Here, we continue our study in Genesis.
1Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. 2She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. 3Jokshan was the father of Sheba and Dedan; the descendants of Dedan were the Asshurites, the Letushites and the Leummites. 4The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Keturah.
5Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. 6But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.
7Altogether, Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. 8Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. 9His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, 10the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. 11After Abraham's death, God blessed his son Isaac, who then lived near Beer Lahai Roi.
After Sarah died, "Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah" (vs. 1). When God restores, He restores to the fullest. Abraham's body was "as good as dead" (Rom. 4:19), but God restored him so that he could conceive Isaac. Now, after Sarah's death, Abraham conceives five more children in his old age. What a good God we have! Abraham was surely blessed to the fullest to have, in the end, so many children after waiting so long for the first one.
Isaac was the promised heir, however, and so "Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac" (vs. 5). Abraham showed wisdom and foresight: "[W]hile he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east" (vs. 6). He did this so that there would be no disputing over Isaac's inheritance. Sadly, then and now, many a family has been torn with strife over inheritances. We spend so much energy fighting over worldly inheritances, and give so little thought to the most valuable inheritance, that which God has laid aside for us.
Then at last, Abraham came to the end of his days. "Altogether, Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, and old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people" (vs. 7-8). Abraham was a pilgrim on this earth, a servant of His Lord, a long time. We tire after serving the Lord for just a few years. We lament our "difficult" lives as Christians, and in doing so, we are greatly mistaken. Life is much easier for us who serve the Lord, who depend on the Lord, who look to Him for everything, as Abraham did. I cannot imagine life without the guidance and help of God to see me through. I would be lost, helpless, frightened, miserable. Praise be to Him who sees me through!
As Abraham was blessed in life, so he was blessed in death, having reached death fully satisfied with his life. He "died at a good old age, an old man and full of years". Oh that the same may be said of us when we die! True satisfaction in life can only be had through performing the Lord's will in our lives. Peace in life, as well as peace in death, can only be had by those whose conscience is at peace with God. Those who serve the Lord, who trust in Jesus Christ for their eternity, who seek to fulfill the will of God in their lives can have peace in life and peace in death. They can say with Paul: "[T]o live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). There is joy in the death of such saints, after long, full lives in the service of God, knowing that they have entered into God's rest. For, "never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 7:16-17). As the psalmist says: "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints" (Psalms 116:15).
The phrase used for death here (and many other places in the Bible) is beautiful, and a source of comfort: "He was gathered to his people" (vs. 8). There is existence and awareness after death. We who know Christ will meet again.
Abraham's death brought Isaac and Ishmael together to bury him (vs. 9). Ishmael apparently stayed in touch with his family. In fact, Esau marries one of Ishmael's daughters (see Gen. 28:9). There is even reason to believe that Ishmael was a godly man, for he too "was gathered to his people" when he died (see below vs. 17).
12This is the account of Abraham's son Ishmael, whom Sarah's maidservant, Hagar the Egyptian, bore to Abraham.
13These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. 16These were the sons of Ishmael, and these are the names of the twelve tribal rulers according to their settlements and camps. 17Altogether, Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people. 18His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the border of Egypt, as you go towards Asshur. And they lived in hostility towards all their brothers.
19This is the account of Abraham's son Isaac.
Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.
21Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, "Why is this happening to me?" So she went to inquire of the LORD.
23The LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger."
24When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau's heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.
The father died, but life goes on for the sons. We have first an account of Ishmael's family, which is given here to show that God's prophecies to Abraham and Hagar concerning Ishmael were fulfilled. Ishmael bore twelve sons, who became twelve "tribal rulers" (vs. 16), just as God had promised Abraham (see Gen. 17:20). These tribes "lived in hostility towards all their brothers", as God had prophesied to Hagar (see Gen. 16:12). This is the last we hear of Ishmael (except for brief mention later when Esau marries one of his daughters, see Gen. 28:9), as the focus of the history turns to the promised heir, Isaac.
Contrary to Ishmael, Isaac (like his father) had trouble bearing children. We must be careful not to attribute worldly blessings as a sign God's favor and approval, or the lack of such blessings as a sign of God's disapproval. Ishmael easily bears twelve sons, but Isaac (the promised heir chosen by God) and Rebekah (who was miraculously selected by God to be Isaac's wife) could not have any children. Isaac did the right thing and went to the Lord with his problem: "Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren" (vs. 21). It seems that Isaac bore this trial with great patience. He waited twenty years before the twins were born (they were born when Isaac was sixty years old, see vs. 26). Though faced with the same trial as his father Abraham, Isaac did not fall into temptation as his father did (see Gen. 16). Isaac rested in the promise of God to Abraham that his offspring would be "as numerous as the stars of the sky and as the sand on the seashore" (Gen. 22:17).
