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These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life:--
The last years of Abraham
ON THEIR NATURAL SIDE. Active to the last.
II. ON THEIR SPIRITUAL SIDE. He provided for the purity and peace of the chosen family, by sending away the sons of his concubines. He did this
(1) to prevent confusion of race,
(2) to avoid disturbance and quarrels. (T. H. Leale.)
Life and character of Abraham
I. THE FIRST PERIOD.
I. ABRAHAM COMES BEFORE US AS AN EMIGRANT.
II. ABRAHAM COMES BEFORE US AS A STRANGER.
III. ABRAHAM COMES BEFORE US IN AN ASPECT OF BRIGHT MORAL BEAUTY (Genesis 13:5-18).
IV. A MORE OPEN AND SIGNAL EVIDENCE OF THE DIVINE
COUNTENANCE AWAITS THE PATRIARCH (chap. 14.).
V. CONSIDER ABRAHAM IN HIS PRIVATE COMMUNION WITH GOD.
II. THE SECOND PERIOD. Abraham has shown how unreservedly he can give credit to God for the fulfilment of His mere word, however incredible it might seem to the eye of sense. Will he also and equally give credit to God for the fulfilment of it in His own way?
I. IN THIS NEW TRIAL, THE PATRIARCH’S FAITH APPEARS AT FIRST TO FAIL.
II. THE MANNER OF THE PATRIARCH’S REVIVAL IS EMINENTLY
GRACIOUS (chap. 17.).
III. THE CULMINATING POINT OF ABRAHAM’S EXALTATION IN CONNECTION WITH HIS CONDUCT TOWARDS LOT (chaps. 18., 19.).
IV. THE NEXT SCENE PRESENTS TO US THE PATRIARCH GRIEVOUSLY HUMBLED (chap. 20.).
V. THE ACTUAL FULFILMENT OF THE PROMISE DOES NOT
COMPLETELY ABOLISH ALL STRIFE BETWEEN THE FLESH AND THE
VI. THE SCENE ON MOUNT MORIAH FORMS THE CLIMAX OF
ABRAHAM’S WALK OF FAITH.
VII. THE CLOSING INCIDENTS IN ABRAHAM’S EVENTFUL LIFE. (T. H.Leale.)
1. Piety as well a nature teacheth men to dispose of their estates which God hath given them unto their seed.
2. Abraham may not, will not alter the portion of the child of promise which God ordained. The best portion is for the children of promise. They have all (Genesis 25:5).
3. Some portion below, the children of the flesh do carry away as theirs.
4. It is wisdom for good fathers to settle their families, while they are alive and stirring.
5. Some difference between the portion of the children of the flesh and of the promise God makes here below.
6. Transplantation into places not inhabited, to people, is a design allowed by God (Genesis 25:6). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
Educated by illusion
Let us hastily recapitulate his history, so chequered by vicissitudes. He began his wanderings at Chanan; then seeking a new country, he entered Canaan, feeding his flocks there as long as pasture lasted, and then passed on. After that we find him still a wanderer, driven by famine to Egypt; then returning home, parting with Lot, losing his best friend, commanded to give up the dearest object of his heart, and at the close of life startled almost to find that he had not a foot of earth in which to make for his wife a grave. Thus throughout his life he was a pilgrim. In all we see God’s blessed principle of illusion by which He draws us on towards Himself. The object of our hope seems just before us, but we go on without attaining it; all appears failure, yet all this time we are advancing surely on our journey and find our hopes realized not here but in the kingdom beyond. Abraham learnt thus the infinite nature of duty, and this is what a Christian must always feel. He must never think that he can do all he ought to do. It is possible for the child to do each day all that is required of him; but the more we receive of the spirit of Christ, the larger, the more infinitely impossible of fulfilment will our circle of duties become. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and fall of years; and was gathered to his people
“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.
1. The tranquil close of 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.
2. 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, D. D.)
The death and burial of Abraham
I. HIS DEATH.
1. The peaceful close of a long life.
2. The close of a satisfied life.
3. An introduction to a new and better life.
II. HIS BURIAL.
1. An honourable one.
2. An occasion for peace among the members of his family.
3. The occasion of further blessing to the living (Genesis 25:11). (T. H.Leale.)
I. ABRAHAM DIED.
1. The best of men die.
2. The conquest pilgrimage ends.
3. Abraham was brought down to the grave in honour and peace.
4. He being dead, yet speaketh.
II. MARK HIS FAITH (See Hebrews 11:13, &c.).
1. His faith related to his posterity and the land of promise. Hence his interment in this particular cave. The field of his sepulchre was his own possession.
2. It related to himself. Though losing the earthly Canaan, he was sure of the heavenly Canaan. He was confident of a future life; and knew that his faith and piety would not go unrecognized or unrewarded in the world to come. So when we die, let it be in faith. (The Congregational Pulpit.)
Abraham’s death in old age
The inscription on his tomb, if I may so call it, was “ He died in a good old age.” On this I have two remarks to offer--
(1) It was according to promise. Upwards of four-score years before this, the Lord told Abraham in vision, saying, “Thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace: thou shalt be buried in a good old age.” In everything, even in death, the promises are fulfilled to Abraham.
(2) It is language that is never used of wicked men, and not very commonly of good men. It is used of Gideon, and of David; and I know not whether of any other. The idea answers to what is spoken by the Psalmist, “They shall bring forth fruit in old age”; or that in Job, “Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in his season.” (A. Fuller.)
1. God records the time of His saints’ lives to set out the continuance of their faith and patient waiting for God and His promise (Genesis 25:7).
2. Saints give up spirits to God; they are not snatched away.
3. It is good dying in an age full of goodness.
4. Saints, as Abraham, depart full and satisfied with life below.
5. Saints are gathered to their own people in their death (Genesis 25:8).
6. Honourable burial is due to saints deceased by their surviving seed, or friends.
7. God was as good as His word to Abraham in his death (Genesis 25:9). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
Signs of age
We are as immortal as the angels until our work is done, and, that finished, the best thing that can happen to us is to be called home to rest at once rather than to be here, weak and worthless, in our tents waiting on the plains of Moab. When Dr. Bees preached last in North Wales a friend said to him--one of those who are always reminding people that they are getting old--“You are whitening fast, Dr. Bees.” The old gentleman did not say anything then; but when he got to the pulpit he referred to it, and said, “There is a wee white flower that comes up through the earth at this season of the year--sometimes it comes up through the snow and frost; but we are all glad to see the snowdrop, because it proclaims that the winter is over and that the summer is at baud. A friend reminded me last night that I was whitening fast. But heed not that, brother; it is to me a proof that my winter will soon be over, that I shall have done presently with the cold and east winds and the frosts of earth, and that my summer--my eternal summer--is at hand.” (Heber Evans.)
What men reap in age
A young man came to a man of ninety years of age and said to him, “How have you made out to live so long and be so well?” The old man took the youngster to an orchard, and, pointing to some large trees full of apples, said, “I planted these trees when I was a boy, and do you wonder that now I am permitted to gather the fruit of them?” We gather in old age what we plant in our youth. Sow to the wind and we reap the whirlwind. Plant in early life the right kind of a Christian character, and you will eat luscious fruit in old age, and gather these harvest apples in eternity. (Dr. Talmage.)
Age and Christ
A distinguished Oneida chief, named Skenandon, having yielded to the instructions of the Bey. Mr. Kirkland, and lived a reformed man for fifty years, said just before he died, in his hundred and twentieth year, “I am an aged hemlock; the winds of one hundred years have whistled through my branches; I am dead at the top” (he was blind); “why I yet live the great good Spirit only knows. Pray to my Jesus that I may wait with patience my appointed time to die; and when I die, lay me by the side of my minister and father, that I may go up with him at the great resurrection.”
