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Deeper Commentary

25:1 Abraham took another wife, and her name was Keturah-  It would seem that at the time of the promises, Abraham had other children by Keturah, another "concubine", as she is described in 1 Chron. 1:32. Indeed :6 speaks of his "concubines" plural. It seems we are intentionally left to reflect whether in fact Abraham had this concubine, and probably others, at the same time as Sarah; or whether he married her after Sarah's death. But this term "concubine" is only really applicable to other women taken during the lifetime of the wife or wives. The word is repeatedly used in this sense throughout the Bible. Although the children of Keturah and Abraham are only recorded in Gen. 25:1-4, it seems to me that this isn't chronological; this a notice inserted at this point as a genealogical note, rather than implying that Abraham only took Keturah after the marriage of Isaac in Gen. 24. It can also be that now at the end of Abraham's life, the point is being made that Abraham was not at all a perfect man; righteousness was imputed to him, and he is presented as having had only one wife and only two children. But this is as it were a 'PS' to remind us he had had plenty of other children by at least one concubine- and none of them turned out very well in spiritual terms. "Keturah" means 'perfumed' and it never says much for a woman in the Bible when she is named after her cosmetics. In fact, apart from Isaac, who comes over as very passive most of the time and drunkenly blessing his sons at the end of his days, the rest of Abraham's children were no less than a disgrace to him. He was surely not correct to throw them all out of the inheritance and buy them off with gifts, so that he could give everything to his one favourite son. But God recognized his feelings in repeatedly reminding him that he saw Isaac as his only and beloved son, the only one of his sons he loved, as it could be translated. And God ran with that, and asked him to all the same be willing to sacrifice him. We recall how Rom. 4 says that Abraham is the parade example of how God justifies the unGodly. Remember that at the time of the promise in Gen. 15, Abraham was impotent- hence his bitterness at not having any child, and Rom. 4:19 describes his having faith that he would overcome this problem. Having recovered his virility, it could be that he eagerly had children by Keturah to as it were prove himself. Yet one wonders therefore how long he maintained the intensity of his faith that specifically by Sarah he would have a child. Yet that faith of Abraham at the time of the promise in Gen. 15 was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness, is held up as our example and glorified throughout the New Testament- when it would seem that in fact Abraham didn't always maintain the intensity of the faith he had at that time. And God Himself had to reassure him: "Know of a surety" (Gen. 15:13), as if God recognized the element of doubt within the faith of Abraham- although God elsewhere holds up that faith to us as such a wonderful example.

Circumcision was a sign of the covenant through Isaac, hence the resentment and bitterness of Zipporah over the circumcision issue; and it seems Moses capitulated to her on this. Their marriage is sure proof that fundamental spiritual differences at the start can only lead to anger and break up later on.

25:2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah- Zipporah was a Midianite, a descendant of Abraham through Keturah; and yet she didn't practice circumcision. Ishmael had been circumcised as a sign that if he wished, he could "live before" God, in covenant relationship. We wonder if the same possibility was open to all Abraham's children or seed, but they declined. 

Job's friend Bildad was a descendant of Shuah (Job 2:11).

The names of Abraham's children are not very spiritual, and their descendants are often noted for bad behaviour. The Midianites are presented as sinners, Sheba and Dedan are against Israel in Ez. 38, Asshur or Assyria was their evil enemy. We could argue that Abraham was a failed father. He was not a good parent to his many sons- he used his wealth to send them far away and buy himself out of responsibility to his children. And focused in an obsessive way upon Isaac. And yet through this weakness, he still shows faith and devotion to God by being willing to sacrifice even Isaac to God.

 25:3 Jokshan became the father of Sheba, and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim- Sheba and Dedan are mentioned in Ez. 38 as amongst those who in the last days turn against the children of Jacob, members of the group of ten neighbours who invade the land under the leadership of Gog. The old jealousy which began here over the apparent favouritism afforded Isaac... will then play itself out in its final climax. Sheba and Dedan were also sons of Cush (Gen. 10:7), and one theme of the genealogies of Abraham's other sons is that they all intermarried with surrounding nations and lost any sense of ethnic purity; see on :14. The theme of needing to marry within the family of God is strongly developed in Genesis, beginning with the sons of God marrying the daughters of men and losing the faith in Gen. 6, and being stressed in Gen. 24 with the search for a suitable wife for Isaac. Abraham's other children all merged into their surrounding worlds. However, "Sheba" here may refer to the Sabeans, who stole Job's herds (Job 2:11).

