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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 25

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


ISAAC AND ABIMELECH, Genesis 25:1-33.

This is the only chapter in the history of Isaac which is devoted entirely to incidents in the life of that patriarch, the rest being largely intermixed with the history of his father or his sons. And yet it is a repetition of events remarkably similar to those of one passage in the life of Abraham. Comp. Genesis 20:0; Genesis 21:22-34. So striking are the analogies between these two accounts that rationalistic critics have not hesitated to pronounce them different forms of one and the same story. But we must observe that there are as many points of dissimilarity as of agreement; and in making prominent the fact that Isaac’s life was so largely a repetition of Abraham’s, the sacred writer doubtless had a purpose. How much of human life and history is ever repeating itself! And how slow are many of the best of men to improve by the errors of their fathers or predecessors! To show this is an important part of the purpose of this chapter.

The points of agreement with portions of Abraham’s life are as follows: 1) A famine causes Isaac’s moving. Comp. Genesis 12:10. Genesis 12:2) He had some thought of going down into Egypt . Genesis 25:2 compared with Genesis 12:10. Genesis 12:3) The dwelling in Gerar . 4) The names Abimelech and Phicol . 5) Denial of his wife . 6) Reproof by Abimelech . 7) Desire of Abimelech to make a covenant . 8) Strife between herdsmen . 9) Oath at Beer-sheba . 10) Calling on the name of the Lord .

The points of disagreement are as follows: 1) The famine in Isaac’s case is carefully distinguished from that in the days of Abraham. 2) He is prohibited from going into Egypt. 3) Rebekah was not taken into Abimelech’s house as was Sarah. 4) Isaac’s deceit was discovered, not by a judgment of God, but by accident. 5) Abraham was allowed free use of the land; Isaac was requested to leave. 6) Abraham’s difficulty was about the well of Beer-sheba; Isaac was driven from many wells before he withdrew to Beer-sheba. 7) Isaac’s servants discover water at Beer-sheba, and the name is renewed after the oath between him and Abimelech, and after the latter had departed. 8) Abraham made a covenant with seven lambs; Isaac made a feast. 9) Ahuzzah, the friend of Abimelech, is an additional personage in the affair with Isaac; in chap. 20 God appears in a dream to Abimelech, but no special revelations were made to Abraham.

A careful scrutiny of these points of agreement and difference will show that the events narrated were two very different affairs… Isaac’s life, while having so many experiences like his father’s, was not a mere echo of the life of Abraham. It had an individuality peculiarly its own, from his being quiet and passive where Abraham was active and bold.

Verse 1


1. Then Rather and, for here is no note of time . When Abraham took Keturah for a wife we have no means of knowing, but it is generally supposed to have been after Sarah’s death . This the order of the narrative would most naturally imply . But such order, and especially the record of genealogies, is no sure index of time, and, for aught that appears, Abraham may have taken Keturah, who is called his concubine in 1 Chronicles 1:32, as he took Hagar, long before Sarah’s death. The historian did not choose to interrupt his narrative by introducing it before, especially as it was of no vital importance in the previous history of Abraham. But, on the other hand, all this may have occurred after Sarah’s death, and even after Isaac’s marriage. In view of the great longevity of Abraham, it is possible that he may have possessed as much vital force at one hundred and forty as ordinarily vigorous men at seventy. The statement, also, that he took Keturah, compared with Genesis 16:3, where it is said “Sarah took Hagar and gave her to her husband,” seems to be against the idea that he took this concubine during Sarah’s lifetime . The six sons mentioned in Genesis 25:2 may all have been born after Isaac’s marriage, and twenty-five years before Abraham’s death .