Weakness of age
To an acquaintance who inquired about his welfare, he gave this account: “I am but weak; but it is delightful to find one’s self weak in everlasting arms; oh, how much do I owe my Lord! What a mercy, that once within the covenant, there is no getting out of it again; now I find my faculties much impaired.” His relations answering that it was only his memory which seemed to be effected with his disease:--“Well,” said he, “oh, how marvellous that God hath continued my judgment, considering how much I have abused it; and continued my hope of eternal life, though I have misimproved it!”. . . Speaking on the same topic afterwards he said very beautifully, “Were I once in heaven, a look of Christ would cure my failing memory, and all my other weaknesses. There I shall not need wine nor spirits to recruit me; no, nor shall I think of them, but as Christ was through them kind to me.” (Life of the Rev. John Brown of Haddington.)
Gathered to his people
Dimly, vaguely, veiledly, but unmistakably, as it seems to me, is here expressed at least a premonition and feeling after the thought of an immortal self in Abraham that was not there in what “his son Isaac Ishmael laid in the cave at Macpelah,” but was somewhere else and was for ever. That is the first thing hinted at here--the continuance of the personal being after death. Is there anything more? I think there is. Now, remember, Abraham’s whole life was shaped by that commandment, “Get thee out from thy father’s house, and from thy kindred, and from thy country.” He never dwelt with his kindred; all his days he was a pilgrim and sojourner, a stranger in a strange land. But now he is gathered to his people. The life of isolation is over, the true social life is begun. He is no longer separated from those around him, or flung amidst those that are uncongenial to him. “He is gathered to his people”; he dwells with his own tribe; he is at home; he is in the city. Further, the expressions suggest that in the future men shall be associated according to affinity and character. “He was gathered to his people,” whom he was like and who were like him; the people with whom he had sympathy, the people whose lives were shaped after the fashion of his own. Men will be sorted there. Gravitation will come into play undisturbed; and the pebbles will be ranged according to their weights on the great shore where the sea has cast them up, as they are upon Chesil beach, down there in the English Channel, and many another coast besides; all the big ones together and sized off to the smaller ones, regularly and steadily laid out. Like draws to like. Our spiritual affinities, our religious and moral character, will settle where we shall be and who our companions will be when we get yonder. Some of us would not altogether like to live with the people that are like ourselves, and some of us would not find the result of this sorting to be very delightful. Men in the Dantesque circles were only made more miserable because all around them were of the same sort, and some of them worse than themselves. And an ordered hell, with no company for the liar but liars, and none for the thief but thieves, and none for impure men but the impure, and none for the godless but the godless, would be a hell indeed. “He was gathered to his people,” and you and I will be gathered likewise. What is the conclusion of the whole matter? Let us follow with our thoughts, and in our lives those who have gone into the light, and cultivate in heart and character those graces and excellences which are congruous with the inheritance of the saints in light. Above all let us give our hearts to Christ, by simple faith in Him, to be shaped and sanctified by Him. Then our country will be where He is, and our people will be the people in whom His love abides, and the tribe to which we belong will be the tribe of which He is Chieftain. So when our turn comes, we may rise thankfully from the table in the wilderness, which He has spread for us, having eaten as much as we desired, and quietly follow the dark-robed messenger whom His love sends to bring us to the happy multitudes that throng the streets of the city. There we shall find our true home, our kindred, our King. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
God blessed his son Isaac
Two large and perpetual principles, on which the government of God proceeds, are involved in such commonplace incidents, as death, benefits received, and access to a well of water--
(1) that God repeats Himself in His modes of training men; and
(2) that God does not repeat Himself.
God had blessed Abraham, and He blessed Isaac; He repeated His procedure. Isaac received the Divine blessing at the well Lahairoi--where Abraham did not dwell: God did not repeat Himself.
I. I ask you, fathers and mothers, to CONSIDER THE BEST INHERITANCE WHICH CAN BE LEFT TO CHILDREN. It is not property or riches. If your children never inherit from you anything but a few cheap well-used articles of furniture, yet can point to your grave and say, “Under that grassy mound lie the remains of one who lived a life of faith in the Son of God, and tried to make the world of his neighbourhood better,” be sure they will inherit from you that which is more helpful and ennobling than cartloads of gold or silver. Be it yours to secure that.
II. LET EACH ONE CONSIDER THE NECESSITY OF PERSONAL OBEDIENCE TO GOD, IN ORDER TO BE FULLY BLESSED. You may have not a few rich temporal blessings, but if you have not received the grace of the Holy Spirit so as to call Jesus Christ Lord, then you are rejecting that which alone conveys the favour in which is life eternal. No one can acquire this blessing for you.
III. CONSIDER THE VARYING CONDITIONS TO WHICH THE DIVINE BLESSING COMES. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob--so different in their character--all were blessed by the Lord.
IV. IN ORDER TO OBTAIN AND RETAIN DIVINE BLESSING, WE MUST KNOW THE SECRET OF SECURING IT. Isaac’s knowledge of it is suggested by the words, “He dwelt by the well Lahai-roi”--the well of the Living, Seeing One. Have you no memory of a private room, or a sick bed, or a communion, when there came a flow of light and impulse into your heart, and Jesus appeared to be your life as never before? Do you never return in spirit to that scene, and endeavour again to refresh yourself with its intimations? The Lord who blessed you then is the same still. (D. G. Watt, M. A.)
A word for quiet people
1. After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac. What a contrast meets us as we turn to him. The longest lived of the patriarchs, yet what a little space he fills. Abraham has many chapters--so has Jacob, but Isaac has scarcely a single chapter to himself, this is the lesson of his life. We talk of most men because of their importance. I want to talk of Isaac because of his unimportance. His are the annals of a quiet life. God is the God of Abraham. Yes, we do not wonder at that--Abraham the hero, the warrior, the father and founder of great nations--the man of such gifts and such achievements. But God is the God of Isaac, too--the God of the quiet uneventful life. The heavenly Father hath room in His heart for all His children. He who maketh us to differ, loves us in all the separateness of our character.
2. Remember that Isaac is needed as well as Abraham. It is well that there should be some few men here and there, lifted up above the rest like the high hills that touch the sky. The sight of them is needful to refresh us, to expand our thought, to break the dead level of life, and to bring down blessings from heaven. But we need the quiet fields as well as the mountain heights--they give us the grass of the meadow and the corn of the valley. Earth has need of common people--and indeed most need of them. Some one said one day to Abraham Lincoln, referring to some prominent man, “He is a common-looking person.” “Friend,” said Abraham Lincoln, “the Lord prefers common-looking people, that is why He has made so many of them.” If folks were all splendid geniuses, whirling to heaven in chariots of fire, who would do the humdrum work of life? Let us learn to think rightly of common-place people, including ourselves. George Eliot preaches a needed gospel when she writes of one of her characters, “He whose fortunes I have undertaken to relate was in no respect an ideal or exceptional character . . . a man whose virtues were not heroic, and who had no undetected crime within his heart; who had not the slightest mystery hanging about him, but was palpably and unmistakably common-place . . . But, dear madam, it is so very large a majority of your fellow-countrymen that are of this insignificant stamp. Yet these common-place people--many of them--bear a conscience, and have felt the sublime prompting to do the painful right; they have their unspoken sorrows and their sacred joys; their hearts have perhaps gone out towards their first-born, and they have mourned over the irreclaimable dead. Depend upon it you would gain unspeakably if you would learn to see more of the poetry and pathos, the tragedy and comedy, lying in the experience of a human soul that looks through dull grey eyes and that speaks in a voice of quite ordinary tones.”
