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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 25

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1


(1) Then again Abraham took a wife.—This rendering implies that Abraham’s marriage with Keturah did not take place until after Sarah’s death; but this, though probable, is far from certain, as the Hebrew simply says, And Abraham added and took a wife. This statement is altogether indefinite; but as Abraham was 137 years of age at Sarah’s death, and lived to be 175, it is quite possible that, left solitary by Isaac’s marriage, he took Keturah to wife, and had by her six sons. The sole objection is his own statement, in Genesis 17:17, that it was a thing beyond nature for a man a hundred years old to have a son; how much more improbable, then, must it have become after forty more years had passed by! The argument on the other side, which would infer that the marriage took place in Sarah’s lifetime, from the fact that the birth of grandchildren is mentioned in Genesis 25:3-4, has little weight, as their names might have been subsequently added to bring down the genealogy to a later date.

Jewish commentators cut the knot by identifying Keturah with Hagar, who in the meanwhile had, as they say, set an example of matronly virtue in the manner in which she had devoted herself to the bringing up of Ishmael. But in Genesis 25:6 there is an evident allusion to both Hagar and Keturah in the mention of Abraham’s “concubines” in the plural; and in 1 Chronicles 1:32 the children of Keturah are distinguished from Hagar’s one son, Ishmael. To this we must add that as Ishmael was fourteen years old when Isaac was born, he would be now about fifty-four years of age, and his mother have passed the period of life when she could bear six sons.

The position, moreover, of Keturah was entirely distinct from that of Hagar. The latter was Sarah’s representative; and her son, if Sarah had remained barren, would have been the heir. Keturah was a secondary wife, whose children from the first held an inferior position in the household. So Bilhah and Zilpah became the substitutes of Rachel and Leah, and therefore their children ranked side by side with Reuben and Joseph, though not altogether on the same level. They were patriarchs, and the progenitors of tribes, even if the tribes sprung from them held a lower rank.

Verse 2

(2) Zimran.—The home of Keturah’s descendants is placed by Josephus and Jerome in Arabia-Felix; but the supposed traces of their names are untrustworthy.

Midian is the one son of Keturah who had a great future before him, for his race became famous traders (Genesis 37:28); and as they are called Me· danites there in the Hebrew, in Genesis 37:36, it is probable that Medan and Midian coalesced into one tribe. Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, belonged to them (Exodus 2:15-16), and, enriched by commerce, they became so powerful as to be dangerous neighbours to the Israelites. (Judges 6:7, Judges 6:8)

Shuah.—From him perhaps descended Bildad the Shuhite, Job’s friend (Job 2:11). The name in the Hebrew is different from that also rendered “Shuah” in Genesis 38:2.

Verse 3

(3) Jokshan begat Sheba, and Dedan.—But Sheba and Dedan are also described as the sons of Raamah, the son of Cush (Genesis 10:7). We have here proof that these genealogies are to a certain extent geographical, and that whereas these districts at first were peopled by a Hamitic race, they were subsequently conquered by men of the Semitic stock, who claimed Abraham for their ancestor. Most probably, therefore, we ought not to regard Sneba and Dedan as the names here of men. As men they were the sons of Raamah, but when the sons of Jokshan wrested these two countries from the family of Cush, they called them sons of their progenitor, because the dominant portion of the population had sprung from him. They appear as countries in Jeremiah 6:20; Jeremiah 49:8; Ezekiel 25:13; Ezekiel 27:15; Ezekiel 27:22; Ezekiel 38:13, &c.

Asshurim, and Letushim, and Leummim.—These are certainly not the names of men, but of the three tribes into which the Dedanites were divided.

Verse 6

(6) The east country.—By this is meant Arabia and Southern Mesopotamia, where, by their superior vigour and organisation, the descendants of Abraham were able to establish their supremacy over the natives. Burckhardt tells us that the Bedaween still follow Abraham’s practice. When their children are grown up, they give each of the younger sons his share of their goods (Luke 15:12), whereupon they move to a distance, and leave the eldest brother in quiet possession of the home.

Verse 7

(7) An hundred threescore and fifteen years.—As Abraham was seventy-five years of age when he left Haran (Genesis 12:4), his sojourn in Canaan lasted just a century, one quarter of which was spent in the long trial of his faith before Isaac was granted to him. As, however, Esau and Jacob were born when Isaac was sixty years of age (Genesis 25:26), they would be fifteen at Abraham’s death, and probably had often seen their grandfather, and received his blessing.

Abraham . . . was gathered to his people.—Upon the belief in a future life implied in these words, see Note on Genesis 15:15, and comp. Hebrews 11:16.

