A. Abraham’s latter life and death.
1. (1-4) Abraham marries again and has many children by Keturah.
Abraham again took a wife, and her name was Keturah. And she bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. Jokshan begot Sheba and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. And the sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abidah, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah.
a. Abraham again took a wife: This was after the death of Sarah, recorded in Genesis 23:1-2 and 23:19. There was nothing wrong with Abraham taking another wife after Sarah’s death.
b. Her name was Keturah: It is easy to forget that Abraham had a second wife, and he fathered six more sons through her. In total, Abraham had eight sons: Isaac through Sarah, Ishmael through Hagar, and these six through Keturah.
c. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah: These sons would themselves become the fathers of distinct peoples. For example, the Midianites came from Midian. These sons through Keturah were also a further demonstration that in Abraham’s marriage to Sarah, whatever fertility problems that existed were on the part of Sarah, not Abraham.
2. (5-6) Abraham is careful to set Isaac apart as the child of promise.
And Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. But Abraham gave gifts to the sons of the concubines which Abraham had; and while he was still living he sent them eastward, away from Isaac his son, to the country of the east.
a. Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac: Abraham gave his wealth to Isaac, and he gave the promise of the land God had promised to him to Isaac (he sent them eastward, away from Isaac his son).
b. Abraham gave gifts to the sons of the concubines: The only such relationship we know of in Abraham’s life was with Hagar (Genesis 16:1-4). Perhaps this is also a reference to Keturah, letting us know that though she was Abraham’s wife (Genesis 25:1), in regard to God’s covenant promise to Abraham and his descendants, she was not on the same level as Sarah.
3. (7-11) Abraham’s death and burial.
This is the sum of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived: one hundred and seventy-five years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth. There Abraham was buried, and Sarah his wife. And it came to pass, after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac. And Isaac dwelt at Beer Lahai Roi.
a. Then Abraham breathed his last and died: Abraham passed from the scene, being one of the most important men of the Bible. He is mentioned 70 times in the New Testament alone. Only Moses is mentioned more times in the New Testament (80 times).
b. Died in a good old age, an old man and full of years: Abraham lived a remarkably long life of one hundred and seventy-five years. By many measures his life was not perfect, but he was a man of faith, who had a real relationship with God, of remarkable obedience, and a true friend of God (2 Chronicles 20:7 and James 2:23).
i. Adam Clarke wrote a good eulogy of Abraham: “Above all as a man of God, he stands unrivaled; so that under the most exalted and perfect of all dispensations, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he is proposed and recommended as the model and pattern according to which the faith, obedience, and perseverance of the followers of the Messiah are to be formed. Reader, while you admire the man, do not forget the God that made him so great, so good, and so useful. Even Abraham had nothing but what he had received; from the free unmerited mercy of God proceeded all his excellences; but he was a worker together with God, and therefore did not receive the grace of God in vain. Go thou, believe, love, obey, and persevere in like manner.”
c. After the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac: Abraham was a great man, but he was only a man. God’s work passed on from one generation to the next. Now, God would carry on the work of the covenant first promised to Abraham through Isaac.
4. (12-18) The life and descendants of Ishmael.
Now this is the genealogy of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maidservant, bore to Abraham. And these were the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: The firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; then Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadar, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. These were the sons of Ishmael and these were their names, by their towns and their settlements, twelve princes according to their nations. These were the years of the life of Ishmael: one hundred and thirty-seven years; and he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people. (They dwelt from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt as you go toward Assyria.) He died in the presence of all his brethren.
a. Now this is the genealogy of Ishmael: Here the twelve sons of Ishmael are named. With so many sons to carry on his family name, Ishmael was a blessed man. However, he was not blessed with the inheritance of the covenant God made to Abraham.
b. Twelve princes… one hundred and thirty-seven years… was gathered to his people… he died in the presence of all his brethren: All of these descriptions show what a blessed man Ishmael was. Though he did not receive the Abrahamic covenant, God’s blessing and hand was upon him.
B. The children of Isaac: Jacob and Esau.
1. (19-23) The conception of Jacob and Esau.
