Genesis 25 - Jacob and Esau
Table of Contents
Abraham and Keturah Gen 25:1-4
Now Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. 2 She bore to him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. 4 The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All of these were the sons of Keturah.
The sages note that the word for “wife,” (Heb. Isha) can simply mean “woman.”
Based on verse 6, we can infer that Ketura was more like a concubine, similar to (or perhaps even lower than) Hagar, as opposed to a full legal wife such as Sarah.
Ishmael receives a blessing while these sons do not.
Of these names, Midian is the most prominent nation, which bordered the Negev and Sinai regions to the south of Israel.
Midian will be a territory well-known to Moses.
His father-in-law Jethro is a priest of Midian, which mean Moses marries into the line of Keturah.
There is a linguistic connection between Medina in Saudi Arabia, the second holiest city in Islam, and ancient Midian. It’s the same territory. In Arabic, Yathrib (Jethro) is another name for Medina.
Midianites will pull Joseph out of the pit and sell him to Ishmaelites for 20 pieces of silver.
Sheba and Dedan are associated with the Arabian peninsula. Their inclusion is puzzling as they were previously listed in Genesis 10 as sons of Cush from Ham’s line, not in Abraham’s Sethite line.
In any case, despite modern tensions between Arabs and Jews, the Narrator is going out of His way to “establish links between Abraham and all of the peoples of Arabia,”1 though it is true that ultimately the Midianites will align with the Moabites and become enemies of the Israelites.
Abraham’s Death Gen 25:5-11
Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac; 6 but to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the east. 7 These are all the years of Abraham’s life that he lived, 175 years. 8 Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. 9 Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, 10 the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth; there Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. 11 It came about after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac lived by Beer-lahai-roi.
Isaac was the sole inheritor of Abraham’s estate.
The other sons of the lower-status wives were given gifts and both literally and symbolically sent away.
Paul will use this to make a point that not every son of Abraham is entitled to inherit. We’ll look at that in conjunction with Jacob and Easu a little later.
Satisfied with life.
What a great phrase!
Lancaster writes, “If a man wants to live a satisfied life, (like Abraham) he cannot look to the things of the material world for satisfaction. Abraham died satisfied because he had caught a glimpse of the World to Come and place all his hopes there.”2
In the immediate context, “gathered to his people” simply is an idiom for death.
God created us body and spirit.
After the Fall, both are separated from God.
After death, there is a separation of body and spirit
The spirit can be said to be gathered back to glory, while the body is, in Abraham’s case, gathered with Sarah and eventually his other relatives. In other words, many scholars see a hint of an afterlife here despite the prevailing view that the ancient Israelite religion did not include an afterlife.
Note while part of us lives on after the body dies, we are still in a deficit situation.
Body and Soul are meant to dwell together. This is why the resurrection is so powerful and necessary to restore us back to the way things were before the fall; the way God intended.
God blessed Isaac
Isaac and Ishmael set aside their differences to honor their father, just as Esau and Jacob eventually will when Isaac dies.
The next section reminds us that God did not forget his promise to bless Ishmael as well (Genesis 17:20).
Ishmael’s line Gen 25:12-18
Now these are the records of the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s slave woman, bore to Abraham; 13 and these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16 These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages, and by their camps; twelve princes according to their tribes. 17 These are the years of the life of Ishmael, 137 years; and he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people. 18 They settled from Havilah to Shur which is east of Egypt going toward Assyria; he settled in defiance of all his relatives.
Isaiah prophecies that the Arab peoples belonging to Kedar and Nebaioth (the first two of Ishmael’s sons) will believe in the Jewish God and bring flocks of sheep and rams to the Jewish Temple:
“All the flocks of Kedar will be gathered to you, The rams of Nebaioth will serve you; They will go up on My altar with acceptance, And I will glorify My glorious house” (Isaiah 60:7).
One of Paul’s subtle arguments against requiring Gentile believers in Messiah to convert to Judaism is that, if this were required, there would be no more believing Gentiles. If there were no believing Gentiles, prophecies like this from Isaiah could not be fulfilled.
If this is the same Havilah, it has the honor of being mentioned in the context of the Garden of Eden.
The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold (Genesis 2:11).
The 12 tribes of the Ishmaelites spread throughout the Middle East, but outside the land of Canaan.
The (post-Flood) location is often most associated with western Saudi Arabia, i.e. Midian/Medina, an area that does produce gold.
“Havilah to Shur” is possibly a caravan route. In later times this was a known spice trade route.