God was in no hurry. The "stars of the sky" and "sand of the seashore" came slowly. God made the promise, He could fulfill it any time he wanted to. God frequently chooses to make His people wait on Him. God's delay does not imply God's failure. Moreover, God's delay does not imply God's denial. He delays fulfilling His promises to build our character, to cause us to rely upon Him, to cause us to seek Him more faithfully.
God did respond: "The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant" (vs. 21). Despite the answered prayer, their problems were not over: "The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, `Why is this happening to me?' So she went to inquire of the LORD." (vs. 22). In her time of trouble, Rebekah (like Isaac) went to God in prayer. Apparently, the "jostling" in Rebekah's womb was violent enough to disturb Rebekah. It turns out that the "jostling" was not ordinary "jostling", but was prophetic to the nature of the twins in her womb. In response to her prayer, "the LORD said to her, `Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger'" (vs. 23).
This prophecy, given directly by the Lord, turns out to be very significant, not only concerning the struggles of Jacob and Esau, but also concerning the universality of God's sovereignty and the nature of grace. Paul comments on this passage: ". . . Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad--in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls--she was told, `The older will serve the younger'" (Rom. 9:10-12). Thus, one of the purposes of giving this prophecy to Rebekah before her sons were born was to demonstrate God's complete sovereignty in choosing His people. His grace in election is not based upon anything we do--we can take no credit for being chosen--rather, it is completely based on His desire and purpose.
The twins were finally born: "The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau's heel; so he was named Jacob" (vs. 25-26). The unusual pregnancy becomes a unusual birth. The first boy was "hairy", and so was named "Esau" (which most likely means "hairy"). The second boy was grabbing the first's heel, and so was named "Jacob" (which literally means "heel catcher"). The names were both prophetic of their later character: Esau ("hairy") becomes a tough, outdoorsman; Jacob ("heel catcher" or "one who trips up") becomes a great deceiver, as we shall see.
27The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. 28Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30He said to Jacob, "Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I'm famished!" (That is why he was also called Edom.)
31Jacob replied, "First sell me your birthright."
32"Look, I am about to die," Esau said. "What good is the birthright to me?"
33But Jacob said, "Swear to me first." So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
34Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
So Esau despised his birthright.
Here we have the interesting, and strange account of Esau selling his birthright. There is more here than meets the eye. This episode reveals the weaknesses in the personalities of all those involved, and also provides spiritual lessons for us here, thousands of years after it occurred.
Many twins grow up with similar interests and personalities. Not so, Jacob and Esau: "The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents" (vs. 27). They were direct opposites. Unfortunately, rather than loving both sons equally while admiring their different personalities, the parents chose favorites: "Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob" (vs. 28). This choosing of favorites by the parents greatly intensified the problems between Jacob and Esau. Rather than acting as mediators between the sons and smoothing over their differences, the parents took sides, thus increasing the antipathy between them. We will see in Genesis 27 that this schism in the family would have serious consequences, literally tearing the chosen family of God apart.
Here's what happened: "Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, `Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I'm famished!'" (vs. 29-30). This says much about the personality of Esau. As we read earlier, he was a "skillful hunter, a man of the open country". We can picture him: strong, handsome, proud, a man's man. We see a man who loves thrills, who delights in the temporal pleasures, who is caught up in fulfilling his passions and desires. He puts flesh over spirit, lusts over faith, world over God. Paul describes such men: "Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things" (Phil. 3:19). Esau was an adventurous man who strove after worldly thrills, but gave no thought to striving after God, knowing His Maker, serving His Lord.
The world loves such men. And even though Esau was revered by the world for his physical strength (even his father Isaac, who "had a taste for wild game", favored him), this is not the man chosen by God to be the leader of the family. God does not choose leaders the same way the world does. He does not choose those who are strong in the world's eyes. In fact, He often chooses those who are downright weak in the world's eyes, so that He may be glorified when the world sees God work through them. As Paul teaches: "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no-one may boast before Him" (I Cor. 1:27-29).
Typical of those who live for fleeting pleasures, Esau exclaimed, "I'm famished!" The worldly are never satisfied. They always feel they are missing something. And when they get what they were missing, they feel like they're missing something else. They're always saying (like Esau), "I'm famished!"