3. Remember the advantages of such a life. “Isaac went into the field at eventide to meditate.” Of such life, this is its distinction. If it have less of action, it certainly has more room for meditation. If it knows fewer things, yet it generally knows them better and deeper. If it has less glory and triumph, yet it has closer and steadier communion. If it cannot fight the Master’s battles, it can sit at the Master’s feet and learn of Him. The quiet life has its blessings. Down by the stream the little meadow lay; and it heard afar off the roar of the great city, and it saw the ruddy glare of its lights flung up against the murky sky. “Alas!” it sighed, “how dull a life is mine! Yonder, in the city, with its thousands, one might do some good. But I am so far away and useless.” But in the night time came the stars and sang to it--“Foolish creature, we are thine in all our silvery brightness, we whom they scarcely see in the city.” Then the dew fell and whispered to its heart--“And I am thine, I that am of no use on the hard city ways.” And up rose the sun and woke the flowers and painted them afresh, and it said--“I am thine, I who have to fight with city fogs for many an hour yonder.” And the meadow thought it had something to sing about after all, and the lark went soaring heavenward with music. But one day it heard some stray city sparrow tell a tale about the hungry little children, and the drunken men, and the wretched women, and about weary rich folks. And it grew sad again and said--“What can I do down here, out of the way, and so common-place!” Then came the breeze and it cried in a hurry, “Quick! give us your freshness and fragrance that we may bless the crowded courts and streets,” and it was off. And there came some that picked the flowers from beside the stream, and told how they should gladden many a weary heart, and smile upon sick children, and light up many a dreary home. Then the meadow sang a sweeter song than ever, and was glad that He who maketh all hath so much room for the quiet and unknown, and can turn these to such good account. God blessed Isaac.
4. Remember, again, that if quiet people do not go up so high as others, they do not go down so low. “Happy is the nation whose annals are dull,” said an authority. Think of Abraham and David and Elijah, and you will see that the life of Isaac has its compensations.
5. Again-there is a special beauty of character belonging to the quiet life. Take another of the few incidents in Isaac’s life--that recorded in the sixty-seventh verse of the twenty-fourth chapter--“And he brought
Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent, and he loved her, and was comforted after his mother’s death.” The gentle heart grieving for his mother, and solaced by the love of Rebekah, is an aspect of the quiet life worth lingering over. These are the gifts with which the quiet people do enrich the world. We do not wonder now that God blessed Isaac.
6. Notice further--that the quiet life has its trials. We see it in the picture of the dim-eyed Isaac sitting in the tent door, bidding his son fetch for him the venison which his soul loved--an ease that breeds a self-indulgence is the besetment of the quiet life. It needs to be stirred up, and that sharply at times, and so there comes the famine, rousing him-making the somewhat sluggish life beat more vigorously. Bringing new wants that require new devices. Bringing new conditions that must be dealt with. No harvest ever did so much for Isaac as that famine. Yet another tendency of the quiet life is to fear and to cunning. We see it in Jacob the quiet man, the smooth man. But here in Isaac is the possibility. The story of the men of Gerar and Rebekah shows this tendency in Isaac. They who are weakest need most of all the help of God and have most room for it. They who have no other gifts must make the most of this.
7. Again, the quiet uneventful life has its victories--victories as brave and oftentimes alike more noble and complete than the victories of the warrior. Isaac pitched his tent in the Valley of Gerar and dwelt there, and Isaac digged the wells of water which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father (Genesis 18:23). Then the Philistines came and stopped up the well. Ishmael would have fought for it, but that would have taken time and men’s lives, and have established a feud between himself and his neighbours. And after all he would have had to dig out the well again. So it was a saving of trouble and time and of much else at once to dig the well. So he digged again, and the Philistines came and filled that also. Again he might have fought about that too--but all that made it worth while to dig before made it worth while to dig again. So he removed from thence and digged another well; and for that they strove not. He had got to Rehoboth--“room.” It is a good place to live, Rehoboth--where there is room for forgiveness and patience there is room for peace. And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “Fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee.” Where there is room for love there is room for God. Then came the kings and chief captains who had sent him away and won by his gentleness, they sought an alliance with him--“We saw certainly that the Lord was with thee: and we said, let there now be an oath betwixt us, and let us make a covenant with thee. Thou art now the blessed of the Lord. And he made them a feast, and they did eat and drink.” It was a great triumph of peace principles; as pure a victory as was ever won. So the quiet man was a hero all unbeknown to himself, and won a more noble victory then ever came of cruel bloodshed. These gentle souls have a mighty power, mightier than we reckon--like the silent stars that rule the darkness by shining. Lastly, let us remember that it was not Isaac’s natural character that singled him out for distinction; but it was his relation to the coming Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. This was Abraham’s greatness; and here was Isaac as great as Abraham. And herein is our greatness too. Not in what we are can we find our glory, but in Him, our Saviour and our King. (Mark Guy Pearse.)
I. THE PERSONAL CHARACTER OF THIS MAN TAKES ROOT IN THE BLESSING OF GOD.
1. His natural life commences with a special benediction, for he was a child of promise.
2. Isaac had a remarkable dedication in his youth.
3. But it is now, when Abraham is dead, that he more largely receives the blessing.
4. More deeply impressed at the last than at the first, he solemnly prepares transmit that blessing which he had inherited.
II. THIS MAN’S MARKED INDIVIDUALITY GROWS UP AND SHAPES ITSELF IN THE GODLY HABITS OF A PROTRACTED LIFE.
1. His habit of thought.
2. His habit of dealing with men.
3. His habits at home.
III. THE MARKED INDIVIDUALITY OF THIS MAN IS SEEN IN THE AMPLE FRUIT WHICH IT BORE.
1. It is in Isaac that we get the best expression of patriotism.
2. Come within the radius of this man’s influence, and you feel that he, too, in the best sense, was a man of the world.
3. But notably you feel in Isaac’s case what is that influence which leads a man to make ample and timely disposition of his secular affairs, that he may give himself more fully to better things. (G. Woolnough, M. A.)
These are the generations of Ishmael
The generations of Ishmael
I. THAT THOSE WHO ARE NOT APPOINTED TO THE MOST HONOURABLE PLACE ARE YET CARED FOR BY PROVIDENCE.
II. THAT PROVIDENCE AFFORDS ENCOURAGEMENTS FOR THE SUPPORT OF FAITH AND VIRTUE.
III. THAT THE FAITHFULNESS OF PROVIDENCE MAY BE PROVED ON DIFFERENT LINES. Past and present condition of
(2) Ishmaelites. (T. H. Leale.)
The genealogies of the wicked
1. The genealogies of the wicked, God sometimes recorded for His own glory and the sake of the Church (Genesis 25:12).
2. God doth by name punctually perform His promise unto His servants, though it be concerning the wicked.
3. God doth vouchsafe a more abundant seed sometimes to the children of the flesh than to the children of the promise. Ishmael hath many sons, it is long till Isaac hath any.
4. Great dignities, commands, and powers below God doth cast upon bondmen in the Church (Genesis 25:16). One drachm of grace is above monarchies.
5. A long age may betide an Ishmael, but not a good one.
6. A like death may seem to be both to the righteous and the wicked, but it is not so in truth.
7. The wicked in death are gathered to their people as well as the righteous unto theirs (Genesis 25:17).
8. God giveth the lot of habitation, motion and cessation unto the worst of men on earth (Genesis 25:18). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
The generations of Isaac.
