fact in the history of the soul after death, as the burial is the first step in that of the body.

Genesis 25:9-10

Isaac and Ishmael, - in brotherly cooperation. Ishmael was the oldest son, dwelt in the presence of all his brethren, and had a special blessing. The sons of Keturah were far away in the East, very young, and had no particular blessing. Ishmael is therefore properly associated with Isaac in paying the last offices to their deceased father. The burying-place had been prepared before. Its purchase is here rehearsed with great precision as a testimony of the fact. This burial-ground is an earnest of the promised possession.

Genesis 25:11

This verse is an appendix to the history of Abraham, stating that the blessing of God, which he had enjoyed until his death, now descended upon his son Isaac, who abode at Beer-lahai-roi. The general name “God” is here employed, because the blessing of God denotes the material and temporal prosperity which had attended Abraham, in comparison with other men of his day. Of the spiritual and eternal blessings connected with Yahweh, the proper name of the Author of being and blessing, we shall hear in due time.

The section now completed contains the seventh of the documents commencing with the formula, “these are the generations.” It begins in the eleventh chapter and ends in the twenty-fifth, and therefore contains a greater number of chapters and amount of matter than the whole of the preceding narrative. This is as it should be in a record of the ways of God with man. In the former sections, things anterior and external to man come out into the foreground; they lie at the basis of his being, his mental and moral birth. In the present section, things internal to man and flowing from him are brought into view. These are coincident with the growth of his spiritual nature. The latter are no less momentous than the former for the true and full development of his faculties and capacities.

In the former sections the absolute being of God is assumed; the beginning of the heavens and the earth asserted. The reconstruction of skies and land and the creation of a new series of plants and animals are recorded. This new creation is completed by the creating of man in the image of God and after his likeness. The placing of man in a garden of fruit trees prepared for his sustenance and gratification; the primeval command, with its first lessons in language, physics, ethics, and theology; the second lesson in speaking when the animals are named; and the separation of man into the male and the female, are followed by the institutions of wedlock and the Sabbath, the fountain-heads of sociality with man and God, the foreshadows of the second and first tables of the law. The fall of man in the second lesson of ethics; the sentence of the Judge, containing in its very bosom the intimation of mercy; the act of fratricide, followed by the general corruption of the whole race; the notices of Sheth, of calling on the name of Yahweh begun at the birth of Enosh, of Henok who walked with God, and of Noah who found grace in his sight; the flood sweeping away the corruption of man while saving righteous Noah; and the confusion of tongues, defeating the ambition of man, while preparing for the replenishing of the earth and the liberties of men - these complete the chain of prominent facts that are to be seen standing in the background of man’s history. These are all moments, potent elements in the memory of man, foundation-stones of his history and philosophy. They cannot be surmounted or ignored without absurdity or criminality.

In the section now completed the sacred writer descends from the general to the special, from the distant to the near, from the class to the individual. He dissects the soul of a man, and discloses to our view the whole process of the spiritual life from the newborn babe to the perfect man. Out of the womb of that restless selfish race, from whom nothing is willingly restrained which they have imagined to do, comes forth Abram, with all the lineaments of their moral image upon him. The Lord calls him to himself, his mercy, his blessing, and his service. He obeys the call. That is the moment of his new birth. The acceptance of the divine call is the tangible fact that evinces a new nature. Henceforth he is a disciple, having yet much to learn before he becomes a master, in the school of heaven. From this time forward the spiritual predominates in Abram; very little of the carnal appears.

Two sides of his mental character present themselves in alternate passages, which may be called the physical and the metaphysical, or the things of the body and the things of the soul. In the former only the carnal or old corrupt nature sometimes appears; in the latter, the new nature advances from stage to stage of spiritual growth unto perfection. His entrance into the land of promise is followed by his descent into Egypt, his generous forbearance in parting with Lot, his valorous conduct in rescuing him, and his dignified demeanor toward Melkizedec and the king of Sodom. The second stage of its spiritual development now presents itself to our view; on receiving the promise, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, thy exceeding great reward, he believes in the Lord, who counts it to him for righteousness, and enters into covenant with him. This is the first fruit of the new birth, and it is followed by the birth of Ishmael. On hearing the authoritative announcement, I am God Almighty; walk before me and be perfect, he performs the first act of that obedience which is the keystone of repentance, by receiving the sign of covenant, and proceeds to the high functions of holding communion and making intercession with God. These spiritual acts are followed by the destruction of the cities of the Jordan vale, with the preservation of Lot, the sojourning in Gerar, the birth of Isaac, and the league with Abimelek. The last great act of the spiritual life of Abraham is the surrender of his only son to the will of God, and this again is followed by the death and burial of Sarah, the marriage of Isaac, and the second marriage of Abraham.

