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Sunday, July 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 25

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 8

‘A GOOD OLD AGE’

‘Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.’

Genesis 25:8

‘Full of years’ is not a mere synonym for longevity. The expression is by no means a usual one. It is applied to Isaac at the close of his calm, contemplative life, to David at the end of his stormy and adventurous career, to the high priest Jehoiada, and to the patriarch Job. We shall understand its meaning better if, instead of ‘full of years,’ we read ‘ satisfied with years.’ The words point to a calm close, with all desires granted, with hot wishes stilled, and a willingness to let life go, because all which it could give had been attained.

We have two main things to consider. I. The tranquil close of a life. (1) It is possible, at the close of life, to feel that it has satisfied our wishes. Abraham had had a richly varied life. It had brought him all he wished. Satisfied, yet not sickened, keenly appreciating all the good and pleasantness of life, and yet quite willing to let it go, Abraham died. (2) It is possible at the end of life to feel that it is complete, because the days have accomplished for us the highest purpose of life. (3) It is possible, at the end of life, to be willing to go as satisfied.

II. Consider the glimpse of the joyful society beyond, which is given us in that other remarkable expression of the text, ‘He was gathered to his people.’ The words contain a dim intimation of something beyond this present life: (1) Dimly, vaguely, but unmistakably, there is here expressed a premonition and feeling after the thought of an immortal self in Abraham, which was not in the cave at Machpelah, but was somewhere else, and was for ever. (2) Abraham had been an exile all his life; but now his true social life is begun. He dwells with his own tribe; he is at home; he is in the city. (3) The expression suggests that in the future men shall be associated according to affinity and character.

Illustration

(1) ‘The prospect of old age is dreary and comfortless, if it be not a Christian prospect. Where the aged person is a Christian, the weaknesses of old age and its troubles and humiliations, are all triumphed over. Dreary may be the present, comfortless the past: but the future is bright, because Christ is my hope!’

(2) ‘The expression is remarkable, “an old man and full.” The words “of years” in italics are not in the original: and leaving them out the Hebrew stands in its rugged strength—that Abraham died “an old man and full.” Could this epitaph be written on our gravestones? Are we satisfied with our portion of life?’

Verse 34

THE DESPISED BIRTHRIGHT

‘Thus Esau despised his birthright.’

Genesis 25:34

I. Esau was full of healthy vigour and the spirit of adventure, exulting in field sports, active, muscular, with the rough aspect and the bounding pulse of the free desert. Jacob was a harmless shepherd, pensive and tranquil, dwelling by the hearth and caring only for quiet occupations. Strength and speed and courage and endurance are blessings not lightly to be despised; but he who confines his ideal to them, as Esau did, chooses a low ideal, and one which can bring a man but little peace at the last. Esau reaches but half the blessing of a man, and that the meaner and temporal half; the other half seems seldom or never to have entered his thoughts.

II. So side by side the boys grew up; and the next memorable scene of their history shows us that the great peril of animal life—the peril lest it should forget God altogether and merge into mere uncontrolled, intemperate sensuality—had happened to Esau! For the mess of pottage the sensual hunter sells in one moment the prophecy of the far future and the blessing of a thousand years. Esau’s epitaph is the epitaph of a lifetime recording for ever the consummated carelessness of a moment. Esau, ‘a profane person,’ ‘who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.’ Jacob, with all the contemptible faults which lay on the surface of his character, had deep within his soul the faith in the unseen, the sense of dependence on and love to God which Esau did not even comprehend. (1) Cultivate the whole of the nature which God has given you, and in doing so remember that the mind is of more moment than the body, and the soul than both. (2) Beware lest, in a moment of weakness and folly, you sell your birthright and barter your happy innocence for torment and fear and shame.

Dean Farrar.

Illustration

(1) ‘Irving in his “Life of Christopher Columbus,” tells us that the Indians encountered on the first voyage were easily overreached by the discoverers. They would trade their curious ornaments of gold for glass beads and hawks’ bells. On one occasion an Indian gave half a handful of gold dust for a toy, and no sooner was he in possession of it than he bounded away to the woods, looking often behind him, fearing lest the Spaniards might repent of having parted with such an inestimable treasure. We smile at their ignorant foolishness, but we are reminded of Lowell’s words:—

“At the devil’s booth all things are sold

Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold;

For a cap and bells our lives we pay.