"Leummim" may simply mean "other nations". It cannot be identified with any location or nation. The idea is that the promise that Abraham would be a father of many nations had its primary fulfilment through the children he had by his concubines. Although they chose not have a part in God's salvation purpose at the time, they could have had; just as Ishmael could have continued in the covenant.

25:4 The sons of Midian: Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah- Is. 60:6 and Ps. 72:10 envisage Ephah and other children of Keturah as ultimately saved along with Israel in the Kingdom age. The blessing upon Abraham will ultimately come true upon all his seed, by grace alone.

25:5 Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac- He did this even before he died (Gen. 24:36). It was usual for a father to divide the inheritance amongst all the children, with the firstborn getting a double portion- and for this to happen on his death, not during his lifetime. But whilst Abraham did provide for his children by Keturah (:6), he gave all he had as inheritance to Isaac. This reflects how Abraham considered Isaac as his one and only legitimate son. The others were by concubines (Hagar and Keturah). And we can better perceive the magnitude of the sacrifice which Abraham had been asked to make, in sacrificing this son. The language is very much that of the father in the parable of the prodigal son- all that he had was the elder son's. But that son went out into the night in bitterness and left the family.

25:6 But to the sons of Abraham’s concubines, Abraham gave gifts. He sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, to the east country- The plural "concubines" suggests he may have had more than Keturah; it's just that her children were relevant to the Israelites in the wilderness, for whom Moses initially wrote. Abraham had been insistent that Isaac not go to live with any new wife in the east, by which Abraham surely means Mesopotamia, the land he had been asked to leave. By sending his other children back there, he is really saying that he didn't want them in covenant relationship or having a share in the promises to inherit the eretz. He has the spirit of Sarah, who didn't want Ishmael to inherit along with Isaac (Gen. 21:10). But as explained there, God gave Ishmael the chance of covenant relationship, including circumcision. The fact Abraham didn't send Ishmael back into the east perhaps reflects his acceptance of the fact that Ishmael could have had covenant relationship and a share in the promises; although he apparently chose not to. Heading east is the direction of the rejected Adam, Cain and the Babel builders.

25:7 These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived: one hundred and seventy-five years- Abraham entered the promised land at 75 (Gen. 12:7), so he lived in it 100 years, the majority of his life. But despite that, he always is at pains to stress that he lived amongst the local inhabitants, as a stranger. No matter how stable and sedentary our lives may be, living in the same house for most of our years, we too are to be but passers through this world in our attitude towards it. "Days of the years" could mean that every day matters in life.

25:8 Abraham gave up the spirit, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years, and was gathered to his people- "Full of days" (Heb.) is differentiated from being "aged" in Jer. 6:11. The idea is that he didn't live the same kind of day over and over thousands of times; his life was rich with experience, each day was significant, as it should be for us if we are led of the Spirit.

"His people" were idolaters (Josh. 24:2), demonstrating that the separation between faithful and unfaithful is not at the point of death (Ecc. 3:19,20), but at the final judgment.

25:9 Isaac and Ishmael, his sons, buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron, the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre- We note the absence of the sons by Keturah, who had been sent away to the east; and the implication that Ishmael was still living in the eretz of promise; see on :6.

25:10 The field which Abraham purchased of the children of Heth. Abraham was buried there with Sarah, his wife- See on Gen. 23:16. It is continually emphasized that Abraham purchased land in the very eretz which had been promised him as an eternal inheritance. This is the intended paradox of our lives- that we live in this world as strangers and passers through, but the earth is eternally ours.

25:11 It happened after the death of Abraham that God blessed Isaac, his son- This blessing is surely the blessing of Abraham; although it could mean that his flocks were miraculously increased as a sign that the greater blessing had indeed passed on to him.

