In The Beginning

Genesis Chapter Twenty Five

I

"Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. Jokshan was the father of Sheba and Dedan; the descendants of Dedan were the Asshurites, the Letushites and the Leummites. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Keturah" (Genesis 25:1-4).

After his remarriage, Abraham went on to have a number of children that are listed for us in the verses quoted above. While it may seem unnecessary to list the names of all these children, remember that God had promised Abraham that he would be, "…a father of many nations" in Genesis 17:4. So these verses tell us how God followed through on His promise to Abraham in establishing the people groups mentioned above. The most well known son born to Abraham and Keturah was named Midian and we'll see his descendants (known as the Midianites) a number of times later on in the Old Testament.

"Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. But 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" (Genesis 25:5-6).

We're told that Abraham decided to divide up his wealth among his sons, but there was one big condition: everyone had to leave the land that God had promised to give to Abraham and his son Isaac. So by sending his other sons away to live in the east, Abraham made sure that Isaac wouldn't have to put up with any future competition or rivalry from the rest of  his half-brothers. 

"Altogether, Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. Then 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. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah" (Genesis 25:7-10). 

So here we have the end of Abraham, one of the most important people in all the Scriptures. Abraham is mentioned at least seventy times in the New Testament and he is even identified as "the friend of God" in James 2:23. Abraham was "...an old man and full of years" at the time of his death and this phrase carries the idea of a long, satisfying, and fulfilling life. Abraham was someone who maintained a close relationship with God and that relationship provided him with a life that was long and rewarding.

II

"After Abraham's death, God blessed his son Isaac, who then lived near Beer Lahai Roi" (Genesis 25:11). 

You might remember that "Beer Lahai Roi" was the place where Hagar was stopped by the angel of the Lord as she ran away from Sarah in Genesis chapter sixteen. Hagar named this place Beer Lahai Roi which means, "the well of the Living One who sees me" in recognition of God's appearance to her there. Genesis 25:13-15 then goes on to provide us with a list of people who descended from Hagar and Abraham's son Ishmael. Verse sixteen wraps up that section by saying...

"These were the sons of Ishmael, and these are the names of the twelve tribal rulers according to their settlements and camps" (Genesis 25:16).

This is another good example of how God came through on His promises to Abraham. You see, God made a specific promise to Abraham back in Genesis 17:20 when He said this:  "…as for Ishmael,… I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation." So instead of simply being a long list of barely pronounceable names, Genesis 25:13-15 actually serves as a record that documents the fulfillment of this promise that God made to Abraham. 

Now the next few verses will introduce us to two people who will go on to become very important characters in the book of Genesis. But before we get to those introductions, Genesis 25:19-21 gives us some important background information first... 

"This is the account of Abraham's son Isaac. Abraham became the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant" (Genesis 25:19-21). 

So Rebekah had gone for twenty years without being able to have children. Remember that it was a tremendous social disgrace for a woman to go childless in that society, so this was something that made Rebekah an outsider in her own culture. But that was about to change because God answered Isaac's prayer and Rebekah became pregnant. So God gave Rebekah something that she really wanted and they all lived happily ever after, right? 

Well, not exactly. As we'll soon see, this will turn out to be a case where an old saying will definitely apply: Be careful what you ask for because you might get it! 

III

"The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, 'Why is this happening to me?' So she went to inquire of the Lord" (Genesis 25:22).

The word used for "jostled" in this verse carries the idea of intense activity or competition. In fact, one source says that the Hebrew word used here suggests a violent struggle that was out of the ordinary. (1)  This was obviously something more than just normal movement for an unborn baby, so Rebekah did a very smart thing: "...she went to ask the LORD for an answer" (GNB)

Here was God's response... 

"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'" (Genesis 25:23).

God told Rebekah that she was pregnant with twins and that each child would go on to establish separate people groups. One of these groups would eventually become stronger than the other and the older child would go on to serve the younger child. This was very different from what you would normally expect to see in that culture because the priority was always given to the first born son during that time. So Rebekah was told to expect something that was completely opposite from the normal arrangement for that society.

"When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 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. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them" (Genesis 25:24-26).

It was common for people to name their children after the circumstances of their birth during that time, and this occurred with both Esau and Jacob. The name "Esau" means "rough" or "hairy-feeling" (2) while "Jacob" means "heel-catcher" or "supplanter" (3) The idea behind Jacob's name refers to someone who takes the place of another, and we might use words like con-artist, cheater, or swindler to define the meaning of this name today. 

Esau will later be described in the New Testament as a godless, sexually immoral person (Hebrews 12:16) while Jacob will eventually go on to become a fast talking deceiver as his name implies. These unfortunate personality traits will go on to be revealed in each of their lives- and what happens next is a good example.

(1) NET Notes, The NET Bible« Copyrightę 2005 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Gen&chapter=25&verse=22

(2) "Esau" Fausset's Bible Dictionary

(3) "Ya`aqob"  New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary

IV

"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. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob" (Genesis 25:27-28).