Bubbles we buy with a whole soul’s tasking;

’Tis heaven alone that is given away,

’Tis only God may be had for the asking.” ’

(2) ‘Here is the story of Eden over again; lust of the eye. And here by anticipation is the story of the Temptation in the wilderness, when Jesus conquered by resisting the lust of the flesh, whereas by yielding to it Eve and Esau fell. It was an unfair hour in which to bargain, and Jacob was unspeakably mean for taking advantage of his brother’s weakness and exhaustion. But if Esau had accustomed himself to remember that the birthright was a religious as well as a secular distinction, if he had not been a profane man he would have died sooner than forfeit what was really dearer than life itself.

The lesson is needed yet. “All temptations to worldliness resolve themselves into solicitations to sell our birthright.” ’

(3) ‘There is no pursuit, however innocent, to which we may not devote ourselves in an inordinate measure. Business, politics, study, these are all lawful, and no man can be condemned for engaging in them. But if they are prosecuted in a way which engrosses the heart and mind, and leads to an utter forgetfulness of other duties and interests, Nature will assert its rights. The physical and moral being will deteriorate, and sacrifices of higher things will be made, not less sad and extraordinary than those which were made by Esau.’

SECOND OUTLINE

In forfeiting his birthright to his younger brother, Esau gave up (1) the right of priesthood inherent in the eldest line of the patriarch’s family; (2) the promise of the inheritance of the Holy Land; (3) the promise that in his race and of his blood Messiah should be born. Esau parted with all because, as he said in the rough, unreflective commonplace strain which marks persons of his character even now, and which they mistake for common sense, ‘he did not see the good of it all.’ ‘What good shall this birthright do me?’

I. In matters of knowledge we find men despising their birthright.—Knowledge is power; but as the maxim is used now, it is utterly vulgarising. Knowledge not loved for itself is not loved at all. It may bring power, but it brings neither peace nor elevation to the man who has won it. If we cultivate knowledge for the sake of worldly advantage, what are we doing but bidding farewell to all that is lasting or spiritual in knowledge and wisdom, and taking in exchange for it a daily meal?

II. Again, as citizens, men despise their birthright.—If, when it is given them to choose their rulers, they deliberately set aside thinkers; if they laugh at and despise the corrupt motives which affect the choice of rulers, and yet take no serious steps to render corrupt motives impotent—then there is a real denial and abnegation of citizens to act on the highest grounds of citizenship.

III. We are in daily danger of selling our birthright in religion.—Esau’s birthright was a poor shadow to ours. Esau had priesthood; we are called to be priests of a yet higher order. Esau had earthly promises; so have we. Esau had the promise of Messiah; we have the knowledge of Messiah Himself.

IV. The lost birthright is the one thing that is irretrievable.—Neither good nor bad men consent that a forfeited birthright should be restored.

Archbishop Benson.

Illustration

(1) ‘The birthright was not a larger portion of Isaac’s worldly inheritance, but entirely a spiritual thing, of no value to an unspiritual man—of none to Esau until he lost it, when his pride was wounded by being deprived of a something which until then he despised. Jacob’s fraud is punished by a long absence, and meeting with such a father-in-law; and he got no worldly advantage by the birthright, for Esau was the more prosperous man.’

(2) ‘The man who has been born from above, is an heir of God, and a joint-heir with Christ. We may come of a humble and unknown stock, so far as human descent is concerned, but if we have been adopted into the family of God we come of high descent indeed, before which the claims of the oldest and proudest families of this world pale into insignificance. The serious question is: What good does our birthright do us?

It was meant to draw us each into the most intimate relations with God. The Almighty would become treasure and precious silver to us: we should delight in Him; lift up our faces to Him; make up our prayer to Him and be heard: decree things to find them established; be indifferent to men’s efforts to overthrow us, and bring succour to the oppressed ( Job 22:25; Job 22:30, r.v.). But do we avail ourselves of these privileges? Are we not all inclined to barter them away for the opportunity of gratifying the flesh? It is in the proportion in which we can say No to our lower nature that we can realise and enjoy our privileges in Christ Jesus.’

(3) ‘Jacob could not have got Esau’s birthright if Esau had not sold it to him. The Devil never captured any man until he first found a traitor inside the walls. Every one of us can feel safe against all external evil, so long as there is no evil within. Esau is safe from Jacob so long as he is safe from Esau. We shall never make any bad bargains unless we make them.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Genesis 25". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/genesis-25.html. 1876.
 
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