In this portion Abraham's life record is brought to a close. To round out the story properly requires an account of his second marriage together with a list of his children by this marriage. For the promise Ge 17:4 had given him the assurance that he was to be the "father of a multitude of nations." The facts recorded thus far hardly furnish the background for a "multitude of nations" to be descended from him. At the same time, if there be other descendants of Abraham, who, failing to hold fast the promise of a Saviour to come, lapse into heathenish ways, it is important also to know of them that we might see that even Abraham's descendants are just another heathen group, if they fail to keep faith in God's promises. Yet, though Abraham's death is also reported in this connection, it is not to be forgotten that Abraham lived to the fifteenth year of the life of Jacob and Esau.
1. And Abraham again took a wife, and her name was Keturah.
We encounter the usual idiom: "he added and took" -- he again took (G. K.120 d). The wife's name is "Keturah," which K. W. interprets: in Weihrauchduft gehuellt ("wrapped in clouds of incense smoke"). This wife is listed in v.6 as having been only on the level of a "concubine," so also 1Ch 1:32. That raises the much discussed question whether Abraham had her as a concubine already during Sarah's lifetime. We may dismiss as utterly without foundation and most unlikely the Jewish notion that "Keturah" is merely another name for Hagar, who was later taken back by Abraham. But whereas notable commentators are ready to concede that Keturah may have been taken during Sarah's lifetime, yet that would seem to conflict rather seriously with Abraham's pronounced monogamistic leanings; for he took Hagar only as a last resort to realize God's promise. The claim that in the event of his taking Keturah after Sarah's death some of the six sons must have been dismissed at the too early age of about twenty-five years, should not be regarded too seriously. Though ordinarily sons may have been married at the age of forty and established for themselves, that is merely a rather broad inference drawn from the exceptional case of Isaac. Ro 4:19 ("his own body now as good as dead") is not to be taken too literally. Apparently, the rejuvenation which the patriarch experienced, enabling him to be father to Isaac, was of more than merely the most transitory kind. Luther rightly argues that Abraham saw that he was to beget more children in order to fulfil the promise of Ge 17:4 and so in faith he proceeded to enter upon another marriage. Consequently, no blame of any sort attaches to the patriarch for this step: "he was not guilty of levity, nor of intemperate lust," or of any other shortcoming in this case. If he does not allow quite the same rank to Keturah, it still is a regular marriage. But Abraham must surely have felt that the rank of the mother of the child of promise was to be regarded as higher than that of any second wife. So even this distinction is a necessary one. The coordinate clause "and her name Keturah" is the equivalent of a relative clause "whose name," etc. (K. S.361 a, 369 m).
2-4. And she bore to him Zimran and Jokshan and Medan and Midian and Ishbak and Shuah. And Jokshan begat Sheba and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim and Letushim and Leummim. And the sons of Midian: Ephah and Epher and Hanoch and Abida and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah.
Parallel to this runs the passage 1Ch 1:32, 33.
The following outline presents at a glance how far the descent is traced.
(See figure 690)
To argue at once, that because descendants of some sons are not indicated, the author's information was fragmentary, is less likely to cover the facts of the case than that some of these sons, like Zimran and Medan, simply were not founders of further tribes or nations. Jokshan, however, has through Dedan descendants who become the fathers of races through three generations. Brief as the table of Keturah's descendants is, it furnishes foundation for proof of the fact that a multitude of nations descended from Abraham. These, now, who are here listed are the fathers of Arab tribes who leave southern Palestine and migrate to the east, the southeast and the south. Apparently, in so doing they met with and absorbed, as Arab tradition also asserts, certain native Arab tribes. But, apparently, the element thus infused into the Arab tribes became the dominant factor and gave the name to the tribe.
Since very great uncertainty surrounds the identity of the individual groups or nations, we shall content ourselves with indicating briefly what seems the most reasonable identification we have been able to find.
"Zimran," perhaps identical with Zambran in western Arabia on the coast west of Mecca.
"Jokshan" apparently not yet identified satisfactorily.
"Medan," five days' journey south of Aila (Elath) which lies at the head of the Gulf of Akabah, located on the eastern shore of the Gulf.
"Midian" was a tribe which according to the Scriptures was scattered rather widely in northwestern Arabia, on the eastern portion of the peninsula of Sinai and even east of Palestine near Moab; cf. Ge 36:35; 37:28; Ex 3:11; 18:1; Nu 25:17; Jos 13:21; Jud 6:1 ff. So it need not surprise us that five subdivisions of this tribe should be mentioned (v.4). "Ishbak" has not been identified. "Shuah" is somewhere in the Syro-Arabian desert mentioned as Sûhu by Assyrians and Babylonians.
3. "Sheba," cf. Ge 10:7, belongs down into southwestern Arabia. "Dedan" apparently must be sought in the same region Dedan's descendants are not reported under the name of individuals but, as the plural ending (im) indicates, as peoples. For "Asshurim" we could correctly say "the Assurites," etc., "the Letushites," "the Leummites." Though the term "Asshurim" might as such refer to the Assyrians, the greater likelihood is that a north-Arabian desert tribe is meant. Since Nabataean names of persons, or Sabaean like these last three have been found in inscriptions, we shall class these last three as northArabian.