Verses 2-4

2-4. Compare 1 Chronicles 1:32-33. Here are mentioned six sons, seven grandsons, and three great-grandsons . The subsequent history and location of the tribes that sprung from them are very uncertain, and conjectures on the subject are scarcely worth repeating . Those who wish to note them should consult the Bible Dictionaries on the several names . From Midian came the Midianites, often mentioned in the later history of Israel . We meet them in the history of Joseph (Genesis 37:28) and of Moses, (Exodus 2:15; Numbers 22:4,) and against them Gideon waged successful war . Judges chapters 6-8 . The names of Sheba and Dedan occur among the sons of Cush, (Genesis 10:7,) but nothing can be argued from such repetition of names . Some, however, think that these tribes subsequently became intermixed by marriage . Midian, Ephah, and Sheba are mentioned together in Isaiah 60:6. These tribes were nomadic, and probably for a time wandered, like Abraham, to and fro in the wide deserts south and east of Palestine. They probably, at a subsequent date, became largely intermingled with the Ishmaelites, and are represented now in the numerous Arab tribes of these same ancient deserts.

Verse 5

5. Gave all… unto Isaac This had been understood and settled long before . Genesis 24:36.

Verse 6

6. The concubines Hagar and Keturah .

Sent them away Some have objected that Keturah’s sons, if born after Sarah’s death, were too young to be thus sent away . But Ishmael was only a lad of fifteen or seventeen years when sent away with his mother into the wilderness of Beer-sheba .

Genesis 21:14. But the time of bestowing these gifts on the sons of his concubines, and sending them away, is uncertain . The different facts stated in Genesis 25:5-6 may have occurred at very different dates .

From Isaac Abraham would not have his son and heir troubled by claims or disputes after his death, so he was careful to see that all disposition of his possessions, and of the sons of his concubines, was made while he yet lived. A wise example to fathers who have large estates, and many possible claimants.

Unto the east country And they became known thereafter as the Easterns, or Bene-Kedem, sons of the East. See Judges 6:3; 1 Kings 4:30; Job 1:3; Isaiah 11:14.

Verse 7

7. The days of the years This form of expression is impressive, and served to intensify the idea of the long life of one hundred and seventy-five years. Comp. Genesis 35:28-29; and Genesis 47:9. How many days in these years! But his father, Terah, died at two hundred and five years, (Genesis 11:32,) his son Isaac at one hundred and eighty, (Genesis 35:28,) and Jacob at one hundred and forty-seven years .

Genesis 47:28.

Verses 7-11


The termination of Abraham’s life is recorded here, as also the generations of Ishmael, (Genesis 25:12-18,) in order to prepare the way for the history of Isaac. But it appears from Genesis 25:26, that Jacob and Esau were born fifteen years before Abraham’s death.

Verse 8

8. Gave up the ghost Hebrews, breathed out . He seems to have died of old age, and in a good old age, according to the promises of Genesis 15:15.

An old man, and full of years Rather, old and full .

His was a well-rounded and completed life.

Gathered to his people Not buried in the ancestral tomb, for this was not the case; nor is the expression equivalent to burial, for that is separately mentioned in the next verse; but gathered where his people were yet living an immortal life. See on Genesis 15:15. Abraham’s faith “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God . ” And he died in this faith, “not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off . ” Evidently he desired and sought a heavenly land; not that from which he emigrated . See Hebrews 11:10-16. And long after, in the days of Moses Jehovah said, “I am the God of Abraham.” Exodus 3:6. But “ God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” Matthew 22:32.

Verse 9

9. Isaac and Ishmael buried him There is something touching in this statement . No wrongs, or bitterness, or antipathy of the past, prevent their union in a common sorrow over their great father . So at a later date Esau and Jacob, similarly estranged, come together to bury their father, Isaac . Genesis 35:29. The sons of Keturah, now, perhaps, far scattered, and less attached to Abraham than Ishmael and Isaac, are not mentioned here .

Machpelah See on Genesis 23:9.

Verse 11

11. God blessed… Isaac This verse is a sort of appendix to Abraham’s death . The aged patriarch is buried, but the God of Abraham abides the God of Isaac, and ever lives to fulfil his word .

Lahai-roi See on Genesis 16:14; Genesis 24:62. After this new sorrow Isaac might well betake him to the place so memorably associated with his first meeting with his beloved Rebekah, who comforted him after his mother’s death.