The holy seed
1. God hath a special care to commend unto posterity the line of His Church, and His providences towards it.
2. The eminent line of the Church visible begins from Abraham (Genesis 25:19).
3. The holy seed run not foolishly nor hastily into the marriage covenant, but in maturity and prudence.
4. God separates the mother of His Church from all superstitious relations. In calling any to His Church God separates them from corrupt relations (Genesis 25:20). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. In God’s answer of prayer the greatest mercies may be given in, with the greatest temptation.
2. Hard temptations may sometimes cause gracious souls to be discontented with their mercies.
3. In such temptations gracious hearts make their resource to God to know His mind and do it (Genesis 25:22). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. Jehovah vouchsafes answers to His troubled petitioners suitable to their desires.
2. God hath by natural symptoms in some declared the two great parties of the world and of the Church.
3. God’s oracle hath foretold heavy divisions between them.
4. God hath so ordered that the people of the world may be outwardly stronger than the Church.
5. It is God’s oracle that the greatest in the world shall serve the least in the Church.
6. The preferring or undervaluing of creatures either for outward or inward, temporal or eternal good, depends wholly upon God’s will (Genesis 25:23). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
The intended mother of the promised seed was left for twenty years childless--to contend with the doubts, surmises, evil proposals, proud challengings of God, and murmurings, which must undoubtedly have arisen even in so bright and spirited a heart as Rebekah’s. It was thus she was taught the seriousness of the possession she had chosen for herself, and gradually led to the implicit faith requisite for the discharge of its responsibilities. Many young persons have a similar experience. They seem to themselves to have chosen a wrong position, to have made a thorough mistake in life, and to have brought themselves into circumstances in which they only retard, or quite prevent the prosperity of those with whom they are connected. In proportion as Rebekah loved Isaac, and entered into his prospects, must she have been tempted to think she had far better have remained in Padanaram. It is a humbling thing to stand in-some other person’s way; but if it is by no fault of ours, but in obedience to affection or conscience we are in this position, we must, in humility and patience, wait upon Providence as Rebekah did, and resist all morbid despondency. This second barrenness in the prospective mother of the promised seed was as needful to all concerned as the first was; for the people of God, no more than any others, can learn in one lesson. They must again be brought to a real dependence on God as the Giver of the heir. The prayer with which Isaac “entreated” the Lord for his wife “because she was barren” was a prayer of deeper intensity than he could have uttered had he merely remembered the story that had been told him of his own birth. God must be recognized again and again and throughout as the Giver of life to the promised line. Learn, therefore, that although God has given you means of working out His salvation, your Rebekah will be barren without His continued activity. On His own means you must re-invite His blessing, for without the continuance of His aid you will make nothing of the most beautiful and appropriate helps He has given you. It was by pain, anxiety, and almost dismay, that Rebekah received intimation that her prayer was answered. In this she is the type of many whom God hears. Inward strife, miserable forebodings, deep dejection, are often the first intimations that God is listening to our prayer and is beginning to work within us. (M. Dods, D. D.)
Birth of Esau and Jacob
THEIR MARKED INDIVIDUALITY.
II. HOW HEREBY IS POINTED OUT THEIR FUTURE DESTINY.
III. HOW THEIR CHARACTERS, SO EARLY DEVELOPED, AFFECTED THE PREFERENCES OF THEIR PARENTS. (T. H. Leale.)
The children whose birth and destinies were thus predicted, at once gave evidence of a difference even greater than that which will often strike one as existing between two brothers, though rarely between twins. The first was born, all over like a hairy garment, presenting the appearance of being rolled up in a fur cloak or the skin of an animal--an appearance which did not pass away in childhood, but so obstinately adhered to him through life, that an imitation of his hands could be produced with the hairy skin of a kid. This was by his parents considered ominous. The want of the hairy covering which the lower animals have, is one of the signs marking out man as destined for a higher and more refined life than they; and when their son appeared in this guise, they could not but fear it prognosticated his sensual, animal career. So they called him Esau. And so did the younger son from the first show his nature, catching the heel of his brother, as if he were striving to be first-born; and so they called him Jacob, the heel-catcher or supplanter--as Esau afterwards bitterly observed--a name which precisely suited his crafty, plotting nature, shown in his twice over tripping up and overthrowing his elder brother. The name which Esau handed down to his people was, however, not his original name, but one derived from the colour of that for which he sold his birthright. It was in that exclamation of his, “Feed me with the same red,” that he disclosed his character. (M. Dods, D. D.)
And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter
Esau, the hunter
A man of strong physical nature, a man of passion, with little self-restraint.
II. A man of swift impulse.
III. A man reckless of consequences. The present, the immediate, arrests him.
IV. Esau had no sense of spiritual things. (L. D. Bevan.)
The animal and the spiritual
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 I 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. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
I. His STRENGTH: A HUNTER. Hunting in itself is a delight lawful and laudable, and may well be argued for from the disposition that God hath put into creatures. He hath naturally inclined one kind of beasts to pursue another for man’s profit and pleasure. He hath given the dog a secret instinct to follow the hare, the hart, the fox, the boar, as if he would direct a man by the finger of nature to exercise those qualities which His Divine wisdom created in them.
1. This practice of hunting hath in it delight.
2. Benefit. Recreations have also their profitable use, if rightly undertaken.
(1) The health is preserved by a moderate exercise.
(2) The body is prepared and fitted by these sportive to more serious labours, when the hand of war shall set them to it.
(3) The mind, wearied with graver employments, hath thus some cool respiration given it, and is sent back to the service of God with a revived alacrity.
II. HIS POLICY: A CUNNING HUNTER.
1. He had a ravenous and intemperate desire. This appears from three phrases he used:
(1) “Feed me, I pray thee” (Genesis 25:30); satisfy, saturate, satiate me; or, let me swallow at once, as some read it. The words of an appetite insufferable of delay.
(2) To show his eagerness, he doubles the word for haste: “with that red, with that red pottage;” red was his colour, red was his desire. He coveted red pottage; he dwelt in a red soil, called thereon Idumea; and in the text, “therefore was his name called Edom.”
(3) He says, “I am faint,” and (Genesis 25:32) “at the point to die,” if I have it not. Like some longing souls that have so weak a hand over their appetites, that they must die if their humour be not fulfilled.
2. His folly may be argued from his base estimation of the birthright; that he would so lightly part from it, and on so easy conditions as pottage.
3. Another argument of his folly was ingratitude to God, who had in mercy vouchsafed him, though but by a few minutes, the privilege of primogeniture; wherewith divines hold that the priesthood was also conveyed.
4. His obstinacy taxeth his folly, that, after cold blood, leisure to think of the treasure he sold, and digestion of his pottage, he repented, not of his rashness, but (Genesis 25:34) “He did eat, and drink, and rose up, and went his way”--filled his belly, rose up to his former customs, and went his way without a Quidfeci? Therefore it is added, “he despised his birthright.” He followed his pleasures without any interception of sorrow or interruption of conscience. His whole life was a circle of sinful customs; and not his birthright’s loss can put him out of them.
5. Lastly, his perfidious nature appeareth, that though he had made an absolute conveyance of his birthright to Jacob, and sealed the deed with an oath, yet he seemed to make but a jest of it, and purposed in his heart not to perform it. Thus literally; let us now come to some moral application to ourselves. Hunting is, for the most part, taken in the Holy Scripture in the worst sense. So (Genesis 10:9) Nimrod was a hunter, even to a proverb; and that “before the Lord,” as without fear of His majesty. Now, if it were so hateful to hunt beasts, what is it to hunt men? The wicked oppressors of the world are here typed and taxed, who employ both arm and brain to hunt the poor out of their habitations, and to drink the blood of the oppressed Herein observe--
I. The persons hunted.
II. The manner of hunting; and,
III. The hounds.
1. The poor are their prey: any man that either their wit or violence can practise on.
2. You hear the object they hunt; attend the manner. And this you shall find, as Esau’s, to consist in two things--force and fraud. They are not only hunters, but cunning hunters.