4. Isa 60:6 would merely indicate that "Ephah" may have been Midian's most distinguished son. "Epher" -- not located. "Hanoch" reminds of Hanâkia three days' journey north of Medina. It has been pointed out that these three names Epha, Epher and Hanoch, are found also among the children of Israel and incidentally just among those tribes that lay nearest to Midian -- Judah, Manasseh, Reuben. "Abida" and "Eldaah" had best be classed merely as Arab tribes not identified.
There is no reason for adopting the common attitude of our day that these are fictitious ancestral names invented by these tribes at a later date. Though nations frequently invented such fictions, that fact does not stamp our account as fictitious.
5, 6. And Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. But to the sons of Abraham's concubines, Abraham gave gifts and sent them away from Isaac his son during his own lifetime, eastward to Kedem (East Country).
With wise forethought Abraham makes disposition of his property "during his lifetime" (on 'ôdénû see G. K.100, o). The establishment as a whole goes to Isaac. The others are given adequate presents to enable each to make a proper beginning in life. This would involve about so much of cattle and goods as would constitute a reasonable nucleus to make possible a fair ranch. If all except Isaac are called "sons of Abraham's concubines," we have shown above in what sense this is meant in reference to Keturah. "Abraham's" is expressed by a clause, "which to Abraham," in order to avoid a succession of construct relationships (K. S.282e). In addition to giving gifts to the other children Abraham dismisses them so that the separation is made by his authority. They are said to have gone "eastward" (qedhemah) which is here used roughly to include north-eastward and south-eastward. Or else, if it were actually meant in the strict sense, then at first all did go eastward but in succeeding generations spread farther to the north and the south. All this involves the supposition that our attempted identification and location of the names v.2-4 was at least relatively correct. The original expression used to indicate this direction taken by the descendants is: he sent them away "eastward to the East-Country," which we have ventured to translate "eastward to Kedem," because "Kedem" is at times used almost like a proper noun. It also appears quite readily that those who were sent away were not children of the second, and the third generation here listed but only his actual sons. The historian (Moses) adds the later names as a result of his knowledge of how the original tribes divided or subdivided. After his original dismissal Ishmael may have returned home, at least for a time.
7-10. The whole length of Abraham's life was one hundred and seventy-five years. And Abraham expired and died at a good age, an old man and having had his fill (of days), and he was gathered to his people. And his sons, Isaac and Ishmael, buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron, the son of Zohar, the Hittite, which was over against Mamre, the field which Abraham bought from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried with Sarah, his wife.
In concluding so memorable a life, whose details have been given at such length, it is but natural that the writer use a measure of fulness of expression. Besides we are familiar since Ge 5:5 with the fulsome Hebrew expression: "the days of the years of the life which he lived," which we have made free to translate: "The whole length of the life." As is customary in compound numerals, the item counted -- here "years" -- is repeated in Hebrew (K. S.314 e).
8. Here we still have the somewhat fuller style of expression "he expired and died" (gawa' and mûth). Of course, since all this more formal and elaborate expression is ascribed to the mythical P, one need not marvel to find the other uses of the phrase declared to be marks of the style of P -- "all P" says B D B -- although there are only two other passages where the double expression occurs (Ge 25:17; 35:29). It must appear at a glance that this is mere "reasoning in a circle."
The first word (gawa') pictures the act of drawing one's last breath; the second (mûth), the general act of dying. By Abraham's time apparently the span of life had been so much curtailed that 175 years deserve to be described as a "good age." Zaqen is the most common designation of an old man, but it involves primarily the idea of dignity or rank growing out of riper experience (see remarks on Ge 24:2). The next word sabhé'a we have rendered "having had his fill (of days)" -- in one word: "sated." This does not mean "disgusted with life" or "tired of life," as some are wont to construe Luther's rendering: lebenssatt. The term has a good meaning; it implies that all wants and all expectations have been satisfied. What Ge 15:15 promised was fully realized.
The last expression used is particularly noteworthy: he was gathered to his people. This cannot mean: buried with his relatives or ancestors, for we know that none of his kin except his wife lay buried at Machpelah. Apparently, the expression is then equivalent to the one used Ge 15:15, "to go to one's fathers." Those who have gone on before in death are regarded as a people still existing. This is a clear testimony to the belief in a life after death on the part of the earliest patriarch. Though no specific revelation on the subject seems to have been given to these patriarchs, faith in the Almighty God drew its own proper conclusions as to whether God would ultimately let his children perish, and its conclusion was correct: He cannot. This passage confirms that conclusion. If Scripture is to be explained by Scripture, then Heb 11:13-16 offers the fullest confirmation of our interpretation. Therefore the prevalent expositions which aim to deny the possibility of faith in a life after death on the part of the patriarchs will all have to be discarded. They may assert: "The popular conception of Sheol as a vast aggregate of graves in the underworld enabled the language to be applied to men who (like Abraham) were buried far from their ancestors" (Skinner), but this "popular conception" is invented to cover a case like this. Such rationalizing explanations fail to do justice to the natural meaning of words. Luther saw the implications of these words very clearly: "If now there is another people' apart from those among whom we live, there must be a resurrection from the dead." K. C. points out that the passage cannot mean "to be laid in the family sepulchre," because it is used in cases where only one ancestor lay in the tomb (1Ki 11:43; 22:40) or none at all (De 31:16; 1Ki 2:10; 16:28; 2Ki 21:18). Of course, when one's "people" are thought of as having gone on before, they are thought of as assembled in the Sheol, which in this connection can mean only the "afterworld" or the "hereafter." Nothing in this passage or in other instances of the use of the expression (cf. Ge 25:17; 35:29; Ge 49:29,33; Nu 20:24; 27:13; 31:2; De 32:50) indicates that the existence in the hereafter is regarded as dull, shadowy or unreal. Since practically in each case men of outstanding godliness are involved, it would even seem strange if such were the ultimate issue of a godly life. True, the New Testament fullness of revelation is not yet found in the Old. But the common assertion that the Pentateuch knows nothing of a life hereafter and of the resurrection from the dead is merely a preconceived error. True, we shall have to resort in part to reasoning like that employed by Christ Mt 22:31-33, but in reasoning thus we follow a very reliable precedent.
