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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 25

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

Verses 1-34

The History of Abraham

At this point the specific purpose of the writer of the Pentateuch begins to appear more clearly. Speaking generally, that purpose is to trace the development of the kingdom of God in the line of Israelitish history. To this subject the preceding chapters of Genesis have formed an introduction, dealing with universal history, and indicating the place of Israel among the other nations of the world. The narrative now passes from universal history to the beginnings of the chosen people and their subsequent fortunes. The connecting link is furnished in the person of Abraham, and interest is now concentrated on him, and the promises made to him.

Abraham is one of the very greatest figures in the religious history of the human race. Three great religions look back to him as one of their spiritual ancestors, and accept him as a type of perfect faith and true religion, viz. the Jewish, the Mohammedan, and the Christian. The world owes to him its first clear knowledge of the true God, His spiritual and holy nature, and the way in which He is to be served and worshipped. How much of this Abraham may have brought with him from Ur of the Chaldees we do not know. Recent discovery points to a very close connexion between the religions of Babylonia and Israel. That need not surprise us, nor does it impair the truth and value of the biblical narrative. Every religious system, not excepting Christianity itself, is based upon the foundations of the past. What we find in Abraham is a new point of departure. Religious beliefs, opinions, laws, and ideals, which he inherited, are, by a power which we cannot explain but can only define as the inspiration of God, purified and elevated, with the result that religion starts afresh with him on a higher level. The affirmation of the truth of monotheism and the rejection of human sacrifice in the worship of God would, apart from other considerations, make Abraham rank among the foremost religious reformers the world has seen.

In recent times an attempt has been made to date the beginnings of Israel’s religion from Moses, and to represent the patriarchs as ’shadows in the mist’ of antiquity of whose personal existence and religious views nothing can be said with certainty. In particular the attempt has been made to reduce Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to later personifications of ancient tribes. The patriarchs, it is said, were not individuals but tribes, and what are represented as personal incidents in their lives are really events, naively and vividly described, in the history of the various tribes to which the nation of Israel owed its descent. In some cases such personification of tribes may be admitted; e.g. Canaan, Japheth, and Shem clearly represent tribes in the blessing of Noah (Genesis 9:25-27; Genesis 10:1-32), cp. also intro. to Genesis 49. The same is true of Ishmael in Genesis 16:12, and of Esau, who is called Edom in Genesis 25:30; Genesis 36:1, Genesis 36:8, Genesis 36:19. But admitting that there may be an element of truth in this theory, and that the biographies of the patriarchs may have been idealised to some extent by the popular feelings and poetical reflection of later times, the view that sees in the story of the patriarchs nothing that is personal and historical is certainly extreme and improbable. Popular imagination may add and modify but it does not entirely create. It requires some historical basis to start from. That basis in the case of Abraham and the other patriarchs is popular oral tradition, and that this preserved a genuine historical kernel cannot be denied. The amount of personal incident, the circumstantiality, the wealth of detail contained in the patriarchal narratives, can only be rightly accounted for on the ground that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were real historical personages; leaders of distinct national and religious movements, who made their mark upon the whole course of subsequent history. Some time ago, when an utterly impenetrable veil of obscurity hung over all contemporary profane history, the biblical narrative of the patriarchs could find no corroboration elsewhere. But of late a flood of light has been thrown upon ancient Assyria, illuminating the very period to which Abraham belongs. A background has been provided for the patriarchal age; and our increasing knowledge of Babylonian civilisation and religion goes to substantiate the historical nature of the stories of Abraham and the other patriarchs, and shows that they might well be the products of such a country and such an age. We may go further, and say that later Jewish history seems to require such a historical basis as the patriarchal narratives furnish, as its starting-point and explanation. Abraham, and not Moses, is the father of the Jewish nation, and the founder of its distinctive religion. It was no new and unknown God in whose name Moses spoke to his brethren in Egypt. He was able to appeal to Israel in the name of a God who had already revealed Himself, in the name of ’the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ See Exodus 3:6; Exodus 4:5, and note on the former passage.

The sections of the history of Abraham (Genesis 12-25) which are attributed to the Priestly source are the following: Genesis 11:27-32; Genesis 12:5; Genesis 13:6, Genesis 13:11-12; Genesis 16:1-3, Genesis 16:15-16; Genesis 17:1-27; Genesis 19:29; Genesis 21:1, Genesis 21:2-5; Genesis 23, Genesis 25:7-17. Those which form part of the Primitive narrative are: Genesis 12:1-4, Genesis 12:6; Genesis 13:5, Genesis 13:11, Genesis 13:12-18; Genesis 14, 15, Genesis 16:4-14; Genesis 18, 19 (except Genesis 19:29), 20, 21 (mostly), 22, 24, Genesis 25:1-6, Genesis 25:18-34. They afford a good example of the characteristic differences in style of the two sources, as explained in the art. ’Origin of the Pentateuch.’

Verses 1-34

The Sons of Abraham by Keturah. Death and Burial of Abraham. Descendants of Ishmael. Birth and Youth of Esau and Jacob

1. It is not known at what period of his life Abraham took Keturah as his secondary wife or concubine; for it is clear from Genesis 25:6 and 1 Chronicles 1:32 that she only held that position. Some of the names of Keturah’s children have been identified in Arabia as tribes.

2. Midian] The Midianites became a considerable nation, spreading over the country S. and SE. of Palestine from Moab to the Gulf of Akaba.

6. Concubines] Hagar and Keturah: see on Genesis 22:24. Sent them away.. eastward] towards Arabia, where they founded nations.