3. Now for their hounds. Besides that they have long noses themselves, and hands longer than their noses, they have dogs of all sorts. Beagles, cunning intelligencers--the more crafty they are, the more commendable, Their setters, prowling promoters; whereof there may be necessary use, as men may have dogs, but they take them for mischievous purposes. Their spaniels, fawning sycophants, who lick their master’s hands, but are brawling ever at poor strangers. Their great mastiffs; surly and sharking bailiffs, that can set a rankling tooth in the poor tenants’ ribs. Thus I have shown you a field of hunters; what should I add, but my prayers to heaven, and desires to earth, that these hunters may be hunted? The hunting of harmful beasts is commended: the wolf, the boar, the bear, the fox, the tiger, the otter. But the metaphorical hunting of these is more praiseworthy; the country wolves, or city foxes, deserve most to be hunted. (T. Adams.)
Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents
First impressions of Jacob
I. JACOB WAS THE FATHER OF THE JEWISH RACE, AND A TYPICAL JEW. If we can understand the life of Jacob, we can understand the history of his people. The extremes which startle us in them are all in him. Like them, he is the most successful schemer of his times; and, like them, he has that deep spirituality, that far-seeing faith, which are the grandest of all qualities, and make a man capable of the highest culture that a human spirit can receive. Like them, he spends the greatest part of his life in exile, and amid trying conditions of toil and sorrow; and, like them, he is inalienably attached to that dear land, his only hold on which was by the promise of God, and the graves of the heroic dead.
II. JACOB HAS SO MANY POINTS OF CONTACT WITH OURSELVES.
1. His failings speak to us.
2. His aspirations speak to us.
3. His sorrows speak to us.
III. IN JACOB WE CAN TRACE THE WORKINGS OF DIVINE LOVE. “Jacob have I loved” (Malachi 1:2).
1. It was pre-natal love.
2. It was fervent love.
3. It was a disciplinary love.
IV. JACOB’S LIFE GIVES A CLUE TO THE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION (see Romans 9:11). Election refers largely, if not primarily, to the service which the elect are qualified to render to their fellows throughout all coming time. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Childhood shows the man
I. THAT CONDUCT IN THE DAYS OF YOUTH FOREBODES THE PROCEDURE OF AFTER DAYS.
II. THAT THE BIBLE INDICATES THE RIGHT WAY OF GROWING UP INTO A WORTHY MANHOOD.
III. THAT NATURAL TENDENCIES MUST BE UNDER CONTROL FROM THE OUTSET OF LIFE. Conclusion: Read this item in the life of Jacob and Esau--
1. To learn in what you may be tending to wrong.
2. To impress you with the truth that there are critical hours in every one’s life.
3. To realize that there is present help against yielding. (D. G. Watt, M. A.)
Jacob’s home life
I. FRATERNAL DISSIMILARITY.
II. PARENTAL PARTIALITY.
III. CONJUGAL, CONTRARIETY. Lessons:
1. The responsibility of parents.
2. The need of love as a cementing influence in home life.
3. The baseness of unbrotherliness.
4. The downward course of sin. (T. S. Dickson.)
Dwelling in tents
Two things are observable in the holy patriarchs, and commendable to all that will be heirs with them of eternal life.
1. Their contempt of the world. They that dwell in tents intend not a long dwelling in a place. They are moveables, ever ready to be transferred at the occasion and will of the inhabiter. “Abraham dwelt in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise” (Hebrews 11:9). The reason is added, “for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” These saints studied not to enlarge their barns, as the rich cosmopolite (Luke 12:1-59.), or to sing requiems to their souls, in the hoped perpetuity of earthly habitations. “Soul, live; thou hast enough laid up for many years.” Fool! he had not enough for that night. They had no thought that their houses should continue for ever, and their dwelling-places to all generations; thereupon calling their lands after their own Psalms 49:11). God convinceth the foolish security of the Jews, to whom He had promised (by the Messiah to be purchased) an everlasting royalty in heaven, by the Rechabites (Jeremiah 35:7), who built no houses, but dwelt in tents, as if they were strangers, ready on a short warning for removal. The Church esteems heaven her home, this world but a tent, a tent which we must all leave, build we as high as Babel, as strong as Babylon. When we have fortified, combined, feasted, death comes with a voider, and takes away all.
2. Their frugality should not pass unregarded. Here is no ambition of great buildings; a tent will serve. How differ our days and hearts from those! The fashion is now to build great houses to our lands, till we have no lands to our houses; and the credit of a good house is made, not to consist in outward hospitality, but in outward walls. (T. Adams.)
The advantages of plain dealing
1. The principal is to please God, whose displeasure against double-dealing the sad examples of Saul for the Amalekites, of Gehazi for the bribes, of Ananias for the inheritance, testify in their destruction. Whose delight in plain-dealing Himself affirms: “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:17).
2. The credit of a good name, which is a most worthy treasure, is thus preserved. The riches left thee by thy ancestors may miscarry through others’ negligence; the name not, save by thy own fault. It is the plain-dealer’s reward, his name shall be had in estimation; whereas no faith is given to the dissembler, even speaking truth. Every man is more ready to trust the poor plain-dealer than the glittering, false-tongued gallant.
3. It prevents and infatuates all the malicious plots of enemies. God, in regard to thy simplicity, brings to nought all their machinations. Thou, O Lord, hadst respect to my simple pureness. An innocent fool takes fearless steps, and walks as securely as if it stood girt with a wall of brass.
4. It preserves thy state from ruin. When by subtlety men think to scrape together much wealth, all is but the spider’s web, artificial and weak. What plain-dealing-gets, sticks by us, and infallibly derives itself to our posterity. If thou wouldst be good to thyself and thine, use plainness.
5. It shall somewhat keep thee from the troubles and vexations of the world.
6. The curses of the poor shall never hurt thee. Though the causeless curse shall never come, yet it is happy for a man so to live that all may bless him. Now the plain man shall have this at last. Gallant prodigality, like fire in flax, makes a great blaze, a hot show, but plain hospitality, like fire in solid wood, holds out to warm the poor, because God blesseth it. So I have seen hot spurs in the way gallop amain; but the ivy bushes have so stayed them, that the plain traveller comes first to his journey’s end.
7. It shall be thy best comfort on thy death-bed: the conscience of an innocent life. On this staff leans aged Samuel: “Whose ox or ass have I taken?”
8. Lastly, thou shalt find rest for thy soul. Thou hast dealt plainly; so will God with thee, multiplying upon thee His promised mercies. (T. Adams.)
Jacob’s election; or, Divine sovereignty in its relation to life
I. Although Jacob obtained, in virtue of his election, a certain priority over Esau, yet was Esau also, equally with Jacob, the subject of Divine sovereignty.
II. The appointment of God’s sovereignty concerning these two brothers did in no wise determine their eternal destinies, but only the sphere of their human histories.
III. It may have been the case that the positions severally assigned to both Jacob and Esau in the family of Isaac, were just those which were best adapted to ensure the blessedness of both. Perhaps the only way to bring such a disposition as Esau’s to esteem his birthright in Isaac was to transfer it to another. And that this discipline was not lost on Esau the event distinctly shows. (W. Roberts.)
And the boys grew
I. They grew bodily. Natural provision for this. Food, air, exercise, increase bulk of body. Explain. Grew in stature and in strength.
II. They grew mentally. Natural provision for this. Memory a storehouse for facts. Judgment a mill for grinding them up and digesting them. Some boys are careless, dull, disobedient, self-willed, grow slowly, become men bodily and remain children in mind. Providential provision for mental growth. Books, schools, &c. These boys had not these things.
