Sunday, August 21, 2011

Genesis Chapter 25 ~ Abraham's Death & The Birth of Esau and Jacob

Genesis Chapter 25

In chapter 23 we saw Sarah's death, then in chapter 24 we saw Isaac's marriage and the family through whom God's covenant would carry on, so now here in chapter 25 we see the end of Abraham's life. This chapter is divided into two parts; verses 1-18 outline the end of Abraham and Ishmael's lives and their children. Then, verses 19-34 focus in on God's elect line, God's chosen covenantal family: Isaac and his sons Jacob and Esau.

First (verses 1-18), it says that Abraham took another wife, Keturah. Here is the lineage of the children Abraham had with Keturah:

Abraham gave all he had to Isaac and to the sons of his concubines he gave gifts and he sent them away from Isaac to the east country (Gen. 25:6). Abraham died at 175 years old, and the text describes it like this, "Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people." (Gen. 25:8) Isaac and Ishmael buried him where Sarah was buried, the cave of Machpelah, and after this Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi (where he met Rebekah, this is the well named "the well of the Living One who sees me").

Ishmael lived to be 137 years old and died and was gathered to his people (Gen. 25:17), and his people settled from Havilah to Shur, opposite of Egypt in the direction of Assyria. The text describes, "He settled over against all his kinsmen." (Gen. 25:18) Here is Ishmael's lineage, 12 princes.

Ishmael's lineage: (1) Nebaioth, (2) Kedar, (3) Adbeel, (4) Mibsam, (5) Mishma, (6) Dumah, (7) Massa, (8) Hadad, (9) Tema, (10) Jetur, (11) Naphish, and (12) Kedemah.

It is clear to see that what Scripture spoke of Ishmael is coming true. His lineage is being made into a great kingdom, but they are also always against Isaac's seed as they assumed Ishmael's posture of being, "over against all his kinsmen." The pronoun "He" in verse 18 is not referring to Ishmael himself, but to his offspring, the nations that came from him. Ishmael is the head of these nations, not unlike describing Adam as the head of the human race. Another way to translate this would be, "His descendants lived in hostility." This is a clear fulfillment of Genesis 16:12.

Second (verses 19-34), the narrator (Moses) then turns his focus to the chosen seed, those who would inherit God's promise, namely Isaac and his progeny.

Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebekah (so the marriage in chapter 24 was about 3 years after Sarah, his mother's, death). Rebekah was barren and unable to have children, so Isaac prayed for her, and the LORD granted his prayer. She conceived twins, and they struggled together within her, and she said, "If it is thus, why is this happening to me?" and she basically asked the LORD what was happening to me. This was His response:
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the older shall serve the younger.” (Gen. 25:23)
In the New Testament Paul writes of God's disposition to these two in Rebekah's womb, "Jacob I have loved, and Esau I have hated." (see Rom. 9:11-13). So it seems the younger is God's chosen one from conception. So, Rebekah approached labor and the first came out red and he was all hairy so they named him Esau (which probably alludes to the Hebrew word Seir meaning "hairy"). Then his brother came out holding Esau's heel so he was called Jacob. The name "Jacob" alludes to a Hebrew pun/synonym 'aqab meaning "he takes the heel" or "he cheats". The etymology of the name "Jacob" probably means "May El protect" or "El Protects/Rewards" though (see Waltke, 358). Isaac was 60 years old when they were born.

They grew, and Esau was a man of the field, a hunter, and Jacob was quiet and dwelled in tents. Isaac loved Esau and Rebekah loved Jacob. Note that their favoritism/partiality is not something we should be doing with our children! (i.e. Deut. 16:19; 1 Chron. 19:7; Prov. 28:21; Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; Gal. 2:6; Jas. 2:1, 9).

One day Jacob was cooking stew, and Esau came in from the field tired and asked to eat what Jacob had made. Jacob told him to sell him his birthright, and he did it and swore on it, so then Jacob gave him the food. So he despised and disposed of his birthright for a bowl of stew and bread! It seems Proverb 28:21 has an example to attach itself to!