9. Apparently there is no alienation between Isaac and Ishmael at this time any more. Either the death of Abraham had helped to bring the two sons together, or else (K. C.) Isaac had succeeded in effecting a reconciliation and an understanding (cf. Ge 24:62) before his marriage to Rebekah. In any case, both are at one in arranging for the burial of their father. There can be no doubt in their mind where the father had wished to be buried (cf. ch. Ge 23). Recalling all the transactions that gave Abraham this burial plot at Machpelah, the writer makes a rather detailed reference to the purchase of the cave and its location.
11. And it came to pass after the death of Abraham that God blessed Isaac his son, and Isaac took up his dwelling at Beer-lahai-roi,
We see that attention is about to centre on a new character in the narrative. This verse might be regarded as a kind of transitional paragraph. It is true that after the general plan of Genesis the matters of lesser importance must be disposed of first, and so before the formal heading v.19 Ge 25:19 there must be a brief treatment of the descendants of Ishmael; but a few verses (Ge 25:12-18) suffice for this purpose. Outstanding about Isaac from the outset was the fact that God's blessing was resting upon him. Everyone could discern that fact after brief observation. Besides, we need to know that Isaac's more or less permanent dwellingplace was the scene of the Angel's appearance to Hagar, Beer-lahai-roi. This place apparently had a strong attraction for Isaac cf. (Ge 24:62). The blessings received by Isaac are attributed to Elohim not to Yahweh, because here only such blessings are thought of as the Creator-God, Elohim, is wont to grant to those who serve Him faithfully. Isaac also received other blessings. These are not being reflected upon for the present.
7. History (Toledoth) of Ishmael (Ge 25:12-18)
With the distinctive heading employed ten times in the book of Genesis this section is introduced and clearly marked as a new section. As a section it may be rather brief. But the alien elements, the portions that have only incidental connection with the development of God's kingdom, these are always disposed of quite briefly. The Bible retains the memory of such groups but it allots to them their proper place. What is not a part of the people of God, unfortunately, is unimportant.
12-17. This is the history of Ishmael, the son of Abraham whom Hagar the Egyptian slave girl of Sarah bore to Abraham. These are the names of the sons of Ishmael named according to their generations: the first-born of Ishmael Nebaioth; and Kedar and Abdeel and Mibsam, and Mishma and Dumah and Massa; Hadad and Temah, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. These, they are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names according to their settlements and encampments, twelve princes according to their nations. And this is the length of Ishmael's life, a hundred and thirty-seven years, and he expired and died and was gathered unto his people.
The more formal style and precise phraseology are the chief reason for assigning this whole section (v. Ge 25:12-18) to the so-called P. But is not style bound to assume some such form when a concise report is being made? We still consider the man Moses capable of varying his style according to thee matter. When condensed reports were to be offered, he lapsed into this precise formal tone. On v.12-18 compare 1Ch 1:28-31.
12. That Ishmael's story or "history" (see Ge 2:4) is given at all is really due to the fact that Ishmael is "the son of Abraham." But when the added explanation is given, "whom Hagar, the Egyptian slave girl bore to Abraham," the story of chapter 16 together with the promises of Ge 21:18 are called to mind. So we observe that this account, brief as it is, aims to furnish proof for the fulfilment of God's promises in reference to this first-born son of Abraham. Ishmael did develop into a "great nation."
13-15. As above v. Ge 2-4 so here the identification and the location of these twelve princes descended from Ishmael offer difficulties. We shall briefly catalogue a few possibilities along this line. There is no valid ground for departing from the plain meaning of the text. These twelve were actually direct descendants of Ishmael, perhaps all twelve actual sons, for the first is distinctly marked as "first-born." "Assumed eponymous ancestors" is critical conjecture.
Apparently, generally speaking, the Ishmaelites for the most part occupied a territory somewhat more to the east and south of the Sons of Keturah. Skinner assigns to them the region "intermediate between the Arabian Cushites on the south; the Edomites, Moabites, etc., on the west; and the Aramaeans on the north -- The Syro-Arabian desert north of Gebel Shammar" (which lies almost in the centre, or north-centre of Arabia).
"Nebaioth" are now usually identified with the Nabayâti of the inscriptions of Asshurbanipal. Yet K. W. still retains the old identification with the Nabataeans, who after the Exile made Petra in Edom their stronghold and capital. Pliny also speaks of Nabataei and Cedrei ("Kedar"). According to Isa 60:7 they were rich in flocks. North Arabia will, for the most part, have been their home.