Verse 9

(9) His sons Isaac and Ishmael.—Isaac was now seventy-five years of age, and Ishmael eighty-nine, and the two old men, with their enmity long over, metas friends at their father’s burial. While Keturah’s sons were apparently sent far away into Arabia, Ishmael at Paran (Genesis 21:21) would be at no very great distance from the well Lahai-roi, which was Isaac’s favourite residence.

Verse 11

(11) God blessed his son Isaac.—With this general summary the Tôldôth Terah concludes, and no portion of Holy Scripture is more interesting or valuable; for in it the broad foundation is laid for the fulfilment of the protevangelium contained in Genesis 3:15, the progenitor of the chosen race is selected and proved on trial. and the preparation made for the giving of the Law, and for the growing light of prophecy, by the nearness wherewith Abraham walked with God.

Verse 12


(12) These are the generations of Ishmael.—Following the usual rule of this book, Ishmael is not dismissed from the Divine presence without a short record of his history, after which he falls into the background, and the historian proceeds with his main subject, which is the preparation for the forming of that race and nation of whom, according to the flesh, Christ came. These brief notices, moreover, of personages not in the direct line of Christ’s ancestry have their value in God’s great purpose that the Jewish Messiah should be the Redeemer of the Gentiles also (Romans 10:12); and consequently from the first their history was not alien from God’s counsels. (Romans 10:13-15) The sons of Ishmael.—Of the Arabian tribes sprung from Ishmael we read of Nebajoth and Kedar in Isaiah 60:7 as pastoral tribes, rich in flocks. Dumah is deemed worthy of a special prophecy (Isaiah 21:11); while the people of Tema are described there in Genesis 25:14 as generous and hospitable, and in Job 6:19 they appear as active traders. (See also Jeremiah 25:23.) Jetur, Naphish, and other Hagarite tribes, were conquered by Reuben and his allies (1 Chronicles 5:19), and Jetur became the Iturea of Luke 3:1. For the occasional references made to these and other sons of Ishmael in classical writers, the reader may consult Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, or similar works. The abode of the twelve tribes sprung from Ishmael was the northern part of Arabia, whence gradually they extended their influence, and apparently soon absorbed the Joktanites (Genesis 10:26-30), themselves a kindred Semitic race. These genealogies would be inexplicable if we did not remember that successive waves of people occupied these lands, and that while the old names remained, the dominant race was new. So the rapid growth of individuals into tribes (as of Midian, Genesis 25:2) was the result of races of higher civilisation and greater energy subduing feeble and less highly-developed tribes. Hence in Genesis 25:16 the sons of Ishmael are called “princes.” We gather from this that Ishmael had gathered round him a body of men of the Semitic race, of whom large numbers were constantly on the move towards Egypt (Genesis 12:15), and by their aid had established his rule in Paran, and handed it on to his sons.

Verse 16

(16) By their towns, and by their castles.—Towns and castles in the wilderness of Paran there were none, but we know for certain that the first of these words signified an unwalled village. (See Leviticus 25:31, where it is exactly described; also Psalms 10:8·, Isaiah 42:11.) It was, however, a settled and permanent place of dwelling. The other word rendered here castle, but used as the equivalent of tent in Psalms 69:25, is really a cluster of tents, the encampment of a tribe, and movable. It occurs in Numbers 31:10; 1 Chronicles 6:54; Ezekiel 25:4. As is well known, the Arabs are divided into two classes—the dwellers in tents, who are ever moving from station to station, within certain limits, nevertheless, which they seldom pass over; and the agricultural class, who have fixed habitations, are looked upon as inferiors, and probably are the remains of a conquered race. To this day they pay a sort of rent, or black-mail, to the nobler Arabs. We find, then, this distinction already existing when this Tôldôth was drawn up; the agricultural Arabs dwelling in unwalled villages, while the nomad tribes pitched now here, and now there, their clusters of black camels’-hair tents. And thus we have in these words proof that Ishmael and his subjects were not all upon the same level; for while he, his sons, and his noblest retainers would dwell in tents, the inhabitants of the villages would be men of inferior origin, compelled to submit themselves to him.

Verse 18

(18) Havilah was far to the south, on the Persian Gulf. (See Genesis 10:29.)

Shur.—This was their western limit towards Egypt. (See Genesis 16:7.) In 1 Samuel 15:7 this same region is assigned to the Amalekites.

As thou goest toward Assyria.—This does not mean that Shur was on the route toward Assyria, but gives the eastern limit of the country inhabited by the descendants of Ishmael.

He died.—But the Hebrew is, he fell—that is, his lot fell; he settled there.

In the presence of.—This means to the east of all his brethren. Just as Assyria was regarded as lying to the north of Palestine, because on starting the traveller journeyed in that direction, so Arabia was considered to be on the east, for a similar reason. (But see Note on Genesis 16:12.)

Verses 19-34

THE TÔLDÔTH ISAAC (Genesis 25:19 to Genesis 35:29).


Abraham begat Isaac—The Tôldôth in its original form gave probably a complete genealogy of Isaac, tracing up his descent to Shem, and showing thereby that the right of primogeniture belonged to him; but the inspired historian uses only so much of this as is necessary for tracing the development of the Divine plan of human redemption.

The Syrian.—Really, the Aramean, or descendant of Aram. (See Genesis 10:22-23.) The name of the district also correctly is “Paddan-Ararn,” and so far from being identical with Aram-Naharaim, in Genesis 24:10, it is strictly the designation of the region immediately in the neighbourhood of Charran. The assertion of Gesenius that it meant “Mesopotamia, with the desert to the west of the Euphrates, in opposition to the mountainous district towards the Mediterranean,” is devoid of proof. (See Chwolsohn, Die Ssabier, 1, p. 304.) In Syriac, the language of Charran, padana means a plough (1 Samuel 13:20), or a yoke of oxen ( 1 Samuel 11:7); and this also suggests that it was the cultivated district close to the town. In Hosea 12:12 it is said that “Jacob fled to the field of Aram;” but this is a very general description of the country in which he found refuge, and affords no basis for the assertion that Padan-aram was the level region. Finally, the assertion that it is an ancient name used by the Jehovist is an assertion only. It is the name of a special district, and the knowledge of it was the result of Jacob’s long-continued stay there. Chwolsohn says that traces of the name still remain in Faddân and Tel Faddân, two places close to Charran, mentioned by Yacut, the Arabian geographer, who flourished in the thirteenth century.

Isaac intreated the Lord.—This barrenness lasted twenty years (Genesis 25:26), and must have greatly troubled Isaac; but it would also compel him to dwell much in thought upon the purpose for which he had been given to Abraham, and afterwards rescued from death upon the mount Jehovah-Jireh. And when offspring came, in answer to his earnest pleading of the promise, the delay would serve to impress upon both parents the religious significance of their existence as a separate race and family, and the necessity of training their children worthily. The derivation of the verb to intreat, from a noun signifying incense, is uncertain, but rendered probable by the natural connection of the idea of the ascending fragrance, and that of the prayer mounting heavenward (Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:4).

The children struggled together.—Two dissimilar nations sprang from Abraham, but from mothers totally unlike; so, too, from the peaceful Isaac two distinct races of men were to take their origin, but from the same mother, and the contest began while they were yet unborn. And Rebekah, apparently unaware that she was pregnant with twins, but harassed with the pain of strange jostlings and thrusts, grew despondent, and exclaimed—

If it be so, why am I thus?—Literally, If so, why am I this? Some explain this as meaning “Why do I still live?” but more probably she meant, If I have thus conceived, in answer to my husband’s prayers, why do I suffer in this strange manner? It thus prepares for what follows, namely, that Rebekah wished to have her condition explained to her, and therefore went to inquire of Jehovah.

She went to enquire of the Lord.—Not to Shem, nor Melchizedek, as many think, nor even to Abraham, who was still alive, but, as Theodoret suggests, to the family altar. Isaac had several homes, but probably the altar at Bethel, erected when Abraham first took possession of the Promised Land (Genesis 12:7), and therefore especially holy, was the place signified; and if Abraham were there, he would doubtless join his prayers to those of Rebekah.

Verse 23

(23) And the Lord said unto her.—Not by the mouth of Abraham, nor in a dream, but directly, as He spake of old to Adam and Eve. We read of no appearance, as in Genesis 17:1, nor must we invent one. The manner in which Jehovah thus spake has not been revealed, and it is enough for us to know that Jehovah did speak of old to men. The answer is in the form of poverty:—

“Two nations are in thy womb;
And two peoples from thy bowels shall be separated;
And people shall be mightier than people;
And the great shall serve the small.”

The second line shows that even in their earliest childhood her sons would be unlike in character and unfriendly in disposition; upon this follows their development into hostile nations, and the prediction that the son who started with the advantages of the birthright, the stronger physical nature, and superior strength in men and arms (Genesis 32:6), would, nevertheless, finally hold the inferior position. There can be no doubt that the secondary cause of the vaster development of Jacob was his being placed by Joseph in the fruitful Delta, where the Israelites were constantly joined by a stream of Semitic immigrants, whose movement towards Egypt is a perfectly authenticated fact of the history of those times. (See Genesis 12:15.)

Verse 25

(25) Red.—Heb., admoni, a secondary reason for the name Edom. (See Genesis 25:30,)

All over like an hairy garment.—Heb., all of him—that is, completely—like a garment of hair: words rendered “a rough garment” in Zechariah 13:4, where it is used of the jacket of sheepskin worn by the prophets. It appears, therefore, that Esau’s body was entirely covered with red down, which developed in time into hair as coarse as that of a kid (Genesis 27:16), and betokened a strong and vigorous, but sensual nature.