Isaac lived by Beer Lahai Roi- This was the well where God had saved Hagar and Ishmael, assuring Ishmael that he could still be part of the covenant family and promises. Isaac living there would have continually reminded him that his own standing with God was by grace, and that Ishmael his half brother was also potentially a part of God's purpose. There is reason to think that Abraham was humble enough to learn from Hagar's observation, that God had seen her and she had seen Him. For at the pinnacle of his faith when he offered Isaac, he in turn names the place 'Yahweh Yireh', Yahweh has seen / will see, and will provide. The idea is identical to that spoken by Hagar, that God had seen / provided for her, and she had seen God. And we note that Isaac himself chose to settle at Hagar's well, 'the well of the living one who sees me' (Gen. 24:62 "the well Lahairoi"; Gen. 25:11). In all this we see a tacit recognition that they had learnt something from Hagar, the slavegirl whom the family had used and abused.

25:12 Now this is the history of the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s handmaid, bore to Abraham- "Abraham's son" serves to emphasize that he was in some sense the seed, and could have been part of the Divine purpose if he wished; he was circumcised into the covenant, and is clearly treated separately from Abraham's sons by Keturah, who were sent to the east, back to where Abraham had come from, to as it were keep them out of the covenant.

25:13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to the order of their birth: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebaioth, then Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam- These 12 tribes make them a pseudo Israel, and yet also, as Paul develops in Gal. 4, representatives of unbelieving Israel after the flesh.

25:14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa- Dumah intermarried with the Edomites (Is. 21:11,12); see on :3.

25:15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah- Teman was an area through which the Israelites passed (Hab. 3:3), and they were the primary audience for whom Moses was recording Genesis. None of the names of Ishmael's sons appear to be very spiritual or God centred. 

25:16 These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their villages, and by their encampments: twelve princes, according to their nations- The names of Ishmael's sons make a statement about their final acceptance in God's Kingdom, in language which is picked up in the later prophecies about them in Is. 60:6,7; 43:19,20: "In the high places a powerful people will experience a miracle of God. For they shall cause sweet odours to ascend, calling His fame to remembrance. Their burden will be lifted, they will become mighty in power, conquerors of the desert, strong in defence, numerous in population, at the forefront of the nations".

Abraham's prayer that Ishmael might be accepted into the covenant was heard [his name means 'God has heard']. The same promises were made to him as to Isaac; his 12 tribes (Gen. 17:20) could also have become some kind of people of God. But in this world, they chose not to; although for Abraham's sake, their latter day representatives will finally be saved.

25:17 These are the years of the life of Ishmael: one hundred and thirty-seven years. He gave up the spirit and died, and was gathered to his people- We note the subtle difference with how Ishmael lived "years", but Abraham lived "days"; see on :8. As noted on Gen. 27:1, Isaac was 137 when he was struck by a premonition of death. This has the ring of psychological credibility; for he would've subconsciously been aware that Ishmael his brother had died at that age. This is another one of many internal evidences that the Biblical record is credible and dovetails within itself so perfectly that only a Divine hand could have brought it about.

25:18 They lived from Havilah to Shur that is before Egypt, as you go toward Assyria- Havilah is on the Euphrates and Shur is on the Egyptian border. These were both boundaries of the land promised to Abraham. It could be argued that in this sense, his seed posessed the land. But I would rather see here a lamentation that the intended seed ["In Isaac shall your seed be called"] did not in fact inherit the area intended for them. And so the fulfilment of the promise was recalculated and reinterpreted to mean that the seed is now all in Christ, and the "land" promised will finally be the whole earth.


He lived opposite all his relatives- Or,  to the east of his relatives, referring to the encampment of Isaac. He followed the general trend of moving East, as did Cain and the Babel builders, returning to Mesopotamia, rather than living in the land of promise, unlike Jacob and Joseph, who wanted their very bones to be buried in the land of their hopes. He returned to Egypt where his mother Hagar was from, choosing to live just outside the promised land.

This area was relevant to the Israelites as they passed through it on their wilderness journeys. Again we see that the initial relevance of the account was for that generation.