“Assyria” - Walton cautions that despite being the same Hebrew word, “Asshur”, does not represent the kingdom of Assyria in Mesopotamia but a region in northern Arabia.3
The last part of Genesis 25:18, recalls Genesis 16:12: “But he will be a wild donkey of a man; His hand will be against everyone, And everyone’s hand will be against him; And he will live in defiance of all his brothers.”
As with the sons of Noah in Genesis 10 and 11, the favored line, the line with the greater/greatest promise, appears last. Mankind, as distinct from all other acts of creation, in Genesis 2:7, Shem in Genesis 10:22 and 11:10, and Isaac in Genesis 25:19.
Rebekah’s Twin Pregnancy Gen 25:19-23
Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac; 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was unable to have children; and the LORD answered him, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why am I in this condition?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people will be stronger than the other; And the older will serve the younger.”
Another biblical macro theme of a barren woman appears with Rebekah, adding drama and tension to the promise to Abraham of chosen offspring as numerous as the sand.
Once again, God did not immediately answer Isaac’s plea.
In fact, Isaac waited 20 years for God to grant his prayer.
He was 40 when he married Rebekah and 60 when he became a father..
God intervenes with another supernatural opening of a closed womb.
Remember Mary’s womb was also closed then miraculously opened.
Even though we don’t generally think of her has barren, she still fits the typology of a biblical barren woman.
Alternatively, we could say that all of the biblical barren women in the Hebrew Bible are foreshadows of the mother of the Messiah.
The struggle within her.
In other words, from a practical standpoint, the pregnancy was complicated and difficult.
Rebekah asks about the “children” (obviously, she realized she was having multiples)
The LORD answered, saying, “it’s bigger than that.”
This oracle would not have indicated that the parents should treat the children any differently.4
Paul will reference verse 23 in his discussion about sovereign election:
And not only that, but there was also Rebekah, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” Just as it is written: “JACOB I HAVE LOVED, BUT ESAU I HAVE HATED.” What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? Far from it! For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOMEVER I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL SHOW COMPASSION TO WHOMEVER I SHOW COMPASSION.” So then, it does not depend on the person who wants it nor the one who runs, but on God who has mercy. (Romans 9:10-16)
“Hated” as an idiom means “loved less.” God in his sovereignty elected Jacob to continue the line.
One argument Paul is making is that just because one is descended from Abraham, that doesn’t automatically mean that person receives the promise.
This is a mirror.
Just because I label myself a Christian doesn’t mean I’m a disciple of Jesus and will receive the coveted “well done, good and faithful servant.”
The Births of Esav and Ya’akov Gen 25:24-28
When her days leading to the delivery were at an end, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 Now the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so he was named Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them. 27 When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a civilized man, living in tents. 28 Now Isaac loved Esau because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Ancient birth names typically expressed some esoteric or prophetic hope, aspiration, or destiny.
As a dual layer of meaning, sometimes names can be based on some unique characteristic of the birth, with the name having some connection to a prophetic destiny that would have been impossible to foresee at the time of the birth.
Ya’akov is related to the word for “heel” - because of Jacob’s later behavior, the word “heel grabber” takes on a negative connotation and comes to mean “supplanter.”
Esav means “rough” or “hairy.”
Indeed Jacob becomes somewhat of a trickster and deceiver and Esau becomes rough and disagreeable.
The text also notes that Esau is ruddy/reddish. There’s going to be a pun related to this in the birthright episode.
Based on the “dwell in tents,” comment, Jacob is sometimes portrayed as effeminate while Esau is a man’s man. This is reading modern values into the text and is not what the original text is implying.
Abraham dwelt in tents.
Walton suggests Jacob was a herder (livestock of some kind, not necessarily sheep), while Easu was a hunter of non-domesticated animals.
Regarding temperament, it seems fair to draw a connection with Cain and Abel.
Is it ever a good thing when parents play favorites (even when such favoritism might be well-earned by the children and entirely justified by the parents)?
Esau despises his birthright Gen 25:29-34
When Jacob had cooked a stew one day, Esau came in from the field and he was exhausted; 30 and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a mouthful of that red stuff there, for I am exhausted.” Therefore he was called Edom by name. 31 But Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “Look, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” 33 And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore an oath to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and got up and went on his way. So Esau despised his birthright.
A “macro theme” in the Bible is the firstborn son forfeiting his double portion.
The way it was supposed to work is the firstborn would get twice what everyone else did.