Verse 12

Generations of Ishmael, Genesis 25:12-18.

12. These are the generations This is the eighth section so beginning . “According to custom,” says Murphy, “before the history of the principal line is taken up, that of the collateral branch is briefly given . Thus Cain’s history is closed before Seth’s is commenced; Japheth and Ham are before Shem; Haran and Nahor before Abram . And so the sons of Keturah are first dismissed from the pages of history, and then Ishmael . ”

Verses 13-15

1 3-15 .

The names We find scattered notices of these names in later books . Thus, Nebajoth in Isaiah 60:7, probably the Nabataeans of later history; Kedar in Isaiah 21:17; Isaiah 42:11; Isaiah 60:7; Jeremiah 2:10; Jeremiah 49:28; Ezekiel 27:21; Psalms 120:5; Song of Solomon 1:5; Dumah in Isaiah 21:11; Tema in Job 6:19; Isaiah 21:14; Jeremiah 25:23; Jetur and Naphish in 1 Chronicles 5:19. From Jetur probably sprung the Ituraeans of later history . Many of these, no doubt, became intermingled with the sons of Keturah . See on Genesis 25:2-4.

Verse 16

16. By their towns, and… castles Rather, in their village and in their encampment . “It is generally known, that the Arabs are, according to their mode of life, divided into two chief classes: those of towns or villages, and those of the deserts, or the dwellers in tents . The latter, of course nomadic in their habits, are the Bedouins and Scenitae . It is not improbable that these two different classes are alluded to in the words, ‘By their villages and by their tents . ’ The roaming Bedouins regard the agricultural population with a certain contempt as slaves of toil and drudgery . They seldom cultivate the land which they may have inherited or won by their valour; but rent it out for a fixed annual sum to peasants subordinated to them in a kind of vassalage . ” Kalisch .

Twelve princes Ishmael, like Israel, had twelve sons, who became the princes and heads of so many tribes .

Nations אמות , peoples, or tribes sprung from one common mother, אם .

Verse 17

17. Hundred and thirty and seven Lange suggests that the violent disposition and passions of Ishmael consumed his life comparatively early; while the more peaceful and serene Isaac outlived him by more than forty years .

His people He doubtless died in the faith of Abraham . Comp . Genesis 25:8, note .

Verse 18

18. From Havilah unto Shur Or, as we might say, from the Arabian Gulf and the Euphrates to the border of Egypt and the Red Sea . On Havilah see Genesis 10:7; Genesis 10:29; and on Shur see on Genesis 16:7; Genesis 20:1, and Exodus 15:22.

As thou goest toward Assyria One journeying most directly from Egypt to Assyria would pass through this broad Ishmaelite territory .

Died Rather, he fell, or threw himself, נפל . This word is here used somewhat in the sense of the American word squat; he threw himself down upon, or settled in this region, between Havilah and Shur . The word is rendered lay along in Judges 7:12, where it is said the Midianites and Amalekites and Bene-Kedem fell with their tents and cattle in the valley . That is, they dropped down, flung themselves down, intending to stay . Thus was fulfilled the prophecy of Genesis 16:12.

Verse 19

Generations of Isaac, Genesis 25:19 to Genesis 35:29.

BIRTH OF ESAU AND JACOB, Genesis 19:19-26.

19. These are the generations of Isaac Thus characteristically this new section of the history opens . We have also a repetition of Isaac’s birth, his age at marriage, and the name, country, father, and brother of his wife .

Verse 21

21. Entreated the Lord The word for entreated ( עתר ) implies earnest and repeated prayer, and perhaps the accompaniment of incense offering, or some kind of sacrifice . See the Hebrews lexicons on the word . We note that Isaac directs his prayer to Jehovah, the God of the covenant and the promises .

Was entreated Was prevailed upon by his importunity . Compare Luke 18:7. “The heir of promise was to be a child of prayer . ”

Verse 22

22. Struggled together within her Hebrews, dashed against one another . Premonition of the coming differences between the offspring .