This is the genealogy of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Abraham begot Isaac. Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah as wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padan Aram, the sister of Laban the Syrian. Now Isaac pleaded with the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived. But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If all is well, why am I like this?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her:
“Two nations are in your womb,
Two peoples shall be separated from your body;
One people shall be stronger than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger.”
a. Now Isaac pleaded with the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: Even the son of promise did not come into the promise easily. It only came through waiting and prayer. We can trust that the prayers of a husband for his wife have a special effectiveness.
b. The LORD granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived: This prayer was answered, but some 20 years after Isaac and Rebekah first married (Genesis 25:20, 26). Their faith and persistence in prayer was tested and invited to grow through many years. As well, these were the only children born to Isaac and Rebekah.
c. So she went to inquire of the LORD: The struggle that seemed to take place in Rebekah’s womb made her seek God. As she sought Him, the LORD spoke to her regarding number of children in her womb, their gender, and the destiny of those sons in her womb.
i. It is good to desire that the LORD would speak to us, but we must realize we do not hear perfectly from God. We can become far too confident in our ability to hear from the LORD, and forget that it is easy for us to stop listening when God wants to keep speaking. We may add to what the LORD is saying, or hear it clearly but misunderstand the timing or application of what the LORD says to us.
ii. In connection with God’s eternal word (as was the case with Rebekah here), God gave a unique gift to perfectly listen, a gift given only in connection with the revelation of His written, eternal word.
d. Two nations are in your womb: What God said is simple; Rebekah would give birth to twins. The twins would each father nations. One shall be greater than the other, and the younger will be greater than the older.
i. Jewish legends say Jacob and Esau tried to kill each other in the womb. Also, every time Rebekah went near an idol’s altar, Esau would get excited in the womb, and when she would go near a place where the LORD was worshipped, Jacob would get excited. Of course, these should be regarded as nothing more than legends.
e. And the older shall serve the younger: In this case, God chose to go against the accepted pattern of the younger serving the older. In Romans 9:10-13, the Apostle Paul used this choice of Jacob over Esau before their birth as an illustration of God’s sovereign choice.
i. God’s choice of Isaac instead of Ishmael seems more logical to us. Yet His choice between Jacob and Esau, regarding which one would be the heir of God’s covenant of salvation, was just as valid, though in some ways it seemed to make less sense.
ii. Paul wrote that God’s choice was not based on the performance of Jacob or Esau. The choice was made when they were not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil (Romans 9:11).
iii. God announced these intentions to Rebekah before the children were born (the older shall serve the younger), and repeated His verdict long after Jacob and Esau had both passed from the earth (Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated, Malachi 1:2-3).
iv. Some object, questioning the fairness of God making such a choice before Jacob or Esau were born. Yet we should regard the love and the hate God spoke of in Malachi 1:2-3 and Romans 9:10-13 as having to do with His purpose in choosing one of these two to become the heir of the covenant of Abraham. In that regard, God’s preference could rightly be regarded as a display of love towards Jacob and hate towards Esau. The real thought in Malachi 1 and Romans 9 is much more like “accepted” and “rejected” more than it is like our understanding of the terms “loved” and “hated.”
v. God did not hate Esau in the sense of cursing him to a doomed life in either this world or the next. All told, Esau was indeed a blessed man, and in some ways more well-adjusted than Jacob (Genesis 33:4-9). Yet in regard to the inheritance of the covenant, it could be rightly said that God hated Esau and loved Jacob.
vi. “A woman once said to Mr. Spurgeon, ‘I cannot understand why God should say that He hated Esau.’ ‘That,’ Spurgeon replied, ‘is not my difficulty, madam. My trouble is to understand how God could love Jacob.’” (Newell in Romans, Verse by Verse)
vii. Our greatest error in considering the choices of God is to think God chooses for arbitrary reasons, as if His choices were random and senseless. God chooses according to His divine wisdom, love, and goodness. We may not be able to understand God’s reasons for choosing, and they are reasons He alone knows and answers to, but God’s choices are not random or capricious.
2. (24-26) The birth of Jacob and Esau.