Esau.—The Jewish commentators form this name from the verb to make, and render it well-made; but the usual explanation is hairy, from a word now extant only in Arabic.

Verse 26

(26) His hand took hold on Esau’s heel.—Usually there is a considerable interval—an hour or more—between the birth of twins; but here Jacob appeared without delay, following immediately upon his brother. This is expressed by the metaphorical phrase that his hand had hold on Esau’s heel—that is, there was absolutely no interval between them. Though very rare, yet similar cases have been chronicled from time to time.

His name was called Jacob.—The name signifies one who follows at another’s heels. It was Esau who first put upon it a bad meaning (Genesis 27:36), and this bad sense has been riveted to it by Jacob’s own unworthy conduct. It is constantly so used even in the Bible. Thus in Hosea 12:3—a passage quoted in defence of a literal explanation of the metaphor in this verse by those who are acquainted only with the English Version—the Hebrew has, he Jacobed, literally, heeled—that is, overreached, got the better by cunning of—his brother in the womb. This is the very meaning put upon the name by Esau, and in Jeremiah 9:4 and elsewhere; but it is not well rendered by our word supplant, which contains a different metaphor, the planta being the sole of the foot; whereas to be at a person’s heel is to be his determined pursuer, and one who on overtaking throws him down.

Verse 27


(27) The “boys grew.—With advancing years came also the formation of their characters. Esau became a skilful hunter, a “man of the field”: not a husbandman, but one who roamed over the open uncultivated wilderness (see Genesis 4:8) in search of game; but “Jacob was a plain man.” This is a most inadequate rendering of a word translated perfect in Job 1:1; Job 1:8; Psalms 37:37, &c, though this rendering is as much too strong as that in this verse is too weak. On Genesis 6:9, we have shown that the word conveys no idea of perfection or blamelessness, but only of general integrity. Both the word there and in Genesis 17:1, and the slightly different form of it used here, should in all places be translated upright.

Dwelling in tents.—Esau equally had a tent for his abode, but Jacob stayed at home, following domestic occupations, and busied about the flocks and cattle. Hence he was the mother’s darling, while Isaac preferred his more enterprising son. Thus the struggle between the twins led also to a divergence of feeling on the part of the parents. Throughout his history Jacob maintains this character, and appears as a man whose interests and happiness were centred in his home.

Verse 28

(28) Because he did eat of his venison.—Literally, because the venison—that is, the produce of Esau’s hunting—was in his mouth; in our phrase, was to his taste—was what he liked. The diet of an Arab sheik is very simple (see Note on Genesis 18:6); and Isaac, a man wanting in physical vigour and adventurousness—as is usually the case with the children of people far advanced in years—both admired the energy which Esau had inherited from Rebekah, and relished the fruits of it.

Verses 29-30

(29, 30) Jacob sod pottage.—The diverse occupations of the two youths led, in course of time, to an act fatal to Esau’s character and well-being. Coming home one day weary, and fainting with hunger, he found Jacob preparing a pottage of lentils. No sooner did the savoury smell reach him than he cried out in haste, “Let me swallow, I pray, of the red, this red.” The verb expresses extreme eagerness, and he adds no noun whatever, but points to the steaming dish. And Jacob, seeing his brother’s greediness and ravenous hunger, refuses to give him food until he has parted with the high and sacred prerogative which made him the inheritor of the Divine promise.

Therefore was his name called Edom.—Esau may have been called Edom, that is, Rufus, the red one, before, but after this act it ceased to be a mere allusive by name, and became his ordinary appellation.

Verse 34

(34) He did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way.—These words graphically describe Esau’s complete indifference to the spiritual privileges of which he had denuded himself. There is no regret, no sad feeling that he had prolonged his life at too high a cost. And if Jacob is cunning, and mean in the advantage he took of his brother, still he valued these privileges, and in the sequel he had his reward and his punishment. He was confirmed in the possession of the birthright, and became the progenitor of the chosen race, and of the Messiah; but henceforward his life was full of danger and difficulty. He had to flee from his brother’s enmity, and was perpetually the victim of fraud and the most cruel deceit. But gradually his character ripened for good. He ceased to be a scheming, worldly-minded Jacob, and became an Israel, and in his pious old age we see a man full of trust and faith in God, unworldly and unselfish, and animated by tender and loving feeling. Purified from his early infirmities, and with all his better nature strengthened and sanctified by sorrow, he shows himself worthy of his second name, and becomes “a prince with God.”

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Genesis 25". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/genesis-25.html. 1905.
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