 25:19 This is the history of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Abraham became the father of Isaac- The way Biblical history is written contrasts strongly with the way secular history is written, focusing as it does on mega movements of peoples, international events etc. Biblical history- and the records of Israel's early history are classic examples- is articulated in the last analysis through the story of individuals. The account of Isaac's family is prefaced by the note: "These are the generations of Isaac" (Gen. 25:19 AV). We expect a genealogical list- but instead we get the accounts of human lives. That history was the 'generation' of Isaac. In this we see a reflection of how God views history- the growth, actions, thoughts, struggles, spirituality and passing of persons. The value placed by God upon individuals is seen by the way in which He inspired Biblical history to be written. Humanly written history tends to focus upon megatrends, the glories and successes of a nation as a nation. God's history focuses upon people. And the Bible is hardly a history of glorious successes- it's a record of one human failure after another, endless rounds of attempt and failure, a historical path that leads God from one disappointment to another with us. Human history records human failure only as it were as a foil, a context, to the successes of the heroes. God's heroes are the lowly, the poor of this world rich in faith like Hannah and Mary, and the megatrends of society's history are passed by. But this is how much He values people on an individual level.

25:20 Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Paddan Aram, the sister of Laban the Syrian, to be his wife- Isaac really is an example of waiting for the right woman to marry and refusing to marry anyone who doesn't tick all the right boxes on the spiritual front. It is twice emphasized here that Rebekah was a "Syrian". Jacob is likewise described as a "Syrian" (Dt. 26:5). Aram ["Syria", s.w.] was Rebekah's cousin (Gen. 22:21-23); he appears to have been a dominant force and source of identity in the wider family. The later attacks upon Israel by the Arameans were therefore part of the huge family feud which has always gone on amongst the descendants of Abraham. From these considerations it appears quite inappropriate to argue that Jewish people are ethnically pure and separate from the Arabs; their beginnings and early history were absolutely intertwined with each other. Identity as "Israel" was and is a matter of personal spiritual choice and culture, not ethnicity. The arguments of the Judaizers in the first century depended heavily upon definitions of "Israel" in ethnic terms, but they are null and void according to Biblical history.

25:21 Isaac entreated Yahweh for his wife, because she was barren. Yahweh was entreated by him, and Rebekah his wife conceived- When Eliezer first met Rebekah by the well, she must have appeared the ideal candidate through whom Isaac could raise a Godly seed. She was attractive, hard working, healthy, spiritually aware- and from within the wider Abraham family. And she was willing to sacrifice all she had known for the sake of emigrating to Canaan and bearing the seed. But she was barren for 20 years. Those who seem to have ideal qualifications are often not used for the job, until they are humbled and made to realize that all is of grace and not of human strength and ability. And Isaac and Rebekah's desire to bear the Abrahamic seed would have been honed by 20 years of prayer. The delay was surely to increase the intensity of that desire. We don't read that Isaac took any concubines in that period, and given the [poor?] example of his father Abraham in this, that surely is commendable. Unlike his father, he didn't seek to force the fulfilment of the promises in his own ways and on his own terms.

25:22 The children struggled together within her- "Struggle" is Heb. to bruise or crush, suggesting the struggle between the two seeds of Gen. 3:15; and Gal. 4 and then Gal. 5:17 confirms that they represent the struggle between flesh and spirit. Paul may have alluded to the situation in his description of flesh and spirit in conflict within his own body (Rom. 7:23).

She said, If it be so, why do I live?- This may be pre-natal depression and nothing more. But it could also reflect her belief that she was the bearer of the promised seed; and so she wondered why there were twins within her, already in conflict with each other. The truth is that the seed of Abraham is only developed as such through struggle with the flesh. The seed of the spirit must "separate" from the fleshly seed (:23).

She went to inquire of Yahweh- The judgment will be the time when God 'requires' of us our behaviour. And yet the Hebrew word is used about our enquiring / searching to God in prayer now (Gen. 25:22; Ex. 18:15; Dt. 4:29; 12:5; 1 Kings 22:5), as well as His 'requiring' / searching of us at the last day (Dt. 18:19; 23:21; Josh. 22:23; 1 Sam. 20:16; 2 Chron. 24:22; Ez. 3:20; 33:6,8). There is a mutuality between a man and his God.

25:23 Yahweh said to her, Two nations are in your womb. Two peoples will be separated from your body- The desire of Esau's descendants to “cut them off from being a nation” in Psalm 83 runs counter to God’s clear statement here: “Two nations are in your womb. Two peoples…”. Note that they were not to be of a different ethnicity, as both Jews and Arabs often claim [for they were from the same parents], but different types of people. The "separation" spoke of the separation of flesh from spirit through struggle; see on :22. The elder serving the younger is not necessarily determinative, i.e. forcing the babies into certain paths. It also has the element of prediction; this was how it was going to work out because that was how the two people were going to be.