III. They grew very unlike each other. Sketch their differences, bodily, mentally, morally. See rest of verse. Brothers often unlike in temper, taste, &c. With all mental and other differences they should be alike pious. “Boy father of the man.”
IV. They grew up into history. Which became the most prominent? Why? The practice of prayer at length made Jacob the better man. He overcame evil. Esau degenerated. Learn: You are all growing bodily: are you growing mentally? Do you grow in wisdom and in grace, and in the favour of God and man? Are you growing like Christ, growing up into Christ, growing more fit for heaven?
Constancy and inconstancy in the two brothers
It has been pointed out that the weakness in Esau’s character which makes him so striking a contrast to his brother is his inconstancy.
“That one error Fill him with faults; makes him run through all the sins.”
Constancy, persistence, dogged tenacity is certainly the striking feature of Jacob’s character. He could wait and bide his lime; he could retain one purpose year after year till it was accomplished. The very motto of his life was, “I will not let Thee go except Thou bless me.” He watched for Esau’s weak moment, and took advantage of it. He served fourteen years for the woman he loved, and no hardship quenched his love. Nay, when a whole lifetime intervened, and he lay dying in Egypt, his constant heart still turned to Rachel, as if he had parted with her but yesterday. In contrast with his tenacious, constant character stands Esau, led by impulse, betrayed by appetite, everything by turns and nothing long. To-day despising his birthright, to-morrow breaking his heart because for its loss; to-day vowing he will murder his brother, to-morrow falling on his neck and kissing him; a man you cannot reckon upon, and of too shallow a nature for anything to root itself deeply in. (M. Dods, D. D.)
Life revealed in its progress
One ship is as good as another in the harbour. It is outside of the harbour that the comparative merits of different vessels are made to appear. There their qualities, whether superior or inferior, show themselves. It is what ships do on the sea that determines that one is better or worse than another. And as with ships, so with men. Two men start about alike on the morn of life. They go along at first about together. But follow them five or ten years, and about the fifth, the sixth, or the seventh year, the one--a man of pleasure, a godless man, a man that does not believe in a Divine supervision of the affairs of this world--begins to degenerate; while the other--a sober Christian man, who believes that God controls the world and all that are in it--in the beginning lays his foundation, going down so deep that he seems for a time to burrow like a marmot; but then, little by little, he begins to work upward, and he builds so that every hour men see that he is building strongly and surely. (H. W. Beecher.)
Rebekah loved Jacob
Rebekah; or, undue natural affection and partiality in parents
While the account of Rebekah in Holy Scripture is so brief, that it would be difficult to draw many reflections from the study of her character, her position is suggestive, and her conduct by no means without important practical results. She first comes before our notice as the future wife of
Isaac, and, in that capacity, at once attracts the interest of the student of the patriarchal age. She found Isaac walking, meditating at eventide, and he received her into his tent. Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife--the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian, of Padanaram, the sister of Laban the Syrian. Isaac entreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and Isaac loved Esau because he did eat of his venison, but Rebekah loved Jacob. The next we hear of her was in Gerar, where her beauty attracting the notice of the inhabitants, Isaac called her his sister. Esau’s marriage became a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah, for he married a Hittite. The next and hinging circumstance of Rebekah’s life is the account of the deception passed upon his father by Jacob, at the suggestion of his mother.
2. The character which we have brought before us by the preceding acts is one, which to our eye, would wear the appearance of duplicity and self-seeking in a high degree; but placing aside for a moment the impression which is thus forced upon us, it will be well to study the many practical suggestions which are started by reading Rebekah’s life. And first, this trait which I have just called duplicity, whatever if may be, belonged to the mother of Israel, and characterized each succeeding scion of her race. The Jew is essentially subtle. In whatever degree this may be traceable to Rebekah and her son, it nevertheless is very clear that a parent’s fault is constantly transmitted to its child and onward to successive generations. More than this. If the parent yields to his natural disposition, he strengthens his own habit of evil and transmits to his descendants a nature more strongly inclined to the same evil; whereas if, on the other hand, he succeeds in checking his own disposition, the result becomes apparent in the healthier moral condition of his offspring. All this is very sad to contemplate, inasmuch as countless beings become responsible for the fault of one; but it is in accordance with the history of mankind, with the moral impressions of antiquity, and with distinct statements of Divine revelation. The sin of Adam has effected his remotest descendant; the oft told tales of the Atreidae and OEdipus remind us how strongly the heathen world was impressed with the belief that the sin of the parent predisposed the child for the committal of a similar fault, and became the cause of punishment to distant posterity; while the second commandment tells us in clear terms, that God visits the sins of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation. But it is not only to punishment, but the physical tendency to a definite form of immorality to which I specially refer. It has been observed, with regard to the population of our own country, that in districts where certain crimes are prevalent children are born with bodily constitutions and mental conformations, such as strongly to predispose the will to yield the same faults of which the parents are guilty; and so remarkably is this the case, that in some places the brevity of life and the rapid increase of the committal of crime are appalling; and though perhaps in a less degree, the indulged fault of a parent is often seen to be the habitual condition of the child. This being the case, what a motive it offers to parents to cheek their own evil tendencies and to lead a godly and upright life. Rebekah’s fault was perpetuated to onward centuries; and the wilfulness of overweening affection--mingled with a disregard to truthfulness--has marked the descendant of Israel down to the day we live in. So pride, vanity, extravagance, uncharitableness of judgment or opinion, though but perhaps a slight intentional offence in father or mother, may receive severe penalties inflicted on the descendants of the third and fourth generation. How striking to see the pride of aristocracy, though perhaps resulting from some acts of which a man may be proud, inherited by a child who has nothing on which to plume himself, except the fact of being descended from a parent who earned for himself his position and his titles. Yet we are frequently called upon to see this condition of childhood, the result of the indulged temper and feeling of the parent.
3. But the character of Rebekah is suggestive in other ways; she indulged favouritism, and, like a mother, loved her youngest son the best. Partiality of this kind is either selfishness or worse. If it simply flows from an actual preference, it is selfish to yield to it; if, as it often does, it springs from noticing a reflection of self in the child of our partiality, it becomes idolatry, or the worshipping of self in another shape.
4. But there is another lesson which Rebekah teaches us, which we cannot pass by; the way in which intense and partial affection blinds the eye to pure morality. Rebekah’s love for Jacob was so great that she betrayed her husband for the sake of securing the birthright for her younger son; and she infringed God’s law by indulging in deceitfulness. The forms of morality and religion are in themselves clear, keen, and definite, even as the statue carved from the hardest marble; but between our eye and those forms it is easy enough to let mists arise so blinding and deceiving as wholly to change the appearance of the form which we are gazing at. This is especially the case with regard to the forms of truthfulness. (E. Monro, M. A.)
Esau despised his birthright
The story of the birthright
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.
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 His law, and showing him how that 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. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)
The despised birthright
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 this because, as he said in the rough, unreflective common-place 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 vulgarizing. 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 blaming 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 step to render corrupt motive 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.)
On despising one’s birthright
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. B. Brown, B. A.)
The sale of the birthright
Esau may be regarded as the founder of the Epicurean sort, of all whose motto and philosophy of life is, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Such is the chief lesson of this history. But this history, considered in itself, shows us that both the parties to this bargain are to blame. It was unrighteous business, and altogether discreditable to the two brothers engaged in it. This is evident if we--
I. CONSIDER THE PARTIES ENGAGED IN THIS TRANSACTION AS ORDINARY MEMBERS OF SOCIETY.
1. As to Jacob’s conduct.
(1) It was marked by unkindness unworthy of a brother. His conduct was most unfeeling.