"Kedar" -- cf. above. The cuneiform inscriptions offer the parallel Qidri. These Ishmaelites were renowned as archers (cf. Isa 21:16; Jer 49:28 ff.). Ps 120:5 alludes to them as the remotest of strangers.
"Abdeel" sounds so much like the Idibi'il or Idiba'il of the inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser III that we may regard this as a satisfactory identification. North-arabian.
"Mibsam" -- unidentified.
14. "Mishma" -- unidentified. "Dumah" lies in Northern Arabia also and may be identical with Dumath al-Jandal, seven days' journey southeast of Damascus. Of course, throughout this section, when we take the personal name and treat it as a place name, we imply that the original personal name came to be identified with a certain locality and so became a geographical term. The "Dumah" of Isa.21:11 may be the same as this. "Massa" perhaps lay also in Northern Arabia. It may be identical with the Masa of the Assyrian inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser.
15. "Hadad" -- unidentified. "Tema" again seems to be four days' journey south of Dumah, now called Taimâ'u, or Teyma. About "Jetur" we know from 1Ch 1:31 that it was an Arab tribe with which Reuben engaged in conflict in the days of the conquest. Strabo speaks of Itouraioi te xai Arabev. The New Testament "Ituraea" Lu 3:1 seems to be derived from it. "Naphish"- unidentified. "Kedemah" -- likewise.
16. Now appears our justification for the remark on v.14 that personal names and place names are treated as identical because the place derived its name from the particular prince who settled there: "these are their names according to their settlements and encampments." It is somewhat difficult for us to see where the difference between "settlements" (chatserîm) and "encampments" (tîrôth) lies. K. C. makes the former more protective -- (schirmendes Zeltlager) and the latter distinctly made up of tents (Zeltlager). Skinner takes the former to mean "villages," the latter "a circular encampment of a nomadic tribe." But the main point at issue is that proof be furnished that the promise of Ge 17:20 concerning the "twelve princes" was fulfilled. The beth sphaerae or "beth of enumeration" occurs in "according to their settlements" (K. S.402s).
17. Ishmael, though according to Ge 16:12 a somewhat wild and independent character, does not come near Abraham's age, dying at the age of 137 years. He, too, was gathered unto his people, whether these now in Sheol were the lost or the saved. There is the possibility that a man such as he, a man, who was the object of a divine word of promise, Ge 16:11, 12; Ge 17:20 and who had grown up under the influence of a godly man like Abraham, may have retained faith in God all his days. The expression 16 :12 ("wild ass") implies no moral stigma.
18. They had their dwelling place (in the region) from Havilah unto Shur, which lies east of Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled to the east of all his brethren.
According to the prominent geographical terms of that day a summary is given of the territory inhabited by Ishmael -- wayyishkenû -- "and they dwelt" -- "they had their dwelling place in the region," etc. In Ge 10:7 we assigned to "Havilah" the sandy regions east of Egypt. "Shur" lay somewhere nearer the Egyptian border (cf. Ge 16:7). The expression alpeney here appears to have the common (see B D B, 818 b) meaning "to the east of." "Assyria" ('ashshûr) here would appear to be the well-known eastern country and not some scarcely known tribe of the immediate vicinity, for general directions are being given. Naphal, "to fall," here means to "settle down," though no parallels can be cited. To render "he died in the presence of all his brethren" (A. V.) has no point. Luther, who translates er fiel in his commentary, later abandoned this rendering for "he opposed" -- er legte sich wider alle seine Brueder. But "he abode" (A. R. V.) or "he settled" (above) is more in harmony with the context.
8. History of Isaac (Ge 25:19-35:29)
Again a new "history," toledoth, (see Ge 2:4). Though a more or less passive character, Isaac's life dominates the earlier stages of Jacob's life, so much so that though much more is told about Jacob up to Ge 35:29, yet Isaac must have been the dominating influence of Jacob's life to that point.
1) Birth and Early History of the Twin Brothers (Ge 25:19-34)
19, 20. This is the history of Isaac, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac. And Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramaean of Padan Aram, the sister of Laban, the Aramaean.
The opening statement cannot be translated the following are the descendant (Meek and others). See Ge 2:4. Since the new history is beginning, the relationships are recapitulated in a rather formal fashion. This accounts for having the author recall that Isaac was Abraham's son. This is also done because immediately a strange parallel between the case of Abraham and that of Isaac is to be touched upon.
20. The events of the preceding chapter are here summarized and the additional notice is given that Isaac was forty years old when he "married" (Hebrew: "took to wife") Rebekah. The patriarchs practised fine self-restraint and were not unduly hasty about getting married.
21. And Isaac interceded with Yahweh in behalf of his wife, for she was childless; and Yahweh granted his entreaty and Rebekah his wife conceived.