It is manifest that every movement in the physical and ethical history of Abraham is fraught with instruction of the deepest interest for the heirs of immortality. The leading points in spiritual experience are here laid before us. The susceptibilities and activities of a soul born of the Spirit are unfolded to our view. These are lessons for eternity. Every descendant of Abraham, every collateral branch of his family, every contemporary eye or ear-witness, might have profited in the things of eternity by all this precious treasury of spiritual knowledge. Many of the Gentiles still had, and all might have had, a knowledge of the covenant with Noah, and a share in its promised blessings. This would not have precluded, but only promoted, the mission of Abraham to be the father of the seed in whom all the families of man should effectually be blessed. And in the meantime it would have caused to be circulated to the ends of the earth that new revelation of spiritual experience which was displayed in the life of Abraham for the perfecting of the saints.

Verses 12-18

- Section XI. - Isaac

- LII. History of Ishmael

13. נבית nebāyot, Nebajoth, “heights.” קדר qēdār, Qedar, “black.” אדבאל 'adbe'ēl, Adbeel, “miracle of God?” מבשׂם mı̂bśām Mibsam, “sweet odor.”

14. משׁמע mı̂shma‛, Mishma‘, “hearing.” דוּמה dûmâh, Dumah, “silence.” משׂא maśā', Massa, “burden.”

15. חדר chădar, Chadar, “chamber;” or חדד chădad, Chadad, “sharpness;” תימא tēymā', Tema. יטוּר yeṭûr, Jetur, “enclosure,” akin to טוּר ṭûr, “a wall,” and טירה ṭı̂yrâh, “a wall.” נפישׁ nāpı̂ysh, Naphish, “breathing.” קדמה qēdemâh, Qedemah, “before, eastward.”

16. חצר chātsēr, “court, village, town.”

According to custom, before the history of the principal line is taken up, that of the collateral branch is briefly given. Thus, Cain’s history is closed before Sheth’s is commenced; Japheth and Ham are before Shem; Haran and Nahor before Abram. And so the sons of Keturah are first dismissed from the pages of history, and then Ishmael.

Genesis 25:12

The present passage begins with the formula, “and these are the generations,” and forms the eighth document so commencing. The appearance of a document consisting of seven verses is clearly against the supposition that each of these documents is due to a different author. The phrase points to a change of subject, not of author.

Genesis 25:13-16

Nebaioth - Isaiah 60:7 is preserved in the Nabataei inhabiting Arabia Petraea, and extending far toward the East. “Kedar” Isaiah 21:17 appears in the Cedrei of Pliny (H. N. 5, 12) who dwell east of Petraea. “Adbeel Mibsam,” and “Mishma are otherwise unknown. The last is connected with the Μαισαιμενεῖς Maisaimeneis of Ptol. (v. 7, 21). “Dumah” Isaiah 21:11 is probably Δούμεθα Doumetha (Ptol. vi. 19, 7) and Domata (Plin. H. N. 6, 32) and Dumat el-Jendel in Nejd and the Syrian desert. “Massa” may be preserved in the Μασανοὶ Masanoi of Ptolemy (v. 19, 2), northeast of Duma. “Hadar” is Hadad in 1 Chronicles 1:30, the Samaritan Pentateuch, Onkelos, perhaps the Septuagint, and many codices. It is supposed to be Χαττηνία Chatteenia (Polyb.), Attene, and to lie between Oman and Bahrein. “Tema” Job 6:19; Isaiah 21:14; Jeremiah 25:23 lay on the borders of Nejd and the Syrian desert. “Jetur” remains in Ituraea, Jedur, northeast of the sea of Galilee. Some suppose the Druses descended from him. “Naphish” 1 Chronicles 6:19, 1 Chronicles 6:22 lay in the same quarter. “Kedemah” is otherwise unknown. “In their towns and in their castles.” The former are unwalled collections of houses or perhaps tents; the latter, fortified keeps or encampments. “Twelve princes,” one for each tribe, descended from his twelve sons.