(2) It was marked by low cunning. To take an unfair advantage of his brother’s need was a mean device.
2. As to Esau’s conduct.
(1) He abandoned himself to the delights and temptations of appetite.
(2) He was lacking in a true sense of honour and nobility.
(3) He was unconcerned for the peace of the future.
II. CONSIDER THE PARTIES ENGAGED IN THIS TRANSACTION AS RELIGIOUS MEN.
1. As to Jacob’s conduct.
(1) It was irreverent. This birthright was a sacred thing, dignified with a religious importance; yet Jacob, in a most profane manner, mixes it up with things secular. He makes it a commercial business of the meanest order.
(2) It showed a want of faith in God.
(3) It was contrary to the broad, free spirit of true piety.
2. As to Esau’s conduct.
(1) It showed a powerlessness to resist temptation.
(2) It was profane.
(a) He preferred the present to the future.
(b) He preferred the sensual to the spiritual.
(c) He preferred the near and certain to the distant and probable. (T. H.Leale.)
Esau’s contempt of his birthright
Let us consider--
I. WHETHER THERE BE NOT A BIRTHRIGHT WHICH WE MAY SELL; OR BLESSINGS TO THE ENJOYMENT OF WHICH WE ARE BORN, BUT WHICH WE MAY FORFEIT. Compare our state with that of--
(1) The inferior creatures;
(2) The fallen angels;
(3) The heathen.
II. FOR WHAT CONSIDERATION THEY WHO SELL THIS BIRTHRIGHT PART WITH IT. (J. Benson, D. D.)
The two brothers
1. They differed in appearance.
2. They differed in pursuits.
3. They differed most in character.
I. THE BIRTHRIGHT.
1. Not worldly prosperity.
2. Not immunity from sorrow.
3. The birthright was a spiritual heritage.
It gave the right--which ever belonged to its possessor--of being the priest of the family or clan. It carried the privilege of being the depositary and communicator of the Divine secrets. It constituted a link m the line of descent by which the Messiah was to be born into the world. The right of wielding power with God and men; the right of catching up and handing on--as in the old Greek race--the torch of Messianic hope; the right ofheirship to the promises of the covenant made to Abraham; the right of standing among the spiritual aristocracy of mankind; the right of being a pilgrim of eternity, owning no foot of earth, because all heaven was held in fee--this, and more than this, was summed up in the possession of the birthright.
II. THE BARTER. We cannot exonerate either of these men from blame. Jacob was not only a traitor to his brother, but he was faithless towards his God. Had it not been distinctly whispered in his mother’s ear that the elder of the brothers should serve the younger? Had not the realization of his loftiest ambition been pledged by One whose faithfulness had been the theme of repeated talks with Abraham, who had survived during the first eighteen years of his young life? He might have been well assured that what the God of Abraham had promised He was able also to perform; and would perform, without the aid of his own miserable schemes. But how hard is it for us to quietly wait for God! We are too apt to outrun Him; to forestall the quiet unfolding of His purposes; and to snatch at promised blessings before they are ripe. And as for Esau, we can never forget the beacon words of Scripture, “Look diligently, lest there be any profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright” Hebrews 12:15). Yet let us, in condemning him across the ages, look close at home. How many are there amongst ourselves, born into the world with splendid talents; dowried with unusual powers; inheritors of noble names; heirs to vast estates; gifted with keys to unlock any of the many doors to name, and fame, and usefulness--who yet fling away all these possibilities of blessing and blessedness, for one brief plunge into the Stygian pool of sensual indulgence! And the appeals to sense come oftenest when we are least expecting them. These appeals, moreover, come in the most trivial things. One mess of pottage; one glass of drink; one moment’s unbridled passion; one afternoons’s saunter; a question and an answer; a movement or a look. It is in such small things--small as the angle at which railway lines diverge from each other to east and west--that great alternatives are offered and great decisions made. (F. B.Meyer, B. A.)
Esau: a true idea of life and prosperity
I. A TRUE IDEA OF LIFE. Esau felt himself at the point of death, and all men are at this point.
1. The period of our mortal life.
2. The nature of our mortal life. The moment we begin to live, that moment we begin to die.
II. A TRUE IDEA OF WEALTH. Esau felt that his birthright was nothing to him when he died, and how patent this truth! Lessons:
1. To the aspirant for wealth. How foolish this eagerness. You are reaching after that which is no sooner clasped than let go for ever.
2. To the possessor of wealth.
(1) Do not set your heart upon your possessions, because you will soon leave them.
(2) Use them for purposes that will yield you happiness for ever. (Homilist.)
The birthright sold
I. THE CUNNING MAN.
1. He waited for the right opportunity.
2. He employed the likeliest means of gaining his object.
3. He took no account of natural ties.
4. He made the compact irrevocable.
II. THE SENSUAL MAN.
1. He lacked resolution.
2. He despised an honourable position.
3. He lost sight of the future. Conclusion: Both characters are unjustifiable. (Homilist.)
Contempt of spiritual privileges
Hundreds and thousands of people are showing exactly the same sort of contempt for spiritual privileges which God extends to them to-day as Esau showed for the birthright. The hundreds and thousands with whom the present overbears the future; who allow the body, with its appetites and passions, to drown the voice of conscience, or obscure the vision of promise; who place things temporal before things spiritual, the world before heaven, the present before the eternal; who say of spiritual privileges, “What profit shall they be to me?” or, “What earthly use are they?” Let us take one or two very common and ordinary examples.
1. How few recognize the privilege of public worship as a privilege, as well as a clear duty! How readily is the privilege exchanged for something else, at the very smallest opportunity!--a country walk, a chat with a friend who happens to drop in just as you are starting for church, a call, some pleasure which might very well wait. A man hears the church bell ringing, and he debates within himself whether he will go or not go. It is just the merest matter of self-pleasing. There is no thought of the duty he owes to
God; and as for the privilege, he would stare at you if you suggested it. “Privilege! Where is the privilege? What profit am I going to get out of it? It will not increase my wages, or find me work, or lower the price of bread! Privilege! What are you thinking about?” And so it ends in his finding “something better to do”! Something, that is, that is pleasing to the senses, or which helps him temporally. In other words, “he eats and drinks, and goes his way, and despises his Christian birthright.”
2. Or take the case of one’s private devotions; the reading of the Bible, and so forth. You are later than you should be in getting up. That puts other things late. There is much to be done which must be done, but something must be sacrificed, something must give way, What is it to be? The adornment of the body must not be neglected; household business must not be interfered with; prayers! they must give way. “I have no time to say any prayers this morning! “ “No time! “ No time for communion with God; for that which will make all the difference to your whole day! But then, it is a spiritual privilege!
3. I need hardly remind you of the contempt of that greatest of all privileges, which is so sadly common, the Holy Communion. (J. B. C. Murphy, B. A.)
How Esau lost his birthright
I. JACOB’S BARGAIN. Selfish and impatient.
II. ESAU’S SIN.
3. Recklessness. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)
This blessing was principally spiritual and distant, having respect to the setting up of God’s kingdom, to the birth of the Messiah, or, in other words, to all those great things included in the covenant with Abraham. This was well understood by the family; both Esau and Jacob must have often heard their parents converse about it. If the birthright which was bought at this time had consisted in any temporal advantages of dignity, authority, or property to be enjoyed in the lifetime of the parties, Esau would not have made so light of it as he did, calling it “this birthright,” and intimating that he should soon die, and then it would be of no use to him. It is a fact, too, that Jacob had none of the ordinary advantages of the birthright during his lifetime. Instead of a double portion, he was sent out of the family with only “a staff” in his hand, leaving Esau to possess the whole of his father’s substance. And when more than twenty years afterwards he returned to Canaan, he made no scruple to ascribe to his brother the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power, calling him “my lord Esau,” and acknowledging himself as his “servant.” The truth is, the question between them was, which should be heir to the blessings promised in the covenant with Abraham. This Jacob desired, and Esau despised, and in despising such high blessings was guilty of profaneness. (A. Fuller.)