Jacob, heel-catcher that he is, takes advantage of Esau's feeling of desperation: "Jacob replied, `First sell me your birthright.'" The coolness and quickness with which Jacob made this proposition suggests that Jacob had previously pondered making such an offer, and was just looking for the right time to do so. He seemed to have been well prepared to attempt to purchase the birthright. Coloring this whole episode is the fact that, undoubtedly, all those involved knew about the oracle of the Lord given to Rebekah that "the older will serve the younger" (vs. 23). Jacob, knowing this, was apparently very anxious to himself bring this prophecy into fulfillment. Why do we always think that God is desperate for our help, that God needs us to help Him fulfill His promises? Abraham and Sarah made the same mistake when they decided that Abraham should bear a son through Hagar to bring about the promise of God concerning the promised heir (see Gen. 16). While it is certainly not wrong to serve God in bringing about His purposes, it is certainly wrong to attempt by oneself to bring about the fulfillment of God's promises using means not sanctioned by God. In Jacob's case, he took advantage of Esau's hunger and spiritual weakness to propose a greatly one-sided offer for Esau to sell his birthright.
Jacob commited here simony of sorts (see Acts 8:18-19), buying the blessing of God with a bowl of stew. However, you cannot buy the blessings of God. They are freely received and freely given. There was no need for any of this conniving. The birthright was already Jacob's: God had promised as much. The schemings of Jacob demonstrated a lack of faith in God's ability to carry out what He promised. As it happened, and as it usually does happen in such cases, Jacob's conniving served to delay the promise of God in being fulfilled, rather than bring it about more quickly. As we shall see, the episode in this chapter and the one in chapter 27 caused such a conflict between Jacob and Esau that Jacob was forced to flee from his own family. He did not enter into his inheritance until many years later.
When faced with this offer, Esau replied: "Look, I am about to die. . . What good is the birthright to me?" Esau's reply is as surprising as Jacob's offer. Who would have thought that Esau would accept Jacob's offer? Through its unexpectedness, it teaches us a lot about Esau's personality and values. First, it shows us Esau's emphasis on the temporal, on immediate gratification. Yes, he was "famished" from his journey in the open country, but was he really "about to die"? I think not. Esau was facing discomfort as a result of his own pleasurable hunting excursion. Anyway, Jacob would not have let Esau starve to death. Esau's emphasis on the temporal, on the things of this world is clearly demonstrated by his question: "What good is the birthright to me?" (vs. 32). His philosophy of life echoes those who have no faith in the resurrection: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (I Cor. 15:32; also Isa. 22:13). Since Esau's response was quick, made apparently without any meditation, we can infer that this temporal philosophy was deeply rooted in Esau's character. He did not need to ponder such a ridiculous offer because he had already established his philosophy of life, a philosophy that placed high value on immediate gratification.
Second, Esau's response demonstrated how little he valued the birthright: He valued it less than a bowl of stew. Now, in the case of Jacob and Esau, there was more to the birthright than mere financial blessing. There was a spiritual aspect that both Jacob and Esau were aware of. The work of God in the life of their grandfather Abraham was undoubtedly ingrained in their minds. The leader of the family of Abraham would become the leader of God's people, so much so that God Himself would be known in terms of these familial leaders. The Lord throughout the Bible is known as the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (see Ex. 3:6; Matt. 22:32; et. al.). And so, in despising the birthright, Esau in effect despised the spiritual leadership to which the leader of Abraham's family is called. Because of this attitude, God states later, "Jacob I loved, and Esau I hated" (Rom. 9:13; also Mal. 1:2,3).
So many today display this same attitude. They despise the inheritance that God has set aside for them, and instead pursue the pleasures of the world. They say (as Esau): "I'm famished. . . What good is the birthright to me?" They despise the service to which God has called them. Instead, they seek to serve their own lusts and desires. They ignore the power of the salvation of God through Christ, and say instead: "I'm going to hell anyway. Let's eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!" They should meditate on the question asked by Christ: "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" (Matt. 16:26). They have as much contempt for their birthright, take as lightly the selling of their souls, as Esau did the selling of his birthright: "He ate and drank, and then got up and left" (vs. 34). There were no second thoughts, no remorse, and so it was clear: "Esau despised his birthright" (vs. 34). Yet, like so many today who give away their inheritance, Esau would come to regret this decision, as we shall find out in chapter 27.
Lord, help us to value our inheritance. May we live every minute of our lives with it in mind. Also, help us to serve You and fulfill Your purposes in Your time, and in Your manner, not unlawfully taking matters into our own hands. Guide us by Your Spirit as we live our lives to serve You. In the name of Christ we pray these things, Amen.