As Luther has pointed out, Isaac is the only patriarch till now whose intercession is recorded, and he accounts for the exception by the fact that this prayer was of unusual moment, being concerned with the promised Seed. The verb athar means "to pray," the Arabic parallel signifying another form of devout exercise, "to sacrifice." The idea of particular urgency does not lie in the verb, as older commentators suggest. The preposition used with this verb lenókhach means "over against" in the sense that in thought his wife stood over against him as the object of his prayers. We should naturally translate "for" or "in behalf of." It is remarkable, indeed, that for a second time the wife of one who perpetuates the line of promise should be barren. However, it is to be made as apparent as possible that divine grace and not human endeavour or achievement is operative in these matters. For that reason, too, the faithful gracious God "Yahweh" is entreated, not Elohim. The same verb is used as before but now in the passive, in the sense of "He -- suffered Himself to be entreated" or He "granted his entreaty" using an active construction. The lô with the passive expresses the agent (K. S.102 a). It indicates a high value put upon motherhood and a proper estimate of the greatness of the gift of children when prayer to Yahweh is resorted to in order to obtain offspring. In this case, without a doubt, the thought of the Messiah to come was involved on Isaac's and on Rebekah's part. Conception or the absence of conception is more directly due to the omnipotent power of the Creator than men are wont to believe. Procksch presses the Arabic parallel beyond what Hebrew usage allows for when he makes the verb athar signify "to sacrifice" and then construes lenôkhach to mean that Rebekah was present before Isaac during the sacrifice.
22. And the children jostled one another within her, and she said: If it be so, for what then am I (destined)? And she went to inquire of Yahweh.
Rebekah was pregnant with twins without being aware of it. The children, as little able to agree now as later in life, "jostle one another" (Meek). Yithrotsatsû, Hithpael of the verb ratsats, "to crush," can hardly have so violent a meaning as "crush" or "thrust or strike" (BDB). Even "struggled" (A. V.) is a bit strong. Luther's stiessen sich -- "jostled," as Meek renders it. The mother is alarmed, for she feels more than mere movements of the foetus. The unusual movements seem portents of unusual things. Yet she knows that pregnancy came as a gracious answer to prayer. "If (now) it be so" that these alarming movements within her accompany her pregnancy, then this must mean something for her too. She wonders what: "for what then am I (destined)?" By supplying this "destined" (as K. C.) we give a simple, natural meaning to the question: "for what then I?" Of course, we then resolve lammah into its component parts -- "for what" rather than to use the other common meaning "why" (A. V.). The divine answer given reveals to her to what she is destined: to bring forth two nations. This solution of this difficult passage should prove quite satisfactory, inasmuch as the other more acceptable of the many suggestions offered: "wherefore do I live?" (A. R. V.; Targum) has to supply the chief idea "live." Besides, it is hardly thinkable that movement of the foetus should at once cause Rebekah to despair of life.
We have no means of determining how and where Rebekah "inquired" (darash -- "to seek or enquire") of Yahweh. Perhaps it was at some sanctuary where Abraham had been wont to worship. To speak of her as resorting to an "oracle" imports heathenish notions into the Hebrew text. Luther supposes that she will have consulted Shem. The answer may have come in a dream or vision (cf. Ge 15:1).
23.And Yahweh said unto her:
Two nations are in thy womb,
Two peoples shall be separated from thy
One people shall be stronger than the
And the elder shall serve the younger.
A significant word revealing the destiny of nations. Since it has to do with the fulfilment of covenant promises, it is ascribed to Yahweh. It is somewhat mysterious as to import, but only until the fulfilment becomes apparent. In reality each of the four clauses is clear-cut in its meaning. We claim a certain mysteriousness only in the sense that at first hearing it seems somewhat difficult. But that characteristic is no doubt inherent in these words to challenge further reflection. The first thought is: Rebekah is to be a mother of twins who will be the ancestors of two nations. She had through her husband asked for a child; she now inquired as to what her destiny in the matter of these children should be. Rebekah finds that Yahweh is rich exceeding abundantly above what we ask and think. She sought to be a mother of a child; she becomes a mother of two nations.
The second part of the promise is pregnant in its brevity: two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels means, of course, that two children shall come forth and shall develop into two distinct nations who shall be separate from one another (K. S.213 c). Yipparedhû carries the emphasis in the sense that these two nations shall have nothing in common. They shall "separate" because they are so radically different and shall remain apart for ever. To make "peoples" by metonomy stand for "ancestors" (K. C.) is not necessary.
The third advance in thought reveals that one of the two shall exceed the other in strength: one strong nation, one weaker nation.
Lastly, it appears that the reverse of what would have been anticipated will be the case: "the elder shall serve the younger." Now it is true, the Hebrew reads: "great shall serve small." But, since clearly the two sons are under discussion, it is not to be supposed that of two sons one will always be "great," consequently the matter of age only is here under consideration. Besides, tsa'îr usually means "young." Consequently, the only feasible translation will have to be: "the elder shall serve the younger." Ordinarily pre-eminence would seem to be associated with the first-born. Here we are clearly told that this rule is to be reversed.
The whole divine oracle is cast into poetic form. The clauses are parallel in structure 1 with 2 and 3 with 4. Le'om ("people") is a poetic word. The absence of the article is characteristic of poetic arrangement. Whether the substance of this utterance was originally cast into this very form or not is difficult to determine. The likelihood is that the word is recorded just as it was transmitted to Rebekah, form and substance dating from the Lord Himself.