The one people will be stronger than the other people- Who was the stronger? Hosea 12 suggests it was ultimately Jacob, who by his strength had power with God. And yet Esau was likely physically stronger; and there is the paradox of how God works with men.

The elder will serve the younger- God had promised Rebekah that the elder (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob); and yet her concern to trick her husband into blessing Jacob rather than Esau was studied rejection of that promise. And Jacob followed her in her faithlessness- in this area. He perceived the promises of God through her eyes, rather than his own. Just as many relatives of believers do today. Likewise Isaac saw the promises as "mercy and truth" (Gen. 24:27); and so did Jacob (Gen. 32:10). The blessings of Gen. 27 never came true in this life; for Esau never served Jacob, nor did Jacob serve Esau. It could be argued that they will come true in the Kingdom; or that "Jacob" is to be understood as the church and "Esau" represents the flesh. But another possibility is that here again we have a potential scenario. This could have happened; but Jacob failed to live up to it and experience it. He made decisions which precluded these things coming true for him, and it could be argued that in Gen. 32,33 he resigned the blessings of the firstborn. And God accepted that; see on :31.

25:24 When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb- The "behold" could suggest she didn't fully believe the Lord's answer of :23, that she had twins. Perhaps she understood those words in some other way than meaning that she would have twins. She was all psyched up to bear a seed for Abraham and Isaac, and the idea of having twins who would fight each other was outside of her imagination.

25:25 The first came out red all over, like a hairy garment. They named him Esau- "Red" connects with the redness of the earth which we encounter in early Genesis; "Edom", who is Esau, is another form of "Adam". He was of the earth, and a representative of the flesh (see on :21). The fact the twins emerged with Jacob holding Esau's heel means they were born in the same sack, rather than, as some twins, in separate sacks. In the case of twins which develop in the same sack, one usually gets more oxygen than the other, and emerges red faced in comparison to the pale and aenemic twin. And this is clearly the case here. The subsequent development of such twins matches exactly what we read here about Esau and Jacob. The record has the ring of truth to it. And this gives more force to the argument that there was predestination at work here; Esau was going to have the temperament which he had, and Jacob the one he had. And Esau's temperament was going to veer towards the thinking of the flesh rather than the Spirit. We are unwise to dwell too much on why some do not believe; rather are we to perceive that our own faith is a gift from God, a grace we must respond further to and are culpable for if we refuse to. Romans 9 is clear, that in one sense things were set up from their birth. And yet Hebrews presents Esau as an example not to be followed, for he represents those who shall be condemned at the last day. It is true that he was born with a strong proclivity to the wrong behaviour he later displayed; just as was Jacob. But the point is that how we are born, with our unique set of weaknesses and temptations, is not deterministic in moral terms. We are not victims of the way we were born, nor of our nature nor nurture. We can rise above them, and are held to ultimate account if we do not.

25:26 After that, his brother came out, and his hand had hold on Esau’s heel. He was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them- This meant that Rebekah was barren for 20 years. "Jacob" literally means 'heel catcher' or 'supplanter'. From the womb his character was set, it appears. Romans 9 presents them as the parade example of calling and predestination. And indeed they are. But Paul introduces that topic directly in the context of exemplifying grace, and that salvation is not of works or human strength. The fact there is an element of predestination is proof enough that our faith and salvation are not purely of ourselves. Jacob always wanted to be the firstborn, and the way as an infant he tried to catch Esau's heel to prevent it becomes programmatic for how he was.

25:27 The boys grew. Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field- He followed the characteristics of Nimrod (Gen. 10:9).

Jacob was a perfect man, living in tents- By grace, righteousness has to be imputed to us. The spiritual blindnesses and deficiencies of our brethren can be so agonizing to behold; and yet we too have ours, as Jacob had his, and the fact we have them does not mean that we (or they, or Jacob) will not be saved in the end. Jacob didn't quite make it to the spiritually perfect / mature status with which he is credited right here at the beginning. Job is an identical case; he is labelled "perfect" at the beginning, but at the end of his spiritual growth, he didn't quite get to perfection.  The weakness of Jacob meant likewise. Thus the record is written in such a way as to make Jacob out to be the righteous one; he is described as "perfect" at a time when he had not even accepted Yahweh as his God. Thus what he eventually was is said of him at the beginning, but with no hint that this is the case; the impression is given that he was always "perfect" from the start. Jacob is here described as living in tents with his righteous father and grandfather; whereas there is ample evidence that he was quite used to the tough outdoor life, and was an accomplished shepherd. Heb. 11:9 implies that he had faith in the promises and was indeed an heir of them at this time; even though he did not see them as personally applying to him then (Gen. 28:20), and was more involved in idolatry than he should have been.