If it be so, why am I thus The Vulgate reads: “If it was to have been so with me, why should I have conceived?” Rebekah was evidently of an excitable and emotional temperament, (compare Genesis 27:46,) and under the pains of maturing pregnancy yielded fitfully to despondency and gloom.

Went to inquire of the Lord Where and how, has been often asked, but not so easily answered. The old Jewish interpreters suppose she went to Shem, or to Melchizedek, who were still living. Much more probable is the supposition that she went to Abraham, who was still living, and known as a prophet, (Genesis 20:7, compare 1 Samuel 9:9,) and doubtless intensely interested in the prospective offspring of Isaac . But, perhaps, she went to that domestic altar where Isaac had so earnestly besought Jehovah for her, (Genesis 25:21,) and Jehovah answered by his angel as he spoke to Hagar . Genesis 16:11.

Verse 23

23. The Lord said Here, too, we have a poetic strain:

Then said Jehovah to her, Two nations are in thy womb, And two peoples from thy bowels shall be separated .

And people than people shall be stronger, And the great shall serve the small .

What immediate effect this oracle had on Rebekah we are not told, but it probably served, in the subsequent time, to give her an intuitive partiality for the younger son. The subsequent history of the Israelites and the Edomites show how truly this prophecy was fulfilled. The descendants of Esau were strong, and fortified themselves in Mount Seir. They refused the Israelites a passage through their territory. Numbers 20:18. But Saul vexed them with his wars, (1 Samuel 14:47,) and David subdued them, and put garrisons throughout their land, (2 Samuel 8:14,) and they remained in such subjection till the days of Joram . 2 Kings 8:20. Then, according to Isaac’s prophecy, Esau broke his brother’s yoke from off his neck . Genesis 27:40.

Verse 25

25. Red, all over like a hairy garment “His whole body was as if covered with a fur, with an unusual quantity of hair, ( hypertrichosis,) which is sometimes the case with new-born infants, but was a sign in this instance of excessive sensual vigour and wildness . ” Keil .

Esau Which means hairy .

Verse 26

26. His hand took hold on Esau’s heel His birth seems to have followed that of Esau more speedily than is usual in the case of twins, and his hand was so extended as to seem to grasp hold of Esau’s heel . Hence his name Jacob, heel-catcher . Compare Genesis 27:36.

Threescore years old Twenty years after the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah . Comp. Genesis 25:20.

Verse 27

SALE OF ESAU’S BIRTHRIGHT, Genesis 25:27-34.

27. The boys grew And their diverse dispositions and tendencies early developed themselves .

Esau was a cunning hunter A man knowing the chase, or skilled in hunting . We are to think of him as the hairy man, rough, impulsive, desperate; loving the dangers and excitements of the chase .

Jacob was a plain man אישׁ תם , a complete man . The word תם is generally used of moral uprightness and integrity . The kindred word תמים is used in Genesis 17:1, where Jehovah says to Abraham, “walk before me and be thou perfect . Here the word seems to mean simplicity, mildness, and inoffensiveness of disposition, in contrast with the wild and daring character of Esau . Jacob was a complete man in the simplicity and regularity of his temper and domestic habits .

Verse 28

28. Because he did eat Literally, for hunting was in his mouth, that is, the results of hunting game . Comp . Genesis 27:4.

Rebekah loved Jacob No reason is given for her partial love, but we easily infer it was owing to Jacob’s more domestic habits, and the prophecy which had gone before his birth. Isaac seems, after the birth of his sons, to have been strangely swayed by carnal appetite. Quiet, unenterprising, and timid, he was drawn by the law of attraction of opposites to his daring, impetuous, and resolute son, while the quick and impulsive Rebekah loved (best) the mild and undemonstrative, but scheming, Jacob. Esau was frank and bold, but coarse and carnal; Jacob was timid, reticent, and shrewd, but spiritual. Esau had no spiritual insight, no relish whatever for the blessings and duties of the great Abrahamic covenant, he cared only for the carnal portion of the birthright; Jacob, though selfish and cunning, yet had a genuine hunger for the things of God; but it required a long and painful discipline, mighty, spiritual strugglings and angelic wrestlings to qualify him to become the heir of Abraham. In this patriarchal home the mother was the ruling spirit, and the timorous Isaac and unsuspecting Esau were no match for the resolute Rebekah and scheming Jacob. God used, yet punished, these sins. The shortsightedness of Isaac, the wild ferocity of Esau, the deception of Rebekah and Jacob, were woven into the web of providence for man’s good and God’s glory.