Esau and Jacob
I. THE WEARY HUNTER.
II. THE CRAFTY DESIGNER.
III. THE UNFAIR ADVANTAGE. Learn:
1. Divine wisdom is better than human craft.
2. Generosity is more noble than selfishness.
3. A good object will not justify unworthy means.
4. What was our birthright, compared with what Jesus has secured for us? (J. C. Gray.)
1. Gracious hearts take up those spiritual things which carnal men refuse.
2. Good souls may desire the best security for spiritual privileges, even in the way of having them from men. Swear to me, &c.
3. Souls spiritual are instantly desirous of spiritual things. This day.
4. The just desires of good men may be an occasion of sin to the wicked.
5. It is proper for wicked hearts to swear and sell away all the tokens of spiritual advantages.
6. God’s providence orders wicked hearts in putting away from themselves mercy which was otherwise bequeathed by grace to them (Genesis 25:33). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. Heavenly souls easily part with earthly for heavenly things, lentils for a birthright.
2. Carnal souls go away very well contented with sensual portions.
3. Sensual men despise and count vile the choicest of spiritual privileges. (G. Hughes, B. D.)
Lentils were and are extensively and carefully grown in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria; those of Egypt were, at a later period, particularly famous; and the manner of cooking them is even immortalized on monuments. They are not only used as a pottage, but in times of scarcity, and more generally by the poor, they are baked into bread, either alone or mixed with barley. Lentils and rice, boiled in equal quantities, form still one of the favourite dishes in many parts of the East. When cooked, they are of a yellowish brown colour, approaching to red; some species, growing on a red soil, have this colour naturally; and hence Esau, in his haste, calls the dish simply the red one. The fact, that lentils were among the cheapest and most common articles of vegetable food, enhances the force and point of our narrative. The privileges which the birthright legally confers; the double portion of the father’s property; the higher authority in the family; the greater social influence; all these advantages, in this instance enhanced by spiritual blessings as their most precious accompaniment, could have no value for one who regarded his existence merely as the transitory play of an hour; and who was indifferent to the esteem of others, because he had not risen to understand the dignity of mankind. If we were to expect a historical allusion in this fact also, the probable supposition offers itself, that indeed the Edomites, who were masters of the wide tracts from the Red Sea along the whole mountain of Seir, up to the very frontiers of Palestine, might, with a little exertion, have extended their dominion over the land of Canaan; that, with a little degree of ambition and self-control, they might have become a respected and mighty nation; but that their thoughtless and ferocious habits kept them in the dreary solitudes, far from the chief scenes of history and civilization. It is known that the Mohammedans long kept the memory of this transaction alive by distributing daily to poor people and to strangers lentils prepared in a kitchen near the grave at Hebron, where they believed the cession of the birthright took place. (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)
Fondness for pottage
The people of the East are exceedingly fond of pottage, which they call keel. It is something like gruel, and is made of various kinds of grain, which are first beaten in a mortar. The red pottage is made of kurakan, and other grains, but is not superior to the other. For such a contemptible mess, then, did Esau sell his birthright. When a man has sold his fields or gardens for an insignificant sum, the people say, “The fellow has sold his land for pottage.” Does a father give his daughter in marriage to a low-caste man, it is observed, “He has given her for pottage.” Does a person by base means seek for some paltry enjoyment, it is said “For one leaf” (namely leaffull) “of pottage he will do nine days’ work.” Has a learned man who has given instruction or advice to others stooped to anything which was not expected from him, it is said “The learned one has fallen into the pottage pot.” Of a man in great poverty, it is remarked, “Alas! he cannot get pottage.” A beggar asks, “Sir, will you give me a little pottage?” Does a man seek to acquire great things by small means, “He is trying to procure rubies by pottage.” When a person greatly flatters another, it is common to say, “He praises him only for his pottage.” Does a king greatly oppress his subjects, it is said, “He only governs for the pottage.” Has an individual lost much money by trade, “The speculation has broken his pottage pot.” Does a rich man threaten to ruin a poor man, the latter will ask, “Will the lightning strike my pottage pot?” (Roberts.)
Brutishness of worldlings
Luther was told of a nobleman who, above all things, occupied himself with amassing money, and was so buried in darkness that he gave no heed to the word of God, and even said to one who pleaded with him, “Sir, the gospel pays no interest.” “Have you no grains?” interposed Luther; then he told this fable:--“A lion making a great feast, invited all the beasts, and with them some swine. When all manner of dainties were set before the guests, the swine asked, ‘Have you no grains?’” “Even so”; continued Luther, “even so it is in these days with carnal men; we preachers set before them the most dainty and costly dishes, such as everlasting salvation, the remission of sins, and God’s grace; but they, like swine, turn up their snouts and ask for money. Offer a cow a nutmeg and she will reject it for old hay.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Appetite gratified and appetite held in check
Which brother presents the more repulsive spectacle of the two in this selling of the birthright it is hard to say. Who does net feel contempt for the great, strong man, declaring he will die if he is required to wait five minutes till his own supper is prepared; forgetting, in the craving of his appetite, every consideration of a worthy kind; oblivious of everything but his hunger and his food; crying, like a great baby, “Feed me with that red!” So it is always with the man who has fallen under the power of sensual appetite. He is always going to die if it is not immediately gratified. He must have his appetite satisfied. No consideration of consequences can be listened to or thought of; the man is helpless in the hands of his appetite--it rules and drives him on, and he is utterly without self-control; nothing but physical compulsion can restrain him. But the treacherous and self-seeking craft of the other brother is as repulsive; the cold-blooded, calculating spirit that can hold every appetite in check, that can cleave to one purpose for a life-time, and, without scruple, take advantage of a twin-brother’s weakness. Jacob knows his brother thoroughly, and all his knowledge he uses to betray him. He knows he will speedily repent of his bargain, so be makes him swear he will abide by it. It is a relentless purpose he carries out--he deliberately and unhesitatingly sacrifices his brother to himself. Still, in two respects, Jacob is the superior man. He can appreciate the birthright in his father’s family, and he has constancy. (M. Dods, D. D.)
Despising spiritual gifts
Had the birthright been something to eat, Esau would not have sold it. What an exhibition of human nature! What an exposure of our childish folly and the infatuation of appetite! For Esau has company in his fall. We are all stricken by his shame. We are conscious that if God had made provision for the flesh we should have listened to Him more readily. “But what will this birthright profit us?” We do not see the good it does: were it something to keep us from disease, to give us long unsated days of pleasure, to bring us the fruits of labour without the weariness of it, to make money for us, where is the man who would not value it--where is the man who would lightly give it up? But because it is only the favour of God that is offered, His endless love, His holiness made ours this we will imperil or resign for every idle desire, for every lust that bids us serve it a little longer. (M. Dods, D. D)
Three bad bargains
A Sunday-school teacher remarked that he who buys the truth makes a good bargain. I inquired if any scholar recollected an instance in Scripture of a bad bargain. “I do,” replied a boy, “Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.” A second said, “Judas made a bad bargain when he sold his Lord for thirty pieces of silver.” A third boy observed, “Our Lord tells us that he makes a bad bargain who to gain the whole world loses his own soul.” (Old Testament Anecdotes.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 25". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29