Jacob was 77 when he fled from Esau. As far as we know, he had lived all that time "dwelling in tents"; and Heb. 11:9 adds the information that at this time, faithful Abraham lived together with Isaac and Jacob in the same tents. Jacob's living in tents is understood as an act of faith; choosing the temporal life rather than the permanent one. Jacob grew up with Abraham and Isaac. He would have known the promises backwards. He lived, as far as we know, a single life, staying at home with his mother, who evidently doted on him, openly preferring him to Esau. Yet at this time, Jacob did not accept the Abrahamic promises as really relevant to him, nor did he worship Yahweh as his God (Gen. 28:20). Familiarity bred contempt: "Thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; thou hast been weary of me, O Israel... thy first father (i.e. natural Jacob" hath sinned" (in this way) (Is. 43:22,27 AV).

25:28 Now Isaac loved Esau, because he ate his venison. Rebekah loved Jacob- The Abraham family were characterized by division, partly due to over favoritism by the leaders. The divided nature of the new Israel is a sad reflection of it. Isaac is not portrayed as particularly stellar in his faith, "just" holding on to the faith of his father Abraham. His attractions were to the things of the flesh; he liked Esau because he brought tasty meat for him to eat. The prophetic word about the sons appears to have been ignored by Isaac.

"By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come" (Heb. 11:20). Yet the record of this in Gen. 25 doesn't paint Isaac in a very positive light. The AVmg. seems to bring out Isaac's superficiality: "Isaac loved Esau, because venison was in his mouth". This seems to connect with the way Esau threw away his birthright for the sake of food in his mouth. Esau was evidently of the flesh, whilst Jacob had at least some potential spirituality. Yet Isaac preferred Esau. He chose to live in Gerar (Gen. 26:6), right on the border of Egypt- as close as he could get to the world, without crossing the line. And he thought nothing of denying his marriage to Rebekah, just to save his own skin (Gen. 26:7). So it seems Isaac had some marriage problems; the record speaks of "Esau his son" and "Jacob (Rebekah's) son" (Gen. 27:5,6). The way Jacob gave Isaac wine "and he drank" just before giving the blessings is another hint at some unspirituality (Gen. 27:25). Isaac seems not to have accepted the Divine prophecy concerning his sons: "the elder shall serve the younger" (Gen. 25:23), seeing that it was his intention to give Esau the blessings of the firstborn, and thinking that he was speaking to Esau, he gave him the blessing of his younger brothers (i.e. Jacob) serving him (Gen. 27:29 cp. 15). And yet, and this is the point, Isaac's blessing of the two boys is described as an act of faith; even though it was only one of his passing moments of faith and was done with an element of disbelief in God's word of prophecy concerning the elder serving the younger, and perhaps under the influence of alcohol. Yet according to Heb. 11:20, this blessing was done with faith; at that very point in time, Isaac had faith. So God's piercing eye saw through the haze of alcohol, through Isaac's liking for the good life, through Isaac's unspiritual liking for Esau, through his marriage problem, through his lack of faith that the elder must serve the younger, and discerned that there was some faith in that man Isaac; and then holds this up as a stimulant for our faith, centuries later! Not only should we be exhorted to see the good side in our present brethren; but we can take comfort that this God is our God.

God's words "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated [loved less]" are understandable once we see them as alluding to this statement- that Isaac loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. God is saying that He had Rebekah's perspective; and Isaac is thereby presented as totally out of step with God's position. In fact, apart from being willing to be offered as a young man, Isaac persistently comes over as spiritually weak and every recorded incident of his life is negative. And yet he is presented as a founding father of the faithful, and the Lord speaks of him as certainly being in the Kingdom.