Nor should it be overlooked that this significant word lays down more than a particular ruling applicable in this one instance. Paul's use of it (Ro 9:12) indicates that at the same time the concluding statement ("the elder shall serve the younger") offers a general principle holding good for all times in the kingdom of God. For in this kingdom, first of all, every natural advantage of the carnal man is of no account in God's sight in the matter of salvation. The power and the claims of the natural man have to yield precedence to God's choice and election by grace. In the second place, a moral principle is also involved: whatever excellence man may possess, it is all to be put to the service of the fellow-man, the strong serving the weak. This further application of the word does not, therefore, assign a double meaning to it. Rather, the general principle and its specific application blend into one in this instance.
Though we claim that the somewhat mysterious character of the word challenges deeper thought on the part of the recipients of it, we hold just as definitely to the contention that it was clearly understood by them from the very outset. God's primary purpose in giving revelation to men is that the revelation might reveal. Prayerful meditation upon this significant divine utterance established its meaning and its purpose very definitely for all involved. We even venture to say that this word became one of the guiding stars of this patriarchal family. Nor can there be any doubt that what Rebekah clearly understood will have been imparted without hesitation to Isaac. Such divine words in their very nature were intended to be common property of the family involved. Secretiveness about the matter will have been unthinkable. Consequently, as the two sons came to years of discretion, this word will have been communicated to them. This, of course, makes our problem all the more difficult when we come to explain how Isaac could afterward have attempted to ignore this word in the matter of blessing Esau. But we see absolutely no reason why Rebekah should have withheld this revelation from the rest of the family. Nor do we believe that so definite a word could have been misunderstood.
24-26. When the time for her delivery came, behold, there were twins in her womb. And the first one came forth red, all over like a hairy garment, and they called his name Esau (Hairy). Next his brother came forth and his hand was holding Esau's heel; so his name was called Jacob (Heeler). And Isaac was sixty years old when they were born.
What had been revealed previously by a word from Yahweh now becomes manifest in the hour of birth: there are "twins in her womb." The form tômim ("twins") is a shorter spelling for te'omim.
25. The first-born is adhmonî -- "red" or "reddish-brown." Besides he is entirely covered with hair so as to resemble a "garment of hair" -- 'addéreth se'ar. In se'ar there seems to be involved an allusion to the land of Seir where Esau later took up his dwelling. So also adhmonî forms the basis for the name "Edom," for which more particular cause is found expressed in v. Ge 25:30. In any case, we have a record here of a child that seems unusually rough and rugged -- a sturdy healthy child abounding in animal strength. I fail to see in this a humorous allusion to Esau's appearance as being like that of a little hairy goat (Gunkel). Such explanations aim to make the Scriptures ridiculous. However, this very remarkable feature about the child's appearance is sufficient to give a name to the child. "Esau" does mean "hairy," as the Arabic parallels indicate. It may be objected that this matter of appearance is too trivial to account for the actual giving of a name. But men familiar with the Orient find this to be a characteristic scene, quite likely to have occurred.
26. The significant thing about the second twin is that his hand was holding Esau's heel. Now commentators have disputed much about the possibility of such a thing. It is not, however, said that he already held the heel while both were in the mother's womb. For, in any case, who could have seen that the younger brother did thus? Here it is said that he did so as he came forth. Ho 12:3 says: "In the womb he took his brother by the heel." Both statements can be reconciled on the supposition that as the first was born and before the umbilical cord was cut, the second reached forth his hand, perhaps while the first was still emerging, and laid hold on his brother's heel. Surely, that was very irregular, since an hour usually elapses between the birth of twins. But cases have been known, on the one hand, where the interval became as much as three days between the birth of twins. So, on the other hand, the case is thinkable where one twin follows immediately upon the heels of the other. That case, again, is so significant that it may well furnish occasion for the giving of the name. For ya'aqobh is derived from the root aqebh ("heel"). Consequently, though we translate the name "Heeler," we mean it in the sense of "Heel-gripper" (Meek), and that naturally leads to the other interpretation given to the name by Esau himself (Ge 27:36). Consequently there is no ground for claiming that this is a shortened form of "Jacob-el," just because this latter name appears as the name of a place in a list of Thotmes III and again as a personal name on a Babylonian contract tablet of Hammurabi's time. Such a claim grows out of the attempt to reduce things Israelitish to the Babylonian or the Egyptian level. Rather, here is a unique name of unique origin. From the concluding remark we learn that these parents had waited twenty years for children; cf. v. Ge 25:20. No need of a textual change in the last clause, for belédheth can well refer to the father: "in (his) begetting them"; compare any lexicon on this use of the word -- B D B says it occurs twenty-two times.
How inconclusive Scriptural evidence is for the critic appears from remarks such as: "The question whether Jacob was originally a tribe, a deity, or an individual man thus remains unsettled by etymology" (Skinner) -- as though the remaining evidence aside from the etymological were weak.
27, 28. And the boys grew up, and Esau became a skilful hunter, a man living in the open country, but Jacob was a man of peaceful habits, as a tent dweller. And Isaac loved Esau, for game pleased him. But Rebekah loved Jacob.
