Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, May 28th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
We are taking food to Ukrainians still living near the front lines. You can help by getting your church involved.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
Genesis 25

Sermon Bible CommentarySermon Bible Commentary

Verses 1-34

Genesis 25:0

(with Hebrews 12:16-17 )

The chief use, apparently, of some men's lives is that they may serve as beacons, warning off those who come after them from quicksand or whirlpool. They flame amidst the track to bid us beware. Such use the apostle found in the story of Esau: he holds it up before the eyes of the wavering Hebrew Christians, to urge them back from the gulf of apostasy towards which they were inclining.

I. But the apostle says, "fornicator and profane person"; and is there not something of invective here? are the epithets really applicable to the man's behaviour? Notice (1) the term fornicator was applied, according to Jewish custom, to religious unfaithfulness or apostasy. Thus the Israelites incurred it at the mouth of their prophets whenever they forsook the worship of Jehovah to serve other gods. The son of Isaac was guilty of throwing away heedlessly, for a meal, a most sacred thing, that should have been dearer to him than his life; and this is the guilt which the apostle charges upon him in the word which he employs. (2) The force of the second word is pretty much the same. Our English "profane" is just "outside the fane," "without a temple." A profane man is a person who has nothing which he worships, to whom nothing is holy or worth guarding, in whom there is no tender awe, no pious delicacy of feeling, who can play lightly with what is solemn and scorn what claims to be revered. Esau, in bartering his birthright to feed his hunger, acted profanely, squandering, despising a sacred possession of which he should have been incapable of thinking as marketable, which he should have cherished and set apart like a sanctuary.

II. In Esau's vain cry after the birthright at his father's bedside we have a picture of the irrevocable in life: of things done which no tempest of weeping can undo; of the awaking to the worth and sweetness of things that have been slighted, when it is impossible to have them ever within our reach again, wail and agonise for them as we may. It is not merely difficulties we create by our follies; like Esau we create also lamentable impossibilities, spilling what can be gathered up no more. "Afterward" when he would have inherited the blessing that had been slighted, he was rejected.

S. A. Tipple, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 139.

References: Genesis 25:0 F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 71; R. S. Candlish, Book of Genesis, vol. i., p. 421.Genesis 25:1-10 . Ibid. p. 416.

Verses 7-11

Genesis 25:7-11

I. The expression "a good old age" is only used of three individuals in the Scripture Abraham, Gideon, and David. It forms the epitaph recorded by the Spirit on their tombs. By the expression "an old man, and full of years" we are to understand the satisfaction which the patriarch felt in exchanging this mortal life for a better. On the expression "he was gathered to his people," Calvin remarks that these words contain an intimation of the immortality of the soul. They imply, he says, that there is a society of men in death as well as in life. But the words "he was gathered to his people" are not to be restricted to the condition of believers after death. When the wicked die, they also are gathered to their people, to those who are of like feelings to themselves.

II. The next point in the narrative is the interment of Abraham. "His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him." This is the only passage from which we can learn that there was any communication between Isaac and Ishmael. Death brings those together who know not how to associate on any other occasion. Notice these points: (1) Abraham owed everything he was and everything he possessed to the grace of God. (2) When the Divine call came to Abraham, he manifested a very strong desire to make his kindred partakers of the blessing which he was to partake of. (3) Much happened to Abraham in the course of his sojourning calculated to render the Divine promises very doubtful to him. (4) Abraham was favoured with communications from on high which of themselves were sufficient to dignify him and to separate him from the whole generation in which he lived.

A. D. Davidson, Lectures and Sermons, p. 96.

Verse 8

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.

A. Maclaren, Christ in the Heart, p. 117.

References: Genesis 25:8 . Parker, vol. i., p. 249; C. J. Vaughan, Good Words (1864), p. 548; R. Littlehales, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 376. Genesis 25:8 , Genesis 25:9 . J. R. Macduff, Sunsets on the Hebrew Mountains, p. 3.Genesis 25:9 . Parker, vol. i., p. 362.Genesis 25:11 . D. G. Watt, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 302; G. Woolnough, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 380; Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 48. Genesis 25:19-28 . R. S. Candlish, Book of Genesis, vol. i., p. 435.Genesis 25:19-34 . M. Dods, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, p. 43. 25:19 45. J. Monro Gibson, The Ages before Moses, p. 181.Genesis 25:23-34 . J. Wells, Bible Children, p. 29.

Verse 27

Genesis 25:27

Esau was a huntsman. He belonged to the open air; he loved wild sports, and delighted to chase the wild beasts of the wilderness. Jacob, on the other hand, was more quiet, more self-restrained. There was a good deal of the underhanded and scheming about him a prudent, sharp dealer a typical Jew, who represented the mercantile spirit of the race. We see Esau strong, stalwart, impulsive, everything which we like about a man, and he occupies a large place in our hearts, and then passes away from us, a striking and solemn lesson.