25:29 Jacob boiled stew. Esau came in from the field, and he was famished- The stew was of lentils (:34), not meat. Again the Lord's parable of the prodigal appears to allude here in a strange way; for there, the older brother also 'comes in from the field' and effectively despises his own birthright by refusing to accept his younger brother's repentance (Lk. 15:25). In this case, Jacob is set up as the prodigal, wasting his inheritance amongst the unbelievers, and finally returning home- to be welcomed rather than rejected by his elder brother. The Lord's parable clearly eyes Esau as the elder brother, but his acceptance of Jacob at the end is seen by the Lord as commendable.

To sit in the tents and boil stew was classical female work. Jacob is portrayed as a mummy's boy; and yet it would seem that Rebekah had more faith than Isaac, and perhaps this was passed on to Jacob.

25:30 Esau said to Jacob, Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am famished. Therefore his name was called Edom- "Feed me" is a Hebrew term usually used for animals feeding; and Esau displays his animal instincts, wanting the immediate with no further thought for the implications, dominated by the need of the moment, seizing the present pleasure, avoiding the present pain. This is the characteristic of all the rejected; for he is presented in Hebrews as representative of all who shall fail of God's grace at the last day. It says little for Isaac that Esau was his favourite son. Indeed there is little positive to be said for Isaac apart from his basic faith, and his willingness to go along with Abraham's intention to sacrifice him. Although even that could be understood as passive going along with his father's demand, and sons agreeing to be sacrificed to the gods was not at all unheard of in those days. The fact Isaac preferred Esau, but God chose the crafty Jacob, is indeed as Paul interprets it in Romans 9- the election of grace. And we likewise must see the grace of predestination and calling as the parade example of God's grace to us; we were not called because we were better than others, or had some potential which others don't have. We were called by grace alone, and that is the only answer to the question 'Why me?'. Perhaps "Edom", "red", became his nickname from then onwards, and it stuck. For "Esau is Edom" (Gen. 36:1,8). The Hebrew is literally something like "that Red, that Red there!”. Esau is presented as utterly sensual, going after the desire of his eyes. He could have been playing on words, to the effect "Feed with that Red, me the Red one". He was thus personally associated with his belly, his appetite, his food. He didn't even call the lentils by their name; just 'that red stuff'. He is presented as primitively just seeking to fulfil the lust of the eyes and flesh, with no attempt at delayed gratification. The redness of his flesh would've worn off over time; he was known as 'reddy' or 'the red one' because of this incident with the red stew, not his skin colour.

Jacob's basic dishonesty is seen by the way in which Esau begged Jacob for "the red", which he maybe thought was a kind of blood soup [a strange thing for Yahweh's people to be eating at the time!]- and yet Jacob actually only gave him a dish of lentils. This would explain why Esau later claimed he had been twice deceived by Jacob (Gen. 27:36). The mere sale of the birthright was hardly deception; but if the bitterness of it all was that even in that hard bargain, Jacob didn't really give Esau the food he craved... then we can understand Esau feeling Jacob had twice deceived him.

 25:31 Jacob said, First, sell me your birthright- Jacob’s perception of the promises as only for his personal, physical benefit was clearly evidenced in the way in which he was so bent on obtaining the birthright from Esau. This was no sign of spirituality, but rather of his obsession with material acquisition. We can be sure he arranged to be boiling that broth just at the right moment. It was hardly an off-the-cuff decision to ask Esau for the birthright. He not only disbelieved the promise that the elder would serve the younger, but he misunderstood it, thinking that God's promises were dependent upon human works and wit to be fulfilled. He spoke of how he would bring upon himself the blessing God had promised him (Gen. 27:12). Later, he reveals the same attitude when he describes his children as the fulfillment of the promises of present fruitfulness (Gen. 32:10), but also the children he had obtained by his own service (Gen. 30:26); he thought that his own effort and labour had fulfilled God's promises. He reasoned that Laban had been rebuked by God because God had seen how hard he had worked (Gen. 31:42). He explicitly says that if God further increases his flocks, it would be a sign that he was righteous (Gen. 30:33). Like Job, he had to learn that God's blessings are not primarily physical, and that we do not receive them in proportion to our present righteousness. And yet during this learning process, God patiently went along with him to some extent.