The disparity between the two lads became increasingly apparent as they grew up. Esau develops into a "skilful hunter," literally: "knowing hunting." The parallel expression, "man of the field" ('ish sadheh) cannot mean that he followed agricultural pursuits (ein Ackermann, Luther), but rather the opposite: he was a man who disdained agriculture and was a "man of the open country," i. e., a man roving about everywhere. Examining this description a bit more closely, we notice that he turned his attention not to what would naturally have been his calling but that he loved excitement, activity, change and freedom. Consequently, he grew up to be an undisciplined character. Besides, as the fathers were wont to remark, the continual pursuit of a life of hunting makes characters harsh and cruel. The pursuits of it has no ennobling effects when it becomes an obsession. Apparently, the word tam in reference to Jacob aims to describe the very opposite traits. Though tam signifies "complete," "perfect," here it means: adequately filling the requirements of his calling, not roving about but "a man of peaceful habits," as we have rendered above. Luther's fromm may cover that, for it does not refer to a pious disposition only. "A plain man" (A. V.) is beside the point; "quiet" (A. R. V.) is better. So, too, "dwelling in tents" (A. V.) misses the point. Why mention at all where he dwelt? Traits are being discussed. Yosebh ohalîm means: as a man dwelling in tents is wont to be, here then: a typical nomad. That thought is to the point; for being destined to live a nomadic life, he gave himself to the pursuits typical to his class. He was intent upon filling well the place in life prepared for him.
28. Strange to say, Isaac loved Esau. The reason assigned is: "game pleased him" -- literally, "(was) in his mouth," bephîw. It would hardly have gotten into his mouth if he did not like it; consequently our translation. Luther has about the same: ass gern von seinem Weidwerk. So A. V. is meant. This cannot be the only thing that bound these two characters closely together. In itself this fact suggests a character unduly given to the things that tickle the palate. But besides, the more passive Isaac finds himself attracted to the more active and bold Esau just because he himself lacks these qualities. Whereas Rebekah understands and loves the diligent and dutiful Jacob better. Rebekah had spiritual ambitions, in a good sense. They prompted her originally to cast in her lot with Isaac. Jacob had a kindred spirit. This kinship was the bond uniting the two. Luther's remarks cover the rest of the case: "Just as mothers are wont to love the sons who are of a more quiet and friendly disposition rather than those who are wild and bold, so fathers love those sons who are a bit more lively and bold." No inferior ground is adduced in referring to Rebekah's love for Jacob. Still, on the whole, a measure of partiality was involved on the part of both parents. We take this verse to imply a rebuke for both parties.
29, 30. And Jacob boiled pottage and Esau came from the field faint with hunger, and Esau said to Jacob: Let me swallow, please, some of that red stuff there, for I am faint with hunger. (That is why he is called Edom -- Red).
A characteristic prosaic incident is here recorded, an incident fraught with far-reaching consequences, as certain almost trifling occurrences sometimes come to be of greatest moment. -- The first expression used -- Jacob "seethed a seething," yßzedh nazîdh. The expression is quite vague for the present. Later it develops that the "seething" was lentils, a savory dish. Esau returns from his customary pursuits out in the open field. On this occasion he seems unusually famished. Ayeph actually means only "faint," or "weary." In this case the faintness which results from hunger; consequently: "faint with hunger." With the ravenous appetite resulting from outdoor activity Esau can hardly restrain himself. His words are expressive of his uncontrolled hunger. He asks not merely with a mild "feed me" (A. V.) or an equally mild "let me taste" but hal'îtenî, "let me swallow," almost, "let me gulp." Besides, his haste does not allow him even to try to name the pottage under preparation; he just designates it: "of the red, that red." Just as we should say: "some of that red stuff there," (so also Meek). Incidentally, this significant incident, gave occasion also for calling him "Edom" -- for adhom was "the red." Now this second etymological explanation within the same chapter for the name Edom does not conflict with the first (v. Ge 25:25). It only shows that by a peculiar guidance of Providence two events occurred that gave rise to the name, or, better still, the original name was doubly confirmed by this particular experience. By the way, the repetition of adhom above was not for emphasis (K. S.309 m) but an indication of impatience.
31-33. And Jacob said: Sell me thy birthright first. And Esau said: Behold, I for my part am going to meet death; of what use is the birthright to me? And Jacob said: Give me an oath on this first, and he gave him an oath. So he sold his birthright to Jacob.
At this point the interpretations usually run afoul of an old misconception: they assume that Jacob gives evidence of crafty duplicity, that Jacob is all wrong and Esau all right, although the account closes (34 b) Ge 25:34 with a criticism of Esau. Behind this misunderstanding lies a second one, formulated best perhaps in the naive claim of Dods: "The character of Jacob is easily understood." Fact of the matter is, Jacob's character is one of the hardest to understand; it is complicated, it has many folds and convolutions. But in this particular incident the Scriptural point of view must be maintained: Esau was primarily to blame.
Another explanation must be inserted here. Jacob was really a spiritually minded man with appreciation of spiritual values and with distinct spiritual ambitions. Especially in the matter of carrying on the line of promise from which the Saviour would come did Jacob have ambitions. The aspirations apparently, however, were begotten by the divine word of promise (v.23 Ge 25:23). Yahweh had destined Jacob to pre-eminence. Jacob gladly accepted the choice and aspired to attain to the treasure promised. His eagerness was commendable. His choice of means in arriving at the desired end was not always above reproach. He felt he had to help the good Lord along occasionally. He was not fully confident of God's methods for arriving at the goal. He felt the need of occasionally inserting a bit of assistance of his own. Such an attitude was one of mistrust: confidence in human ingenuity rather than in divine dependability -- in one word -- unbelief. But his spiritual aggressiveness was by no means to be despised, nor was it wrong.