Genesis 25:17-18

Ishmael dies at the age of a hundred and thirty-seven. “From Havilah,” on the borders of Arabia Petraea and Felix. “Unto Shur,” on the borders of Arabia and Egypt. This was the original seat of the Ishmaelites, from which they wandered far into Arabia. “In the presence of all his brethren” - the descendants of Abraham by Sarah and Keturah, those of Lot, and the Egyptians who were his brethren or near kindred by his mother and wife. “He had fallen” into the lot of his inheritance. Thus was fulfilled the prediction uttered before his birth Genesis 16:12.

Verses 19-34

- LIII. Birth of Esau and Jacob

20. פדן padān, Paddan, “plowed field;” related: “cut, plow.”

25. עשׂי êśâv, ‘Esaw, “hairy, or made.”

26. יעקב ya‛ăqôb, Ja’aqob, “he shall take the heel.”

27. תם tām, “perfect, peaceful, plain.” The epithet refers to disposition, and contrasts the comparatively civilized character of Jacob with the rude temper of Esau.

30. אדים 'ědôm, Edom, “red.”

The ninth document here begins with the usual phrase, and continues to the end of the thirty-fifth chapter. It contains the history of the second of the three patriarchs, or rather, indeed, as the opening phrase intimates, of the generations of Isaac; that is, of his son Jacob. Isaac himself makes little figure in the sacred history. Born when his mother was ninety, and his father a hundred years of age, he is of a sedate, contemplative, and yielding disposition. Consenting to be laid on the altar as a sacrifice to God, he had the stamp of submission early and deeply impressed on his soul. His life corresponds with these antecedents. Hence, in the spiritual aspect of his character he was the man of patience, of acquiescence, of susceptibility, of obedience. His qualities were those of the son, as Abraham’s were those of the father. He carried out, but did not initiate; he followed, but did not lead; he continued, but did not commence. Accordingly, the docile and patient side of the saintly character is now to be presented to our view.

Genesis 25:19-26

The birth of Esau and Jacob. “The son of forty years.” Hence, we learn that Isaac was married the third year after his mother’s death, when Abraham was in his hundred and fortieth year. “Bethuel the Aramaean.” As Bethuel was a descendant of Arpakshad, not of Aram, he is here designated, not by his descent, but by his adopted country Aram. By descent he was a Kasdi or Kaldee. Sarah was barren for at least thirty years; Rebekah for nineteen years. This drew forth the prayer of Isaac in regard to his wife. The heir of promise was to be a child of prayer, and accordingly when the prayer ascended the fruit of the womb was given. Rebekah had unwonted sensations connected with her pregnancy. She said to herself, “If it be so,” if I have conceived seed, “why am I thus,” why this strange struggle within me? In the artlessness of her faith she goes to the Lord for an explanation. We are not informed in what way she consulted God, or how he replied. The expression, “she went to inquire of the Lord,” implies that there was some place of worship and communion with God by prayer. We are not to suppose that she went to Abraham, or any other prophet, if such were then at hand, when we have no intimation of this in the text. Her communication with the Lord seems to have been direct. This passage conveys to us the intimation that there was now a fixed mode and perhaps place of inquiring at the Lord. The Lord answers the mother of the promised seed. Two children are in her womb, the parents of two nations, differing in their dispositions and destinies. The one is to be stronger than the other. The order of nature is to be reversed in them; for the older will serve the younger. Their struggles in the womb are a prelude to their future history.

Genesis 25:24-26

The twins are born in due time. The difference is manifest in the outward appearance. The first is red and hairy. These qualities indicate a passionate and precocious nature. He is called “Esau the hairy,” or “the made up,” the prematurely developed. His brother is like other children. An act takes place in the very birth foreshadowing their future history. The second has a hold of his brother’s heel, as if he would trip him up from his very birth. Hence, he is called “Jacob the wrestler,” who takes hold by the heel.

Genesis 25:27-34

The brothers prove to be different in disposition and habit. The rough fiery Esau takes to the field, and becomes skilled in all modes of catching game. Jacob is of a homely, peaceful, orderly turn, dwelling in tents and gathering round him the means and appliances of a quiet social life. The children please their parents according as they supply what is lacking in themselves. Isaac, himself so sedate, loves the wild, wandering hunter, because he supplies him with pleasures which his own quiet habits do not reach. Rebekah becomes attached to the gentle, industrious shepherd, who satisfies those social and spiritual tendencies in which she is more dependent than Isaac. Esau is destructive of game; Jacob is constructive of cattle.