Perhaps psychologically, Jacob was driven to do what he did by his father's preference for Esau over himself. It was his way of striking back; and that act of selfishness was however used by God to fulfil His purpose of the elder serving the younger. But he failed to perceive that the promises were essentially of spiritual things, and the blessing of the firstborn was not the same as the Abrahamic promise. He effectively hands back the birthright to Esau after the night of wrestling, when he says "Take [away] my blessing..." because he had experienced God's grace. The blessing of the firstborn involved the other brothers bowing down to the firstborn (Gen. 27:29), so Jacob's protracted and emphasized bowing to Esau (Gen. 33:3,6,7) was likewise a way of resigning from the birthright which he had been born trying to grab hold of, and the desire for which had obviously filled his mind. We too are led to resign all our material, secular aspirations and dreams for the sake of God's grace. And in Jacob's case, he was born with the desire for the firstborn status, with his little hand desperately trying to grab his brother's heel to stop his brother being the firstborn. But encounter with God's grace [as happened to Jacob in Gen. 32] is enough to reorient a man away from even his natural, born-with passions and obsessions towards [in this case] materialism and jealousy. In Jacob's case his very name, 'heel catcher', reflected this obsession which was so strong it had become his self-definition; until he encountered God's grace. The blessing of the firstborn as given by Isaac involved the firstborn being "Lord" over his brothers; but Jacob repeatedly calls Esau his "Lord" in Gen. 32,33. Jacob's gifts to his brothers are described with a standard Hebrew word for "gift" [minha]; but in Gen. 33:11 Jacob then starts to consciously refer to them as berakah, the word for "blessing". And he urges Esau to take [s.w. 'take away'] his "blessing". I discussed on Gen. 25:23 how the blessing of the firstborn never came true- perhaps because Jacob's resignation of the firstborn blessings in Gen. 32,33 was accepted by God.

There are no examples of birthrights being sold or bartered over. Jacob was simply revealing a lot about himself- how by all means he sought to get the birthright. The Lord's teaching may well negatively allude to Jacob at this point- "If [even] your enemy hunger, feed him".

25:32 Esau said, Behold, I am about to die. What good is the birthright to me?- Esau's attitude is alluded to by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:32 as being typical of the mentality of those who have no faith in the resurrection which the promises to Abraham implied: "Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die". "I am about to die" are almost the words found on the lips of his father Isaac (Gen. 27:2). This is what happens within families- sons repeat the words and attitudes of their fathers. We have here yet another ring of truth to the record; that these are the actual words spoken by these men, millennia ago.

25:33 Jacob said, Swear to me first. He swore to him. He sold his birthright to Jacob- Esau's behaviour is seen as the essence of all who shall be finally rejected (Heb. 12:16); they want the immediate rather than the things of eternal consequence. Whether or not there was any physical item which defined the birthright, such as a scarlet thread placed on the firstborn- a verbal oath was considered binding.

25:34 Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils- I suggested on :30 that Esau thought the stew was a blood broth, but Jacob deceived him a second time by giving him lentils rather than a blood meat stew.

He ate and drank, rose up, and went his way- The same words used of how Eliezer did likewise after securing Rebekah as a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24:54). We are intended to see the contrast- the way taken was so different. Eliezer was respecting the covenant, whereas Esau despised it. "Rose up" is elsewhere translated "establish" and is used of the establishing of the covenant (Gen. 26:3). So it could be that we are to understand that after reviving from his exhaustion, Esau confirmed the agreement. Instead of establishing the covenant with him, he had as it were disestablished it.

So Esau despised his birthright- The idea is that he considered his birthright worth no more than a bowl of soup. The phrase “vile person” ['despiser'] in Dan. 11:21 connects here to Esau who "despised his birthright". If the first usage of a word in Scripture is significant, then Gen. 25:34 is indeed helpful here– because it is used of Esau, father of many of the Arab tribes. And it recurs in describing Edom in Obadiah 2, Goliath the Philistine / Palestinian (1 Sam. 17:42), “Tobiah the Ammonite and Geshem the Arabian” (Neh. 2:19), and Haman the persecutor of the Jews (Esther 3:6). All these men were Arab prototypes of the “vile person”, the ruler of Assyria, who is to again persecute God’s people. And his provenance is of Esau, of the relatives of Israel who live nearby to them.

Whilst the Abrahamic promises did not demand fulfilment through the firstborn, it would be fair to assume that they imagined that the firstborn was the promised seed. So Esau's despising of the birthright was in practice a reflection of his attitude to the promises of the seed.