Approaching this incident with these facts in mind we seem compelled to assume one thing in order to understand Jacob's request. It appears, namely, that the subject of the birthright bekhorah -- "firstbornness," "primogeniture," then the right of the first, ie., "birthright." had been under consideration between the brothers on a previous occasion. It would also seem that Esau had made some derogatory remark about its value, or had even spoken about his own readiness to part with the privilege. Otherwise we can hardly believe that Jacob would have made this special request without further motivation, or that Esau would have consented to the bargain without more ado. This, indeed, puts Jacob into a more favourable light, but so does our text (v.34 Ge 25:34). Indeed, there is left on Jacob's part a measure of shrewd calculation in so timing his request that he catches Esau at a disadvantage, a form of cunning which we must condemn without reservation. Yet the act does not call for such strong criticism as: he was "ruthlessly taking advantage of his brother, watching and waiting till he was sure of his victim" (Dods).
Besides, to clarify issues we had better notice that the material advantages of the birthright were not under consideration by Jacob, whatever these advantages may at Jacob's time have been. According to the Mosaic law of a later date the right of the first-born involved a double portion of the father's inheritance (De 21:17) and a kind of supremacy over one's brethren and his father's house (Ge 27:29). But observe how obviously humble Jacob appears after his return from Mesopotamia, yielding the pre-eminence to Esau in all things. Mikhrah ("sell") is an emphatic imperative (G. K.48 i). The expression kayyôm, literally: "as the day," "according to the day," comes to mean "at once," "first of all" (B D B) as in v.33, 1Sa 2:16; 1Ki 1:51.
32. Esau's answer seems a bit puzzling in its first part: "Behold, I for my part am going to meet death." Can he really mean: "I am at the point to die" (A. V.) from hunger? Shall we, then, subscribe to the interpretation of Dods: "Who does not 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?" Esau is hardly such a big baby. Sturdy hunter that he was, he must have been somewhat inured to privations. Or does he then mean: "I shall die sooner or later anyhow"? That's rather a flat notion in this connection. So we conclude that anokhî hôlekh lamûth, with the emphatic pronoun first, means: "I, for my part," in my dangerous calling, "am going to meet death" rather soon anyhow; so "of what use is the birthright to me?" This latter statement now actually displays Esau's real sentiments: he has no appreciation of, or desire for, spiritual advantages or values. He despises the intangible spiritual entity as altogether too nebulous. In this sense he was a profane person (Heb.12:16). His was a coarse, entirely unspiritual nature. What if there was a chosen line from which a Saviour would ultimately spring? To be associated with that ideal prospect was not worth aspiring after, thought he.
33. Jacob is so eager to obtain this advantage that he wants more than a hasty word, that might be regretted on the morrow, to bind the bargain. To give proof of his eagerness and to let Esau give proof of his sincerity in the matter, Jacob asks: "Give me an oath on this first." The solemnity of the added oath does not deter Esau; he promptly gives the oath.
34. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils, and he ate and drank and arose and went his way. So Esau despised his birthright.
Well-pleased with his bargain, Jacob gives "bread," which is really presupposed for a meal, together with the pottage of adhashîm ("lentils"). Wellpleased with his bargain, Esau eats, drinks, rises and goes away. There is something carnal about the attitude of Esau, so carnal as to rouse a feeling of contempt. The severe condemnation of this statement, he "despised his birthright," as well as that of the letter to the Hebrews (Heb 12:16): "a profane person" bebhlov puts the emphasis where it belongs. Now we can understand why God had not chosen Esau to carry on the line of the Messiah. Total spiritual incapacity was characteristic of this man. He could hardly serve as guardian of mankind's dearest hope. On wayyesht see G. K.75 q o.
On the whole transaction Luther draws attention to a basic fact that should not be overlooked: this was not a valid purchase, because Jacob was attempting to purchase what was already his. With equal correctness it might be said that Esau was attempting to sell what was not his. Consequently, Bishop Hall's remark (Jamieson) was only partly true when he said: "There was never any meal, except the forbidden fruit, so dear bought as this broth of Jacob."
Most of the matter of this chapter is not directly adapted to homiletical use. For the list of Abraham's children by Keturah and the disposition made of his property are not readily adaptable to sermonic purposes. One would hardy care to use v.5, 6 Ge 25:5,6 for the purpose of enforcing the desirability of making proper division of one's property. The theme is hardly big enough for a Gospel preacher, good as it may be on occasion to offer solid instruction on this head incidentally, where the sub- ject that is being treated may allow for such instruction. Also the subject matter of v. Ge 25:19-26 is not suitable for use in the pulpit for obvious reasons. If one needs would treat a subject like that of v. Ge 25:23 -- "the elder shall serve the younger" -- and the broad principle that is involved, it would be better to use Ro 9:12 or as much of the chapter in Romans as is deemed suitable. The last part of the chapter v. Ge 25:27-34 seems to us to come under a head such as Spiritual Aggressiveness, or even, The Right Goal but the Wrong Way. In any case, it should specially be borne in mind that the one censured by the text is Esau not Jacob.