The first thing to note is that this text describes Keturah as another wife to Abraham (Gen. 25:1), but then later she and Hagar seem to be assumed in the word "concubines" (Gen. 25:6), further in 1 Chronicles 1:32 it says, "The sons of Keturah, Abraham's concubine: she bore Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. The sons of Jokshan: Sheba and Dedan." (my emphasis) What's going on here? Well, it appears that she was not his wife in the full sense of what marriage is. This is probably a similar way of speaking as when Abraham laid with Hagar (Gen. 16:3). So, in a similar manner of his relationship to Hagar, Abraham, "Had Keturah as a wife." Another way to phrase this would be, he had a relationship with Keturah in such a way that men should only have with a woman who is his wife (see my comments on Gen. 16:3). This isn't really polygamy, in that he married these women, but it is a perverted practice of being in an intimate relationship with someone that isn't a covenanental wife. We do see God's people later in polygamous relationships, but I think the description of these women as Abraham's concubines restrains our ability to say that these women were counted as true "wives" to Abraham. Rather, he behaved with them as a man should only behave with a woman who would be his wife.

It should also be noticed that here all of Abraham's generations are important, because they are the beginning of nations that will surround Israel throughout the Old Testament. Also, we see God holding true to His promise to Ishmael from Genesis 17:20. But notice God is also faithful to His promise to Abraham about Isaac. Everything was given to the promised covenant son, Isaac. Everything was given to Abraham's heir. So when the Bible speaks of an inheritance that only is given to sons that means that the son gets everything. When believers (both men and women) are said to be adopted and treated as sons it is quite significant. Daughters were not heirs, but if their status is the same as sons this means they are heirs. Consider this truth as you read Galatians 4:1-7:

Galatians 4:1-7

"1 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave,though he is the owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God."

The chosen seed of the promised Messiah carries on. We see that Abraham wasn't the Messiah promised to Eve, and neither is Isaac, for they have children (the following chapters bear this out too). As we follow the genealogies in Genesis we see the beginning of nations, but we see the story zoom in and focus on following one line, and that focus now turns from Isaac to Esau and Jacob.

This brings us to the birthright fiasco. How should we understand this? Well, it is no small thing that Esau sold his birthright. It wasn't simply something from men, but the birthright of being part of the lineage of the promised one to crush the head of sin and death, Satan. While they probably didn't know all the implications of their status, Isaac's family was well aware of their covenant with God. Further, they would have known that it was through their family that all nations would be blessed. And still, Esau gives all of this up for some bread and stew. This is more than a mere warning to us that we are easily self-deceived. We cannot listen to our passions and desires in the "heat of the moment". Too often they lie to us. Too often we want immediate gratification of our desires, and lacking faith we seek to fulfill it in our own power. We can't let our circumstances cloud what we know to be true from Scripture, God's very Word. This story shows that, but it's more than a mere morality tale. Esau sold the promise of God's covenant, of His election, for a bowl of stew. This reminds me of what Paul wrote in Philippians 3:18-20 about how the enemies of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, serve the god of their stomach. It appears that Esau was one of the first to model this brand of foolishness. He despised or hated the covenant of God that extended to him as Isaac's heir, and it's as if he threw it in the trash for temporary gratification. Jacob effectively swindled the promises of the covenant to himself, and we'll see this clearly in the future deceiving of Isaac for the blessing that was meant for Esau (Gen. 27:26-29). These events would come to fulfill what God told Rebekah at their birth, that the older will serve the younger (Gen. 25:23).

So the covenant appears to be passing on to Jacob. Will Jacob the the Messiah promised in Genesis 3:15? Probably not if he's a low-down swindler and deceiver; however, the hope in the promise for a Messiah is carrying on in Jacob. Jesus Christ is that perfect fulfillment of Jacob's name, "May El protect!" Jacob, merely twists it into a pun "he cheats." Praise God, that the hope remains alive, even despite Jacob's depravity.

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