I. He was a man of strong physical nature, a man of passion with little self-restraint. He is hungry, and he parts with his birthright. He goes into the desert and meets the daughters of the Hittites, and is led by them into entanglements which break up his relations at home. It is not the strongest physical natures which have always the greatest moral force.

II. He was a man of swift impulse. Impulsive men sometimes gain their ends with startling and complete effect. Impulse may achieve much, but it is not to be compared to the patient, quiet perseverance that sees its end and goes on to it till the victory is gained.

III. He was a man reckless of consequences. The present, the immediate, arrests him. There is a want of keen perceptive power about men of Esau's type. There is no purpose in their lives; they are tossed about like a barque without a helm, and their end will be shipwreck, and not a gallant entrance into haven.

IV. Esau had no sense of spiritual things. He was a man altogether nobler in character than Jacob, more generous, more forgetful of self; yet Jacob had a sense of spiritual things which Esau lacked. There was a Divine culture in Jacob which we do not find in Esau. Esau ended, as he began, a splendid, but a merely natural man; Jacob developed by God's grace into Israel, the Prince with God.

L. D. Bevan, Penny Pulpit, No. 574.

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.

F. W. Farrar, The Fall of Man and other Sermons, p. 228.

References: Genesis 25:27 . F. Langbridge, Sunday Magazine (1885), p. 673.Genesis 25:27-34 . Expositor 2nd series, vol. vii., p. 345; R. S. Candlish, Book of Genesis, vol. i., p. 441; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 527; S. Leathes, Studies in Genesis, p. 129; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 75.

Verses 29-34

Genesis 25:29-34

The story of the birthright shows us what kind of a man Esau was: hasty, careless, fond of the good things of this life. He had no reason to complain if he lost his birthright. He did not care for it, and so he had thrown it away. The day came when he wanted his birthright, and could not have it, and found no place for repentance that is, no chance of undoing what he had done though he sought it carefully with tears. He had sown, and he must reap. He had made his bed, and he must lie on it. And so must Jacob in his turn.

I. It is natural to pity Esau, but we have no right to do more; we have no right to fancy for a moment that God was arbitrary or hard upon him. Esau is not the sort of man to be the father of a great nation, or of anything else great. Greedy, passionate, reckless people like him, without due feeling of religion or the unseen world, are not the men to govern the world or help it forward. It is men like Jacob whom God chooses men who can look forward and live by faith, and form plans for the future, and carry them out against disappointment and difficulty till they succeed.

II. God rewarded Jacob's faith by giving him more light; by not leaving him to himself and his own darkness and meanness, but opening his eyes to understand the wondrous things of God's law, and showing him how God's law is everlasting, righteous, not to be escaped by any man; how every action brings forth its appointed fruit; how those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind.

III. It is the steady, prudent, God-fearing ones, who will prosper on the earth, and not poor, wild, hot-headed Esau. But those who give way to meanness, covetousness, falsehood, as Jacob did, will repent it; the Lord will enter into judgment with them quickly. There is not one law for the believer and another for the unbeliever; but whatsoever a man sows, that shall he reap, and receive the due reward of the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or evil.

C. Kingsley, The Gospel of the Pentateuch, p. 72.

References: Genesis 25:29-34 . Sermons for Boys and Girls (1880), p. no; G. Salmon, The Reign of Law, p. 152.

Verse 34

Genesis 25:34

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, Boy Life: Sundays in Wellington College, p. 190.

Esau repeats here, as we all of us repeat, the history of the fall. Man's first sin was despising his birthright. The fruit of the tree was Eve's mess of pottage; the friendship, the Fatherhood of God, was the birthright which she despised.

I. What is a birthright? Briefly, it is that which combines high honour with sacred duty; it confers dignity and power, but it demands self-abnegation and unselfish work. Each of us is born with a birthright. God's infinite realm is large enough to confer on each one of us a title, and to demand in return a correspondent duty and work. The prize we strive for and have a right to strive for is the wealth of the universe through eternity.

II. What is it to despise a birthright? Esau despised his birthright by holding it cheaper than life. All shrinking from the pain and sacrifice which are ever found in the path of duty is a despising of the birthright, a counting ourselves unworthy of the place in the mansion which God has made us to occupy.

III. The inevitable fruit: the brand of reprobate. Esau was rejected as "under proof." God sought a son: He found a slave; He marked him, like Cain, and sent him away. The birthright which we despise as a possession will haunt us as an avenger, and will anticipate upon earth the gloom of the second and utter death.

J. Baldwin Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 88.

References: Genesis 25:34 . J. Van Oosterzee, The Year of Salvation, vol. ii., p. 348; S. Wilberforce, Oxford Lent Sermons, No. 5; W. Bull, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 100; C. C. Bartholomew, Sermons Chiefly Practical, p. 183; J. Keble, Sermons for the Christian Year (Lent to Passiontide), p. 104; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 77; R. S. Candlish, Book of Genesis, vol. i., p. 451.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Genesis 25". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/genesis-25.html.
Ads FreeProfile