So Esau grew up to be a great hunter and outdoorsman. This made him a favorite of his father Isaac who enjoyed eating the game that his son hunted. OTOH, Esau's brother Jacob was kind of a homebody who liked hanging around the house. He was the favorite of his mother Rebekah, who was more partial to him. This parental favoritism is going to cause some real problems for this family later on, but first, we're going to see an episode that clearly reveals the personalities of both Esau and Jacob...

"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!' (That is why he was also called Edom.) Jacob replied, 'First sell me your birthright.' 

'Look, I am about to die,' Esau said. 'What good is the birthright to me?' But Jacob said, 'Swear to me first.' So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright" (Genesis 25:29-34).

So Esau came in from chasing around whatever it was that they hunted in those days and he was really, really hungry. Jacob apparently was pretty handy in the kitchen and had already whipped up a meal that was just right for a starving hunter. Esau asked to have some of the stew that Jacob had been working on but instead of saying, "Sure, sit down and help yourself," Jacob instead took it as an opportunity to make try and negotiate a deal: "First sell me your birthright" (Genesis 25:31).  

Now before we go on, let's take a moment and think back to something that happened before Esau and Jacob were born. During the time that Rebekah was pregnant with Esau and Jacob, remember that God told her, "...the older (son Esau) will serve the younger (son Jacob)" (Genesis 25:23b). If Rebekah's partiality toward Jacob led her to tell him about what God said about him before he was born, Jacob may have looked at this situation as his chance to fulfill God's revelation on his own.

V

"Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, 'Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I'm famished!' ...Jacob replied, 'First sell me your birthright'" (Genesis 25:30-31).

So what was the big deal about this birthright? Well, the birthright was something that was traditionally given to the first born son in that culture. The son who received the birthright also received a double portion of the family inheritance and leadership responsibility for the family when his father passed away. In Isaac and Rebekah's family, this birthright also represented the opportunity to carry on the spiritual blessings and promises that God had established earlier with Esau and Jacob's grandfather Abraham. 

Jacob obviously recognized the importance of this birthright and used the opportunity of Esau's hunger to propose a deal with his older brother: "I'll give you a bowl of this stew in exchange for your rights as the first-born son." So what was Esau's response to that proposal? Well, Genesis 25:32 tells us that Esau replied by saying, “Look, I’m dying of starvation!” said Esau. “What good is my birthright to me now?” (NLT).

Now before continue, there are some important things to keep in mind about this whole scene. First, remember that Esau and Jacob were a part of a very wealthy family and it's likely that Isaac and Rebekah had many servants working for them. All Esau had to do was call one of these servants and say, "Hey, I'm hungry- go and make me something to eat right away." But Esau chose not to do that. You see, Esau was thinking about whatever would satisfy him the most at that very moment and not thinking about how that choice might affect him in the future. Esau was the kind of person who only lived for the "here and now" and didn't take the cost of his decisions into account. Esau was hungry and what he wanted most at that moment was some of what his brother was cooking- nothing else really mattered.

This incident also gives us a little insight into Esau's spiritual life as well. For Esau to sell a valuable possession like his birthright so cheaply (for a bowl of stew!) shows us how he really felt about the promises that God had given to his family. Esau apparently thought, "I'm going to die anyway and I'm never going to live to see all these promises that God supposedly gave to my grandfather Abraham, so why not sell my birthright? What good will it do me when I'm dead and gone? I'm hungry now!"

VI

So it's clear that Esau made a very poor decision in selling his birthright for a bowl of Jacob's homemade stew, but Jacob certainly didn't do anything praiseworthy either. Remember that God had already promised to give Jacob the family birthright before he was even born. Because of this, there was no reason for Jacob to try and manipulate his brother into giving him this birthright. For whatever reason, Jacob felt that he needed to secure this inheritance on his own instead of trusting God to deliver on what He had already promised. In fact, Jacob even went so far as to ask his brother to take an oath...

"But Jacob said, 'Swear to me first.' So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob" (Genesis 25:33). 

So Jacob clearly took advantage of his brother when he was hungry and maneuvered Esau into giving him something that God already said that he could have. But Esau foolishly traded his future for something that looked good at the moment. Later on, we'll see how Esau will try to reclaim this birthright only to find that Jacob had already tricked his father out of the inheritance that ordinarily should have gone to him. 

"Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright" (Genesis 25:34).

It seems that Esau simply finished his meal and then left as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. This tells us just how little Esau thought of his privilege as the first-born son. Unfortunately, Esau will definitely come to regret this choice later on.

So what's the lesson that we can learn from this episode? Well, Esau was someone who made choices based on what looked or felt good at the moment, and he provides us with a good example of what can happen when someone lets "what feels good" dictate his or her actions. Esau's example tells us about what can happen when we let our physical desires get in the driver's seat of our lives and take us where they want to go. This is also why the New Testament book of Hebrews says that Esau's life serves as an important warning to others...

"Watch out that no one becomes involved in sexual sin or becomes careless about God as Esau did: he traded his rights as the oldest son for a single meal. And afterwards, when he wanted those rights back again, it was too late, even though he wept bitter tears of repentance. So remember, and be careful" (Hebrews 12:16-17 TLB).

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