Verse 29

29. Sod pottage Jacob boiled a dish of lentiles, (Genesis 25:34,) a podded vegetable like the pea or bean, which is cooked by parching over the fire or boiling into a soup, making a favourite and highly nutritious dish all through the East . There is a small red variety of lentile which makes a reddish brown, or chocolate coloured pottage, much prized by the Arabs, which, when being cooked, exhales a savoury odour very grateful to a hungry man . Robinson, Thomson . Jacob’s household tastes made him skilful in the preparation of this favourite dish . In Eastern homes food is prepared only as it is wanted; and when Esau returned home from the unsuccessful hunt, fatigued and faint, and saw and smelled the red savoury pottage steaming in Jacob’s tent, impetuous, impatient, and hungry, he cried out, 30 . Feed me “Literally, Let me devour now that red, that red, for I am faint; therefore they called his name Red (Edom . ) It is the language of greedy, and perhaps imperious, impatience, which Jacob might have resented, whereas he craftily resolved to turn it to his own advantage . In this characteristic incident the sacred writer dramatically paints the two brothers before us . The man, the hungry hunter, led by the senses, is fascinated by the high colour and rich flavour of a mess of pottage, and the meditative schemer of the tents, the man of wits, cannot wait for Providence to bring him the predicted birthright, but must intermeddle with his selfish craft. Here is also an interesting illustration of the origin of names. Some characteristic incident gives rise to a name, and on the subsequent occurrence of a similar incident the appropriateness of the name, or its coincidence with events, is noted, and the name is renewed. Esau is first surnamed Red from his red hair, and then from the red pottage. Jacob is called heel-catcher, or tripper, first literally (Genesis 25:26) and then figuratively, (Genesis 27:36,) and the figurative name is first applied when he trips up Esau in the matter of the birthright, and then its appropriateness is noticed again when we arrive at the incident of Isaac’s blessing . We often thus meet in this history with various reasons for the application of the same name . ” Newhall .

Verse 31

31. Sell me this day thy birthright “This birthright not only embraced the authority and honour of the patriarchal headship of the chosen family, but made its possessor heir to the Abrahamic covenant, and thus the channel of God’s great revealed mercies to mankind a mediator between God and the race typifying the God-man. Jacob, who was on a much lower spiritual plane than Abraham, by no means comprehended the vastness and dignity of these spiritual blessings, but he appreciated them far more than the worldly and sensual Esau. He knew that he was predestinated to this heir-ship, although he was the younger son. Dreading a collision with his ferocious brother, which seemed inevitable in the event of his father’s death, when the succession would be contested, and lacking faith in God’s unfolding providence, he resolves to avail himself of Esau’s weakness to obtain the birthright by peaceful purchase. The cautious Jacob knows well that Esau will repent as soon as his hunger is sated, and takes care to have the contract ratified by a solemn oath.” Newhall.

Verse 34

34. Esau despised his birthright “In these graphic touches the sacred writer paints the ‘profane’ Esau’s unfitness for the spiritual headship of the chosen people, yet with equal faithfulness depicts the craft and selfishness of the ‘supplanter,’ who afterwards became the ‘warrior of God’ (Israel.)” Newhall.

In these growing divergences of character, here manifest in the two brothers, Lange observes what he calls “the Hebraic, or profoundest conception of history. All history develops itself from personal beginnings. The personal is predominant in history.”

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 25". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-25.html. 1874-1909.
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