8. Gave up the ghost] an expression taken from the Genevan Bible. The Hebrew word means simply ’to die,’ lit. ’come to an end.’ Was gathered to his people] joined his ancestors in the unseen world. The expression cannot refer to the actual burial of Abraham with his forefathers, since they lay at Haran and Ur. We may probably see in it a vague belief in future existence. Cp. David’s words on the death of his son (2 Samuel 12:23, also Genesis 35:29).

13. The descendants of Ishmael settled generally in N. Arabia, and with the Joktanites(Genesis 10:26), or ’pure Arabs,’ of Arabia Felix, formed the great Arab race scattered over Syria and the shores of the Persian Gulf. Nebajoth] the Nabateans became an important people after the death of Alexander the Great. Their chief town was Petra in Idumæa. The name became synonymous with Arabians, and all the land between the Euphrates and the Gulf of Akaba was at one time called Nabatene. Kedar] a people often mentioned in OT.: they dwelt between Arabia and Babylonia.

16. Towns and castles] RV ’villages and encampments.’ The Arabs may be distinguished as ’nomad’ (wandering, pastoral) and ’agricultural’ (with fixed habitations); the distinction is already marked in this passage.

18. Havilah] near the PersianGulf. Shur] the desert between Egypt and Palestine. The lands to S. and E. of Palestine generally are meant. Before Egypt, as thou goest toward Assyria] rather, ’E. of Egypt in the direction of Assyria,’ i. e. in N. Arabia. He died in the presence of] see on Genesis 16:12.

19. Isaac] ’In Genesis Isaac appears throughout as the pale copy of his father. He is the son of promise and inherits his position, and the possessions and the blessings won by his father. He follows in Abraham’s footsteps without his strength of character and purpose. In quietness and patience he faithfully preserves his inheritance, serves his father’s God, and in turn like Abraham is guided, preserved, and blessed by him’ (D.).

20. Padan-aram] ’the plains of Syria,’ the same as Mesopotamia.

22. The children struggled] significant of the contests to come, between the brothers, and the nations descended from them, Israel and Edom. If it be so, why am I thus?] i.e. perhaps, If I have conceived, what is the significance of these struggles? but RV gives ’If it be so, wherefore do I live?’ since I suffer such pain. Enquire of the Lord] ’Nothing is more natural than that the Hebrew author intended to intimate that Rebekah enquired of God through Abraham the prophet, her father-in-law, who still survived’ (Kalisch).

23. Note the poetical form of the oracle. See RV. Shall be separated, etc.] or ’From thy womb they will separate from one another,’ i. e. be at variance from their birth. The elder shall serve the younger] the descendants of the elder son (the Edomites) would be subject to those of the younger (the Israelites). See on Genesis 27:40. The knowledge of this prediction explains in some measure the later conduct of Rebecca and Jacob.

25. Esau] meaning uncertain. Some render ’hairy.’

26. Jacob] i.e. following at the heel. See Esau’s allusion to the name (Genesis 27:36), giving it a sinister sense, as suited to Jacob’s plotting nature. The words Jacob and Joseph, compounded with -el or-ilu (= god), have been found as names in Assyrian inscriptions earlier than this period.

27. Cunning] i.e. clever. Plain] RM ’quiet’ or ’harmless.’ Dwelling in tents] preferring home pursuits.

28. The evil of such marked preferences in families appears plainly in the narrative.

29. Sod] or ’seethed,’ i.e. boiled.

30. Red pottage] lit. ’red stuff.’ Esau in his haste did not define its nature. It was a mess of lentils (3.4). It is said that such pottage is, or was, distributed at the mosque at Hebron in memory of the event. Edom] i.e. ’red.’ Probably here, as in many other instances in these ancient narratives of Genesis, we have the popular derivation of the names of well-known people and places. Edom is so called from the ’red’ colour of its sandstone cliffs. Here Esau afterwards settled: see Genesis 36.

31. Sell me.. thy birthright] The birthright included the headship of the family, a double portion of the inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:17), priestly rights (in these early days), and in the family of Abraham heirship to the covenant privileges. Perhaps all that was involved in the birthright here, however, was the double inheritance; as in Genesis 27:36 it is directly contrasted with the blessing which involved the primacy in the family (Genesis 27:28-29).

The character of Esau has many attractive features; but he cared only for the pleasure of the moment and was without any lofty spiritual aspirations. His generous, warm-hearted spirit attracts sympathy at first sight, when contrasted with the wiles of the cold, calculating Jacob. But judged by a higher standard Esau appears plainly as a worldly, irreligious man, indifferent to his parents’ wishes, uninterested in the divine covenant, and unmindful of the privileges and responsibilities which were to distinguish his race: cp. Genesis 26:34; Genesis 27:46. His character is summed up in Hebrews 12:16-17, where he is called a ’profane,’ i.e. unconsecrated or. common person.

The character of Jacob is in marked contrast to that of Esau. Craftiness and subtilty, even meanness and deceit, mark many of his actions; but, on the other hand, his patient endurance, strength of character, and warmth of affection call forth admiration. Long years of suffering and discipline were needed to purify his character from its baser elements, and make him worthier of the divine blessing. And certainly he was worthier than his brother, for he believed in and sought after his father’s God, held spiritual things in reverence, and in the chief turning-points of his life, at Bethel, Haran, and Penuel, showed a conviction that God was with him to bless and guide. He stood out at last as one who has conquered himself, and proved himself to be worthy of the divine favour and patience, Israel, a prince with God. These considerations help us to understand why Jacob rather than Esau was selected as heir to the promises. See also Romans 9.

Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Genesis 25". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcb/genesis-25.html. 1909.
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