Genesis 25:29-34

A characteristic incident in their early life is attended with very important consequences. “Jacob sod pottage.” He has become a sage in the practical comforts of life. Esau leaves the field for the tent, exhausted with fatigue. The sight and smell of Jacob’s savory dish of lentile soup are very tempting to a hungry man. “Let me feed now on that red, red broth.” He does not know how to name it. The lentile is common in the country, and forms a cheap and palatable dish of a reddish brown color, with which bread seems to have been eaten. The two brothers were not congenial. They would therefore act each independently of the other, and provide each for himself. Esau was no doubt occasionally rude and hasty. Hence, a selfish habit would grow up and gather strength. He was probably accustomed to supply himself with such fare as suited his palate, and might have done so on this occasion without any delay. But the free flavor and high color of the mess, which Jacob was preparing for himself, takes his fancy, and nothing will do but the red red. Jacob obviously regarded this as a rude and selfish intrusion on his privacy and property, in keeping with similar encounters that may have taken place between the brothers.

It is here added, “therefore was his name called Edom,” that is, “Red.” The origin of surnames, or second names for the same person or place, is a matter of some moment in the fair interpretation of an ancient document. It is sometimes hastily assumed that the same name can only owe its application to one occasion; and hence a record of a second occasion on which it was applied is regarded as a discrepancy. But the error lies in the interpreter, not in the author. The propriety of a particular name may be marked by two or more totally different circumstances, and its application renewed on each of these occasions. Even an imaginary cause may be assigned for a name, and may serve to originate or renew its application. The two brothers now before us afford very striking illustrations of the general principle. It is pretty certain that Esau would receive the secondary name of Edom, which ultimately became primary in point of use, from the red complexion of skin, even from his birth. But the exclamation “that red red,” uttered on the occasion of a very important crisis in his history, renewed the name, and perhaps tended to make it take the place of Esau in the history of his race. Jacob, too, the holder of the heel, received this name from a circumstance occurring at his birth. But the buying of the birthright and the gaining of the blessing, were two occasions in his subsequent life on which he merited the title of the supplanter or the holder by the heel Genesis 27:36. These instances prepare us to expect other examples of the same name being applied to the same object, for different reasons on different occasions.

“Sell me this day thy birthright.” This brings to light a new cause of variance between the brothers. Jacob was no doubt aware of the prediction communicated to his mother, that the older should serve the younger. A quiet man like him would not otherwise have thought of reversing the order of nature and custom. In after times the right of primogeniture consisted in a double portion of the father’s goods Deuteronomy 21:17, and a certain rank as the patriarch and priest of the house on the death of the father. But in the case of Isaac there was the far higher dignity of chief of the chosen family and heir of the promised blessing, with all the immediate and ultimate temporal and eternal benefits therein included. Knowing all this, Jacob is willing to purchase the birthright, as the most peaceful way of bringing about that supremacy which was destined for him. He is therefore cautious and prudent, even conciliating in his proposal.

He availed himself of a weak moment to accomplish by consent what was to come. Yet he lays no necessity on Esau, but leaves him to his own free choice. We must therefore beware of blaming him for endeavoring to win his brother’s concurrence in a thing that was already settled in the purpose of God. His chief error lay in attempting to anticipate the arrangements of Providence. Esau is strangely ready to dispose of his birthright for a trivial present gratification. He might have obtained other means of recruiting nature equally suitable, but he will sacrifice anything for the desire of the moment. Any higher import of the right he was prepared to sell so cheap seems to have escaped his view, if it had ever occurred to his mind. Jacob, however, is deeply in earnest. He will bring this matter within the range of heavenly influence. He will have God solemnly invoked as a witness of the transfer. Even this does not startle Esau. There is not a word about the price. It is plain that Esau’s thoughts were altogether on “the morsel of meat.” He swears unto Jacob. He then ate and drank, and rose up and went his way, as the sacred writer graphically describes his reckless course. Most truly did he despise his birthright. His mind did not rise to higher or further things. Such was the boyhood of these wondrous twins.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Genesis 25". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/genesis-25.html. 1870.
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