If a man had three sons, the firstborn would get ½, and the remaining sons would get ¼ each. If two sons, one would get ⅔ and the other ⅓.
The Hebrew Bible is clear that Ismael’s act of “mocking” in Genesis 21 resulted in his forfeiting his inheritance, which now fell to Isaac.
Here, instead of Isaac getting a double portion, he gets 100% of his father’s estate, thus reiterating the fact that he was Abraham’s “only” son, even though he had other male offspring.
The other sons get gifts, in other words, they are provided for.
By formally sending his other sons away, Abraham protects Isaac’s position as the only heir.
Of course, we’re going to see this play out in a big way with Jacob and Esau.
What is being negotiated here is that “extra” portion.
- Instead of Esau getting ⅔ and Jacob ⅓, it will be the other way around.
As opposed to taking place in their primary home where either parent could have mediated the situation, Walton suggests Esau was out hunting and stumbled upon Jacob’s flocks.5
- This explains why Jacob was able to dictate the terms; likely Jacob supervised other shepherds or fieldhands who were there to witness the agreement (although this is not stated directly).
In Hebrew this is literally “redish red” or “red stuff,” and he gets the name “Edom”.
Edom is related to Adam who was also red like clay (Flanagan connote red also)
His people will be known as the Edomites and will be enemies of the Israelites (Jacob will also take on the alternate name of Israel).
In Jesus’ day, Edomites were called Iduomeans.
King Herod was not Jewish but was an Iduomean.
“Edom” thus becomes a pseudonym of any enemy of the Jews, including and especially Rome.
Commentators are mixed on whether we should read this as shady and unethical extortion behavior by Jacob or a total lack of respect by Easu for God’s gift to him of being the firstborn.
I tend to see it as both.
Jacob was not modling God’s desire to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
At the same time, the Bible is very clear that “Esau despised his birthright,” so any sympathy for Esau needs to be tempered by that statement.
This seems to be another instance of taking matters into one’s own hands.
God already had a plan for Jacob to have the status of the firstborn.
Just like in Genesis 16, whenever we try to help speed up God’s plans, it tends not to work out so well.
The word for despised is translated as “utter contempt” in other places in the Hebrew Bible.
Here it may mean only that Esau had a cavalier attitude towards his birthright, which he will later regret in Genesis 27:38.
Walking In His Dust Precept
Talmidim pursue peace and righteousness.
Pursue peace with all people, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that there be no sexually immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. (Hebrews 12:14-16)
Jacob did not pursue peace with all people by capitalizing on his brother’s situation. He did not love his neighbor as himself.
At the same time Esau did not pursue holiness because he despised a precious gift from God. He did not love God with all his heart, soul and might.
The Hebrews verse presents us with a fascinating look into Jewish tradition.
The biblical text says only that Esau has a preference for Canaanite wives (Genesis 26:34-35) and later, He will mary into the line of Ishmael (Gen 28:8-9).
From this Jewish tradition builds the narrative that Esau was a fornicater, which the writer to Hebrews validates.
In any case, Esau was not a long-range thinker.
Despite being a short chapter there are a few key themes and lessons we can take away:
Families are complicated, but a spirit of humility and, where needed, reconciliation is a blessing.
Isaac and Ishmael came together to honor their father’s death.
Despite numerous sons of Abraham, Scripture does not record that anyone challenged Isaac’s status.
God works on His timing, not ours. Isaac had to wait 20 years to have a son, almost as long as Abraham waited. Yet, Isaac did not take matters into his own hand and try to speed God along.
Our choices have long-term consequences. Making a quick decision based on temporary circumstances can mean we forfeit a later blessing.
Despite being a shady character, God still chose to work through Jacob. Even when we mess up, God is not done with us.
We need to be like Abraham and make sure when we die, others will say of us, “he or she was satisfied with life.”
Lancaster, Daniel T. Depths of the Torah. Edited by Boaz D. Michael and Steven P. Lancaster. 2nd ed. Torah Club. Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2017.
Walton, John H., Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. (E-Sword). Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2000.
John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, (E-Sword) (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2000), loc. Gen 25:2. ↩︎
Daniel T. Lancaster, Depths of the Torah, ed. Boaz D. Michael and Steven P. Lancaster, 2nd ed., Torah Club (Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2017), 191. ↩︎
Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, loc. Gen 25:18. ↩︎
Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, loc. Gen 25:22-23. ↩︎
Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, loc. Gen 25:29-30. ↩︎