So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
a. Indeed there were twins in her womb: The truth of the unseen promise was fulfilled by something that could be seen. When the time came for them to be born, there were in fact twins in Rebekah’s womb and God’s word was proved true.
b. And the first came out red: The circumstances surrounding the birth of each child were responsible for their names. Esau referred to the hairiness and hair color of the first-born child. Jacob referred to the way the second-born was holding on to the heel of his brother.
i. Additionally, the idea of a “heel-catcher” meant something in that day. It had the idea of “trickster,” “con-man,” “scoundrel,” or “rascal.” It wasn’t a compliment.
3. (27-28) The different characters of Jacob and Esau.
So the boys grew. And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
a. Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man: Like so many siblings in a family, Jacob and Esau were very different from each other in their personality and tastes; and as is sometimes the case, each parent had a favorite child.
b. Jacob was a mild man: The Hebrew word for mild has the idea of “wholeness,” instead of someone who is weak or effeminate. The Hebrew word tam (mild) is used of Job in Job 1:8: Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?”
4. (29-34) Esau sells his birthright to Jacob.
Now Jacob cooked a stew; and Esau came in from the field, and he was weary. And Esau said to Jacob, “Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.” Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright as of this day.” And Esau said, “Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?” Then Jacob said, “Swear to me as of this day.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
a. Jacob cooked a stew; and Esau came in from the field: Here, each son acted consistently with his own natural inclination. Esau hunted and Jacob cooked.
b. Sell me your birthright as of this day: Jacob knew that the birthright was valuable and he wanted it. Passages like Deuteronomy 21:17 and 1 Chronicles 5:1-2 tell us the birthright involved both a material and a spiritual dynamic. The son of the birthright received a double portion of the inheritance, and he also became the head of the family and the spiritual leader upon the passing of the father.
i. In the case of this family, the birthright determined who would inherit the covenant God made with Abraham; the covenant of a land, a nation, and the Messiah.
c. I am about to die: Esau’s thought wasn’t that he was so hungry that he would die without food. Instead the idea was, “I will die one day anyway, so what good is this birthright to me?”
d. Swear to me as of this day: Jacob acted in the character of his name, acting like a heel-catcher. He was acting like a scoundrel or a rascal in taking advantage of his brother.
i. Jacob was guilty of scheming in the flesh to gain something God said was already his. Yet we should remember the far greater blame was placed on Esau, who despised his birthright.
ii. According to Leupold, Martin Luther drew attention to an important fact: this was not a valid transaction, because Jacob tried to purchase what was already his, and Esau tried to sell something that didn’t belong to him.
e. And sold his birthright to Jacob: Esau thought little of the spiritual heritage connected to the birthright. He valued only material things, so a spiritual birthright meant little to him when his stomach was hungry. Many, if not most people, also place little value on spiritual things.
i. “History shows that men prefer illusions to realities, choose time rather than eternity, and the pleasures of sin for a season rather than the joys of God forever. Men will read trash rather than the Word of God, and adhere to a system of priorities that leaves God out of their lives. Multitudes of men spend more time shaving than on their souls; and multitudes of women give more minutes to their makeup than to the life of the eternal spirit. Men still sell their birthright for a mess of pottage.” (Barnhouse)
ii. Spiritually speaking, many today despise their birthright. Ephesians 1:3-14 shows us a treasury of riches that are ours by birthright in Jesus:
· Every spiritual blessing.
· The blessing of being chosen in Jesus.
· Adoption into God’s family.
· Complete acceptance by God in Jesus.
· Redemption from our slavery to sin.
· True and total forgiveness.
· The riches of God’s grace.
· The revelation and knowledge of the mystery of God’s will.
· An eternal inheritance.
· The guarantee of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Far too many neglect or trade away this birthright for cheap entertainment, momentary popularity, or passing pleasures.
f. Thus Esau despised his birthright: Esau’s character as a fornicator and profane person (according to Hebrews 12:16) shows God was entirely correct in choosing Jacob over Esau to carry on the birthright, even though Jacob was younger.
i. Though Esau’s character was not the basis for God’s choosing (He chose Jacob over Esau before they were born), Esau’s character ultimately showed the wisdom of God’s choice.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission